Housing
April 27, 2016

Daily Scot: Juxtaposition

From the CBC:

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From Bloomberg:

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From Vaughn Palmer:

The Vancouver Sun – 27 Apr 2016 – NDP’S EBY STANDS OUT AS EFFECTIVE INQUISITOR

More often than not, the finance minister has been delivering the government responses to Eby on the real estate imbroglio. More often than not, he’s left the impression that the Liberals are in no rush to clean up the Wild West because the government is getting rich from the proceeds.

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Two numbers just came in.  First – 6,300 – reported by HUB:

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Second number – a billion – from Richard Campbell at the British Columbia Cycling Coalition :

We are launching an exciting new campaign called a Billion for Bikes. We are asking the BC Government to commit a billion dollars over 10 years towards actions that will allow everyone in BC to walk or bike for they daily needs.
This investment would upgrade cycling facilities on provincial roads & bridges, complete cycling networks in communities across BC, provide safe routes to school for children and build trails & routes for cycling tourism.
We need lots of people to sign the petition to encourage the government to take this bold action.
Why now? The BC government has opened up a conversation with residence, and organizations about how we think we should prioritize, and change to meet the climate goals. Great, so let’s tell them by signing the petition.
We want to ensure biking and walking are a fundamental part of the Climate Leadership Plan and viewed as an effective, possible, and affordable tool for change. H
For detailed information, you can read our full recommendations report that we submitted to the Province.
Sign the petition
Share via Facebook and Twitter
Donate

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These stories came in together, one from Vanity Fair, the other from the International New York Times.  Essentially the same story: how two small islands could disappear as sea-levels rise.  But very different worlds, and expectations.

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From Vanity Fair:

Miami Beach, a low-lying city to begin with, is already feeling the effects of sea-level rise. Every time there’s a heavy rain, the locals brace for flooding on Alton Road, the main north-south thoroughfare of the city’s west side …
On top of all this, Miami Beach must contend with a fairly new phenomenon that has come to be known locally as sunny-day flooding, in which Alton Road and its neighboring streets are awash in water even when no rain has fallen. …
… curiously, at the very same time that some climate scientists are questioning whether the city will even survive into the next century, Miami Beach is going through an economic and building boom that evokes nothing so much as Bloomberg-era New York at its most sparkly and flash. In the last 12 months alone, the city has added more than 2,000 hotel rooms

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From the International New York Times:

Ghoramara is one of a few islands that sit at the mouth of the Hooghly River, a tributary of the Ganges, about 90 miles south of Kolkata, India. Ghoramara and its sister islands are vanishing, as satellite images show their shoreline borders shifting, shrinking and sinking with the waters. Its people subsist on rice and fish and are so impoverished they fish by casting nets from the land because they can’t afford boats. They are hardly the culprits of climate change, but the first to feel its ravages.

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These two items just came in together.  From Tim Pawsey via Minds:

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What better way to use solar panels that as a shading mechanism?  The South Korean government had a great idea and ran with it, building a 20 mile stretch of solar bikeway, from Daejeon to Sejong.  The lane is protected from traffic on both sides and is in an area about 100 miles south of the capital of Seoul.

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From Ron Richings via Newser:.

Skyward growth: Chicago transforms abandoned elevated railway into pedestrian, bike corridor

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On an abandoned Chicago railway line cutting between the treetops, bike commuters zip by walkers and joggers, all traversing a ribbon of concrete undulating through a lush landscape where clattering freight cars once ferried everything from coal to furniture. …

Since opening in June, the nearly three-mile elevated path, called the Bloomingdale Trail, has changed how residents move through a section of Chicago’s northwest side that in many places is starved of parks and inviting pathways for pedestrians and bikes.

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Anything recent that we’ve missed? Read more »

A few items that came in over the last few days …

Council, as part of its approval on upgrades for the Burrard Bridge, decided that $3.5 million is not too much to save a life.  That’s how much ‘suicide barriers’ will cost to prevent the one suicide a year that might be avoided by the installation of fencing that will likely alter the character of the bridge.

Yet here are three places where interventions could save countless more lives at a substantially lower per capita cost.

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Speed Limits .

Lower the limit.  A B.C. town just did it: Rossland lowers speed limit to 30 km/h throughout town

Result:

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Problem:

July 2, 2014:

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April 17, 2015:

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Sugary drinks

New research shows that beverages sweetened with sugar may have contributed to up to 184,000 deaths globally, mostly by causing increased rates of type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Read more.

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Here’s the Mexican delivery system for sugar, fat and salt.  Oxxos are everywhere.

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Problem: They’re owned by Carlos (“richest man in the world”) Slim, who also has the Mexican Coca-Cola franchise.

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Climate Change

B.C. Premier Christy Clark says wildfire seasons like the one the province is currently experiencing will become more common because of climate change.

“Climate change has altered the terrain. It’s made us much more vulnerable to fire,” said Clark.

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Problem:

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As a practising politician, I was aware of how easy it is to charge hypocrisy and inconsistency – since it was so often true.  But then the accusers never had to make the trade-offs or choose the least-worst option.

Politics, truly, is the art of the possible – and timing is key to possibility.

But as the clock runs down on climate change, I do wonder how the Premier, who has commited her government to accelerating British Columbia’s role as carbon dealer to the world, reconciles that with the reality of a burning province – and a fire-fighting budget that will eventually cross the billion-dollar line, and continue to increase in the future, eating up the royalties locked in for the sale of LNG.

Oh the irony: we would need to increase the sale of carbon to the world in order to afford fighting the fires that are the consequence of climate change caused by … (join snake eating its tail here).

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To top off this irony-fest, my In-box just received this from The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert:

A New Climate-Change Danger Zone?

… holding warming to two degrees would, at this point, require a herculean effort—one that the same world leaders who agreed to the Copenhagen Accord now seem unwilling or unable to make. A number of commentators have recently questioned whether, practically speaking, it is even still possible. “The goal is effectively unachievable,” David Victor, of the University of California, San Diego, and Charles Kennel, of the Scripps Institution, wrote recently in Nature. (The commentary was accompanied by a drawing of a feverish and exhausted-looking globe hooked up to a variety of life-support systems.)

Thus, whether the “danger” zone lies below two degrees Celsius or above, the world seems bent on reaching it—with all the suffering and challenges to “civilized society” that go with it.

Drink that soda, step on the accelerator and ignore the smoke.  At least there’s a fence.

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We’ve always been an exploiter of our environment; that’s the nature of a frontier province.  But now we’re notching it up: If you can get fossil fuels in a pipe or to a port, we’ll sell it to the world – and take no responsibility for the consequences.

Yes, we have a carbon tax on domestic consumption of carbon, but not on the throughput of oil, LNG and coal, which we are doing our best to facilitate.  As indicated in items that came in today:

Bridge high enough for LNG tankers proposed

Port Metro Van­cou­ver wants the prov­ince to build a higher bridge when it re­places the Massey Tun­nel to al­low taller LNG tankers to travel up the Fraser River, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments ob­tained by an en­vi­ron­men­tal group. …

An internal email between port staff suggests the port’s 65-metre figure is based on the height clearance requirements for the biggest LNG tankers that could turn in the river.

Tunnel replacement, it is said, will also help in shipping coal out of an expanded Fraser-Surrey Docks.

So we both increase the amount of carbon we can ship, and use the wealth generated to build infrastructure that will encourage even more driving and suburban sprawl – the highest-energy forms of urban development.

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Meanwhile … also in the Sun: “Big energy clashes with Kerry on climate change.”

“The call for carbon pricing is unanimous,” Gerard Mestrallet, CEO of the French energy company Engie, said on a panel discussion in Paris. “It’s loud and clear. Carbon pricing is the right signal, the right tool.” …

“We need a robust price of carbon,” Philippe Varin, chairman of the French utility Areva SA, said at the conference. “Necessity is the mother of creativity, and we definitively need a carbon price.”

If indeed that should happen, the economics of the carbon we export, currently without a carbon tax, suddenly change.  And so, presumably, would we – or at least the cost of the debt we incur for the kind of car- and truck-dependent urban region the Province will build, especially in the absence of a commitment to transit and assumption of ever-greater royalties for carbon.

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First item that came in is from Voters Taking Action on Climate Change:

Fraser Surrey Docks (FSD) announced Monday it will likely scrap plans to tow open, football field-long coal barges down the Fraser River and across the windy Strait of Georgia to Texada Island — all as part of its plan to help big US companies get their thermal coal to Asia.

This is a win for everyone who cares about the Fraser and the Strait and pushed back on this proposal. Savour the victory — but only for a moment, because with this good news comes some bad…

FSD still plans to export coal from Surrey, but rather than a “barge loading facility,” it now wants to build a full-fledged coal port on the Fraser River, right across from downtown New West.  Worse still, we’re concerned once the Massey Tunnel is removed even larger coal ships will come up the Fraser.

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Then this showed up in the InBox from the Pembina Institute:

Climate change and the financial risk of stranded assets

… what exactly are stranded assets? HSBC has released a new report that provides a concise definition. “Stranded assets are those that lose value or turn into liabilities before the end of their expected economic life. In the context of fossil fuels, this means those that will not be burned – they remain stranded in the ground.”

This is becoming a hot topic. There has been a growing dialogue about the risk of stranded assets related to climate change and carbon regulation over the last few years. During 2014 in particular, it reached mainstream discussion with experts ranging from the World Bank Group president, Jim Yong Kim to former Bank of Canada governor, Mark Carney, issuing warnings about this risk.

The Pembina Institute has also been tracking this issue. Last November we helped organize a cross-Canadatour for James Leaton of Carbon Tracker — one of the leading voices in highlighting the financial risk of stranded assets. A Day of Learning organized with RBC, NEI and Suncor also helped raise the level of dialogue on this issue in Canada.

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Lots more connections here:

We could be spending billions on a new bridge to facilitate an expanded coal port whose product becomes a stranded asset – a bridge that puts new pressure for development on agricultural land, much of which is below sea level, while at the same time voting down transit expansion, much of which is zero emission.   This is not a pretty scenario, but more than possible.

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Everyone talks about it – except our leaders.  There has been little sustained comment or debate by elected officials, local or provincial, on the forces and influences that have pushed the value of real estate in this city into the global market.  And not just the world market generally but to very highest levels, with comparisons to London, New York and Shanghai.

Of course there’s fear of unleashing forces of xenophobia and racism, but the result is that there’s no apparent willingness to discuss the issue in our legislatures and council chambers.  Our local leaders are dealing with this like the federal Conservatives deal with climate change: Because there’s nothing that can seemingly be done within their ideological constraints, they simply choose not to talk about it.

That can’t last.

In the meantime, the conversation is held in, well, conversations everywhere else – and in the media.

Here are some articles that popped up coincidentally in my feed, and one on the TV news, in the last day.

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Thomas linked to the first:

Gold’s traditional role as a store of wealth has been usurped by contemporary art and apartments in cities such as New York and London, according to Laurence D. Fink, head of the world’s biggest asset manager.

“Historically gold was a great instrument for storing of wealth,” the chairman of BlackRock Inc. said at a conference in Singapore on Tuesday. “Gold has lost its lustre and there’s other mechanisms in which you can store wealth that are inflation-adjusted.” …

“The two greatest stores of wealth internationally today is contemporary art….. and I don’t mean that as a joke, I mean that as a serious asset class,” said Fink. “And two, the other store of wealth today is apartments in Manhattan, apartments in Vancouver, in London.”

Startling to see apartments in Vancouver in the same category as “stores of wealth” in Manhattan and London.  Not a category that is going to do us a lot of good in the long run – or at least most of us.  But for those who benefit in the short run, they serve as a buffer for those who might want to change the rules of the game.

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Maybe that’s changing too, if this GlobalBC news piece is an indication:

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The Financial Post also ran this item a few days later:

Canada’s housing market is now heavily influenced by non-permanent residents, which make up the fastest-growing demographic force in the county, according to a new report.

CIBC World Markets Inc. deputy economist Benjamin Tal says Ottawa needs to consider the impact on the economy of this group before it makes any more changes to the temporary workers program.

“It’s not an insignificant element in the mosaic we call the housing market, that’s what I’m saying, especially in the rental market,” said Tal, in an interview. “You can assume many of these people rent and [that affects] investors and the condo market.”

He wrote in his report that non-permanent residents now number almost 770,000, which is a record high. Almost 50 per cent of that figure is made up of workers, with about 38 per cent students. The rest of the group falls into the humanitarian or refugee category.

“The pace at which this category is growing is also unprecedented,” Tal wrote, adding that, over the last 10 years, 450,000 non-permanent residents have been added to the country.

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When condos on the south shore of False Creek back in the late 1980s were pre-sold in Hong Kong before they became available in Vancouver, it created a backlash that resulted in agreement by the developers that it would not happen again. Will the same happen this time? – even though, as Tsur Somerville argues in the interview, commercial real estate is unlikely to remain vacant, the issue that is shaping public anxiety about residential real estate.

“No one buys an office building to hold it vacant. People buy office buildings because they want rent. Who owns it doesn’t matter because they’re going to go out and get it,

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