Design & Development
January 28, 2020

Who’s Not Here? Reflecting on a Dialogue about Public Spaces

Who’s not here?

This was one of the main questions posed on November 21, 2019 to a room filled with attendees of “Smart City Talks: Putting People First: a dialogue on Vancouver’s public spaces” hosted by Urbanarium and UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture.

This key question was asked first by Jay Pitter, author and placemaker whose practice mitigates growing divides in urban centres, and similarly posed by additional speakers, John Bela from Gehl Studio, and Kelty McKinnon representing PFS Studio.

As my first time attending an Urbanarium-hosted event, I enjoyed the evening’s dialogue and it likely won’t be my last. The discussion was thought provoking and interesting – but above all, it was bold and honest. No bushes were beat around on this evening as panelists shared what was on their mind loud and clear. Whether they agreed with each other or not.

The discussion was guided by three defined topics:

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What is CTR?

Commute Trip Reduction (CTR), a facet of Transportation Demand Management (TDM), is a suite of strategies (i.e. programs/policies) designed primarily to do two things:

  1. Reduce long commute travel distances, and
  2. Encourage and enable alternatives to using a single-occupant vehicle (i.e. more sustainable, healthier travel alternatives such as walking, cycling, taking transit, and carpooling)

The responsibility for implementing CTR strategies falls on employers (typically ‘large employers’ such universities and hospitals), required by some form of government legislation.

Examples of CTR Strategies
  • Encourage cycling, walking, and transit instead of using a personal vehicle
  • Provide transit-oriented incentives such as pass subsidies or reimbursement
  • Provide subsidies or reimbursement for cycling and walking gear
  • Provide on-site cycling storage, and shower/change room facilities
  • Incentives and arrangements for carpooling/vanpooling to-and-from work
  • Allow employees to work full or part-time from home or remote/satellite offices
  • Strategically select or move the office location to a transit hub
  • Provide a Guaranteed ride home service

An example of a large employer recognized as having successfully employed CTR strategies is The Gates Foundation.The Gates Foundation has reduced their “drive-alone” rate from 88 percent to 34 percent by distributing a suite of transit benefits to employees, including free Monorail punch cars and free monthly Zipcar hours. It also disincentivizes parking: The company lot charges a daily rate instead of a monthly rate. The Gates Foudnation is estimated to employ over 1,500 people.

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“We came within an eyelash of running the table.”

And he’s not wrong. Ken Sim, founder and CEO of homecare provider Nurse Next Door and bagel chain Rosemary Rocksalt, is just two months removed from having come within 957 votes of being the mayor of Vancouver. With five NPA Vancouver councillors, Sim would have led a majority, and thus the face of municipal (and perhaps regional) politics might look very different than it does today.

Having returned to regular family and business life, he goes deep with Gord in this revealing conversation. They discuss the day he got the call from NPA leadership, the big names he spoke to as he mulled his decision (and who finally convinced him to run), his experiences on the campaign trail, his thoughts about the downtown eastside, and what he believes are the major policy priorities for the city.

And more importantly — what does the future hold for Ken Sim?

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Yesterday’s post about the Vancouver Sun op-ed by Alex Boston scraped the surface of what could comprise an effective business case for Skytrain south of the Fraser, let alone what numbers may (or may not) have been used to justify LRT in the first place.

Did Translink miss some data? As I hinted in Part I, perhaps they simply missed communicating the most relevant, top-line numbers the public have an appetite — and capacity — to understand (no offence to all of us).

But let’s assume they made a whole raft of calculations, such as those that can be found in “Regional Transportation Investments: A Vision for Metro Vancouver (Appendices)“, pointed to me by  Boston’s colleague Keane Gruending from the Centre for Dialogue. The Centre’s own analysis on this file is reminiscent of their Moving in a Livable Region program around the time of the 2015 transit plebiscite, which attempted to hold our leaders accountable (and the politics in check), using a facts-first approach.

Boston’s deeper piece on the Renewable Cities website also reminded me that a lot of the debate on whether to pause Phase 2 and 3 of the Mayors Plan to once again deal with the Skytrain question often fails to deal with two important metrics tied to land use: jobs density, and CO2 emissions.

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This week, Alex Boston, the Executive Director of the Renewable Cities program at SFU’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, wrote an op-ed in the Vancouver Sun on the proposed two big changes threatening to upend phases 2 and 3 of TransLink’s Mayors Plan.

Boston’s piece is a call, if slightly veiled, to Vancouver’s Kennedy Stewart and Surrey’s Doug McCallum to do what they were elected to do when it comes to regional matters — understand all the issues in a city which are regionally dependent or impactful, obtain support and confidence from your respective councils on big ideas, and work collaboratively with the other mayors and the TransLink Board to realize them.

But of course as you may know, it’s never that easy. And much like the housing crisis, there may not even be agreement on what the two problems are. 

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