November 6th, 2013 · 4 Comments
Catching up on old news here, but really, hard to keep up with ROB FORD distractions all the time.
Anyway, as many of you know, there was a gathering of about 500 last week to talk about the role of transit in the economy. This was largely organized by TransLink and pushed forward by Mayor Dianne Watts, as far as I can tell. But they did get some sponsorships to cover the cost, including from the New Car Dealers Association, which you have to admit was ballsy and imaginative of them.
At any rate, everyone made strong points about the role that good transit plays in the economy. There was a bit of a weird digression at one point, where it looked like a fight was going to break out between people arguing over whether Vancouver has a knowledge-based economy or whether it has a resource-based one. UBC dean emeritus Michael Goldberg finessed that one by pointing out that the knowledge workers needed for the resource economy (accountants, lawyers, engineers) by and large operate out of Vancouver and, as they go (or don’t, stuck in traffic), so goes the resource economy.
There was some bashing of neighbourhood group NIMBYism by same Michael Goldberg, who basically said they are standing in the way of progress and sometimes political leaders need to not pay attention — just the message I’m sure you all wanted Gregor to hear.
This debate over the transit referendum is going to take more weird turns like this, I think, before it’s over. Here’s my story from the day. (And pasted below, as always)
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As some of you careful readers might have noted in the past, I am not always an admirer of the way opposition groups do war.
Saying they’ve been treated disrespectfully by city hall politicians and staff, they then proceed to issue statements and write blog comments that make them sound like foul-mouthed 13-year-olds.
Complaining that city planners and engineers have been deceptive, they circulate wonky bits of information and “facts” that suit their rhetorical purposes at the moment.
They’re not doing themselves any favours, that’s for sure.
But the new Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods has just issued a news release that deserves to be taken seriously and debated.
The group has looked at the population number that Metro Vancouver set as a target for the city in its recently passed Regional Growth Strategy. (To see it for yourself, go here.) It’s worked out what kind of growth that means per year if Vancouver is going to get to 740,000 b6 2041 from the approximately 630,000 it’s at now. And it has compared that to the actual number of completions of new units currently going on.
There are lots of issues still to be considered here: for example, does it matter what the RGS says, if people are moving here and prepared to outbid existing residents for housing if they can’t find enough supply?
But the numbers at least help us put what’s going on in context.
As I’d said in previous blog posts (or tweets or something), one of the things that’s making people uncomfortable about the current community plans is the sense that city planners are just jamming in maximum density wherever they think they can. Residents have had no sense of what projected rate of growth for their area is, no chance to talk about whether they think that projected rate is reasonable, no sense of whether the new density in plans matches that rate, and no sense of what the end game is at all.
The release is copied below
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That’s the way it reads at first run-through.
I await interpretation from the various legal experts out there.
Here’s the judgment.
People concerned about the pace of development are not new to Vancouver. There’s been some discomfort almost since the day the city was founded about how rapidly it changes.
Neighbourhoods agitated for more control in the big, bad, freeway-building ’60s. In 1996, former alderman Jonathan Baker, who is now part of the new TEAM party that is challenging the way the Vision council has been handling development, started a new party that also was primarily focused on the pace and type of development. (He beat out then-COPE mayoral candidate Carmela Allevato in 25 polls in the Dunbar/Kerrisdale/Mackenzie Heights areas, an indication of a distinct level of unhappiness in traditional Non-Partisan Association territory.)
In the mid-2000s, Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver arose in reaction to then-mayor Sam Sullivan’s push for EcoDensity.
There has been a noticeable curve upwards in the past couple of years to a much higher level of anxiety. What’s interesting about this particular wave is the way groups are connecting with the general public, reporters, and each other through new social-media tools. That’s allowing them to get their message out much more effectively than small groups used to and also allowing them to form coalitions.
The result of that is in a story I reported Thursday, about the creation of the latest iteration of neighbourhood groups banding together to try to wrest some control from the city.
The group is holding a series of meetings to try to work out what they think good principles of community planning should be. (This is at the same time that Councillor Andrea Reimer has been heading up an “engaged city task force” to improve public input.)
I think pretty much everyone these days agrees there are some serious flaws in current public consultation.
People feel as though they’re being asked to select from a series of unpalatable choices. The consulters do not make it clear how public input will be integrated into planning. Neighbourhood groups who agree to one plan find themselves overtaken by new neighbourhood groups who say they were never consulted and are opposed to the plan. No one can seem to define how “community opinion” will be assessed — is it the planner’s impression of what the people at a particular set of consultations said? an opinion survey of the whole area?
So, good luck to all trying to make it better.
(BTW, the group did not say they were “anti-Vision Vancouver.” That was just an unfortunate headline, one of a series that has afflicted me lately, as Lewis pointed out.)
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Every development opposition person I meet always starts off by saying, “I’m not opposed to development but …”
In some cases, I believe that’s true. In others, it’s more dubious. The more you try to get an answer on what IS acceptable (Not towers. Not low-rise apartment complexes. Not six-storey projects. Not stacked townhouses. Not rowhouses or duplexes. Not laneway houses), the less you know.
I do hear a lot of chatter out there, as well, about people who think it’s some kind of developer spin that there are people moving to this region. I guess Statistics Canada is in on the whole game, since they keep publishing census results indicating that there are more people living here every every year.
In the view of the population-increase deniers, nothing would happen if development stopped, since no one is moving to this region.
But assuming that most of us accept the likelihood that Stats Can is not fabricating numbers and that there are about 30,000 to 40,000 people moving to the region each year (nothing like what Toronto gets, but still quite a few people), what would happen if the city slowed development right down to a crawl?
When I talked to former city planning director Ann McAfee recently for a story I did about anti-development activism and how to talk to communities, she said that one thing planners made very clear when doing CityPlan consultations in Vancouver back in the 1990s was that there would be very negative effects to doing nothing.
The way McAfee put it to me: Vancouver is a small chunk of the region, with about 70,000 single-family houses. If nothing changes, then that limited stock of housing eventually is bought up by the wealthiest buyers in the region. So, even though the city doesn’t change visibly, it does change in who owns it.
I’d argue that there are two likely possibilities if the housing in the city were more or less frozen. The biggest, single-family properties would be bought by one of two groups. One, singles and couples who are very wealthy and can afford the whole property for themselves. Two, they’ll be bought by groups, likely families, who will crowd as many income-earning adults into the house as they can in order to cover the high price and compete with the wealthiest buyers.
(The city’s service workers, of course, will continue to crowd into small apartments or live six to a household, as they are doing now.)
I keep trying to figure out if that doomsday, or at any rate, depressing scenario is wrong. I’d love to hear from all of you how you imagine the future unrolling in the city if residents decided they’d had enough and weren’t going to accept any or much new density?
My feature piece last weekend is the beginning of a longer look at the anti-development groups, tactics, and messes around the Lower Mainland. People think Vancouver is the only place where residents are increasingly tense about new development. It’s not, as my story makes clear. (And, after I published, a group in Port Moody also contacted me to get their name added to the list.)
What also seems clear is that it’s increasingly difficult for city politicians and planners, for developers, for media, and for general residents to figure out what their community really thinks of new development.
Looking forward to the reasoned debate I know will follow here on this issue.
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Vancouver council heard all about the latest numbers on homelessness and new housing this week. (Breaking news: The city just bought the Ramada on East Hastings for some dollar amount that we media scum were told we’d get but it hasn’t been provided yet.)
The positive: 480 people who went to winter shelters the last five years are now in permanent housing somewhere. The not so positive: There are still about 1,600 people every night either in shelters or on the street. (Boring, repetitive old Frances intervention re understanding homeless numbers — that doesn’t mean 1,600 known individuals are homeless in Vancouver and once we find them and put them in a building, the problem will be solved. Numerous studies have shown that those “point in time” counts mean that about four or five times that number of people are homeless over a given year. People move in and out of homelessness constantly.) My Globe story on various bits of this here.
Lest anyone think this is unique to Vancouver, the trend is the same around the region. Although many municipalities — City of North Van, Richmond, Surrey, New West,Maple Ridge, Langley, Coquitlam — are taking aggressive action to try to deal with homelessness, the most they can do is keep a lid on it, as Surrey Councillor Judy Villeneuve said.
In cities that are growing, that’s still an accomplishment but it doesn’t mean homelessness is going to be eradicated any time soon. Which is going to be a problem for Vision Vancouver over the next year, because the mayor and his team promised to end homelessness or street homelessness by 2015. The party’s political opponents are primed to jump all over that one.
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts and her team have been careful not to make that kind of promise.Their just-finalized homeless action plan sets a goal of building 450 units of transitional and low-cost housing — no promises that that will get everyone off the street. I wonder if the Vision people are wishing they’d done the same.
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Food trucks and bike shares, the trendiest urban movements of the 21st century. They’re perfect, right?
Well, they are great. I’m a huge fan of both. But that doesn’t mean all is bluebirds of happiness in paradise. (Now there’s one weird mixed metaphor.)
For my latest Vancouver magazine column, I went out and took a good hard look at how the food-truck world is evolving in Vancouver. Yes, there are some successes. (One of them: the guy who makes food trucks.) There are also some very unhappy stories.
Okay, that is a really terrible headline: a mutilation of a lovely piece of poetry and also something that is guaranteed to fail all SEO tests. But whatever, we can have some fun every so often.
So, just to do that horrible thing that middle-class people now do, this topic of tolling is very relevant for me because I drive occasionally in Europe and it is always startling to realize how much I have paid in tolls. (So awwwful, I had to pay so much, I could hardly enjoy my French meal of duck in marsala and hazelnut sauce.)
Okay, ignore the pretentious “I travel in Europe” stuff and focus on the topic at hand. Which is, governments are increasingly in love with tolling. As the professional pay-per-drive people were pleased to tell me at length, when they held their international convention here this week.
What does that mean for you locally? Well, that bridge that the premier talked about — very unlikely it will be tolled. (And, btw, no, tolls don’t pay the full cost, just as transit fares don’t pay the full cost. Both are subsidized.)
Here’s the explanation from the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association people:
Published Tuesday, Sep. 24, 2013 08:00AM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Sep. 24, 2013 11:25AM EDT
Drivers will likely pay for the Lower Mainland’s new Massey Bridge through electronic tolls, international experts on the topic say.
The world is experiencing a “renaissance” in enthusiasm for tolling as governments struggle to find ways to cover costs for the expensive infrastructure that cars, trucks and buses need, the experts say.
“It’s a significant facility, and this community’s going to have to think long and hard about whether either they pay for it with tolls or pay for it with taxes,” said Patrick Jones, the CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, which is holding its annual convention in Vancouver this week, by chance just after Premier Christy Clark announced the new Fraser River crossing with few details on financing.
Mr. Jones is one of the 650 people gathering on Monday and Tuesday – after a special tour on Sunday of a new bridge that demonstrates everything they are saying: the electronically tolled Port Mann.
The people at the conference are part of the growing global network of governments and companies in the pay-per-drive business. They come from regions as different as Europe, where 25 million people have electronic passes to use 73,000 kilometres of tolled highways, and China and India. Those countries are experiencing an astronomical rise in car ownership, and are turning to tolls to pay for the roads needed.
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September 19th, 2013 · 4 Comments
It’s too easy to get sentimental about every do-good program in the Downtown Eastside. Some, quite frankly, don’t really do much for the people they’re supposedly helping.
The people who created this chocolate-making business at East Van Roasters aren’t sentimental. As Mark Townsend, from PHS, pointed out to me: People like to kid themselves that social enterprises are these magic solutions that will make money, employ the poor, and generate profits that can be spread around to everyone. Mostly they’re break-even, if that.
So it takes dedication to invest in an operation like this, knowing that it may never do more than break even but that it’s worth it for the work it can provide for people who want to get back to working after many years where they haven’t — and it’s something besides laundry and cleaning, the jobs that are typically generated for the marginalized.
If you haven’t been to East Van Roasters, by the way, you should drop in. It is the most serene place and filled with interesting products: glass jars with honey and the honeycomb inside; other glass jars with cacao nibs, various little packages of chocolate, coffee. A great place for a quiet coffee and cookie, where you can pick up small presents and support a business that represents the upside the DTES is capable of.
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Tags: Downtown Eastside