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2011: Hoping for a year of productive change

December 31st, 2010 · 43 Comments

Twenty years ago, two city planners wrote a series of articles for the Vancouver Sun where they laid out what our region would look like in 2010 and what the region would be challenged by in those two decades.

Michael Seelig and Alan Artibise predicted that the Lower Mainland would grow by a million people, to 2.7 million. They said that, since Vancouver and Burnaby were mostly built out, most of that growth would go to the suburban areas. Surrey would become the largest municipality of the region, with 550,000 compared to Vancouver’s 450,000.

The two predicted that the region would have to cope with some formidable problems in order to deal with this new population. Encouraging denser housing was the only way to absorb that many people and to provide affordable housing — a key concern for almost every resident, they said. But that would be hard since most politicians preferred to give in to citizen lobby groups instead of doing the right thing.

As they wrote: “In the face of the enormous population pressures that our region will experience in the next decades, what, for example, has Vancouver’s City Council done? – Down-zoned the West End; continually delayed the rezoning of Downtown South; and regularly given in to local interest groups in refusing applications to increase densities.

Artibise and Seelig also bemoaned the love affair with the car. At the time, Vancouver had the lowest transit use of any major Canadian city, with only nine per cent of all trips in the region being done by transit. They urged more to create a robust transit system and they also encouraged the municipalities to consider promoting an overlooked option: the bicycle. Even then, they noted, 47,000 trips a day were being made by bicycle, 85 per cent of them commuting trips.

There’s lots more: Garbage was a major issue, as was air quality. And so is the fractured political system in the region. (Interestingly, they don’t even mention issues like homelessness, drug addiction, crime or some of the other factors that play a big part in our quality of life now.)

As we all know now, Seelig (who helped develop Granville Island) and Artibise (a UBC prof who moved on long ago to a plum job in St. Louis) were sort of right and sort of not.

The region didn’t grow by as much as expected. We’re only at 2.3 million.

Vancouver did absorb a lot of new people and it’s now at 630,000. The West End stayed downzoned and took little of that, but thousands of new people moved into Coal Harbour, North False Creek and various other pockets. Surrey did grow phenomenally, from 250,000 to 450,000, but not as much as they expected.

The transit picture changed dramatically. In the whole region, the last census showed that 19 per cent of people get to work by transit; in Vancouver, the city, it was 26 per cent.

We recycle more; our air quality is better.

But we still have a lot of the problems that Seelig and Artibise talked about, amplified even more by new forces at play.

I could fill screens writing about the problems and the new forces and how I see the future of both unfolding.

But I’m sure all of you will have comments on that.

The one issue I will talk about here is the way the internet and social media have shifted the way we converse about all of these urban issue, a shift that is likely to become even more pronounced this year as more and more people migrate to the new networks and instant news that the twitter/facebook/blog/online news world provides.

When Seelig and Artibise wrote this series in 1990, about two years before this new thing called the internet started creeping into people’s consciousness, they could make their pronouncements with authority and to a wide audience.

Today, if two new academics tried the same thing, they’d get a few thousand online comments, with a substantial number of those comments saying they were full of sh*t, didn’t know what they were talking about, were elitist know-nothings, and more.

We’re in a different world now, where it’s difficult for anyone to have authority in the face of a critical and quick-to-post public.

That new communications democracy have given voices to people and groups who had a hard time being heard before. They’d mutter quietly to their neigbours; call talk shows and hope to get on; send letters to the editor and hope to be selected.

Now, public debate is frequently dominated by those who have the fastest typing skills and the most time and energy to burn on their causes.

That can be a great thing, as people debate, publicize new information, and bring new perspectives to old conversations. But it can lead to the like-minded simply reinforcing their own prejudices — a real barrier to ever figuring out solutions to big, complex, regional challenges like how to grow a good city.

I’m generally an optimist and a great believer in the free marketplace of ideas, so I’m hoping this year brings us even more changes in how we talk using these wonderful new tools that we have. Less name-calling, fewer cage matches between the virulent pro and con sides on every issue, less propaganda generated to boost one generic political group over another.

More real debate with people we don’t agree with — now available to us all over the internet — to try to understand where we have common goals. And maybe even work to achieve them together.

Happy New Year.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    These are two planners that I have not met, much less had an opportunity to talk to. Back in 1991 I was living in Vancouver, and putting as much distance between City Hall and my work as I possibly could. The City was not “getting it”.

    A golden moment had passed, marked by the tomb stone of Expo ’86, and a new wave was coming on shore.

    I thought would hit like a tsunami… Just how much damage would the Baby Boomers do before their time would come to exit stage left?

    Those two decades would furnish the proof:

    “The two [Seelig and Aribise] predicted that the region would have to cope with some formidable problems in order to deal with this new population.”

    What is being reported is growth as a problem, rather than the engine of change. Next, watch for the prat fall about the old equation: We must build hi-rise in order to get high density…

    “Encouraging denser housing was the only way to absorb that many people and to provide affordable housing …”

    Read: Towers are the answer to everything.

    Where in the “affordable housing” equation do we park the hidden tax of the “strata fee”? Not a peep or a squeak about making “good” urbanism, building strong communities, or OTC—open and transparent public consultation.

    One of the hallmarks of the old paradigm planning is that public consultation is anathema. Absent the facts of “good” urbanism—there really is nothing to publicly consult about. Talk to the people, come up sounding like fools!

    However, we cannot say that their warnings have not been heeded:

    “In the face of the enormous population pressures that our region will experience in the next decades, what, for example, has Vancouver’s City Council done? – Down-zoned the West End; continually delayed the rezoning of Downtown South; and regularly given in to local interest groups in refusing applications to increase densities.”

    1. The “enormity” can only be measured in terms of congestion for single occupancy vehicles—and an HOV lane on the Freeway that only shows a bus on the signage. To this day Translink has not used the HOV lanes on the Trans Canada (go figure).

    2. Downzoning the West End, as we like to say here, is something to be left to the WE folks.

    3. Downtown South has been rezoned to a tower zone. Our two planners cannot complain about that.

    4. As far as giving in to “local interest groups”… well, I think that most Vancouverites feel that the process is now firmly in the hand of the Tower Developers.

    In the new paradigm, “local interest groups”… well, that’s just how we get to “good” urbanism. We depend on the people living “in the place” to give us the local knowledge about “the place”. We trust “the locals” to give a true account of “the facts.”

    I know that old-paradigm planners won’t really get this.

    However, consider that we have never given the “local interest groups” a real menu of choices. Therefore, how can anticipate their responses in absence of meaningful choices? How can we expect a positive reception for neighbourhood plans, when our neighbourhood plans get the basic facts wrong (i.e. the Mount Pleasant Plan)?

    We are living a changing of the guard. Looking back 20 years can only bring this fact into high relief. Most of the concerns expressed will melt away under the scrutiny of the concrete and measurable facts of “good” urbanism.

    We can do urbanism better than what the old paradigm planners could imagine if we only resolve to build a consensus vision of change grounded on the concrete and measurable stuff.

    Call it the “sniff test”.

  • Peter Ladner

    Frances– free idea from out in the marketplace: haven’t I heard that some blogs get less virulent and have less verbal cage fighting when everyone is required to use their (a) real name? Less shouting, more decorum?
    Congratulations and thanks for all you’re doing to get us all talking about municipal issues, listening even, at a new level.

  • Hi Frances,
    This isn’t so much a comment but a thanks for your blog. Then I noticed Peter Ladner’s note above. Couldn’t have said it better myself. So, ditto. I am listening.

  • Frances, a great post for a new year. I have forwarded it to Seelig and Artibise in the hope that they will both comment. While Alan is very removed from Vancouver in his position of Provost of a university in Southern Texas, Seelig is very much connected to the local scene since he mantains a home here.

    I too look forward to more discussion and debate about planning issues on this blog, and disagreement without contributors becoming too disagreeable. I would also love to see more reviews of earlier planning documents and assessments of the ‘predictions’ that served as their basis. The fact is, the Seelig/Artibes articles do serve as a very useful benchmark to highlight both our accomplishments and failures over the past 20 years. Their book, ‘From Desolation to Hope’ should also make good reading.

    Over the weekend I was going through old articles and came upon a 2006 story Frances wrote for the Vancouver Sun on a panel discussion at SFU in which I participated along with Bing Thom, May Brown and others on the selection of Vancouver’s next Director of Planning. I was interested to read about what I had to say….for the record, the theme of my comments was that I hoped the new planner would devote as much attention to the areas outside the downtown as the previous planners had devoted to the downtown.

    It would appear that this is now starting to happen, with the Cambie Corridor studies, and other neighbourhood planning exercises. I do hope this will continue in 2011 and with more attention given to Marpole and other neighbourhoods ripe for change.

    In conclusion, it is useful and important (as well as entertaining) to look at the past in order to know how best to go forward. As the year progresses, I look forward to reading more from commentators who, like Peter Ladner suggests, are willing to be identified, and offer opinions in a constructive manner. I will try to do the same.

    In this vein, I have posted 12 predictions for 2011 which can be found on my blog by clicking on my name above. To you Frances, and all of your readers, best wishes for a constructive, productive and hopefully entertaining 2011.

  • We’re in a different world now, where it’s difficult for anyone to have authority in the face of a critical and quick-to-post public.

    Yes we are most certainly in a different world and the “quick-to-post public” is equally overshadowed by the quick-to-take-offence atavistic blog-meister: I’m not referring to our distinguished blog-meister here!

    . . . difficult for anyone to have authority . . . : not entirely, if you are professionally insecure and living in a comfortable sinecure of delusion. I refer to a Mr. Beer who, evidently, is gate-keeper at Tyee.

    I wont go into details but Mr. Beers chose to throw a tizzy fit because I defamed his assertion that, so far as AGW is concerned, there is “scientific consensus”. Wow, Scientific consensus: i.e. AGW is gospel! Tell that to Stephen Hawkin.

    Anyway being a 1987 grad of SCARP I know Prof. Seelig a little and Prof. Artibise even less. Michael’s involvement in Granville Island planning was as part owner of Bridges Restaurant: maybe still is. For the real shimmy check King Gagnon.

    Their book, ‘From Desolation to Hope’ makes good reading. I am not surprised their numbers are a bit off, though, pretty close: good effort, sin embargo.

    Anyway scholarly as their Vancouver treatise is I hope we are now beyond top-down hit-and-miss scholarly planning.

    Oh and Michael G, Cambie planning: I hoped the new planner would devote as much attention to the areas outside the downtown as the previous planners had devoted to the downtown.

    Agree on that!

    It would appear that this is now starting to happen, with the Cambie Corridor studies, and other neighbourhood planning exercises. I do hope this will continue in 2011 and with more attention given to Marpole and other neighbourhoods ripe for change.

    Not that!

    Cambie is shaping up to be six storey, (probably more given current enthusiasm for land-lift), lineal sprawl and do not forget the Vancouver Planning dept is an approval authority not an instrument of creative planning.

    I would prefer a different approach. Vancouver is blessed with some delightful neighbourhoods, not the least Kerrisdale:

    I have photo documented some others but I will not add the links: wordpress O.D’s on too many links.

    My New Year vision is (1) a public square behind VAG, (2) VAG gives up the idea of relocating because without it the square would lose much of its meaning, and (3) the city immediately inaugurates a programme to identify and enhance new and traditional neighbourhoods network-connected by (no-emission) trams.

    Thanqu, Frances for your enlightened and, indeed, liberal approach to blog etiquette. Over the year or so I have participated, I have learned so much.

    Happy New Year Bula-blogistas. May we save the world, and our little piece our Evergreen Playground , at least until the next ice age!

  • Morven

    I too am grateful to the blog and it’s contributers.

    There have been many valuable contributions over the past year that shine a light into the vagaries of the planning system (far more than is accomplished by our elected representatives).

    And to be fair, some of the more splenetic contributions actually signalled what are hot button items. A pity that city hall does not flag these items (evidently) – they are really advance notice of intractible issues.

    My many Hogmanay thanks.

  • Bill McCreery

    @ Lewis. Interesting observations but, must suggest your critique of the limited scope of the article is as limited. I will let the two gentlemen speak for themselves, but I can say I have worked with both and know they are comfortable within a public consultation process.

    Your comment about density = towers is your take not theirs. They didn’t specify the building types.

    Looking to the future, there is lots of room for a creative planning process to foster broader based, sustainable, creative opportunities such as those you and others here have outlined, and to improve the public consultation process at the same time. My hope is that 2011 will be the beginning of such a new chapter in Vancouver’s evolution as a truly special city place. We are at a crossroad.

    I echo the good wishes of fellow contributors above, and also encourage other readers to enter this fray in 2011. It’s fun and we will all be better for it if you do.

  • The Fourth Horseman

    To answer Peter L’s call for all to use their “real’ names, I can think of a dozen reasons NOT to.

    While it is true that a certain amount of verbal abuse, diarrea, etc can spew forth from those cloaking themselves in a nom de guerre, I believe that the anonymity and privacy afforded to those who wish it provides greater benefits in these forums.

    One of these, obviously, is the ability to be a “whistle blower”. The ability to tell others what is happening under another identity, is without parallel. See: Mark Felt/Deep Throat re: Watergate. Obviously, Mr. Felt, as #2 at the FBI at the time, was not in a position to be have self identified. We all recognize that many posters here are working (or have worked) in some capacity in the public service—their ability to air frustrations, point out malfeasance and the like, is invaluable to the concept of democracy as we know it.

    The other, more egalitarian reason to protect identities is this: in the brain-dead, uniformity and parochial mind-set of the government class (ALL parties and many bureaucrats), the opinion of the “regular” citizen is usually a foreign concept.

    Forums like this give the average Vancouverite/British Columbian/Canadian greater license to air their opinions, grievances and ideas.

    If you scoff and say “Oh, we all have the ability to air our opinions” in public WITHOUT the threat of action being taken against us”, well, there is a story or two I have for you, where such threats WERE issued to a private citizen via phone, after he aired, admittedly, some personal invective against a local mayor in a public forum. This is a terrible abuse of political power. Period.

    I think we can all agree that what has transpired around the HST is a demonstration of local “people power’ and much of this, IMO, has come about because people were chattering across and around the blogoshere.

    The approach that “Anonymous” takes in writing or ranting here may not be correct, all the time. It may be mean and vindictive, sometimes, and it can be used to make much mischief, most certainly.

    But it can also be uplifting in the scope of questions and ideas that transpire over the course of a thread. And these comments give those who do “watch this space” a damn good indication of how the average Joe/Josephine is feeling about the state of affairs.

    The Magna Carta said that the people restrain the soverign. For better and for worse, the voice of the people is here on these blogs.

  • Richard

    @The Fourth Horseman

    Well, fine. How about at least picking something a bit more gentler than the “The Fourth Horseman”. Assuming it is biblical reference, it seems rather inappropriate.

  • The Fourth Horseman

    It’s called satire, Ricky.

    I am rather a more optimistic person than the name would indicate. 😉

  • The Fourth Horseman

    …but, givrn the chance, and with the ability to unleash a plague…

  • Count me amongst the fans of using real names.

    Sure, there are times when anonymity is a useful tool in maintaining our freedoms, but with all due respect to “the 4th horseman” that is not the use to which it is put in the comments to this blog.

    The unfortunate other use to which anonymity is put is the creation of alter-egos – and heaven knows blog comments have enough problems with egos without manufacturing more of them.

  • Glissando Remmy

    The First Thought of The Year 2011

    “New Year’s Resolution. What is a resolution, other than something of diluted substance, a deep down drunken ambition for high achievement, depicting a character – usually someone else, a superhero, maybe a down on his luck villain, whose qualities or faults we want to mimic…Something that we may want to claim as ours. Mostly, it ends in a feel good, fuzzy feeling of successful failure, 99 times out of a 100!”

    However, most people still make New Year resolutions using the same logic others use when throwing away their money when playing the Lottery. These guys should know better though, they want to get rich, the easy way? They should be ‘working’ for… the Lottery! See what I’m saying here?

    Anyway…my 10 resolutions for the New Year:

    No. 1o Loose Six pounds off my Six Pack. Naturally, I’m going to do it the healthy way, through laughter and satire.

    No. 09 Have a Vision ‘Red Cell’ blood count before, during and after the November 2011 elections.

    No. 08 Help popularize Robertson’s love of communism in China by making Monty Python’s – ‘I like Chinese’ the revival hit of the year 2011.

    No. 07 Tattoo ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ on my Billy. When Vision ‘excited’, it should read Solomon’s ‘500 year dream plan’ speech. In one line!

    No. 06 Donate all proceeds and royalties received for writing my comments on different blogs…to Charity. Of course, to a Vision related – Registered Charity.

    No. 05 Start an ‘Adopt an Urban Pup-Pet’ Foundation…in order to offset Vision’s Stanley Park initiative: closing of the Children’s Farmyard. Popular names…Gregor, Aaron, Patti… Tides Canada ‘angel funding’ encouraged and highly expected on this item.

    No. 04 Change my name to ‘Grucho Alkohole Robespierre’ and make a hostile takeover proposal for Vancouver’s Deputy City Manager Job. See whose name is funnier.

    No. 03 Become a Godfather to a pair of newborn male twins named ‘Crime’ and ‘Punishment’. Good, ol’, strong names, also true. Family name: ‘Vision’.

    No. 02 Initiate the ‘Stop Being Green for a Day’ campaign. Featuring: a smoking cigars circle of friends; a ‘flush twice for no good reason’ tease; a drinking tequila half marathon; steal a bike for parts speed competition; drive a recycling truck to work…and more, much more.

    No. 01 Win in the first Vancouver Hold’em-Up Poker tournament. Team ‘GLISSANDO’ (Myself, Elizabeth Bathory, and… Lucifer) vs. Team ‘GREGOR’ (Magee, Penny Ballem, and… Joel).
    Think of it as a…‘Good against Evil’ kind of a thing!

    There. Now, take it away, Marlene!

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.


    @ Peter Ladner
    Well, my name is Glissando Remmy, but most people call me… Glissando Remmy.

  • Al Markerton

    If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear. Hmmmm. This blog is proof that those posting under their own names are generally doing so as part of a marketing campaign in pursuit of political or professional goals.

    Mark thinks “blog comments have enough problems with egos”, and he (and his pocket-mirror) would know. A blog without the messy rough-and-tumble of free speech isn’t worth reading or commenting upon (see Jonathan Ross or Linda Solomon).

  • Michael Seelig

    What a nice New-Year’s surprise! Thank you for revisiting our study of 20 years ago. At the time, Alan Artibise and I had the wonderful opportunity and the luxury of researching the future of the Pacific Fraser Region for several months.

    Our research included a major survey of the public at large, along with over 70 interviews with professionals and politicians involved in urban decision-making. The study was published in the Vancouver Sun as a series of seven articles, spreading over two full pages of the paper daily for a week. The innovative decision to publish this type of series was taken by Nick Hills — then the editor of The Sun. Our study made predictions that related both to trends which seemed beyond planners’ control, such as migration into the region, and to changes that would occur if planners, politicians and the public were to address certain pressing issues of the day.

    In the current blogging era, it is interesting to speculate what might provide a comparable forum for debating our future. Twenty years from now what will be the reference point to measure our accomplishments? The scattered and somewhat random nature of internet communication makes it difficult to get a large part of the population to focus and debate the future of our cities.

    Both Alan and I felt that our accomplishment was not in the accuracy of our predictions (although I am pleased to note that we were not far off) but rather that the issue of addressing our region’s urban future was raised so prominently in Vancouver’s premier newspaper. This was the first time anywhere in Canada that urban issues were addressed comprehensively in a major publication. The articles generated both praise and criticism but most importantly they started a serious public debate that became a call to action.

    Wishing you and all your readers a Happy New Year.

  • spartikus

    Well I have had my employment threatened on this blog for the high crime of disagreeing with someone, so I will be maintaining my pseudonym.

    The greatest weapon in the arsenal of civility is not to respond to jerks.

  • spartikus

    FWIW – This was written by an American blogger for whom I have the greatest respect. It deals with a specific incident, but the underlying points are general. I’m just going to copy and past the whole thing…


    When John McCain nominated Sarah Palin for Vice President, I (along with a whole lot of other non-Alaskans) suddenly developed an interest in Alaskan politics, and one of the best political blogs I found was Mudflats, written by a blogger who went by the name of AKMuckraker. It didn’t occur to me to wonder who AKMuckraker was, or why she was anonymous: she didn’t purport to have any sort of inside knowledge about the things she wrote about, or claim any special authority; she was just an informed observer. As far as I was concerned, her identity was her business, as were her reasons for keeping it private.

    Mike Doogan, a Representative in the Alaska State Legislature, apparently disagrees. He just outed her. AKMuckraker:

    “After the initial surprise wore off, it really hit me. This is an elected State Representative, of my own political party, who has decided that it’s not OK for me to control the information about my identity; that it’s not OK to express my opinion on my own blog without shouting from the rooftops who I am.

    If I were to appear, as many of you have, at a political rally and I were to hold up a sign that expressed my opinion, I don’t have to sign my name on the bottom. And if someone wants to come online and read my diary, they are free to do so. And if they want to disagree, that’s OK too.

    It said in my “About” page that I choose to remain anonymous. I didn’t tell anyone why. I might be a state employee. I might not want my children to get grief at school. I might be fleeing from an ex-partner who was abusive and would rather he not know where I am. My family might not want to talk to me anymore. I might alienate my best friend. Maybe I don’t feel like having a brick thrown through my window. My spouse might work for the Palin administration. Maybe I’d just rather people not know where I live or where I work. Or none of those things may be true. None of my readers, nor Mike Doogan had any idea what my personal circumstances might be. But that didn’t seem to matter. (…)

    I don’t need to remind Mudflats readers that Alaska is in a time of turmoil. We are facing unknown consequences with an erupting volcano that threatens to wipe out a tank farm on Cook Inlet holding 6 million gallons of oil. We have critical issues in the legislature, including Alaska’s acceptance or rejection of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus money for education and other critical purposes. We have a governor who has just chosen an incredibly divisive and extreme right wing idealogue as our new Attorney General. And there are only three weeks left in the legislative session. It bothers me quite a bit that instead of focusing all his energy on doing his job, one of our elected representatives would rather spend his time stalking and harrassing a political blogger.”

    It would bother me too, but not as much as the idea that someone who allegedly represents citizens feels that he has the right to disregard their views about whether or not to share their identities. Whether or not AKMuckraker reveals her name ought to be her decision. No one else has the right to make it for her, any more than they would have the right to publish her medical records or her credit history.

    It might be different had AKMuckraker made some claim to special inside knowledge. I have not read her entire blog, but as far as I can tell, that’s not what she does. She follows Alaskan politics the way anyone might, and comments on what she sees. Her identity is irrelevant to her arguments, and anyone who disagrees with her can challenge them on their own terms, without having to discuss who she is.

    I speak from experience here. My reasons for blogging under a pseudonym are pretty trivial: while I have never minded the idea that someone reading my posts could figure out who wrote them, I would rather that people, and in particular my students, not be able to google my name and find my collected political opinions. (I learned, to my surprise, that some students do google their professors around the time I started writing for Obsidian Wings.) I have been outed by several people, generally inadvertently; and while I have never minded all that much, I would rather have been able to make that choice for myself.

    But it is a luxury to be able not to mind. I do not work in state government. I do not have an abusive ex-husband from whom I am hiding. My reasons for remaining anonymous are, as I said, pretty trivial. I have no idea whether the same can be said for AKMuckraker’s. Nor, more importantly, does Mike Doogan. Did he stop to wonder whether she might have an abusive ex-husband, or a stalker? Or whether she has gotten threats because of her blog? (I have, and I’m Little Miss Reasonable.)

    Somehow, I doubt it. If he had stopped to wonder, it might have occurred to him that some people might have very serious reasons for wanting to remain anonymous. But even if AKMuckraker’s reasons are as slight as mine — and if I were Mike Doogan, I’d be hoping that they are — the fact that he thinks that bloggers should not be anonymous does not mean that he gets to make that choice for others.

  • George

    Thank you Spartikus…

  • Deacon Blue

    @ Peter Ladner… Have you hugged your alter ego lately? He/She is eagerly waiting.

  • Flowmass

    I prefer not using my real name as I like to tell true stories and make predictions without ad hominem attacks on other folks (unless they really need it -and they know who they are.)

    Police said they found a dazed senior near the corner of Renfrew and Hastings. When they asked him where he lived, he pointed across the street and said: “Over there, at 4th and McDonald.” When the police informed him that this is not Kitsilano he replied: “Huh, the folks who bought around here in the past few years think it is.”

  • Ned

    Peter Ladner.

    It’s a sunny but sad day in Vancouver. To read the comment from a former wannabe Mayor , on a site catering strongly to the Vision Left, advocating for a Penny Ballem ‘gag routine’. Hurry, go rent the ‘Despcable Me’ movie. Beats the blogs.
    Peter you’ll never get my vote for that matter. Ever.
    On the other hand:
    ‘Well, my name is Glissando Remmy, but most people call me… Glissando Remmy.’
    That…I respect.

  • I am an admirer of Mr. Villegas’ postings and innovative ideas, but disagree with him on just one thing – the desirability of towers. I’ve lived in apartment blocks for more than 30 years of my life and like that more urban way of living.

    17 of those years were spent at 87th St & 3rd Ave in Manhattan. Neighbours in the building ignored each other entirely, but community still existed inside the building with the staff, who became a kind of second family. On a recent visit back we stopped by to share hugs and a few tears with them, all of us surprised by the intensity of the connection we’d made.

    But outside the building, in a four block radius, our sense of community was strong. My dry-cleaner, Jean, knew my voice so well I never had to introduce myself. Our wine store – Mr. Wright’s – would deliver anything we needed on a phone call because they knew us. We had a tiny Italian deli 2 blocks up the street with as good a selection of olive oil as Whole Foods but half the price. The local chinese – Chef Ho’s – knew us by name, as did any of a dozen local merchants.

    The beauty of that tower lifestyle (aside from the views) was that everything we needed was within a four-block walk of our home. We didn’t own a car and never needed one except for business in more than twenty years spent on that island.

    Here in Vancouver, we live at Paris Place, the very first tower built in Tinseltown fifteen years ago. We have a very strong community inside. Neighbours know each other, help each other, and come out for all of the events we put on. Our Christmas party was remarkable, with food donated by local merchants, and packed with many different nationalities, languages, ages, religions and races all happily breaking bread together and toasting the New Year in a kind of multicultural melange representative of the very best our city can be.

    Our residents love Paris Place. And we’re thrilled that the Woodwards Tower has helped bring our entire community alive, making it possible for residents to attend cultural events and shop and bank and attend community meetings locally for the first time.

    And we’re thrilled to see the Atira Women’s Centre, another tower, go up right next to our building. It will house single mothers in place of an open-air latrine and shooting gallery. What solution could possibly be better than that?

    Given that close-knit communities evolve inside towers just as they do in any community, and given that those who live communally are also living in the most ecologically responsible way possible, and given that condo development makes housing affordable for those that can’t afford million-dollar lots, I’d say that towers have a rightful place in our city’s future.

    If those eager to preserve the character of existing neighborhoods would consider transit-based density as an approach that would see development on major arterials and transit routes – on the borders of, rather than piecemeal dotted-throughout-and-destroying-the-character-of, existing neighborhoods, we might be able to forge a new citywide plan in time for our 125th birthday this year that we could all celebrate.

    And that vision would certainly contain more of Mr. Villegas’ low-rise urbanism in addition to the towers many of us love for good reason.

  • I would like to +1 Spartikus’ comment about not responding to trolls.

    Spartikus’ defense of anonymity is (as ever) an eloquent one but I do want to point out one thing:

    The right to blog anonymously yourself and the right to comment anonymously on another’s blog *are two separate things*.

    In both cases, it is the owner of the blog who gets to choose – and in both cases I believe their right to choose should be preserved.

    As a commenter, your rights are secondary to those of the owner of the blog and should he or she choose to only accept non-anonymous comments there would be no violation of anyone’s freedoms.

    Frances policy choices are her own, of course. My personal feeling is that “free-for-all” commenting systems ultimately turn into a tragedy of the commons once a certain level of traffic is reached, and we’ll generally see blogs becoming more restrictive in their commenting policies (if they accept comments at all.)

  • I agree with Peter Ladner.

    I recognize that in requiring real names, a few worthwhile voices may be lost. But there are plenty of other forums on which those individuals may express themselves. And, in my opinion, the benefits of using real names would outweigh the costs.

    I am also aware that there are commercial/competitive reasons why other web sites have not required posters use real names. But is blissfully free from those business concerns. Perhaps this vibrant forum is the ideal skunkworks on which to test the real-names-equals-civil-debate hypothesis?

    Let us all just be ourselves in 2011 — at least while we’re all here in Frances’ kitchen.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    One of the joys of this blog for me, Frances, is that we actually bother to answer each other…
    “…identify and enhance new and traditional neighbourhoods network-connected by (no-emission) trams.”

    Roger Kemble 5


    “Your comment about density = towers is your take not theirs. They didn’t specify the building types.”

    Bill McCreery 7

    That’s old paradigm planning too, Bill. We zone by building type once we realize that the issue of separation by use went the way of suburban sprawl, and that. Other than making exceptions for noxious or non-compatible uses—everything else is pretty much the heart and soul of the “good” quartier. Including the choice of building type, and the choice of design for the street fronting.

    Sean Bickerton’s #19 deserves a bit more consideration. The initial clarification is that I support the view that there should be both tower and non-tower quartiers. But, not towers everywhere. More later…


    I can report on some of these “concrete and verifiable facts” that are the hallmark of new paradigm planning. I had a conversation yesterday with a woman who lives in a unit that is within the footprint of the Great St. George’s Cross that I have used here to characterize the “vision” of the Mt. Pleasant Plan. Her condo opens on Broadway within a block or so of Main St.

    Her comment was this, “Every time I dust, I can pass a paper towel over a surface in my apartment, and it comes out completely black.” What she is reporting is the level of particulate matter entering her home from Broadway because her unit is single orientation and gets all its air & light from the overcalled arterial. The particulate matter serves as a vehicle and carries with it molecules from the oil and gasoline consumed on the spot. Not a pretty cocktail.

    We shrugged our shoulders at what this kind of exposure might mean to her health 20 years from now. A fate worse than smoking cigarettes?

    Either that level of vehicular volume is a noxious and non-compatible use, or we have greatly mis-calculated the adequacy of building lots fronting arterials for fronting residential. Further, the viability of double-loaded corridor buildings as the appropriate building type for these conditions should also be questioned. Yet, as I understand it, this is exactly what will be going up on Cambie.

    The real issue with the planning of the last twenty years—and the apparent reluctance to acknowledge it today and provide other options—is that it was carried out in complete avoidance of concrete and measurable neighbourhood realities such as the one described to me by the person residing on Broadway.

    As far as I can tell—for whatever reasons (including profit-driven ones)—this planning practice continues today, as exemplified by the latest planning proposal to come out of City Hall. The dread “Mt. Pleasant Solution”.

  • spartikus

    In both cases, it is the owner of the blog who gets to choose – and in both cases I believe their right to choose should be preserved.

    I would completely agree with that – this is Frances’s private forum, we are guests…she sets the rules.

    That said, what is of major concern here is not really identity, but how we encourage better comments and discussion. And in that, I don’t think there is a difference b/w blogging and commenting under a pseudonym.

    If you are not claiming special or inside knowledge then your blog post – or comment – stands or falls on it’s own merits. And can be challenged, etc.

    I am also not entirely convinced that it is the ability to comment anonymously that leads to most cases of breakdowns or disruptions of dialogue. Sure, there are bonafide trolls out there, but I think it’s the ability to react instantly that is more a factor. Your first reaction is not often your best, and there is no “Undo” button here, something I have often needed 🙂

    Finally there is the practical. How would you implement and enforce it? Anyone could make up a real-sounding name and it’s still a pseudonym.

    I have suggested to Frances in the past that there would be value in posting rules and commenting systems like Disqus – things that would help the community police itself.

    And for the record, every blog I comment at I leave my real email address (which has my real name).

  • The Fourth Horseman


    What @George (#16) said. Good work.

  • The Fourth Horseman

    And to comment #23, as well.

  • The Fourth Horseman

    Sorry, one more comment.

    Monte, I appreciate your sentiments. In a perfect workld, we could all come out and ‘be ourselves” on these forums.

    With the greatest respect: you and Peter are already high profile. You are paid for your opinions and, as you have stated yourself, are writing from a left of centre viewpoint, at a left of centre online media source. Peter, of course, has been involved in the political life of this city and has expressed views on both sides of the political spectrum.

    My point: you guys already have profile, you live and prosper by that profile, and I would venture are considered part of the “elite” classes of this city, as far as I can discern.

    Howver, the regular citizen, labouring away for a private or public organization, or hoping to pick up consulting work without being hamstrung by political identifications, and who does not wield the power that you possess (and no, I am not fawning) doesn’t have the same kind of latitude afforded you.

    It doesn’t mean we don’t hold specific values or, as I have often stated here, a mix of right/centre/left values (therefore, perhaps being less ideologiacally driven than commentators or pols!) but, as with my age, gender or sexual preferences, I don’t think it’s anyone’s damn business! This is not to say that I would avoid stating a belief in public—it’s just that I will be picking my battles.

    For me, my anonymity actually affords me some ability to consider a different range of choices and commments on forums like this one, without fear of sanctions. Additionally, in some way, it also affords me the ability to consider other opinions that I hadn’t considered before, which then allows me to do what appears to be unthinkable in the current climate: change my mind.

    It is what it is. However, should I decide to run for office, or write for media, guess that will all have to change, as I am sure people will tryb to pidgeon-hole me asap 😉

    I agree with Sparty: Frances probably has a good idea of who we all are. That she posts some invective by the more excitable amongst us, and that some see as threatening, is testament to freedom of speech in this country. It is up to all readers of this blog and any other as to the credibility of the poster or his/her arguments.

    Sometimes the diatribes and insults say much more about the poster than their arguments ever could. Let us pat ourselves on the back and recognize that we can discern the difference and don’t need to “register” to keep it clean.

  • Sean Bickerton #19

    Yes tower living can be community too.

    1970 I lived on the eight floor of Pacific Palisades, Vancouver for a while: five minutes walk along Robson from my office in the Birks blg.

    Shopping for groceries, on the way home, along Robson was a delight.

    I have lived for ten years in downtown Nanaimo on the tenth floor of a seventeen storey tower. Magnificent views all ’round.

    We have community among regulars and corridor/elevator conversations with transients: mostly young off-shore students.

    Everything I need is within five minutes walking.

    I thinq we have gone over this before: constantly obsessing over one type of building, constantly obsessing over anachronistic cottages is not urban design and is . . . well . . . anachronistic obsession.

    Urban design as a starter, is about figure ground, foot print at ground level between towers: the ambulatory experience between an assortment of appropriate building typologies.

    Urban design is about life’s amenities close to home.

    Urban design is about developers making a decent profit without having t bamboozle us with perfidious pretty models and pictures: a realistic, minimal approval process with the intent of furnishing commodity, firmness and delight.

    Urban design is about infrastructure and not having to join the debilitating commute to Mission and Abbotsford to find an affordable home.

    The ideal, but not the only, building form is the tower augmented by a pedestrian scale courtyard atrium surround mitigating the confluence of tower and street and ground level: pedestrian scaled.

    But it is much, much more: affordability, wealth creation social amenity, spatial amenity . . .

    Oh it is so much more than going over the came damn thing over and over again . . . and obsessing over long gone nostalgia and fooling ourselves on long Google street view tours . . . urban life, any life, is having control over our own destiny not having to rely on off-shore money to prop up a failing city.

    Urban design is not about smooth operators playing cool and avuncular to get control when the situation has deteriorated to the point we have to fool ourselves.

    Urban design is not about Eco-density disguised as green when in fact it is a stealth way to introduce foreign objects into our neighbourhoods.

    Urban design is not about the reigning Mount Pleasant plan nor about lineal sprawl along the Cambie corridor.

    Oh I wish . . .

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Sean Bickerton, it’s hard to argue with an Upper East Side address in NYC. While I travelled across a continent to see the Leonardo Drawings at the Metropolitian Museum, from your apartment house you would have walked just 2000 feet. Not only are the Frick, the Whitney & the Gugenheim are nearby along with countless other institutions, but Central Park itself is an urban amenity par excellence waiting at the end of 87th Street. Yet, as a visitor at least, I find myself always gravitating to the Village. I find the corner of Bleeker & MacDougal, the bends on Morton and Barrow Streets, or the sounds heard in the basement of the Village Vanguard on 7th Avenue more interesting than the relentless grid. What has always impressed upon me in that city is the absence of sunlight. A constant penumbra attaches to the experience of streets in Manhattan. Yet, a more germane point perhaps is that the built form is entirely different in the other boroughs of New York. Putting some pay to the proposition that it takes the other four and a half boroughs to support the frenzy of Manhattan south of 120th St.

    Post #19 provides a great number of facts to take under consideration many forged in a mature high density neighbourhood.

    1. “Neighbours in the building ignored each other entirely, but … [the building staff]… became a kind of second family. ” This echoes Oscar Newman’s proposition that towers work when there are doormen & concierge on hand. We should also append Woody Allen’s famous joke about the difficulty of finding good apartments, and looking in the obits to get a jump on the competition.

    2. A 5 minute walking distance was a reality of daily life. Not only did the merchants know their clients by name, one supposes that neighbours did the bulk of their business within walking distance of their front door. Especially in view of the third point:

    3. No need to own a car.

    However, we should mention that these urban attributes are also available to residents of Montreal, Boston’s Beacon Hill, and San Francisco’s Washington Square district. We don’t need towers to produce the results of hi-density urbanism. That point is not well understood by many in our region.

    Some points about Vancouver:

    1. Tinseltown is on the edge of the Downtown Peninsula. A 5 minute walk reaches the seawall at False Creek, two sports arenas, Costco, Skytrain & Canada Line, Gastown and Chinatown.
    This location teeters on the edge of our historic neighbourhoods, and last year’s Historic Area Hight Review (HAHR) pretty much pushed that boundary over the edge. As did the Woodwards. I agree with Mr. Bickerton that:

    2. “…the Woodwards Tower has helped bring our entire community alive, making it possible for residents to attend cultural events and shop and bank and attend community meetings locally for the first time.”

    However, I’m sure he would agree that we don’t have to build against the grain of historic form & character in order to achieve those results. The Woodwards was built on lots forming part of the original Gastown plat, and represents an affront to the cultural sensitivities of many. I align with those who feel that preserving the cultural values represented by the form and character of our historic neighbourhoods is the more effective way of promoting cultural, business and social agendas in these singular areas.

    3. The first lesson I draw from Manhattan is to avoid in our historic neighbourhoods the kind of destruction wreaked by ramming Broadway & the subway through Greenwich Village in the 1920’s; or the kind of actions that the mother & her affiliates of another poster to this blog, Ned Jacobs, were able to curb in the 1960’s. This observation from another New Yorker:

    “New York, whatever is virtues, has never paid much attention to the niceties of a public environment; as a city, we are the ultimate example of Galbraith’s observation about private affluence and public squalor.”

    Paul Golberger, (then) architecture critic for the New York Times, in “New York: The City Observed”, Vintage Books 1979, p.82.

    4. The second lesson I draw is that towers belong within tightly defined footprints. Places that are capable of sustaining the level of frenzy characteristic of living in Manhattan. The issue goes both to the ability to mitigate some of the consequences of building at hyper-scale, and to the need to provide sufficient amenity for those choosing to reside there.

    Our downtown peninsula—with important exceptions—is a classic candidate site. As I have pointed out elsewhere, the proximity of Burrard Inlet, Stanley Park, the Beaches, and the employment & entertainment centre downtown will not be matched by any other site in our region. Transportation, for many years the most important missing ingredient, is now in place with the completion of the Canada Line. Given the opportunity, I have been a keen supporter of tower proposals in our downtown core.

    Outside the downtown, I don’t see the need for towers. And I recognize the damage that they do to both the fabric of the quartier, and the vision and imagination of city staff and our elected leaders.

    Hence, I find artifice in the concept of “view cones”. If we accept a tower zone, we should expect that views to the mountains or the horizon will be blocked as we approach. The fact that the downtown peninsula projects into the inlet serves to put the mass of construction that much further afield for the rest of the city. As has been the case in Manhattan, we should also anticipate that a kind of race to the top will be triggered where proposals will be ever upward regardless of cost to erect, or threat to life. We must accept this as part of both this kind of urbanism and our human nature.

    However, let us also recognize that left unchecked, lacking the political fortitude to set boundaries and stick by them, tower urbanism is just another form of sprawl bringing with it all of the same negative consequences, but at higher intensity.

  • Higgins

    Peter Looser, seconded by Gloria Who? Chang (she is listening! LOL), than let’s all agree with Monte Paulsen. Whaa?
    To be honest all three would have benefited more from writing anonymously. As per one of the above commentators they all want to make a name for themselves in the media, good try, and there is real chance for them to not making it! Cause’ others are wittier, more eloquent and provide better info. than any of them. That’s how the commies eliminated competition and the free speech during their Golden Era . By claiming the fight for the bigger cause!
    You know what? Bring some more of your subtle thoughts, and I’ll edit them in a book!

    On a different note, Frances post was very interesting! Happy New Year!

  • Julia

    I have posted here under my real name and also my alias. When I use my real name, my employer gets lumped in with my comments and it creates unbelievable assumptions about where I come from with my comments and I am far more cautious that I may be speaking ‘on their behalf’. I choose to use an alias when I simply want to be accountable but not affiliated – make sense? I am sure there are others that are in the same predicament. Sometimes it is nice to take the public hat off and speak one’s mind!

    I trust Frances with my email address. She knows exactly when I change hats (not often, but I do occasionally). I am grateful that I have that option and she allows it. Thank you.

  • Frances Bula

    So thrilling to see you all back, in fine form. Re the idea of requiring real names.

    All of us in blogland are struggling with this whole issue of commenters. I do think using aliases provides some advantages:
    1. It gives people an equal voice when they comment, without someone automatically assuming “Oh, you’re a nobody.” It’s the quality of opinions that counts, not who you are
    2. It does encourage people who might be worried about repercussions to comment. Yes, they are out there. I’ve talked to some people who are too scared to post comments EVEN UNDER A PSEUDONYM, because the thought of being attacked publicly is too much for them. So anything that encourages more discussion is good.
    3. I’m a hopeless believer in the free marketplace of information.

    I agree that there are some scary people out there commenting. Who knew? All that steaming rage that seems to have finally found a fissure to boil up through, as we see with the incredibly abusive, hate- and rumour-filled comments on some blogs (and respectable newspaper sites).

    But from other blog operators I’ve talked to, the trick is not making every write under their real names. (Though making people register does help.) It’s having a host or monitor who roams the hallways and occasionally comments on or checks bad behaviour.

    I don’t always do the right thing on this. I’m feeling my way as I go, sometimes urged into action by a posse of you. But I do feel as though the group here, along with my occasional deletions or comments, has produced a fairly civilized conversation.

    By the way, I don’t at all know most of the identities of people on the blog. I wish I did. A few, because they email me privately or their real names show up on the email addresses that aren’t visible to you. But largely, it’s all a mystery to me — I know too many people!!

    When I go out in a blaze of glory one of these years, I’m going to have a giant party and invite everyone to come with their name tags on. Won’t that be fun? Can hardly wait to see Jason King and Chris Keam slow-dancing together.

  • Frances Bula

    Also, hello to Michael Seelig. Nice to know you’re out there.

  • George


    Can hardly wait to see Jason King and Chris Keam slow-dancing together.

    you have put a picture in my head that I can’t shake out ….that was a funny comment …sorry Chris and JK… 🙂

  • And what could have been France, the country, without the contribution of those famous pseudonyms such as Moliere, Voltaire, Celine…

  • Bobbie Bees

    Bobbie Bees is my legal name and I fully agree with Peter Ladner.
    Pseudonyms should be banned completely. Either post under your real name or don’t post at all.

    Far too many Internet keyboard warriors get all puffed up when they can hide behind their nom de plume. My favourite situation with pseudonyms is when someone starts a virtual sock-puppet fight using multiple names. I know of a few bloggers who fill their comments sections up with sock-puppets and straw men. Posting under your legal name seems to tame some of these keyboard princesses.

  • spartikus

    Sock puppets are also a real phenomena. Bobbie Bees provides the example of bloggers filling up their own comment sections. Once again I ask the practical:

    How on earth – barring draconian changes to the Charter and constant monitoring by the authorities – would you stop that particular scenario?

    On a blog such as this one, IP addresses are logged with each comment. Frances would be able to tell who is posting under multiple aliases. Personally I have faith that she would not tolerate that.

    My advice: If you suspect that is going on on a particular blog – stop reading the blog!

    Caveat emptor, etc.

    In Canada, in libel/slander cases you have to prove a degree of tangible damage to your reputation. Lost business contracts, fired from job, and so on.

    Just out of curiousity, does anyone have an example of such sort of damages to an individual resulting from a blog post or comment made by an anonymous internet denizen?

    I can think of lots of local example using anonymous sources, but these are stories pushed by either the mainstream media or bloggers who are not anonymous.

    Finally, comments #21 and #32 are examples of the sort of comment that we would like to see less of. Peter Ladner might not like reading them (I wouldn’t) but what harm have they actually done? Who actually puts any stock in such things?

    A common posting rule on blogs is “Don’t vilify another commenter for it’s own sake.”

    If there was such a thing such a thing here, it would help the community police itself.

  • spartikus

    I don’t mean to dwell on this – well, actually yes, I do LOL – but here is an op-ed in today’s NY Times from law professor Stanley Fish that argues against online anonymity. You can see just what sort of legal changes, in an American context anyway, would be required.

    From the comment section of that very piece an commenter (under a pseudonym, no less. Oh irony!) points out another story in the NY Times that has the Chechen President is jailing dissidents on grounds of libel (he is being accused of murder of which he is likely guilty). From that link:

    Mr. Kadyrov’s attempt to silence Mr. Orlov reflects an increasingly common tactic in Russia. The authorities do not summarily imprison their critics as dissidents, as in Communist times. They instead often invoke an array of civil and criminal charges, including defamation, to exact financial penalties or prison sentences.

    It’s not quite the same thing, true, but I think you can see what a slippery slopes such things are…

  • I side with those arguing that anonymity offers us the benefit of intelligent insight we would otherwise be deprived of.

    And Mr. Villegas’ post gives me hope a more comprehensive, thought-through plan can be arrived at that protects neighbourhood chraracter, accommodates various forms of density, and aligns with our major transit infrastructure. It’s long past time for us to tackle this major project.

    As to our lucky address in NYC, Lewis, that apartment, like all great apartments in that city, came with a story, but we’ll save that for another day.

    Happy New Year Frances et al!

  • “I side with those arguing that anonymity offers us the benefit of intelligent insight we would otherwise be deprived of.”

    After we eliminate the notable exceptions who are both anonymous and intelligent, most of the truly valuable insights are coming from people who either use their real names or provide a way of contacting them directly. The letters to the editor section of the paper has provided a lively debate for over a hundred years, and generally requires some form of verification of contributors. Obviously most bloggers don’t have those kind of resources, but they do have the power of the delete key. Personally, I’d like to see this blog and a couple others get serious about moderating the debate and start banning posters who can’t debate without personal attacks or unfounded accusations. Thin the forest so the healthy trees get the light. If one wants to call people names, then go start a blog of your own (not directing that ‘your’ at you Sean)

  • Higgins

    Spartikus. #39 and #40.
    First I don’t get your approval for my comment , oh dear, tears run down my cheeks, than you go further and provide examples of how other police states down south are counteracting these kind of ‘despicable’ mannerism.
    First thing first. It was nothing personal. I may still blame him for loosing to Vision, yes, but that’s me. But hear me out, Peter was the second poster on this subject, ok? After Lewis provided an excellent overview and made a very informed comment, here comes the former ‘big shot’ politician, the local ‘pillar’ of society , here it comes after a long hibernation, writes nothing of substance but instead advocates ever so graciously for self censoring and a call for everyone to wear a tie and a jacket, as if somehow then, in the presence of ‘royalty’ the level of dialogue is going to turn into pure gold. I understand you want ‘in’ this club spartikus, but I don’t.
    I only want my city back! Is that so wrong?
    Kudos to Bill McCreary, at least he is acting like a real politician.