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A Very Green Place

July 21, 2014

You have to get away from Vancouver to appreciate how really green it is. I’m talking about the lavishness of things with leaves.

Here’s last Thursday’s City Conversations, held in the little park at the foot of Hornby Street, on the topic of public art.  We take the green stuff pretty much as a given: Nature’s public art.

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News Clip: Gordon Price sold! Mural destroyed!

July 21, 2014

Imagine my shock.

From GlobalBC News:

07-17-muralEDMONTON – A piece of Whyte Avenue history was lost earlier this week when a 30-year-old mural was accidentally sandblasted away.

The mural was painted by Edmonton artist Toti and featured three musicians – fitting for its location outside of the Gordon Price music store.

When Gordon Price was sold, later owners made sure to keep the mural intact.

The current owner had no idea it was painted by an Edmonton artist and had historical significance to Whyte Avenue.

No relation – but still, just for the record, I wouldn’t have overpainted the mural even if I hadn’t been sold.

News Clip: Stranded Assets

July 21, 2014

SFU prof Anthony Perl has an op-ed in The Sun: Managing the risks of investing in coal exports

The future looks bleak for coal and we shouldn’t invest in it

The proposal to build coal shipment facilities at Fraser Surrey Docks (map here) and Texada Island for U.S.-mined thermal coal is at risk of becoming B.C.’s version of Mirabel Airport in Quebec — underused infrastructure built for a future which never arrived. …

Exporting U.S. coal may seem like a good deal for speculators looking for a quick buck, but B.C. taxpayers need to be protected from the risks of a quick collapse of coal exports in future. The best protection is to avoid expanding coal export infrastructure before the carbon bubble bursts.

So far, no response from Port Metro Vancouver.

Barcelona 1 – The Beach on Sant Joan’s Night

July 21, 2014

We arrive on the night of the Festival of Sant Joan – Barcelona’s patron saint.  It is to the beach where people come to set off fireworks, and others go to watch them do it.

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So much here defines Barcelona today: the vast beaches, the architecture, the public spaces, even the Gehry Fish - and yet it’s all relatively new.  The Summer Olympic Games that accelerated the city’s emergence as a global destination, and the transformation of its waterfront, happened in 1992 – not yet a quarter century.  And so much has been done since, some of which we’ll explore this week.

But people come to Barcelona to admire its past, particularly the work of Antoni Gaudi.  Culturally, the focus is still on Modernisme,  the movement that emerged not in the 20th century but the 19th.  Yet this is an urban region, still one of the densest in the world, that does not shy away from making major interventions, transforming whole sections of the city in a decade, while still focussing design and resources on small interventions.

It is a place, politically and culturally, that is attempting to construct community and establishment support in order to move consciously, with plans and strategies, into the next stage of the 21st century.  Lots of debate, of course, but when they do move forward, it shows.

Next, an example.

Hello, Again

July 21, 2014

Back again.  After four weeks of travel – to London, Barcelona, Madrid … and Fredericton.   As in New Brunswick, for the Canadian Institute of Planners conference.

Special thanks to our hosts in Europe – Michael and Ellen, Chuck and Adolfo – who made their cities ours.  And to the CIP and Michael Geller for a good time in the Maritimes.

For the next few weeks, I’m going to be posting images from those places, with a bit of explanation and commentary.  No rigorous order, mainly impressions.

Starting with Barcelona.

The Uncovered Issue: Danger of a Built-in Bias against Metro Vancouver

June 17, 2014

UPDATE: Back, if only briefly, to correct some misinformation in the now-edited post below.  (My fault for not double-checking on some facts from my original source.)

MLA Spencer Chandra-Herbert notes correctly that the NDP did in fact oppose the legislation that establishes the commission and its mandate early in the legislative process.  That’s a fundamental difference in the parties.  But the danger remains: the discrepancy in voting power between rural and urban ridings may well be exacerbated and constitutionally embedded, even if only by the Liberal majority.

My apologies to Spencer and those who voted in opposition.

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I’m off to speak in London – and then on vacation for three weeks.  So this blog will be on hiatus until mid-July (unless I am irresistibly provoked to write on the referendum). 

Here’s something I’ve been saving up – an important issue that isn’t getting enough attention but which could well be critical to the fate of this region.  I encourage you to read it – and then to comment, to retweet it, to forward it, and to encourage a larger dialogue, and hopefully some action.

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Provincial politicians are stacking the deck against this urban region

A built-in bias, constitutionally enabled, is going to get worse, skewing the politics of this province and loading the dice against the interests of the urban regions of B.C., unless our voices are raised – and soon.  By the time the consequences become clear, it may be too late.

The Liberal government has passed legislation that could effectively ensure transit, homelessness, and arts and culture will get lower priority from our Provincial Government regardless of who leads it.  The legislation – the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act – instructs a new commission to do something the Supreme Court says is illegal.

Currently rural ridings in British Columbia can have 50 percent less people than urban ridings.  New legislation could skew this even further.  For example, there are 20,000 people in Stikine and 70,000 people in Surrey-Cloverdale – but they each have one MLA. This means some people have three and a half times the political representation of some other people based on where they live. Put another way, things that are important to urban people like affordable housing, services for mentally ill and a healthy transit system are up to three and a half times less important to a government whose base is more rural and small town.

A Member for Stikine may make the point that his or her riding is the size of a small country.  On the other hand, almost 90 percent of the population in the riding lives along a 230-kilometre highway; over 99 percent of the territory has no people at all.  Improved technology makes it much easier to connect with remote constituents, but just because urban people live close to each other doesn’t mean they are easy to reach; there are often more significant barriers like language and culture.

Rural MLAs may deserve a bigger budget for travel and staff.  They do not deserve three times the votes.

When Gordon Campbell was Mayor of Vancouver he took the provincial government to court over the issue; when he was Premier he reversed his position.  Something happens to Metro politicians when they cross the water to Victoria.  But Gordon Campbell’s first instinct was the correct one: No group loses more out of the current situation than Metro Vancouver.

Consider the situation with respect to transportation: our region has been asking provincial governments for years – both NDP and Liberals – for permission to tax only its voters more to pay for additional transit, local roads and bridges.  But as provincial taxpayers we not only contribute to the cost of British Columbia’s highway infrastructure but to the transit systems run by B.C. Transit in places like Kelowna.

No one here is complaining about that.  We do not expect to get more dollars from Kelowna to pay for TransLink operations.  But we are being put through extraordinary measures without assurance that the economic engine of this province, with the greatest concentration and growth of jobs, will continue to prosper and be able to determine the way it wishes to develop.

If every voter was equal regardless of where they live, would we even be having a referendum?

Surely the disparity in our political weight due to the diminished power of our votes plays a part – a discrepancy that could become even more magnified, locked into the constitutional structure of the province, unless the urban voters and their representatives actively make the case for simple fairness.

But we have to act now.

Poll: Can the Mayors’ Council Transportation Investment package pass?

June 17, 2014

Time for another poll, just to measure the mood at the moment.

This poll asks whether you think the Mayors’ Council proposal – Regional Transportation Investments: A Vision for Metro Vancouver - could pass in a referendum.

Yes, there are no doubt compromises to come, a funding amount to be determined, a question to be formulated, but let’s get your assessment of the likelihood of success – or not.  And then add your comments, qualifications and rationale below.

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