“New York’s Vast Flop”

Architecture critic Martin Filler eviscerates the World Trade Centre development in NYC in this long and worthwhile article from the New York Review of Books; readers who care only somewhat about Manhattan will still enjoy the Battle Royal between architects, developers, politicians and, indeed, critics.


Filler reviews three books on the subject, and at one point quotes Lynne Sagalyn: “This was not city building. Architecture may be art and city building calls for art-like understanding of the fabric of a place, but a city is not a blank canvas to paint at will…”

Filler has never been a fan of Santiago Calatrava: “The most architecturally ambitious portion of the ensemble, Santiago Calatrava’s World Trade Center Transportation Hub (commonly called the Oculus), opened to the public in March 2016, though with no fanfare whatever, doubtless to avoid drawing further attention to this stupendous waste of public funds. The job took twelve years to finish instead of the five originally promised, and part of its exorbitant $4 billion price will be paid by commuters in the form of higher transit fares. The fortune spent on this kitschy jeu d’esprit—nearly twice its already unconscionable initial estimate of $2.2 billion—is even more outrageous for a facility that serves only 40,000 commuters on an average weekday, as opposed to the 750,000 who pass through Grand Central Terminal daily. Astoundingly, the Transportation Hub wound up costing $1 billion more than One World Trade Center itself.”

Is there a cautionary tale here for Vancouver and the nascent plan to redo the downtown waterfront, including expanding Waterfront Station into a larger, more effective transit hub?


Town Hall: Traffic Sucks on the North Shore – Feb 25


Traffic Sucks! – North Vancouver Traffic and Transit Town Hall

How long does it take you to get home from work? To go to the doctor or to the grocery store? Traffic in North Vancouver is worse than ever, and it impacts each person in our city.

On February 25th we want to hear your stories about how traffic, transit and transportation issues are impacting your life.

A panel of transportation experts and influencers will be there to hear your stories and provide their insights.


Anthony Perl, PhD – Professor of Urban Studies and Political Science (SFU), Transportation Policy Advisor

Ruth Armstrong – Unifor Local 111, representing over 3700 Metro Vancouver Transit Operators

Heather Drugge – Cycling Activist HUB North Shore


Saturday, February 25

1–3 pm

John Braithwaite Community Centre – Shoreline Room, 145 West 1st Street, North Vancouver

Register here.


Making the Links in Mexico City: Climate Change to Migration


Cities are first and foremost about water: No water, no city.  And the consequences of urban water crises can be global.

The New York Times illustrates that effectively in this story about Mexico City:

It is a cycle made worse by climate change. More heat and drought mean more evaporation and yet more demand for water, adding pressure to tap distant reservoirs at staggering costs or further drain underground aquifers and hasten the city’s collapse.

It still is, faster and faster, and the canal is just one victim of what has become a vicious cycle. Always short of water, Mexico City keeps drilling deeper for more, weakening the ancient clay lake beds on which the Aztecs first built much of the city, causing it to crumble even further.

Colored areas show how quickly the ground sank from October 2014 to May 2015

Much is being written about climate change and the impact of rising seas on waterfront populations. But coasts are not the only places affected. Mexico City — high in the mountains, in the center of the country — is a glaring example. The world has a lot invested in crowded capitals like this one, with vast numbers of people, huge economies and the stability of a hemisphere at risk.

One study predicts that 10 percent of Mexicans ages 15 to 65 could eventually try to emigrate north as a result of rising temperatures, drought and floods, potentially scattering millions of people and heightening already extreme political tensions over immigration.

The effects of climate change are varied and opportunistic, but one thing is consistent: They are like sparks in the tinder. They expose cities’ biggest vulnerabilities, inflaming troubles that politicians and city planners often ignore or try to paper over. And they spread outward, defying borders.

Full story here.

Forecasting Intersection Design Changes instead of Waiting for Crashes



Next City reports on something that   proves that everything old becomes new again with innovation, including the use of cameras monitoring intersections. UBC engineering professor Tarek Sayed states what everyone who has looked at the civic systems to get speed bumps or signalized crosswalks knows-“We have to wait for collisions to happen before we can do anything. A fundamental ethical and practical problem which faces traffic engineers is, in order to improve safety, you need a certain number of collisions … which you would try to prevent later,” says the University of British Columbia civil engineering professor. “It’s very reactive.”

Sayed has taken a proactive approach, developing a video camera system that monitors intersections for near collision misses, and has computers track the results. “The system, called, somewhat inelegantly, “computer vision and automated safety analysis,” uses off-the-shelf cameras, or cameras that are already installed in an area, to film a given intersection. Computer algorithms can track anything that moves through the intersection — cars, bikes, people — and can figure out quite a bit about each one. The computer knows whether the moving blip is a person or a car, how fast they’re going, how close they got to hitting another road user. The computer can even tell, with about 80 percent accuracy, whether a person is distracted by their phone while walking.”

Driver distraction is measured by how long it takes the driver to stop the car.  Sayed also suggests that lower vehicular speeds would lessen the impact of  any pedestrian crashes. This system is used in several countries and the redesign of one intersection in Edmonton Alberta had a 92 per cent reduction in collisions after the computer vision and safety analysis.


A new robotic entry into Sidewalk Space


The Economist has just reported that pedestrians may be sharing the sidewalk with a new interloper-a new version of robotic delivery system developed by “Piaggio Fast Forward, a subsidiary of Piaggio, an Italian firm that is best known for making Vespa motor scooters. Gita’s luggage compartment is a squat, drumlike cylinder that has been turned on its side. This, as the picture above shows, is fitted with two wheels of slightly larger diameter than the drum. These let the whole thing roll smoothly along, keeping the luggage compartment upright, at up to 35kph (22mph).”

This  item called a “Gita” is designed to walk a pace or two behind a human owner wearing an electronic belt, and can carry 18 kilograms of cargo for up to eight hours before needing recharging. Gita carries shopping as well as delivering goods ordered online.

Piaggio is now putting a dozen or so Gitas to work in pilot projects around America, doing things like carrying tools for workers, guiding people through airports and assisting with deliveries. And it is not alone. Starship Technologies, an Estonian company started by Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, two of the founders of Skype, has similar ambitions. Starship’s as-yet unnamed suitcase-sized robot has six small wheels, travels at 6kph and holds 10kg of cargo. Rather than doggedly following a human being, it navigates itself around using cameras and ultrasonic sensors—though a remote operator can take control of it to supervise tricky manoeuvres such as crossing roads.”

One challenged faced by these “robots” and their designers is what is called unstructured environments, mainly the fact that these transporters have to share sidewalk space with unpredictable human beings.  Robotics have not learned how to navigate space that is full of people-yet. But engineer Matt Delany is  not giving up. The pedestrian environment is very cultural,” he says. “If you monitor people over many long repetitions in testing, a robot can learn the best routes.”

Because this new generation of robotics will not be on vehicular streets and road surfaces, the regulation and safety concerns have been to this point minimized. These robotics may be the new shape of autonomous home delivery, using a sidewalk near you.


The Friday File-Sofa through the Drive Through



In one of those stories that just has to come from the Maritimes someone thought it might be a good idea to tow a couch behind an ATV and go through the drive in line at McDonald’s in Miramichi New Brunswick at 3:30 a.m. last Thursday.

“Miramichi police say an officer spotted the couch, being towed behind an ATV, at 3:19 a.m. Thursday in the drive-thru. Cpl. Lorri McEachern says the driver of the four wheeler took off after the officer turned on the lights atop his cruiser, stranding the two “intoxicated” men outside the restaurant.

She says the driver raced through the parking lot, across the highway and onto the frozen Miramichi River, still towing the couch through much of his escape.”

Two couch surfers were caught. The crime? It is illegal to tow a couch through a drive through. However it should be noted that both men were wearing helmets.Two local men, aged 28 and 39, will face yet-to-be-determined charges.

A man carries a sofa on his motorcycle on a highway near Kenya's capital Nairobi

Daily Scot: Foreign buyer tax – Students and Loopholes

Scot thinks the latest column by Ian Young in his column, “The Hongcouver,” makes for a good read in the South China Morning Post:


Is it a mistake to offer exemptions from the Vancouver foreign buyer tax to home purchasers with Canadian work permits?

Almost as soon as BC Premier Christy Clark announced the plan at the Vancouver Chinatown Lunar New Year parade last week, newly graduated foreign students – who are entitled to post-graduation work permits lasting up to three years – were eagerly eyeing the proposal.

“I’ve just graduated and got a work permit. Can I buy a property with a loan? How much can I borrow?,” asked one reader of WuBianVision, a popular Chinese-language real estate blogger on the WeChat platform.

“I recently graduated and got a work permit. Can I buy a property now?” asked another last week.

Are these presumably foreign-funded buyers the folk that Clark now wants back in the Vancouver real estate market, which has seen sales nose-dive 40 per cent in the wake of the tax?

Continued here.

Secret Vancouver: Return to Hogan’s Alley – Feb 18

Secret Vancouver: Return to Hogan’s Alley


Hogan’s Alley is an essential part of the history and soul of Vancouver. This vibrant, notorious neighbourhood was a magnet for famous entertainers (it’s where Sammy Davis Jr. learned to dance!). But it was also seen by 1960s city planners as an example of urban blight, and became the first few blocks destroyed to make way for a proposed 12-lane freeway.

We’ll view the short documentary Secret Vancouver: Return to Hogan’s Alley, followed by discussion with the director, Melinda Friedman, and featured contributor Wayde Compton.

Saturday, February 18
1 pm
Room 1800, SFU Vancouver (Harbour Centre)
Free and open to all adults, but please register.

For Whom Does the Massey Bridge Toll?


The lack of Provincial response to the concerns of adjacent municipalities and mayors to the impending Massey Bridge mega-billion dollar construction project is truly the sound of one hand clapping. The Province is sure that the bridge is good for the Port and its own concepts of  twentieth century commercial trucking and traffic, and nothing is swaying their determination to foist this behemoth upon us.

The Richmond News  and Graeme Wood reports that the Mayor of Richmond, Malcolm Brodie was “disappointed yet unsurprised that the provincial government issued environmental approval for the 10-lane, $3.5 billion bridge. The concerns raised by Richmond about this project have continually been ignored throughout the public consultation and environmental assessment processes.”  The Federal Government, who could have also done a Federal review, has refused to do so, saying it is outside their mandate. However, as Councillor Harold Steeves notes, a similar Federal review was done for the Port Mann Bridge. So why the change?

And why does the Massey Tunnel need to be removed? Could this not be used for mass transit or a bicycle link? But no, “according to Geoff Freer, executive project director of the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project, the four-lane tunnel cannot be left beneath the river because it poses a risk to dyke stability during an earthquake. However, the City of Richmond is not aware of any special risks to the dykes associated with the tunnel.”

Of course if the tunnel is removed it allows for bigger ships to  go up and down the Fraser River’s south arm, increasing industrialization of farmland. And here is the weird part-“The provincial environmental assessment certificate issued Thursday calls for the tunnel to be filled in beneath the dyke and the four connecting tubes to be dug up from below the river bed.”

There is a Metro Vancouver water line that is pesky and in the way. That will need to be moved to allow for deeper dredging for big ships. What’s interesting is the certificate does not  “assess the implications of such dredging, as tunnel decommissioning would not directly change the size of vessels using the river; the certificate only addresses the footprint of the bridge.”

If you are not already confused, Mayor Brodie has stated that since the bridge’s towers are on land (Provincial jurisdiction) and do not directly impact the river, the federal government will not be involved. Never mind the fact that the removal of the tunnels will cause massive river bed disturbance. And Minister of Transportation Todd Stone is calling the ten lane Massey Bridge a “green bridge” now because it is reducing idling. 

The bridge is counter to a regional transportation plan supported by all the region’s mayors except for Delta’s mayor who supports the bridge in her jurisdiction. Mayor Brodie is supportive of a cheaper tunnel alternative, and also brings up the fact this bridge complicates regional road pricing. You can be sure this bridge will be tolled. The tolling fee is not announced, but will be higher than the Port Mann bridge because “The bridge’s initial cost is higher than the Port Mann Bridge and traffic projections show it will see less traffic.”

You just can’t make this stuff up.


Where are the “Transitioning Buyers” Going?


The Globe and Mail‘s Kerry Gold reports on a new wave of condo buyers that is happening at a faster pace than expected. Seniors instead of holding on to their equity rich housing until infirmity forces them into supportive care facilities appear to be cashing out and moving to condominium developments, many with similar  square footage on the floor plate as their previous homes.

Called “the transitioning buyer” these older condo purchasers will spend approximately half their equity in their new abode.Developers including “Nic Paolella, director of development for Marcon Developments in Vancouver, says he’s seeing the beginning of a potential flood of downsizers that will become one of the biggest drivers of the condo market. Marcon is a mid-size condo developer with a projected 1,000 units coming on the market this year.”

“This is the tip of the iceberg in terms of amount of capital out there for downsizer buyers,” he says. “We are only at the start of that wave. We are in for a lot more, and it could be a five- or 10-year run of the aggressive downsizer buyer,” he says. “And they have specific interests of where they want to be – often, in a similar neighbourhood to where they were living. Often, they want walkability and access to amenities without a car.”

With the high prices commanded by Vancouver housing, sellers can also now negotiate to continue to live in their homes until their respective condos are ready for occupancy. This can also be for the buyer’s benefit as “if the new buyer plans to tear the house down, as they usually do, it’s more difficult to remove a full-time paying tenant. And if the house is left empty, the owner is looking at paying the new vacancy tax.” 

Despite the cooling off of Vancouver housing prices this year, the Teranet-National Bank home price index still shows prices up 17 per cent from 2015.  “Long-time realtor Stuart Bonner, who specializes in expensive west-side Vancouver properties for Re/Max, says he’s seeing retirees taking a more “proactive” approach. “Nobody would have predicted what prices have done in the last three or four years. People are saying, ‘My house is worth what?’ They are stunning numbers. A lot of people are saying, ‘I’ve got to take some money off the table.’ These are educated people who realize it won’t go straight up forever.”


Accessibility Audits for Universal Places



The Rick Hansen Foundation has announced an Accessibility Certification Program providing accessibility audits to ensure barrier-free experiences for people with mobility, vision and hearing disabilities. These standards also make it as easy as possible for people with walkers and young families with strollers to use buildings, public streets, walkways and parks.

The Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) has developed RHF Accessibility Certification, an inclusive design and accessibility rating system. Similar to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), it measures and rates accessibility features. According to a recent survey conducted by Angus Reid Institute, 88% of Canadians consider a LEED-style rating program for universal accessibility to be worthwhile.

Trained RHF Access Assistants are currently conducting free beta accessibility reviews and rating buildings throughout Metro Vancouver and the greater Victoria-Colwood area. The first phase of pilot testing of the new RHF Accessibility Certification is underway until June 2017.

To learn more about this innovative pilot and how you can help make your communities accessible for everyone, contact Karen Marzocco, Project Manager at kmarzocco@rickhansen.com, or visit www.rickhansen.com/Our-Work/Accessibility-Certification-Program.


Who Needs Canada: The City Conversation – Mar 2


Metro Vancouver’s Global Impact

From climate change to refugee settlement, cities around the world are tackling critical and complex global issues. Metro Vancouver’s municipalities are increasingly recognized for their efforts and their important role that goes beyond our region’s boundaries.

What are the opportunities for Canadian cities overall in the global arena? How are the leaders of Canadian cities having impact on the world stage and in addressing global issues? Where are they not yet, but should be?


Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, Member of Parliament for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, former Mayor of West Vancouver

Penny Gurstein, Professor and Director of the School of Community and Regional Planning and the Centre for Human Settlements, UBC

Kaye Krishna, Vancouver’s new General Manager of Development, Buildings and Licensing.


Thursday, Mar 2
12:30–1:30 pm
Room 7000 – 515 West Hastings
Registration is not required but seating is limited. Please try to arrive early to ensure a seat.

Note that we do broadcast these events on the City Conversations Facebook page.

Micro-Suites in Vancouver-How Small Is Small?


The Vancouver Sun’s Kent Spencer asks the question-do we really want to live in micro-suites?  And should the City be encouraging these  tiny places?

Vancouver’s restrictions on minimum building sizes are quite sad because so many people want these things,” said Jon Stovell, president of Reliance Properties, which has sold-out micro-suite projects in Surrey and Victoria. “You talk to people on the street and they get it. They’d buy them in a minute. Tiny apartments would alleviate the affordability crisis, he said, with prices starting at $225,000 at a time when the average condo in Vancouver is roughly $550,000, up 40 per cent in the last three years.”

A micro-suite is a tiny apartment in the 250 to 300 square foot range-that is a space ten feet wide and twenty-five feet long. Vancouver planners will review the standard, and currently are uncomfortable with permitting strata units under 400 square feet. The City’s planning department does undertake post occupancy surveys to assess residents’ attitudes about small spaces and to ensure that the spaces are livable.

Developers argue that the multi-functionality of small spaces will mean that there are cost savings, and small places with smaller price tags are the way to go. There are  also some studies that are suggesting that living in small spaces is detrimental to  mental and physical health, without the many steps and tasks that are part of every day living.

The video below of a 225 square foot designer’s apartment in New York City. Should these small size condos be allowed? Or are these  micro-suites just squishing the property owner dream?


Why those Drive-Through Tims Are Not Good For You

1297819846575_originalAgain south of the Fraser River the editor of the Delta Optimist weighs in on the need for his morning “double double”. And he is not in a mood to be trifled with. In a surprising 4 to 3 vote Delta council defeated an application to  “build a Tim Hortons on a vacant lot on Ladner Trunk Road just east of 64th Street.”  And the editor states “When you tell people from outside Delta that your town doesn’t have a Tim Hortons, their incredulous response usually includes a query about whether you also lack indoor plumbing. ” 

Kudos to Delta Council who didn’t want to build this ode to idling close to single family houses. This Tim Hortons was a functioning “fuel up drive through ” facility with just a hat trick of seats inside so you wouldn’t get comfortable. 

The drive through facilities particularly impact small communities with populations of less than 15,000. I’ve seen a similar Tim Hortons drive through in Kensington Prince Edward Island take out the winter social spot of that small community and close out the adjacent tea shop. In Arnprior Ontario there is a 24 hour drive through, but there is also a massive eat in facility that has become the farmers’ late night hangout and a place that teens can gather.

Those fast food places love drive throughs. They make a lot of money for minimal customer service and time, taking your money in one window and passing the french fries out the other. Not only are there huge profit margins, but 65 per cent of McDonalds sales in the USA are through those drive in windows, and now 80 per cent of new McDonalds feature the drive through option.  Drive through clientele are regular customers who buy fast food 25 to 30 times a month.   As an industry insider posits Most drive-thru customers are just stopping to fill their gut”.  Drive through restaurants pride themselves at dealing with a customer within a specified time frame (normally around 200 seconds) and pride themselves at breaking records by pushing through the most cars served an hour.

There  are limited sociability aspects in  drive through fast food restaurant and certainly no way these facilities add to community placemaking. They are perhaps the sports car of fast food, whittling down the time needed to deal with pesky customers by not even allowing them to get out of the car.

But back to the defeated Ladner Tim Hortons.  The editor of the Optimist misses the fact completely that a drive through mug of motordom does not a community make.  His suggestion: “If a 24-hour drive-thru is indeed a deal breaker, perhaps the hours could be reduced or some other modifications made. Something needs to happen because, my dear Delta council members, Ladner needs a Tim Hortons.”


The Elbow Room As A Musical


You can always tell when something becomes an institution when it is written about or becomes a play. One of my  favourite places-and  some of my favourite people-are at the Elbow Room. Bryan Searle and Patrick Savoie first opened this restaurant  on Jervis Street with huge groaning breakfasts served with the driest sense of humour directly catered to your quickness. Their first  restaurant was in the home of the first mayor of Vancouver, Malcolm McLean who served in 1886. If he came back  as a ghost, I am sure he was entertained in fine form by Bryan and Patrick.

These restauranteurs serve their breakfast and lunch specials with a fine side of sarcasm and quick wit. And if you can’t finish your portion? You are sure to be contributing directly to the donations collected for a loving spoonful, with a stern admonishment to eat more next time. They’ve raised tens of thousands for this organization.

The Elbow Room, now on Davie Street  is one of those places you take people you really love and people you’d like to know better. The repartee and exchanges with staff are legendary, edgy  and everyone leaves as friends. There is also a short documentary film on the Elbow Room here.

The Elbow Room is now immortalized in a musical and it is featured in its premiere at York Theatre from March 1 to 12. The musical is developed by Zee Zee Theatre in conjunction Langara’s Studio 58. This is sure to be a sell out, and a great opportunity to see how art parallels the extraordinary wit of The Elbow Room.

Where: York Theatre – 639 Commercial Drive, Vancouver

When: March 1 to 12, 2017

Tickets: At The Cultch, $19-$44