Gorilla-Size Speculation

Dan Fumano writes in PostMedia’s Province, with amusing speculation about where Amazon could set up its HQ2 in Metro Vancouver.  Mr. Fumano’s thoughts were developed in part via conversation with PT’s editor Gordon Price and occasional PT contributor Andy Yan.


False Creek Flats — Future Amazone?  Click to enlarge.

The Vancouver Economic Commission, the organization leading Vancouver’s bid, stated earlier this week that it’s a “cross-regional” effort including interested suburban municipalities and Metro Vancouver.

Some local politicians and civic commentators consider Vancouver a very long shot to land Amazon for several reasons.

But still, it’s a useful exercise for Metro Vancouver officials to collaboratively look at the region’s development opportunities, regardless of whether the economic commission is eventually successful in courting Amazon, said Andy Yan, director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University.

By-Election Talk About Housing

To me, it’s unusual to see something direct and unambiguous around the housing debate — and an often-discussed solution.  Density and the missing middle.

Of all places of origin, here’s a set of ideas from the NPA’s Hector Bremner.  One wonders about the reaction from NPA’s (perhaps endearingly mythical) voter base of bike-hating, car-loving, pearl-clutching angry old white folks living in classically exclusionary single-family ‘hoods. Maybe, though, this by-election is devolving into giant trial-balloon-fest leading up to the big election in 2018.  After all, the winner only gets a council seat for a year.

 An end to the piecemeal, building-by-building, lot-by-lot and project-by-project rezoning.  This will be replaced with zoning changes over larger zoning areas within the city that will allow flexibility to achieve greater residential density and diversity.

Oh yes — Mr. Bremner is in favour of collaborative consulting on all this.  No idea yet if he’s up for Nimby-by-Nimby or city-wide or zone-wide consulting. Or how he’ll fare against the Nimby-friendly “preservation of heritage and neighbourhood” arguement, as championed by the Green’s Carr and Fry. [“Creating democratic and inclusive City-funded neighbourhood councils, allowing communities to provide input at the start of land use and development projects . . . “].

And let’s not forget the latent opportunities we have to build density, perhaps exceeding “missing middle” density, on 90-acre Jericho and the 21-acre Heather Lands — including the transit nodes that make it all multi-modal.


Jericho Lands — still in limbo.

Vancouver Condo Presales in Hong Kong and Chinese Cities Rein in Speculation.


This article by Thinkpol has spread very quickly across social networks for all of the wrong reasons. While accessibility into the housing market and affordability is clearly a major problem in Vancouver, “developer Onni is pre-selling the upcoming 1335 Howe condominium at a Hong Kong fair for prices “cheaper than if bought in Canada,” while boasting about pricing ordinary Canadians out of the housing market.”

You can’t make this stuff up, and the optics for locals are dismissive and appalling. A FaceBook page heralded “Every buyer who has successfully purchased the Onni project at a fair this weekend has a special discount, which is cheaper than buying in Canada. Many people in Hong Kong feel that the property market is not a product that can be bought by ordinary people, and that Canada, Vancouver or Toronto, has now become the preferred choice for many Hong Kong people”.

You can take a look at the internet listing for this new development here.  Onni has previously been accused of selling presale units overseas prior to any launch for local buyers. While there is now a foreign buyers’ tax , it does not apply to pre-built condo units, meaning that the units can be flipped prior to occupancy  without paying the foreign buyer’s tax.

Meanwhile in China the South China Morning Post  reports that five cities in China have implemented policies to reduce housing speculation and moderate a hot housing market. These measures include preventing the sale of apartments for up to three years, as well as restricting the number of properties one person can own. In one case any apartment  sale must be approved by the local Governmental Authority. Four of these cities are provincial capitals with populations of over six million people each. While there are solid administrative costs with policy focused upon prohibiting early sales, China is trying to cool the housing market and maintain affordability. Is it time for stronger measures in the Metro Vancouver market as well?




All Male Panels and Why Diversity Matters in Planning



Issues continue to crop up with  urbanism chats and who does the talk, even among the well-recognized planning institutions in Canada.  A few years back at a Canadian Institute of Planners Conference the former United Nations Special Envoy Stephen Lewis took one look at the panel he was to sit on and declared that he made it a point never to speak on a stage that was all men, and did not recognize the diversity of place or the fact that women make up half the population and need to be talking about issues too. There was an audible hush in the room, and it was evident that the bashful organizers just had not done critical diversity based thinking.  If you accept that the leaders of planning thought are only from one ethnic background or one gender you don’t get diverse ideas or thoughts, and the perspectives  are certainly not reflective of everyone living in that place, and results in cities largely designed by men from a male perspective.

Another unfortunate hiccup burped all over twitter from the latest Canadian Urbanism Conference. A photo of an on-stage panel of three well-known and charming caucasian older planning males was tweeted out across Canada, with CanU organizers breathlessly labelling the session a conference “favourite”. Showing one more reason why she will be missed,  Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat as reported in Metro News called the panel what it was-with this lack of diversity it was  “shameful” and a display of “professional incompetence”.


As a result, the Council of Canadian Urbanism pledged to work harder on diversity. But here’s the thing-if planners are more than fifty per cent female, why are we not seeing those women promoted at planning  events that purportedly represent a diverse Canada? Should professional organizations and their conferences ensure that professionally qualified women are also represented in every  conference panel and every venue, and advance as men do in planning based organizations? Author Jay Pitter observes “Effective diversity isn’t just about representation but about ensuring various perspectives have the power they need. This, she added, needs to be a basic standard.”

The faux pas was again repeated at the otherwise excellent Calgary Walk21 Conference.  There was a very succinct presentation by  Rutgers Professor Charles Brown on the need for Complete Streets and Vision Zero to recognize cultural diversity in implementation. Professor Brown observed that these programs are not just about street redesign, but often threaten existing minority groups and single parent households by failing to recognize the history, culture and social context of places in and around the proposed street changes. He also pointed out how offensive those arty  presentation board drawings are when they do not include the ethnic groups of people who live in the area being planned for. It is almost as if they did not exist, or will vanish once the proposed project and assumed accompanying gentrification happens.

Immediately after this presentation Walk 21 Calgary had a surprising judgement lapse-they brought out three university researchers to expound on their ideas on how the university could shape the city. They were three well spoken guys, no women, no ethnic diversity. From a diversity point of view, and especially after the presentation on inclusion this gender gaffe was odd. But it points out that it is time to stand up for the young women and diverse voices to be heard on these platforms, and for us to champion the design of cities that are not just designed by men for men, but to include women and their issues too.The art of thinking independently together will create stronger placemaking and create policies truly reflective of a complete society. It’s time we start ensuring that young women and diverse voices are heard and recognized as planning leaders too, and represented on panels, and venues. The success of the  future of our places and our cities depends upon it.



Smoke Signals

The Kenow Fire in southeast BC is contained.  But it spread rapidly, crossed into Alberta at Waterton Lakes National Park, and did damage. The park was evacuated.

Glacier National Park in Montana, however, was open – even though enveloped in smoke.

A terrible beauty, given that it will be followed by more. This year we got some tangible ways to see the consequences of climate change pushing things to extremes.  Just as we did.

What are the odds of Amazon HQ2 coming to Canada?


Imagine Amazon, the creative destructor of the 21st century, the killer of hundreds of businesses large and small, displacer of hundreds of thousands of retail jobs across America, consolidator of wealth in fewer hands and fewer cities, taking all that wealth and the high-paying jobs and the advanced technology out of the country, but within spitting distance of Donald Trump.

How crazy would Jeff Bezos have to be?

If Canadian cities try to outbid each other in a race to the bottom (free land, no property taxes, upgraded infrastructure, grants and subsidies), they would be sending a signal to every other powerful corporation that might consider locating to Canada or another city that this is the new bottom line.  Start the bidding wars!

The question is not how crazy Amazon would have to be to locate HQ2 in Canada but how crazy are we.


Go Gambling Beside the Massey Tunnel!



One more  reason for the Mayor of the Corporation of Delta supporting the Massey Bridge, despite all the other Mayors in Metro Vancouver nixing the project-Delta is getting a new casino! Price Tags Vancouver has previously written about the casino debacle in Delta . This new addition will be located directly east of the  Massey Tunnel on the Delta Town and Country Inn site. The British Columbia Licensing Commission (the BCLC)   apparently made the decision “after listening to the community and the clear feedback from the Corporation of Delta that the only suitable site on which it would consider a gambling and entertainment facility at this time is the Delta Town and Country Inn.”

The commission hired a third-party consultant that “undertook a detailed analysis of this location utilizing existing player data. This analysis shows that the Delta Town and Country Inn site will capture incremental revenue, with minimal impacts to adjacent gambling facilities in Richmond, Surrey and New Westminster.” 

So why is this detrimental? As the Atlantic magazine notes, a  Canadian study found that the  75 per cent of  casino customers who gamble casually only provide 4 per cent of revenues. “A range of studies reviewed…estimated that between 40 to 60 per cent of casino revenues are earned from problem gamblers…drawn from the ranks of the vulnerable elderly.Half of casino visitors are over age 50, but casinos market themselves to the over 70 and even over 80 market, to whom gambling offers an escape from boredom and loneliness into a hypnotic zone of rapid-fire electronic stimuli.”  With more than 15 per cent of the population in Delta over 65 years of age, the new casino will have a captive market driving to the casino’s  motordom location.

Meanwhile the Richmond News reports about a theatre group that performs theatrical plays for seniors  in Richmond with only one theme-the deleterious impact of gambling. Supported by the “community engagement provider” of the B.C. Responsible and Problem Gambling Program, the plays aim to warn vulnerable and lonely seniors about the danger of gambling.

“We came up with the idea five years ago to deliver meaningful messages to the public, especially seniors, through drama. We found that seniors often have a shorter attention span, so traditional methods like lectures are not very effective on them…Things that happen to older adults might make them a vulnerable group, like retirement from work and bereavement. Also, they have access to pensions and savings, and gambling might be an attractive source of recreation for them.”

The Licensing Commission continues with the party line. “BCLC respects the authority of local governments to choose whether they want a gambling facility in their community. Throughout this process, BCLC is committed to engaging with stakeholders and the public to incorporate their feedback into these plans.” 

Delta gets another industry that is not 21st century focused, and certainly not sustainable in any way other than the 10 per cent revenues the Corporation will receive, which will be in the 1.5 to 3 million dollar range. All of this for a business that is all-consuming and only spits out their customers once they have no money.




Vancouver Gavotte

In case you missed this video from the City Of Vancouver, here it is again.   Don’t watch it as bunches of bikes.  Watch it as a kind of dance, and enjoy the movement of the cyclists to the music.


This is a well-crafted video.  It’s a love letter, as well – to the kind of city we’ve become.  The section from 1:10 to 1:40 is particularly good for the combination of editing, music and beautifully observed behaviour .

It has to be the work of Brian Gould.

Richmond Car Condos for $600,000!



You can tell a lot about people by the way they treat their neighbours and their pets-but does the same apply to cars? Imagine that you own a piece of property that is industrial zoned in the City of Richmond. You have a clientele that may be  here for only a certain period of time, but that have very expensive vehicles. As Wanyee Li reports in Metro News Trove Developments (really Hungerford Properties) will house your car in its own custom car storage building for $600,000. And surprise! It is already 80 per cent sold.

The $600,000 is the base garage model, but further funds can get you a mezzanine or larger space.  And the whole point of this exercise is exclusivity. As the developer raves on the website “TROVE is more than a place to store vehicles, it’s a community of like-minded individuals with a passion for cars and a luxurious way to savour the benefits of owning a super car.”

And there is more: … TROVE will redefine what it means to own a luxury vehicle in Vancouver…With only a limited number of units available, TROVE is an extremely limited ownership opportunity. Along with access to TROVE’s concierge and an exclusive calendar of events, owners will also become members of the TROVE Club, a rare membership that grants you VIP access to Vancouver’s most sought-after automotive events. “

There is much  to say when cars get their own bathrooms, bars and upstairs offices in a customized garage. While car storage may be in an accepted use for the zoning, the idea of  car condominiums with a clubhouse (there’s a common area and a patio space) as a private amenity was not what was anticipated. The 22 units of car condos will gross the developer over 13 million dollars for fabricating a cement shell and paving over the rest of the site. Motordom and a strange kind of exclusivity reign supreme in this project, while the developer sells off the land for much more than a true industrial use can garner. The developer argues that this is a commercial use of the site but has not yet submitted a development application for their luxury car condos.  The YouTube video below contains the marketing for this project.  And you can also check out the “members only”  car condo club here.




The “Last Mile” Problem in Transit trips




Somehow we have leapfrogged from talking about active transportation and transit, but we’ve not really included the most important active transportation piece of all-in this piece from The Torontoist by Tricia Wood,she identifies the “last mile”of sidewalks as the missing link.

“The “last mile” problem refers to the gap between transit riders’ residences and their transit stations. The GO Train system is a perfect example. Train stations are surrounded by vast moats of parking because riders commonly have few (or no) good options for getting to the station except to drive. More people will take transit if they have better access to it. It’s not merely a question of distance. Studies have shown commuters will walk as much as a mile, but what that route looks like can make all the difference.”

Surprisingly one-quarter of all Toronto streets are without sidewalks. And Ms. Wood gets it right when she refers to “plain old walking as “among the most useful and cost-effective first and last mile strategies”. Take away the parking lots at rail stations, make the stations more accessible, and reuse that land for a higher purpose.  Make it so people can access the trains by foot, securely and comfortably. “Solutions such as shuttle buses and cycling get a lot of attention” but it is the access to transit and the journey by foot to get to transit that needs to be paramount. “Walking and sidewalks are part of the public transit system.”

Reducing the need to drive to train stations will also free up lots of valuable land around stations for a more useful purpose, and make the stations more accessible. While solutions such as shuttle buses and cycling get a lot of attention, experts say that plain old walking is “among the most useful and cost-effective first and last mile strategies.” Walking and sidewalks are part of the public transit system. And sidewalks should not be a subject to debate about their usefulness-city direction  should  ensure they be installed across the city for the comfort and security of all walkers.

As Ms. Wood observes “Sidewalks are part of solving the last mile problem for Toronto transit. It’s not just a local issue. It’s about access to the whole city for everyone.”



Massey Bridge & Surrey Environmental Awards?



In truly one of the most bizarre events south of the Fraser River, the  Mayor  of the Corporation of Delta was invited to speak to the Surrey Board of Trade as part of their 2017 Surrey Environment and Business Awards. Subject?  Why the business community must force the Provincial government build a ten lane overbuilt multi-billion dollar bridge which will industrialize the banks of the  Fraser River. No mention that most of Delta’s economy is based upon trucking and transshipment, with no diversity into more 21st century businesses. Delta needs the bridge to continue their industrial economic base which is all about motordom.

As quoted in the Delta Optimist “The impacts are not just felt in Delta, but in Surrey, White Rock, Langley, even out in the valley. The replacement of the tunnel with a new bridge will relieve on of the worst traffic highway bottlenecks in Canada and save businesses and commuters millions of dollars lost as a result of congestion, accidents and travel delays” the Mayor said.

To the Surrey business community that might not know that you cannot build a ten lane bridge to solve congestion, the Mayor had an enthusiastic audience. The Mayor also trotted out the  Angus Reid survey that showed that the business community and residents supported the bridge. Without comprehensive road widening and new bridges at Oak Street, congestion at the bridge will simply transfer to other areas of Highway 99.

The clearest statement comes from the new  Provincial Minister of Transportation Claire Trevena who stated  We have talked to mayors who were very concerned that their vision for the Lower Mainland was not being recognized. As minister I think this is a responsible way to be acting when you are talking what will be, no matter what we do, whether it is a bridge, whether it is twinning the tunnel or tunnel and bridge combination, who knows what will come of this, but we are responsible with public money. We want to get this right.”