Daily Scot: Character Housing- “That’s not going to work …”

Scot links to another story from CBC on the hottest housing story at the moment, with this note: “The video is good.  Brendon Is a frequent PT commenter who started Abundant Housing Vancouver.”



Speaking of PT commenters, two regular contributors – Michael Kluckner and Bryn Davidson – will be debating the issue at the next Urbanarium debate on March 8:

housing-2 housing-3

Details and tickets here.


Reboot, Renew, Rebrand that City


With a whole bunch of other issues going on, the City has decided to change its brand. As Wanyee Li reports in the Metro News  there was a need to create a new watermark that was recognizable for people whose first language was not English. So what is rebranding? Wikipedia describes it as  a marketing strategy in which a new name, term, symbol, design, or combination thereof is created for an established brand with the intention of developing a new, differentiated identity in the minds of consumers, investors, competitors, and other stakeholders.”

The Council report states that the” prime business trigger for this activity is referenced in the Vancouver Innovation Economy presentation to Council…In addition, results from a 2016 “Quality of Living Index” report conducted by Mercer and released annually states that Vancouver is ranked number five on a list of cities with the best quality of life in the world. This report stated that Vancouver ‘is among Canada’s densest, most ethnically diverse with 52% of its population having a first language that is not English.”

This is what the brand currently looks like and has served the City for about ten years. If you were involved with the 2010 Olympics, you will recognize this brand which was copiously used on the Vancouver jackets worn by City staff:


This is what the City’s crest looks like, with two lumberjack types and their haul of fish and  an axe to chop lumber. It is a descendant from an earlier 1903 crest, and a large embroidered copy of it is vanquished in a committee room at City Hall. This crest was first designed in 1928 and was rejected by the College of Arms. By 1932, a civic committee had given up trying to register it, but it was revived in the late 1960’s and was finally approved in 1969-and in use by January 1970.



And here’s the new proposed branding:


The City has already trademarked the new logo which will be  going for approval on Wednesday. The cost of creating the new lettering was $8,000 or  $530 dollars a letter. This new logo  will be slowly adopted throughout 2017 as it becomes the new corporate brand of the City.

1940, Housing, And Why this Matters

0329 heritagedemo.jpg

As Chris Brown reports on the CBC there has been a major brouhaha regarding the City of Vancouver’s 12,000 homes that were built before 1940. In a city that had almost a thousand demolition permits taken out in 2016 (the majority in Dunbar-Southlands) the past is getting-well, lost. Of those demolished, two-thirds  of the houses were built before 1940.

In response, the City has created a “Character Home zoning review” proposing to discourage the demolition of this older housing stock by permitting replacement houses to be sizably smaller. This has not gone over well with “Many homeowners, developers, pro-density groups and even key heritage advocates are all pushing back hard against the “preservationist” plan now under discussion.”

Arguments against the designation include stifling architectural design,  and freezing much-needed locations for townhouses and family focused higher density. The City of Vancouver’s Director of Planing Gil Kelley  notes “The younger generation is feeling sqSo opening up new options for affordability and different living option choices for them is really critical — even as people here who are older are trying to hang on to what they already know.”

There have been some issues regarding the  character home designation-how will property owners be compensated for reduced returns on the property? And if a character home is deemed to be beyond rebuilding (and there will need to be guidelines to define that) can those single family lots be filled with more family friendly and affordable higher density housing forms? And in the end, can we create a new way of looking at density in this Character Home zoning review that can move the large single family areas of the city into something that is denser and more attainable for newly formed families? Our future depends on that.


Bad Congestion? It’s Good For You!



Remember the Tom Tom Annual Survey of  Traffic Congestion suggesting that Vancouver is a parking lot of traffic?   And Minister of Transportation Todd Stone calling the Massey Tunnel one of the most congested places in British Columbia according to a Canadian Automobile Association Survey?

Business in Vancouver reporter Patrick Blennerhasset cuts through the congestion chat by talking to a transportation expert,  City of Vancouver Manager of Transportation Steve Brown. Steve notes that we need to define what we mean by congestion. Congestion can also be a very good thing-if transit or biking or walking is more efficient and gets you to a place faster, then congestion is your active transportation friend. The slower traffic, the safer active transportation users are too-while only ten per cent of pedestrians will survive a vehicular collision at 50 km/h that rises to a 90 per cent chance of survival with a vehicular collision at 30 km/h.

Steve Brown has great logic-“the key for Vancouver to continue to relieve congestion lies in creating alternative transportation methods to automobile trips…Over the last few years, we have seen a lot more concerns over congestion. And because we’re kind of falling behind on some of our transit infrastructure investments, we’re seeing that there are tending to be more trips lately relying on the road network.”

So…bolstering active transportation and transit reduces congestion, actually making driving easier for folks that want to do this. But doesn’t that defeat the purpose? And that is where misinformation comes in.

“Last year, Langley City councillor Nathan Pachal compiled the 2016 Transit Report Card of Major Canadian Regions. He gave Vancouver a high ranking in terms of public transportation—second only to Montreal—using Canada Transit’s Fact Book 2014 Operating Data by the Canadian Urban Transit Association, which gathers its data from transit agencies across the country and Statistics Canada’s National Household Survey. Pachal also called into question the accuracy of the TomTom rankings. He said during the transit referendum in 2015, discussion around congestion in Vancouver reached a fever pitch.”

And back to those Tom Tom Statistics-those are predicated upon counting the extra travel time during peak hours for a vehicle versus the time taken to travel during no traffic conditions, and then multiplied for 230 working days a year. Remember that Tom Tom’s clients are drivers, and therefore cities with freeways and highways that provide a quick exit are ranked highly, with no ranking given to alternative transit modes or active transportation.

While Vancouver ranked as the 34th most congested cities for vehicle users according to Tom Tom, “the INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard, has ranked Vancouver 157th worldwide in terms of traffic congestion.”  Why? Because INRIX a Kirkland, Washington-based transportation analytics company, analyzed traffic congestion in 1,064 cities for its second annual report. Its methodology calculates congestion at different times of the day in different parts of a city using 500 terabytes of data from 300 million different sources covering over five million miles of road. ” This is a much more sophisticated analysis on “overall travel times” as opposed to peak versus free-flow times.

But neither of these two approaches factor in active transportation or transit, and measure a city’s performance by the efficiency of this type of movement. While Tom Tom may be getting a lot of attention, the INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard is perhaps a more accurate gauge. Here’s to an index that also factors in other users besides vehicular.


INRIX Global Traffic Index Scorecard:

  •   Los Angeles
  •   Moscow
  •   New York
  •   San Francisco
  •   Bogota, Colombia
  •   Sao Paolo, Brazil
  •   London, England
  •   Magnitogorsk, Russia
  •   Atlanta
  •   Paris, France

 TomTom Traffic Index ranking:

  •   Mexico City
  •   Bangkok, Thailand
  •   Jakarta, Indonesia
  •   Chongqing, China
  •   Bucharest, Romania
  •   Istanbul, Turkey
  •   Chengdu, China
  •   Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  •   Beijing, China
  •   Changsha, China

This Just In: UDI State of the Market 2016 Report


Multi-Family Housing shortage still a major issue


Feb. 20, 2017

VANCOUVER, BC —Only eight new townhome units were completed and available for purchase across the entire lower mainland region at the end of December, according to UDI’s latest fourth quarter State of the Market 2016 Research Report on population growth, new home sales and supply.

“The report confirms that doing nothing, blaming foreign buyers, or introducing new, punitive taxes have not made housing more plentiful or affordable for home-seekers,” says UDI President & CEO Anne McMullin.

“We need more houses for more people, especially along rapid transit corridors,” she added.  We have plenty of available land, but 85% of it is locked up as restrictive, single family zoning, meaning no multi-family condos, townhomes, rowhomes, duplexes or even sales of laneway homes are permitted. Coupled with years of delays in multi-family building approvals, rising land costs and lack of available land to build on, aside from industrial, agricultural and park land reserves, home-seekers can count on prices to keep rising,” she added. “We all have to share in the solutions and consider the greater good and community health.”

She cautioned that when interpreting this report, the best measurement is what new housing is currently “available”, not just how many “housing starts” exist; they’re often pre-sold before they’re even built.

Report Highlights:

  • Eight townhome units available and unsold across the Metro Vancouver. This is not a typo. See chart 8.4 on page 14.
  • Metro Vancouver currently has only 26 concrete condo units completed and unsold. See graph 6.4 on page 12.
  • Metro Vancouver population up 30,700 over the past year.  Current population is now estimated at 2,177,200 residents See chart 1.1 on page 7.
  • Rental vacancies are continuing to be wafer-thin across Metro with most municipalities having a less than .6% vacancy rate. See chart 5.6 on page 11.
  • Wood frame condos show a 92% decrease in inventory compared to that same fourth quarter in 2015 and also represents a six-year low. See chart 7.4 on page 13.

More Hum; Less Varoom

The Economist reviews the speed of change in motor vehicles.  The internal combustion engine’s replacement by the electric motor is happening faster than expected. It often seems that technical progress exceeds expectations, while we humans change slowly.


Image via Wikimedia Commons

The implications are clear.  More electrical energy usage; less fossil fuel usage, leading to demand reduction.  Greater impetus to “leave it in the ground”, and growth of such stranded assets as an issue for utilities, fossil-fuel corporations and the governments that subsidize and enable them.  If, that is, we can overcome resistance to change by fossil-fuel companies, their captured governments, and their well-funded propaganda agents. And if we can continue to take advantage of the dropping costs for renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

The demand reduction scenario is especially concerning for Alberta’s highest-of-all high-cost tar sands industry.

THE high-pitched whirr of an electric car may not stir the soul like the bellow and growl of an internal combustion engine (ICE). But to compensate, electric motors give even the humblest cars explosive acceleration. Electric cars are similarly set for rapid forward thrust. Improving technology and tightening regulations on emissions from ICEs is about to propel electric vehicles (EVs) from a niche to the mainstream. After more than a century of reliance on fossil fuels, however, the route from petrol power to volts will be a tough one for carmakers to navigate. . . .

Ford’s boss is bolder still. In January Mark Fields announced that the “era of the electric vehicle is dawning”, and he reckons that the number of models of EVs will exceed pure ICE-powered cars within 15 years. Ford has promised 13 new electrified cars in the next five years. Others are making bigger commitments. Volkswagen, the world’s biggest carmaker, said last year that it would begin a product blitz in 2020 and launch 30 new battery-powered models by 2025, when EVs will account for up to a quarter of its sales. Daimler, a German rival, also recently set an ambitious target of up to a fifth of sales by the same date.

Density and the Missing Middle-Learning from Europe


There has been a lot of discussion about housing density and what higher density can look like without going to the high-rise tower form.  On CBC Radio and in a lecture at Simon Fraser University local architect and adjunct professor  Michael Geller speaks directly-it’s time for Vancouver to get unstuck from the high-rise model, while providing more  supportable scale and rhythm to the street.

“When you put a high-rise on a major street next to a single-family house — like Venables and Commercial where the rest of the development is three or four storey scale — I think people are uncomfortable with the juxtaposition…Instead Vancouver should build more mid-rise buildings, and make better use of lots by building homes closer together and to the end of the lot lines.”

Vancouver has locked onto the high-rise model, which is more  lucrative to build and efficient. Michael Geller suggests we look to Amsterdam for guidance, where most of the city’s new apartments are lower than ten storeys.  Michael cites the floating rowhouses of IJburg just east of Amsterdam which have higher densities than traditional floating homes, and also the Aarhus Harbour Apartments in Denmark, which takes advantage of light and views for each unit. Calling this the middle ground between single-family and high-rise towers, Michael suggests that this form could be accepted and achieved across the city.


“You are going to see more of these buildings being built because they’re going to be built in locations where you can’t get approval to build high-rises given current community attitudes.”


Tiny House Solution to Affordability?


Wanyee Li with Metro News reports on tiny houses and their owners, folks that have a 250 square foot house on wheels with compost toilets and loft beds. Earlier this year Price Tags reported on the AirBnB rental “Moonbeam”a van rentable for the night in Vancouver, which was completely booked out.

The City of Vancouver does not allow people to live in vehicles, so while these tiny houses can easily fit into a trailer park, they are not legal in the City of Vancouver.

“Samantha Gambling, co-founder of the BC Tiny House Collective, was buying paint to put the finishing touches on her 320-square-foot house when Metro spoke with her Thursday. It’s just a matter of normalizing [tiny houses] and having conversations with policymakers to make those changes happen so that it can be a viable housing stock.”

Ms. Gambling sees the tiny house as an alternative type of housing, suggesting that residential property can be further subdivided down to accommodate these diminutive dwellings. Hers was built at a cost of  approximately $70,000, “Tiny houses are not going to solve all the systemic problems that exist in our society.“But it will fit alongside single-family dwellings and high rises and microsuites and the whole spectrum.”

There is a BC Tiny House Collective volunteer meeting today the 20th, at CityStudio, 1800 Spyglass Place Vancouver  at 6:30 p.m.  Here is a link to a report on Tiny Houses prepared by Natradee Quek at UBC.


“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. …

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.