Get ’em while they’re young

What’s the collective noun for this: Over 50 students from Charles Tupper school, assembling at Second Beach for a bike tour around Stanley Park.  I don’t know if it’s an end-of-the-school-year tradition, but this is the second of three groups that have made the trek so far in the last week.

Paul, their leader, says they bring their own bikes or rent them on Denman, and then circumnavigate the park, stopping at key points to learn about the park.

And then hopefully continue on for the rest of their lives.

Workshop: Sustainable Neighborhood Transformations – May 31

From Parallel52:

Sustainable Neighborhood Transformations – retrofitting social housing. Combining experiences from Canada and the Netherlands

During this workshop, our guests will showcase different approaches of sustainable neighborhood transformation projects.

Dutch professor Anke van Hal, Delft University of Technology and Nyenrode Business University, is specialized in the transformation of existing houses and neighborhoods in a sustainable way and has been an expert on the Dutch EnergieSprong program.  She will share her experiences in both countries and highlight ideas about a successful approach of neighborhoods that resulted from her search in these two countries.

Other speakers are Mr. Tom-Pierre Frappé-Sénéclauze of the Pembina Institute and Mr. Wilco van Bemmel, Affordable Housing specialist from world of Walas .

 

May 31

4:30 – 6:30 pm

Dutch Urban Design Centre, DUDOC – 1445 West Georgia Street

Please confirm your attendance on Eventbrite:

Softening up a hard space

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It’s considered to be possibly the city’s worst park: the Yaletown at Nelson and Mainland – here.

Intellectually one can guess the rationale: a contrast to the traditional soft spaces that dominate our Garden City – an urban, more European design. But if the jury is the number of people (and dogs) who use the space, its emptiness is an indictment.

However, over time, nature cannot be denied.

 

Daily Scot – Indoor/Outdoor

Great to see the new Musette Cafe taking shape in its new location on Burrard Street.  Yesterday’s warm weather showcased the design of the new voluminous space, specifically the great blurred threshold between the cafe and the streetscape when the massive patio doors are pulled back.

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The openness and prominent display of cycling memorabilia visible from the sidewalk attracts the attention of the passing pedestrian while conversely coffee sippers people watch and connect with the city.  A great simple space.

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Musette Cafe, 1325 Burrard Street, Vancouver, BC.   http://www.musettecaffe.com

Something’s Afoot on Edmonton’s Jasper Avenue

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As noted by the CBC there is a lot happening in Edmonton this summer, and you can add removing the curb lanes of traffic on Jasper Avenue between 109th Street and 115 Street as another improvement. That former car dominated space will become expanded sidewalks and street cafes on this important stretch of street. Council received 78 per cent support for this  $19 million dollar project that will bring this city into this century.

Edmonton has this right: if you want to create social spaces, enhance interaction, and get people to spend money at retailers, you need great walkable streets, accessible to everyone. Citizens living downtown wanted to walk to the stores and to work-an interesting comfortable convenient walkable street is the way to go.

“For the past two years, city staff have been gathering feedback about permanently reducing a stretch of Jasper Avenue between 109th Street and 124th Street from seven lanes of traffic to five, including turning lanes. The sidewalks would be built out and adorned with trees and more lighting. Restaurant owners could potentially take advantage of the space to create patios.

Edmonton is seeing a changing demographic with more people living in the downtown-and with that increase in density walkability is paramount. Kudos to them for taking the first step.

 

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Ill Fares the Land while Richmond Farmland Mansion Builders Profit

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It’s been a grumpy week. Despite the fact that megahouses are taking up the most arable lands in Canada in Richmond, the City Council there decided that this land was just fine for houses that are 10,764 square feet if you have half an acre of farmland to plop it on.

Imagine-if you live in Richmond or want to hold property there, you can simply buy land in the Agricultural Land Reserve, not pay the foreign buyer’s tax of 15 per cent, and (bonus!) be classified as agricultural land for tax purposes if you are able to raise farm product. In Southlands in Vancouver, mares often had their foals on large properties specifically so that the mansion owners could qualify for the hefty property tax reduction. And here’s another interesting fact-houses that are 11,000 square feet are classified as “mansions” in the United States. The Canadian country cousins in Richmond usurping the best farmland in the country are a mere 35 square feet below that size.

As Alan Campbell of the Richmond News reported at the end of the public hearing on the mega farmland mansion matter, Councillor Harold Steves (his family started Steveston, developed the first seed company on the coast, and still own and operate their century old farm) walked out of the meeting. This was the first time Councillor Steves has left in frustration but since the majority of Council sacrificed the farmland that predicated the existence of Richmond in the first place, it seemed a pretty logical thing to do. In fifty years we will look back on the  huge mansions built on postage stamp acreages and remember the elected people who gave up on this opportunity for creative sustainability, the Agricultural Land Reserve, and our right to easy access to farms and food. It’s a sad and important moment-but if you have half an acre of farmland, go build your really big house. Future generations will remember this decision.

Councillor Steves later talked about what was happening with these “farmland” properties. “I gave an example of a recreational property with a 12,000-square-foot house, 24-seat theatre, possible swimming pool, tennis court, cabana, and driving range, taking up the entire property. That will likely be the norm,” he said.

“I told council that the increase in the recreational housing threat to farmland is due to the lack of foreign buyers’ tax, low farm taxes, reduced education taxes and ease of exemption from property transfer tax by occupying the premises in some way for a year.”

“This permits about 1,000 parcels of farmland that have not had new houses built yet, to eventually become recreational properties, with tenant farmers on the remaining land…if there happens to be any.”

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So why did Richmond Council not do the right thing?  Look at their constituency-farmers, the stewards of the land will not be able to afford property that is squandered into mansion properties. They will be tenant farmers, not owners.  Other people who own that farmland (or would like to) argued their right to take that economic lift and house their families in something over five times the size of an adequate Vancouver house.

Trying to be conciliatory, Richmond Mayor Brodie stated “There are reasons why some people in the farming community want bigger houses….There are many houses in the 18,000-square-feet range and higher and there are people who would like the house sizes to go even larger…We had to come up with a reasonable maximum that will allow people (farmers) to achieve their goals .  The Mayor also “admitted there is a “third category” out there who “want majestic estates.”

In 1976 Mary Rawson wrote Ill Fares the Land which set up the idea of an Agricultural Land Conservancy. Harold Steves was one of the original proponents of the strategy. And that land, precious to future sustainability will now be further fractured. You’d think in forty years we’d be better stewards of this precious resource. We and our elected officials are not.

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Granville Island 2040

Granville Island (GI) has been a wonderful place for locals and visitors alike since the 1970’s, when it was resurrected from a solely industrial place into a mostly people place. The time has come for another resurrection that goes way beyond a lick of paint and new lights.

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Granville Island 2040 (big PDF), commissioned by the powers that rule GI (CMHC), looks broadly at GI’s present and way off into its future.  Some guy called Gordon Price is on the Advisory Board that guided this report’s creation.

I count 9 separate consultation initiatives, reaching around 10,000 people by a variety of means, and with varying degrees of intensity.

The big ideas:

  • Improve Access:  elevator to Granville Bridge, Alder Bay ped and bike bridge, Arbutus Greenway connection, streetcar, more ferry access, Anderson St. complete street
  • Expand the Public Market & create a market district
  • Embrace arts and innovation
  • Restore and sustain the public realm — central plaza, east end public space, floating platforms.

And the big challenges currently facing GI:

  • Demographic Change — GI is near the centre of Vancouver population growth, creating an opportunity to become a central focus for people if the right things are done right
  • Economic change — support the shift to tech, knowledge and creative economy
  • Climate change — vulnerability and mitigation.

For me, though, the most serious of these challenges is this one (below), which also carries the opportunity for the greatest improvement in peoples’ experience at GI.

Challenge:  Traffic Congestion & Parking

Granville.Island.2040Quote from Granville Island 2040:

The most serious of these challenges is the combination of the dominance of the private automobile as a mode of access to the Island, along with the traffic congestion and demand for parking that has accompanied the Island’s popularity.

The single largest use on the Island is now vehicular circulation and parking, which occupies over a quarter of current land use. These pressures threaten the freedom of movement across the entire public realm and the pedestrian-friendly character of the Island, and risk the further erosion of public space.

The extent of the transportation challenge is evident in public opinion, which is more or less equally divided between those who want to decrease or eliminate private automobile access and those who call for an increase in parking to facilitate their personal access to the Island. Despite the latter resistance, it is not possible to address the challenge of climate change or create new opportunities that respond to changing generational, cultural and economic interests without the reduction of automobile traffic and parking.

The questions facing Granville Island 2040 are, therefore:

  • How much and how fast can parking be reduced?
  • How best can the minimal necessary traffic and parking be managed?
  • What are the alternative modes of access to the Island which will substitute for private motor vehicles?

Who gets the best view in the world?

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Well, maybe one of the best views in Vancouver:

Who regularly accesses this marvelous view?  

Easypark Lot 10:

Absurd, yes – but also the consequence of unrealized good intentions.  When South False Creek was being planned in the early 1970s, the expectation was that residents would rely more on transit – and hence provision for parking could be significantly reduced.   (Indeed, a special levy was applied to fund a more frequent bus service.)  But the absence of parking did not result in an absence of cars – and so collective parking lots were built afterwards to accommodate residents’ needs.

The question now, given that these garages are the most obvious development sites for accommodating additional density without affecting the original housing directly, is whether the current residents would be willing to do with less parking to reduce the cost of new housing.

The Power Broker, a very late and incomplete book review.

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Having just finished reading The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, I was struck by how much remains relevant today, even though it was published in 1975. The book is a biography of Robert Moses, the legendary and polarizing New York city planner who controlled various government offices (up to twelve at one point!) from 1924 to 1968, a span of 44 years. Moses displayed an unparalleled aptitude for gaining and leveraging power, which he frequently abused to build the infrastructure and housing of New York in his image – which (spoiler alert) relied heavily on the private automobile. For a sense of magnitude, Moses built 669 km of parkways and 13 bridges.

At 1162 pages long, I will spare the reader from a comprehensive review, although I would recommend that this book is compulsory reading for anyone who is interested in how we became so reliant upon the automobile. What follows are two excerpts which are particularly salient when compared to the Massey Bridge project, a local example of this struggle, of which there are already a treasure trove of articles posted on Price Tags.

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Caro, Robert A. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 1975.

On accepting traffic as a normal part of one’s day:

It was during the early 1920’s that such traffic first overwhelmed New York; in 1924 and 1925 and 1926, the public reacted with indignation and protest against the jams in which – seated in the vehicles that had promised them new freedom – they found themselves imprisoned instead. Traffic was news, big news; clockings* were a front-page staple. By the late 1920’s, however, a kind of numbness – measurable by a slackening in angry letters-to-the-editor and campaign statements by both-ears-to-the-ground politicians – was setting in. Psychologists know what happens to rats motivated by mild electric shocks or the promise of a food reward to get out of the maze when the maze is excessively difficult to get out of; for a while, their efforts to find an escape become more and more frantic, and then they cease, the creatures becoming sullen, then listless, suffering apathetically through shock or hunger rather than making further efforts that they believe will be useless. People caught in intolerable traffic jams twice a day, day after day, week after week, month after month, began after some months to accept traffic jams as part of their lives, to become hardened to them, to suffer through them in dull and listless apathy. The press, responding to its readers’ attitude, ran fewer hysterical congestion stories, gave fewer clockings. A city editor seeing a couple of reporters with their feet up on their desks on a slow Friday afternoon found other make-work than sending them out to discover how long it took to get from the Queens-Midtown Tunnel to the Lincoln Tunnel. Only in editorial columns – written, it sometimes seems, by men selected through a Darwinian process in which the vital element for survival is an instant and constant capacity for indignation and urgency – did the indignation and urgency endure. Traffic was still news, but it was no longer big news.

*Note: clocking refers to travel time to the Lincoln Tunnel from various locations

Caro, Robert A. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 1975. Part VI: The Lust for Power Chapter 39: The Highwayman P.912

 

On attempting to alleviate traffic by building larger highway projects:

Highways competed with parallel mass transit lines, luring away their customers. Pour public investment into the improvement of highways while doing nothing to improve mass transit lines, and there could be only one outcome: those lines would lose more and more passengers; those losses would make it more and more difficult for their owners to sustain service and maintenance; service and maintenance would decline; the decline would cost the lines more passengers; the loss in passengers would further accelerate the rate of decline; the rate of passenger loss would correspondingly accelerate – and the passengers lost would do their travelling instead by private car, further increasing highway congestion. No crystal ball was needed to foretell such a result; it had already been proven, most dramatically perhaps in New Jersey, where the Susquehanna Railroad has lost over two-thirds of its passengers in the ten years following the opening of the George Washington Bridge, but also in New York, where the New York Central had been hit hard by the Triborough Bridge, and the Long Island Rail Road had watched more passengers drift away each time a new Moses parkway opened. No crystal ball was needed, therefore, to foretell the end result of Moses’ immense new highway construction proposal, coupled as it was with lack of any provision whatsoever for public transit: it could not possibly accomplish its aim, the alleviation of congestion. It could only make congestion, already intolerable, progressively worse. His program was self-defeating. It was doomed to failure before it began. It just didn’t make sense.

Caro, Robert A. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 1975. Part VI: The Lust for Power Chapter 39: The Highwayman P.897

Sounds familiar?

The Erosion of Chinatown As We Know It

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Noted journalist Daphne Bramham in the Vancouver Sun  has written an article that should be required reading for everyone in Metro Vancouver. She has cogently described our intentional neglect and universal ignorance of the deboning of Vancouver’s Chinatown. We somehow conveniently forget that it was the 17,000 Chinese labourers  who built the railway across Canada between 1881 to 1884. Those workers, their descendants and others left the legacy of  this very special part of the city. It was also Strathcona residents that were largely responsible for Vancouver not being cleaved in half by the building of three storey high ten lane highway in the late 1960’s. As a city we owe a lot to the legacy left by Chinatown and Strathcona. Where is the outrage of what is happening to this very special part of the city? Why isn’t this a civic, provincial and national priority?

Daphne describes the universality of the shiny city Vancouver has become, looking like any other place. She rues that the unique places ” are rapidly disappearing, and none is at greater risk than Chinatown, which teeters on the edge of extinction despite being designated a National Historic Site in 2011. It is so close to the edge that Carol Lee of the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation fears that without a concerted local, provincial and national effort it may be lost by the end of this year.”

“The neighbourhood has been eroded one neon sign, one family-run business and one clan building at a time. But at greater risk than the bricks, mortar and unique streetscapes blending Chinese and late 19th century Canadian architectural styles is the neighbourhood’s cultural heritage. Hipsters have heralded gentrification. Trendy restaurants, skateboard shops, coffee bars and cannabis dispensaries may be the tipping point.”

“Design guidelines meant to maintain a ‘Chinatown look’ are often overlooked and building heights have been dramatically increased. … Intense speculation is driving up rents and displacing long-time residents, many of them seniors, who are central to the area’s rich cultural identity…Today, the neighbourhood is dotted with empty storefronts. Aging shopkeepers struggle to carry on with fewer customers and ever-increasing taxes. But the most vulnerable are seniors — many of whom are frail, female, Cantonese speakers living at the poverty line.

Some will be at Tuesday’s public hearing protesting a proposal to build a 12-storey, luxury condo building at Keefer Street and Columbia. The plan does include 25 units of social housing, but only eight of those will be available to those with the lowest incomes.

The building itself, according to the heritage consultant’s report to council, “respects the historic Chinatown context by not attempting to mimic or replicate its area neighbours. Indeed, the building’s form, scale, massing, materials and colours will help distinguish the building as a contemporary addition. In other words it will stick out like a sore thumb.”

“Myriad things have contributed to Chinatown’s decline, including decaying, century-old buildings that are expensive to repair, the encroaching chaos and dysfunction of the Downtown Eastside, and the disinterest and even disdain some Vancouver-born Chinese have for a ghetto that their ancestors worked so hard to leave.”

“Vancouver’s history is so recent that some of its retelling still hurts. But that is all the more reason this unique neighbourhood and community should be given the help it needs to survive and thrive.”

The full text of Ms. Bramham’s editorial comment and the work of the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation  can be read here.

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Horseshoe Bay Condo Developers Put Locals First

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Jane Seyd in the North Shore News  describes the unusual policy of allowing local people to buy into a new condo project that will be built by Westbank developers on land owned by Sewell’s Marina in North Vancouver.  Responding to concerns about affordability and attainability of units by local people, Westbank reconfigured their marketing strategy for Sewell’s Landing which had already included an open house in Hong Kong before being offered on the local market. They pulled their permits from the District of West Vancouver and relaunched the three to eleven storey 159-unit condo complex in six buildings with an unusual requirement.

That requirement meant “condos be marketed to local residents first, and that would-be buyers sign a declaration that they or their family members intended to live in the units. So far, about half the units in the project have been sold to people in the Metro Vancouver area.”

People will question the affordability of a project to locals located on Horsehoe Bay, Westbank marketed only to local residents for one month last year. The next month the project’s marketing extended to North Vancouver residents, and in January to all Metro Vancouver. After February of this year the project was open to buyers from any jurisdiction, but the “buyers must still sign a declaration that they or a family member intend to live in the unit.”

Enforcing the declaration may be difficult.  “West Vancouver Councillor Mary-Ann Booth said she felt Westbank did make an effort to address concerns that the project not end up merely as a luxury investment vehicle for foreigners.”  With prices working out to an average of over $875 dollars per square foot on the units, the pricing may be for an international market. “If you set international prices, it doesn’t matter how long you give people to buy”.

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Victoria Day, A Truly Canadian Day

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If you recognize this image of the school house fireworks, you were not born in this century, and you definitely spent part of your childhood in Eastern Canada.Trust the New York Times and Ian Austen to explore Victoria Day, and some of the customs around this holiday.

Canada’s Victoria Day is unique in that it marks the birthday of Queen Victoria. She was the Queen when Canada became a country 150 years ago. She was born on May 24 and the Province of Canada (at that time what is now Ontario and Quebec) marked her birthday. And it was a great moment when parliament in 1952 made a long weekend for everyone by making Victoria Day the Monday before May 25. Brilliant move.

In the last century people toasted the Queen, and if you lived in Eastern Canada there were buckets of sand at the end of driveways and people burned paper school houses in the evening. They were not that exciting to watch. Once lit they did burn, but without any fantastical experience that children would remember. There were however, other noisy fireworks and hand-held sparklers.

But back to those burning schoolhouses. Why did we burn them? As Austen notes “While Canada Day has more or less taken over in terms of fireworks, during my childhood Victoria Day was also Firecracker Day. Family fireworks shows traditionally ended with the Burning Schoolhouse. Apparently a creation of a Canadian fireworks company and largely unknown outside Canada, the blue and red cardboard buildings perhaps reflected the holiday’s proximity to the end of school. Or maybe just general juvenile animosity.”

Austen suggests that Victoria Day is the day that people with summer cottages and shacks open them-I think Victoria Day is also generally the day where you are finally safe to plant those tender annual plants that you bought at the local plant sale, and send your houseplants out to the balcony for a summer holiday. It’s also the true start to being outdoors, biking more, and enjoying long sunlit evenings.  A true Vancouver tradition.

 

3rd Annual Cargo Bike Championships

Cargo.Bike.2017The ever-busy Chris Bruntlett from Modacity told me the other day about this event — planned as a part of 2017 Bike to Work Week (May 29 to June 4).

Vancouver’s 3rd Annual Cargo Bike Championship.

  • Friday June 2
  • 4 pm
  • Creekside Park
  • Part of BtWW’s wrap-up BBQ
  • Register at ModacityLife.com by May 31 (midnight)

Click photo to enlarge.

If you’re unsure about just what a cargo bike is, here’s a great chance to see a bunch (well over 30 expected entrants) up close and in furious but friendly head-to-head action, lugging stuff over a closed course.  Ice cream and prizes, too.

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Contestant in the 2015 Inaugural Cargo Bike Competition (click to enlarge)

Spring, Ladysmith and one very big Rhododendron Bush

It is spring, and this year it is a bit late but still resplendent in the colours and textures of a new season. The Province newspaper and Patrick Johnstone have written about a  rhododendron bush which is flowering in a front yard in Ladysmith on Vancouver Island-this remarkable plant is over one hundred years old, is over  25 feet tall and 30 feet wide, and is called “Lady Cynthia” which is really the name of the type of rhodo.

 

The pink rhododendron at 226 Kitchener Street in Ladysmith is believed to be at least 115 years old.
 

And here it gets interesting. “According to the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce, Lady Cynthia first sprouted in Scotland before being carried south through the Atlantic, around Cape Horn and then back north up the coast of South America and via Hawaii on a sailing ship.” And the Bored Panda website rated the rhodo as one of the world’s most magnificent “trees”.

If are you in Ladysmith,  you can go by 226 Kitchener Street and see this rhododendron, which will be blooming for the next few weeks. Welcome to Spring.

 

 

We Have A Bird

annas-hummingbirdVancouver’s Official City Bird is Anna’s Hummingbird.  With 3,450 out of 8,259 votes (42%), Anna’s Hummingbird flew past the Northern Flicker, Varied Thrush and Spotted Towhee.

Although this seems lighthearted (and it is) birds are an indicator species for the health of the city, and play many roles:  pollinators, seed distributors and insect eaters.

Vancouver is among birders’ favourite destinations, bringing tourism business. Around 370 species having been recorded in Greater Vancouver.   Notable, too, is the upcoming 27th International Ornithological Congress August 19-28 2018. Vancouver will host around 2,000 bird scientists.

The announcement event at the VPL was fun and fittingly lighthearted, featuring giant “birds”, mercifully short speeches and newly-commissioned music for brass quintet.