Michael Mortensen provides some not-so-simple answers

Occasional Price Tags contributor Michael Mortensen provided a detailed response to the post: What is the simple answer to this question? – on whether more supply is sufficient to address housing affordability.

Here’s a revised and expanded version that’s worth posting on its own:


Any discussion about unit prices needs to address the absolutely skyrocketing price of RESIDENTIAL LAND and various taxes, commissions and exactions on the same. Follow the money.

Developers are still operating on a Return on Cost margin of about 15% (to 20% if they are lucky). Internal Rates of Return – factoring in the interest costs and cash outflows needed over 4 to 5 years needed to realize that profit – are c.12% (not MASSIVE by any stretch given some of the risk involved. These benchmark ratios have not changed so it is not so much “developer greed” driving prices upwards as many might suggest. Development management fees are calculated as 2% to 4% of total costs EXCLUDING land, so there are no huge windfalls there.

Construction costs have escalated somewhat. Extended timelines for rezoning, development and building permits are also a factor in many municipalities. However, land supply and cost are the real issues.

When I left Vancouver in 2013 to work in London, land was $250/ buildable square foot in the downtown core; when I moved back to Vancouver in 2016, it was over $500 / buildable square foot – a 100% increase in 3 years! Land is now more expensive than construction on a square foot buildable basis – and remember that land costs have to be paid at the beginning of the development period … that’s an expensive financial “carry” on a project that will take 3 to 5 years to complete.

I think that most people in the development industry would agree we are seeing the influx of more global capital which takes a  more speculative view of our market – witness some irrational purchases as various syndicates buy and flip land on to other syndicates Peter Wall’s flip of a Nelson Street site near Burrard – purchased for $16.8M sold less than a year later for $60M –  and resold again months later for $68M is illustrative). The only thing changing in their sequential pro formas – other than escalating land costs – is an escalation in their anticipated selling prices … what will the market bear? Apparently a LOT! Down the housing production chain, a similar game exists with condo flippers who secure and assign pre-sale contracts.


Nelson Street Property Flip


The land flippers are not advancing new development rights,  producing anything or, or creating any new value – they are simply inflating the price of land and housing.

The “heat map” of racing land prices has radiated outwards as developers struggle and compete to secure developable sites. Most EVERYTHING out there has some complexity and risk to it – be it environmental contamination, or political/planning risk, or assembly risk. Transit Oriented sites along the Skytrain routes are trending up to and over $200/sf buildable as these assemblies will be substitutes for the convenience of inner city living.


On the supply side, in the face of strong demand there are virtually no completed units available for sale in our region of 2.4 million people. Don’t believe me? Check CMHC’s reliable statistics.

There are really very few “greenfield” sites – most development prospects entail destroying existing value in return for the opportunity to create more intense land uses on a given parcel of land. We are so land constrained – Montreal has 80,000 square kilometres of land in a circle with a 50km radius from the city centre; Toronto has 40,000 because of Lake Ontario; Greater Vancouver has only 18,000 square kilometres once you take away mountain slopes, the Fraser river, the US border, the ALR (a regional planning success story) and the Pacific ocean.

Now, more and more, we have to RECYCLE and REPLAN developed land – witness the new Strata Dissolution legislation that allows the demise and sale of older buildings nearing the end of their service lives. More and more older stratas (remember the leaky condo crisis!) are being targeted.


Strata Dissolution


Who are the winners in all of this? …. anyone selling property is selling into a very constrained land market. For example, Homeowners along the Cambie corridor are organizing and selling their single family lots for $3 to $5 to $6 million (one seeking $11M below). That’s all capital gains free provided they were primary residences. Any business selling larger sites will trigger capital gains taxes, so they really need to see big bumps in value in order to justify redevelopment. Governments selling land also win (witness any recent large land plays and you’ll see big numbers on sales revenue for any provincial, crown, or municipal sale of land). For example, watch the City of North Vancouver’s sale of the 5 acre Harry Jerome site – it will be c.$300+/sf buildable.

Cambie Corridor Homes/


Harry Jerome RFP

Also add the brokers who guide these deals – they are making their cut on hefty commissions.


Governments are winners in other ways: Provincial Property Transfer tax fills BC’s coffers. The province collects tax on the purchase of development sites AND on the sale of the new units created on the same site – a double dip! And as land and property prices double, so too does the Province’s cut – to the point where the value of real estate property transfer taxes now eclipse natural resource royalties on an annual basis. Municipalities across BC also take their cut as they try to capture 75% of the “Land Lift” as properties are up-zoned.


Property Transfer Tax Double Dip


By virtue of their land use powers, Cities can create “land” (buildable area) for free – so this is one tool we have at our disposal to create some degree of affordability. Take Vancouver’s suburbs for example, which account for 85% of the City’s land base but houses only 75% of the population.

Time to think about a new Vancouver Special (below), about how we re-use land, and how we plan growth in our other close-in neighbourhoods to accommodate more people at greater intensity with commensurate (and reasonable) levels of new amenity. The subject of the relative fairness of compulsory city Community Amenity Contributions is rife with debate, but the truism these are exacted at the rate the market can bear – coming out of the land price, or added to the purchase price of units.


A New “Vancouver Special”


The question of who benefits from the uplift as land is rezoned is really one of equity: a classic planning problem. I think we’ll be hearing more and more about inclusionary zoning as a planning tool to share the uplift, but this still raises the question of access and fairness in the distribution of the benefits of rezoned development potential. Who wins the lottery for the next affordable home?

Ultimately supply and demand and government policies all shape the market for land and housing. We need to look at land, tax and housing policies at federal, provincial, regional and municipal levels in a holistic manner to create the conditions needed for more balanced markets.

I’m interested in other people’s perspectives on this.

Michael Mortensen

Supply as a Solution? The Answer is Yes


Alan Durning of the Sightline Institute maintains that more housing supply is the solution to housing affordability. Lots of housing.  

From News1130:

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – While Vancouver City Council looks at ways to put a roof over the head of more locals, a recent report out of Seattle shines a spotlight on how other major centres have been able to build their way to affordability.

“While housing prices in Vancouver, as in my home city of Seattle, have been going through the roof, cities around the world have been keeping housing prices flat or rising very slowly by building lots and lots of housing,” says Alan Durning, executive director of Sightline Institute.

“In the United States, Houston has housing that is no more expensive than it was in the 1980s, even though the population has been growing extraordinarily quickly and incomes have been rising,” he tells NEWS 1130.

“In Canada, Montreal housing prices are less than half as much as in Greater Vancouver, largely because they have been building plenty of housing. And Tokyo, a very dense city like Vancouver, has kept housing prices flat even as the population and incomes have been rising in the city.”

Durning says that goes counter to the conventional wisdom that you can’t build your way out of a housing affordability problem.

“I hear it all the time: Prosperous, growing, tech-rich cities from Seattle to the Bay Area and from Austin to Boston are all gripped by soaring rents and home prices,” he recently posted in a Sightline blog.

“But what if you can build your way to affordable housing? What if, in fact, building is the only path to affordable housing? What if cities around the world have been building their way to affordability for decades? You can. It is. And they have.”

Sprawling Houston and dense Tokyo have done it by keeping red tape for construction at a minimum; Montreal’s zoning is largely for efficient and affordable low- and mid-rises.

“Vienna is a really interesting case where most of the housing is public or non-profit. It still has housing prices less than half as high as in Seattle or Vancouver,” he adds.

Durning says while regional or governmental differences may prevent every model from being successful in the Pacific Northwest, all have lessons for Vancouver.

“To have affordable housing, you have to build homes in great abundance, and without that, other affordability strategies … can be fruitless or counterproductive,” he concludes in his blog.

“Building plenty of housing is not just one way to affordability, it is the only way—the foundation on which other affordability solutions, measures against displacement, and programs for inclusion rest.”


Google ‘s Sidewalk Lab Chosen for Toronto’s Quayside Development



As reported in the Toronto Star a federal-provincial-city agency overseeing Toronto’s Quayside 12 acre  project site  announced that Sidewalk Labs a sister company of Google has won a competition to build a new high-tech neighbourhood on that  city’s east downtown waterfront. Once confirmed by the Waterfront Toronto board,  “the choice of a firm owned by Google holding company Alphabet Inc. would be a big high-tech feather in the cap of the city currently chasing the second headquarters of Amazon and other innovation opportunities.”

Sidewalk Labs is committed to reimagine cities from the Internet up. The new Quayside neighbourhood will be “a testbed for cutting-edge technology as well as a bustling, functioning neighbourhood, with homes, offices, retail and cultural space, near Queens Quay East. and Parliament Street.” 

As Alphabet’s urban innovation unit, Sidewalk Labs has been searching for a larger scale area to act as its “smart city test bed…The community would be universally connected by broadband and could have  prefabricated modular housing, sensors to constantly monitor building performance, and robotic delivery services to cut residential storage space, The Architects’ Newspaper reported in May.”

The winning bid was to  “foster sustainability, resiliency and urban innovation; complete communities with a range of housing types for families of all sizes and income levels; economic development and prosperity driving innovation that will be rolled out to the rest of the world; and partnership and investment ensuring a solid financial foundation that secures revenue and manages financial risk.” Toronto also perceives that Google’s presence in Toronto as well as the decision by Uber to make Toronto a driverless car research hub as the first step towards a massive technology boom that will shape the city.




Double Dipping MLA Has Time for Massey Tunnel Billboards


1008 col smyth.jpgThe Province Images

In the “you just can’t make this stuff up” department, double salary dipping Provincial MLA Ian Paton thought he had a very good idea. A newly minted Liberal MLA and also  happily continuing the strange conflict of interest of being on Delta City Council,  Mr. Paton still is representing Delta’s one hand clapping for the new Massey Bridge. Instead of productively working with the new Provincial government which is overseeing an evaluation of the Massey crossing options, Mr. Paton had the time to go the Massey Tunnel and hammer in some political billboards. Seriously.

Instead of those billboards saying something constructive, those billboards contain  one-sided tired 20th century political rhetoric. Those billboards don’t say that a multi-billion dollar overbuilt bridge on the sensitive Fraser River delta is being re-evaluated, that the lack of public process and the lack of buy-in of the Mayor’s Council on the size and the location was a concern. Oh no. They embarrassingly tell drivers that they are stuck in traffic because of the current government.  The signs are also placed on property not surprisingly owned by Ron Toigo of White Spot fame, who of course would greatly benefit if his farmland was rezoned industrial due to the location of a ten lane bridge. It’s all so transparent.

As Mike Smyth in The Province observes Andrew Weaver of the Green Party notes  what many others are thinking of these billboards: “It’s hilarious. I’ve had dozens of people contacting me to say, ‘Thank you for stopping the reckless path of an unreviewed bridge that was promised out of nowhere by the Liberals.’”

It’s really time to stop thinking of the Massey crossing as a political boondoggle and evaluate it for what it truly is. No one is disputing the need for better, more efficient access across the Fraser River. Bullying tactics don’t work~and future generations living in Metro Vancouver may inherit a prudent crossing that is respectful to the existing Agricultural Land Reserve and sensitive delta conditions, or a ten lane crossing that will speed up  the industrialization of the banks of the Fraser River. It’s our choice and we need to take the time to make the right decision for future generations.




North Shore Dreams


 From North Shore News: 

North Vancouver-Seymour Liberal MLA Jane Thornthwaite (has) drawn up a proposal including hypothetical transit map featuring a SkyTrain connection over the Second Narrows with stops across the North Shore, from Cates Park to Dundarave. And she’s started consulting with local MPs and the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. …

Thornthwaite said she was inspired to lobby for a North Shore rail link because constituents in North Vancouver-Seymour have very little coming to them in terms of transit improvements. …

Funding is in place currently for a new SeaBus, which will allow 10-minute service during rush hour, a 30 per cent increase in regular bus service and new B-Line buses for the North Shore.

Thornthwaite said she hasn’t done any back-of-the-envelope calculations on what such a plan would cost although she conceded it would be in the billions.

“But the only way we can get an assessment going and the interest from the decision-makers like TransLink and the mayors’ council is to start talking about it. That’s what I’m trying to do. Everybody I’ve talked to thinks it’s a good idea.”

Such a rail line could even be connected to Squamish and Whistler over the longer term, Thornthwaite added.

Gordon Price, fellow with SFU’s Centre for Dialogue and former head of the university’s city program, said it’s refreshing to see the discussion of a fabled “third crossing” return but centred around mass transit for a change.

“It’s certainly doable and it could certainly be doable faster than what dreamers might think at this point. That’s a political and financial commitment,” he said.

But before North Vancouver and West Vancouver can pursue a rail link with any seriousness, they have to be able to answer some existential questions about the kind of communities they aspire to be. To justify a SkyTrain, our urban planning would have to become much more centred around transit over the long term than it currently is.

“If you’re going to be looking at something like SkyTrain rapid transit, and you should, it’s a long-term solution. We’re talking over 100 years. And it means a fundamental change in the scale, and for some parts of your community, a fundamental change in character. You’re building transit-oriented, concentrated communities with both work and play and all the rest of it,” he said. “Because otherwise, why build rapid transit?”

Park Royal would have to look more like Burnaby’s Brentwood neighbourhood, Price used as an example.

“North Van and West Vancouver would have to commit themselves to having a different kind of long-term vision for themselves, and I’m not sure that the population is yet ready for that,” he said.

But, Price noted, if the hope is that a North Shore SkyTrain would be the silver bullet to solving the bridge congestion problem, there are much cheaper and faster options within reach, namely mobility pricing. The technology to track usage of the roads and transit system in real time exists in most anyone’s smartphone, meaning it would not be difficult to charge tolls based on usage. That would be the most effective incentive for getting people and cars off the road, and speeding up the daily commutes, Price said.

“That’s going to be so much easier to do in the world we’re moving into. We’re not quite there yet but it’s happening,” he said.  “The politics of that? Brutal. But it could be done.”

What is the simple answer to this question?

Can UDI or NPA or REIBC or any other advocate of more supply, supply, supply answer this question in a way that is intuitive, simple to understand and correct?  Otherwise, why should anyone believe them – particularly those groups who will be out in force to fight any significant rezoning of their RS-1 neighbourhoods?

From Business in Vancouver:

“What’s causing the supply shortage is the restrictive single-family home neighborhood zoning on 85% of our residential land base. That keeps out young families, middle income earners and renters, who can’t afford single-family homes,” said Anne McMullin, president and CEO of the Urban Development Institute, Pacific Region.

“We clearly need a regional housing strategy with more homes for more people,” she added. “That means more high-rise apartments along rapid transit corridors and more townhomes, rowhomes [and] multi-family low-rises.”

But recent studies show the reverse is true: fewer people can afford to buy condominiums in the Metro suburbs that have seen the greatest increase in supply over the past two years.

Spurred by the extension of rapid transit, Burnaby, Coquitlam, New Westminster and Surrey have seen explosive growth in strata projects, but they all share something else in common: as the residential towers ascend, housing affordability has eroded.

After record-breaking construction in 2016, Surrey had more multi-family housing starts– 2,390 and mostly condo apartments –in the first half of this year than in any other Metro Vancouver municipality, but condo affordability has fallen by 7.8% compared to a year earlier, according to a survey by credit union Vancity.

More here.

George Massey Bridge Boondoggle-“A Large Expensive Napkin”



You can learn a lot about the previous Provincial government’s Massey Bridge process by looking at how other observers view it. This article from the Windsor Star compares the Gordie Howe International Bridge project connecting the Windsor and Detroit regions to the halted George Massey bridge project in Metro Vancouver.  That six lane international bridge is estimated to cost two billion dollars and is a public-private partnership, with a suggested opening for 2022.

A community advisory group member of the Gordie Howe Bridge project noted  that the “scuttling” of that bridge could occur without sound financial backing, drawing a comparison to the George Massey bridge which ” was scrapped on the eve of construction despite years of planning, plus $66 million spent on site clearing and other preparatory work.”  

While the Windsor article describes the  Massey Bridge ten lane crossing as being built to ease metro Vancouver commuter traffic, it also describes the intent as replacing “a crumbling, four-lane tunnel feared to be at risk of collapse in the event of an earthquake”,   that had a poor planning process and a lack of support from impacted communities. The article also states that local mayors were critical of the Massey Bridge which would increase congestion by throttling traffic into a four lane road.

Local Member of Parliament Peter Julian (NDP — New Westminster-Burnaby), weighs in calling the Massey Bridge plan “as “back of the napkin” thinking despite the large amount of money spent and preparation work completed.“Maybe it was a large, expensive napkin, but you had 10 lanes going into four lanes,” Julian said Friday. “There was no out (for traffic). It was absurd. It wasn’t well thought out and you had municipalities rejecting the idea.”

Ontario Member of Parliament Brian Masse (NDP — Windsor-West) for the Windsor and Detroit bridge said the two bridge projects appear eerily similar “on the surface,” but in reality are not. “One is an international bridge, the other was a provincial initiative that posed problems for a lot of municipalities which opposed the idea to begin with,” he said. “There seemed to be a lack of consultation, while we had full community consultation as part of a long public process.”

The Massey Tunnel/Bridge Crossing will be re-examined by the Provincial Government, with an expected study completed by late 2018.





Forget that Campaign Promise~No 2017 Rideshare



If you have travelled just about anywhere, you may have used a ride share app that enabled you to get a ride quickly and efficiently with a pleasant driver. The best part of rideshare? You know the cost of the trip before you get into the vehicle, and the app shows you how many vehicles are in your area, ensuring you that there will be someone to pick you up. And if you travel by taxi in Vancouver, you may have experienced long waits, uneven service, and drivers that continually talk on their cell phone. Many seniors wait and wait for a taxi cab and are never picked up because their six or eight block ride is not seen as worthy enough financially for a taxi to bother.  The taxi cab companies are required by city hall  to pick up everyone even seniors~they just don’t do that in real life. And seniors hesitate to complain to the City’s Taxi Team (available by calling 311) because they are fearful of never ever getting a cab to come again.

It was therefore a  bit of a surprise that  after making a campaign promise to provide rideshares for this year that the NDP Provincial government is now saying not yet. Why? Because it needs to be studied, and Dan Hara has been hired with a contract in the $150,000 range to ” draft a new report and recommendations for ridesharing in British Columbia, which pushes any possible government legislation around the services to Fall 2018.”

The Fall of 2018. That’s one more year.   As Matt Kieltyka reports in Metro News this latest development has annoyed the Green leader Andrew Weaver who stated
I am very disappointed that the government will not keep its promise to bring ridesharing to British Columbians by the end of the year. We cannot be tech innovators if we’re not willing to embrace innovation.”

Of course there are studies that suggest that transit use can drop when rideshare is competitive in communities. But for a City like Vancouver that does not have adequate cab coverage in the first place, and cab companies that can pick and choose who they wish to carry in their cab, can’t we have another alternative? One that is a bit more senior and disabled  friendly? While the Minister of Transportation states that the regulation and insurance of ridesharing is still unclear, other jurisdictions are doing it. And for many seniors waiting for that six or eight block ride where public transit options are not available, a more reliable rideshare would greatly enhance their quality of life.


Nenshi Re-elected in Calgary



What does Nenshi’s re-election signify?  PT readers may have some thoughts.

From the Globe:

Naheed Nenshi has secured his third term in Calgary, fending off a more conservative challenger who came close to unseating the once-politically unassailable mayor of Alberta’s largest city.

Mr. Nenshi, 45, won against lawyer Bill Smith with about 51 per cent of the vote according to unofficial results late Monday night – a far cry from the 74 per cent support that Mr. Nenshi saw in the 2013 election. …

Mr. Smith still received about 44 per cent of the vote, but Mr. Nenshi’s win is a repudiation of those who believed Alberta’s conservatives – stung by the existence of an NDP government in Edmonton and a Liberal government in Ottawa – were poised to use the municipal election to help stage a comeback. …

The Harvard-educated son of immigrants, (Nenshi) worked around-the-clock the weeks during and after the 2013 floods, and has made issues such as public transit and housing hallmarks of his time in office. But he has gained a strong cohort of critics in recent years, and in recent weeks some polls had shown Mr. Smith’s campaign, with its focus on freezing municipal workers’ salaries and cutting city taxes, gathering steam.

The race was also affected by factors outside the realm of municipal politics. Both Mr. Nenshi and Mr. Smith said they often heard complaints while knocking on doors or meeting with business owners about policies originating in Edmonton or Ottawa – including Alberta’s carbon tax and plans to move to a $15 per hour minimum wage, or proposed federal changes to business tax laws.

Mr. Nenshi has significant challenges ahead as he continues on as mayor. He and his council have to grapple with a massive hole in the city’s budget as office vacancies stay stubbornly high. Mr. Nenshi has said he will carry over a $45 million program that shields remaining city businesses from the full brunt of tax increases that could come from a partially empty downtown core.

He will also carry the weight of a fraught relationship with the city’s professional hockey team. …

Mr. Smith had worked to capitalize on the perception in some quarters that Mr. Nenshi is quick to upbraid those who don’t agree with him. Some of the political opposition to Mr. Nenshi can be traced back two years to opposition to a rapid-transit plan, including the construction of bus lanes, from well-organized residents in the southwest of the city. Others criticize Mr. Nenshi’s blunt-speak in lambasting political opponents from the chief executive of Uber to local developers. Mr. Smith’s campaign said property taxes “skyrocketed” by 51 per cent during Mr. Nenshi’s time in office.

SALA Lecture: Steven Apfelbaum – Oct 17

Imagine Parks and Recreation – What could Vancouver’s parks, public space and recreation opportunities look like in 25 years? How about 100 years?

In the third lecture of this series, we explore the ecological and environmental sustainability dimensions of parks and public spaces in urban environments with two leading experts and a moderated Q&A:

Opening speaker: Melina Scholefield, P. Eng, Manager, Green Infrastructure Implementation, City of Vancouver

Keynote speaker:  Steven Apfelbaum, Senior Ecologist, Founder & Chairman of Applied Ecological Services

Steven Apfelbaum is an international scientific expert and a leading ecological consultants in the US.  His work provides insight and design solutions at the intersection of ecological systems and developed land uses. In recent years he has worked closely with hydrologists to understand landscape-scale hydrologic changes associated with land settlement in the Midwestern U.S.,with direct application to many hundred millions of acres in North America and elsewhere.

Apfelbaum’s latest book, “Restoring Ecological Health to Your Land” (Island Press) and his personal account of thirty years of restoring their Wisconsin farm, in “Natures Second Chance” (Beacon press) have received a range of awards and rave reviews from the New York Times and other publications. The later book has been recognized as one of the top ten environmental books of 2009 and also best books for people to personally learn about what they can do to address climate change. Apfelbaum teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and holds adjunct professorships and lectureships at several other universities.

Oct 17

6:30 pm

Robson Square – 800 Robson Street


SFU City Program – Fall Courses

Designing and Drafting Design Guidelines

October 26, 2017, SFU Vancouver
Instructors: Neal LaMontagne, Oliver Hartleben

Good urban design—from the building to the site to the neighbourhood—benefits from strong, clear and well-crafted design guidance, and many planners and urban designers are tasked to draft design guidelines.

This course will guide you through the challenge of drafting design guidelines in varied contexts—from the elements of urban design performance to structure and the drafting process. This course will also help you make a meaningful contribution to advancing the quality of your local built environment and the development approval process.

Learn more

Next-Generation Transportation webinar series

Free Roaming and Walkability — Enhancing urban design, cities and spaces for wellness and well-being
Oct 23, 10 AM PDT
Speaker: Dr. William Bird,
Moderator: Sandy James, director, Walk Metro Vancouver
Free. Reserve a spot

Dr. William Bird is a renowned medical physician and urbanist who believes prevention and wellness should be practised at a city scale. Dr. Bird has always been fascinated with the connection between the health of humans and their environment. As a pioneer in leading innovative programs and practices, he has transformed millions of people’s lives around the globe through his work. He has been named among the top 100 who are making Great Britain a happier place and he is an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), awarded by the Queen for his work connecting health and physical activity… 

Read more

New Community Data Science Course

Community Data Science Theory and Practice
Nov 21, 22, 28, 29, SFU Harbour Centre
Instructors: Andy Yan, SFU City Program; Craig E. Jones, UBC

This professional development course focuses on the collection, analysis, visualization and dissemination of information derived from structured public datasets. You’ll acquire a basic toolkit for navigating public datasets containing socio-economic, demographic, land-use and real estate data. You will not only develop a familiarity with core datasets like the Census, municipal business licenses and property datasets, but also a basic ability to understand and use most structured public datasets. While you won’t necessarily fully master these datasets in this single course, you’ll learn a set of skills and conceptual understandings to analyze and share information. The course provides a balance of “how,” “what” and “why” of working with data and understanding its possibilities and limitations in the development of evidence-based decisions.

Learn more

Other learning opportunities

Urban Design – Economic Fundamentals
Nov 15-16, 9 AM – 5 PM, SFU Vancouver
Instructors: Gerry Mulholland and Michael von Hausen

Urban Design – Planning for Transportation and Accessibility
Nov 17-18, 9 AM – 5 PM, SFU Vancouver
Instructor: Tamim Raad

Aging, Design, and the City
Feb 2, 2018, SFU Vancouver
Instructor: Beverley Pitman

Comparative Parking


Sunday afternoon, Sunset Beach, sunny day.

On what was once vehicle parking, there are now two docking stations for Mobi bikeshare:

These cyclists were able to access the last open spaces.

By comparison, here’s the situation on the rest of the parking lot:

Lots of empty spaces for cars.  Of course, this is paid parking – but really, it’s a sunny weekend afternoon next to a busy part of the seawall, with access to the False Creek ferries. And yet the demand for car parking is abysmal.  Looks like they’ll have to use some of those spaces to put in another docking station for bikes.

2017 Civic By-Election Thoughts: Touching the Third Rail

Have two of the third rails of Vancouver politics become the new main track?

Is it now possible, if not imperative, that our Council consider fundamentally rezoning the single-family neighbourhoods in a way that would change their character, while at the same time considering a fundamental change in the property tax in order to tap the extraordinary increase in the asset value of those same homes?

You bet – if you go by the results of recent byelection.

Two candidates at either end of the political spectrum who topped the polls both put forward what not long ago would have been unthinkable policies in any serious party platform: Jean Swanson proposed a variable property tax targeted at increasing rates on high-value properties; Hector Bremner proposed a city-wide plan that would open single-family zones places to multiple dwellings.

Both candidates now have credibility, one as an elected official, the other as a serious contender in the next election.  They both have a mandate to push forward with ideas that everyone else in civic government and all parties (even at the provincial level) must now take seriously.

Let the real debate begin.

2017 Civic By-Election Thoughts

NPA’s Hector (“I Like Fossil Fuels”) Bremner wins with 3% of eligible voters (13372/442792).  Q: does he continue to push for massive SFH rezoning, and drag the NPA, kicking and screaming,  with him? Or does this get buried behind a surge of BC Liberal-directed right wing initiatives. Will his by-election victory momentum be sustained by subsequent performance as a Councillor?  Will it support a Mayoral bid in 2018? Watch the inevitable Council spark-fests with Councillor Reimer, a possible 2018 Vision mayoral candidate.  Or should I term those “quasi Mayoral debates”.

Jean Swanson comes second — “Tax the Rich”. Despite it being difficult (if not impossible) for the City to do this, it’s still quite a message for traditional parties about what brings people to the polls in 2017.  Probably 2018, too.

Green’s Pete Fry places third.  Name recognition can’t overcome soft messaging and obvious lack of serious interest in rezoning, due to nimby-friendly policies.

Vision’s Diego Cardona places a distant 5th, as voters do what they normally do in by-elections:  smack the powers-that-be. Cardona’s focus on renters fails to outweigh this.  Neither does youthful charm and energy. The progressive vote-split doesn’t explain it completely, either.

Low turnout (11%), 4-way split on the progressive side, means special interests and energised minority positions are very evident.  Note that Swanson/Graves combined would have won, as would either of them with Fry.  Remember, your Complaint Coupons carry real-world weight, so let’s not have a whole lot of complaining about Hector.

School Board final composition a mixed bag party-wise.  Final-final may change when official count released Oct 18. As of now, 3 Greens, 3 Visions, 2 NPA, 1 OneCity.

Daily Scot – Urban Agriculture – Part 2

Yesterday I profiled a bountiful urban garden on the rooftop of Quebec City’s Hôtel du Vieux and asked the question: with the pressure on the Agricultural Land Reserve what does the future hold for food security in Vancouver?  Could Vancouver be doing more with our numerous rooftops regarding urban farming?  Indeed there are some excellent rooftop projects around town already up and running (Fairmont Hotel Waterfront and YWCA immediately come to mind).

This past summer I had an opportunity to tour an extensive urban agriculture program on top of Bosa’s False Creek apartments located on the corner of Main Street and Switchmen in Olympic Village.  The program is sponsored by the Bosa Properties Foundation (more here)


Building resident and program participant Thea Treahy-Geofreda took me on a tour of the operation and provided some background on the projects history:

The Bosa Properties Foundation has committed to supporting our rooftop garden project each year. They supply all the soil, seeds, seedlings, equipment and support (if necessary, through Can You Dig It!). The team of residents maintain and harvest the garden from there.  This specific rooftop garden has been operational for 3 years and we are planning our 4rd season now.  Bosa also supports the efforts of the community garden within their Chinatown building.

The crop yields are substantial and are never wasted, supporting a range of local organizations in Vancouver:

We have 3 designated plots which are donated to Project Chef, a school based cooking program in Vancouver.  They request the crops they need before the growing season starts, and we provide them throughout the summer.  All left-over produce from our bi-weekly harvest are donated to the Vancouver Food Bank. We consistently provided them with 1-3 boxes of mixed vegetables each harvest, all season.

Food waste recycling is done onsite using a continuous flow Vermiculture system (Compost worms) providing nutrient rich worm tea and castings fertilizer for the garden while reducing the need for organic waste collection.  More on their composting system here.

I asked Thea what are the teams biggest challenges and most successful crops:

There are little (if any) challenges with our rooftop garden, as we are protected from strong winds, attract an abundance of sunlight and are protected from most “pests” found at ground level.  We do deal with some aphids and slugs, though nothing like those working on the ground.

Tomatoes and hot peppers have got to be out most successful crops.  The heat and sunlight we get create the perfect environment for these plants. The hardest thing to grow on our rooftop are squash and pumpkin. We quickly gave up on that after year one.



Kinda makes you miss summer doesn’t it?  Thanks to Thea and the Bosa Properties for exposing me to such an exciting urban agriculture initiative.