Daily Scot – Why Airbnb is Terrible

With incredible speed and somewhat under the radar, Airbnb has become one of the biggest influences on both short and long term accommodation in cities around the world.  The video below by Cracked breaks down the true costs to cities of the online rental giant through wit, satire and warning….some mild profanity.


Two of my friends in the last year have had their lives changed by Airbnb.  One an eight year leaseholder of a house in Strathcona was renovicted so the entire dwelling could be put up for more lucrative short term rentals.  The second friend massively over extended himself panic buying into a rising market, and left with the only option of renting his house on Airbnb for any hope in affording the hefty mortgage repayments.  What have your experiences been with Airbnb?  Is it good for Vancouver?

“It’s a Big Pile of Land”


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Local First Nations are focussing on long-term economic independence via a series of big-money property developments in the Vancouver area.

First: Mike Howell reports in the Vancouver Courier that the Musqueam FN has reached a milestone on its UBC project.  Its scale, look and feel give hints about the “big one” — Jericho.

The provincial government is about to give the 1,300-member band the green light to build a massive residential development on its land in the University Endowment Lands  . . .     The project includes four 18-storey highrises, several rows of townhouses and mid-rise apartment buildings, a community centre, a childcare facility, commercial space for a grocery store and restaurants, a public plaza, a large park and wetlands area. All of it will be spread over 21.4 acres of what is now forest along University Boulevard, bounded by Acadia Road, Toronto Road and Ortona Avenue.


Thanks to the Vancouver Courier, photo by Dan Toulgoet

The Musqueam FN has hired former ban CFO Stephen Lee and former CLC employee Doug Avis to head up the Musqueam Capital Corporation, which offloads land development and other business activities from the band council.

[Chief] Sparrow, [Operations Manager] Mearns, Lee and Avis made it clear the end goal of the projects is to create opportunities for Musqueam’s young people and inspire them to pursue higher learning and take advantage of what’s in front of them. Lee and Avis are not Musqueam members but say they hope one day to be replaced by band members.

“We’ll make money on the developments, there’s no doubt about it,” Mearns said. “But that’s not really where the big value will come from. It’s how we raise the entire community capacity as a result of these projects and develop people to not only get careers as carpenters, plumbers, planners, engineers, doctors, lawyers — whatever — but it’s also to have people go out and develop their own businesses and get their own contracts.”

The Courier article is a fascinating journey along a trail that is shameful at times and hopeful at others.

Second: the 21-acre (8.5 hectare) Heather Lands, involving three FN and the Canada Lands Company (CLC).  The first open house will be tomorrow, Saturday Sept 24, 12:00 to 3 pm. Details HERE.  City of Vancouver launch events are to be Oct 15 and 17.

Apparently, the Heather Lands are also known as “Fairmont Lands”. Who knew?

Hints as to the planning outcome from the FN-CLC point of view are in THIS 25-page document from CoV, Appendix “D.  Joint Venture Guiding Planning Principles”. Presumably, many of these FN-CLC principles will also apply to the upcoming much bigger Jericho development. The principles, happily, include “…prioritize walking, cycling and transit…”, among many others. Cheesy car suburbs look unlikely.

The CoV document also lays out a big batch of overarching plans that will inform CoV’s Fairmont (Heather) Lands planning outcome.  Among them:  Land use, Density, Height, Public benefits, Transportation, Built form and character, Heritage, Sustainability, Development phasing.

Hopefully, the groups will meet somewhere in the middle of these various visions, which obviously differ in some areas e.g. affordability v.s. maximization of triple bottom line (page 18).  To me, at this stage, there looks like plenty of common ground.

Density will, of course, be the big hot public topic. Via its proxy — building height.  And let’s not forget the ever-popular vehicle storage (parking).


Thanks to MST-CLC Joint Venture and City of Vancouver

Thanks to Frances Bula for this in the Globe and Mail.  Note the possibility that the development will retain an existing 1920-era heritage building.  Note also the potential for City of Vancouver mandated affordable housing components, housing for FN members, and moderate to high density (as at nearby Cambie Street).

Tsawwassen Mills, tomorrow’s Mirabel Airport?


The Mirabel Airport was built  40 kilometers outside of Montreal and received great fanfare when it opened in 1975. Approximately 97,000 acres of land were expropriated for this airport, and many farmers were displaced for this venture. It was assumed that air traffic would flock to Montreal, and this airport would replace the more centrally located Dorval (now Trudeau) airport. But it was too far, too inconvenient, and the swarms of travellers never arrived. Planes also got more efficient too, not needing any refuelling stop after a transatlantic journey 

Today the airport is abandoned, occasionally  being used for some movie shoots.The airport terminal, which was carefully mothballed for a decade, took a year to demolish.


Enter Tsawwassen Mills, a 1.2 million square foot shopping mall  built on Class 1 agricultural land on Delta’s flood plain, 5 kilometers from the ferry terminal, 35 kilometers from Vancouver, 32 kilometers from Surrey. With 6,000 parking spaces it is branding itself as a destination fashion location and has a pop up trailer that goes to different locations and gives out free stuff. It appeared at the Burrard Transit station which was a little odd, given that there is no rapid transit route for transit users to get to the mall.

The mall’s opening is October 8 with about 160 of the 200 stores being occupied. The second mall, a more locally serving 550,000 square foot outdoor shopping experience will open later. Meanwhile family owned shops in Ladner and Tsawwassen join Price Tags in hoping that personal service, long-term relationships, and knowing their clientele means that they can stay in business.

The Tsawwassen Mills project has a Quebec connection too-the project is owned by Ivanhoe Cambridge and is a real estate subsidiary of the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (cdpq.com). It remains to be seen whether this last ode to motordom  and  consumerism will be the 21st century version of the Mirabel Airport.


The local convenience store as Seniors’ Central


Those 7-11 corner convenience stores are a staple in North American cities and in Japan. Mimi Kirk in City Lab notes that the Japanese convenience stores provide the same items as North American ones-with one exception-

“convenience stores in Japan offer services that make them hubs of their communities. Customers can pay a utility bill, buy concert tickets, or make copies at a 7-Eleven or a similar retailer like Lawson or FamilyMart. In the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, convenience stores even set up emergency support centers and sent employees to aid survivors, among other good deeds.”

As Japan’s seniors population ages, the stores have become street corner mini community centres with healthier food, home food delivery and  “seating areas so that older customers can gather to socialize and practice their karaoke skills.”

Elder friendly services are increasing with 100 new locations in apartment complexes offering these services as well as room cleaning, clothes mending and dealing with maintenance problems in apartments.

Ryota Takemoto, a researcher with an institute focusing on Japan’s real estate sector states “We must prevent [the elderly] from losing their access to a convenience store so that we can use convenience store networks…as an economic and social infrastructure where aging is advancing fast.”

It’s an interesting adaptive innovation that may find credence here as we encourage more seniors to age in place in their own communities.

Ohrn Image — Public Art


Another big and powerful oldie — “Knife Edge Two Piece“, Henry Moore, at Queen Elizabeth Park.  One of an edition of four made around 1962-65, it weighs 3-odd tons.


It was donated to the Park Board by avid modern art collector Prentice Bloedel and his wife Virginia along with the funding to build the Conservatory, the surrounding plaza and fountains.

moore_henryHenry Moore was the most important British sculptor of the 20th century, and the most popular and internationally celebrated sculptor of the post-war period. Non-Western art was crucial in shaping his early work – he would say that his visits to the ethnographic collections of the British Museum were more important than his academic study. Later, leading European modernists such as Picasso, Arp, Brancusi and Giacometti became influences. And uniting these inspirations was a deeply felt humanism. He returned again and again to the motifs of the mother and child, and the reclining figure, and often used abstract form to draw analogies between the human body and the landscape.

Thanks to:   the Art Story.



Dealing With Disruption


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Here on Price Tags, we’ve published a few articles on pending disruption in the motor vehicle industry from autonomous vehicles. While it’s far from clear what will ultimately happen, at what rate, in which sectors first and which company will dominate — major disruption is no doubt underway.

The Economist has produced this nifty video on the disruption now facing fossil fuel-based energy companies. The video (length 14:48), looks at two large European energy companies, a village, their plans and the investments they all are making in transition to a post-carbon (or diminishing carbon) world. It’s the latest in a series they’re doing on disruption of industries.

Meanwhile, here is BC, we double down on production of fossil fuels, complete with fuss-free shipment facilities for any and all fossil fuels from anywhere. Never mind the possibility of massive stranded assets.  Presumably, BC’s coal shipment volume projections just rise and rise. Our thinking seems mired in 1957.

Noteworthy to me are the massive opportunities described here as part of the transition.

Thanks to The Economist for this video.

Alternative energy is forcing fossil-fuel giants to reinvent themselves. Find out how in the latest film in our new series, “The Disrupters”, which examines industries undergoing transformation.



Art and Transit in San Francisco


“Lightrail” would run for about 2 miles above downtown’s Market Street, one of the city’s busiest arteries, showing in whizzing, multicolored LEDs the pulse of the hidden BART system. Local artists George Zisiadis and Stefano Corazza designed it for Illuminate the Arts, the same nonprofit behind the “Bay Lights,” a humongous waterfall of sparkles flickering on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.


Bike Shop Owner Speaks On Bikey Stuff


Rob Venables owns Dunbar Cycles, and has lots of thoughts on things bicycle here in Vancouver.  Thanks to Kate Wilson at the Georgia Straight.

A few selected quotes from this industry expert It’s a good perspective from someone who runs a small business, and is in touch with the big shifts now taking place in transportation in Vancouver.

Best spot to grab a mobi bike share

“It’s all pretty new, but I’d say the Cambie Street station—it’s really conveniently located. There are great setups all over town, though. By my house, for instance, at 16th and Arbutus, there’s a big station in front of the new Loblaws that always has loads of bikes available.”

Best Vancouver neighbourhood for cycling

“With all the new cycling lanes, it’s probably Kitsilano. The traffic is generally quieter to begin with, and with the new infrastructure it’s very nice and relaxed out there.”

Best downtown bike lane

“The new Burrard Street path will be fantastic when it opens. Until that’s done, though, I’d say Hornby Street—the one with the segregated lane, with potted plants all along it.”


Best thing to say to businesses that oppose bike lanes

“You just have to look at the statistics—everywhere there’s a bike lane, business goes up. And that’s all over the world, not just in Vancouver. Cycling provides a different way to see the city, so you notice more stores, and because you’re going slower, you’ve got more time to look around you. Plus, you don’t have to worry about parking—if you want to visit a shop, you can go right in.”

Best way to get people out on their bikes

“The Mobi bike share is such a great idea for just that. If somebody is thinking about starting to ride their bike to work, or just using it around town, it’s possible to get the app and just do a pay-as-you-go service. When people try cycling and realize the huge benefits, they get hooked.”

Los Angeles: Similar Stories from our Sister City

Yup, LA is a sister city of Vancouver.


In Cranes’ Shadow, Los Angeles Strains to See a Future With Less Sprawl – The New York Times

The powerful economic resurgence that has swept Southern California is on display almost everywhere here, visible in the construction cranes towering on the skyline and the gush of applications to build luxury hotels, shopping centers, high-rise condominiums and acres of apartment complexes from Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles.

But it can also be seen in a battle that has broken out about the fundamental nature of this distinctively low-lying and spread-out city. The conflict has pitted developers and some government officials against neighborhood organizations and preservationists. It is a debate about height and neighborhood character; the influence of big-money developers on City Hall; and, most of all, what Los Angeles should look like a generation from now. …

But the debate this time has reached a particularly pitched level, fueled by a severe shortage of affordable housing, an influx of people moving back into the city center and the perception that a Southern California city that once seemed to have unlimited space for growth has run out of track. “What’s that old cliché?” Mayor Eric M. Garcetti said in an interview. “The sprawl has hit the wall in L.A.” …

A number of factors have contributed to the tensions. Los Angeles, like many other big cities dealing with traffic, has been encouraging development along mass-transit lines, such as the one that cuts through Hollywood. The city has also been roiled by a wave of developer tear-downs of picturesque homes in well-established neighborhoods, making way for big houses and stirring sharp opposition in many places.

Full story here.

West End: The Meaning of a Memorial



Pete McMartin in the Sun covers a contentious issue:

Last Friday, at the corner of Jervis and Pendrell in the West End, a ceremony was held to unveil what is known as the West End Sex Workers Memorial.

It’s a Victorian-style lamppost with a red light honouring the neighbourhood’s sex workers who plied their trade from the 1960s to the mid-1980s. “Today, we commemorate and honour their lives,” its inscription stated. The City of Vancouver paid $28,000 for its construction.


Unstated on the memorial, but not left unsaid in speeches at the memorial’s unveiling, was its censure of West End citizens, politicians and the provincial legal community who, at that time, acted to force sex workers out of the neighbourhood.

“Censure,” however, is too watery a word in this case, since the memorial’s proponents drew a line of causation between the sex workers’ exile from the West End and, ultimately, murder. They claim the sex workers’ forced migration out of the West End to the Seymour and Richards strolls, and to the Downtown Eastside, left them vulnerable to predators like Robert Pickton.

“These actions,” said city councillor Andrea Reimer, near tears, “reflected how the community broadly saw safety at that time. We now know that that view and those actions resulted in great harm to others in the community, namely sex workers. Not just harm — that’s a very soft word for the abduction, torture and murder of many women.” She added that the memorial was “a reminder to me and our community that justice has to live for everyone or it lives for none of us.”

A few days prior to the unveiling, former city councillor and urban planner Gordon Price received a call from someone in the city’s social planning department. The call was a heads-up. In 1980, Price had been a founding member of CROWE — Concerned Residents of the West End — and as such, had organized efforts to deal with what many residents felt had become an intolerable public nuisance.

In the 1980s, the neighbourhood had become an open bazaar. Police had identified some 350 sex workers in the West End — 40 to 50 of whom might be working the streets at any one time. Non-residents came to gawk. There were complaints of noise, increased traffic, public urination, sidewalk confrontations and residents being propositioned for sex. Problems were exacerbated when sex workers, who traditionally had stuck to Davie, began working residential streets.

In 1984, when the attorney-general’s department asked the B.C. Supreme Court to grant an injunction against the sex workers, West End residents filed over 70 affidavits detailing their complaints. Even a lawyer representing a group of sex workers admitted that “no one questions that the residents of the West End are suffering of the conduct complained of.”

To Price, however, it wasn’t a question of eradicating the West End of prostitution. It was a matter of restoring peaceful cohabitation. That peaceful cohabitation, for him and other residents, had been shattered.

Said Price: “The point of CROWE — and we reiterate this constantly — we’re not talking about prostitution here. If government wants to legalize it and regulate it, great! But there is a fundamental question, about as Canadian as you get, of peace, order and good government. Do the people who live here have a reasonable expectation that there will be, you know, a fundamental level of civility? That their streets aren’t going to be effectively a 24-hour sex bazaar? And … if government can’t or isn’t willing to demonstrate to maintain peace and order, what happens then?”

With the law unwilling or unable to do anything about the residents’ concerns, groups like CROWE and Shame The Johns did what other resident associations had always done — they organized and fought for the integrity of their neighbourhood.

Coun. Reimer may feel the community interpreted the proper level of safety “broadly,” which, as I read her comments, was so broad as to be narrow-minded. But if “justice has to live for everyone or it lives for none of us,” as she said, then the question must be asked: If there was no justice for the residents which afforded them peace and civility, what were they to do?

“The way that the narrative is being written,” Price said, “and this to me seems to be what it’s kind of about, is that the diversity of the West End and the longtime presence of street-soliciting hookers on Davie was disrupted by a small group of people who were basically — as I read it, and I have read it, because I have seen it in one thesis, at least — in a moral panic and basically driven by concern about property values, forced the prostitutes out — and I’m not sure if they say it quite this bluntly, but, you know — into the hands of Pickton.

“And in a way, you know, there’s blood on (the residents’) hands. That’s the most provocative part of it, that they make that connection, which I find appalling and illogical. And this is where I feel very sad,” Price said, “because I’m apparently the bad guy. And I’m deeply hurt.”

Like all memorials, this one was made in hindsight. But this memorial stretches hindsight beyond its breaking point, and rewrites history to reflect a one-sided and unfair culpability.

Will the next memorial, to draw from just one of many possibilities, apologize for the thousands of people who have died from disease and overdose in the Downtown Eastside because they have been conveniently ghettoized there by the city, province and the hundreds of social welfare agencies concentrated there — with the tacit agreement of all the citizens of Metro Vancouver?

And by mentioning it, have I just given someone another wrong-headed idea?


PT: Three questions, at least, arise from this:

Did the City sufficiently consult with those in the West End impacted by the street-soliciting scene that moved onto their residential streets in the late 1970s and early ’80s?  

Would the City consider some recognition of those times and concerns, or is the judgment of Council now that the outcome was an injustice and the actions taken were wrong?

If there was a return of street soliciting to the West End (unlikely in the age of the Internet), or a movement into other neighbourhoods, or a continuation of those strolls where it already exists, would the City take any action – or, if not, affirm that a safe space for sex workers is a higher priority than the impacts on residents in those communities?  


Item from Ian: Who is Transit For?

Ian: This could be written about the expansions to Vancouver’s transit also.

From The Conversation:


…who’ll profit from the value uplift that will flow from the massive investment of taxpayers’ funds, both from higher land values resulting from the new density and from being snug up against a new Metro line?

…as each day passes, developers are doing their maths based on the existing scenario set out by the Department of Planning. Soon it will be too late to retrofit any changes.

… what percentage of the 36,000 new apartments and other dwellings along the renewal corridor has been allocated for affordable housing? We can be sure they won’t be pitched at the pockets of those who live there now.

And as new investment comes in, so rents will rise. Without a significant affordable housing component, many of the essential workers who live there today – the mechanics, care attendants and shop workers – will be pushed further towards Sydney’s periphery. That will leave the rest of the city struggling to get the lower-paid workforce it needs to function productively.

In comparable renewal projects in cities like London and New York, a significant proportion of new stock is set aside as affordable housing, precisely to avoid such problems. It’s accepted as completely reasonable that lower-income working families should also benefit from new housing delivered as a result of public investment.

The Baird government must make it clear to developers exactly what proportion of the new homes will be set aside for this purpose – and quickly. The case for a zoning policy that mandates a proportion of all new homes as affordable has never been clearer.

The government also needs to show us where it is placing services, such as the new schools that the expanded population will need. With the government’s zoning map not identifying where these services will go, land-owners will rightly question any subsequent proposal for a school or park that would diminish their profits from possible residential development.

Ohrn Image — Public Art


Under the Granville Bridge, on the north side.  A mural all about watery stuff and Granville Island. In a cute “inside muraldom’ moment, clearly this one was completed before Ocean Cement’s big silos were.  Extra props to those finding the dog in a life vest.

Attribution:   “Under the Bridge”, Artist Greg Davies.  Assisted by friends and members of the False Creek Yacht Club.

Adam Gopnick on Jane Jacobs – 9



Adam Gopnick in the New Yorker does a reflection on Jane Jacobs’s life and ideas in her centenary year, with so many astute observations that PT will pull out a selection and run one every hour today.


Jacobs seldom gives a good account of the place of politics in city-making. Politics for her is Robert Moses telling moms where the expressway should run. Politics is the planners, and exists as an afterthought to the natural order of cities. And it’s true: politics isn’t a self-organizing system. It’s not a ballet. It’s a battle. But it remains essential to reconcile goods, like free streets and fair housing, that will never reconcile themselves.

Most big ideas turn out to be half right, half wrong—and, as time goes on, the right bits look ever more obvious, while the wrong bits look really wrong. We read Marx and think, Well, of course men’s economic interests shape their ideologies—who didn’t know that? But what about his ignorance of markets and his contempt for mere democracy? This is true of the afterlife of Jacobs’s ideas, whatever flavor we take them in. Before her, a heroic register in writing about cities was completely commonplace: big buildings, big projects, big places were what made cities happen. (There were honorable exceptions, mostly on the right: Chesterton’s love of London villages comes to mind.) Mumford basically complained that in thinking about cities Jacobs loved the small Washington Squares so much that she couldn’t see the splendor of the great Central Parks.


Adam Gopnick on Jane Jacobs – 8



Adam Gopnick in the New Yorker does a reflection on Jane Jacobs’s life and ideas in her centenary year, with so many astute observations that PT will pull out a selection and run one every hour today.


If Jacobs’s micro-observations are still thrilling, at least one of her big ideas now seems just wrong. She believed in that virtuous, reoxygenating circle whereby density—and short blocks and small green spaces—guaranteed diversity. This no longer seems so, at least not in Manhattan. In the past fifteen years, the density of my Upper East Side block has remained constant, and the play of old and new buildings, parks and streets is unchanged. (No one can build without several years of planning hearings.) But we have lost two toy stores, a magazine store, a cigar store, and a stationery-and-card store, and gained two banks, a real-estate office, a giant Duane Reade drugstore, and, to the bafflement of the neighborhood, three French baby-clothes stores. (The best theory is that these are part of the settlement in hedge-fund divorces.)

This pattern is felt everywhere in the city. The old neighborhood is helpless in the face of new pressures, because it had depended on older versions of the same pressures, ones that Jacobs was not entirely willing to name or confront. What kept her street intact was not a mysterious equilibrium of types, or magic folk dancing, but market forces. The butcher and the locksmith on Hudson Street were there because they could make a profit on meat and keys. They weren’t there to dance; they were there to earn. The moment that Mr. Halpert and Mr. Goldstein can’t turn that profit—or that Starbucks and Duane Reade can pay the landlord more—the tempo changes. The Jacobs street, a perfect reflection of the miracle of self-organizing systems that free markets create, becomes a perfect reflection of the brutal and unappeasable destruction that free markets enforce. The West Village may be unrecognizable today, but it is not because the underlying forces working upon it have changed. It is because they have remained exactly the same. The seeming contradiction between the Jacobite Jane and the Jacobin Jane arises from the reality that markets in street frontage, as in everything else, are made and unmade in a moment.


Adam Gopnick on Jane Jacobs – 7



Adam Gopnick in the New Yorker does a reflection on Jane Jacob’s life and ideas in her centenary year, with so many astute observations that PT will pull out a selection and run one every hour today.


Even cities that to a visitor seem to have kept the charms of pluralism within a dynamic whole capable of adapting to novelty—such as the two Portlands, in Maine and Oregon—invariably seem to their natives to have long ago lost their magic, and become subject to the same monotonic devastation. “Keep Portland Weird” (often said in the Oregon one) is an elegiac slogan. The felt civic tragedy is universal, and possibly part of the tragedy of time and change that no rule can alter.

London, Paris, New York, and Rome—whose political organizations and histories are radically unlike, and which live under regimes with decidedly different attitudes toward the state and toward enterprise—have followed an eerily similar arc during the past twenty-five years. After decades in which cities decline, the arrow turns around. The moneyed classes drive the middle classes from their neighborhoods, and then the middle classes, or their children, drive the working classes from theirs. This has been met in every case by a decline in over-all poverty, but also by a stubborn persistence of pockets of poverty, of extreme exclusion. The pattern holds for Covent Garden and Spitalfields as for SoHo and the Lower East Side, for Williamsburg as for the Ninth and Nineteenth Arrondissements. Blaming neoliberalism, as leftists do, or statist bureaucrats, as reactionaries do, is to seek, despite historical, political, and organizational differences, a one-size-fits-all villain, not an actual analysis.

Adam Gopnick on Jane Jacobs – 6



Adam Gopnick in the New Yorker does a reflection on Jane Jacobs’s life and ideas in her centenary year, with so many astute observations that PT will pull out a selection and run one every hour today.


Books written in a time of crisis can make bad blueprints for a time of plenty, as polemics made in times of war are not always the best blueprint for policies in times of peace. Jane Jacobs wrote “Death and Life” at a time when it was taken for granted that American cities were riddled with cancer. Endangered then, they are thriving now, with the once abandoned downtowns of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and even Cleveland blossoming. Our city problems are those of overcharge and hyperabundance—the San Francisco problem, where so many rich young techies have crowded in to enjoy the city’s street ballet that there’s no room left for anyone else to dance.

The first stirrings in Jacobs’s day of what we call “gentrification” she called, arrestingly, “unslumming,” insisting that the process works when a slum, amid falling rents and vacated buildings, becomes slimmed down to a “loyal core” of residents who, with eyes on the street, keep it livable enough for new residents to decide to enter. (This sounds right for, say, Crown Heights or Williamsburg, where the core of Hasidim and Caribbeans, staying out of convenience or clan loyalty, made the place appealing to new settlers.) It now seems self-evident to us, but did not then, that a city can fend off decline by drawing in creative types to work in close proximity on innovative projects, an urban process that Jacobs was one of the first to recognize, and name: she called it “slippage,” and saw its value. We live with the consequences of slippage, called by many ugly names, with “yuppie” usually thrown in for good measure.


Driving out the Humans – 3



From The Guardian:


The automated city: do we still need humans to run public services?

From driverless buses to an AI council worker called Amelia, municipal services are becoming increasingly automated. But what does that mean for the future of our cities – and the jobs market?

Scientific advances and new technologies often enable dramatic improvements in public services and urban life, eradicating some jobs while creating new types of employment. But the next chapter of urban automation might be more profound than any previous one. In fact, it’s already begun.

“Smart cities” offer a seductive vision of a world where everything runs as smoothly as the latest iPhone. Need a parking space? An app will tell you where one’s available, and notify you (and your friendly neighbourhood parking inspector) when your time is up. It’s the kind of technology many cities are trialling, embedding sensors in streetlights, curbs and buildings to monitor parking, traffic and air pollution – even crime. …

Still, it’s easy to guess where old municipal jobs might vanish. In London, driverless buses that can run bumper-to-bumper would make the new Routemaster seem as antiquated as a Morris Minor – and potentially supplant London’s 22,500 bus drivers. …

In October 2014, Transport for London (TfL) also unveiled 250 “driverless” tube trains which should come into service from 2022.  … Initially the new trains will still have drivers, though in the longer-term they may be redeployed as “train captains”, performing a similar role to attendants on DLR trains.



A ‘world first’: driverless minibus in Lyon

Jarmo Eskelinen, chief innovation and technology office at Future Cities Catapult, argues future transport networks will react faster to emergency situations. “At the moment they adapt based on the reaction speed of people, and their reaction speed is often very slow. In future this will be automated so that they respond in near real-time, stopping transport flows to the emergency zone.”

Could cities even become self-repairing? Leeds University is leading a £4.2m project to create a fleet of robot repair workers that can spot infrastructure problems before they become disruptive – including drones that perch on lampposts to change bulbs, automated machines that fix potholes without digging up half the road, and robots that live in utility pipes and patch cracks. Professor Phil Purnell, who leads the school of civil engineering research team at Leeds University, likens these machines to a city’s “white blood cells”, repairing damage before it requires a major intervention.

He says putting road workers out of work is absolutely not the objective of the exercise. “What we need is the people who are doing tasks that are fairly dull and don’t need much skill freed up to attack the real infrastructure problems, of which there are hundreds upon hundreds that we’re burying our heads in the sand about.”

If dull tasks are the target of automation, then many back-office council roles are susceptible. Spurred on by the austerity mantra of “doing more with less”, councils are beginning to apply robotic process automation, which mimics human interaction with computer systems, to repetitive tasks such as signing people up for council tax direct debit payments. In theory this should free up staff for more demanding strategic work. Machines do the boring data entry tasks, which they generally perform faster and more accurately than human beings. And human beings use their time, empathy and creativity to improve frontline services. …

Robinson says that, while artificially intelligent chatbots could have a role to play in some areas of public service delivery: “I think we overlook the value of a quality personal relationship between two people at our peril, because it’s based on life experience, which is something that technology will never have – certainly not current generations of technology, and not for many decades to come.”

But whether everyone can be “upskilled” to carry out more fulfilling work, and how many staff will actually be needed as robots take on more routine tasks, remains to be seen. Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne’s influential 2013 paper The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?, estimates that 47% of US jobs are “at risk” of being automated in the next 20 years. Another report by Deloitte found that in London, 29% of admin and support services jobs, and a whopping 72% of transport and storage roles, are at “high risk” of automation.

However, a report Forrester published last year was less pessimistic about people’s future employment prospects, suggesting that only 9.1 million US jobs will be automated by 2025. Robinson is more inclined to believe Forrester’s estimate. “It’s inarguable that as technology develops, it will automate certain tasks. But ‘tasks’ are very different to ‘jobs’. I also think some reports are hugely optimistic about what technology will be able to accomplish in [the] future.”

If Google or another tech giant does eventually manage to create an artificial general intelligence that can successfully perform any task a human can, the job losses would dwarf anything we’ve seen before – and not only among the 1.5 million people employed by local government in England.

A universal basic income, which would provide everyone with enough money to maintain a decent standard of living, is often cited as a solution to this problem. But in the medium term we might find robots still need our help; that there are things we simply do better than machines.

For example, humans working cooperatively with machines are generally regarded as the strongest chess-playing entities, each drawing upon their skills to beat opponents. Identifying what those skills are in public service terms, and how best to combine them with automated systems to improve urban life, is a challenge no city can afford to ignore. Otherwise more people might find, as London’s lamp lighters once did, that their services are no longer required.

Adam Gopnick on Jane Jacobs – 5



Adam Gopnick in the New Yorker does a reflection on Jane Jacobs’s life and ideas in her centenary year, with so many astute observations that PT will pull out a selection and run one every hour today.


Her later books rarely rise to the level of “Death and Life,” except when they recapitulate it. Having bitten off a huge chunk of city life and shared it with the world, she got into the habit of biting off more than anyone could hope to chew. In what was intended to be her masterpiece, “Cities and the Wealth of Nations,” she argued that agriculture began in cities, where seeds could be collected and plants hybridized. It’s a New Yorker’s argument—no Jersey truck farms without Manhattan diners—but it’s not one that has won general assent among historians of early civilizations.

As the years went on, and her halo only brightened, she was encouraged to vent on many subjects about which she was inexpert, and she tended to overrate her gift for ukases and opinions, which increasingly tended toward the fatuous. The book that brought me together with her was a dull sermon on an approaching “dark age”; her conversational aphorisms were infinitely better than the text. (“What will remain of us is cities and songs,” she said, poetically.)

The sad truth is that the saints we revere for thinking for themselves almost always end up thinking by themselves. We are disappointed to find that the self-taught are also self-centered, although a moment’s reflection should tell us that you have to be self-centered to become self-taught. (The more easily instructed are busy brushing their teeth, as pledged.) The independent-minded philosopher-saints are so sure of themselves that they often lose the discipline of any kind of peer review, formal or amateur. They end up opinionated, and alone.

Adam Gopnick on Jane Jacobs – 4



Adam Gopnick in the New Yojrker does a reflection on Jane Jacobs’s life and ideas in her centenary year, with so many astute observations that PT will pull out a selection and run one every hour today.


Two core principles emerge from the book’s delightful and free-flowing observational surface. First, cities are their streets. Streets are not a city’s veins but its neurology, its accumulated intelligence. Second, urban diversity and density reinforce each other in a virtuous circle. The more people there are on the block, the more kinds of shops and social organizations—clubs, broadly put—they demand; and, the more kinds of shops and clubs there are, the more people come to seek them.

You can’t have density without producing diversity, and if you have diversity things get dense. The two principles make it plain that any move away from the street—to an encastled arts center or to plaza-and-park housing—is destructive to a city’s health. Jacobs’s idea can be summed up simply: If you don’t build it, they will come. (A third is less a principle than an exasperated allergy: she hates cars, and what driving them and parking them does to towns.)

There is an oddity, though. As in the scene of the little girl and her potential molester, the surprising virtues of the street in fighting crime are essential to Jacobs’s vision. Her work, written in the late fifties and the early sixties, seems obsessed with crime, and with insisting that crowded streets don’t make crime happen. Writing at the start of the crime wave that warped and reshaped so much for the next two decades or so, she is fiercely determined to prove that cities are not friends to criminality. One of her most emphatic arguments is that street play is actually safer than playground play, and that wider sidewalks are necessary to keep cities safe.