Even the magazine The Economist is weighing in on the importance of Vancouver’s Chinatown as a historic and very special cultural place deeply rooted in the birth and development of this country. One of the positive things that has happened with the impetus to build condominiums in Chinatown is the rise of a new generation of articulate, smart and savvy young professionals that grew up in or coming to Chinatown, understanding the essence of this place in a very rooted way.
Urbanist Melody Ma is one of those young professionals interviewed by the Economist, and talked about the Chinatown neighbourhood not really changing until after the 2010 Winter Olympics. At that time “the downtown area was forested with new condominiums” and prices have risen by close to 60 per cent in the last three years. While Chinatown was avoided by developers in the past, development applications such as the nine storey luxury apartments proposed for 105 Keefer threaten to undermine Chinatown’s cultural identity. Read on >>
As Curbed.com describes it there is a push for “supertalls” in New York City, those buildings that exceed the 984 foot height limit. As they note “These soaring towers aren’t always popular—many have actively fought against the buildings sprouting along 57th Street and Central Park South, worried that they’ll cause shadowing over the storied park—but it’s hard to argue against their status as marvels of engineering.”Read on >>
It is very hard to believe that we still need to be reminded about the importance of food security and ensuring that our agricultural land, which in Metro Vancouver is the finest arable land in Canada, is protected for future generations.
Price Tags Vancouver has been tracking the unbelievable story of the City of Richmond Mayor and Council allowing mansions of over 10,783 square feet in size to be built on agricultural land that is over one half-acre in size. These “farms” are being bought at an agricultural land price as they are in the Agricultural Land Reserve, then redeveloped with large mansions and then quickly turn into multi-million dollar gated estates, exempt from the foreign buyer’s tax (they are on agricultural land) with a large land lift as these countrified estates demand top dollar for offshore buyers. These lands will never return to agricultural use and are now economically out of the reach of farming buyers. Read on >>
Kirsten Dirksen is a television producer who has become an on-line video blogger. Her company Faircompanies.com has a media site that looks at the aspect of less complicated, simpler living styles. As a vlogger she came to Vancouver to interview Adrian Crook who lives in the Yaletown area of downtown with five children in a two bedroom condo. Adrian likes living downtown for the health and psychological aspects of walking everywhere and notes that while “Vancouverism” includes a taller housing form in the downtown peninsula, that has not been embraced in the largely single family areas away from the downtown.
The twenty minute video on YouTube features Adrian’s kids and shows the simple adaptations that have been made in the condo to maximize usable space. There’s a home office that turns into a murphy bed at night, a bunk bed that can morph into a table and desk, and a triple stacked bunk bed. Parents everywhere will see in the video that children’s socks still disappear -even in smaller footprint spaces.
Meanwhile South of the Fraser River where the 20th century rhetoric of motordom and industrialization reign supreme, Gateway Casinos soldiers on with a 70 million dollar casino to be plunked right beside the Delta side of the Massey Tunnel. But wait~Gateway Casinos insist this will “not be just about gambling but would provide an entertainment experience”.
The property is owned by a company of Ron Toigo of White Spot. For motordom a new parking lot will be created with 800 parking spaces and 200,000 square feet built to accommodate gambling. The same Delta Mayor and City Council still insisting on their ten lane overbuilt Massey Bridge (with one double salary dipping provincial liberal MLA who also picks up a pay cheque as a Delta Councillor) still want their casino, located in a spot easily accessible by car. What a surprise. The 1960’s are alive and well in Delta.
The Delta Optimist reports “Gateway hopes to begin construction this fall with a grand opening in 2020. The project includes a five-storey, 116-room hotel, meeting space, eateries and a casino with 500 slots, 24 gaming tables and several e-tables. There would be room for further gaming expansion.In a statement, the company notes the community throughout the process has been very engaged and provided valuable feedback that will continue to shape the look and feel of the project.”
It is a bit odd that the language used about the casino is very similar to the language used about the one-sided process to “engage” the community about the last Provincial government’s multi billion dollar Massey Bridge. Regardless, the Delta Mayor and Council have agreed to fast track this proposal, which will provide Delta with an additional two to three million dollars annually with their casino “cut”.
As Gateway casino states this will “grow the community’s economy” by
“creating new well-paying jobs in Delta while improving the entertainment and hospitality option in the community…“There is great potential in Delta and a Gateway entertainment destination, with a number of gaming and non-gaming attractions, on the Town and Country site would allow Delta to significantly advance its tourism strategy and deliver on the tourism objectives set out in the strategy.”
Imagine if a seniors’ centre or new rental housing was fast tracked with such enthusiasm or as quickly as this casino is. Despite all the bad news emerging about where casino money is actually from, the City of Delta hopes to have this casino before Council this month. If you can’t industrialize the Fraser River , you can still plunk casinos on it.
Along with a high-speed train link to Seattle as reported in Price Tags Vancouver, there is a new “by sea option” too. After seven years of planning Harbour Air Group will work with Seattle’s Kenmore Air to fly four times a week between Coal Harbour and Lake Union in Seattle, very close to Amazon.com’s headquarters.
The big challenge for this route as reported by Glen Korstrom in Business in Vancouver has been obtaining a Canadian Border Services Agency approval for a customs desk at Coal Harbour. There already is an American customs facility at the Lake Union dock in Seattle.
The proposed flights will land passengers in Seattle under one hour. In the interim the B.C. government is also contributing financially for a business-case report on the feasibility of the high-speed train link, bringing these two Cascadia cities closer together along the “innovation corridor”.
How does a city cope with extreme weather? These days, urban planning that doesn’t factor in some sort of catastrophic weather event is like trying to build something in a fictional utopia. For Kongjian Yu, one of the world’s leading landscape architects, the answer to coping with extreme weather events actually lies in the past.
Yu is the founder and dean of the school of landscape architecture at Peking University, founding director of architectural firm Turenscape, and famous for being the man who reintroduced ancient Chinese water systems to modern design. In the process he has transformed some of China’s most industrialised cities into standard bearers of green architecture.
Yu’s designs aim to build resilience in cities faced with rising sea levels, droughts, floods and so-called “once in a lifetime” storms. At 53, he is best known for his “sponge cities”, which use soft material and terraces to capture water which can then be extracted for use, rather than the usual concrete and steel materials which do not absorb water.
European methods of designing cities involve drainage pipelines which cannot cope with monsoonal rain. But the Chinese government has now adopted sponge cities as an urban planning and eco-city template. …
Yu, who is based in Beijing, explained the key benefit of sponge cities is the ability to reuse water. “The water captured by the sponge can be used for irrigation, for recharging the aquifer, for cleansing the soil and for productive use,” Yu said.
“In China, we retain storm water and reuse it. Even as individual families and houses, we collect storm water on [the] rooftop and use the balcony to irrigate the vegetable garden.”
When it comes to water, the mottos of the sponge city are: “Retain, adapt, slow down and reuse.”
“One thing I learned is to slow down the process of drainage. All the modern industrial techniques and engineering solution is to drain water away after the flood as fast of possible. So, modern tech is to speed up the drainage but ancient wisdom, which has adapted in the monsoonal season, was to slow down the drainage so the water will not be destructive anymore. By slowing the water it can nurture the habitat and biodiversity.” …
As Yu says, it’s important to “make friends with water”. “We don’t use concrete or hard engineering, we use terraces, learned from ancient peasantry wisdom. We irrigate. Then the city will be floodable and will survive during the flood. We can remove concrete and make a water protection system a living system.”
Autonomous Vehicles (or AVs) were to make life easier with less road crashes and carnage. Nearly 38,000 people in the United States are annually killed on roads, and that number is rising. Autonomous vehicles would enable transportation for people who did not have drivers’ licences, and also dealt with the pesky problem of drivers getting older. Statistics Canada figures from 2009 show that almost 28 per cent of drivers over the age of 65 are driving with some form of dementia. Autonomous vehicles would allow everyone to be mobile that could afford to use their services.
Transportation experts have continually pointed out that despite the positives of universal access to AVs there are some fundamental problems. Autonomous vehicles do not get rid of congestion, they just add to it. And while there may be less parked cars in downtowns and in cities, the streets may be designed to allow for the flow of autonomous vehicles and may not be inclusive of active transportation users such as cyclists and pedestrians. Perhaps that is the fundamental question: are we so engaged by this shiny new technology that human-powered active transportation and human based design of place and cities will be suppressed for the latest iteration of motordom?
In Tempe Arizona a homeless lady with her bicycle was struck and killed by an autonomous Uber. Sadly as reported in City Lab by David Alpert, the police reported that the lady was not in a crosswalk, and the fatal road violence was blamed upon the dead victim. Nine other pedestrians had died in Arizona that week, but this death, by an autonomous vehicle was the one that garnered attention. But if all road deaths are reduced by 90 per cent, is that a reason to embrace this technology? “The woman was, indeed, not in a crosswalk. Bizarrely, there is a direct, curving brick path through the area, but it’s strictly ornamental: Pedestrians are forbidden from using it, and there are multiple signs posted to tell people not to use the path. The path follows what seems to be the most logical route to a nearby bus stop, and crosses the roads at narrower (and thus less harrowing) spots than the official crosswalk, which requires traversing seven lanes, counting turn lanes.This is the engineering reality of much of Tempe, and much of suburban America: Designers create inhospitable environments in which to walk, then try to prohibit walking in the least inhospitable parts of those environments. And often, when someone is killed, police rush to exonerate the driver.”
The Federation of International Pedestrians has been resolute in saying that no death is acceptable, and has insisted that autonomous vehicles be programmed to save all road users, not just the ones in the vehicle. There is an interest in adopting edicts like “Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities” which prioritizes people’s lives over the vehicle occupants. But as Alpert observes “We can insist that any pedestrian death is not acceptable, just as we do for aviation, where all incidents are studied intently, and commercial aviation deaths worldwide have plummeted from 2,469 people in 55 crashes in 1972 to just 44 fatalities—and none in a passenger jet—worldwide in 2017. There have been zero deaths on U.S. airlines since 2009.”
It is time to stop justifying deaths on roads because of “speed” or “convenience”. “Let this, the first recorded pedestrian killed by an autonomous car, set a better example for what we expect of our roads, and the technologies transforming them.”
It’s no surprise to see that Elon Musk is getting a flat review for his concept of tunnelling across North America as this article from Fast Company discusses. There is a growing uneasiness of someone trying to solve a problem that never really exists. The aptly named Boring Company plans a transcontinental tunnel to make personal cars go faster and quicker, so named by transportation writer Jarrett Walker as “elite projection, the belief among relatively fortunate and influential people who what those people find convenient or attractive is good for the society as a whole.”
When Culver City’s city council heard a 45 minute presentation on the first leg of the tunnel between Hawthorne California to West Los Angeles, it may have dawned on them that this new tunnel proposal replicates Musk’s own personal journey to work from Los Angeles to Hawthorne. “Conceived by Musk in 2016 in an effort to circumvent traffic, Boring Company’s putative purpose is to construct networks of subterranean tunnels in California, Chicago, and the East Coast, through which personal cars and multi-passenger “pods” would travel on electric skates at speeds hovering around 125 to 150 miles per hour, with no stops between origin and destination. Beneath the veneer of its otherworldly grandeur, however, the company has had little to show for itself, investing far more in publicity gambits—namely, its buzzing campaign to sell branded flamethrowers—than in its own blueprint.”
But what is the problem that Musk and his boring tunnel was trying to solve? And why does the Boring company not want any governmental subsidies or public investment? Is it to completely control the “boring ground” space? “The evidence that the Boring Company will deliver on its central promise of mitigating traffic appears to be sparse. Theoretically, one or more additional layers of roads would reduce the number of cars on surface streets, thereby decongesting them. The company, however, has neglected to address the mechanics of the surface-level points of entry and exit above the tunnel—on-ramps, of sorts, that could far too easily cause jams.”
The way to reduce traffic is to reduce cars on the road, not to offer cars the chance to burrow below where they will still emerge into traffic once they pop up to the surface like prairie gophers. Relieving congestion means moving away from the use of the personal automobile, not burrowing it. There are also suggestions that this private tunnel network will serve only the wealthy Los Angeles West Side, and include a tiered pricing model. Instead of connecting neighbourhoods that use transportation for shops and services, the Boring tunnel threatens to exclude the poor neighbourhoods that will have no access to the tunnel. While the Boring Company continues to take up the time on the plan to privatize a car burrow below ground, municipal organizations should consider whether the private car is part of any answer to future smart movement and congestion.
While Vancouverites has recovered from a surprising week of snow in February, people in Winnipeg are still digging out. But what is interesting is the difference in snow removal policy for sidewalks in Winnipeg as compared to Vancouver.
And guess what~Winnipeg actually has snow plows designed with the correct size of blade to shovel out walks and make pedestrians more comfortable on sidewalks. As reported on Global News the City of Winnipeg gives their crews a 36 hour window for priority cleaning, and that includes sidewalks, which just like roads are labelled priority one or priority two. After a blizzard this week the City of Winnipeg will be clearing 2,900 kilometers of sidewalks stating “The sidewalks are done the same way as the streets”.
While Vancouver makes it the responsibility of residents to clean the section of sidewalk in front of their house, and makes business owners responsible for the areas in front of their store fronts, many witnessed that the City of Vancouver did not respond equitably by clearing their own snowy sidewalks adjacent to city parks and services. City of Vancouver~if Winnipeg can clean up their sidewalks to make it safer for walking citizens, why can’t you? Kudos to Winnipeg for making it safer, more comfortable and convenient for pedestrians to get around on sidewalks cleared of snow. After all, every trip begins with a walk, even in winter.