And we’re not talking Hallowe’en.
At The Bay.
And we’re not talking Hallowe’en.
At The Bay.
Opening on October the 5th the huge Tsawwassen Mills mega mall (and we are talking 1.2 million square feet, or over 17 football fields side by side) with 6,000 parking spaces and 160 of 200 stores needs employees to staff the place. There have been several job fairs as merchants scramble to find 3,000 employees to staff their stores. In fact the Bass Pro Shop needs 400 people for a 148,000 square foot operation.
For some reason there’s not great public transportation for employees that will work at the mall. But think of this-if minimum wage is $10.85 an hour,and a monthly bus pass is $90.00 to $170.00, a full day’s wage or more is eaten up pretax just in public transportation. There just are not a whole bunch of folks willing to work minimum wage who also have access to a car for the commute to this mega mall near the Tsawwassen ferry. This mall on the former farmland floodplain is approximately 30 kilometers from the Scott Road Skytrain Station. Coming from Vancouver or Richmond potential employees will have to use the Massey Tunnel, and deal with single lane access through the tunnel going southbound mornings to work. There is an express bus from Bridgeport Station in Richmond to the ferry terminal, a slower bus that has more stops, and a local bus that connects Tsawwassen. From Surrey to the new mega mall? Nothing.
Quebec based Ivanhoe Cambridge who are building this monolith are betting on the formulaic model of “destination” shopping like their Vaughan Mills Toronto and Cross Iron Mills location near Calgary. Glen Korstrom in Business in Vancouver notes that the mall has decided to operate a daily employee shuttle service to connect the Scott Road SkyTrain with the mall 14 hours a day. While such a service would make sense for transit users too especially at the proposed $2.00 a ride, its for employees only and will involve a 25 minute trip to the mall from the SkyTrain Station.
Quoting one business owner who manufactures and sells bean bag chairs who has had no luck finding employees for the new mega mall, “Metrotown is not a problem for hiring, we get tons of resumés. It’s easier for more people to commute with SkyTrain. Burnaby is also a more populated area than Tsawwassen.”
The Bass Pro shop has raised their minimum wage offer up by 5 per cent to attract employees at $12.00 an hour, with a few dollars an hour on top for commission. But with no public transportation and no car share planned, potential employees have been hard to find. There are eight days left until Tsawwassen Mills mega mall goes live, with or without staffing.
Just as we are head towards the dark months of the year, this article from the Washington Post provides background on the American Medical Association’s warning that streetlights — such as those in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, Houston and elsewhere — emit unseen blue light that can disturb sleep rhythms and possibly increase the risk of serious health conditions, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. The AMA also cautioned that those light-emitting-diode lights can impair nighttime driving vision.
Everyone is on the LED bandwagon, including the street lighting in many metro municipalities. The City of Surrey is spending 11 million dollars on upgrading street lighting to LED, with an expected energy savings of 1 million dollars a year. Surrey will be one of the first municipalities to be completely converted to this new light technology.
Know to be cost efficient these lights last 15 to 20 years, not two to five like the previous high-pressure sodium street lamps, and the light is spread more evenly. New York City has responded by using a bulb with less intensity for street lighting intensity bulb that the AMA considers safe.
There was an early Federal push in the USA to adapt to and use LED lighting, and it appears the higher intensity of these earlier lights are the problem. Lighting is measured by color temperature, which is expressed in “kelvin,” or “K.” The original LED streetlights had temperatures of at least 4000K, which produces a bright white light with a high content of unseen blue light.
Now, LEDs are available with lower kelvin ratings and roughly the same energy efficiency as those with higher ratings. They don’t emit as much potentially harmful blue light, and they produce a softer amber hue.
Researchers have indicated that blue-rich outdoor lights may decrease the hormone melatonin which balances sleep and regulated the body’s circadian rhythm of the sleep and awake cycle. Researchers note that the real challenge may be that humans have not evolved to see light at night. The AMA also expressed concern on the impact of this light on wildlife, animals and birds.
It’s an example of the early adoption and embracing of a new technological improvement without rigorous testing of potential health impacts on human as well as other animal and bird life.
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.
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.
There are several posts in Price Tags that have followed the inception and building of the Tsawwassen Mills mega mall located on Tsawwassen First Nations Land in Delta,nestled between the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and the Port lands, under the control of the Federal Government. An article written in 2013 by Daniel Wood in the Georgia Straight outlines a conversation with City of Richmond City Councillor Harold Steves, who is also a founder of the Agricultural Land Reserve incepted in 1973. Full disclosure, Harold is a member of a very old farming family that not only tilled these lands, but started up the first seed companies in the province. And that place, Steveston? It’s named after his family.
In that Georgia Straight article, Harold noted that over 400 hectares (which is 988 acres) of Class 1 agricultural land in Delta would be lost to port expansion, and another 100 hectares lost to the residential units being built to the west of the megamall. This does not include the 80 hectares of Class 1 agricultural land sitting below the megamall site.
“That’s the best soil in Canada,” says Steves, incensed by the shortsightedness of corporate capitalism. “You’re looking at the Richmondization of Delta.”
We don’t often think of this, but the Fraser River delta which supports and nourishes Metro Vancouver is similar to the great deltas in the world that provide agriculture to surrounding populations. It is also because of its agricultural status and relatively low land values that it is the most vulnerable to use as industrial or commercial lands. Somehow we don’t value food production and the protection of farmland with a high monetary price.
This area of Delta is also on the great Pacific Flyway used by millions of migratory birds on a route that extends from Alaska to Patagonia. Annually this route is used by birds travelling to food sources, breeding grounds or warmer climates. Boundary Bay and this part of Delta are used by birds for a rest stop on the journey, and has been federally recognized.
But back to Tsawwassen Mills, now a 1.2 million square foot mall built by Ivanhoe Cambridge. With 6,000 parking spaces this will be on of the biggest malls in Canada, with a second 600,000 square foot “more local” shopping centre to the east of it. It is a “drive to” destination. And that is what the developer thinks we will do.
To the west of this development a total of 1,700 housing units are being built, again on Class 1 agricultural land. Half of the new housing will be single family homes; 35 per cent are townhomes, and 15 per cent are apartments. A new road is being constructed connecting this residential development directly with the mall for easy shopping access by car.
Tsawwassen Mills has been having a challenge getting employees to staff the mega mall’s stores. At a recent job fair, 3,000 jobs were available but only 500 potential applicants showed up. The minimum wage jobs and poor transit connections will hinder hiring. The lack of a good separated sidewalk and protected bike lane from Tsawwassen to the mall will also thwart local residents who are active transportation users.
Tsawwassen Mills mall is now lit up at night. While there is shielded light in the parking lot ostensibly to minimize migratory bird disruption, no such regard has been made for the large illuminating signage visible for kilometers on the south side of the mall, as noted in this letter to the Vancouver Sun. Subsequent to that letter being published, another illuminated sign has appeared.
For a mall that is slated to open on October 5 with 150 retail outlets, 90 businesses are concerned they will not have adequate staffing. There is the supposition that shoppers from across the region will drive here to spend a day shopping instead of going to the United States or shopping online. While some light is shielded to minimize disruption of migratory birds, new commercial signage seems to be exempt from any concern.
We as a region have lost hundreds of acres of Class 1 agricultural land that will never be retrieved. A mega shopping mall perches on the sensitive delta which is also on the floodplain. There is no active transportation or good transit to the mall. It looks like any other mall you have ever seen. Just bigger. With 6,000 parking spaces.
In many ways, we are witnessing a motordom experiment of the ilk that the 1950’s and 1960’s would have dreamed about. It’s too late for the agricultural land, and I have not seen an environmental impact study on the migratory birds. What remains to be seen is how this 20th century rendition of shopping can be a commercial success with the high cost to the future of our agricultural food security and disruption of natural wildlife patterns. Would you spend a day driving your car here and shopping? Is this really a viable use of this richly arable land in this century?
This time I think we went too far. I will end with a photo taken yesterday of the bus stop just outside the mall on Highway 17. That bus stop too is so last century. And it tells me that for Tsawwassen Mills, motordom and the twentieth century way of doing things is all that matters.
It’s that time of the year again, where thousands of children nationwide go back to school. There are some interesting trends happening to ensure those children travel safely. In Edinburgh Scotland six schools have created exclusionary zones for blocks around the schools. The project called “School Streets” bans cars from the streets an hour before school has commenced to an hour after school is over to encourage a safer environment and to encourage children to walk and cycle to school. An initiative of the City of Edinburgh’s City Council, the ban will also alleviate congestion and pollution levels at the school sites.
And for those who think that Sasquatch or Bigfoot is really a Canadian hanging out in beer commercials -Sasquatch has international work in Portland Oregon.
As reported here, a day after a 15-year-old student was hit by a car while walking home from school, the Portland Bureau of Transportation called in Bigfoot to walk children across school crosswalks. Interviewed by Koin 6 News Bigfoot says:
“I’m just trying to send a message, I hope that if they’ll stop for me, they’ll stop for the little creatures on the road. Every intersection should be considered a crosswalk and that drivers shouldn’t go faster than 20 mph in school zones to ensure students’ safety.”
The messaging is clear-slow down if you are driving near school zones, or better still, walk or bike with the kids to and from school. It’s a great way to start everyone’s morning.
There is a lot of chat about driverless cars-but this article from the New York Times and this one in the Atlantic Monthly identify a fear that is being expressed by many-how will driverless cars interact with those pesky uncontrollable pedestrians who will want to cross streets and otherwise get in the way? How do you build trust and share the road from the perspective of the driverless car passenger and those on foot or bicycle?
Drive.ai a California start-up is figuring out how a driverless car would communicate with other cars, and those pedestrians. John Markoff notes in his article
The company is emphasizing what is known in the artificial intelligence field as “human-machine interaction” as a key to confusing road situations.How does a robot, for example, tell everyone what it plans to do in intersections when human drivers and people in crosswalks go through an informal ballet to decide who will go first and who will yield?
There are five situations discussed where driverless technology is being challenged.You can control the behaviour of a driverless car, but what if it interacts with a car driven by a real human, subject to split second decisions and thought patterns? And what happens on snowy or icy roads when laser sensors may not compute where the road surface is. For a technology that is based on GPS, a temporary detour or a changed traffic pattern on a road could be an obstacle. Couple that with potholes that sensors cannot read and may be misinterpreted on the road surface. Lastly, and perhaps the most crucial in a life and death situation, does the car save its occupants, or does it sacrifice its occupants to avoid hitting a group of pedestrians? And who will make these ethical calls on autonomous car performance?
This year Drive.ai was licensed in California to road test driverless cars, and is relying on “deep learning” technology which is “a machine-learning technique that has gained wide popularity among Silicon Valley firms. It is used for a variety of tasks, like understanding human speech and improving the ability to recognize objects in computer vision systems.”
Drive.ai plans to revolutionize commercial vehicles for parcel delivery and taxi services.But in these investigations of new driverless cars (and there are over 20 initiatives with this technology in Silicon Valley alone) there is still no cogent discussion on street design or active transportation movement for bicyclists and pedestrians. It would seem to me that cities and citizens need to have an active say in how driverless technology will or will not impact city streets and the ability of people to randomly walk or cycle across streets. There is not much information on how this technology will interface with community liveliness and street use. It’s an important subject and I’d like to see it addressed.
As stated in Markoff’s article quoting a roboticist
“A lot of the discussion around self-driving cars has no human component, which is really weird because this is the first time a robotic system is going out in the world and interacting with people.”
Back in the early 1990’s, a forward thinking, mindful and driven group of young landscape architects, architects, planners and city lovers sat down for a coffee. They mourned the fact that the city was developing without thinking through the language and connection with the urban environment and nature. They also understood the interconnectedness of systems, circulatory for traffic and city services and the need for access to punctuated green park space alleviating the increasing density of urban building.
At a time when “being green” and environmentally friendly were not watch words they insisted that there had to be a way to respect nature in the city, plan with it, and incorporate it in everyday life.
The seven members of the Urban Landscape Taskforce formed in 1991 are an early who’s who on placemaking:Moura Quayle, Susan Abs, Joost Bakker, Robert Bauman, Claire Bennett, Cindy Chan Piper and Sarah Groves. Moura, who became Dean of Agriculture at University of British Columbia and is now a professor of the Sauder School of Business was the chair.
They were supported by an eager group of volunteers including Michael Dea, David Fushtey, Doug Paterson, Brian Perry and Jeannie Bates.
In 1992 this Taskforce created a final report titled greenways-public ways. For some reason this document has never been scanned and is not easy to access. This is a true shame as it lays out very clear principles for decision-making that not only guided the work in creating greenways, but is helpful in assessing placemaking decisions today. The principles also lay out a plan and approach to ecology in the city by :
2. Recognizing diversity and balance;
3. Caring for and respecting the environment;
4. Making connections to nature and places for all citizens;
5. Creating and promoting community definitions of landscapes;
6. Encouraging innovation;
7. Promoting fairness and equity;
8. Ensuring decision are informed.
From these strong principles, the Taskforce urged the establishment of a “Greenway Trust” to create “corridors linking open spaces” which would invite residents to experience “the outside inside” of a city. These “greenways” are actually what we would call sustainable “green streets” today. The linkages would include a completed waterfront walkway system, ecological reserves such as the Grandview Cut and pedestrian and bike paths through spaces to allow for direct connections. The greenways would also showcase the latest in sustainable practices in storm water management and street design, and be a backdrop to commissioned public art and landscaped plantings.Greenway streets also would have pedestrian and bicycle prioritized before cars.
Instead of setting up a private “greenways trust” which was legally challenging for the City to do, Council created an interdisciplinary Greenways team with planning, landscape architecture and engineering expertise. This interdisciplinary team would propose a greenways network connecting parks, schools, commercial areas and services. An Urban Landscape Inventory would inform the best locations for greenways, which would go border to border across the city in all four compass directions.
By establishing a greenways system that recognized landscape legacies, a public realm plan was to be created that would be accessible for all residents. The team also recognized the importance of supporting a parks management plan, and the need to reclaim local streets for pedestrians and cyclists. Public consultation and connection with residents in explaining the plan was also key. But imagine-a report from a quarter century ago stating “Examine the current street budget which is vehicle-based and use budget re-allocations to exponentially increase funds for streets designed to include cyclists. A policy is needed to provide for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles on our streets, in ways which are safe and effective.”
The remaining strategies from the Taskforce are still relevant today: Developing a street strategy for all users, Prepare an Ecological Management Plan, Adopt ecological performance standards, Promote the urban forest and Ecological literacy. Community gardens were also addressed, as well as the need to celebrate the diversity and culture of the different neighbourhoods.
The Urban Landscape Taskforce was very concerned about making the pedestrian comfortable and at ease using a convenient system of greenways. They also addressed the need for new street design such as the Dutch Woonerf, stating
“The Dutch woonerf is an excellent example of the redesign of streets to enhance their social role in neighbourhoods. No distinction is made between sidewalk and road, pedestrians are given priority over the car, speed limits are reduced to walking pace, parking is consolidated, and trees, benches, and gardens enhance the street. “
Two decades later, we have a network of streets that are for walking and biking ahead of car traffic, with each resident in Vancouver located a 20 minute walk or a 10 minute bike ride away from a greenway. The greenways display best practices in sustainable street building and placemaking, and public art. They link together parks, schools, shops and services like pearls along several fine and varied routes.
We still have no woonerfs, but we have infiltration bulges, baffles and swales along greenways that demonstrate best principles in water management. The Taskforce also recommended that Council establish the Arbutus right-of-way as another transportation corridor in the Vancouver Greenway, including rail, bicycle and pedestrian paths.
I had the delight of being the Greenways Planner for the City of Vancouver and was involved in the creation of the Tupper Neighbourhood Greenway, the Avalon Greenway, and the completion of the Ridgeway Greenway. It was an extraordinary experience to work with a strong interdisciplinary team focused on implementing the Greenways plan. A quarter century later, the work of the Urban Landscape Taskforce has turned out to be prescient and futuristic, and we have a greenways system that is the envy of many municipalities. May we all stand the test of time as well as this groundbreaking work has.
There is not much that can deviate the Trans-Canada highway, but this 300 year old Douglas Fir located beside the east bound lanes between the 176th and 200th Street exits did.
It was not much to look at these days and you probably saw it, a tree stump covered in English Ivy with a white cross, a wreath, and the moniker “Charlie’s Tree”.
Five life long friends as children used to swim and fish near this Port Kells location in the early 20th century. Five of them went to World War One in Europe. Only one, Charlie Perkins, a Royal Flying Corps flight instructor returned. To honour the memory of the four friends who had died in war Charlie Perkins memorialized a grand Douglas Fir with ivy, wreaths and flags.
The memorial was accepted by the community and was never questioned until the Surrey leg of Highway 1 wanted to locate the road through the field-and the tree. Charlie was incensed. As reported by True Surrey
“Charlie was a senior but that didn’t stop him protesting. In fact, he hauled a chair out into the middle of the road, placed a gun across his knees and didn’t budge. It wasn’t long before he was joined by friends, neighbours – true Surrey citizens. Folks who valued this living epitaph enough to make a stand. And amazingly, they won! Highway 1 weaves around Charlie’s tree to this day.”
More information about Charlie Perkins is available here.
The tree had been torched by vandals in the past and had been topped. But the Whalley Legion still places a wreath at the base of this old Douglas fir every year. On the weekend the stump of the tree split, and crashed on the highway. While there was a car crash, no one was hurt. Let’s hope the memory of Charlie’s Tree continues on this British Columbia Day.
If you travel to cities in North America, you will see spring and summer floral creations with baskets of colourful annuals on street poles (Victoria B.C.) or massive plantings at grade level along major commercial streets (Chicago). But few cities have the diversity of planting, visual interest, and stunning design like the City of Vancouver parks and community centres. Stanley Park has a breathtaking public rose garden, and carefully designed outstanding annual and perennial displays that are worthy of the international attention received from tourists.
Unlike other cities that order in their plants and have them trucked from locations all over North America, the City has Sunset Nursery tucked near 51st Avenue and Main Street. At this private nursery which is not open to the public every plant that you see in Vancouver parks is grown from seed or from a very small plant plug. It only seems natural in a city that champions sustainability that Vancouver would be “LEED”ing by example by growing stock in place instead of importing it.
If you go to the Macmillan Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park, the 500 species of plants in that dome have been sourced and cared for by Sunset Nursery. The poinsettia throughout community centres in winter are all grown from rooted cuttings at the nursery. The gardeners at Sunset go through a stringent horticultural apprentice program, and they know their plants. The nursery has also provided workplace experience for some Vancouver residents with severe disabilities. Those people flourished in their placements.
The nursery has been owned by the City since 1929, and has a large heritage house in original condition on its grounds. This house used to be occupied by the superintendent for the nursery, who would be at hand should there be a power outage, security issue or an emergency on site.
The previous superintendent also performed an act of tremendous foresight. A few years ago Sunset Nursery was to be axed for cost saving reasons. That Sunset Nursery superintendent broke protocol by speaking directly to the Parks Board Commissioners on the importance of the nursery, the sustainability of growing and providing plants locally, and how the culture and management of extraordinary plants was what made the City of Vancouver parks and community centres different from any other city in North America.
That person saved the nursery. The previous superintendent also got a letter of reprimand from her superiors. We all thought we should frame the letter and hang it in a prominent place. Instead of doing the work right, that Sunset Nursery superintendent had done the right work-continuing the tradition of sustainable planting and management of one of Vancouver’s biggest assets-the bounty of plant life that can flourish for the public eye in public places. That is a rare thing, and this Secret of the City makes Vancouver a much better and more beautiful place.
That title is sure to conjure up all kinds of images. As part of the City of Vancouver’s cycling network upgrades for years 2016-2020, the City is proposing a dedicated buffered bike lane on Commercial Drive. Some people think that championing Vancouver’s Commercial Drive as a biking and walking street will reinforce the friendly, neighbourly vibe The Drive is so well-known for. Others, like The Drive’s Business Society fear the death of retailing by cyclegeddon.
The executive director of the Commercial Drive Business Society has written a compelling statement clearly stating that in the society’s view, bike lanes on Commercial are not financially sound for their businesses.
“Recently, businesses along The Drive have been working with the City of Vancouver to update the area’s transportation infrastructure. The dynamics of the city are changing and with that, the way we get around must adapt. Recently, however, the City has been aggressively pushing a strategy that we cannot support – the installation of permanent bicycle lanes on Commercial Drive itself.
For the record, businesses on The Drive support enhanced infrastructure for cyclists in Vancouver. Many of our business owners are cyclists themselves, as are our customers and our employees. We recognize that thanks to organizations like HUB and Mobi, cycling is on the rise…
What we cannot support, however, are permanent and blocked off lanes on an already narrow high street, with limited parking and no room for our vendors to make deliveries as is.”
So there you have it. The issue is access to parking (and a lack of dedicated parking facilities) for people arriving by car, and deliveries servicing the businesses. As the Business Society summarizes “After all it is called The Drive for a reason”.
Commercial Drive merchants have not yet felt the tipping point where walkers, bikers and transit riders visit more often and spend more per month than people arriving by car. But that has been the experience of the City of Toronto and the City of New York when walking and biking facilities are expanded in commercial areas and car facilities minimized.
Price Tags editor Ken Ohrn examined the changing attitudes to biking and commercial areas in this June post, and also referred to the thorough Stantec Business Impact Study of downtown bike lanes from 2011. Let’s hope the Commercial Drive’s Business Society gives it a read.
Price Tags has explored the Country Lane, and there has been some speculation as to the origins of this concept and why it disappeared from our urban consciousness. The County Lane was so right in so many ways-it was sustainable, dealt well with torrential rains and sitting groundwater, prevented flooding onto residential properties (that is a big issue when lanes are paved), slowed traffic down, minimized off gassing (with no pavement being installed) and surprise-formed a fabulous public space that was quickly taken over by neighbours for barbeques and even evening movie screenings with lawn chairs in the lane serving as movie seats. I know it sounds utopian, and it was the right idea, just at the wrong time.
The City of Vancouver is unusual in that the city has functioning back lanes in most of the street grid. When the city was laid out these lanes were to be “service” lanes for garbage pick up and in the downtown core are efficient for commercial deliveries.
In the 20th century, there were a lot of Vancouver residential lanes that were dirty, gritty and dusty, and could be “improved” through-wait for it-paving. Asphalt did make these lanes more efficient for traffic and less muddy in winter, but brought its own set of evils, including speeding, flooding onto private property, off gassing of the asphalt, and the decimation of any gardens or plants that were planted in the dusty lane. There is a paving lane program that is part of the Local Improvement Program. Information on this process is here. Residents could sign up other residents and petition the city to have back lanes paved, with the cost being shared between the property owners and the city.
Resident Sharole Tylor, who lived on 28th Avenue east of Fraser Street is what Malcolm Gladwell would call an “early adapter”. Sharole’s block was one of the first to have adopted blooming boulevards. Her father had been an engineer for B.C. Hydro and provided the design for the bulletin board frames you will see throughout the neighbourhood. When Sharole had an idea she also had a plan to implement it, and that was the case for the country lane.
Instead of paving, Sharole proposed that the City trial a demonstration project of a sustainable lane, with two concrete wheel runs. David DesRochers was a versatile engineer at the City of Vancouver looking at more sustainable textures and finishes to the traditional paved back lane. Under his leadership, David Yurkovich, a landscape architect helped design three demonstration lanes, using structural soil contained in heavy vinyl cells. The first lane east of Fraser Street was built in concert with residents on a weekend, so that neighbours would know how the lane worked, and also how to replace any bricks that may be dislodged on the runs to their garages.
The pilot project won the American Public Works Association’s 2003 Technical Innovation Award. There were three Country Lanes built-one is in the back lane of City Farmer in Kitsilano, and there is another one in the Hastings-Sunrise area near Yale Street. The first two lanes were designed using a landscape architect. The third lane, in Hastings-Sunrise did not have the same attention to detail and specifications, and has not performed as well.
The country lane allows for 90 per cent of the rain water to be absorbed directly into the ground, increasing vegetation and taking the load off the sewer system. Compare that to the city’s standard back lane paving which absorbs zero rain water which all must go to the city’s storm drains.
But here’s the thing-the first three Country Lanes were expensive because they were first builds. Maintenance in these lanes is also higher. The lanes were never costed for the environmental, sustainable and social public space aspects they provide. They were never really championed for what they could do, and of course a decade ago the idea of the need for sustainable open spaces in lane ways for a densifying city was not really on the radar.
Here is the Federal government’s write-up on the country lane. The right idea, the wrong time. Perhaps it is now time to revisit this concept.
The owners of residences on the north side of Vancouver’s Point Grey Road have some of the most spectacular views of English Bay and the North Shore mountains, unfettered by public walkways between their properties and the ocean. The City of Vancouver used to have a policy to purchase land along the north side of this street, so that all Vancouverites could enjoy the magnificent views. The intent was to eventually provide access to the beach, which is public in Vancouver. Margaret Pigott Park is one example of a north side of Point Grey Road private property that was purchased for public use.
While the bikeway portion of the Seaside Greenway has been developed along Point Grey Road, the news for walkers has not been as positive. The city sidewalks on the north side of Point Grey Road are often squished beside the curb, with private landscaping from the large houses encroaching on the city boulevard, making the sidewalk feel even narrower. Most of this private landscaping encroachment consists of hedging and trees.
And then came the elephant. Yes, there was an elephant sculpture installed in the front yard of a house on Point Grey Road’s north side. The property owners fenced the elephant in with a handsome black wrought iron fence that encroached on city owned boulevard land right up to the sidewalk.
In other parts of the city, this does not seem to happen. There is a public understanding that the city owns the land that is called the public boulevard, and that this strip of land extends on both sides of the sidewalk. The location of the water service in front of Vancouver properties is an indication of where the City’s land ownership ends and the private homeowner’s property begins.
Jeff Lee’s article in the Vancouver Sun describes how homeowners on the north side of Point Grey Road are upset with the city’s plans to upgrade the sidewalk as part of a 6.4 million dollar project completing the seawall walkway. This upgrade will mean the city is taking back city land usurped by private hedges and fences to make a sidewalk wide and comfortable, like the rest of the seawall walkway. There will be a 1.2 meter strip between the homeowner’s front yard and the start of the sidewalk.
The City’s plans were originally to place a seawall walk right beside the ocean, in front of the Point Grey houses. This was nixed by the residents, as well as by environmental concerns.
The Point Grey residents held a rally on Sunday protesting the installation of the sidewalk, claiming it was an example of bad fiscal spending and citing the challenges residents would have in exiting their properties in vehicles with walkers and cyclists on the city street.
But here’s the point-taking back this strip of city owned land and putting it in public use for walkers is not about today, it is about tomorrow. Anywhere else in the city I would argue we would have dealt with this landscape encroachment on a popular walking street years ago. It would have made sense to have implemented this wider sidewalk at the time of the adoption of the expansion of the Seaside Greenway. The properties along Point Grey Road benefited from a huge real estate lift the moment this street was designated. That was the time to negotiate the return of the public boulevard for the safety, comfort and convenience of walkers, people pushing strollers, and wheelchair users.
Hopefully future generations of Vancouverites can vision the Seaside Greenway as a stroll, not just a bike ride. How we deal with these issues today by following established city policy and protocol shapes the public realm, our public spaces, and our future place. There will be no more elephant in that yard.
As we move towards the summer solstice today, there are other cities heating up the summer activities in their towns. Manhattan’s Summer Streets will prohibit car traffic on nearly seven miles of city streets from the Brooklyn Bridge to 72nd Avenue on the first three Saturdays in August from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. That is a lot of streets.
Starting August 6 there will be free bike rentals, fitness classes, theatrical performances, a huge water slide and even a zip line in Foley Square.
Remember when the City of North Vancouver did their “Slide the City”event last year? The event is expected to return for two days this year, with an estimated cost in the $25-$35 range to water slide down the 1,000 foot slide on Lonsdale Avenue. Here are side by side photos of the City of North Vancouver water slide and New York City’s water slide below.
Janette Sadik-Khan did remarkable work leading the Department of Transportation in New York City to reimagine public life using city streets. In another bold move, a Shared Streets program will limit traffic in a 60 block area south of the Brooklyn Bridge to the Battery from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday August 13. On that day the streets will be open to pedestrians, cyclists and a limited amount of cars, all under the active monitoring of the New York Police Department.
Is there a place either in Kitsilano, the West End and Commercial Drive to turn one day events into summer festivals supportive of residents and merchants? Can we morph car free days into a summer festival celebrating active transportation, citizens and summer?
Andy Yan has a thoughtful and well researched approach to the subjects he studies. He is fearless in approaching the affordability debate, and is affiliated with Bing Thom Architects and UBC. He is also the acting director of SFU’s City Program .
Andy is on the Vancouver Magazine’s Power 50 list, and recently was interviewed by Vancouver Magazine‘s Trevor Melanson. Andy found out that the median income for degree-holders in Vancouver was $9,000 less than in the ten biggest cities in Canada.
B.C. university graduates also carry the most student debt and have the highest interest rates on that debt. A debt they have to pay, as well as deal with finding affordable housing. As Andy says:
“It’s really hard to create a garden of new economic activity under an inch of concrete as represented by student debt. We may very well attract some of the smartest and brightest around in this country, but to saddle them with at times very significant debt I think limits their potential—and if anything is a motivation to get out of a region that may not pay as well as other regions. Take a tech worker that has trained at a local university. It’s only rational for him to move to other places like San Francisco or Seattle. There’s a very specific logic to that. It’s not about talent attraction but retaining talent, which is probably one of the biggest challenges for Vancouver.
It’s also the reality that when you’re in your 20s or 30s, you’re in the most mobile period of your career. And in an economy that’s increasingly dependent on young talent, the ability to capture and retain that talent—it’s a major economic challenge. And housing costs don’t particularly help the situation. There are going to be four consequences of this housing market: one is overcrowding, two is over-indebtedness, three is sprawl, and four is ultimately migration out of the region.”
Andy sees three strategies for economic development as hunting, fishing and farming. New talent is hunted for jobs, a pool of amenities and great lifestyles anchor why people want to come to Vancouver, and lastly, local firms are nurtured to grow and attract more opportunities.
As Andy states “We actually have all these small head offices in Metro Vancouver, and really our challenge is to help nurture them to have the capacity to grow, as opposed to only attracting new firms in the region”.
Vancouver needs a strong strategy to attract, maintain, and allow young workers and families to thrive. Andy Yan has pointed out what needs to be done.
So far, Tsawwassen First Nation has had a pass on the Mills; it’s been too uncomfortable for most to criticize, given past relations and the need to promote economic opportunity. But the contradiction between word and deed is too glaring to ignore for much longer, given the precedent it sets.
They can say this:
Indigenous peoples are caretakers of Mother Earth and realize and respect her gifts of water, air and fire. First Nations peoples’ have a special relationship with the earth and all living things in it. This relationship is based on a profound spiritual connection to Mother Earth that guided indigenous peoples to practice reverence, humility and reciprocity.
It is also based on the subsistence needs and values extending back thousands of years. Hunting, gathering, and fishing to secure food includes harvesting food for self, family, the elderly, widows, the community, and for ceremonial purposes. Everything is taken and used with the understanding that we take only what we need, and we must use great care and be aware of how we take and how much of it so that future generations will not be put in peril.
Or do this:
As they say, location is everything. The Tsawwassen site is located far away from much of the population, where population density is nearly absent. It is in a rural/agricultural area with the ocean on one side, First Nation land on the other, and the small suburb of Tsawwassen to the south.
There are also no vital transportation routes to support such large commercial destinations that will likely only offer the same retail choices also found in shopping centres conveniently located elsewhere in the region. It is nowhere near SkyTrain, the area has sub-par bus service, and Highway 17 goes nowhere and is not a major road route except to the ferry terminal and Deltaport.
More importantly, for relatively little economic return, the developments waste a large section of some of the country’s best farmland. Its location and design (think: lots of asphalt) will also further encourage urban sprawl and car use in the region; it completely goes against the region’s aims of density and sustainability.
But not both.
In March I updated Price Taggers on the latest news from the “all things mega” mall development at Tsawwassen Mills, located on arable farming land and the flood plain east of the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. As you can see in the photo above, this thing is huge.
The Delta Optimist has just published this article when the local paper had a tour of the 1.2 million square foot mall, which will feature 200 stores and 16 anchor tenants. This mall is situated on land controlled by the Tsawwassen First Nation, and is located at the corner of Highway 17 and 52nd Street. The developer is Ivanhoe Cambridge of Oakridge Mall fame, and the intent is to have a “fashion-oriented” centre with a 1,100 seat food court area.
Over 2,000 construction jobs created the mall and 4,500 permanent jobs are anticipated upon mall completion. I spoke to one electrician who said the mall has supplied him with three years of work. Coast Salish art work by many of the Tsawwassen First Nations band members is also being installed.
The mall is based upon CrossIron Mills Mall in Calgary as well as Toronto’s Vaughn Mills. In both of these cases there is not very good transit and the malls are close to large populations. The difference here is that the Metro Vancouver population may just use the internet for their shopping, or drive another twenty minutes to the border to shop in the United States. Will people shop on their way to the ferry? Do you think this mall will be successful?
With a scheduled opening for October 5 planned, I have been watching the Walmart site which is still-well, a pile of sand. Let’s see what four months will bring.
Michael Kluckner, artist, writer, historian, and lover of all things Vancouver has written a very evocative essay on planning decisions and planner “experts” versus non “expert” citizens.
Michael spoke on this big-ticket question at a very well attended Urbanarium Cities Debate at the Vancouver Museum. The debate video can be viewed here. He has also written this article in the Tyee outlining the history and syntax of citizen and “planner” related city making decisions. He argued that citizens need and should be more involved in decisions left to city planners.
Michael draws a strong parallel in the worlds of the non-planner (Jane Jacobs) and the passions of architects for crisp mega projects, from Le Corbusier’s work to Brasilia, all lines, flowing, and really not about scale or humans.
He also talked about the Davis Family, who in the Jane Jacobs tradition of social and community common sense and just smart savvy lovingly restored the “Davis” block of Victorian houses in the 100 block of West 10th Avenue. The Davis family fought pressure to turn their houses into a cash crop of three-story walk-ups on their street, and proudly display a plaque indicating that their restoration work was done with no governmental grants or assistance.
You will always find one of the Davis family sweeping a sidewalk, gardening, or engaging with neighbours on the street. They are the picture of what Jane Jacobs describes as the varied talent of good community, focused on creating the neighbourhood we all want to live in.
The Davis family quite simply embody those people who have made a social contract with their community. They restored instead of rebuilding to maximum density. Their work is the basis for the RT-6 zoning in this area of Mount Pleasant, which Michael also mentions in the Tyee article.
The Davis family are also very principled-I received a call at City Hall from BC Hydro years ago when the company attempted to crotch drop the large boulevard trees in front of the Davis houses to provide clearance for the hydro lines. Mrs. Davis senior allegedly “halted” the work. Contrite, BC Hydro compromised with the city to raise the hydro lines going through the boulevard trees to avoid crotch dropping the trees, and another scolding from Mrs. Davis. This created a new precedent welcomed by other communities wary of BC Hydro tree pruning. The Davis Family do the right thing instead of doing the thing right. They are as close as we can get to the embodiment of a Vancouver “Jane Jacobs” clan.
Michael Kluckner sees planners as being part of “changing fashions” and cites as an example how corner grocery stores have been chased out of the neighbourhoods and onto arterials (and mentions how we all want those grocery stores back.) Planners work to codify concepts like shelter, space and streets and have their own “language” with the job of regulating and also approving development. Planners are addicted to change, as are their taskmasters. As Michael states:
Fixing things that aren’t broken is a way of destroying the natural evoluti0n of cities. Without the check-and-balance of empowered citizens you get a situation like the 1950’s and 1960’s which is happening again. It’s called “green” now; it looked exactly the same but was called “progress” then.
Do you agree? Should citizens be given the same status as planners in making decisions about the city and its form? Read Michael’s article with his historical perspective of planning and form your own opinion.
Travelers from around the world have been submitting their perspective-changing images of cities to the National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Competition, capturing stunning frames of familiar landmark and exotic settlements …
Here are two: