Foreign Buyers Tax: Suppositions and Implications

From the Sun’s Vaughn Palmer: “Liberals play to electorate with foreign home tax”

Caution is generally seen as a virtue in ministers of finance, particularly on proposals to increase taxes, particularly with the B.C. Liberals.

But in this case (and after much delay) they’ve latched on to a tax increase that should fly with the broad-based electorate, as the only folks paying it, being foreign nationals, are unable to vote.

Moreover it may prove to be a cash cow for a time at least, flowing millions of dollars into the government’s slush … er housing initiative fund.


Oh, to have been the fly on the wall of the cabinet room when this was being discussed.  Or perhaps it was just in the Premier’s office.

What, if any, role was played by the Vancouver Liberal MLAs? They have been notably silent on the most important issues facing their electorate, but perhaps they were lobbying behind the scenes. ‘Get ahold of this issue or we’re toast!’ might have been the convincing motivation.

Regardless of ideological sincerity, now is the time to pressure the government on that ‘housing initiative fund.’  Dollars for non-market housing stopped flowing from senior governments in the 1990s (save for the time the NDP was in power in Victoria).  That’s one big reason for the current crisis in affordability.

Non-profits could quickly come forward with plans; the City has the land available for immediate commitment. If the Province was also at the table, another issue could be addressed with an immediate electoral payback – giving the Liberals cover and taking the urgency of the housing crisis away from the NDP.

What’s not to love?

Daily Durning: Cycling in Seven Cities

From Next City:

Next City

There’s now even more data to suggest that building out bike infrastructure is central to increasing bike ridership and equity. A new survey of seven cities highlights the municipal policies that helped them make bicycling safer for all, including low-income riders and riders of color. The resulting report, “Equitable Bike Share Means Building Better Places for People to Ride,” released Wednesday by the National Association of City Transportation Officials, makes the case for a “safety in numbers” approach to biking: The more people out on bikes, the better. …

Adding protected bike lanes caused a noticeable spike in ridership for cities. Streets with protected bike lanes saw a ridership boost of anywhere between 21 percent and 171 percent. This particularly impacts the 60 percent of the total population who describe themselves as “interested but concerned” about biking. Of those, 80 percent would be willing to ride on streets with a separated or protected bike lane.

Zoning@100 – New York 1916 Bylaw

It may seem esoteric (a zoning bylaw!) but it has had an impact on us all, even to this day: “On July 25th, 1916, New York City passed the first comprehensive zoning law, forever changing how cities everywhere would be shaped.”


“The time has come when effort should be made to regulate the height, size and arrangement of buildings,” George McAneny, the borough president of Manhattan, declared in a 1913 measure establishing what amounted to a zoning committee.

Regulations, he wrote, were needed “to arrest the seriously increasing evil of the shutting off of light and air from other buildings and from the public streets, to prevent unwholesome and dangerous congestion both in living conditions and in street and transit traffic, and to reduce the hazards of fire and peril to life.” …

Under its rules, buildings in strictly residential zones were permitted to rise only as high as the streets in front of them were wide; a ratio of one to one, put another way. (Side streets in Manhattan are typically 60 feet wide.) …

Height restrictions were “only one of many important features of the law,” The Times said. “The law is designed to check the invasion of retail districts by factories and residence districts by factories and businesses. It is aimed to prevent an increase of the congestion of streets and of subway and streetcar traffic in sections where the business population is already too great for the sidewalks and transit facilities.”

In other words, it was as much a planning document as a zoning document. …

“So much of this was to get the courts to feel comfortable that this was a natural and obvious use of the police power,” Mr. Weisbrod said, “when what it really was a dramatic change.”


Michael Alexander picked up this from Architectural Institute of America:

… on the 100th anniversary of that resolution, the AIA New York Planning & Urban Design Committee has commissioned a series of brief essays by leading officials and practitioners that explore their personal or professional relationship to the Zoning Resolution. We asked these thinkers and practitioners to reflect on:

  • What has the last 100 years of zoning meant to New York City?
  • How does zoning affect the city and your practice today?
  • What will or should the next 100 years of zoning look like?

Jack L. Robbins, AIA, LEED AP, Principal, FXFOWLE
Jonathan Barnett, FAIA, FAICP, Emeritus Professor of City and Regional Planning, University of Pennsylvania
Vishaan Chakrabarti, AIA, Founder, Partnership for Architecture & Urbanism
Robert S. Cook, Jr., Partner, Meister Seelig & Fein
Phu T. Duong, AIA, LEED AP, Senior Associate, Urban Environments, NBBJ; and Adjunct Professor, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
Douglas Durst, Chariman, Durst Organization
Alexander Garvin, President and CEO, AGA Public Realm Strategists; and Adjunct Professor of Urban Planning and Management, Yale University
Mark Ginsberg, FAIA, LEED AP, Founding Partner, Curtis + Ginsberg Architects
Ernest Hutton, Assoc. AIA, FAICP, Principal, Hutton Associates
Dan Kaplan, FAIA, Senior Partner, FXFOWLE Architects
Marcie Kesner, AICP, Planning and Development Specialist, Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel
Michael Kwartler, FAIA, Principal, Michael Kwartler and Associates; President, Environmental Simulation Center
Jerilyn Perine, Executive Director, Citizens Housing & Planning Council
Gina Pollara, President, Municipal Art Society
Bill Rudin, Vice Chairman and CEO, Rudin Management Company; Chairman, Association for a Better New York
Jeffrey Shumaker, Jeffrey Shumaker, Chief Urban Designer, NYC Department of City Planning
Howard Slatkin, Deputy Director for Strategic Planning, NYC Department of City Planning
William Stein, FAIA, Principal, Dattner Architects
Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA, Founder and Senior Partner, Robert A.M. Stern Architects
Carl Weisbrod, Director, NYC Department of City Planning; Chair, New York City Planning Commission

Discovered Art on Point Grey Road



Not sure how long this piece from the Vancouver Biennale has been here on Point Grey Road, tucked in next to a hedge, easily missed, but I just discovered it this weekend:

PGR Art (1)

It’s “Vancouver Novel,” by Joao Loureiro from Brazil.

The installation cycles through a series of 23 sentences which weave a poignant narrative of daily life.  These snippets of domesticity, by turns banal and ominous, underscore our ever-growing appetite for updated information and continuous content.  Intensely personal and yet broadcast for the world to see, Vancouver Novel asks us to consider the narrowing chasm between our public and private lives.


Keeping People Safe On Bikes


Light rail and train tracks are street hazards for people riding bikes.  And problems happen more often than we think.

Thanks to co-author Kay Teschke for the link to this study from Ryerson and UBC.

Most such crashes occur when a bike’s front wheel gets caught in the “flangeway” present on all rails. Suddenly, the wheel is going a different direction from the rest of the bike. Wham! Or when the rails are simply slippery from rain, frost, fog and so on. The best advice is to cross the tracks with your front tire perpendicular to the track — or as near as possible to 90 degrees. This can be difficult if, as on Granville Island, the tracks are in the same place as busy motor vehicle and bike traffic.


Conclusions:  In a city with an extensive streetcar system, one-third of bicycling crashes directly involved streetcar or train tracks. Certain demographics were more likely to have track-involved crashes, suggesting that increased knowledge about how to avoid them might be helpful. However, such advice is long-standing and common in Toronto, yet the injury toll is very high, underscoring the need for other solutions. Tires wider than streetcar or train flangeways (~50 mm in the Toronto system) are another individual-based approach, but population-based measures are likely to provide the optimal solution. Our results showed that route infrastructure makes a difference to the odds of track-involved injuries. Dedicated rail rights of way, cycle tracks, and protected intersections that direct two-stage left turns are policy measures concordant with a Vision Zero standard. They would prevent most of the track-involved injury scenarios observed in this study.

In metro Vancouver, such tracks are more rare than in active streetcar cities (like Toronto, where this data was gathered).  But hazardous tracks persist on Granville Island, and elsewhere. It is remotely possible that Surrey will sprout a light-rail network one day.

Ohrn Image — Urban Landscape



Spanish Banks:   A lovely day in July.   Low tide.  Sun.  Calm breezes.

Spanish.BanksThanks to the Gov’t of BC for info on the historical origins of the name.

Adopted 7 December 1937 on 92G/6 as labelled on British Admiralty Chart #1922, 1860 et seq.

Source: BC place name cards, or correspondence to/from BC’s Chief Geographer or BC Geographical Names Office

English Bay and nearby Spanish Bank were named c1859 by Captain Richards, RN, in commemoration of the meeting here in June 1792 between the English under Captain Vancouver and the Spanish under Captains Galiano and Valdes.

Source: Provincial Archives’ Place Names File (the “Harvey File”) compiled 1945-1950 by A.G. Harvey from various sources, with subsequent additions

“Named because the Spanish exploring vessles Sutil and Mexicana, under Galiano and Valdes, were found here at anchor by Captain Vancouver in June 1792. The British vessels did not anchor in this neighbourhood nearer than Birch Bay. The bank is shown, but not named, on Galiano’s charts of 1792 and 1795, but on Vancouver’s chart it is not mentioned at all. It was known to the officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company as Spanish Bank for the above reasons, and was the name adopted by Captain Richards, HMS Plumper, when making his survey of Burrard Inlet in 1859.”

Source: Walbran, John T; British Columbia Coast Names, 1592-1906: their origin and history; Ottawa, 1909 (republished for the Vancouver Public Library by J.J. Douglas Ltd, Vancouver, 1971)


Trump: “Make my name much bigger”

From The New Yorker:

The idea of Trump writing an autobiography didn’t originate with either Trump or Schwartz. It began with Si Newhouse, the media magnate (of) Advance Publications …

Newhouse called Trump about the project, then visited him to discuss it. Random House continued the pursuit with a series of meetings. At one point, Howard Kaminsky, who ran Random House then, wrapped a thick Russian novel in a dummy cover that featured a photograph of Trump looking like a conquering hero; at the top was Trump’s name, in large gold block lettering. Kaminsky recalls that Trump was pleased by the mockup, but had one suggestion: “Please make my name much bigger.”


Tech and Transportation: The future is already here



Two tech items from the New York Times:


Big City is watching you.

It will do it with camera-equipped drones that inspect municipal power lines and robotic cars that know where people go. Sensor-laden streetlights will change brightness based on danger levels. Technologists and urban planners are working on a major transformation of urban landscapes over the next few decades.Much of it involves the close monitoring of things and people, thanks to digital technology. To the extent that this makes people’s lives easier, the planners say, they will probably like it. But troubling and knotty questions of privacy and control remain. …

One of the biggest changes that will hit a digitally aware city, it is widely agreed, is the seemingly prosaic issue of parking. Space given to parking is expected to shrink by half or more, as self-driving cars and drone deliveries lead an overall shift in connected urban transport. That will change or eliminate acres of urban space occupied by raised and underground parking structures.

Shared vehicles are not parked as much, and with more automation, they will know where parking spaces are available, eliminating the need to drive in search of a space.

“Office complexes won’t need parking lots with twice the footprint of their buildings,” said Sebastian Thrun, who led Google’s self-driving car project in its early days and now runs Udacity, an online learning company. “When we started on self-driving cars, we talked all the time about cutting the number of cars in a city by a factor of three,” or a two-thirds reduction.  …

One reason for confidence in a radically changed future is that much of it is already here. The city’s Uber and Lyft, the Boston-based auto-sharing company Zipcar and things like corporate shuttle buses have shown new ways for urban dwellers to use vehicles. …

One danger of the new city may be the age-old faith that technology makes things better, and more tech is best.

“The danger of big dramatic projects is that they become the equivalent of urban renewal or the kind of sweeping things Robert Moses did for cars in New York that created dysfunction,” said Paul Saffo, a technology forecaster. “The best thing tech could do now is rescue us from the car-centric cities we built after 1930.” 

Full story here.



As cities grow and concerns about pollution and congestion rise, commuters in urban areas are increasingly turning to apps to compare and combine public and private transportation alternatives. “The shared modes complement public transit, enhancing urban mobility,” said Darnell Grisby, director of policy development and research at the American Public Transportation Association, a trade group based in Washington. …

In March, the American Public Transportation Association released a study that found that shared transit modes were likely to continue to grow. And the more people used them, the more likely they were to also use mass transit. …

Nationwide, mass transit use stalled during the last decade. According to the Census Bureau, 76.5 percent of commuters drove alone, 9.2 percent car-pooled and 5.2 percent used mass transit in 2014, the latest year for which figures were available. In 2005, 77 percent drove alone, 10.7 percent car-pooled and 4.7 percent used public transportation.

Apps hold the promise of altering those percentages by showing passengers how to travel from home to a transit stop and then to their ultimate destination, the so-called first mile-last mile of a commute. …

… the Department of Transportation pledged up to $40 million to one city to help define what it means to be a “smart city,” with innovative technologies including self-driving cars, connected vehicles and smart sensors incorporated into a transportation network. The department chose Columbus, Ohio, from the 78 cities that applied. Columbus will receive an additional $10 million for electric vehicles and to reduce carbon emissions from Vulcan Inc., a company started in Seattle by the philanthropist Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft.

In other cities, private enterprise is joining forces with transit districts. In March, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority introduced a one-year, $1.3 million pilot program in conjunction with Bridj, a van ride-hailing service. …

Moovit, a navigation app in a thousand cities worldwide, uses crowdsourced data from customer phones to map the fastest route, estimating how long the trip will take and whether mass transit is running on time.

Experts expect these experiments to continue.

“There’s an insatiable demand,” said Robert J. Puentes, president and chief executive of Eno Center for Transportation, a think tank in Washington.

Full story here.

Requited Love Affair – Seattle and Light Rail

From columnist Danny Westneat in the Seattle Times:


Nine years ago, I wrote a column predicting, unambiguously, “Light rail: We will love it.” …

Reality turned out to be more complicated. Seattle not only didn’t love light rail. At first we barely noticed it.

We finally opened a rail line seven years ago, in 2009 — after debating it off and on for half a century. But six months in, the 14-mile line, built for $2.3 billion and years late, was carrying only about 14,000 riders a day.  There are bus routes with that many passengers. …  The financials weren’t so hot, either, as fares covered only about 25 percent of the operating cost (the conservative goal had been 40 percent).

Light rail wasn’t a dud. But it hadn’t become a central feature in the city.

It sure feels like that has all suddenly changed. …

On Monday, Sound Transit announced that light-rail ridership has just surged 83 percent. That’s not a typo. The use of rail nearly doubled, from about 36,000 per day last May to more than 65,000 per day this May.

The obvious cause is that 20 years after the voters approved it, the agency finally built two stations where people really want to go — Capitol Hill and UW.

Suddenly we have vaulted into the top 10 in the country in light-rail ridership. …  Plus: In May the trains earned 51 percent of their operating costs back in fares, a doubling of the rate from last year. That’s a major rider endorsement of the system.

What is going on?

The transportation planning answer is that Capitol Hill and UW were considered the two most desirable mass-transit markets in the nation that weren’t already served by subway or rail. So putting train stops there was a no-brainer. (This makes it even more of a head-banger that it took us so long to do it!) …

A tipping point has been reached, it seems to me. The train is no longer an academic urbanist talking point, or something like broccoli that we know is supposed to be good for us. The recalcitrant city now is embracing rail with a zeal that seems to have startled even Sound Transit.

It took damn near 50 years of arguing about it. But we finally love it.

Item from Ian: The Elephant Race

Ian takes a quote from Sandy Garossino’s critique on real estate and race in the National Observer:


Little could be more symptomatic of Vancouver’s real estate derangement syndrome than journalist Ian Young’s report that the Canada Revenue Agency is nervous about being labeled racist over tax fraud investigations in Vancouver. Even our tax auditors are twitchy about checking on home buyers in Shaughnessy who claim tax credits for the working poor.


Gord Price: The leadership of this city, province and country has been exceedingly reluctant to address the interconnected dilemma of real estate, housing affordability, foreign capital and race – because initially they saw the problem as isolated to the affluent neighbourhoods of Vancouver, because they didn’t want to be seen to cause a crash in values, because they had justifiable fear of exacerbating racial animosity just under the surface and mainly because they really didn’t know what to do.

But they ran out the clock.  The problem is just too big to ignore – and others (ironically many Chinese-Canadians) were providing too much documentation and data that couldn’t be ignored.   Now there is a limited time left before the issue is fully politicized (likely the provincial election in May) – and they must have some response sufficient to convince a cynical and angry electorate that they are taking action that will make a difference.

Even if they’re not and it doesn’t.

Jim Deva Plaza Opening July 28

Here’s a date to put in your calendar, as a new people-friendly place officially opens.  Just in time for Pride events such as the Davie Street Gay Block Party on July 29, and the Festival and Parade on the 31st. The plaza is at Davie and Bute in the West End.

It’s a part of the West End Community Plan. And it’s a terrific addition to an already richly interesting neighbourhood.

The plaza is named in honour of long-time LGBTQ activist Jim Deva.


Recent Arrivals: Darren Davis and Michael Mortensen

Darren Davis is now online and Michael Mortensen is back in Vancouver.

Darren is the Principal Public Transport Planner at Auckland Transport in New Zealand (and an instructor and facilitator for the SFU City Program’s Next Generation Transportation).  He’s also now blogging at Adventures in Transitland. 

Here’s a recent post that illustrates the advantage of communication among us Commonwealth cousins.


As is not unusual in Canada, with the laudable exception of Metro Vancouver, transit system redesigns and adjustments are either not done, not done in a systematic way, or are done and then rolled out over a very long timeframe.

Auckland is being increasingly recognised internationally for the speed at which we are working to transform our public transport system and cycleway network and there are useful lessons to be had for other cities and regions grappling with big issues around making public transit work better in an environment of scarce public funds.


And in other goods news, it’s a pleasure to announce that Michael Mortensen is arriving back in Canada today after a few years in London

Michael has posted on Price Tags periodically – and here’s his updated home page:


He’s setting up his own planning consulting firm:


Friday Funny: the West End In 1966


In a fossilized yet timeless look , CBC Vancouver produced this for their show “Camera West”.  Apparently much of the footage was taken lazily by a camera stuck out the window of a moving car, and far too much screen time is spent leering at women.  Very 1966.

But most fossilized of all is the repeated assertion in the sententious voice-over that the West End was home to “. . . the new mid-century hybrid — the swinger”.  My guess is that the writer may have been influenced by a trashy movie called “the Swinger“, released in 1966, in which an author writes a steamy sex novel, and then acts out its fantasies (orgies of voluptuous carnality). If not, then perhaps a related definition of this thoroughly obsolete term is enough.

And yes, there are bicycles.

See the 9:33 length video excerpt HERE.



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