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A Livability Index: Canada needs this too

May 22, 2015

Another index that measures livability, but only in the States.  Pity.

From Better Cities & Towns:

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AARP has launched a Livability Index, which is the most comprehensive attempt at measuring quality of life in neighborhoods throughout the US. You can put in any address or zip code in the US and get (like Walk Score), a number from 0 to 100. The index is quick and easy to use.

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Index

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The Livability Index is a signature initiative of the Public Policy Institute to measure the quality of life in American communities across multiple dimensions: housingtransportation, neighborhood characteristics, environment, health, opportunity, and civic and social engagement. …

…  the best US neighborhoods have scores in the mid-to-upper 70s—so 63 is good. The worst performing places tend to have scores in the 40s.   …  the usefulness of the index is limited because of the varying scales of the underlying data–some of which is reported by neighborhood while other data is countywide or from some larger area.

Challenge: Find the Canadian equivalents on infrastructure spending

May 22, 2015

Excerpts from a visual essay by Streetsblog: 

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Infrastructure Spending is Fairly Stable as a Share of GDP – But Costs Have Climbed

Beginning in 2003, the cost of raw materials like concrete and asphalt increased more rapidly than the prices of other goods, the CBO reports. So if you factor in these specific costs, inflation-adjusted public infrastructure spending has declined about 9 percent since 2003 (the dark blue line).

Source: Congressional Budget Office

Highways Are the Biggest Category of Spending

Of the $416 billion spent on infrastructure by federal, state and local governments in 2014, about 40 percent was dedicated to highways. About 16 percent went to transit and about a third went to water infrastructure.

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Anyone have links to Canadian equivalents?

Housing Affordability: “The time for denialism is over”

May 22, 2015

A column that only Ian Young could write:

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Young

The realisation that something is grotesquely awry with Vancouver’s housing market has reached a tipping point.

Fuelled by the special sauce of Chinese wealth – and good old Fear of Missing Out – prices have decoupled from the local economy, with an average detached price of about C$1.4 million (HK$8.9 million). So far, so normal for Vancouver.

But the past couple of months have witnessed a kind of awakening. …

Foreign money might be a factor, concede some, but it must similarly influence other markets, right? Not really – since immigration data demonstrates that the influx of rich immigrants to Vancouver (80 per cent of them Chinese) is unmatched by any other city in the world, at least in terms of wealth-migration schemes that clearly define asset benchmarks.

Others seek to frame unaffordability as inevitable, since Vancouver is a city of limited land supply. But plenty of other cities are in the same boat: New York and Singapore spring to mind. Both are expensive cities, but Vancouver has left them in the dust in terms of unaffordability. …

Surely Vancouver has always been unaffordable? A quick check of the stats will show that as recently at 10 years ago, Vancouver’s price/income ratio was in dancing territory, at 5.3.

As for the perennial low-rates argument, pretty much everywhere has low rates. It tells us nothing about what makes Vancouver’s market special.

An exceptional cause must be found for an exceptional situation, and for Vancouver, that can be found quite easily in wealth migration, which exploded in the past decade.

Vancouverites still struggle to grasp the scale of this influx to their modestly-sized city. From 2005-2012, about 45,000 millionaire migrants arrived in Vancouver under just two wealth-determined schemes, the now-defunct Immigrant Investor Programme and the still-running Quebec Immigrant Investor Programme. Let’s put that in perspective. The entire United States only accepted 9,450 wealth migration applications in the same period under its famous EB-5 scheme, likely representing fewer than 30,000 individuals.

So, Vancouver has recently received more wealth-determined migration than any other city in the world, by a long stretch. This, in a city with some of the lowest incomes in Canada. …

Foreign buyers probably aren’t to blame for Vancouver’s unaffordability. But foreign money probably is. And cracking down on the foreignness of funds will prove much harder than dealing with the foreignness of buyers, even if the will to do so exists. …

Another factor often neglected is that a successful “fix” for unaffordability would crush a great many people, probably as many as it helps. In peril would be a real estate and development industry that employs thousands. Anyone who already owns a home would also be at risk. Thousands of elders banking on their homes as a retirement nest egg. Thousands of recent buyers facing the terrifying prospect of negative equity, with mortgages far exceeding the value of their homes.

It’s no surprise the politicians are treading carefully. …

Wherever you stand on the matter, the time for denialism is over. At the very least, Vancouver deserves its long-overdue debate about the root causes of the unaffordability crisis, and what to do about it.

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Ohrn: Commute

May 22, 2015

On my way to HUB’s “Share the Road” Commuter Challenge, I stopped to get a few pix of commuters on the new Point Grey Road at Tatlow Park.

This is a beautiful morning at 7:10 am on May 20, 2015.

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Ohrn commute

Quotes: “The Plot Against Trains”

May 22, 2015

A perhaps appropriate way to begin this day – with quotes from a New Yorker essay by Adam Gopnik.

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The Plot Against Trains

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Everyone agrees that our rail system is frail and accident-prone … And everyone knows that American infrastructure—what used to be called our public works, or just our bridges and railways, once the envy of the world—has now been stripped bare, and is being stripped ever barer. …

What is less apparent, perhaps, is that the will to abandon the public way is not some failure of understanding, or some nearsighted omission by shortsighted politicians. It is part of a coherent ideological project. …

What an ideology does is give you reasons not to pursue your own apparent rational interest—and this cuts both ways, including both wealthy people in New York who, out of social conviction, vote for politicians who are more likely to raise their taxes, and poor people in the South who vote for those devoted to cutting taxes on incomes they can never hope to earn. There is no such thing as false consciousness. There are simply beliefs that make us sacrifice one piece of self-evident interest for some other, larger principle. …

Part of this, of course, is the … reality that the constitutional system is rigged for rural interests over urban ones. … Mass transit goes begging while farm subsidies flourish.

What we have … is a political class, and an entire political party, devoted to the idea that any money spent on public goods is money misplaced, not because the state goods might not be good but because they would distract us from the larger principle that no ultimate good can be found in the state.  … Trains have to be resisted, even if it means more pollution and massive inefficiency and falling ever further behind in the amenities of life—what Olmsted called our “commonplace civilization.” …

Trains take us places together.

The Crunch: Growth, productivity, high housing costs … and transit

May 21, 2015

Janis Magnuson asks: What do you think a similar analysis would find in Canada/Vancouver?

By Richard Florida, from CityLab.

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The Urban Housing Crunch Costs the U.S. Economy About $1.6 Trillion a Year

For the first time, economists have put a price tag on restrictive urban land use policies.

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While we know that cities and metro areas contribute massively to economic growth—the nation’s 380 plus metro areas generated $14.6 trillion in GDP in 2012, about 90 percent of the total—we know a great deal less about which factors limit the growth of cities and metros. …

The dearth of affordable housing options in superstar cities like New York, San Francisco and San Jose (home of Silicon Valley) costs the U.S. economy about $1.6 trillion a year in lost wages and productivity, according to a new analysis from economists Chang-Tai Hsieh of the University of Chicago and Enrico Moretti of the University of California at Berkeley.

… the economists’ research examines the geographic allocation of workers across the United States, and tests the following proposition: What might happen if workers were free to move to the cities and metros with the most robust economies, where they could be most productive, thus fueling even greater productivity and growth for the U.S. economy as a whole? To get at this, Hsieh and Moretti develop a number of alternative scenarios based on the ability of workers to move to and settle in these highly productive metros. The exercise leads to several intriguing findings.

… they find that roughly 75 percent of the nation’s economic growth between 1964 and 2009 came from a relatively small group of Southern metros and 19 other large metros. Even though superstar metros like New York, San Francisco, and San Jose created great wealth in sectors like finance and high-tech, nearly all of those gains were eaten up by the wages used to pay for higher housing costs.  …  As the authors point out, “the main effect of the fast productivity growth in New York, San Francisco, and San Jose was an increase in local housing prices and local wages, not in employment.” …

The crux of the economists’ analysis is their models, which create an “alternate universe” where workers can move freely to where they can contribute the most to the U.S. economy. They note the substantial wage differentials between the superstar cities of New York, San Francisco and San Jose and others over the past half-century. To correct for this, their models essentially reallocate workers in today’s economy according to the prevailing wage back in 1964. Based on this, they find that employment in New York would increase by nearly 800 percent, while it would grow by more than 500 percent in San Jose and San Francisco. …

How to begin to fix the problem? Here the authors offer a welcome corrective to the naïve notion promoted by too many urban economists that simply loosening housing restrictions and overcoming urban NIMBYism will magically solve the problems of America’s superstar cities.

Moretti and Hseih rightly point out that a big part of the solution lies in transit. As I have long argued, transit is a key part of the great reset required for our current era of knowledge-based capitalism.

Transit can work on two levels. Within metros, it can more seamlessly connect suburban areas to the more clustered urban core, enabling workers to commute from greater distances while also spurring denser clustering and development along transit corridors. And it can help stretch labor and housing markets across metros, creating more economically functional mega-regions. …

Moretti and Hsieh’s study reminds us of the enormous costs of trying to run the powerful, highly clustered new economy on the platform of our outmoded suburban, industrial model. Unleashing the productive power of this new age requires a spatial fix based on transit-based infrastructure and a more flexible housing system. Without that, as Moretti and Hsieh so pointedly remind us, we will continue to squander this country’s productive potential, its economic performance and, critically, our overall well-being.

Heritage Reboot – May 23

May 21, 2015

New digital products to open up Vancouver’s heritage in new ways.  At the Roundhouse on Saturday:

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Heritage Reboot

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