Spring, Ladysmith and one very big Rhododendron Bush

It is spring, and this year it is a bit late but still resplendent in the colours and textures of a new season. The Province newspaper and Patrick Johnstone have written about a  rhododendron bush which is flowering in a front yard in Ladysmith on Vancouver Island-this remarkable plant is over one hundred years old, is over  25 feet tall and 30 feet wide, and is called “Lady Cynthia” which is really the name of the type of rhodo.


The pink rhododendron at 226 Kitchener Street in Ladysmith is believed to be at least 115 years old.

And here it gets interesting. “According to the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce, Lady Cynthia first sprouted in Scotland before being carried south through the Atlantic, around Cape Horn and then back north up the coast of South America and via Hawaii on a sailing ship.” And the Bored Panda website rated the rhodo as one of the world’s most magnificent “trees”.

If are you in Ladysmith,  you can go by 226 Kitchener Street and see this rhododendron, which will be blooming for the next few weeks. Welcome to Spring.



We Have A Bird

annas-hummingbirdVancouver’s Official City Bird is Anna’s Hummingbird.  With 3,450 out of 8,259 votes (42%), Anna’s Hummingbird flew past the Northern Flicker, Varied Thrush and Spotted Towhee.

Although this seems lighthearted (and it is) birds are an indicator species for the health of the city, and play many roles:  pollinators, seed distributors and insect eaters.

Vancouver is among birders’ favourite destinations, bringing tourism business. Around 370 species having been recorded in Greater Vancouver.   Notable, too, is the upcoming 27th International Ornithological Congress August 19-28 2018. Vancouver will host around 2,000 bird scientists.

The announcement event at the VPL was fun and fittingly lighthearted, featuring giant “birds”, mercifully short speeches and newly-commissioned music for brass quintet.

The Real Cost Factors of Affordability

PT readers know that transportation and housing costs have to be combined when conidering affordability – and here’s more illustrated data to show how that’s true in the US – from CityLab.


The importance of transportation costs in this equation—and, more specifically, the role of transit in reducing these costs—comes into clear focus in a series of new reports on city affordability from the Citizens Budget Commission. Take a look at this CBC chart on average annual rent paid by residents of 22 large U.S. metro areas (New York is highlighted because it was the CBC’s primary focus):


By these housing figures alone, you’d expect the cities at the top to be the least affordable, and those at the bottom to be the most. But now here’s the chart of the same 22 cities ranked by location affordability:


Now we see that many of the cities with high housing costs also have the best location affordability—particularly Washington, D.C., San Francisco, New York, Seattle, Boston, and San Jose. Each of these cities is in the top ten for affordability despite also being in the top ten for highest rent. In the case of San Jose, high Silicon Valley incomes offset high local expenses. But the key for the five other cities is being among the least expensive in terms of transportation costs:

More info and charts here.

The Disconnected Wind Phone



As reported in City Lab, Otuschi Japan lost ten per cent of its population in the 2011 Tsunami-about 1,600 people perished.

“A resident named Itaru Sasaki had nestled the phone booth in his garden the year before, as a way to ruminate over his cousin’s death. Longing to maintain a relationship with a departed loved one is a deeply relatable desire, but a tricky proposition. “Because my thoughts couldn’t be relayed over a regular phone line,” Sasaki told the Japanese TV channel NHK Sendai. “I wanted them to be carried on the wind.”

“The photographer Alexander McBride Wilson heard the public radio segment and traveled to Otsuchi last fall to photograph kaze no denwa, or “the wind phone,” and the people who use it. To Sasaki, the booth isn’t related to any kind of religion, Wilson says, “but you get the feeling that it’s a bit of a shrine, people who come over are kinds of pilgrims.”  Everyone is welcome to use the telephone booth. And scores of people do.

“The set-up is not dissimilar to an altar for dead relatives that’s common in Buddhist homes, said This American Life producer Miki Meek. It’s “a way to stay in touch, let [departed people] know that they’re still a big part of our family.”

“More than five years after the disaster, cities along the northeastern coast are still working to rebuild, slowly replacing temporary structures with sturdier, more rooted ones. ..As the town rebuilds, girding itself to be resilient in the face of future weather events, Sasaki’s wind phone is a reminder of those most fragile and searing losses that can’t be patched up and won’t be forgotten.”


Antarctic Dispatches


While the world shudders at the latest inanity from the Id of Trump, this is what’s really consequential:


Antarctica’s ice sheet may be approaching an unstoppable collapse. We flew there to see how its changes affect the rest of the world.

Four New York Times journalists joined scientists in Antarctica to understand how ice is moving across the continent and sliding into the sea.


Extraordinary graphics here.

Housing Crisis: The Vienna Alternative



Using Vienna as a case study, this lecture explores the relationship of affordable housing to urban planning politics and will discuss historic and current housing policies, not least in a critical cross-analysis with the Vancouver case.

Touching upon the re-articulated model function of 1920s Red Vienna, Gabu Heindl will present her approach to combining strong claims (Setzungen) in public planning with a critique of paternalistic governance and with maintaining zones of contact with popular agency.

Click here for more information on the Vienna Model.

Gabu Heindl is an architect/urban planner and theorist in Vienna, Austria. Her practice (GABU Heindl Architecture) specializes in public interventions, cultural and social buildings, urban research and planning. Her current research focuses on a post-foundational theory of planning politics with regard to radical democracy in contemporary urbanism.


Friday, May 19

7:00 pm

Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre, Goldcorp Centre for the Arts – 149 West Hastings

Coincidence? I Think Not!!

As a heavy-handed demonstration of the awesome power inherent in City government, here’s a so-called “coincidence“.

You be the judge.

The May 15 introduction of 2107 watering restrictions.  Why this date, of all dates?


Just a coincidence (??).   May 18’s Vancouver forecast from Environment Canada, after months of cold wet weather:


I don’t know about you, but I’m getting concerned, and am seriously thinking of getting my tinfoil hat out of the closet.

My Town, My Way

Here’s a place where people have changed a little part of their town into something lovely.  An old traffic-calming barrier is now a lush rock garden with a brick walkway through it. In the West End at Bidwell and Pendrell, near Lord Roberts Elementary school.

Aesthetically, only the ugly yellow bollards jar the senses — but then again, they do keep motor vehicle operators from trampling the garden.

Is there, I wonder, any appetite for an Art Deco bollard replacement contest?

Boring Headline of the Month

One-time winner of the contest to find the world’s most boring headline was:  “Worthy Canadian Initiative“.  But just how boring was the story, and what story do headlines really tell?

As a contrast in content, let alone journalistic integrity, consider these two headlines and the stories below them. The first covers a complicated story, and deals with the issues in a broad manner.  The second employs cobwebbed rile-em-up tabloid tactics to satisfy some business model that the world is rapidly passing by on its way to somewhere else.

First we have Martha Perkins in the Vancouver Courier writing under the headline:  “Interests Merge in 10th Avenue ‘Hospital District’ Plan“.

Vancouver Coastal Health, the British Columbia Cancer Agency and accessibility advocates are all heartily endorsing Vancouver city staff’s proposed new street plan

“It’s a great compromise considering all the stakeholders and the traffic of all modes,” said Stan Leyenhorst of Barrier-free B.C. “The city recognizes we’re trying something innovative”. We’re building an environment so, regardless of ability, you have access, including the senior who has cancer using a walker who is slightly sight impaired and can’t hear well.

“It’s terrific,” agrees Bruce Gilmore, also of Barrier-free B.C. By switching the conversation away from bike lanes, the strategy switched to problems that already exist for all users of the busy corridor. “I’m very excited that pedestrians have been heavily factored in, i.e. the vulnerable patient.”

Second, by way of contrast, Global News on May 16.  Keeping the world safe, and preserving all asphalt, for motordom:  “Separated Bike Lanes Could Replace Metered Parking In Vancouver’s Health Corridor Along 10th Avenue“.

Yup, good old bike lanes vs. parking.  Cars vs. bikes.  Real people vs them stinkin’ people on bikes.   Yup: “Yet another controversial bike lane”. The video clip features an exasperated car driver who complains about parking and completely bone-headed decisions. The clip ends by bashing bike riders with a gratuitous context-free crack about riding bikes on the sidewalk.

Pedestrians and patients get little if any attention.

Parking in front of key medical agencies like the BC Cancer Agency, the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre and the Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) could get a whole lot tighter.

On Tuesday, Vancouver City Council will be presented a proposal to remove meter parking spaces from 10th Avenue, in favour of separated bike lanes between Oak and Cambie streets.

Item from Ian: A Different Angle on Foreign Buying

Ian: Interesting flip of the normal narrative.

From Better Dwelling: 

According to the National Association of Realtors, the top 5 markets foreign buyers are searching for are Miami, Los Angeles, Bellingham (WA), Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina (HI), and New York City. All of those markets reported being hot spots for Chinese buyers in 2016. As of March 2017 though, China wasn’t even in the top 5 countries searching these locations.

Instead Canadians topped the list for each one of those cities. In fact, Canadians topped the list for all 20 of the top markets, with the exception of El Centro, California – where they came in second.

Top 5 US Markets By Foreign Search

Miami, FL

  1. 🇨🇦 Canada
  2. 🇧🇷 Brazil
  3. 🇩🇪 Germany
  4. 🇬🇧 UK
  5. 🇦🇷 Argentina

Los Angeles, CA

  1. 🇨🇦 Canada
  2. 🇬🇧 UK
  3. 🇦🇺 Australia
  4. 🇩🇪 Germany
  5. 🇧🇷 Brazil

Bellingham, WA

  1. 🇨🇦 Canada
  2. 🇯🇵 Japan
  3. 🇧🇭 Bahrain
  4. 🇬🇧 UK
  5. 🇦🇺 Australia

Kahulul-Wailuku-Lahaina, HI

  1. 🇨🇦 Canada
  2. 🇦🇺 Australia
  3. 🇬🇧 UK
  4. 🇯🇵 Japan
  5. 🇩🇪 Germany

New York, NY

  1. 🇨🇦 Canada
  2. 🇬🇧 UK
  3. 🇦🇺 Australia
  4. 🇮🇪 Ireland
  5. 🇩🇪 Germany


Canadians Are More Likely To Be Non-Resident Buyers

NAR stats show that Canadian and UK buyers are the most likely to buy property for occasional use. Going back to 2016, 80% of Canadian, and 61% of UK buyers were non-resident buyers. To contrast, only 39% of Chinese buyers were non-resident. This means Canadian and UK citizens are more likely to buy property and not move into it. Whereas 61% of Chinese buyers are likely to buy property for relocation.

Are there 800,000 Empty Bedrooms in Metro Vancouver?


Metro News and reporter Jen St. Denis reports on Toronto economist Paul Smetanin who has ascertained that if an elderly couple in Vancouver are living in a house with over one bedroom, they are overhoused. Of course those elderly that live in a house with more than one bedroom would be wealthier too. Smetanin estimates that 70 per cent of people living in Vancouver have “800,000 spare bedrooms.”

“In Smetanin’s analysis, a co-habiting couple living in anything more than a one-bedroom home is considered “over housed.” Homeowners who are wealthier and older are most likely to be over housed. The number of empty bedrooms is equal to 15 years of construction at current rates, said Smetanin, who has used data from Statistics Canada and other sources to create a broad set of data about housing needs in Canadian cities.

The numbers are similar for Toronto, and policy-makers from the United States to the United Kingdom to Australia are struggling with the demographic shift. ”

Gene Balk, a columnist at the Seattle Times has calculated that the number of empty  bedrooms in Seattle has increased by 50 per cent in the last 16 years. Local real estate developer Michael Geller has suggested that seniors may be delaying going into condominium  housing forms to avoid strata councils, and a range of different housing forms is needed.

The ability for seniors to defer property tax and the fact that there  are no capital gains on the sale of a home may encourage seniors to age in place. There are also compelling financial reasons to stay in the home you raised your family in: homeowners don’t pay capital gains tax when they sell their principal residence and make a profit, and some argue it makes more sense to stay in the home and leave the total appreciated gain for your estate.

Geller does see a change where seniors are now interested in supporting new forms of housing for the post-house phase of senior life. “These baby boomers are the ones who are often opposing townhouse and apartment developments in their neighbourhoods for the last 30 years,” he said. “Now that they’re ready to perhaps move into a new housing choice, I think there’s a greater willingness to accept sensitive infill development.”


The Connected Greenway

Connecting things, people and places is an opportunity, if not major rationale, for the Arbutus Greenway.

It’s already happening on the increasingly busy temporary Greenway.

Some new connections arise from the very nature of the conversion from unused railroad into accessible, if temporary, Greenway. People have a new way to travel from home to retail areas, schools and parks.

But old informal pathways are already getting upgrades to provide better connections from and across the Greenway to local neighbourhoods, bus stops, crosswalks and so on.

Smashed Avocado on Toast and Millennials in Australia


In the hyper Australian housing market Jennifer Wells of Metro News describes real estate developer Tim Gurner’s unfortunate and thoughtless remarks about why millennials are not buying housing. His words “When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for 19 bucks and four coffees at $4 each,” were quoted  in an interview with Australian media .

“Note that in March the Australian Bureau of Statistics compared the five-year 70-per-cent increase in Sydney house prices — that’s not a typo — to average wage increases of 13.2 per cent across the same period. The median house price in Sydney was just shy of $1.2 million (Australian dollars) in April. And a local point of reference: this month the Internet-cost-of-living data base NUMBEO found that getting by in Sydney is 28.8 per cent more expensive than Toronto.”

“In Sydney, Melbourne, Toronto and Vancouver housing affordability has increasingly created a class divide. Today it’s less about earned income and more about access to capital — the inheritance, the well-off parent. “People can save, but not enough to get into the market that is always moving up. ”

In Australia the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority limited lending institutions for interest only lending to thirty per cent of all new residential mortgages. On the other hand, the Australian government announced a foreign buyer’s tax on empty houses,  as well as a way for new buyers to save funding for first purchases.

For seniors 65 and over, the Federal government has come up with a scheme to boost the householder pension if they sell their principal residence.Interestingly, the government is also trying to appeal to potential “downsizers” — home owners aged 65 and over — with a plan that would boost a householder’s pension should the homestead be sold. Freeing up housing stock is the hoped for outcome.

This housing problem is certainly not related to avocado toast or any fancy drink-but that’s a symptom of not looking at the bigger picture. Affordability, accessibility, and a range of housing types are necessary to move forward. Millennials did not create this challenge.  “And it shouldn’t be their task to fix it. If smashed avocado on toast is a comforting way to salve the disappointment of not seeing home ownership in one’s future, it’s actually a small price to pay.”



Has Seattle Reached Peak Car?

A ‘data column’ from the Seattle Times.  (Note the irony of the header.)

Has Seattle reached “peak car”?

When it comes to the rate of ownership, it sure looks that way.

Census data show that from 2010 to 2015, the percentage of Seattle households that own a vehicle declined — that’s noteworthy because it’s something that hasn’t happened in decades.

I checked the data back to 1970. Car-ownership rates have creeped up every 10 years, right through to 2010. That year, 84.6 percent of city households owned at least one vehicle.

But suddenly, that number is dropping. As of 2015, it’s down by about 1 percentage point. And that’s almost entirely because of one group.

Seattle Times 2

It’s a combination of economics and priorities, says Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center at the University of Washington. As Seattle housing costs go through the roof, he says, cars are one expense that many young city dwellers are willing to sacrifice.

“If you get away from the high set of fixed expenses that go with owning a car — monthly payments, parking, insurance — you can pay for the apartment that allows you to live on Capitol Hill,” he said. “You can go out to bars to meet your friends, and you can get around everywhere you need to go.” …

A deeper look at the numbers shows that from 2010 to 2015, under-35 households without a car in Seattle — there are more than 17,000 of them — increased at a 10 times faster rate than those that do have at least one car.

That said, cars aren’t going away anytime soon in Seattle, a city that famously loves its Subarus and Priuses. Many Seattleites, even if they don’t drive much, still want to own a set of wheels for weekend excursions.

And in terms of the raw number of cars, Seattle probably hasn’t hit its peak. Even though carless households are growing faster, households with cars are still increasing, including those that own multiple cars. These forces pushed the city’s car “population” to 435,000 in 2015.

Metro Sustainability Breakfast – Jun 7

Looking for green gardening solutions? Metro Vancouver, in collaboration with UBC Botanical Garden, has created Grow Green – an online guide to eco-friendly gardening. This resource helps residents create healthy and sustainable lawns and gardens, while enhancing the region’s overall ecological health.

Join us to learn how your personal green space can support biodiversity and contribute to a more livable region, and how Metro Vancouver is working with multiple levels of government to tackle the spread of invasive species.

  • Marcin Pachcinski, Division Manager, Electoral Area & Environment, Metro Vancouver
  • Tara Moreau, Associate Director, Sustainability and Community Programs, UBC Botanical Gardens
  • Laurie Bates-Frymel , Senior Regional Planner, Parks, Planning and Environment, Metro Vancouver


June 7

7:30 am

BCIT Downtown – 555 Seymour