Thought Experiment: The Refugees of Summer

Already asylum seekers from the U.S. are crossing the Manitoba border in the depth of winter (29 asylum-seekers cross border into Manitoba over the weekend – Mar 20)

What will happen this summer?  Is it conceivable that the Americans under a Trump administration would actually facilitate a mass exit of some of their estimated 11 million undocumented residents as a way to expeditiously encourage ‘voluntary deportation’?  ‘Walk north and we won’t get in your way.  Let the smug Canadians deal with the arrival of tens of thousands of illegals and see how they like it.’

It would be like a Mariel boatlift, when 125,000 Cubans were allowed to flee to Florida over half a year in 1980.

So what would we do if, say, 10,000 refugees arrived in the Lower Mainland in a week.  And another 10,000 the next.  And the next.

How would we deal with even the basics: finding accommodation and feeding so many?  Would it be a temporary situation or a new reality?

So far, any local official I’ve talked to hasn’t seriously considered the prospect, and as far as I know there is no anticipatory strategies being developed.  But then, it’s not likely that would be publicly acknowledged at this point.

Some thoughts:

  • Having seen the emergence of favelas in South American cities, the best people to call might be Brazilian and Colombian planners.
  • Would the destabilization of Canada be an acceptable outcome?  Would militarization of the northern border be demanded, or even possible?
  • Would there be a negotiated resolution as there was after half a year in the Mariel boatlift?
  • One wonders what the American people would think. Would it change their self-image, as it would the world’s, to see so many flee ‘the best and strongest country in the history of the world?’
  • And what would it do to us?

Larry Beasley and Metro Vancouver’s Potential Third Housing Sector



Both Peter Ladner in Business in Vancouver  and columnist Daphne Bramham in the Vancouver Sun  have featured comments made by Larry Beasley,  the former Co-Director of Planning at the City of Vancouver. Larry is a thoughtful and analytical planner whose mindfulness shaped the downtown peninsula into a world-class paradigm. I’d also credit him along with his engaged and artful planning staff in refining the concept of Vancouverism-the  mixed use form, space and structure that is admired by many.

It’s no secret that even though there were over 27,000 Metro Vancouver unit building starts in 2016 (which is 57 per cent over the 10 year average) that not enough people are getting housed.  As Peter Ladner notes “With the average household at 2.6 people, that’s enough supply for almost 70,000 new people, but population growth last year was 30,700 people. We’re building more than enough to accommodate local population growth, but not investment demand.”

In a global economy where housing is being bought for an investment instead of as necessary accommodation, there is not enough housing to go around. The foreign buyer’s tax and increasing property taxes could add to the supply, but more is needed.

Larry Beasley  “has concluded that we need to build out a “third sector” to deal with middle-class affordability: new supply that’s secured for locals and for certain groups of consumers.” Larry is thinking of a “semi-market” housing targeted to middle-class income earners. One example would be reviving self-owned co-ops, where some units subsidize other units. Or we could follow Melbourne’s requirement for new big job centres to include employee housing. Or ramp up inclusionary zoning to require new high-end condo developments to include some fixed-price units. Madrid and Whistler are two places that have created non-profit home ownership: homes sold to local workers to build equity, but they can be sold only at a pre-determined rate, with little or no profit.”

Larry Beasley describes this third sector of housing as “semi-market, and could include co-housing which includes some shared living space. Such a third housing sector would require collaboration between governments, developers, banks and non-profits. Most notably, such housing could include as much as 30% of the housing market, securing the kind of affordability that would guarantee the diversity of our region for years to come.”


San Francisco-A Childless City and Richmond-A Dog Park



The New York Times  notes that San Francisco, with a population of 865,000 has “ roughly the same number of dogs as children: 120,000. In many areas of the city, pet grooming shops seem more common than schools.”  San Francisco’s technology boom has resulted in high prices and families fleeing the city, with the” lowest percentage of children of any of the largest 100 cities in America, according to census data, causing some here to raise an alarm.”

In 1970,  about 25 per cent of the population was composed of children, with 90,000 pupils in public schools. Today that figure is 53,000 kids in school, with  kids comprise 13 per cent of the population. By comparison, New York’s population of kids is 21 per cent, and Chicago’s is 23 per cent under 18 years of age.

California, which has one of the world’s 10 largest economies, recently released data showing the lowest birthrate since the Great Depression“Sometimes I’ll be walking through the city and I’ll see a child and think, ‘Hey, wait a second. What are you doing here?’” said Courtney Nam, who works downtown at a tech start-up. “You don’t really see that many kids.”  And in an interview in 2016, the co-founder of PayPal Peter Thiel described San Francisco as  “structurally hostile to families.”

“A report released on Tuesday by the San Francisco Planning Department said the building boom in the city, which for the most part has introduced more studios and one-bedroom apartments, was unlikely to bring in more families. For every 100 apartments in the city sold at market rates, the San Francisco school district expects to enroll only one additional student, the report said.”

Urbanist Richard Florida notes that as jobs become more specialized and longer hours are required, people are putting off having families. Initiatives such as San Francisco’s requirement to offer six weeks of fully paid leave for new parents, is designed to encourage families with children.

Meanwhile back in Metro Vancouver The Richmond News reports  that the City  of Richmond has voted down a Girl Guides campsite slated to replace the off-leash dog park at McDonald Beach Park on the Fraser River. As one relieved dog owner stated “This is a great place for socializing,”  despite the fact that off-leash Iona Regional Park is nearby. Reasons offered for excluding the children’s camping included airport noise and fire ants.


Recent Developments 2 – Lower Burrard Street


The City took the opportunity, at the time it was doing major water-and-sewer pipe upgrades under the street, to reconfigure Burrard Street on top.

In addition to the existing wide sidewalk, there’s now a separate bike lane.

A raised bike lane on a major arterial like Burrard Street, between Burnaby and Pacific, leading to one of the major intersections in downtown, would have been unimaginable a decade or so ago.  And not because the concept would have been rejected by council.  It would never have gotten that far, having never been seriously considered by staff in the first place.

Clearly the lesson is that such changes need to be part of a larger plan of upgrades, including benefits to drivers, upgrade of utilities, repaving, etc, and introduced at a time when traffic is going to be disrupted in any event, not just for a bike lane.  The same thing happened on Dunsmuir Street, when the cycle track went in after the closures for the Olympics.  Few complaints.  But when the Hornby separated lane was proposed just by itself, all hell broke loose.

More good news: Musette, the cycling-themed cafe, is back.

It already feels like a popular local hangout, as well as a meeting place for pelotons of MAMLs

Here’s an image that captures Vancouver, c 2017:





SFU City Program: Upcoming Offerings

Next-Generation Transportation Free Webinar Series

Beyond the Anglosphere — Perspectives from Montreal, Europe, and Latin America

Helsinki — Nordic innovations
March 25, 3 PM PDT

Stockholm — Vision Zero

April 12, 11 AM PDT

Vienna — Affordable and inclusive greatness
April 26, 12 PM PDT


Upcoming Courses

Lecture: Geller on “Affordable Housing Redux” – Apr 4

As an architect, planner and developer, for many years Michael Geller has been advocating creative new ideas to address Metro Vancouver’s ever-growing affordability crisis.

In his 2015 and 2016 SFU lectures (12 Affordable Housing Ideas and 12 More Affordable Housing Ideas), he presented ideas based on his travels throughout the world.

This new talk assesses the implementation of recent initiatives and how the region can better address its need for more affordable housing choices.


April 4

7-8:30 pm

SFU Vancouver

Admission is free, but registration is required. Reserve.

Online Webcast: Can’t make it to the lecture? Register for the free live webcast.

Internet Course: Ecodesign for Cities and Suburbs

A New Free Internet Course Offered on edX by UBC

Architects, urban planners, real-estate developers, landscape architects, and anyone else who is interested in the future of cities – especially students in all these disciplines – should check out this free, open course, taught by Larry Beasley, the former planning director of Vancouver, who is the Distinguished Professor of Practice at the University of British Columbia, and Jonathan Barnett, a noted authority on urban design from the University of Pennsylvania. 

Using real examples from around the world, Beasley and Barnett show how integrating planning, urban design and the conservation of natural systems can produce a sustainable built and natural environment, implemented through normal business practices and the kinds of capital programs and regulations already in use in most communities.


The first session of the course will start April 4. Here is a link to the full course description and enrolment.

Daily Durning: A Housing Plan in Portland



From Sightline: The Portland Plan – Down with McMansions, Up with Abundant Housing 

This article combines and adapts three articles by the Portland for Everyone coalition’s Michael Andersen. See the originals on this blog, and learn more about the group here. Portland’s approach shares similarities with the Seattle Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda recommendation to allow small duplexes and triplexes in single-family zones without letting property owners erect buildings larger than currently zoned.

Growing cities across the US and Canada are grappling with the challenges of displacement and affordability in their housing markets, and many of them are looking to Cascadia’s innovative cities for answers. Portland, the smallest of Cascadia’s three major metropolitan areas, has perhaps one of its biggest and best ideas: the “residential infill project.” …

When a city gets more desirable but isn’t allowed to add more places for people to sleep, this is what happens: the old homes don’t stay affordable. They just get priced up and up and up. …

The residential infill project that went before Portland City Council November 9 and will again November 16 is an opportunity to make this happen. It’s a chance for the city to strike an anti-McMansion compromise and shrink the maximum size of new homes (which would reduce demolitions) while also legalizing duplexes, triplexes, and backyard cottages (which would mean that the demolitions that do happen would result in more small homes instead of fewer, huge, expensive ones).

Instead of allowing new single-dwelling homes to look like this:

To be clear, nobody is talking about requiring new homes to look like this. The overwhelming majority of residential homes would still have lots of space and yards of their own. But by making it once again legal to build these small homes in residential areas, Portland would make this an option for people who want something in between an apartment building and a freestanding house, which means fewer people would be competing for apartments and for freestanding homes.

There’s another possibility here: the city might decide to shrink the size of new homes but not make small multiplexes legal.

If that were to happen, it wouldn’t stop developers and landlords from finding ways to make a profit. It would mean that the only way they could make a profit is by replacing poor folks with middle-income folks and middle-income folks with rich folks.

Lots more here.

A Scathing Critique of Transit Planning in Toronto


Tamim Raad draws attention to the comments on Toronto transit planning by those who were there in the ‘golden age,’ in this Globe and Mail article:

TO transit

Toronto’s transit system was once such a wonder that, even into the 1980s, people came from around the world to study how it planned infrastructure projects, how it executed them and how it operated.

That so-called “golden age” also produced transit experts so revered, they got to travel the globe in return. For some, their views have been valued well past retirement age – though not so much in their hometown.

Three of them – Richard Soberman, Ed Levy and David Crowley – recently gathered for lunch and a gab. The Scarborough subway, which is to be voted on again March 28, was not the focus, but it came up often.

We have to be careful; this idea there was a golden age is a bit of myth,” says Dr. Soberman, former chair of civil engineering at the University of Toronto and lead author of many seminal transportation reports dating to the early 1960s. “We did very good things – on time, on budget – but we made big politically driven errors back then, too. Building a subway [Spadina] on an expressway median was a huge one. Putting the Queen subway on Bloor has turned out to be a mistake.”

“Precisely,” says Mr. Levy, jumping in. Mr. Levy, a planner, engineer and author of Rapid Transit in Toronto, A Century of Plans, Projects, Politics and Paralysis, says that great cities that have been able to sustainably expand subways kept building from the middle out (and they didn’t tunnel in low-density areas).

By not doing Queen right after Yonge, “we missed a crucial starting point for network-building. We’ve never been able to get back to a logical order,” Mr. Levy says. “Call it the Queen line, relief line, whatever, the whole GTA has needed this piece of infrastructure for decades, but politicians keep wasting scarce capital on frills and vote buying.”

“Toronto’s biggest transit problem,” says Mr. Crowley, who specializes in data analysis, travel market research and demand forecasting, “is we’ve overloaded core parts of the subway. We’d basically done that on lower Yonge 30 years ago, when I was still at the TTC. We have to relearn the importance of downtown to the whole region, the whole country. We’re in danger of killing the golden goose.”

Continue reading

Recent Developments 1 – Burrard Bridge, West Side


Sun on a Sunday, warmth in the air, a new project to explore – the finally finished sidewalk, bike lane and railings on the west side of the Burrard Bridge:

Burrard Bridge March 19 (4)

Burrard Bridge March 19 (1)

We got our money’s worth, judging by the quality of materials and workmanship: gorgeous lighting hardware, the craft of the cement work, new railings that respect the deco heritage of this 1930s bridge – even down to the jersey barriers that echo the openings of the original balustrade.

Burrard Bridge March 19 (8)

Burrard Bridge March 19 (9)

Burrard Bridge March 19 (6)

Of course the whole point of the project was to provide safe, separated spaces for walkers and cyclists.

Burrard Bridge March 19 (7)

Burrard Bridge March 19 (5)

And they’ve even provided bike runnels on the staircase leading to Beach Avenue below:

Burrard Bridge March 19 (3)

The augmented Burrard Bridge has been treated with respect, in the style of the City Beautiful – a time when art and good design were not seen as frills but as a reflection of  a citizenry that was prepared to pay for quality in its public works.

Burrard Bridge March 19 (2)

And saw a bridge as an opportunity for a Sunday stroll, not just as a vehicle-dominated, utilitarian piece of infrastructure.

Burrard Bridge March 19 (10)




Public Art Trumps Billboards in Coachella Valley



Tara Culham passes along this article from Twisted where from Feb. 25 through April 30, 2017, “the Coachella Valley California and its desert landscape will become the canvas for a curated exhibition of site-specific work by established and emerging artists, whose projects will amplify and articulate global and local issues that may range from climate change to starry skies, from tribal culture and immigration to tourism, gaming, and golf.”

Perhaps one of the coolest pieces is Visible Distance / Second Sight an art installation by Jennifer Bolande for DesertX.  The series of billboards at this location have had advertising images replaced  with perfect images of the landscapes that the billboards are blocking.



“Each photograph is unique to its position along this route and at a certain point as one approaches each billboard, perfect alignment with the horizon will occur thus reconnecting the space that the rectangle of the billboard has interrupted.”

This  is called  “Burma-Shave” after the shaving cream company that made sequential advertising designed to be viewed from a car. And perhaps this is another glance at a 20th century way of advertising that may radically change as motordom moves on to car sharing and more heavily used public transit.


Malls Fight Back?

Or do they.

When the mall biz loses its way, perhaps these design prescriptions can show owners a new path to profit. So says Jim Anderson of DIALOG design. As reported by Rebecca Keillor in Postmedia outlet The Vancouver Sun.

Some of his ideas involve thinking about transportation, as used by customers to get to the mall. Rest assured it isn’t all about bigger parking lots, he says. And it does involve consideration of the nature of the surrounding community.

Mr. Anderson spoke in part about his firm’s design for a $550M, 210,000 sq.ft.expansion and renovation of 1971-vintage Sherway Gardens, a 200-shop mall in the former Etobicoke, operated by Cadillac Fairview. It’s anchored by the Bay and Holt Renfrew. The usual suspects in mall retail are all there. Nordstrom has announced it will arrive in September 2017.

Anderson-Jim1“People don’t go to the shopping centre to buy any more,” says Anderson . . .  “They used to go to shop, but they can buy it online, so the experience needs to be a richer experience, more a sense of place.” . .

. . . When DIALOG designed Toronto’s Sherway Gardens, one of the largest malls in the GTA, Anderson says it applied this philosophy.

“We deliberately expanded it towards the street to start to address the street in an urban way, rather than simply be an island in the middle of a parking structure,” he says. “And not just addressing it in a ‘façadism’ type of way, like dressing up the exterior — a brick fortress in the middle of a parking lot — but actually activate the experience so that from the outside things were happening.” . . .

.  . .   They also designed the mall around where the transit stops are, and are going to be, preserving part of the site for a subway station, and really thinking about how people will be arriving at the mall, not simply “from a car to the entrance”.

“So how will people actually arrive by bicycle?” he says. “How would they arrive by foot? How would they arrive by bus? How would they first experience the shopping centre?”

Mr. Anderson makes a nice sales pitch. But.  Frankly.   Sherway Gardens is still a freeway & car dependent mall, now comprising roughly 1,200,000 sq.ft. It strongly reminds me of Tsawassen Mills.  It has more local population, more freeways, and probably more competition. Today, Sherway Gardens boasts 6000 free parking spots (according to Parktopia) and valet parking for only $10. I couldn’t find the word “subway” in any publicity for Sherway Gardens, except for the sandwich shop.


We use lots of land for cars.

Massey Bridge Becomes Election Tunnel


In the  Globe and Mail  Ian Bailey  reports that the proposed Massey Bridge which is slated to replace the Massey Tunnel at a cost of around $3.5 billion dollars is going to be an election issue. The leader of the New Democratic Party John Horgan stated “I won’t rule out a bridge, but I don’t believe that bridge is supported by the mayors and it’s not, certainly supported by the people of Richmond. ”

Now here is the piece that gets a bit weird. Everyone knows that this bridge is going to take out Class one farmland in the most fertile soils in Canada. We also know that despite what the Province is saying, that there will be dredging, probably by  the Port to allow for bigger, deeper  boats to bring things like LNG (liquid natural gas) by boat down the Fraser River. The dredging  will impact the salmon and the fragile estuary of the Fraser River. We also know that a ten lane bridge is a massive overbuild at this location and we know that all the Mayors of Metro Vancouver with the one exception of the Mayor of Delta have asked that this bridge be located elsewhere.

The Premier’s response was not about any of this. It was about the jobs being created to build this massive bridge.  Talking about John Horgan in the legislature, The Premier Ms. Clark stated He hates the plan to renew the George Massey bridge and put thousands of people to work.”  Somehow overbuilding this bridge in the wrong place has turned into a Provincial sponsored make-work project. This bridge once built will also be tolled at an estimated cost of $7.00 a trip, and because tolling will mean vehicles  will flee to toll free bridges, they will be tolled as well. 

Ian Bailey reports that Todd Stone, Minister of Transportation for the Province has had enough banter about the bridge. “We are now moving forward with the bridge. The decision has been made, period,” he said. “The talk is over. We’re moving forward with action.”

Even Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, the chair of the Metro Vancouver Regional District, has stated that the Province’s multi-billion dollar bridge has been made without due consideration or process.  He noted “It was, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do. How do you like it?’”  While the mayors of Metro Vancouver understand that there is a need to ameliorate congestion, “… a 10-lane, auto-oriented bridge is too big in scope,” Mr. Moore said, expressing concerns about increased traffic and pressure to develop area farmland. We didn’t want to be presumptuous in stating what needs to be built. A more inclusive dialogue would get us to a better result,” he said.”

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver also thinks the Liberals are building the bridge “as an excuse to dredge the Fraser River to allow for the easier transit of tankers for the liquified natural gas sector the Liberals back. In an interview, he also said he was concerned about farmland being impacted by the project.”

And it’s no surprise that Mr. Weaver also thought that twinning the current tunnel was probably a better idea.


Rise of the Blog-o-Bot

As farm workers found in the century before last, and factory workers in the last century — machine takeover of human work is a fact of life. And with the rise of artificial intelligence and ever cheaper, ever more powerful chips to run this AI software, not even journalists (and lowly bloggers) are immune from disruption.

Shannon Rupp writes (for now at least) in The Tyee about the state of the art in AI-journalist software. It’s amusing until it isn’t. And there’s a hint of how this AI software can function as an intelligent assistant, so maybe all is not lost.

Robo_Journalist-620x350Bots have been on the news beats since 2015, and they’re starting to get good at it. The Washington Post’s Heliograf program was a big part of its stellar election coverage, with digital-reporters writing 500 election stories, and pulling 500,000 clicks, in a fraction of the time it would take meat-reporters to churn out that copy. . . .

Heliograf also functions as a kind of journo’s assistant, alerting a human to odd voting patterns or unexpected election results. That frees up the human journalists to analyze the information, ask questions, do interviews, and write engaging prose for stories where the quality of the writing matters.

The upshot is that the Post is attracting new subscribers, partly due to the depth of its coverage. Which also means that this year it is adding about five dozen meat-journalists to the newsroom.

Afraj Gill in the Globe and Mail gives us a broader look at the AI-abundant future that is probably out there and steadily trundling our way. It’s a plea to understand the coming job and life disruption, and to plan to surf this wave, rather than getting pounded down by it.

At this point, there is little value in reiterating the litany of research on the number of jobs that will be automated in this Fourth Industrial Revolution (such as the World Economic Forum’s study stating five million jobs in 15 economies will be automated within five years – Canada is no exception, with nearly half of our jobs set to be affected by automation within a decade).

Are Highrises Depressing?

From The Guardian:


Prof Colin Ellard was walking past the rows of new-build towers that dominate the west of central Toronto when he had a sudden realisation. “I was struck by how dark, sombre and sad these new urban canyons made me feel,” he says.

Ellard, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Waterloo in Canada who studies the impact of places on the brain and body, wanted to know why he felt like that – and if others felt the same.

His curiosity ultimately led him to conduct a series of virtual reality experiments in which he asked people to wear specialised headsets and stroll through a variety of urban environments created to test their responses. The findings, he says, proved he was not alone. Being surrounded by tall buildings produces a “substantial” negative impact on mood.

If proven, Ellard’s theory adds weight to existing studies finding a negative effect of high-rises on the mental health of city residents. With both government policy and the potential for greater profits driving high-density construction in cities around the world, this raises an important question for the development industry.

City dwellers have a 40% increased risk of depression and double the rate of schizophrenia, according to the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health. Ellard’s idea is that the moment to moment bad feelings he observed in the virtual reality environment can affect everyday interactions in the real world and people’s experience of living in cities. …

This all appears to cut against the urban planning orthodoxy that a certain level of density – around 30-50 homes per hectare – is necessary to make lively communities that are able to support shops, businesses and public transport. This idea is the reason the government endorsed higher density development close to transport links in February’s housing white paper. …

The question is how to build densely without these negative repercussions. “The villain isn’t density itself, it’s insensitive design,” says Layla McCay, director of the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health. “It’s about how you design in things that are protective to people’s mental health – green spaces and opportunities for social interaction.”

Some have concluded there is a density “sweet spot” (pdf) that gives the benefits of sustainable city living without the mental health costs. Proponents of mid-rise development such as that found in European cities like Vienna and Barcelona, for example, argue for buildings constructed to heights of up to eight storeys within mixed use neighbourhoods where residential buildings sit alongside shops, offices and other work spaces.

Article here.