Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reading

  • SleepyCity has an amazing post on the Paris Metro. If you're like me, a total transit nerd, check this out. They risk life and limb to explore the Metro's 'lost' tunnels and stations. Tons of pictures. 
  • The CityFix lists their top 10 new transit systems for 2010. Dallas' Green Line is quite impressive. Under 'notable addition or expansions' at the bottom on the page, Vancouver's Olympic Street car is mentioned - sadly, it is no longer running and there doesn't seem to be much going on...yet! Notice that bikes get some attention - hey Vancouver, how about that bike-share program you've been talking about...
  • Lastly, THIS:

Friday, December 24, 2010

'Tis the Season

Because I do this every year: 

I want to see great herds of bison grazing on freeway medians and, in stampede, spilling down the clover-leafs like a mudslide. I want to see rush-hour traffic paralyzed by them, and goggle-eyed commuters forced to get out of their cars to wonder at the great noble mass in before them.
 
I want to see long-legged wolves loping through shopping mall parking lots like punks looking for trouble, so that the yappy Shih-Tzus of chic matrons cower in their SUVs and fear for their lives.
I want to see flocks of blue-birds and painted buntings and scarlet tanagers braiding in and out among the hydro lines, and then roosting there, as bright as strings of car-lot pennants!
 
I want the fairways of golf clubs to revert to wildflower meadow, and see a thousand picnics bloom there. I want the lawns of suburbia to grow as high as a horse’s withers. I want milkweed and Queen Anne’s Lace and dandelions never to be thought of as weeds again, and to take their lordly place among the pampered, brainless annuals in our gardens. I want blackberry thickets to have their way, throwing up fountains of fruit-heavy can by the gas station, a city hall, by the neighbourhood Starbucks. I want to eat the blackberries.
 
I want to see the rivers so fat with fish the water silvers with their splashing. I want to see the oolichan return, because the world needs the word “oolichan.” I want beds of oysters to bejewel the stinking outfalls, and the crabs left alone to grow as big as serving platters. I want the Chinese river dolphin that was declared extinct last month - the year’s saddest news - to have miraculously found a home in the Fraser. I want to hear the spring peepers sing their old lullabies again, as they did when I was a kid.
I want to see more butterflies, everywhere.
 
I want parents to play with their children, rather than farming them out to little league. I want soccer moms to be moms, period, and to get in there and kick the ball around. I want fathers to tackle their children in games of touch football, because a father can’t have enough excuses to hug his children. I want shinny instead of hockey. I want fun to bloom and Sport to wither.
 
I want to see a Scientist of the Year on the front page, instead of a Sportsman of the Year. I want children given lessons in tree-climbing, Hide-and-seek, Red Rover, Frozen Tag and Things-Your-Parent’s-Shouldn’t-Know-About-You-Because-They-Are-Probably-Dangerous-For-You, such as blowing up anthills with firecrackers and balancing along the tops of fences like tightrope walkers. I want to see children allowed to play outside until the street lights come on. I want parents to let their children go out and play and not to worry about them for the rest of the day. I want anyone who would harm a child first given over to a roomful of vengeful parents armed with whips and blunt objects, and then put away for a very long time.
 
I want the real narcotizers of our culture - television and the cult of celebrity - declared dangerous substances. I want Brad and Angelina and Tom and what ever her name is to put more art into their art than in their public relations. I want reality rather than reality TV. I want people to stop looking at the pretty faces because they are afraid to look the world in the face.
 
I want to see the death of unquenchable appetite. I want a new definition for “progress.” I want - to quote, from all things, from the opera Nixon In China - a time “when luxury dissolves into the atmosphere like perfume, and everywhere the simple virtues root and branch and leaf and flower.”
I want to see hope in vogue again. I want fatalism and cynicism frowned upon as uncool. I want to believe in the future. I want to wish you a Christmas as rich as the one I can’t buy, but one day hope to afford.

- Peter McMartin, Vancouver Sun: Dec. 23, 2006

Monday, December 20, 2010

Translink: Ads Coming to Your Farecard

New Fare Card
Late last week Translink (via The Buzzer Blog) announced that they would be putting advertisements on their monthly farecards. According to the available mock-up, the ad would take up just under one half of the card space. In exchange, Translink is getting a minimum of $84,000/year and according to the press release, space has already been sold for the first 6 months. I strongly oppose this for a few reasons.

For only $7000/month, is it worth it? One comment left on the Buzzer noted that if they sell roughly 140,000 farecards (131,000 sold in March 2007), that is only about 5 cents per card. I'd think if I was holding captive every farecard holder's eye, I could get a bit more cash out of the deal. But to me, that's besides the point.

LCD Ad on the side of Translink Bus
I find the more important issues are that 1.) advertising is not particularly stable funding 2.) it's further corporatizition of our public transit space. Transit users already have to put up with ads in the vehicles, on the vehicles, in the stations, etc. Also, they aren't particularly flattering ads - apparently transit users are ex-criminals needing pardon services or young, confused teenagers with sex questions or un-planned pregnancies. Ironically, the only time I've been on a bus with no ads was during the Olympics. VANOC bought all the ads space but couldn't re-sell it.

Some may argue that it's 'innovative' and that Translink needs to get it's revenue from somewhere. Advertising isn't particularly innovative as a revenue generator and the income it generates is at the whim of the market (see: recession). I, for one, would rather pay up the extra nickle (60 cents/year) and keep the ad off the card. I see it as a bandaid solution.

Is it worth all the negative responses? What are your thoughts?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Greenest City: "Food Incubator"

Save-on-Meats by Eldon Underhill
Story by the Vancouver Sun: Downtown Eastside food projects win approval

Among some of the cooler projects going on around Vancouver as a part of the broader 'Greenest City' initiative is the 'Food  Incubator' that could be set up next in the old Save-On-Meats building on Hastings Street. You can read more about business incubators here. In general, they are a great way to nurture small businesses by giving them resources to be successful and we're all aware that small businesses are essential to any neighbourhood's success.
 
In addition to being a really great program, the Save-On-Meats building, which had been a butcher shop for 50+years until it closed last year, will re-open again as a butcher shop but with a grocery store and restaurant, as well. I'm happy to see such a prominent building being re-used for fantastic things.
 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Public Space: Robson Square

I've written before about the Robson Square/Court House/Art Gallery area before, however, recently there's been some great movement about to possibly create a public space on the south side - the 800-block segment of Robson Street (between Hornby and Howe).
Robson Street, Google Maps
Essentially, the city would permanently close that section of Robson street to vehicle traffic. There is a possibility that they will keep the street open to transit vehicles, as they do on Granville Street. I would strong argue against this as it would limit programming and confuse people as to the nature of the space as Granville Street does. The problem is the #5 bus that connects the West End to the rest of the city. Currently, this section of the street is closed off due to construction and traffic patterns have already adjusted. The #5 has been re-routed but its new route is convoluted and confusing - Translink should immediately look to simplifying this if the closure were to be permanent.


I have extremely high hopes for this space. I'd like to see ample, movable seating and strong features that will get people to stop and linger. Dundas Square in Toronto pops into mind (I know, I know - It's not really a 'public space' unless you love advertising) because of it's usability.
Dundas Square, Steve Mann @ WikiCommons 
The water feature in the summer is great and every time I'm in Toronto, it's always being utilized for some great use - movie night, concerts, etc.

Another example but from Portland: Simon and Helen Director Park

The important part about this one is that they included a cafe in the design. While one could argue against having a business invading a public space, I would argue that something as simple as a coffee can be a great addition to public space - to get people to congregate, sit and enjoy the space. Sorry, I'm still missing the cafes in Paris.

During the Olympics, Robson Square was the epicentre of action. If this goes ahead, it would be one hell of a legacy project. Not to mention, would be a great gift for Vancouver's 125th birthday next year.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Newsmaker of the Year: The Bicycle

The Vancouver Courier has declared the Bicycle 'Newsmaker of the Year'. This is a significant choice considering the year that Vancouver has had. It brings into focus how behemothic the issue of two wheels vs four has become. It has even eclipsed the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

I will layout my bias right now (if you couldn't tell already) that I'm pro-bike infrastructure. I believe that a city that has a great mix of walking, cycling, and driving, is a great city. There are the usual suspects in Europe that we can point to: Copenhagen, Paris, Lyon, Berlin, and Amsterdam. And there are cities in North America that are forging ahead with building better cycling facilities: Portland, Boston, Washington D.C., Montreal, and New York. Like Vancouver, these cities are suffering their own backlashes. New York is finding out that great success comes at a cost. The bike is a political issue again.

In many ways, people react to the removal of a car lane as if their inalienable human rights were trampled on. Driving is so entrenched in our society that we assume it is a right. But is isn't. It's a convenience and convenience is a hard drug to kick. Cyclists, on the other hand, can be equally self-righteous and pretentious. Some assume they are the saviours of the planet but they do no good to their cause by frustrating the majority of people in cars.

Another thing: I'm tired of the issue being perceived as some sort of war. The Courier states in their article that, "To get on a bike in traffic, or to go near a bike lane in a car, felt like combat. No one was a civilian on our roads in 2010." Over dramatic but this was the perception in the media. Toronto took this to the extreme and as a result, Rob Ford, who campaigned against the 'war on cars', now occupies the Mayor's Office. At Mr. Ford's inauguration, a day usual marked by non-partisan jubilation and the extension of olive branches, Don Cherry - of Hockey Night in Canada fame - decried cyclists as left-wing "pinkos."

We're back where we started with two very polarized sides. In war, there are winners and there are losers (...well, kind of). In the debate of bikes vs. cars, we don't really win anything and the only thing we seem to lose is our temper and sense of civility. At the heart of the issue are two things: people and mobility.

I don't have an answer that will reconcile both sides. All I can do is to call for everyone to calm the F**K down. We all need to get from A to B - we all need options when it comes to mobility. Drivers and the car inevitably and logically have the most to 'lose' or cede to other modes. Since the 1950s, we've literally built our world around them. We've reached a point were this cannot continue. It's obvious (to me, at least) that the status quo isn't increasing mobility.

 Mobility is more than getting from point A to point B - it's also about having options. I don't know how you can consider only having your car to move about true 'mobility'. I grew up in the suburbs of Vancouver and my car felt more like a weight (mentally and financially) than some sort of great liberator. Driving was just the only option. If we can make our cities more open to cycling and walking, we will all benefit.

In all, the bicycle made 'Newsmaker of the Year' for some very good reasons but it's clear that the Vancouver Courier seems intent on continuing the idea that cyclists are some sort of great 'elite' with their lattes and yoga classes.
Update: How to talk about cycling to Conservatives 
Update#2: Maybe it's Class Warfare?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Video: How Donald Shoup will find you a parking spot

 
As seen on The South Fraser Blog: Donald Shoup, a 'super-star' in the world of Urban Planning explains a bit about charging the right price for parking and what it can do to enhance your community.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Image: Powering Vancouver

Lane West of Main Street at Pender Street, 1914 - Vancouver Archives LGN 917

The Death and Life of Gastown: Part Four - Planning Vancouver in the 1950s,

Planning Vancouver: 1950s 
In 1952, Vancouver set up its first Planning Department that worked in conjunction with a City Council appointed Planning Commission. Even more influential than the Commission were the Technical Planning Board, which handled the physical development functions, and a Board of Administration (BOA), composed of the mayor and two commissioners. The BOA enjoyed dominance over City Council and its affairs.[1] Gerald Sutton-Brown became one of those two commissioners. Donald Gutstein, a Vancouver Academic, describes Sutton-Brown as “most powerful person at City Hall, his power verging on the absolute.”[2] Here is where people often draw parallels to New York's Robert Moses (albeit without the cash). 

Sutton-Brown’s influence is an important factor to Gastown’s revitalization because of his authority over city development plans and his role in two very important and inter-connected projects: a Vancouver Freeway system and Project 200. Gutstein argues that, although “the members of city council with their varying ideas about transportation came and went . . . the freeway plans lived under Sutton-Brown’s careful nurturing.”[3]

Though most people don't know it, Vancouver was also a city that dabbled in 'Urban Renewal'. Strathcona was pinpointed as a hot-spot of 'blight' and targeted for renewal and McLean Park was created with the same ideological elements as Regent Park in Toronto and many of the 'projects' in the United States. I'll probably do a post specifically on Urban Renewal in Vancouver at a later date but the important part thing is to remember that the ideology behind urban renewal was present in Vancouver and it has significant effects on its built environment. 
McLean Park 'Urban Renewal' Project - Hogan's Alley Memorial Project
Gastown continued to decline throughout the first half of the twentieth century. It reached its nadir in the mid-1950s with the dissolution of the North and West Vancouver Ferry Company and the dismantling of the British Columbia Electric Company’s extensive Interurban tram service. B.C. Electric moved its head offices from Hastings street to a brand new, modernly striking tower at the corner of Burrard and Nelson streets
B.C. Electric Building / The Electra 

Project Gastown Begins: late 1950s           
In 1957, the City of Vancouver introduced Zoning By-Law No. 3575 which proposed that Gastown should be excluded from high-density zoning and only be zoned for parking. M. G. Thomson, a Gastown property owner recalls that it was “clear that it was the City’s intention to freeze [Gastown] until owners abandoned their land to the City or sold at a distressed price.”[4] Yet, this plan induced many local property owners to organize together as the “100 and 300 Block West Cordova Committee” and oppose the City’s proposed re-zoning of Gastown that would have seen it deteriorate further and turned into nothing but place to accommodate cars for the rest of the city. City council gave up on this zoning proposal in 1959. 

Concurrently, the 100 and 300 Block West Cordova Committee, in addition to other property owners in Gastown engaged in a “clean-up campaign” in which they collectively repainted many buildings in the area.[5] In addition, they lobbied the City to have their part of Gastown included in the High Density Commercial District but the Director of Planning at the time, Bill Graham, opposed this change to area’s zoning and reportedly asked the Committee, “What do you intend to do about it?”[6] It is interesting to note that the Director of Planning could be heavily controlled by the Board of Administration, which holds veto power over the Planning Department proposals. Denhez argues that, although the Committee and other associated property owners tried to clean up Gastown and convince the City of Vancouver to help, “few people considered the area particularly historic: most buildings were, after all, less than a hundred years old (the fact that they were old by Vancouver standards was disregarded). Furthermore, few people considered the buildings aesthetically pleasing.”[7] Lastly, the area was also very much considered part of Skid-Road with an unsavoury human element.   

 Although the 100 and 300 Block West Cordova Committee had some success in its goals, it was the genesis of a greater movement for the revitalization of Gastown. By 1960, opposition to the status quo of city planning and urban development appeared all over North America. Urban renewal schemes came under fire and governments scaled back or ceased their future plans (financial constraints also played a part). Enter: Jane Jacobs and New Urbanism. However, the greatest threat to Gastown was yet to come. 


[1] John Punter, The Vancouver Achievement: Urban Planning and Design, (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2003), 18.  [2] Donald Gutstein, “Vancouver” in City Politics in Canada, eds. Warren Magnusson and Andrew Sancton, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983), 199.
[3] Donald Gutstein, Vancouver Ltd., (Toronto: James Lorimer & Company Publishers, 1975), 144.
[4] M .G. Thomson, “The Townsite Story: The Origin of Vancouver’s Gastown Revitalization, 20 October 1978,” PAM 1978-70 (10), City of Vancouver Archives, Vancouver, BC, 3. 
[5] John Braddock, “Gastown Plus Ten,” The Vancouver Province, 23 September 1978, 12.
[6] Thomson, 3.
[7] Denhez, 196.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Transit Debates and What We Don't Need

We need more transit and we need better transportation options. We need communities that are built for people not cars. We need a lot of things.

What we don't need is pointless quibbling. By breaking down how much each municipality pays for our regional transportation system versus how much service they receive in return is besides the point. Where does that get us? All it does is stir up controversy and doesn't advance the conversation or our common goals.

In Metro Vancouver, Translink's services and initiatives affect us all (they do more than just run our transit system). Improved service on Skytrain or the B-line or any bus route for that matter can positively benefit all of us (read on Human Transit what transit can do for us). Each municipality is not an island unto itself and their citizens and goods are not bound within their borders.

If each municipality started its own transit agency, what benefit would it bring us? We'd have 20+ agencies that could lead to transfers at each municipal boundary. Again, the approach of quantifying money spent versus service received in each partner municipality of Translink is a poor and haphazard way at assessing things. Transit and our road infrastructure is a shared resource with SHARED benefits. 

We can all agree that service needs to be improved and investment needs to be made in the South Fraser. Progress is slow and patience is needed.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Reading

  • There was Woodwards (and the Charles Bar), now there's the new Waldorf. There's always a fear that when you revitalize or renew (words are a very touchy subject when come to the dreaded 'gentrification' subject) a building, business or block, that it will inevitably harm the people who already live in the neighbourhood (see: Gastown, DTES, etc.). 
  • A friend from Oregon just visited Vancouver for the first time. Read his review!
    • Good news from Vancouver's Olympic Village for once: Heat-from-Sewage utility is a monetary success! However, Mayor Robertson warned that cheap energy is not necessarily a positive. BC has ample cheap energy and we tend to waste it. 
    Pop-Up Cafe, New York (A model for Robson Street?)

    Thursday, December 2, 2010

    Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

    Montreal, Canada
    6 months. 88 posts. Over 4000 page views with 1300 just this past month. Not a huge feat nor am I bragging but this, for me, is somewhat a personal victory. When I launched this blog back in the Summer, I intended it to be a place to help me gauge my interest in urban planning and I think I can safely say that, after all this, I still love this stuff.
    Now comes the hard part: what do I want to do? Where do I want to go?

    My two choices for grad schools are McGill in Montreal and SFU in Vancouver. I like the look of McGill's Urban Planning program because it seems very hands on and practical with a studio component. Also, it's in a different city with a ton of diversity and a very interesting urban form. McGill also carries with it the cache of its name being one of the best universities in Canada.

    SFU's Urban Studies program intrigued me because of its breadth and connections to other institutions. However, it isn't a 'traditional' planning program and doesn't come with an accreditation. It's in Vancouver - a city which I know I love - and would also mean costs would be lower for me (i.e. no moving). I've also heard that because it can be done part-time as well, there is a less cohesive cohort, which can be something to consider.

    On my radar as well: U of T, Dalhousie, Ryerson....

    I'd be more than greatful if anyone in a program or anyone who has their MA in Planning (or a career in planning) has any tips or advice.