Saturday, February 14, 2015

VIDEO: Democracy and the City Panel Discussion

Last October, the SFU Urban Studies Graduate Student Society held a forum called "Democracy and the City". It was a fantastic and well-organized event (I had nothing to do with it! I have wonderful peers) and I learned quite a bit from some of the speakers. Two portions were filmed and I have a short section talking about youth engagement at my former employer. Have a look!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Vancouver's Department of 'What if?': a License to Disrupt

Credit: Brandon Yan
A remarkable thing happened this past week. On Wednesday, June 25th, over 30 past Vancouver City Planning Commissioners sat in room at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue to talk about Vancouver's Planning legacy and future (Although, it turned out be more about the Commission's). With experiences dating back to the 80s, it was a room replete with knowledge.

While I have struggled to find a purpose for myself at the VCPC meetings, this unique event has energized my spirits towards this potentially important citizen advisory body. I can't attach names to any of the comments that were made as per Chatham House rules but some persistent themes came up.

The VCPC's Purpose
I'm a little relieved to hear that past commissioners also struggled to figure out what exactly a powerless planning commission is supposed to do and how it's supposed to do it. In fact, it was repeatedly suggested that the VCPC should be Vancouver's 'Department of What if?' By that, they meant it should not be afraid to take risks, be creative, and most of all, be disruptive. One past commissioner said that the VCPC's absolute lack of power is actually its greatest asset - it has nothing to lose.

Disturbing Trends
Further, it was also clear that those that spoke up at this round-table were concerned about equity and justice in Vancouver's future. To paraphrase a past commissioner:
"No one has acknowledged that no one cares about being the Greenest City. We are now concerned about the growing inequality, instead."
In a city that is seemingly dualistic by nature, one that consists of people with a lot and people with very little, how do we ensure Vancouver is planned for everyone?

I'll leave you with this video of Meg Holden's (SFU Urban Studies professor/my MA supervisor) SCARP Symposium presentation. If you don't have time, tune into the 11 minute mark when she asks a great and relevant question:

All this being said, the VCPC is a citizen body. I'm more than happy to chat with you via email/twitter. Let's be disruptive together. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Vancouver City Planning Commission

Vancouver City Hall - Wikicommons
So the first month of 2014 is behind us. The last part of 2013 was a whirlwind of activity for me: I started a new job (update: I still love it), put together a directed reading course for myself for this semester (update: read what you tell your prof you'll read!), and I was also appointed to the Vancouver City Planning Commission (VCPC).

The VCPC has a long history in this city and has had many different mandates but its current form came about mostly in the 1960s and 1970s. It has gone from a central institution in city building to one more along the side-lines, as a strictly advisory body (mostly due to the advent of modern day planning departments). This is not to say the VCPC cannot play a significant role - they've done some great work. Currently, the VCPC:
advises City Council on planning and development issues in the City, and may report to Council on any proposal likely to have a significant effect on the future of the City. The commission organizes conferences, consultations, competitions, presentations, and research on topics including housing, public realm, neighbourhoods, transportation, and public engagement. - City of Vancouver 
We've only had two meetings so far and it's been mostly orienting the new commissioners, like myself, and some procedural things. Not sure quite yet what kind of work we'll be getting into, however, the year is young yet.

Personally, I'd like to be more involved in planning engagement/consultations (which is also an academic area of interest for me). I'd like to see the commission be more visible so I've been tweeting from our meetings (#VCPC). If you're interested, our meetings are open to the public for observation and you can find the meeting details here. Feel free to shoot me an email or tweet before hand, too. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Video of BC Government Highway Plans...

Well, maybe it's not the BC government per se but this video (about 30minutes) will help you understand the era in which Christy Clark lives. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Translink Isn't Perfect

There has been somewhat of a hate-on for Translink recently as Gord Price noted on his blog this past week. This all seemed to come to fore from the recent revelations that the compass card system will not easily allow people who pay with cash fares on the bus to transfer to the Skytrain. While I agree this is not an ideal situation, there is a simple solution: get a compass card.

In an August 14 press release, Translink clarified:
To be clear, you’ll be able to transfer from bus to rail with the Compass Card or a Compass ticket. It is only customers who purchase fares on buses with cash who will not be able to use those transfers to transfer to rail—approximately 6,000 customers per day out of our 1.2 million daily rides.
This isn't news, Translink released information about this particular issue many moons've only just noticed now. To be fair, when I first heard about it, I was upset, too. But during the I Love Transit night a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to chat to Translink staff. Their explanation of the situation made sense: it really doesn't warrant that Translink spend millions and millions of dollars to accommodate a minority of users. Also, the current fareboxes on the buses have an additional 3-5 years worth of life in them and after that they will be replaced. Financially, this makes sense when using a limited amount of money (on a project that really wasn't Translink's idea in the first place). Not that you can really convince Jordan Bateman.

The change to an electronic farecard is a big change. Hiccups will happen.

Further, there have been assertions that Translink is a terribly mis-managed and wasteful organization. Translink, as a public agency, undergoes reviews and other audits regularly. These are then turned into reports and posted online for all to see. Before you assert that Metro Vancouver is home to the worst transit service in North America, please read these.

The Translink Commission commissioned an efficiency review in 2012 and the results do not support what most people think of the organization. In it's review, it used data from other transit agencies to compare translink. The review found that:
...TransLink’s funding formula is the best in Canada. It has enabled TransLink to go through a period of rapid bus and rail expansion, far in excess of any of its Canadian peers. TransLink has invested in technology that provides management with superior information to manage the system and for customers to use it. Its ample funding is evident in the amount of equipment and infrastructure it has procured and staffing levels it supports compared to its peers. Ridership and revenue growth has been among the strongest in Canada, yet it is not keeping pace with costs...
...In reviewing TransLink’s efficiency, two levels have been addressed. The first is at an overall financial level. This analysis makes clear that the organization is well run and manages its costs. It has abundant revenue sources and funded reserves and budgets in such a way as to include ample buffer room...
...Again, management are knowledgeable, engaged and candid about the challenges they face as well as receptive to seeking efficiencies. The service is well delivered and good quality but this comes at a price...
Another review of Translink in October 2012 came to very similar conclusions. Translink isn't perfect but I'm for one happy that we have it. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Next Generation Transportation: Election Impressions

This past Sunday, I attended an event called "Next Generation Transportation: All-Party Forum". Put on by Carbon Talks, Sustainable SFU, and SFU Public Square, they had a politician from all the major political parties in BC discuss transportation (it was far too amicable to call it a debate):

Mary Polak, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure 
Jane Sterk, Leader of the Green Party of BC
Duane Nickull, MLA candidate for Vancouver-Point Grey, of the BC Conservative Party
Harry Bains, opposition critic for Transportation and Infrastructure, BC NDP

Mary Polak knew her stuff and, not only that, she can speak rather well. She's an effective communicator and her only mis-steps were really policy ones (and her one reference of the Broadway Corridor as the Burrard Corridor). Two things really struck me as reasons to not vote BC Liberal. One, she called the Port Mann bridge a significant investment in cycling infrastructure. This completely laughable and I doubt that the Minister has ever cycled through a city in her life. Second, she reiterated her party's plan to hold a referendum on transit funding. However, she detailed that the referendum would actually not give the public a veto on funding but rather it would be a list of options and we would pick our preferences (even though the day after this event, the Premier said it would be a veto).

Referendums should not be used in lieu of making hard decisions that, in fact, you are elected to make. This is called passing the buck.

Jane Sterk was impressive if only for her commitment to the broader ideals of sustainability. I'm pretty sure she was the only one that acknowledged climate change, as well. Her handle on transportation issues didn't seem to be very strong but it was great to see the leader of the Green Party take on such an important topic. I would have liked to have seen someone from Metro-Vancouver speak in her place but maybe that's asking too much?

Duance Nickull is a bit of an enigma. He's running for the BC Conservative Party but was very much for things like transit, electric rail, and bike lanes infrastructure. He later explained that he's more of fiscal conservative (and re-iterated, no way affiliated with the federal Conservative Party). He's a self-described 'Geek' and loves using data to find solutions. I did not like the way he a few other candidate kept saying "I'm no _____ (insert 'traffic engineer, etc.') to get off from not understanding some of the audience's questions.*EDIT* Apparently he's not in favour of more bike lanes.

Harry Bains from the NDP was rather quite docile and couldn't really get his points across very clearly. However, he did nail the question of the referendum. Bains may well be the next Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure but it's clear that he might not entirely understand his portfolio.

These are just my impressions.

The format of the event was perhaps too take for an election. It would have been interesting to mix up the panel of politicians with professionals and community advocates to spice things up - have these people hold the candidates' feet to the fire and make then answer the questions.

Overall, I thank SFU for holding such an important event.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Interactive Data Visualization: Inequality and New York's Subway

Another interesting set of data from the New Yorker:
New York City has a problem with income inequality. And it’s getting worse—the top of the spectrum is gaining and the bottom is losing. Along individual subway lines, earnings range from poverty to considerable wealth. The interactive infographic here charts these shifts, using data on median household income, from the U.S. Census Bureau, for census tracts with subway stations.