Tuesday, December 28, 2010


  • 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


  • 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.

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    King George Boulevard: A Complete Street?

    These are some mock ups I did for a project recently. The top is a section of King George Boulevard as it currently exists (or as close as I could gather from Surrey's GIS data / it was my first time using Google SketchUp...). You will see 3 travel lanes on the left and 3 travel lanes on the right in addition to a left turning lane. That's 7 lanes, or around 26 meters, dedicated to cars.

    The picture below is what we envision King George Boulevard becoming. Large sidewalks, with bike lanes in each direction and limited to 4 travel lanes with a left hand turn lane (down to 16.5 meters!). (You can tell I spent a bit more time on this graphic and I also got a bit more used to SketchUp). Also, I'd like to mention that this version of King George Boulevard is a 'Green Street' (integrated stormwater management!). 

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    Images: 350 eARTh in Vancouver

    Photo by KK+ @ Flickr
    On Sunday morning, my partner and I woke up a bit earlier than normal (re: before noon) to attend Vancouver's 350 eARTh public art event. When we got to David Lam park around 9:45 AM and we saw around 50 or so people. For Vancouver, it was to be expected. I don't know how to explain it but Vancouver has a very high 'ditch' rate for events - that is, people say they'll be there but then don't end up going. It seems hard to muster a good crowd in Vancouver. However, it was before 10:00 AM on a Sunday at -5 degrees Celsius. Let's focus on the positive!

    In the end, we were able to muster a great group of enthusiastic people. By the end of it, we were all numb from the cold and left with some great images. A big thanks to the organizers and the people who braved the ravaging Vancouver 'winter'.
    More here:

    TV / News:

    http://www.ctvbc.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20080124/BC_Vid_Newscast_080124/20101027?hub=BritishColumbiaHome (starts around 12 min mark)

    VPSN website:
    350 Earth website:

    Saturday, November 20, 2010

    Video: Toronto Boom Town, 1951

    While trolling the National Film Board of Canada's website (everything is free to watch and I highly recommend you check it out), I came across this short 10 minute documentary on Toronto.
    Synopsis: This short documentary studies the contrast between the sedate Toronto of the turn of the century and the thriving, expanding metropolis of 1951. Aerial views give evidence of the conversion of the old Toronto into the new--the city with towering skyscrapers, teeming traffic arteries, vast industrial developments and far-reaching residential areas housing over a million people. Toronto's mid-century progress is also Canada's, as manifested in the building of Canada's first subway, and in the bustle of the nation's greatest trading centre--the Toronto Stock Exchange. ***TAKES SOME TIME TO LOAD****

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    The Cost of Bus Service in Metro Vancouver

    Last night was my weekly class with the SFU & City of Surrey Transportation Lecture Program and I'd thought I'd share some interesting info.

    Translink staff gave a few great presentations. One of them dealt with Route Planning and the costs associated with routes/service. For instance, one service hour costs $118 on average for a bus. Around 80% of that cost is labour (driver and maintenance). So, a bus on the road for 18 hours/day costs almost $775, 000/year (which is more than the bus actually costs).

    What does that translate to on the road? Here's an example bus route they gave us:

    From point A to point B: 45 minutes
    From point B to point A: 45 minutes
    Transition time at each end: 10 minutes x2 (20minutes)
    Complete Cycle: 110 minutes
    Headway (frequency): 10 minutes 

    For this route, you would need 11 buses on the road. The estimated cost for a year of service was $8.5million - remember, this is the cost for ONE frequent bus route. 

    This is some large cash behind a service most of us take for granted. We all want more transit. We all agree that more transit is desirable. It simply comes down to complex question of how to pay for it.
    99 B-Line Express via The Buzzer Blog


    • Human Transit's post on 'Mapnificent'. Like 'Walkscore', it seems like an interesting tool to use for understanding an area's accessibility but via public transit. Also, it's available for Vancouver!  Watch 'Mapnificent' describe itself below: 

      • Brent Toderian, Vancouver's Director of Planning, has a post on Planetizen about 'Hidden Density' - or Vancouver's Laneway Housing initiative/Eco-Density/Whateveryouwanttocallit. Found this via Price Tags. Also, have a gander at Lance Berelowitz's comment at the bottom (he's the author of Dream City
      • The Director of Planning for the City of Decatur, Georgia, makes a Call to Arms (and Legs, Hearts and Lungs). She writes, "I’d like to suggest that if there was such a thing as designer malpractice we would be in a lot of trouble right now."
      • The Globe and Mail asks, 'Gravy - Or good planning?' This will become an important question given the hostility the new Mayor has towards what he deems as over-spending on city projects (i.e. bike lanes...) Perhaps, he should sit down with the Director of Planning from Decatur?
      •  Sustainable City Collective asks, 'What Happened to LEED?' Indeed. For every 100 projects that registered for LEED certification last year, there are now 30.
      Laneway House in Vancouver

      Wednesday, November 17, 2010

      Event: 350 Earth in Vancouver!

      From the VPSN Blog.

      On Sunday, November 21, VPSN is partnering with 350.org to take public art to a whole new (atmospheric) level. For the first time in history Vancouver will be taking a place in a global art exhibit to show how climate change is affecting the planet and demonstrate public support for creative solutions to climate change.

      People in Cairo, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Reykjavik, Bejing, Mumbai and 14 other cities will gather to create massive public art installations on the eve of the United Nations climate meetings in Cancun, Mexico where delegates will be working to create an international climate treaty. Every site will create large, unique formations that will be captured on camera by air and by satellite. 

      So, if you’re game for a Sunday that’s a little different from your last, join us at David Lam Park at 9:30am Sunday, November 21. Before then, please let us know to expect you by filling out this form and taking the time to also RSVP on Facebook.

      Want more details? Check out our website for 3 tips for having fun at 350 EARTH and 3 ways you can help us make it an inevitable success or see below…
      NOTE: Please plan to join us at David Lam Park promptly at 9:30am and plan to stay until 11:30am. Because we don’t control the satellite, folks MUST show up on time and stay until 11am to ensure the image will be ready to be shot by the time the satellite passes overhead.
      :: Check out our Facebook and Twitter pages.
      :: Visit the official 350 EARTH website.
      :: Want to volunteer? Email our Volunteer Coordinator Erin O’Melinn at erin [at] vancouverpublicspace.ca
      :: Want to be an event partner? Email Event Lead Jaspal Marwah at jaspal [at] vancouverpublicspace.ca
      :: Want more info for your blog, tweet, or newspaper article? Email Communications Co-Coordinator, Michaela Montaner at michaela [at] vancouverpublicspace.ca.

      Monday, November 15, 2010

      Fred Herzog: Vancouver Colour

      Fred Herzog is one of my favourite photographers. He took these brilliant colour photographs of Vancouver. Check out his stuff here.

      *Disclaimer: Not all images are from Vancouver :P 

      Saturday, November 13, 2010

      Sustainable Stormwater Management: Portland's Green Streets

      Green Streets Plan, Portland OR
      Watching the Streetfilm video about Portland's Bike Boulevards I posted not to long ago brought to my attention their Sustainable Stormwater initiative - Green Streets - and it got me really interested in them. 

      Stormwater seems like a pretty banal issue but it's actually very important in cities because they contain a lot of impervious, impermeable surfaces (i.e. streets). When it rains, the water runs off, collects and needs to be drained into our storm sewer system which then leads to our waterways (streams, rivers, etc.). Stormwater can pick up pollutants, dirt, and other contaminants and it can also cause flooding and erosion which destroys habitat and contributes to combined sewer overflows (CSOs).

      In Portland, they've opted for a fantastic approach to these problems. They believe that:
      Stormwater management systems that mimic nature by integrating stormwater into building and site development can reduce the damaging effects of urbanization on rivers and streams. Disconnecting the flow from storm sewers and directing runoff to natural systems like landscaped planters, swales and rain gardens or implementing an ecoroof reduces and filters stormwater runoff. [City of Portland, Sustainable Stormwater Management]
      Portland defines a 'Green Street' as one that uses these measures. In all, their comprehensive Green Street strategy aims to:
      • Reduce polluted stormwater entering Portland’s rivers and streams;
      • Improve pedestrian and bicycle safety;
      • Divert stormwater from the sewer system and reduce basement flooding, sewer backups and combined sewer overflows (CSOs) to the Willamette River;
      • Reduce impervious surface so stormwater can infiltrate to recharge groundwater and surface water;
      • Increase urban green space;
      • Improve air quality and reduce air temperatures;
      • Reduce demand on the city’s sewer collection system and the cost of constructing expensive pipe systems;
      • Address requirements of federal and state regulations to protect public health and restore and protect watershed health; and 
      • Increase opportunities for industry professionals [City of Portland, Green Streets]
      This approach is, to put it simply, beautiful! These facilities also combine other initiatives like bikes lanes, pedestrian safety, and beautification. They often replace multiple on-street parking stalls and in-place of the asphalt are beds planted in native species that absorb/divert large volumes of street level wastewater (sometime ALL of it).
      A typical greenstreet facility in Portland, Oregon. This one compines a stormwater treatment facility with a bulbout to reduce pedestrian crossing distances. Photos: Portland BES.
      This facility treats the cascade that used to come off Mt. Tabor during a strong storm. It also rationalized a difficult intersection and shortened pedestrian crossing distance by more than 50 feet.
      Pictures taken from here.

      SE Clay Street, Portland @ Portland Online
      If you'd like to be impressed, you can download Portland's 2007 Green Streets tour map here.

      You can read the Water Environment Research Foundation's (WERF) case study on Portland here.

      According to the WERF case study, Portland staff emphasized that that right-of-ways are already within a city's authority which makes Green Streets projects fairly easy to implement. However, planners should still consult with stakeholders (homeowners, businesses) about their aesthetic preferences and expectations to ensure community acceptance.

      Also, they stress that:
      a successful sustainable stormwater program requires a multi-disciplinary approach that involves landscape architects, engineers, planners, reviewers, department heads, and watershed managers.They knew they needed the participation of all these groups in discussions and planning for individual projects as well as Citywide initiatives. This type of collaboration can also bring more resources to the table where funding for a project or initiative might be limited. [WERF, Portland Case Study]
      There wasn't too much about this on the City of Vancouver website but I did manage to find this. It doesn't seem to as much a priority or practice as it is in Portland. Vancouver, like Portland, receives its fair share of rain and I'd like to see these gems all over the place.

      Friday, November 12, 2010

      Illustrated Vancouver: Burrard Station Cutaway

      Skytrain cutaway of Burrard Station, from the book Transit in British Columbia: The First Hundred Years. 
      From Illustrated Vancouver.

      Translink Moving Forward: Property taxes if necessary, but not necessarily property taxes.

      'Moving Forward' plan map - Translink
      Earlier this week, Translink's board forwarded two Transportation and Financial Supplemental Plans to the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation. Read about it here and here and at the Buzzer.

      The Mayor's Council will either approve one of these plans or neither which would keep Translink on it's 'base plan' (i.e. working with what they have).

      Option 1: 'Delivering the Evergreen Line and the North Fraser Perimeter Road'
      • Funding the Evergreen SkyTrain Line connecting the Lougheed and Coquitlam town centres and for an extension of United Boulevard in Coquitlam as the first phase of the North Fraser Perimeter Road goods movement corridor from the Queensborough Bridge in New Westminster to Highway #1.
      Option 2: 'Moving Forward'
      •  Same as above AND proposes additional road and transit improvements across Metro Vancouver, notably in the South of Fraser and North Shore sub-regions. 
      • Would add over 425, 000 hours of annual transit service (23 million transit trips per year).
      • South of Fraser would receive HALF of this service.  
      Translink's Board recommended the 'Moving Forward' plan. This issue comes down on how to pay for it. Translink has two options: raise property taxes OR create a Transportation Improvement Fee or TIF (a charge on motor vehicles registered in Metro Vancouver that would vary according to their environmental impacts measured by engine size, kilometres travelled or other metrics). The Board concedes that raising property taxes is politically difficult to do. However, it also says that a TIF would be complicated and costly to implement in a hurry without provincial assistance.

      The TIF needs more time to be examined. They argue that, "done correctly, [TIF's] can help manage demand on the transportation network and contribute to greenhouse gas reduction while producing revenue to support a better transportation network."

      In order for these projects to go forward (and to receive/use Federal monies) a deal must be signed by the end of the year. Translink's board proposes this:Translink is able to pay for the first year of the 'Moving Forward' plan and the Mayor's Council would need to approve a property tax bylaw for 2012. Alternative funding sources  and TIF's will be examined but if by the end of that year, no new funding source has emerged, property taxes will be raised in 2012.

      It will be an interesting situation to watch in December when the Mayor's Council meets. The governing structure of Translink is an often debated subject. The Mayor don't want to impose more taxes on their constituents but their constituents want more transit service.

      I think Translink has chosen a practical recommendation given it's limited abilities in raising money for its projects: Property taxes if necessary, but not necessarily property taxes. 

      Saturday, November 6, 2010


      In the great urban debate of car versus bike, I reluctantly side with cars. I am a driver, mostly out of necessity, as I live in the 416 but work in the 905. Being a driver, however, does not mean I am against bicycling, or against urban bicycling....
       I would be for bicycling in dedicated bike lanes, or bicycling in any context that is safe and accessible and doesn’t force cyclists to imperil themselves riding in heavy traffic. Bicyclists have the right to bike safely and properly, but motorists also have the right to drive without constantly worrying about when a cyclist might suddenly appear, speeding along without (shudder) a helmet.
      Cyclist passing Toronto City Hall, 1899 @ Wiki Commons

      Thursday, November 4, 2010

      The Death and Life of Gastown: Part Three - Post-War Modernity

      At the end of the war, Canadians were more affluent than ever before and as the economy boomed, so did the population. These factors converged to ensured the proliferation of the suburbs — Canadians looking to realize their domestic dreams of idealized living. Aided by the rise of the automobile — by 1960 two-thirds of households owned a car[1] — middle-class families fled the city towards the periphery of Canadian cities where there was room for a family home with a yard in a quiet and clean neighbourhood.
                  As Canadians sought their suburban lives outside the city, “the exodus of the middle class . . . triggered  a ‘filtering down’ — that is, a decline in households’ socio-economic status, conversions of single-family units into multi-family accommodation, and subsequent physical deterioration of an aging housing stock.”[2] Furthermore, the perception of the inner-city in contrast to the idyllic suburb, the conditions of the inner-city ‘slum’ were considered the root of many social problems.
      Apartment Building in Strathcona, 1960s - Vancouver Archives, CVA 780-361
       Mary Louise Adams states that “psychology was so often posited as directly shaped by the environment that there was no question of someone in a ‘bad neighbourhood’ not turning out badly.”[3] If the iconic suburbs of Levittown and Don Mills were symbols of success and progress then the inner-city remained an obstacle in realizing Canada’s post-war society.

      Don Mills, Ontario
      Levittown, PA

                  With the optimism of reformers in the post-war period with the resources made available through the expanding welfare state, municipal governments began to look at transforming their inner-cities through massive redevelopment and modern planning practices such as zoning bylaws. Jill Grant argues that “faith in progress and science, and growing nationalism, enhanced confidence that Canadians could improve their cities and the lot of their inhabitants.”[4] This ‘faith’ manifested itself as high-modernist urban design and its adherents sought to bring about a Utopian vision of the city. In Vancouver, it was the reaction to this ideology that was in part responsible for the revitalization of Gastown.
                  Vancouver, like elsewhere in Canada and North America, was highly affected by trends and ideological movements in urban planning and design. James C. Scott notes that, ideologically, “high modernism implies . . . a rejection of the past as a model to improve upon and a desire to make a completely fresh start. The more Utopian the high modernism, the more thoroughgoing its implied critique of the existing society.”[5] To that end, Gastown and much of the Downtown East Side represented the antithesis of high modernity.
                  High modernist urban planning and design believed that the city should reflect a single, rational plan and that it that should be “consciously designed from start to finish following scientific principals.”[6] It emphasized the segregation city space by use and function through the implementation of zoning laws. These bylaws would accompany the complete reconstruction of the city in which no concession is made with its preexisting form, context or history: “the new cityscape completely supplants its predecessor.”[7]
      Le Corbusier's Radiant City, A plan for Paris

                  Underlying these aspects of modernist planning was the belief that if an urban environment could affect its residents negatively, it could also have the opposite effect if planned correctly. The modernist city would provide “an environment minutely tailored to the latest dictates regarding health, efficiency, and rational order.”[8] Furthermore, if the city was to be a concise, consistent singular plan, it needed a singular planner. In Vancouver, planning was the purview of a select group of people, with one man, Gerald Sutton-Brown, wielding a great amount of power over the City’s development.

      [1] Doug Owram, Born at the Right Time: A History of the Baby Boom Generation (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), 70.
      [2] Trudi Bunting and Pierre Filion, eds., Canadian Cities in Transition: Local Through Global Perspectives, 3rd ed. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2006), 14.
      [3] Mary Louise Adams, The Trouble with Normal: Postwar Youth and the Making of Heterosexuality (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), 57.
      [4] Jill Grant, “Shaped by Planning: The Canadian City Through Time,” in Canadian Cities in Transition: Local Through Global Perspectives, ed. Trudi Bunting and Pierre Filion, 3rd ed. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2006), 327.
      [5] James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 115.
      [6] Ibid., 111.
      [7] Ibid., 104.
      [8] Ibid., 130.

      Video: NYC Bike Commute

      Mapping Your NYC Bike Commute from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

      Saturday, October 30, 2010

      Architecture: McMillan Bloedel Office Tower, 1969

      One of my favourite buildings in Vancouver.

      Revitalizing downtown Vancouver, two offset narrow slabs of offices are linked by a stair/elevator core, with a sunken plaza along Georgia Street. One of the world's best applications of post-Le Corbusier Brutalism to a downtown office tower, it is notable for its trabeated cast concrete frame, and the "entasis' or slimming as its office floors rise.

      Event: Carl Elefante – Lecture and Heritage Symposium

      Ah! I wish I could go to this so bad! 

      Carl Elefante
      Carl Elefante coined the phrase: “The greenest building is the one that is already built.”   He is Director of Sustainable Design at Qunin Evans Architects, Washington, D.C.
      At an upcoming lecture at SFU, he’ll be addressing the question: ”What is the cultural, economic, environmental sustainability of older buildings”
      7 pm – Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010 - SFU Harbour Centre


      Vancouver Green Streets Map

      Friday, October 29, 2010

      Write-Up: Cities, Bicycles and the Future of Getting Around

      On Sunday, October 24, hundreds of cyclists and interested Vancouverites braved the oppressive, wet and windy weather to fill the Playhouse to listen a panel of speakers talk about Cities, Bicycles and the Future of Getting Around. Part of Capilano University's Pacific Arbor Speaker Series, the Panel composed of Vancouver Mayor Gegor Robertson; musician and artist of Talking Heads fame, David Byrne; Co-Publisher and Creative Director of Momentum Magazine, Amy Walker; and founder of re:place Magazine, Erick Villagomez. Retired CBC Broadcaster and Cycling advocate, Paul Grant, emceed and mediated the night's proceedings.

      Thursday, October 28, 2010

      How Toronto Voted For Mayor

      Story: How Toronto Voted by Ward @ the National Post

      Narrow Streets: Los Angeles, A Fantasy Urban Makeover in Photographs

      During David Bryne's presentation last Sunday at the Cities, Bicycles and the Future of Getting Around forum and he showed us some images from an 'art' project - Narrow Streets: Los Angeles . They were images of wide, multi-lane streets in L.A. where Artist David Yoon then, using the magic of Photoshop, made them narrower (more here id you want to learn how). The results are remarkable (the last one is my favourite):