Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 -> 2012

Year end reviews are sometimes bitter-sweet. While I personally feel I achieved a lot in 2011 - like getting into Grad School (whole point of this blog!) - there's a lot to be desired on the progress front toward a sustainable future...with the epitome of failure being Canada's lack of leadership at Durban.

If there's one but of advice I can impart on you is: be persistent and have courage. Go for your goals and don't look back. Even if you don't reach them, you will make progress and be better off than when you started. 

Here's what I can look forward to 2012:
  • Starting Grad School this January
  • Starting a Podcast on this blog (thanks to a very generous Christmas gift. Ideas are welcome!)
  • Perhaps holding a 'Paint-in Event' in Centennial Square
  • Presenting at Velo-City on behalf of Translink 
  • Bike-share coming to Vancouver?

To you and yours, I hope you have a very happy and safe New Years.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Great Vancouver Paint-In: Let's Do It Again!

The Great Vancouver Paint-In is one of my favourite history items that no one in Vancouver really knows about (I've written a bit about it before). I think it's an important one and one that may need to be repeated. 

In April of 1966, artists from across the city gathered at the courthouse (now the Vancouver Art Gallery) and went to work paint the hoardings that surround the construction of the centennial fountain. The artists were invited and encouraged by Mayor Bill Rathie (to raise the ire of the Premier). Rathie was somewhat upset at the construction of the 'secret' fountain in such a central and integral public space with very little public input.

Behind the fountain was Premier W. A. C. Bennett. He refused to let anyone see the designs and put up the hoarding so no one could see it until it was complete. The Paint-in made the public space public again and in a way, it was a very successful (and simple) case of public engagement. Crowds of up to 700 amassed to see the paintings and painters in action. It was widely covered by the media (even internationally!). In this newspaper article, one woman lamented: "Everything is going to be so dull when it's over." Was she ever right.

When I passed the Art Gallery the other day, I saw that the great steps, formerlly the grand entrance to the Courthouse on the Georgia Street side, were fenced off. I assume it's to dissuade people from using them (re: Occupy Vancouver). Here's how it looks when I walked by:

Public Space?
I think it's time for an intervention in a very important public space in Vancouver. How about a paint-in? Public art as expression, as protest. How about? Leave a comment if you're interested.
The Vancouver Archives finally has some more photos digitized from one of their private collections. Take a step back in time:

Thursday, December 15, 2011


I am by no means the most eloquent writer and I am definitely not the foremost authority on climate science or the economy but the past few weeks have riled me up and I need to vent a bit. Granted, Kyoto wasn't perfect. Not many international treaties are but it was something - It was an understanding that action was needed.

Our government (I refuse to preface it with Harper because it doesn't belong to him, it belongs to all of us), was purposefully critical at Durban without the intention of being constructive. Rather than be a leader, Canada chose to opt out.

To be fair, this government inherited Kyoto from a Liberal government that ratified it but did little to enforce it or attempt to meet its obligations. But, so what? A new government should have seen that failure as an opportunity and said, "we can and will do better!" It should have lead the way, engaging the provinces, our cities and our citizens. We are an innovative nation full of people with ideas who are willing to help. But the economy blew up and for some reason, we stopped caring about the environment - as if you could separate those two things from one another.

We've opted out without a plan (not true...we're just waiting for the United States to take charge first). We've become a nation no one looks to.

So we have a problem, to put it mildly. My generation is bound to inherit a future that no one would ever wish upon their children - so why are we letting it happen?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Video: NBC Interviews Janette Sadik-Khan


Every 10 percent increase in fuel costs led to an increase in bus ridership of up to 4 percent, and a spike in rail travel of up to 8 percent. These results suggest a "significant untapped potential" for transit ridership, Lane reports in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Transport Geography. In other words, a significant part of America's love for the automobile may only be its desire for inexpensive transportation.
Submission #71 of Vancouver's Design Competition for re-envisioning the Viaducts.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cheap Rent: New York's Mid-70s Musical Revolution

A week ago, I was listing to a podcast episode of NPR's All Songs Considered. The episode was called "When New York Was 'On Fire': A Mid-'70s Musical Revolution". Here's the synopsis:
If you were in New York City in the 1970s, you might have stumbled upon the birth of punk, new-wave, hip-hop, salsa, disco, minimalist classical and avant-garde jazz. The city during these five years — 1973 through '77 — was the birthplace of many of the most innovative and influential musical genres born in the second half of the 20th Century, despite the fact that it was economically devastated, and was thought — at the time — to be musically bankrupt.
This episode interested me for a few reasons: it's about New York and music and they also address connection between the city and arts/creative industry. For the most part, the thing that struck me was how integral cheap rent was to fostering such a vibrant scene (according to the host and his guest). They discussed how easy it was to set up/pay for a new venue - this 'cheapness' also afforded (pun!) artists and musicians to be more experimental and take bigger risks.
" of the reasons they were able to do this . . . is it was so, sort of, all dilapidated back in New York City in those days, rent was cheap." "Yes, rent was incredibly cheap."
The hosts also talked about the the loft scene (again made possible by cheap rents): they had so much "so much room, they could actually have performances in their home."

Being somewhat involved in the arts in Vancouver, this is perhaps the #1 issue: affordability and space. A lot of Vancouver venues tend to close (re: demolished for condo development) or are illegal (No, I can't tell you where these are). When we talk about affordability in Vancouver, we often only talk about rent/housing prices when, in fact, we should be broadening the discussion to include these other aspect, as well. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Vancouver Election: Geography of Politics

On November 19th Vancouver voted and on November 20th, data geeks were having at it. On election night, it was fun just watching the results roll in on the city map, with each division going either red or green. And it was a nail-biter (I don't think I was the only one screaming for last hold-out in the West End to report) that made all the difference for the Green Party's Adriane Carr who beat out COPE's Ellen Woodsworth by 90 votes for the 10th and final Councillor spot. It does go to show you that every vote counts.

At the end of the spectacle, we had a city that was very much green with some significant pockets of red:
But what does it all mean? It's a very simple map: green division are ones in which Robertson received a plurality of votes and the Red ones are which Anton received a plurality. At first glace, the City seems to be divided on a more North-South axis instead the assumed East-West one. However, another map that Frances Bula posted shows a bit more detail:
In this map, Robertson's core support is in the North-East and Anton's is in the South-West. Most of the rest of the city it seems his support hovers around the 50% mark. Here's another map someone put together that I got from twitter that I have no idea how to embed properly (if you know how, let me know!), so you'll have to click on this link to see the details:
But it'll show you the details per division when you click on them. Here's the stats for my division, #124:

One other thing that most remarked was how low the voter turnout was at 35%. Here's a map the shows the percentage turnout by division:
Participation rate was highest in the West side of the city. I personally wonder if it's because of a high student population or if it has something to do with land value, income or ethnic background. What drives those people to the polls more than any where else in the city? If anyone would like to speculate, please do so. One thing to note is actually how low Vancouver's participation has ALWAYS been. So this election and the last one isn't really out the ordinary. On the contrary, an election with higher than 50% turn out would be out of the ordinary. Still, doesn't make it right.

Over all, what does this tell us about our city? It seems to reaffirm that people tend to gravitate to places/neighbourhoods in the city that they identity with and that they chose to surround themselves with like-minded people. Or, maybe that because of certain constraints (like income) we end up living with and socializing with similar people?

Did you learn anything about your neighbourhood from the way that it voted?

Also, check out fellow blogger, Canadian Veggie, for his analysis which is super interesting.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fun with Graphs 2!

So, I made another sickness/fever induced graph the other night. Also, if you care, turns out I have strep throat (ugh) and I'm on a healthy diet of antibiotics now (yay!). Here, I graphed the number of registered vehicles per person in Langley (Township AND the City), Surrey and Vancouver. Langley was my particular focus because it's where I grew up and it's one of the most auto-dominated places I know. I even once recall hearing that there were actually more cars than people in Langley...not quite but they are close to 1:1.
To be fair, the stats I obtained from Metro Vancouver include commercial vehicles ( and pretty much any vehicle that has active insurance). Maybe Langley has a high number of commercial vehicles...or motorcycles...or it could be that the built environment is highly conducive to the automobile.
Langley City, Google Maps

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fun with Graphs!

So, I've been sick the entire long weekend and I've had nothing to do but watch 90s cartoons on Netflix. Then, it got even nerdier: I started making graphs. Here's a preview of one that shows the % of change in population and in # of registered vehicles for the North Fraser and South Fraser communities since 1999. If it doesn't make sense, I blame the fever. Hopefully, I'll post something more meaningful later.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Election Season

If you didn't know, Vancouver and the rest of British Columbia is in municipal election mania. Last week, I attended/volunteered at Vancouver Public Space Network's Last Candidate Standing event. It was quite the interesting and overall, Occupy Vancouver ended up being a large focus. In the end, it was 22 year old Lauren Gill who was left standing (you can get the live-blog transcript here). The year previous, a young woman also took the prize. Funny how the audience each time chose a candidate who's the opposite of who normally gets elected. But it gives me hope that young people may have a place in elected office yet. Regardless of whatever politics you preach, it's important for us, the younger generation, to take an active role. Please, don't forget to vote.
Vancouver City Hall, 1936 - WikiCommons

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Vancouver's Annual Skytrain Party

Holy November!

October was a fairly busy month and it was topped off by the best event I've been to in a long while: Vancouver's Annual Halloween Skytrain Party.

Organized by the Vancouver Public Space Network (a group I volunteer with), it's a wonderful celebration of public space and public transit - but with costumes!

We advertised via Facebook and e-mail for everyone to meet us at Waterfront Station downtown at 7:45PM but kept which train we would be taking a secret (we ended up on the Canada Line). About 10 VPSNers met at the station around 7:30PM to group up and organize the equipment for the music. I went down to the Canada Line platform to scope it out. When I got there, there were 4 transit police officers and 3 Canada Line staff members down there waiting. It seemed at first like our party would be bust.

However, as people started to stream into the station the police and staff didn't seem to try to stop anyone. In fact, while they seemed overwhelmed by the sheer number of people, they seemed to be enjoying everyone's costumes. By the time we were ready to board the next train to Richmond, there were so many people that Canada Line actually gave us our OWN train.
The Vantage
There just happened to be an extra train that they put into service (a HUGE advantage of the automated system). We boarded and set up our sound system and let the DJ loose. We rode danced to Brighouse and back, bumpin' to the best beats (as the kids say).
Our DJ and 'Conductor' - The Vantage
I can honestly say everyone had a great experience. The best part was pulling into the stations. The doors would open and people on train would run out and into another part of the train (call it 'mingling'). Also, the looks on peoples' faces as a train packed of people in costumes - absolutely priceless. It was if we delivered a little bit of joy and excitement into the normally 'routine' procedure of taking transit.

After we got back in Vancouver after 9:00PM we directed people to our after-party at public space (though not really public...) at Seymour and Hastings. We set up the sound system again and the party continued in plain sight. People walking by joined in. Eventually it died out after 10:30PM and we packed up.

Not a single negative incident or police visit and all without a permit or permission.

For me, the whole experience was like a look into a city that I don't often experience: one that can have a little fun, rules be damned.

Here are some more pics/videos:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Video: To Build a Better 1964.

A great documentary that details the process of urban renewal that Vancouver under went in the 1960s. Pay close attention to the language of the narrator.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Grad School Update: Acceptance!

It's been over a year, in the making but it finally happened (despite a few setbacks): I've been accepted into a graduate program.
Yesterday afternoon, I received my acceptance letter to Simon Fraser University's Urban Studies program.

Worth it.

Honestly, I couldn't be happier. I was about ready to accept another rejection and try again next year. I would like to sincerely thank everyone who's supported me (especially those that read this blog). If there's any advice that I can impart on my experience is that: never give up, never settle, and focused persistence does pay off - look at the first post for this blog done in May, 2010. I know we've heard these things a lot in the recent days with the speech Steve Jobs gave a Stanford but a lot of the things he says are true: find what you love and go do that.

Here's to the future!

Monday, October 17, 2011

South Granville: More than Just Cars, Please.

A few weeks ago, I saw this advertisement at my local grocery store:
Immediately, I rolled my eyes and I took a photo because I couldn't believe that, in 2011, we'd need to advertise the fact that there is parking available - if it's everywhere (more than 1400 spaces!) why the need to advertise the fact?. I posted it to my blog and asked what people thought and got the attention of my local business improvement association who created the ads. They said:
it is unfortunate that you construe a simple customer service item as a major statement on transportation choices.

Sharon Townsend
South Granville BIA
While it may be a 'simple' customer service item, it was pretty easy to 'construe' as a statement on transportation choices. I checked out their website and the devote a large portion of their 'Find Us' page for parking (they even have a .PDF map) and link to Translink's trip planner and nothing on biking.

I would assume that South Granville's customers could come via different kinds of modes: walking, biking, and transit. Where is their customer service? Why not build on the fact that South Granville is actually really accessible by bike (7th and 10th avenue - 60,000 bike trips are made in Vancouver everyday) and is well served by transit (the B-line serves more than 50,000 people a day)? Why not promote active transportation options that are more sustainable, that make us healthier, and leave more cash in pocket to spend at local businesses?
City statistics for the summer of 2008.
Don't get me wrong. Parking is somewhat necessary as there are many different needs for different people. But why not serve all customers rather than just the one's that drive? The more you get people into the neighbourhood from various modes the better. A parking strategy will only work so long but then you run out of space and from my point of view, Granville street could use less car traffic, not more.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tour of Skytrain Control

Last week I got to fulfill a childhood/teenage/adult dream: I got to see Skytrain control. One of my colleagues from the BC Youth Summit for Sustainable Transportation was able to organize a tour of their maintenance/operations facility.

We met outside Edmonds station and walked over to the very secure yards and we had to clear security and I was even scolded for taking a photo on my phone (though, luckily, we were allowed to take photos once we were inside).

Our first stop once inside was a boardroom for a presentation about the system. For instance, the Expo and Millennium lines carry the same amount of people as 12 lanes of freeway in the AM peak period in the downtown direction. It has grown from 114 cars in 1987 to 258 today. But enough about the boring stuff.
They then took us to Skytrain control. Outside the main room are these display panels of the system. Top panels are the Millennium line and the bottom are the Expo line. The panel to the bottom right is the maintenance yards.
Here, our guide is explaining what the panels say. The yellow lines of track are 'go slow' zones they implement where the train is told to slow down (in case of maintenance or, for instance, around the mainstreet/stadium area where the train tends to jerk a bit with high speed). Red track areas are off-limits to the trains. Fun fact, most of the trains run on a schedule. That is they need to be at their stations at a certain time. If they're early, they wait a bit longer in the station and if they're late, they leave a bit faster in order to catch up. During peak periods and events, they throw in some trains without schedules that just run in the system as they can (a huge advantage of an automatic system - no need to worry about drivers!).

He also explained that the system is super safe. The train all have multiple computers on them that work on consensus-like model. If one says something is wrong, the other computers (they may have up to 3) verify the situation and if they think that computer is whack (technical term), the train continues on its merry way. If all the computers are down or they all agree something is wrong, the train stops and is taken out of service.
 Us, listing and completely mesmerized by nerdy splendor.
And there she is, the brain of the operations: Skytrain control. This is the room that the whole system runs from I was actually surprised at how few people ran things. I guess that goes to show how automated the system is.
 This system overview screen is the power supply for the system. (ooohhh, ahhhh)

 I think these were emergency stops for the trains. Red buttons: it's hard to resist pushing them.
 View from the control centre of the maintenance years. Hello MK I's!

 Next stop were the maintenance shops.
Here some MK I cars were recieving a little love. They're usually hauled in every 20,000 km (I believe) and they travel roughly 400-500km/day.
While we were here, they were repairing a car with a broken door. So, DON'T HOLD/FORCE OPEN Skytrain doors everybody. It's just not cool, okay?

Here is a scale model of the MK I axel assembly (there's probably a better term for this). The wheels actually turn a bit which makes it steerable and provides a smoother ride along turns.*EDIT*
From Stephen Rees: Of course a computer on a Mark I is "old timer" - the cars are over 20 years old. And the word you are looking for is "axle". Conventional trains do not need steerable axles as the wheels are conical. The axles can tilt through curves. A steerable axle is needed on trains that use the linear induction motor as the gap tolerance between "stator" and "rotor" of a LIM is so small. *EDIT*

This is the actual computer aboard an MK I train. It's old-timey and glorious.
And that was it. I'd go back in a heart beat and I'd love to see more of the trains themselves. We're trying to take a look at the Surrey Transit Centre.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Documentary: Urbanized Screening in Vancouver

There's a special screening of Urbanized coming to Vancouver on November 21 at the Rio. Here's the link.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

South Granville: Bring Your Cars!

This is how my neighbourbood, South Granville, advertises itself - discuss! (My thoughts will come later).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


I grew up learning that Toronto was 'the centre of the universe' and that I should hate it. Then, in 2004 after I graduated from high school, I hopped on a Greyhound to explore a bit more of my country for myself with Toronto as the first stop. It took 3 days to get there but after I showered off 72+ hours of bus ride, I fell in love with the city.

Vancouver is a big city but it is a bit deceiving. Our downtown is fairly small and we're only around 600,000 people which puts us as the 8th biggest municipality in Canada - behind Mississauga and Winnipeg.

Toronto, on the other hand, feels like a big city because it is. It sprawls practically unhindered in all directions, except with water to one side. It felt like being in a city from the movies - somehow more real than the one I was used to at home: bright lights and the world's tallest free-standing structure. It's safe to say I was hooked. This past summer, I went back for my third time.
This time around, I got to explore a bit more than I have in the past. I walked around the Trinity Bellwood's area and Little Italy. Trinity Bellwood's park was one of my favourite places to lay about  and people watch. I even got my hair cut at Garrison's By the Park (they give you free beer which is something I doubt you can do in Vancouver with our restrictive liquor laws). I also enjoyed many a coffee on College street (The Green Grind Cafe).
Toronto City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square are one of my favourite places. It's a true gathering and civic space that we in Vancouver don't have. Our city hall, the gorgeous art deco beauty that she is, is not in our downtown core and this can't serve the same purpose as Nathan Phillips Square. This summer while I was there, there was always something going on. 

Recently, they transformed the roof of city hall into a garden/green space. I put my nerd hat on (when isn't it?) and just gushed over how nice it was. They even planted edible plants (chives, I think).

Another space that was on my radar while I was there was Sugar Beach. It's part of an overall plan to revitalize Toronto's waterfront which is fairly disconnected from the City (thanks to an elevated highway) and that it's still fairly industrial. The design is fun and pretty. People seemed to enjoy it as a place to sun bathe as you can't actually swim in the water as the 'beach' is elevated. There's a small water feature but I wouldn't mind seeing some more places to cool off.

My observations here aren't anything special, just some stuff I'd like to share. Some last thoughts: Toronto will endure it's current political leadership. That is to say, Rob Ford, is one man and while he is the city's mayor, there is far too many good and engaged people in the city to let him run amok without a fight.
Until next time, Toronto.