Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for September 18th, 2007

The Trouble with Paradise

with 3 comments

The Tyee


The book is now out – I got my copy as a pre-order through Amazon. And this article is not so much a review as a way of covering the launch event at SFU with both Cameron and “Ho Chi Harcourt” coming out with good sound bites (e.g. “single family zoning should be banned” and redevelop Arbutus at high density now you don’t need the rail line).

The main thing is the way that attention is now turning to what do we do now. The GVRD was “an aging supermodel relying on her looks and reputation” – and what really needs to happen to get a sustainable region. (Hint: the “Sustainable Region Initiative” is not cutting it.)

Well worth a read – the article, even if you don’t have the book yet.

Plus you might want to check this earlier post 

Written by Stephen Rees

September 18, 2007 at 3:45 pm

“Vancouver needs a gateway economy”

with 5 comments

There’s more to an ‘Asia Pacific Gateway’ than transportation
Yuen Pau Woo, Special to the Sun
Published: Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Yuen Pau Woo is president and co-CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, a think-tank on Canada’s relations with Asia, based in Vancouver.

So it is not really surprising that he is in favour of more and stronger links to China and Hong Kong. And on the whole I agree with him that there is a lot more to such a relationship than transport. Somehow I do not see the opening of the Price Rupert container terminal as part of the process he is describing as “needed”, although it will help relieve some of the port congestion seen here at present. Although that congestion is a lot more to do with lack of railway capacity and badly organized logistics than the lack of lanes on the Port Mann Bridge – but he doesn’t talk about that and therefore neither will I.

He does mention the “three day sailing” saving over “Los Angeles-Long Beach or Seattle-Tacoma” which seems to be a little broad in its definition. He does not mention the widening of the Panama Canal or the future use of the North West Passage either, both of which offer considerable savings for accessing the east coast of the US. He does not mention the current rocky state of the US economy and what that will do to some of the more enthusiastic forecasts for continuing growth of demand in the US for Chinese imports. Or the potential for China to start to explore the benefits of a larger or a more sustainable domestic economy – one less tied to international trade.

But he is mostly silent on the “how” of getting where he thinks Vancouver should be going. And this is where the “need” comes in. We face significant challenges in this region, and so far we do not appear to be in a position to make a coherent strategy to deal with them. We lack the regional capacity to make and implement decisions because of our weak and fractured local government structure and the province’s current political preference for free market solutions which precludes effective planning. Indeed, actually throws planning out of the window in favour of sudden flashes of inspiration which are not even well communicated within the cabinet, let alone to the rest of us.

We face critical shortages of labour just to service our own needs. The galloping inflation of the housing market has made shelter for people on low to moderate incomes – especially those without access to significant sources of capital – next to impossible. This means that solving current labour shortages in the service industries will have to deal with attracting even more people to come and live here and finding a way for them to be able to do that on the sort of low wages paid in those industries. At the same time we face a critical shortage of space – indeed we always have done but once upon a time we had a way to deal with that which we now seem ready to abandon.

The sort of service functions he describes used to concentrated into extremely dense cores of very large metropolitan regions. Yet Vancouver is not yet – and probably should not aspire to be – London, New York or Tokyo. In a world that is now linked by fibre optics and satellites, it is possible that these top of the pile economic centres may not need to be quite so concentrated. But note as well that I slipped in the normative “should” there. Because what this article seems to take as an article of faith that continued economic growth towards a megalopolis is somehow inevitable or desirable. Because I do not think it is.

For one thing the sort of place that we have desired to emulate has been Zurich. Also alpine, but not a port. But a leading world financial centre – because of Swiss security and banking secrecy. (And, fairness I should point out that the Swiss themselves say they are fighting an outdated cliché). And that particular niche has been noticed by places like Lichtenstein and many “off shore islands” around the world. I do not think Vancouver should try to compete with the Cayman Islands – even if a lot of their cash is generated here.

The links we have with the Pacific rim are partly geographic but they are also family ties. Networks of relationships that overlap businesses, acquaintance and common interest. Canada ceased being a subsidiary of the United Kingdom some time ago. We can also avoid the fate of becoming a branch of the firm next door. But it will take a more coherent set of policies at federal, provincial and metropolitan level to ensure that. And probably a lot more participation in our political processes from people in those communities. Just allowing the hidden hand of market forces to do what it will is not going to produce the sort of future that most peole here now want.

But nobody is asking them – I mean us. The current practice is to keep us in the dark and occasionally throw another load of horse droppings on us. Expect some more soon from announcements to be made at UBCM.

But do not expect to be consulted. There will be lots of window dressing. But the decisions continue to be made by well connected people behind closed doors. By the time we hear what is going on it will be too late to do much about it. Which is why as a society we can only expect more protests and civil disobedience. Because that is the only way to deal with “leaders” who not only do not listen, but set up processes to ensure that we have no effective voice.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 18, 2007 at 11:37 am