Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for April 5th, 2008

UN chief calls for review of biofuels policy

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The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, has called for a comprehensive review of the policy on biofuels as a crisis in global food prices – partly caused by the increasing use of crops for energy generation – threatens to trigger global instability.

It is also becoming noticeable here as the price of rice and pasta have been rising. Of course in wealthy countries like ours it is unlikely to cause widespread social upheaval. The article also notes that the environmental benefits of some biofuels seem to have been overestimated.

Biofuels, hybrids and electric cars are not the solution but could be a useful transition mechanism. Sadly, too many see them as a way to keep on trucking. We do not seem to be able to comprehend the extent of the change that is going to have to happen – here – now.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 5, 2008 at 11:14 am

Studies don’t support fears of social housing

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It seems to me that this article deliberately conflates two issues. We need a lot more housing for people who cannot afford to buy or pay market rents. This would not be such a huge issue if payments to people on various forms of social assistance had been set at a reasonable level. Far too often people who depend on pensions or welfare and other programs have to chose between rent or food, and if it wasn’t for the food banks would be forced to beg. This is a disgrace and has been for far too long. And the main justification for keeping government spending on the poor low is that the rich need tax breaks more than the poor need to survive.

But the article starts not with “social housing” but with a treatment facility. And a man called Ernie Mendoza, who is against a proposal to build a 32-bed drug-recovery and supportive-housing facility on a residential street in Richmond. And who has zero credibility but manages to rabble rouse based on quite unfounded fears. And people like him are one reason that so many facilities get crammed into the downtown eastside, which is probably the worst place for this kind of facility. The research simply establishes what is obvious to thinking people. The patients who live in drug-recovery and supportive-housing are getting better – that is why they need somewhere to recover. The people Ernie fears are not in recovery programs. They probably have all kinds of problems, but they continue to “self medicate” with a variety of substances.

Ernie also seems to think that somehow it is only “other people” who have mental illnesses or who drop through the increasingly tatty social safety net. And he is utterly devoid of compassion and is simply in thrall to the bizarre paper wealth that property owners have been accruing, a process that has distorted all kinds of relationships.

It is also true that people who sell real estate sell the area as much as the home. And developers like to put up the same kind of houses in the same place, partly because it cuts development cost, but it also makes it easier to sell to different demographics – and we like to buy where “people like us” live. The worst manifestation is the gated community, but if you think about it the condo with the security lock is the same kind of place, with its private recreation facilities, an exclusive clubhouse and pool.

We seem to be very good at throwing up buildings very fast. But building complete communities is much harder. We at least seem to have abandoned the Capraesque fantasy that helping poor people buy homes “makes them better people”. But as the debate I am having about :sink estates” shows, we really do not know very much about how to make places that people actually want to live in.

One contributory factor is the isolation that is brought about by car use. It is not unusual where I live to only see people in their cars – not standing on their own feet. They come and go through their garage with its remote door opener – and the only people seen outside their homes are the contractors who come once a week to clean up the yard with leaf blowers. They must spend a lot of time indoors watching television. For that is where they get their view of society and they are highly fearful. They have elaborate alarm systems, and some have cctv cameras as well as motion detectors. Even the letter carrier is kept at bay.

We have been told that our neighborhoods are desirable for grow ops, and it is clear that you can hide a high security drug lab or marijuana farm very easily when they look just like the house next door. Because they are just as paranoid about callers.

And if people like me start to talk about how we need to reinvent the suburbs, and make them more sociable communities we are alleged to be “social engineers”. If we are to avoid the pockets of poverty that spread to become “no go” areas like the famous sink estates or “the projects” we have to build places that encourage a greater social mix. Many different income levels, stages of life, occupations, ethnicities all in the same place. So we start to realise that we are first and foremost all human, and our differences are to be celebrated not feared.

UPDATE April 24 – Article from the Straight with some actual information

Written by Stephen Rees

April 5, 2008 at 8:01 am

Posted in health, housing

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