Stephen Rees's blog

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

What do we want?

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The Council of Seniors Organizations of BC made a submission to the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging June 5th in Victoria. The following extract is taken from Gudrun Langolf’s speaking notes and deals with bicycles, transit and toilets. The submission did cover other issues childcare, food safety and water quality – among other things…but these had the greatest resonance with me.

Making it easy and habitual to keep fit includes reserving green spaces, allotment gardens, parks, physical games throughout school years, adequate and safe bicycle routes (for physically challenged or seniors, these should accommodate tricycles!), and hygiene stations with drinking water fountains and, very importantly, public toilet facilities both rare commodities in our region. I know of individuals who will not take their diuretic medication (for high blood pressure) on the days they travel or are away from home for fear of not having an accessible toilet even on transit stations. No need to talk about negative health consequences here. When I go for my bike rides, they are almost always designed to include ‘comfort stations’- not much spontaneity allowed… In Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, we can count public facilities on the fingers of one hand! Construction site Johnny-on-the-spots and accommodating restaurants fill the void. This is not acceptable in a civil society. Remove these not so obvious barriers to mobility. Of course, this is of benefit to all generations, not only the elders. For some reason they ran out of money and could not provide up & down escalators in our modern transit stations as well. Those and toilets ought to be standard for every transportation cost-sharing project.

I am 59 and sort of retired. I was being offered senior’s discounts 15 years ago (it’s been a tough life) but I do not think of myself as a “senior”. However, I do have the usual old men’s issues. Working on the census I was very glad of the biffies on construction sites. And on my other blog, the issue of the public convenience has been given quite a bit of space. And the removal of drinking fountains and their replacement by vending selling bottled municipal water at outrageous prices is a disgrace.

The issues I think have a common thread. Government has lost sight of what it is supposed to be for. It now behaves as though facilitating profitable enterprises is their only concern. Providing a decent, civilised public realm comes second to promoting the ability of business to extract yet more surplus from everyday activities. We seem to have forgotten that municipal government started with the very real concerns that the population needs healthy living conditions. I have to refer to England here since I do not know enough about the history of Canadian municipal government, but in the Victorian era it was the city councils that ensured there were clean streets, clean water, functioning sewers and sewage treatment, public baths, recreation of all kinds in parks and other facilities. And lots of public conveniences too. They also administered the Public Health Act, which among other things ensured that houses met certain minimum standards, whoever built them, as well as public housing for those who could not afford market rents. It was also the local councils that first built and operated tram services in most cities.

All we do now is try to find ways to limit spending on programs. But somehow municipal taxes rise much faster than inflation yet the quality of services has not improved very much, despite much of it being run by private sector companies that were supposed to be more efficient. And the projects municipalities do build are always justified by the amount of business they will bring to the town. So there is no money for a senior’s centre, but there is plenty for an Olympic skating facility that will be needed for exactly two weeks – and then has to be “repurposed”.

Anyway, good for you, Gudrun. Maybe the Senate might actually do something useful for a change. After all, it is in their own interest. Most of them are older than either of us.

[By the way, this just happens to be the 1,000th post on this blog]

Written by Stephen Rees

June 8, 2008 at 9:24 pm

One Response

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  1. Did you actually write senate and useful in the same sentence? That has to be a first!


    June 9, 2008 at 5:59 pm

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