Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for September 27th, 2008

We Don’t Want Trucking Freeways Rally

with 11 comments

Me lecturing about the basic wrongness of the Gateway

Me lecturing about the basic wrongness of the Gateway

We did not exactly fill the park this afternoon, but the turnout was over a 100 – thus at least giving the lie to Kevin Falcon’s assertion that there are only four people south of the Fraser who are against Gateway. It is very clear that the neighborhood of the park where the rally was held will be severely impacted by the expansion of the Highway and the construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road – and construction on that has already started with land being cleared between South Fraser Way and the BNSF mainline.

I was also greatly encouraged by the number of people who came up to me afterwards and spoke about their concerns. What is perhaps surprising is that Kevin Falcon has adopted a new tactic. At the ceremony for the “opening” of the new Queensborough Bridge north interchange (where community pressure achieved a major redesign of the bike facilities) he spoke about the current economic “uncertainties”, and how the Gateway would help us better weather the uncertain economic future. This is a very skillful tactic, given that it actually flies in the face of everything that has been happening. Rising oil prices and the declining US dollar, as well as recession south of the 49th parallel, have cut imports from Asia and also make it more likely that US made goods will be more competitive, and China will be exporting more to hard currency countries. The banking debacle means that the financial basis of the P3 that is supposed to build all this infrastructure has also become much harder. Credit is not just harder to get, but many of the firms that put these deals together are going to be in serious trouble. Plus, a model which was run at 80c per litre gasoline cost has not produced traffic forecast that anyone can now have any confidence in.

I enjoyed listening to all the other speakers – but the one who always impresses is Joe Foy whose passion is authentic and whose rhetoric is unmatched. Much quieter – but equally convincing was Eliza Olson – who spoke about the importance of Burns Bog and revealed the real reason for the SFPR. It has nothing to do with moving containers from Deltaport – but a lot more to do with developing the south bank of the Fraser as an industrial area. I use the word “reveal” because none of the proponents have admitted that this is why the alternative route was never seriously considered. I suspect too that searches of the land registry would show some interesting linkages between those who bought land along the route and BC Liberal party supporters. It has always been clear that the ostensible reasons for the Gateway do not stand up to examination. But the whole thing does make a lot of sense as a real estate ploy. But even that can easily come unstuck, as the real estate market in this region has begun to show signs of the same weakness that is affecting the rest of the western world. the US and the UK are seeing dramatic price drops and buyers are very hesitant to get into the market if it is going to fall further. And the liquidity crunch has got real state harder than any other sector. We are already hearing that there are far too many condos on the market in Vancouver – and the whole house of cards looks very unsteady to me.

Surrey Gateway Rally photo by Rob Baxter

Surrey Gateway Rally photo by Rob Baxter

UPDATE Coverage was good on CBC, CKNW and the local press (with short video)

Written by Stephen Rees

September 27, 2008 at 8:20 pm

Posted in Gateway

UBC Farm Threatened by Condominium Development

with 3 comments

Not so long ago I was talking to a UBC alumna, who had been on one of those official tours where former students are shown around the campus. She was utterly disgusted as the person leading the tour was simply concerned with selling them on the various real estate developments on the campus. She was particularly offended that this individual knew absolutely nothing about the UBC farm and how important it is to the academic program, apart from anything else.

Martin Twigg has done an interview with Gavin Wright, academic coordinator at the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC, about the farm’s uncertain future, the university’s byzantine planning process and how people can best help to ensure the farm’s survival. You can find it on his spiffy new WordPress blog.

It seems to me that UBC has been drifting way off course, and it started when the fees were frozen by Glen Clark. This drove the university ever closer to the commercial market, to do things that they were willing to pay for, as they had no other way to keep funding themselves adequately. This has affected research, teaching and the planning of the campus. The worst effect from my perspective is that given its location – on the end of a peninsular – it is not well located for a student body that does not live on campus. Instead of enjoying the whole range of the university experience, students are commuters – forced ever further out to find affordable accommodation and trapped into long commutes. The UPass worked to get them out of cars, but at great cost to the publicly funded transportation system. Students have to make far too many and too long motorised transport trips, and spend too much time in transit, and thus have much less time for all the activities that are supposed to make university a growth experience.

UBC has lost sight of its prime purpose. It has become a developer, not an institute of learning and academic research. One of the great weaknesses of the “free market” model is that it actually fails to recognise diversity of purpose. Every human activity is reduced to a commercial proposition where money making is the one and only measure. UBC should have been smart enough to recognize this, but it either didn’t – or more likely came up with spurious justifications for their self interest of the influential few who dominate decision making – and a great deal has been lost in the pursuit of a stronger financial bottom line.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 27, 2008 at 8:20 am