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

Archive for October 7th, 2008

Metro Vancouver Sustainability Summit

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Metro Vancouver at the Pan Pacific Hotel Tuesday 7 October 2008

I had hoped to live blog this event, but the extortionate rate charged by the  hotel for wifi connection deterred me (it would have cost even more than I paid for parking!). The whole thing was recorded and there will be more on the Metro web page in due course. These are simply my notes made at the time, with a bit of polishing afterwards. I was also lucky enough to win one of ten tickets to a Board of Trade breakfast on Thursday with Richard Florida which, of course I will also blog. At the same time I got Johnny Carline to give the blog a plug, since he was announcing everyone else’s affiliation. I was pleased to meet some more readers, and I am really glad to know you are out there, since the ones who write to me are not always as complimentary.

Max Wyman Heather Shoemaker Milton Wong

Max Wyman Heather Shoemaker Milton Wong

Milton Wong (SFU formerly of HSBC)

He now champions the cause of sustainability. He says that he is “a poster boy for opened mindedness and positive change”. He was formerly champion of growth but he realised that you cannot have infinite growth without burning through all our resources. “We all have the same DNA. We are all in this together – we have a responsibilty to all living things. There is no such thing as growth – any increase here is a depletion there.

We have yet to achieve a common view of sustainable living. Kofi Anan established a corporate compact on common values – 10 values . Positive change can result from agreement on common values.

He focussed on the Downtown east side and asked how sustainable is that? “There are 2,500 homeless people and not even one public water tap. Another 5,000 people are one cheque away from homelessness. It is Canada’s poorest postal code. And all of this is due to misguided government policy. It started with the internment of Japanese residents, which devasted one of Vancouver’s most vibrant communities. After the war the City declared it a slum which prevented residents from doing renovations. The province shut down interurban rail, which had its terminal there. The DTES was a hub but became an empty shell. The with the closure of 5,500 hundred beds in the Riverside Hospital,  thousands of patients relocated to the streets, where they had no beds and no meds. Most were still mentally ill, but now had no access to treatment or care. In 1993 came the end of provision of public housing. With hindsight it is possible to see how this worked: there is an unwritten policy to drive prostitution from West End into the DTES.

What the area needs is not more government policy but the work such as what is done at the Aga Kahn Foundation. it is based on dialogue: we learn from the community more than they learn from us: it is a mutual exchange of information and is designed to help the people help themselves. The Carnegie Community Centre holds a  “heart of the city” festival amd a one act opera on drug addiction. The DTES faces the most challenging social issues and needs to right a series of wrongs. The tent city which suddenly appeared in Oppenheimer Park when Gordon Campbell was in Beijing was dismantled but all its residents got housed overnight. We need a permanent solution.

Chris Kelly (Vancouver School Board)

The DTES poses an immense challenge but an also act as a reference point for sustainable communications. How do we create sustainable communications? Rex Murphy at AGM of the Vancouver Board of Trade [sadly their web site does not have a copy of his speech] spoke of sheer beauty of landscape, and said that we [Canadians] are privileged to enjoy a freedom from the wants that haunt rest of the world. But our wealth is intellectual as well as physical and includes our social habits. It is a construction: it is how we interact every day. Intentional human relationships are our human inheritance.

There should be elements in our designs

  • the engine of human capacity

  • the fuel of enthusiasm

  • and the spark of optimism

We have a sense of belonging:  an entitlement and the opportunity of a sense of human competence. This gives is the power of self determination and the capacity put it to the test

Max Wyman (Mayor of Lion’s Bay) said that Metro needs a list of actions which will guide it for the nest three years. each group was asked to validate the “picture of success” which had been given to each participant and also identify three key actions. We were also asked to consider how to put actions in motion.

For Transportation and Growth there picture of success looks like this

  • compact and complete communities
  • affordable, accessible, safe and convenient transportation
  • reduced environmental impact
  • interconnected, multi modal transportation choices for people and goods that directs and responds to growth

You will obviously note the strong influence of the current LRSP, and I have also taken the liberty of correcting the grammar of what were said to be “key phrases”. To no-one’s surprise, despite reservations (for instance “reduced environmental impact” means very little without quantifiable targets) it was generally supported.

The process was that we were in discussion in small groups at the most ten to a table, but we voted in secret using an electronic choice pad

I apologise for the quality of those two images – but sometimes any picture is better than no picture.

We similarly endorsed the key phrases on the economy but before we discussed Finance we had a presentation by Gaëtan Royer of Port Moody.

He called for a redistribution of resources between levels of goverment. The total tax burden on Canadians has grown, but that imposed by the municipalities has stayed static. Taxes are not always going up in fact the burden of  property taxes has gone down [mostly because of the switch to user fees for many municipal services such as garbage collection and other utilities]

Relative to GDP, the municipal take has been static while that of federal and provincial government has doubled. Municipalities get clobbered by the province mucking about with property tax rates (these words are mine paraphrasing his more careful construction). This does not allow municipalities to pursue economic development. For example, a failing paper mill still has to pay property taxes at the same rate but a successful port operation gets a tax break.

Senior governments are addicted to grants: this means municipalities are subject to the “beauty contest of grant applications”. And many municipalities fail: we cannot afford to continue this way. We must boycott grants and cut opportunities for publicity to senior government politicians. [As one who has written a number of these applications – all successful I might add – I wholeheartedly support this approach, and that is not just because my experience suggests that for federal government applications a different standard applies to Quebec.]

We then we returned to plenary session to discuss Governance

Jim Craven

Jim Craven

Jim Craven

(formerly with the Municipal Finance Authority) We are doing well compared to other provinces, especially with out regional districts. We look after 3 to 4 times more reserve funds than other provinces municipalities. We have forestalled needless amalgamation and provide regional services at low cost.Villages can be individuals, but the confederation [Metro] needs tweaking. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

We can create any of the dreams that are set out in the synopsis but need more tolerance for diversity. We need more attention to the individual’s need e.g. for a tree house.

Michael Goldberg


Michael Goldberg

Michael Goldberg

We have a wonderful diversity of various governments with a rich variety of successes we can drawn on.I do not have any prescritions. There is an enormous role for the region. Municipal actions are not likely to be successful, we need regional solutions. How we govern the region is now paramount.

There is no urban crisis here compared to US, but times have changed in the last 40 years. It is difficult for the existing politicains and staff of Metro to propose changes for conflict of interest reasons.

The is a trade off between rights if individual and rights of government. The US is unique in placing individual rights at the head of the queue. Most other models have a lack of role for the individual, and stress the rights of the collective. We have a messy, grey, in between model in Canada. In the 1960s we [BC] were very centralised, and we have seen that change: the GVRD was created on American residual model. Is that still the model we still need today? We need a dialogue: is the decentralised, bottom up approach still relevant? Should we give the region supreme authority? Is the past cooperative spirit enough to achieve these actions?

I did not record the questions but the following are summaries of the answers they gave: the sense of the question can be inferred from them

  • mg – direct election of regional authority makes more sense than indirect
  • jc – forced amalgamation does not produce lower costs or aid feeling of being represented. We did not see much of an upside in any of Winnipeg, Halifax or Toronto. Their costs higher and they are less effective

  • mg – The balance (between regional and municipal) depends on function – urban finance is not a one size fits all solution – some activities have economies of scale e.g. water and sewage

  • One commenter observed that the tension of regional government means we have to consult public

  • DTES – it is a regional issue (mg) Surrey realises it is their problem too (jc)

Max Wyman amazing range of expertise here:the results of three streams will be on metro web site

This summit will convene every three years – it is an experiment that worked

Intervention – do we really understand community or city? need to tackle the communications gap – eg tv channel for the voice of the people?

At this point I had to stop taking notes as my battery was running low. Max found that he had more time for more questions but I do not now recall them.

Metro’s hospitality include lunch before the meeting started, refreshments throughout the break out sessions and wine and cheese afterwards. This was obviously necessary as the drop out rate through the day was noticeable – there were a lot more there for lunch than for wine and cheese. On the other hand the general response seemed to be that the afternoon was well worthwhile and that a significant amount of progress had been made.

On my table there was a widespread desire to edit the discussion points, and indeed Metro through collection of discussion notes and a scribble wall collected a lot of very specific comments. But Metro can only proceed by consensus- which means the text is deliberately crafted to be as inclusive as possible. So it does not say “Stop gateway” but it does say “Improve integration of inter/intra government planning and funding for land use and transportation that includes climate change considerations” which has almost the same effect, but without the “red flag to a bull” implications.

I did talk afterwards to Heather Shoemaker and offered this observation on governance. London used to have the equivalent of Metro. The directly elected Greater London Council was abolished by Margaret Thatcher in part because it was so effective at demonstrating that there were alternatives to her policies. Without regional government London struggled (as did the other metropolitan regions who had also lost their authorities at the same time). When Labour returned to power they restored these bodies with more powers and a directly elected executive Mayor – something very novel in English local government. This model, it seems to me, has lessons for Metro. A powerful, directly elected regional government is essential. That is not to say it will always be popular – and will be ground between the national and municipal governments. Indeed the fact that neither like the regional government shows that it is being effective.

Greater Vancouver needs to grow up. Metropolitan government that is representative and responsible is essential for a modern city region. The services of transportation, waste disposal, strategic planning and environmental protection are too important to be left to voluntary unenforceable agreements between a variety of municipalities.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 7, 2008 at 9:50 pm

“As far as transit issues are concerned, it’s been a ‘zero campaign'”

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“I haven’t heard a thing from anyone except (NDP leader Jack) Layton,” said Jean Léveillé of the transit users lobby group Transport 2000 Québec, “And even then it’s money pointed at public transit but nothing specific. … I haven’t heard anything from anyone (in the campaign) about investing in public transportation, whether to reduce pollution from automobiles or make thing easier for people living in cities.

“In that regard it’s been a zero campaign.”

This is in the Montreal Gazette – another in the stable – this morning. As I noted in my review of the leaders’ debate transit has not yet received any attention – and a promise deep in the NDP play book does not count for much. Getting people out of cars and on to transit is one of the easier and more effective ways of cutting transport emissions. It also makes urban regions more liveable, and allows for a more sustainable development pattern. Yet Canada does not have a national transit programme – whereas most advanced countries have had them for years. It is one thing to say you care about the environment, it is quite another to do something effective. And so far programmes that have supported emission reductions have been totally ineffective or even perverse. Much more gets spent on hydrogen or ethanol – and lately even biodiesel – and none of these programmes has done anything worthwhile.  The same sums devoted to doing something less “cutting edge and innovative” like buying more buses woudl have had much more impact. Indeed, in this region, the sharp peak in gasoline prices produced much less than other places simply because we do not have the transit capacity to absorb more riders at peak periods. And transit spending is one of those “no regrets” programmes becuase it makes so much sense from all sorts of perspectives including cutting traffic congestion and improving road safety. You do not have to be an environementalist to appreciate that transit is a very good use of public funds with benefits that are readily measurable.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 7, 2008 at 10:14 am

Posted in politics, transit