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

Archive for November 17th, 2008

A guest post from Jim Miles

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This letter was circulated to the BCEN LW list and is reprodcued here by permission of the author.

I have wrestling with this issue for some – the BCEN LW list of full of stuff that I find spurs thought, and of course hardly any of iot comes from the mainstream media. When the GO leaders met over the weekend they talked about tackling the current economic problem by stimulating demand. They want to get back into growth mode, even though it is growth that is causing our problems, just as the Brundtland Commission said it would twenty five years ago. I asked Jim if I could publish this piece here since I think he says this better than I could.

Cause and effect

In a full page ad in the morning local paper (Vernon Morning Star,
Sunday, November 16) the provincial government is reversing the cause
and effect relationship between global warming and the economy.  It
starts by describing several local effects of global warming – pine
beetle epidemic, floods, water supply, wildfires  – but realistically
only the first one can be directly attributed to global warming, as the
others could have other local human causes.  That leads to their
defining statement that “These effects of global warming have already
taken a heavy toll on our economy, our natural resources, and people’s
homes and livelihoods.”

That is a full reversal of the cause and effect sequence with global
warming.  It is our economy that causes global warming, not the other
way around.  Our economy is one based on consumer consumption, on
economic growth.  It is our consumption of natural resources – extending
from energy in most of its forms for transportation, manufacturing, and
agriculture, to the harvesting of natural products to build more homes
(wood, minerals of all kinds, more energy for heating and light), and
the harvesting of agricultural products that in our current consumer
model requires large amounts of chemicals for pesticides, herbicides,
and fertilizers, all taking their toll on the environment.

Humans, being living organisms, will consume their environment as other
organisms do.  In our species that has been combined with a system of
operation commonly called “free market capitalism” that encourages human
greed in the form of over-consumption of goods and energy.  It is
obvious from current economic news and current global climate change
news that the freedom of the market, while it produces lots of money
(albeit based on debt – consuming equity we have yet to produce) and
keeps the economic statisticians happy with a ‘growing’ economy, has
little consideration for either the environment or the people working to
have and save their “homes and livelihoods.”

It is our economy, our lifestyle, which has created both the economic
crisis and the climate crisis.  The cure for the economy is a great
unknown as various global organizations and governments struggle to keep
themselves in their elite positions.  Their cures for the economy have
so far been based on throwing money to the very people who caused the
problem in the first place, the investment companies and the banking
system.  Now they are going to throw money at consumer credit but the
consumer can rest assured that they themselves will not be bailed out,
but the banks and credit card companies will have money floated their
way.  The little guys, you and me, will still have to pay our bills and
mortgages while the banks and corporations rely on our tax dollars to
solve their debt problems.

The cure for the climate crisis also lies within the economy.  It is
well and good to have governments tell us to turn off our lights more,
and drive more economic vehicles, and use public transportation, but
when the overall economy is still based on consumer consumption of
‘stuff’ that we really do not need, and is largely a created want
through advertising, the climate will continue to change rapidly as we
consume resources.

Within the big three auto companies facing bankruptcy can be seen the
intersection of climate change and consumerism.  Will the governments
bail out these companies, or let them suffer the fate of bankruptcy that
all free marketeers seem to think is the natural flow of things (and
which still applies to the average citizen)?  Will our economic and
social structures which are largely based on the freedom provided by the
mass consumption of automobiles continue as is, or will their be a true
change towards alternate structures that help both the economy and the
environment be truly sustainable?

Time will tell.  In the meantime we continue living in a society where
global warming is being used as the cause of our economic and
environmental breakdowns rather than the effect of an unsustainable
economy.  If we cannot identify cause and effect properly, the solution
will certainly not work.

Yours sincerely,

Jim Miles

Written by Stephen Rees

November 17, 2008 at 7:18 pm

Guest Post from Damien Gillis

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City Hall Leak Ignited Anti-Olympic Powder Keg

The Real Political Lessons From Vancouver’s Leakgate, Election

by Damien Gillis

November 16, 2008

I’m getting more than a little tired of being told by the likes of his Highness Larry Campbell (or is it SirLarry?) and, today, columnist Miro Cernetig in the Vancouver Sun’s lead post-election story, just how awful the recent leaking of secret loan documents was and how the leakers should be hunted down and “hung out to dry.”  I’m not debating the legality of stealing government documents.  What I do question is that they had to be stolen and leaked to the media just for the public to be aware of an important civic detail, like the fact I’m on the hook for $100 million loan to prop up a privatedevelopment that will have a very brief use as the Olympic Athletes’ Village.  If the business fundamentals of the development make sense, then the market can finance it, credit crunch or not.  Any takers?  No?  Okay, but I’m supposed to feel secure about lending Millennium Developments my money, even though not one bank would go near the deal?  And my political representatives don’t even have to ask me for it?  They just take it and give it away?  Yesterday, when I voted, I had three ballot measures before me (each in the region of $50 -100 million) for civic improvements to our parks, libraries and infrastructure.  I was asked for the money, and I said, “okay.”  Now, see how that works?

I won’t deny the leak was a masterstroke of dirty politics.  Whoever procured and leaked the documents really screwed Peter Ladner, and I get that – I’m not defending the actions taken by Vancouver’s own “deepthroat” as legal or entirely ethical (by the way, it was illegal for Mark Felt, the original deepthroat, as Deputy Director of the FBI, to leak sensitive information to the Washington Post in what became Watergate; years later he’s viewed as a hero, not a criminal, because the information he brought to light was of vital public interest).  Miro Cernetig says Vancouver’s leakgate has made us a “national laughingstock.” Au contraire – the thing that has made us a national laughingstock is an Olympic Games that has seen a few wealthy developers get even wealthier, in a virtually risk-free environment, while budgets spiral out of control, homelessness escalates to unfathomable levels (not unrelated to the Olympics in the least), the environment suffers incredibly, and the cost burden falls on the backs of taxpayers – often without our knowledge. Mr. Cernetig has completely missed the point.  The leaked documents and deal are the embarrassment, not the leaking of these.  The reason this story caught fire is because it struck a nerve with the people of this city who are already disgusted with – and embarrassed by – the Olympics and the financial and political corruption that surrounds them.

I was disappointed to learn that not only NPA but Vision and COPE councillors signed off on this thing, in a unanimous vote (it must be noted that Vision Councillor Tim Stevenson tabled a motion to make the deal public, which was dismissed by then-Mayor Sam Sullivan).  I don’t understand the political reasoning of the Vision and COPE councillors who supported the plan.  Even if they thought, based on the information they had, the loan was necessary, they could have voted against it and been secure that the NPA majority would see it through.  They should have been more on guard, realizing the dicey optics of the deal were it to leak, say, two weeks before the election (never heard of “hope for the best, plan for the worst?”).  But, since all three parties’ councillors had mud on their hands form the loan, it doesn’t appear to have had a noticeable effect on their reelection bids.  Where it did make a difference was in the position of mayor, since Gregor was not involved in the in-camera meeting or vote, and Ladner, by contrast, not only voted for the loan, as head of the city’s budget committee he really “had to wear this,” in the words of Charlie Smith.  So, it would appear the leak was a ballsy, shrewd, albeit perhaps unethical, political tactic that enormously benefited Gregor Robertson, reversing what had been his weeks-long slide in the polls.  And though it would be difficult to dispute these facts, it’s even more difficult to ignore what the leak revealed.

Rather than focusing on catchin’ that rascally leaker, before we put this thing to bed once and for all, here are the most important questions that still need to be answered:

1. Did Estelle Lo, the city’s Chief Financial Officer, indeed quit out of protest of this decision by council?  If so – and it certainly looks that way now – doesn’t that severely undermine the notion presented by Ladner, Larry Campbell, et-al, that this was a routine, necessary procedure, with nothing untoward about it?  People don’t leave $200,000-plus/year jobs, weeks before an election because of routine procedures.

2.  If this is as routine as it’s being presented, then we have a major problem here in our municipal democratic process.  So, just how “routine” is this sort of secret deal using my tax dollars, and how do we make sure it becomes very un-routine?

3.  How much more money are we, the taxpayers, expected to shell out on Olympic (and Olympic-related) venues and infrastructure – from the costly repair of the roof on the Richmond Skating Oval, to the overruns on the Convention Centre (that absolutely dwarf the fast ferries), to the Sea to Sky Highway, to the RAV line and all its unanticipated economic impacts, to exploding security budgets, to this Athletes’ Village debacle, to increasing homelessness and policing costs, to an ever-ballooning environmental footprint…in other words, where does it end?!

That the city must move on, and our new mayor and council need to buckle down and deal with the many pressing challenges Vancouver faces is undeniable.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m deeply honoured that Sir Larry would deign to grace us with his presence all the way from the hallowed chambers of the Senate in Ottawa, where he has no doubt spent many a late night toiling away for the good of the Canadian people in that high-stress, hard-work-for-low-pay-and-bad-pension senate seat.  I just don’t give two hoots what he has to say about my municipal government and my tax dollars.  It is unconscionably condescending to suggest that a $100 million public loan, amidst a deepening financial crisis, for an already controversial Olympics is not the business of the very tax payers underwriting the loan.  So let me say to Miro Cernetig, Larry Campbell, the (ex-)mayor and council who signed this deal, and anyone else who sees this as business-as-usual: If that’s really the case, then the first priority of our new mayor and council is changing business-as-usual and focusing on transparency in government from here on out.  And don’t tell me what’s my business and what’s not.  It took a leaker to alert me to my own affairs, and, right or wrong, I was happy to have this information in time to factor it into my decision at the polls yesterday.

If you don’t want leaks, it’s simple: don’t habour secrets from the people you owe your jobs and your allegiance to, and whose money you’re intent on splashing about!

Much has been and will be said about Peter Ladner’s failure to read and tap Vancouver’s ever-diversifying socio-political landscape.  Perhaps one of the biggest elements he missed was the strong and growing undercurrent of anti-Olympic sentiment in Vancouver.  I am always amused at the mock shock evinced by the media and politicians when hundreds of protesters crash an Olympic dignitary event, or the like.  Do they seriously not understand just how much frustration and disdain there are in this city for the Olympics?  Can they really not see that this is no marginal or radical block of the population, but rather a growing tide of anger across political, cultural, and socio-economic lines (did they not hear the call of National Grand Chief Phil Fontaine, for all indigenous peoples in Canada to make this an Olympics of protest, to take the message of their plight to the world…or Naomi Klein when she spoke before a crowded room of 600 in Vancouver this past year, surrounded by indigenous leaders from all over the Americas to urge the same thing?)  Though the activities of the Anti-Poverty Coalition and certain indigenous protesters may seem extreme and can be easily pigeon-holed and dismissed as such, they are but the most extreme edge of a broadening wedge, an intensified representation of the growing mainstream upset with an Olympic deal that years ago had tepid support at best…before all the shenanigans and overruns. the trampling on the environment and citizens’ rights.

And on the subject of public disclosure, let’s not forget that VANOC already angered people when it too shut its doors to the media and quit taking minutes, refusing to allow the public in on decisions, again, hinging on their money and their city. An excellent article entitled “Developers are the Games’ Real Winners,” in the Georgia Straight last year by Donald Gutstein summed it all up.  He described a meeting way back in 2002 when 2010 bid architect Jack Poole, a major developer, was pitching a room full of other major developers on why they should get with the Olympic bid program.  Gutstein wrote, “Western Investor editor Frank O’Brien sat in on the talk and later editorialized that, according to Poole, ‘the real purpose of the 2010 Olympic bid is to seduce the provincial and federal governments and long-suffering taxpayers into footing a billion-dollar bill to pave the path for future real estate sales.’ Indeed this was Poole’s opinion. ‘If the Olympic bid wasn’t happening,’ he told the developers, ‘we would have to invent something.’ Long-time developer Poole had it right. The Olympics are about real estate.”

The secretive loan was significant in that specific context. It served as a symbol, a catalyst to ignite pre-exisiting Olympic angst amongst voters – and the mystery leaker was obviously keenly aware of that, where Peter Ladner apparently was not.  Ladner may have paid the ultimate price for the leak – but he also walked right into this one.  Whether he believed in the necessity and fundamentals of the deal, surely he should have recognized he was sitting on a political powder keg right before an election.  Sometimes powder kegs don’t ignite…But, then, sometimes accidents happen – like “classified” documents disappearing from your desk and ending up in the Globe & Mail.  Then it’s in the people’s hands to decide what they make of it.  And decide they did.

Let’s hope this new mayor and council usher in an era of heightened transparency and public involvement in the democratic process – especially where the Olympics are involved.  Expect to hear more of these issues as the provincial election of May 12, 2009 approaches.

Damien Gillis

Related stories:

Larry Campbell butts into leakgate controversy: http://www.canada.com/story.html?id=954564

Miro Cernetig – Catch those rascally leakers! http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/features/civicvote/story.html?id=01bed8d3-01d8-4d7f-97d6-f276667e09f7

Donald Gutstein – “Developers are the Games’ Big Winners”: http://www.straight.com/article-93176/developers-are-the-games-real-winners

Charlie Smith – “It Goes From Bad to Worse for Ladner”: http://www.straight.com/article-169720/it-goes-bad-worse-npa-mayoral-candidate-peter-ladner

Written by Stephen Rees

November 17, 2008 at 2:03 pm

Posted in Transportation

New PBS Series e(2) transport

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NEW YORK, Nov 17, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) — kontentreal, a NY-based documentary filmmaking company, announced the upcoming debut of environmentally themed series, “e(2) transport.” The series will premiere online at www.e2-series.com on November 24, 2008, and on PBS stations nationwide later this season (check local listings). e(2) is a critically acclaimed PBS series about the innovators and pioneers who envision a better quality of life on earth, socially, culturally, economically and ecologically.
The series, narrated by actor Brad Pitt, explores attainable solutions to pressing environmental and social challenges, and tells compelling stories featuring new advances in sustainable living and transportation. e(2) is sponsored by Autodesk, a company committed to developing technology that helps architects, engineers and designers create a cleaner and healthier environment.
“e(2 )transport” comprises six episodes that cover the following topics: London’s initiative to transform itself into a metropolis designed around people, not cars; the culture of the Velib bicycle program in Paris, allowing Parisians clean, efficient transport along with a blooming bike subculture; an investigation of the distance traveled by food as it makes its way from the field to our homes, and the positive impact of investing in local food systems; Seoul’s restoration of the ancient Cheonggyecheon stream in its city center, revitalizing the economy as well as environment; the wisdom of Portland’s city planners which transformed it into a global model of transit-oriented development; and innovative technologies that are transforming air travel into an eco-friendly and efficient business.
Tune in online to preview episodes of “e(2) transport”; episodes will be streamed online for one week from debut dates. Schedule follows:
— November 24, 2008 “London: The Price of Traffic”
— December 1, 2008 “Paris: Velo Liberte”
— December 8, 2008 “Food Miles”
— December 15, 2008 “Seoul: The Stream of Consciousness”
— December 22, 2008 “Portland: A Sense of Place”
— December 29, 2008 “Change in the Air”
About e2
e(2 )is a poetic combination of compelling storytelling, provocative cinematography and an emotive original music score. Currently in its third season, e(2 )continues to feature new advances in sustainable living, adaptive reuse, eco-efficient transportation and more.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 17, 2008 at 1:40 pm

Posted in Transportation