Stephen Rees's blog

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

A Sea of Unwanted Imports

with 4 comments

Jamie Rector for The New York Times  A lot at the Port of Long Beach may be used to park cars

Jamie Rector for The New York Times A lot at the Port of Long Beach may be used to park cars

That is one of those pictures worth a thousand words. The lot is one of the unused container facilities I have have referred to more than once. The New York Times is concerned about the cars Americans are not buying and the recycled cardboard that is now unsaleable.   But they are merely the most recent symptoms of a systemic problem, and one that the Government of British Columbia and the Port of Vancouver are very slow to learn. Long Beach has space to store this stuff because it over expanded in anticipation of the continued growth of imports from China. That never happened – and the port has been watching traffic decline steadily

Roughly 20 percent of the nation’s container imports last year came through Long Beach, putting it close behind the largest container port, Los Angeles. This year, shipping volume at Long Beach is down 10 percent from 2007, and nearly all major ports around the country have seen similar declines. Veteran port workers say the slowdown since mid-October is like nothing they have ever seen. And it is having a cascading impact on other businesses and workers.

Yet here the construction of the new terminal at Roberts Bank is only being held up temporarily  because the dredgers have been told to stop exceeding their permitted limits for spoil dumping. That in itself will probably become a severe problem soon too, as the river will continue to shift material from the mountains to the delta as it always has done. Of course since we have confined the river to its present channels, there is nowhere for the silt to go – so it just piles up and has to be moved around to allow ships to move and to reduce the risk of flooding. Although again the single minded commercial focus of the Port means they have been steadfastly neglecting that latter aspect much to the concern of the low lying communities on the river’s banks.

So far all the official pronouncements from both federal and provincial governments have been that the current infrastructure programmes will not only continue but will be accelerated. No one, it seems, is allowed to ask the question “Why are we buiding this port expansion and its associated freeways?” Because not only did we not need them before, as the recession deepens, even the temporary use of terminals to store unwanted goods will lessen. The port expansion is a white elephant now – and while the freeways will help to soak up a lot of cheap, dumped cars running on temporarily cheap gasoline, that is not a good long term solution to anything.

Incidentally if you want to get into the reasons why this is all going sideways, George Monbiot explains that it is not the fault of John Maynard Keynes. If his proposals in 1944 had been accepted, we would not be in this mess. But as always, the United States exempts itself from all international oversight.

Because both Gordon Campbell and Stephen Harper are locked into an ideology that says only business and money really matter, and the environment is simply a talking point not an action item, I do not expect either of them to use this as the opportunity to change direction. The typical response is for them to think the reasons things are going wrong is we did not do enough to apply their misguided policies hard enough. Our electoral system federally failed us: we got the government fewest people wanted. We at least now have the chance to change the provincial government. Not that that will save humanity, but it may allow us to, at long last, start taking care of “the best place on earth” instead of systematically trashing it.

(The hat tip as usual goes to Bill Henderson)

Written by Stephen Rees

November 20, 2008 at 8:26 am

4 Responses

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  1. I see a few Priuses in the foreground there… surprising that those haven’t sold!

    I was using Google “Street view” this morning to “walk” around some of the great cities of the world. If Campbell & Co. don’t have time to get away to see how to build a really great city like Barcelona or Tokyo, maybe they could at least get a glimpse and take a few cues thanks to Google.

    Despite Vancouver’s highly international population, it’s amazing how insular the thinking of our leaders seems to be here.


    November 20, 2008 at 9:07 am

  2. Kevin would disagree with you:

    “The economic uncertainty we’re seeing around the world is the strongest possible argument for us to be moving forward with th[e Gateway] program”

    And the best part:

    “It’s a long-term vision.”


    November 20, 2008 at 9:19 am

  3. The American TV news had some astonishing aerial shots of the massive car storage areas at Long Beach and elsewhere. The By line was unsellable cars!

    Malcolm J.

    November 20, 2008 at 9:51 am

  4. The CBC had a similar story last night, but it concentrated on the impact on blue box and other recycling programs, as there is now no market for the stuff they collect. The good news is that the incentive for copper wire theft has vanished too.

    Corey – my point exactly

    In the last Great Depression some governments mounted work creation projects that were deliberately useless. Others thought that the things that were built with public money should be useful. Of course, the most famous projects were the German autobahns – which later everyone copied. Quite why we thought that was a good example to follow is another debate

    Stephen Rees

    November 20, 2008 at 10:09 am

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