Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for November 27th, 2008

Now is the time to reshape our cities

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Jack Diamond in the Globe and Mail

Jack Diamond is principal of Diamond and Schmitt Architects Inc. He was one of five commissioners appointed by the Ontario government to examine the governance, taxation, land use and transportation for the Greater Toronto Area, producing proposals known as the Golden report.

He likens the crisis in the auto industry to the crisis facing Toronto. But what he says applies equally here too.

If we expand the major freeway from the Vancouver- Burnaby boundary to the Langley – Abbotsford one, then we will see low density development that does not support transit. We will not see transit oriented development in areas where there is no transit. Equally, we can no longer afford to spend billions of dollars on rapid transit systems that run through established areas that remian obsitnately wedded to their current densities.

Diamond ties this to the cost for municipal government

we’re going broke – for every $1 earned in real-estate taxes in low-density areas, the city pays $1.40 to service the land.

at the top of the article but his conclusion is one that I thought I might have written

… lays the foundation for future sustainability, and therefore a globally competitive and environmentally responsible economy. If we don’t take the opportunity created by the current crisis, suburbs will be like an SUV in the next decade – unwieldy and unwanted.

And remember “suburbs” cover most of the City of Vancouver too

Written by Stephen Rees

November 27, 2008 at 1:42 pm

Vancouver port plans big spending for expansion

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Journal of Commerce Online

Port Metro Vancouver plans spending of just under C$1 billion to improve and expand operations between 2008 and 2018.

The 10-year capital investment of $950 million, not including expected land acquisitions, is by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, known as Port Metro Vancouver, out of its own resources. The authority is owned by the Canadian government but gets no funds or subsidies from it.

Terminals and other cargo-related tenants of the port plan to spend an additional $3.2 billion on capital investments, in an overall spending plan by port tenants of $4.25 billion, according to a consultants’ report published Tuesday.

The report says some firms planning capital expenditures reported doing so “with the caveat that business continued to be ‘good.’

This is more from that press release and Intervistas report I wrote about yesterday. I am amazed that anyone now thinks that business is ‘good’ and even more that the Port thinks it needs to expand. The era of continuous growth must be over. Not just because of the economic downturn – which started to impact trans Pacific trade over two years ago. But because humanity’s continued existence on this planet means we have to find some other way of managing ourselves without growth. And since no-one seems to be willing to consider dealing with our population explosion, that means the consumption habits and waste generation of the richest nations have to be reduced, if only to allow the poor nations to catch up.

But even if that vision of the future for the world is not shared, what happens to this region if the Port, which is responsible to no one and is able to finance itself keeps on expanding? It means that the regional growth strategy gets abandoned, as the green zone and the ALR are paved, freeways expand and with them the associated sprawl development that we always said we did not want. It means we, the people of this region, get no say in our future because it is being decided in a few board rooms. And by people who simply have no conception of any other way than “business as usual”.

The hamfistedness of  the release of this report at this time is a good sign of how poor the awareness of the Port’s management is of what is going on – not just here but all around the world. Just to give give one example of the many links that come into my in box on an almost daily basis NASA scientist cites ‘global-warming emergency’

Physicist James E. Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said hundreds of millions of people will lose fresh water sources and hundreds of millions of others will be displaced by rising sea levels if fossil fuel emissions remain on their current course.

“We’ve reached a point where we have a crisis, an emergency, but people don’t know that,” Hansen told a packed Stanford audience Thursday night.

“There’s a big gap between what’s understood about global warming by the scientific community and what is known by the public and policymakers.”

Certainly the Port of Vancouver Board of Directors appear to be completely oblivious. Meanwhile, from Reuters via the IHT

With Europe and the United States staring recession in the face, a growing chorus is calling for heavy public investment in clean, green energy to revive economic growth while fighting climate change.

And not just energy – the whole way we conduct ourselves. The current model of conspicuous consumption, and short product lifetimes with constant built in obsolescence creating vast amounts of “waste” cannot continue. That is “sustainability” is supposed to be about. Reducing our demands on the earth’s resources to the point where we do not threaten the security of future generations. Or if Hansen is right, this generation!

We have known for some time that our ecofootprint would require there to be three planets for everyone to live like us. And we have already seen plenty of evidence that our rates of consumption of supposedly renewable resources – like fish stocks – are completely unsupportable.  BC has lost huge amounts of “harvestable” timber to the pine beetle. The salmon fishery is on the point of collapse (mirroring what happened to the east coast cod fishery). That is why the bears and the orcas are starving – but it is not just charismatic mega fauna whose days are numbered. So are ours if we do not change our ways. And we do not have much, if any, time left.

But who here is able to say NO to the Port of Metro Vancouver?

Written by Stephen Rees

November 27, 2008 at 1:01 pm

Posted in port expansion

Hold the Front Page!

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The headline on yesterday’s Richmond News was “Oval land not sold to highest bidder” which I thought might make for an interesting read. Actually the headline might be more accurate if it read “Richmond Council made a sensible decision but wasn’t allowed to tell us.”

Having acquired a site on the bank of the Middle Arm for the Oval there was more space than needed, so the rest was sold off by tender. But Richmond Council did not reveal the details of the deal and an FOI was objected to by some of the bidders. The so called “highest bid” was from Concord Pacific but was based on a delayed payment schedule, a second mortgage (to be held by the City) and a break on development cost charges.  With remarkable foresight the Council decided to take a better deal with all the money up front.  The City was not allowed to release all the details in its response to the FOI request “due to the fact that the developers had objected”.

Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt, who has pushed for more transparency at city hall, questions why it took so long to have information that is clearly in the public’s interest to be released.

“This is the public’s business, and it needs to be done in public as much as possible,” she said.

She said she fails to see how releasing the bids made in a public tender on public land could harm the developers and questions the provision of the FOIPPA that allows third party interests to supercede the public’s right to know about information that is clearly in the public interest.

Compared to the brouhaha over the athlete’s village in Vancouver, this story has much less drama. But it does underline the same point. This is our money they are playing with – and they are elected representatives who must be held accountable. Good deal or bad deal, we are entitled to know. And the current practices of doing things in camera, and waiting for an FOI request is not good enough. It is common practice in other places to have sealed bids opened in public and read out, so everyone knows what is on the table. Secrecy does not serve us well – but it is clear from recent events that developers would rather do deals behind closed doors. With the complexities we have seen here and in the village bailout, I begin to understand why they think that way. But there is non reason at all why public policy has to be distorted to benefit developers, and the FOIPPA obviously ought to be changed. Under the developer freindly aegis of the present provincial government, that is not going to happen.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 27, 2008 at 9:36 am