Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for May 14th, 2010

Richmond slides in best city rankings

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The Richmond Review decided to run this story on their front page. Which says a lot about free local “news”papers. It is taken from an annual Money Sense survey – and seems to me to lack even the most basic common sense. Our “best” ranking (according to the Review) is in the number of new cars in the city – we’re No 3! Whoopee.

We rated cities based on climate, prosperity, access to healthcare, home affordability, crime rates and lifestyle with subcategories in each area.

Yeah, it’s that prosperity indicator. Am I worse off now that I was in 2007? That was when I bought my car. It is now getting on for three years old. It works just as well as the day I bought it, though thanks to depreciation it is worth less now. That was true the moment I drove it out of the showroom  – but of course if it lasts long enough to become a classic collectable item that could change too. Though in the case of cars, patina does not add value they way it does with furniture and bronzes on the Antiques Roadshow.  (Actually in the case of this survey it makes no difference at all since “new” means “up to three years old”.) Monetary value is actually not a very good way of measuring things. For one thing the Roadshow never mentions inflation. If someone had bought me something in the year I was born that cost $100, it would need to be worth nearly $1,000 now just to keep pace with the decline in the value of money.

Is the number of new cars a good measure of “the best place to live”? Somehow, the fact that some of my neighbours like to trade in their cars every three years does not  make me any happier with Richmond. At the same time, the ranking of affordability is applied to houses: but once again it is perverse in that the way the information is displayed suggests that Vancouver gets top ranking as it is even less affordable than Richmond is. As far as that goes, since I am mortgage free where I live got “cheaper” in terms of its value – but now seem to have returned to what I paid for it. Once again, I don’t see house prices actually make much difference to my perception of the city over time – factored by average incomes or not. The indicator is called “time to buy a house” (Average house price divided by the average family income) where Richmond ranks third (#53 overall) with an indicator of 177. The most affordable place is Portage la Prairie in Manitoba with an indicator of 1, which is ranked #73 overall.

What they are really saying of course is that Richmond is, in the words quoted from Derek Dang, “highly desirable”. Unless that condo you bought now has the elevated Canada Line a few feet from your bedroom window. Accessibility is great, privacy and the view not so much.

Actually you need to read the somewhat complex methodology to see how these ranking were weighted.

Some of the indicators I actually like

WALK/BIKE TO WORK – 7 Points – Data taken from 2006 Statistics Canada reports

TRANSIT – 5 points – Based on the percentage of the workforce utilizing public transit according the 2006 census

So we get no credit at all for the Canada Line, yet it has had some effect on transit ridership since the last annual survey, there’s just no census data on that yet. But only commuting counts, even though it has had significant value for me (and, I suspect quite a few others) in changing my views about how easy it now is to get to events of all kinds in Vancouver, without having to pay an arm and leg to park. In Richmond walking and cycling still seem to be perceived as recreational activities – not serious transportation. The only real change recently has been again due to the Canada Line which meant the new bike/walk bridge to Vancouver and the bike lanes on the north end of No 3 Road. Not that either of these connect to a continuous network of course. And walking anywhere other than the dyke or within one of the larger parks seems to be an exercise in masochism. I live within a mile of the nearest shopping centre – but that mile is along Steveston Highway. There is a sidewalk (on one side only) no bike lanes, and traffic which averages 70 km/hr (posted speed 50 km/hr – speed enforcement negligible).   So (nearly) all the drivers like this route. Like most of the straight, wide arterials in Richmond it seems to offer a fast way to get around, with few pedestrian crossings and restricted volumes of traffic emerging from side streets or entranceways. I do see a few brave cyclists – and some harried pedestrians – but none of them seem to be willing to linger. Conversation on the sidewalk would be next to impossible, most of the time. I cannot leave my back door open in good weather – or sit in my back yard for long – because of the noise.

CULTURE – Bonus points.  A city could receive up to 5 points based on the percentage of people employed in arts, culture, recreation and sports.

This seems to me also to be perverse. Surely the measure of culture should be something to do with participation rates. Thanks to cut backs in all levels of government funding for the arts the number of people employed has been in steep decline for some time. But that does not stop people making art – they just find it hard to make a living at it. And again “recreation and sports” counted this way means that the Vancouver Canucks are seen as important and your daughter’s softball league counts not at all. (Richmond hosts regional and national girls’ softball tournaments at London park.)

In cities, as with most things, what gets measured gets attention. Trouble is, we don’t usually measure things that are very significant but hard to count. Or rather, “mainstream media” seem to get all excited (front page news  is an indicator) about some things which turn out not to be very important at all. At one time, crime rates got all the press. Since they have been falling, you do not see so much about that – but stories about crime (customers of a local restaurant robbed at gun point) and the “failings of justice system” (i.e. we don’t punish those found guilty harshly enough) are still lead news stories. Richmond has significant problems – flood risk, lack of preparedness for earthquakes, loss of farmland and green space, shortage of parks in the  central area, loss of industrial employment, lack of transit to employment locations, lack of public and affordable housing, no shelters for the homeless, rising rates of foodbank use, impact of the cuts in education funding – I could go on. Some of this might be captured by this survey – but most of it isn’t. And anyway just ranking us against other places in Canada does not tell us very much either.

Are we doing well? Are we doing any better than we were? Are we keeping up with other countries? I don’t know. Not from reading this anyway.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 14, 2010 at 12:38 pm