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

Archive for the ‘food security’ Category

Harold Steves


Picture by Donna Passmore from facebook

Harold's cakeHarold Steves at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery

Harold Steves, a set on Flickr.

The father of the ALR, councillor for Richmond, local activist for defending the environment for 50 years was given a “toast and roast” at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery on Sunday night. The Cannery is notoriously cold but Harold got a warm welcome and a standing ovation at the end. He pointed out that setting an urban boundary by preventing development on agricultural land had forced the region to adopt a denser, more sustainable structure and prevent sprawl. At one time – 1939-45 – the region was self sufficient in food production and can be again: 42% of that food was grown in “victory gardens” and we can – and must – do that again. There are still many battles that have to be won over and over again: the threat to farmland has not abated, and the Green Zone, the estuaries and the stream banks originally intended to be protected have not been. Oil tankers are still a threat: both Richmond and Delta Councils oppose the development of an aviation fuel terminal at No 7 Road. This was a battle he fought fifty years ago – with a demonstration at the Peace Arch. Speakers then said that an oil spill “the length of Long Beach” was inevitable – and of course soon after the Exxon Valdez went aground in Alasaka and proved them right. The organisers of that demo went on to found Greenpeace. Half of the Lulu Island bog was bought by the city and is now Richmond Nature Park. The rest of that bog – the DND and Garden City Lands still remains to be protected. At one the those lands were the bread basket of the First Nation, and could be again. He also spoke about the Spettifore Lands and how misrepresentation of the land quality was used to take the land out of the ALR. Thirty years later – last month – used the same report to the ALC in front of Delta Corporation to oppose development of that site – nearly all of which is land of the highest agricultural quality.

Harold Steves' Belted Galloways

Harold Steves' Belted Galloways my photo on flickr

I posted the above at 11:20 Sunday night while my memory was still fresh. It was so cold in the cannery that I was unable to make notes and I wanted to get as much of Harold’s address down while I could still recall it. The timing of the dinner had been arranged months ago to coincide with the anniversary of the ALR. Unfortunately that meant it also coincided with the NDP leadership convention, which meant many leading NDP members could not be present in person: Corky Evans and Jim Sinclair were two of the speakers I was most looking forward to. As a “roast” the evening was tame – I think those two would have added a lot of sparkle. Worthy of note were the number of people from other parts of the political spectrum – Vicki Huntington now an independent MLA who said she was from “a lifetime in the Conservative Party” and Langley Mayor Rick Green a former leading light in Social Credit while in Delta. Notably Green, while still Mayor, has been prevented from attending Metro Vancouver meetings by his council for successfully opposing the withdrawal of land from the ALR in Langley by CP Rail. Sadly also Rafe Mair – also a former SoCred but now a blistering critic of the BC Liberals – was unable to attend due to ill health. John Cummins former Conservative MLA for Delta – East Richmond was present but did not speak. Richmond Mayor Malcolm did speak – and quoted at length from one of the local opponents of the ALR who remained nameless, but apparently is well known for references to ALRmageddon – sadly a Google serach failed to identify the individual. Apparently the small piece of land he owns in Richmond is not even in the ALR!

UPDATE: The individual in question has now identified himself. He joins the select group who are not going to be allowed to comment on this blog – and comments on this post have been closed

It is a great tribute to Harold that he has been able to work so effectively to defend the land by working across party lines. All paid tribute to his commitment, integrity and diligence. Many examples were cited in addition to the ALR including the ongoing fight against Gateway (I am proud to say I have shared that platform with Harold) and the fight over the former BC Packers site, much of which I witnessed at first hand. Apparently a new initiative will  be starting over the next three years to complete the transformation of the Steveston Waterfront which will continue the success of direct sales from fishing boats and the new Farmer’s market which up to now has been operating seasonally from the Cannery site.

Thank you to Donna Passmore for organizing this event and inviting me to it. I feel honoured.

The video below is by Damien Gillis

Written by Stephen Rees

April 17, 2011 at 11:22 pm

How to pay for transportation

with 17 comments

Yesterday there was a short sound bite of mine on the six o’clock tv news from CBC Vancouver. You might have been blinking and missed it. One of the reasons I have a blog at all is to try and add something to the mainstream media coverage of issues around transportation and land use in this region. As with so many things, the “need” to spend a lot of time on really important topics, like hockey, Justin Bieber and the ability of a computer to answer trivia questions faster than humans means that the CBC really cannot deal properly with other issues.

It started with the news that Translink is going to have to pay the contractor who runs the Golden Ears Bridge a lot of money ($63 million) as the tolls collected from drivers are not as much as expected. Ken Hardie, Translink’s spin doctor in chief got a few seconds prior to this story to assure the taxpayers that they will not be coming to them for more. “…a deficit we will be able to cover through savings, through other capital programs and reserves.” He did not get to broadcast saying what that means exactly. But to give you some idea, there are now a bunch of buses stored at Oakridge out of use. (See my comment below the image for why this is interesting)

Leah Hendry then did a piece about what other places do – with Anthony Perl advocating road pricing, and clips of the London congestion charge and so on. My bit was reduced to the suggestion that we should try distance based car insurance and increasing parking charges – which might seem a bit odd if you don’t read here regularly. If you do, you do not need to read any further, as you know all this, but in case you are new here please stick with me.

Leah and I had an interesting conversation on the phone before the interview. We talked about why the toll had not worked – and why the Golden Ears bridge was fundamentally ill conceived. People grumbled a bit about having to wait for the Albion Ferry  – but it was still better than driving to either of the nearest alternates. Increasing capacity on the ferries would have been difficult – because of lack of space at each end to queue up vehicles. And there was no room to turn a bus around at the Fort Langley end.  Translink had a big capital projects department anxious to be seen to be doing something, but the planners at the GVRD and at Translink did not see this crossing as a huge issue. Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows being outside the growth concentration area, there were many more pressing issues than a four sailing wait for a short ferry ride for a few people. But the very odd tolling policies of the province meant that Translink could build new bridges if they could be paid for with tolls. Tolls could not be applied to existing facilities.

Road pricing has always made eminent sense. Currently we have the “all you can eat buffet” paid for from a variety of sources most of which have little or nothing to do with road use, and none that vary by time of day. But road space is a very time sensitive “perishable” commodity. At peak periods people line up for it. At other times, much capacity goes unused. Prices can be used to adjust demand to fit available space better. That’s what airlines do – and in other countries like Britain the railways do it too. But road pricing is a difficult thing to persuade people to accept, firstly because they confuse construction and use: “We’ve already paid for the road” and secondly because they are feeling the pinch financially. Leah asked me why, and I said it was because while taxes have declined (mostly for the well off) fees and charges have increased. In fact, the way government collects money has become regressive with the majority paying much more to the benefit of the well off minority. Road pricing would fit very well into such an approach: it would hit people with little money but time to waste very hard, and get them to change their road use habits so that those with money could get where they are going much quicker.

On the other hand, if you used the revenues from road user charges for transportation in general rather than just for building more roads, then the impact could be significantly different. We already know that transit uses space much more efficiently than cars. In fact while taxes on things like gas do not come anywhere near the cost of building and using roads, the general belief of road users is that they are not subsidized while transit, bikes and pedestrians are. This, of course, is the opposite of the reality. A strip of concrete 3m wide (a lane of highway) can carry around 1,000 cars an hour – 2,000 if it is a freeway. At current average occupancy that’s 1,300 people per hour (pph) for an urban road with intersections. Surface transit systems easily carry 10 times that number, where there is enough demand. Or, as Gordon Campbell put it so memorably, the Canada Line is the equivalent of ten lanes of freeway. Which makes anyone with their head screwed on wonder why he was so determined to widen Highway #1 – which costs much more and will carry much less. If you count people and not cars.

Transit, bikes and walking are also much better at getting us the sort of place we need – what we used to call “livability” but now call “sustainability”. Even if every car were zero emission, automobiles impose huge costs on society not the least of which is suburban sprawl. We are going to need every inch of available land for agriculture. Indeed spiralling food prices are one of the main drivers of the current unrest seen across the world – most effectively so far in Tunisia and Egypt. Peak oil is now something that even the Saudis (in secret) and Shell acknowledge – and building the infrastructure for cars that don’t use oil is going to require huge amounts of oil!

In this region we already had plans in place that would have been a good start towards sustainability. We were protecting agricultural land, building complete communities in a compact urban area and we were supposed to be increasing transportation choices. But then we elected the BC Liberals and they have been working hard to reverse all that – with visible impacts all over the region. The short period of the winter Olympics last year was merely the Potemkin village for  media consumption: immediately afterwards transit contracted again, and the road building continued.

My remarks were aimed at what we could have done. I talked about what Copenhagen has been doing for the last forty years – reducing the amount  of space dedicated to moving and parking cars in the urban area. About how improving facilities for movement without cars (more transit, more bike lanes, more pedestrian areas and sidewalks) has to happen before you try to get people to use them more. So that is where the bit about distance based insurance and parking charges come in – those are the easy first steps. Road pricing will take longer and cost more to set up, and could be offset by reducing other imposts  to make it more palatable to introduce. But like the carbon tax needs to bite to have any effect on behaviour. And it has to be part of a concerted policy. Not the current one – which is to make BC more attractive to corporations. But to serve the people of BC better – and to ensure that our children and grand children have a future.

That may seem a long way from not enough tolls to pay for a bridge, but it is all connected, and not in a way you can talk about in a matter of a few seconds. Which is why you read blogs and do not rely on tv news alone.

On the road to Richmond

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Delta Optimist

Farms not freeways poster on SFPR

Farms not freeways poster on SFPR

Harold Steves, a longtime Richmond councillor and former NDP MLA, was in Delta this week to sound the alarm bells over the loss of farmland to various development projects. He says Delta could end up looking like Richmond in 20 years.

Harold is, of course, the last farmer in West Richmond – and a local councillor. He was also one of the founders of the Agricultural Land Reserve, created in the wake of the wave of development that was allowed to sweep away all the farms in that area. The consensus in the region was that Richmond was not a suitable place for development, being low lying, and thus susceptible to flooding, but also very high quality and productive farm land. But developers and land owners did not agree, and there was at that time no effective measure to prevent a council determined to allow a lot of very profitable land use change to take place.

The provincial government loves to boast of how green it is – and welcomes every photo op with a hybrid bus, or a run of the river power developer. But its actions are wholly the opposite. While the ALR is still on the books, the Commission which was set up to ensure the policies were effective has been gutted. The deal with the Tsawassen First Nation, and the Gateway program to build the South Fraser Perimeter Road both require large amounts of the best farmland in Delta – and so they are being loaded with sand right now. The railway sidings at Deltaport are also being expanded. The port, of course is actually reporting declining traffic but no matter. Any more than anyone is paying attention to the failure of the US to pull itself out of recession  – or the huge number of container ships idled and laid up around the world.

The conversion of agricultural land to development is one of the easiest ways to make money quickly. Sale of the top soil – for which there seems to be plenty of demand – provides a quick positive cash flow. And the change in land use designation – a mere stroke of the pen – has a dramatic effect on land value. There is quite a lot of land around that needs to be redeveloped – most of the Fraser River frontage on the North Arm in Vancouver, for instance. Lots of former sites previously used as gas stations. Such “brownfield” developments are problematic and quite expensive. So despite the strategy of building a compact urban region – which is by far the most economical from nearly every other perspective – gets trampled by the greed of the developers. “Me first and the gimme gimmes”. All of whom support the BC Liberal Party generously and are paid back handsomely. We pay for the roads and other utilities that make the developments work, and we also pay in our Medical Services Premiums as heart disease, obesity and diabetes continue to take their toll on a sedentary, single occupant vehicle population. As well as the casualties from vehicle collisions on the roads, of course.

There are lots of reasons to oppose the development of Delta – and many local residents are vocal in their opposition. Not that the BC Liberals are listening, which is why they lost the seat in Delta South, admittedly by a very tight margin. But the argument cannot be won by logic or reason when money shouts so loudly, and politicians say one thing and do the opposite. But once the crunch hits – and food costs in BC start to spiral – it will be too late. Because this land will not be brought back into food  production – any more than West Richmond will be. It is the one way entropy of development akin to the burning of the rain forest. The economy is the subsidiary of the environment, not the other way round. And our primary needs are clean air, clean water and food. They all come from natural resources – and the worse job that we do looking after them, the more it costs to clean up the consequences. And those costs are not borne by developers. They are “externalities” which we all pay. And which this government is determined will be ignored for now. So we pay later.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 29, 2010 at 10:52 am

“Radical Homemakers”?

with 3 comments

The Globe and Mail

Wency Leung seems to think that people “who are choosing to give up the rat race in favour of looking after their families and communities” are something new and different. I know it was an old UK sitcom but “The Good Life” was based, to some extent, on the real experiences of people who wanted to do more than just have an allotment at weekends.  (You cannot, of course, watch it here on your computer, as they can in the UK ,thanks to digital rights management.) Did it not make it here on PBS or KNOW?

Mind you, 5 acres in Duncan is a bit different to a large backyard in Surbiton. The title, by the way comes from Shannon Hayes, U.S. author of the new book Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture.

Possibly a bit of departure for me? Not really. If I were forty years younger … well at the time of “The Good Life” I did have an allotment, and I dug up the backyard too. So did lots of other people, encouraged by the BBC  – “Mr Smith’s Gardening Programme” was my favourite – and other media. Not that I gave up my job, or that we became self sufficient. And people now are also turning to growing their own here – and there – in a big way. Some are even persuading their neighbours to let them dig up the lawn and plant veggies in return for a share of the crop. Partly this is a reaction to the inadequacies of what is offered commercially – stuff that is almost devoid of taste. And also the practices that depend on long distance transportation – and the use of irrigation in the great Sonoran desert – which are not at all sustainable. People are dubious about labels like “organic”  and reluctant to shell out for the premium prices demanded. But they want to know that their food is indeed grown without harmful pesticides or GM seeds and so on.

There has also been an issue in this region for a long time about the use of land designated under the Agricultural Land Reserve which is not actually used for agriculture  as it is claimed that many of the lots are “too small” to be farmed  economically. Which, obviously, the “radical homemakers” would dispute since their concept of viability is different from agribusiness. But even at agricultural prices, 5 acre lots are not going to be within the financial reach of most, and it is unlikely that enough cash could be generated from veggies to support a mortgage. But there are, it seems, still plenty of people who want to buy up a big plot in the ALR and build a huge house and have a gigantic “yard”. Such “estate homes” are a bit of headache since they benefit from the designation but don’t produce much at all.

If we had sensible policies to the use of recreational psychoactive plants – instead of following the very obviously failed policies of our neighbours to the south – we could have a very useful, legal cash crop that might solve many of these issues. But I cannot see that happening any time soon. And the land use pattern of this region currently is of such a low density that alternatives to single occupant cars are difficult to provide. If we see many places which convert currently  productive land to small holdings, we will have even worse traffic problems,.

But I would like to see more land in the ALR used for growing food that would be available locally for those of us who have little room to grow more than a a few pots of herbs and a tomato plant. And there are plenty of places where the land is neglected, used only for parking wrecks of old cars and trucks, or illegal tipping and other activities. Many have said they would like to see at least part of the Garden City Lands – recently acquired by the City of Richmond – used for food production. But that would be community gardens not places were people could live on their own plots. And the best allotment sites have quite a lot of space devoted to internal roadways and parking, for if they don’t they will not get used.  Possibly if we had a different designation for small lots like “horticulture” we could prevent the nibbling away at potentially food producing land for other, less important uses.

Anyway it is time for the discussion to be about land use first – with a nod towards accessibility of course. Land that can be use for growing food is scarce – and we are losing far too much of it to stupid, anachronistic policies like The Gateway, that is taking the best land and using it for storing empty containers. We do need now, and will increasingly need in future, food that is grown close to where it will be consumed. And the use of techniques like composting and permaculture mean that old models of production that rely on mechanization and heavy use of chemicals can be supplanted. “Radical Homemakers” will be part of the solution, no doubt, but in an urban region we are going to need solutions that will work for those who are less radical but who still want to see change.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 16, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Sinking river delta could mean trouble along Fraser

with 9 comments

Peace Arch News

Steveston Ladner Canoe Pass and Mt Baker 2007_0710_1058

This issue has been bothering me for a while now – as posts to this blog will attest.

The cause in the Fraser delta is that dikes, constructed to prevent flooding, force the river to carry its sediment load out into the Strait of Georgia so that none accumulates on deltaic lands. The delta is also sinking one to two milimetres each year under its own weight.

The survey data suggest that, by the end of this century, it will have sunk by more than a metre (130 centimetres), with the effects reaching as far upstream as Maple Ridge and Fort Langley. As elsewhere, a rise in sea level will accentuate the problem.

The warning about the Fraser river delta is coming from Canada’s Geological Survey but is replicated by  satellite data, coupled with historic records, on many of the world’s deltas. Add rising sea levels due to global climate change, and our vulnerability to seismic activity and we have a recipe for disaster.

Roy Strang raises the same questions I have been asking

If these data are accurate and reliable, and one adds in the consequences of seismic liquefaction in the event of an earthquake, what is the future for the Vancouver airport and Richmond? Were such eventualities considered when expansion of Deltaport or the controversial South Fraser Perimeter Road were being planned? Are there contingency plans, or is the horizon too distant to be a concern for today’s politicians?

He does not answer these questions and the article then drifts off into other things. The only official comments I have seen recently came from Malcolm Brodie, the Mayor of Richmond. Which were simply a recitation of his complacency about the strength of our dykes.

I rather suspect that the boosters who have been so keen on expansion of the port and the airport have been deliberately quiet about these risks. But I do know that when emergency planners at the then GVRD assessed these risks during the period when the LRSP was being drawn up, advised that development should be directed away from flood risk areas. That is why Richmond was not part of the Growth Concentration Area. And of course the fact that the land was of very high agricultural quality was also a reason for not building on it. Indeed, protection of the Richmond farmland which had not already vanished under subdivisions was one of the main reasons for the creation of the ALR.

Of course ALR designation means nothing to the Port of Vancouver, who are happily buying up farmland to store containers on or to sell for industrial development. And the province is so taken with the huge land development profits consequent upon the SFPR that any considerations like food security, critical habitat or even carbon capture by bog lands have been steadily ignored. Or even denied. So flood risk is just another one of those tiresome objections to be swept under the carpet so the BC Liberal party supporters can go on making lots of money – which is all that matters as far as they are concerned.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 1, 2009 at 8:52 am

More brains, less blacktop, needed in Victoria

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Abysmal record should see change but likely won’t

Brian Lewis, The Province

Judging by its performance, the B.C. Liberal government can’t tell one end of a cow from the other, or perhaps it believes cabbages grow in grocery stores.

How else can its inexplicable failure to protect agricultural land be explained, especially the fertile soils in the 22 provincial ridings south of the Fraser River between Delta and Hope?

The ability of Fraser Valley farmland to feed the burgeoning Lower Mainland and its future generations has been seriously constrained by a government that, frankly, has blacktop on the brain.

Read the rest. 

Written by Stephen Rees

May 12, 2009 at 7:42 am

Posted in food security, Gateway

PIBC PlanTalk: Urban Food Renaissance

What are the challenges facing planners and policy makers in
addressing issues related to food security and public health? How can
we contribute to effective actions that address these challenges? Join
us at the upcoming PlanTalk for a discussion on these issues with
representatives from the City of Vancouver, City of Surrey, UBC Farm,
and BC Healthy Communities.

Urban Food Renaissance brings together Samara Brock (Vancouver), Mark
Bomford (UBC Farm), Mark Allison (Surrey), and Deirdre Goudriaan (BC
Healthy Communities) for a discussion on issues of food security,
health and policy, moderated by Paris Marshall Smith (UBC SCARP).

Monday April 27th at 19h (18h30 for refreshments)

SFU Harbour Centre, room 1600 (515 West Hastings)

$20 PIBC Members*
$25 Non-PIBC Members
$5 Students
Payable by cash or cheque at the door. Receipts will be issued.
*This event will count for 2.0 CPD units for PIBC members.

Please RSVP to Brent Elliott by Thursday, April 23 at:

Written by Stephen Rees

April 21, 2009 at 11:20 am

Posted in food security