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

Posts Tagged ‘ALR

The need for more food

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PHOTOGRAPH BY LUCA LOCATELLI

I am going to venture out of my normal sphere and probably bring down a ton of criticism on my head. But even so I am going to recommend an article from National; Geographic that looks at how much more productive the Dutch have made their agriculture. And to its credit the focus of the article is on sustainability.

One of the reasons that I am concerned enough to court this criticism is that in this region we do not seem to have done enough to protect the Agricultural Land Reserve – especially from the depredations of the Port (which has been covered extensively here). But we also seem to suffer from an urban purblindness. Agriculture is a business that grows food. It is not necessarily one that preserves our preferred picture of the countryside, which seems to be driven by a romantic association with the picturesque countryside of our preferred artists – Gainsborough comes to mind but that’s because I’m English. Even in an era which has taken to mechanisation of many tasks  – just to make up for the lack of willingness of local people to engage in backbreaking repetitive tasks, and the unwillingness to allow for enough people who would do that work across our borders. We would still like our food sources to be local – but not based on greenhouses.

Thomas_Gainsborough_009

One of the earliest lessons I learned as Chair of the then BC Energy Aware Committee (now the Community Energy Association) was that people in Delta – residents and the people they elected – HATE greenhouses. They somehow retain the illusion that the food producing business is going to be green fields and peasants sleeping under hay stacks.

300px-Noon,_rest_from_work_-_Van_Gogh

In fact one careful bit of scheduling meant that I presented an award to Delta council for allowing a greenhouse to utilise collected methane from the Vancouver landfill to provide both energy and CO2 for its operations on the same evening that they were considering its expansion.

The people who now live in Delta do so because it is cheaper than Vancouver and there is a freeway that connect them to employment centres there and in Burnaby, New West and Annacis Island. Transit has never been good enough in Delta, even in the denser developed across the boundary to Surrey. And the distances between its centres make for some long trips. But they also like the landscape benefits of the Green Zone – and would like not have a greenhouse with its lights shining all night on their doorsteps. The Dutch appear to be a bit more realistic – but I am pretty sure they have people breathing down the necks of the chicken and milk producers illustrated in the story.

There is also an interesting take on the European attitude to GMOs.

BC is a huge province, but very little of it is capable of producing food. The bits that are good for food production have been vanishing under development. Only five per cent of B.C. is in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). It was supposed to stop that development but it has been under constant attack – mostly from the real estate / development people who argue that it increases house prices. But also from government and its arms length agencies who have been encroaching on it for dams (Site C being the worst but not the only offender) highway expansions, port expansion, industrial development and in Delta a huge mall and housing development as part of the deal with the Tsawwassen First Nation. The places we get food from now – mostly California – are going to be unable to provide what we need as they have already depleted their water table. The aquifers are not getting refreshed and the rivers are drying up, and the climate is getting hotter. That means we need to be pursuing a much more aggressive food policy which includes protecting the little productive land we have left and making it much more productive in the process – even if that does cut down its landscape value.

POSTSCRIPT: I just did a quick search on the tags ALR and “agricultural land reserve” because – as usual – once I have written something I think I must have done the same thing before. Yup. I’m not boring you, am I?

Written by Stephen Rees

August 31, 2017 at 4:30 pm

Killing the Fraser

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Written by Stephen Rees

May 2, 2017 at 11:51 am

“NIMBYs in the twenty-first century”

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The title comes from an article in The Economist (paywalled) which discusses the work of a graduate student who has challenged the very successful book by Thomas Piketty “Capital in the 21st Century”.

I have had to return the copy that I was reading to the library: the wait list is long and the number of copies limited. If you want a good summary then Cory Doctorow has done a very good job of that.

Matthew Rognlie

On March 20th Matthew Rognlie (pictured), a 26-year-old graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, presented a new paper at the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity. Although the paper began its life as a 459-word online blog post comment, several reputable economists regard it as the most serious and substantive critique that Mr Piketty’s work has yet faced.

Without actually quoting the whole of the article, the point I want to tackle is this. “housing wealth is the biggest source of rising wealth”

Economist graph

“Policy-makers should deal with the planning regulations and NIMBYism that inhibit housebuilding and which allow homeowners to capture super-normal returns on their investments.”

Now this seems to me to be a very familiar assertion that I have read from the same gang of dealers in secondhand ideas who like to attack government spending on transit. They have asserted more than once that the ALR is responsible for unaffordable housing in Vancouver. For instance here’s the Fraser Institute – citing Wendell Cox (pdf)

The land scarcity created by the ALR has rendered Vancouver housing the most “severely unaffordable” of any major city in the 265 metropolitan markets across Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, as analyzed by Wendell Cox and Hugh Pavletich (2009) in their fifth annual International Housing Affordability Survey

And the same thing in almost any city that imposes an urban growth boundary to limit sprawl.

Dr. Shlomo Ange of the Stern School of Business (NYU) Urban Expansion Project puts the issue simply in his introduction:where expansion is effectively contained by draconian laws, it typically results in land supply bottlenecks that render housing unaffordable to the great majority of residents.

The Economist of course does not have to reference these reports since, as we learned recently, the marketplace of ideas has adopted this notion unquestioningly. Or has it?

The argument stems from the idea that markets are better at determining everything than policy makers. Except that markets can only determine the level of use of those things that are priced. And most of the things that are of real value – breathable air and clean water for instance – are not priced. Land capable of producing food is priced far below what it would be as land designated as suitable for development. Smart Growth seeks to protect this land from development by ensuring that land within the growth boundary is better utilized.

Smart growth planning allows us to create new housing choices that are more affordable. We need to:

  • make better use of existing land and buildings (for example, by filling in vacant lots and allowing homes to be built over stores)

  • allow a mix of home types in every neighbourhood, like secondary suites, granny flats, and single- and multi-family dwellings

  • provide a mix of homes with commercial in the same neighbourhood

  • carefully add new homes in existing neighbourhoods, such as units in the basement or above the garage (to increase rental supply and provide extra income to help with the mortgage)

  • provide easy access to jobs and transportation choices, so households can save on transportation costs

In fact the very idea of “affordable housing” might be misleading because it fails to encompass travel costs. Indeed the old saw about buying a house was “drive until you qualify”. The amount you can borrow to buy a house is controlled (in our case by the rules of CHMC) but no-one controls the amount of time and money you spend commuting. This idea is encapsulated neatly in the last of those bullet points. It is also the case, of course, that in markets like Vancouver, many people cannot afford to buy and renting is increasing in popularity even if the supply of rental housing may not be responding as we might like.

It also ignores all the evidence that the conventional model is unsustainable. All the infrastructure that is needed to support sprawl makes it financially unaffordable – as Charles Marohn admirably demonstrates at Strong Towns. The US congress has been arguing for years how to patch up the crumbling interstate system, given their refusal to even contemplate raising the gas tax which funded its construction but not its maintenance. And the bits which are usable fill with traffic congestion which building more roads has never relieved. This makes for very unhappy commutes (see Charles Montgomery “The Happy City”) but again human happiness is another one of those externalities which markets ignore. Prices were supposed to be based on “utility” but every study shows that simply piling up more cash fails to make anyone happy.

Indeed the greatest failing is that the inequality puts more resources in the hands of those who pay politicians to adopt policies that are disastrous to human existence but are good for their short term profit.

What bothers me about the Economist piece  is the nonchalance which goes along with omniscience. It goes without qualification what policy makers must do. Because all we are talking about is inequality and where wealth comes from. So none of those dull externalities need get considered at all.

And all of this it seems to me has been covered by others more able and capable than I, but that work does not seem to get cited when I go looking for it. I am actually not too dissatisfied by this piece, but at one stage I was seriously considering crowdsourcing it. I am sure that my regular crew of commentators will be piling in but if you know of other articles which deal with this particular debate (“the impact of growth control on housing affordability” gets 54,700 hits) in particular with reference to either this region or the Pacific North West, by all means let me know.

Afterword

Just how unaffordable is Metro Vancouver – and how will that change? VanCity has this forecast

Of course, there is a policy that could deal effectively with affordability, just as there is a policy that would end Homelessness. It simply requires the provision of subsidised housing. Of course those who oppose taxes on the wealthy will howl with rage. But all that we have to do to free up some resources is stop subsidizing fossil fuels – and rethink our agricultural subsidies too, while we are at it. It is ridiculous that corn and sugar production is subsidized when we are dying from diabetes, obesity and heart disease. All of which are also strongly associated with sprawl. Utah – hardly a radical liberal sort of state – eliminated homelessness by simply housing the homeless, which turned out to be cheaper than making them stay on the streets.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 25, 2015 at 4:08 pm

Harold Steves

DSCN3486

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

“Radical Homemakers”?

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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

Interchange ‘entirely for port,’ says councillor

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Richmond Review

The City of Richmond has long wanted another interchange on the freeway. Their preferred location would be Highway #99 at Blundell. The province does not want to do that, but has offered a new partial interchange on Highway #91 at Nelson Road. However, in order to get that Richmond would have to contribute $3m.

One of the reasons the City is saying it needs the interchange is to reduce truck traffic on Westminster Highway. This has increased dramatically as the port industrial lands on the south arm between LaFarge and Riverport have been developed. Richmond would like the new access road to be grade separated at Westminster Highway. They can’t have that either.

Local councillor Harold Steves is quoted in the paper edition but very oddly, this is left out of the on-line version I linked to above.

Steves maintains the province wants to build a new bridge over the South Arm of the Fraser at No 8 Road and the new interchange is needed to facilitate it.

“Everything to build this new crossing is falling into place,” he said. “It would destroy East Richmond farmland.”

The Ministry of Transport never gives up on a defeated road proposal.  This one has been around for a long time. It would also have, of course, a new crossing of the North Arm to connect up to Boundary Road.

Screen shot 2009-10-24 at 4.28.57 PM If you look to the map on the left, Boundary Road runs due south from the point where Highway #1 turns east. Just draw a mental line due south, and you will see how it neatly falls halfway between the Deas Tunnel and the Alex Fraser, and skirts (or not depending on how you define it) the brown area in the middle of Delta – Burns Bog. It would remove some traffic from both Marine Drive and the Knight Street bridge to the west and the Queensborough Bridge to the east.   And it would also add capacity which is currently maximised at the tunnel. While the counterflow system designed to ease commuting to and from Vancouver does help those flows, it does so at the expense of counter peak movements – which have increased significantly as a result of the dispersal of both employment and industry away from Vancouver’s downtown.

Previous proposals from the MoT fell foul of the Cities of Vancouver and Richmond, as well as creating great concern over the ALR, the Bog and the green zone generally.  This route is missing from Transport 2021, which was incorporated in to the LRSP. Of course the province no longer has any concerns about these issues, as it determination to pursue the Gateway project on the south bank of the South Arm demonstrates. You can also see how much of the land south of Westminster Highway is now grey not green. That’s port industrial development, and a lot of it fairly recent. The picture below shows the view upstream from the east end of Steveston Highway. The left side of the picture is almost filled with empty containers stored on new fill, mostly dredged from the shipping channel – a process which is continuing even as I write this.

The Review piece is mainly a response to the urging last week of the local MLA to accept the deal that is being offered. There is no response from the Port, but also no word at all from the MoT. The previous minister dismissed calls for the doubling of  the Deas Tunnel, saying that is was not a current priority for the province. And, of course, if the long range plans of the MoT never change, which certainly seems to be the case, that might well explain his response. It is probably cheaper now to build yet another cable stayed, post tensioned bridge (like the Golden Ears) than sink more tubes adjacent to the existing tunnel. But more importantly, as Steves notes, it also opens up a lot of land for highway oriented development. In exactly the same way as the SFPR converts land from agriculture to industry in Delta. And as the widening of Highway #1 will facilitate along the valley.

Container storage

Written by Stephen Rees

October 24, 2009 at 3:57 pm

A Bit of History of the ALC Approval of the SFPR

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The following is being circulated by email by Donna Passmore. Since I have been commenting on this decision here and many of you are not on her email list, I am copying the whole thing here as there is nowhere esle on the web where you can find this at present

In the days of Social Credit we actually had Socred appointed Agricultural and Commissions that stood up for the ALR and opposed government plans to allow farmland to be developed. Ian Payton refused to remove Terra Nova from the ALR and the Commission was overruled by the government but the integrity of the Commission was unquestioned.

The most alarming aspect of this approval is the Land Commission’s reasoning for doing so.

First, allowing the use of agricultural lands “in deference to the provincial benefits of improved transportation” is not the role of the Land Commission. The role of the ALC is to preserve farmland.

Second, their statements justifying the decision are unbelievably Orwellian. There can never be “substantial enhancements to agriculture” when substantial amounts of farmland are lost. It is true there were “45 years of planning and decision making by national, provincial, regional, and local levels of government.” The reason it took 45 years is because most of those levels of government were opposed to the project and prevented it from happening.

WAC Bennett initiated the Roberts Bank Superport proposal in the 1960’s. The regional government, the Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board (now Metro Vancouver), refused to allow the development onto farmland.  Bennett disbanded the board and took away their zoning powers. The top scientists for the BC Fish and Wildlife Branch and Environment Canada published a booklet on why the Delta farmlands should never be developed and should be preserved for the Pacific Flyway. At the same time an international development company, Western Realty, was attempting to buy up as much land in Richmondand Delta as possible to cash in on the expected bonanza. Along with Richmond Council’s rezoning of 12,000 acres of farmland in the 1960’s these were the main reasons the Agricultural Land Reserve was established in 1973.

The Commission states that “the need for the SFPR can be traced back to decisions in the 1960’s to build a port at Robert’s Bank” but ignores the fact that the commission itself was established in 1973 to stop the expansion of the port onto farmland at Robert’s Bank.

Metro Vancouver and subsequent local councils in Delta have consistently opposed development of farmland in Delta ever since.  During that entire time local and regional government, and until recently the provincial government, were opposed to expanding the Robert’s Bank port onto farmland.

Nowhere in the commission’s judgement have they discussed the effect of the compounded collective loss of about 1,000 acres of farmland due to the SFPR, TFN development, railyard development and Delta Port expansion onto farmland for container storage. Loss of critical mass speeds up urban sprawl. It accelerates crop loss by concentrating the migratory waterfowl onto the smaller area that remains, and fewer farms means that farm services move further afield. That affects the survival of all of the farms that are left.

The BC Ministry of Agriculture states that we need to find an additional 200,000 acres (90,000 ha) of irrigated farmland in this region by 2025. Irrigation and drainage will be ssential but destroying farmland to get it cannot be justified. If we are to have food security and agricultural sustainability we should be adding land to our farmland inventory in the region not losing it. There are properties in Delta that could be acquired and rehabilitated for agriculture. The Land Commission should be demanding the addition of land to the ALR acre for acre to make up for the loss of 1,000 acres. The more land we retain the more land we can irrigate in the future.

Conditional approval of the highway by the Land Commission does not guarantee the money will be spent to make the improvements or that it will work. In Richmond, Highway 91 cuts a large swath through farmland in east Richmond and is the main reason $10 million worth of drainage and irrigation improvements are needed. The federal governments answer (under the Liberals) was to provide the funds for agriculture by taking 136 acres of the Garden City Lands bog out of the AlR for residential development. Trees in another 300 acres of the Garden City Lands bog are dying because Highway 91 and other roads around the perimeter of the bog have affected the hydrology and the normal rise and fall of the water table.

There are alternatives to the SFPR. Highway 10 has recently been widened, which should meet our immediate needs. Some container transport can be accomodated by container ferries to Richmond and Surrey. If an inland port were established at Ashcroft where the two national railroads meet, the SFPR and Delta Port expansion would not be necessary. Rail is also one of the answers to curbing global warming caused by trucks and to rising fuel costs as oil reserves decline.

Once development of an area begins it is difficult to stop. By giving conditional approval to the SFPR land speculators will be encouraged that their time will come. The Land Commission has inadvertently guaranteed that there will be increased pressures on Delta farmland and further attempts to make incursions into the ALR in Delta in the future.

Harold Steves
Founding Director
Farmland Defence League of BC

Written by Stephen Rees

December 11, 2008 at 8:03 am