Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Larry Beasely

City needs to push the envelope to stay on top

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Miro Cernetig talks to Larry Beasely

The ostensible reason for the article is that we have moved up another of those best city lists.

These rankings take our attention off the question that’s really at hand: With a million more people expected to be here by 2030, how are we going to stay on the cutting edge of urban planning that’s put us in the livability big leagues?

Larry of course is building not one but two cities in the dessert of Abu Dhabi and

“I’m learning we’re not as far ahead on some of this stuff as I thought we were,” he says.

Which is refreshing. The problem with these rankings is they have gone to our head – or at least to the collective heads of the planners. And upstart furriners like me who keep saying “The Emperor has no clothes” are simply not listened to. But Larry, with his OC and new perspective will be.

The trouble I have is that they think it is about buildings and especially cultural institutions. Which seems to me to reflect the priorities of Marie Antoinnette.

There are some very basic things we need to be doing – and architects are not going to be the most important component of that, neither are the problems or their solutions the exclusive domain of the City of Vancouver. No doubt working for a Crown Prince with few budget constraints is a heck of a lot easier than herding cats, but in a metropolitan area being run (and ruined) by the province, that is what has to be done.

For starters, there is the problem of housing, and the related issues of mental health and welfare. These are basic social problems – and in my mind the quality of society is measured not by its glitzy buildings or cultural institutions, but by the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens. And right now the only thing that seems to be grabbing our attention is how to conceal the extent of our social policy collapse during the weeks of and around the 2010 Olympics. Lack of affordability of homes to buy is actually the least of it. We are supposed to have free at the point of service for public health, yet people with multiple diagnoses are simply turned away from treatment. We shy away from creating more and better public spaces for fear that the homeless will move in. We cannot buy a decent bus shelter or bench in case somebody finds it a better place to sleep than a doorway. And instead of building more public housing, we simply buy up a few more roach infested SROs, and do a half hearted job of trying to clean them up, displacing more people in the process. And actually destroying some of the best public housing we have, and rebuilding it to provide more marketable homes!

It is not the buildings that are the problem. They simply reflect what we are willing to pay for. And the answer here at present seem to be not much since the land costs so much. But it is the spaces in between the buildings that matter – and in the words of that tired old cliché we have private affluence and public squalor. We devote more space to car parking than almost any other activity. Our streets may be broad, but the sidewalks are mean. And public places where people gather are few and inadequate. And we concentrate on Vancouver – and especially downtown – as if that were the only place worth considering.

And I haven’t even started on our infrastructure. “World class” cities surely need good waste disposal (liquid and solid) as well as reasonable movement alternatives for goods as well as people.

Oddly enough there is no need to “push the envelope” with any of this, the solutions have been around for decades. We have just turned our back on them in our obsession with finance and profitability, as if that is the only way to measure worth. How can we boast of our GDP per capita – when so many of those heads have no pillow?

Written by Stephen Rees

March 17, 2008 at 10:20 am