the renewed city.

earth hour … a tale of two cities
March 31, 2008, 11:11 am
Filed under: commentary

toronto star

the world has, seemingly, embraced a consensus that reducing greenhouse gas emissions should be made a political priority. case in point is this past saturday’s earth hour celebrations that took part all over the globe where individuals and communities turned out their lights for an hour in a gesture of solidarity and a call for action. in canada, vancouver and toronto were touted as flag cities, officially signing their name to the earth hour website.

on saturday evening, one city shined (literally) and one went quietly into the night.

toronto came on top as this country’s clear leader in grassroot climate change awareness. the entire city went dark for one hour including City Hall, The CN Tower (the highest building in North America), Ontario Science Center, Ontario Place, Honest Ed’s, Toronto Eaton Centre, Harbour front buildings, Exhibition Place, Yonge-Dundas Square, Sony Centre, Pearson International Airport, Roy Thompson Hall, Air Canada Centre, Hockey Hall of Fame, Roger’s Centre. Toronto Financial District, Queens Park and Royal Ontario Museum and millions of houses throughout the region. the toronto star, the city’s mayor and countless other groups and agencies played a huge roll in motivating the public about the event. the toronto star ran special features on the celebrations months before saturday and this, no doubt, helped mobilize the community.

across the country in vancouver, i noticed a lot of the lights staying on. the lion’s gate bridge went dark and so did city hall and maybe a few houses (including ours) but that was about it. for a city bend on reducing emissions, it was tough looking at the complete lack of participation in such a simple statement. the next day, earth hour didn’t even make the front page of the vancouver sun’s webpage.

hats off to toronto for such a great effort. vancouver, our image as a progressive and sustainable city seems to be slipping away. we need to get back on track and fast.


slowdown offers chance to rethink growth
March 27, 2008, 10:32 am
Filed under: commentary

talk about taking the opportunistic high road.

the economic slowdown in the united states has caused a slowdown in growth, even in the salt lake city area — recently cited one of that nation’s fastest growing regions. this editorial calls on officials to use the slowdown as a chance to reconsider the area’s growth pattern.

like much of the expansing mid west, salt lake has fallen victim to sprawling subdivisions and cookie-cutter development. municipal officials are using the slow times to catch their breath and develop plans and initiatives that will provide for more cohesive and appropriate patterns of development once the economy revs up again. they’re speaking to the residents, asking what they want in their ‘ideal’ neighbourhoods. surprise! looks like are up for better public transit, an increase in housing choices and the ability to ditch the car for daily tasks like grocery shopping and renting a movie.

cudos to salt lake for making something out of, potentially, nothing. it will be interesting to follow these initiatives and track their progress. here’s hoping they do not get lost in translation once things take a more positive turn south of the border.

conflicting messages spell trouble for emission reduction promises
March 25, 2008, 1:19 pm
Filed under: commentary

What’s wrong with this picture? On one hand the provincial grits want to make it easier for you to drive throughout the Lower Mainland by building more highways and bridges. On the other, they want to entice you to hop on regional public transit after a multi-billion dollar facelift. And stuck in the middle is a promise to significantly reduce provincial greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Did someone say conflicting messages?

Nothing could be more reckless for a government bent on pursuing a climate change agenda than confusing the public as to its own bearing on the issue itself. But that is essentially what the provincial Liberals are doing. And this spells trouble for making any real progress in reducing emissions.

In a recent speech at Simon Fraser University academic urban planner Dr. Lawrence Frank lamented that given the choice between cars and transit, people will almost always choose their cars. This is especially true if new lanes and bridges make it more convenient to use one’s car even though a fancy new SkyTrain runs past a neighbourhood right into downtown.

Indeed, a review of the plethora of studies of the topic suggests that new highway capacity generally encourages more vehicle kilometers traveled, encourages suburban-style land-use planning, enables car-dependent lifestyles and decisions, and induces traffic for vehicle trips that would otherwise not occur. We’ve seen this happen in Toronto. Ditto Montreal. And the impact is plain and simple, more cars on the road means more emissions.

Gordon Campbell, listen up! If climate change is high on the political spectrum in the Lower Mainland and tangible strides are to be made, then allowing this choice between cars and transit cannot – should not – exist.

Harsh? Perhaps. Draconian? Maybe. But it’s a reality that has to be acknowledged if significant emission reduction strides are to be made in this region.

SPEC has it right. So does the Pembina Institute. In recent reports both organizations call on the provincial government for a clear political vision and leadership that sustainable transportation will be encouraged and supported in the region. And future investments in highways are not seen as a priority.

Carbon taxes and increased investment in transit are a good way to start articulating this direction and these efforts should be applauded. But canning the expansion of major roads and bridges in the region would go a long way too. So would planning for more walkable communities where one’s groceries, laundromat, day-care centre and movie store are right around the corner, reducing the need to drive.

But it is this exact kind of holistic and progressive determination that appears to be lacking at the provincial level. The Liberals seem comfortable, almost confident,that reductions can be achieved working within the status quo. And no one, really, seems bothered by this.

If appropriate action is not taken soon, not only will the region’s image as a sustainable and progressive North American metropolis be in jeopardy but so too will the quality of life of future generations.

It’s time for Mr. Campbell and his fellow grits to keep their eyes on the ultimate goal and substantiate their promises with real and directed action. The best tool we have for achieving greenhouse gas reduction strategies in this region is consistency. If this can be established, the picture will look crystal clear.

‘complete streets’ … beyond the hype
March 15, 2008, 12:23 am
Filed under: commentary

the “complete streets” movement is a practical example of returning the street environment to the pedestrian. it focuses on three major initiatives 1) reducing car traffic, 2) enhancing pedestrian safety, and 3) nurturing street life. the movement is catching on in a variety of places including new york city. iowa, of all places, has recently passed a law legislating the concept. iowa’s “complete streets act” will require metropolitan planing organizations to develop and adopt policies that will ensure “that the safety and convenience of all users of the transportation system shall be accommodated.” measurable performance measures and standards will also be required in order to better assess how accommodating the built environment and transportation system is to all modes of travel. behind the glitz, however, are loopholes. of note, exemptions may be permitted in cases where the “cost of establishing complete facilities would be excessively disproportionate to the need or probably use.” hmmm … so tell me where is the opportunity to make real and tangible changes? it can be argued that the areas where complete street project will ultimately be the most beneficial will be those places deemed inhospitable or unpleasant to pedestrians already (i.e. suburban and exurban roadways for instance). this loophole may result in the neglect of these places in complete street strategies, effectively perpetuating the development of non-walkable areas while existing, more walkable places may receive more attention. it will be interesting to follow this legislation as it trickles into the state’s planning system, especially for other cities and states interesting in pursuing the concept.

the “planning” behind gateway
March 13, 2008, 9:49 pm
Filed under: ideas

port mann bridge rendering

the gateway program is a multi-billion dollar expansion of the greater vancouver regional arterial road and highway network proposed by the british columbia provincial government. by increasing highway capacity and twining the Port Mann Bridge, the provincial government insist that reductions in traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emissions and overall travel time will be achieved. ha! while much has been written refuting these claims, the tactics used by the british columbia provincial government in their attempts to push forward the project should also be scrutinized. the project was kept hush-hushed and approved with little public participation and input. i recently completed a paper that attempted to critique the policy analysis and planning framework undertaken for the gateway project in order to gain some insight as to where its deficiencies lie and the “room for improvement.” it should be acknowledged that despite countless community efforts, the gateway program has been approved and many projects have recently begun. regardless, this work should serve as a reminder as to how larger-scale regional planning initiatives should and should not be undertaken.

society and cars: getting to the root of the problem
March 12, 2008, 10:13 pm
Filed under: ideas

this paper draws on the status of the automobile in western society in an attempt to answer the following: “can current environmental problems be solved through more intelligent application of the conventional modern ideas of humans, the environment and proper relations between them, or are fundamental changes in prevailing basic assumptions and attitudes required?”

measuring the quality of the pedestrian environment
March 12, 2008, 10:05 pm
Filed under: ideas

in order to plan for more walkable environments, methods are required that allow planners and decision-makers to effectively identify and assess the elements of the built environment that support or detract from walking. the existing pedestrian levelof-service methodology is critiqued in this paper and demonstrated to be an inappropriate tool to assess the pedestrian environment. a more accurate and sensitive tool would incorporate and account for the various micro-scale environmental factors that define the walking environment. to improve existing assessment processes, municipalities will be required to identify what elements need to be measured, how to measure these elements and, finally, incorporating them into an appropriate assessment framework. the literature and progressive practical examples like the Fort Collins pedestrian LOS methodology provide a framework for how to develop an appropriate tool.