the renewed city.


vancouver’s view corridor review exercise missing the point.
December 7, 2009, 9:01 pm
Filed under: commentary

today’s globe and mail includes an article reporting on city of vancouver planning director brent toderian’s decision to allow four new extra-tall buildings on the city’s skyline, including one with a potential height of 700 feet.

the issue at stake is the city’s view corridor’s of the north shore mountains.

by allowing for only a handful of super-tall structures in the downtown core, the city is missing an opportunity to strengthen the existing view corridors with a sound and coherent policy direction. certainly, such a haphazard approach may lead to unintended precedences that could ultimately diminish this city’s extraordinary visual backdrop into the future.

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vancouver is lagging behind when it comes to cycling.
May 14, 2009, 6:29 pm
Filed under: commentary

Recently, I was interviewed by The Tyee, BC’s leading online news publication, regarding cycling culture and infrastructure in Metro Vancouver. I’ve pasted the article below.

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Cyclist demand could help improve infrastructure

“More people cycling creates a demand for systems to accommodate cycling,” said Tim McDaniels, a professor at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning.

Hundreds of riders have taken advantage of Bike to Work Week’s free food and bike maintenance offered by organizers, said program director Erin O’Melinn.

“Our numbers are at least equal to last year, if not better.”

In addition to benefits such as reduced fossil fuels and decreased noise, McDaniels said increased cycling could go a long way to reduce traffic congestion.

“It is quite possible for cycling to play a much larger role than it does in commuting.”

Events such as Bike to Work Week are important because they raise awareness about transit alternatives, said Andrew Devlin, a graduate student at the UBC Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability.

The daily commute is the most consistent cause of greenhouse gas emissions in Vancouver, he said.

“Substituting our cars with a bike for this trip then has big potential for helping reduce our daily travel emissions.”

Vancouver currently trails behind a number of similar-sized cities in terms of the number of people cycling to work.

Only two per cent of Metro Vancouver residents ride bicycles for their commute compared to 35 per cent in Copenhagen, Denmark, Devlin said, attributing at least some of this difference to government investment.

“Copenhagen injects millions of dollars annually into building a good network of cycling infrastructure to make it easier for people to use their bikes to get around,” he said.

“Vancouver has enough problems trying to get one cycling lane on the Burrard Bridge.”

Morgan J. Modjeski reports for The Tyee.



stricter tailpipe standards are on their way in the U.S.
January 25, 2009, 9:44 pm
Filed under: commentary

the globe and mail is reporting that the freshly-minted obama administration will soon push through policy allowing individual u.s. states to control their own tailpipe emissions. the announcement comes after years of lobbying by california and 13 other states that fell on deaf ears in the bush administration.

there’s no doubt that such an announcement will ruffle some feathers. i can already hear the arguments that  the policy will force vehicle manufacturers to spend billions of dollars and countless other resources to meet dozens of different emission standards from michigan to florida to oregon. but looking at the policy from a more rational and economic perspective what’s more likely to happen will be that the highest common denominator will become the de facto national standard and the one that car manufacturer’s will likely plan and design for (here’s looking at you california).

that being the case, though, i can see the real potential for a real bureaucratic nightmare. letting individual states essentially compete to push forward the ‘golden’ standard may be a huge waste of resources, research and taxpayer dollars. given that, the more appropriate course of action may have been for the obama administration to enact nation-wide standards comparable to those in california or washington.

either way, it’s pretty good news. once the new standards are in place the united states will hopefully start to see some big improvements in air quality and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. so too will canada as the regulations start to trickle north of the border. clean fuel technology should become cheaper and more accessible as it is used in all new cars.

of course, these benefits will only be incurred if we haven’t outgrown our affinity with motoring and already switch to far cleaner modes of transportation like walking, cycling and public transit. without more walkable cities and efficient and accessible mass transit systems, though, this may be a long way off, what with the increased spending in roads and highways in the name of economic recovery, and we’ll have to just settle for cleaner (but still noisy and obstructive) cars and trucks.



the environmental costs of a google search
January 18, 2009, 9:52 pm
Filed under: commentary

cbc, bbc, and the times (uk) are all reporting on a recent study by harvard physicist Alex Wissner-Gross demonstrating, albeit probably through very painstaking calculations, that running two google searches releases the same amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as boiling a kettle of tea, about 7g of CO2.

this is certainly interesting stuff, in a very nerdy, academic kind-of-way. but lets get real here. the fact that such minuscule pollution associated with ‘googling’ is making major headlines around the world represents a disheartening distraction from much more pressing emission-related issues that all too often go ignored in mainstream media. these are, of course, the fact that most of us drive too much, eat food from halfway around the world, live in bigger houses and consume way too much stuff.

if we want to make real headway in reducing emissions, we need to get people thinking about how they can change their behaviour and actions when it comes to these ‘big ticket items’, not whether or not they should open up google to peruse for a bootlegged copy of the new U2 single.



thoughts on bailouts.
November 26, 2008, 12:00 pm
Filed under: commentary

does the north american auto industry deserve a bailout, a heaping lump sum of tax payer money delivered to their front door?

it depends.

this is stagnant, troubled industry, namely because of it’s seeming refusal over the last half century to want to change the way they do business. this is an industry that has made many north american’s believe that larger, gas guzzling cars and trucks are what every one of us needs. this is an industry that has spent millions of dollars lobbying against federal fuel-economy standards and are suing to overturn the emissions standards imposed by California and other states. this is an industry that let more progressive companies like honda and toyota walk all over them. if the industry maintains it’s present course, a bailout certainly won’t help fix this mess.

instead, what’s needed is a change from within, a shift in thinking about travel and transportation. at the most fundamental level, this change starts with the auto industry reorienting it’s operations to deliver transportation as a means, not as an end in and of itself. what might this entail? it could mean these companies partnering with other industries to help develop high speed inter-urban rail vehicles, energy and fuel efficient intra-city buses, and other systems that would improve travel options and alternatives for everyone, reduce global warming and our dependency on dirty fossil fuel, minimize accidents, and generally improve the way we live.it could also mean a new lobbying role for automakers – i mean transportmakers – pushing for state/provincial and municipal officials to plan for better, more compact and walkable cities and towns that are required to support alternative transport modes.

this shift in thinking should not need to translate into job loss. in fact, i believe new opportunities for re-training of existing staff and personal and re-tooling of plant operations may emerge. so to would new marketing and sales opportunities.

a financial bailout could certainly help kick start such a paradigm shift. but before any money is given away, the auto industry – i mean transportmakers – need to be serious about becoming progressive. business plans need to be developed and presented to government showing timelines for the development of new transportion options, re-tooling operations, re-training staff, etc.

this is a daunting but also exciting opportunity for the re-invetion of the transportation industry. surprisingly, i think things are so bad that the auto industry is perhaps finally up for the challenge. however, whether these actions are too little too late to help our crumbling cities and environment is another post for another day.



weathering the storm: where are the safe havens in urban canada?
October 20, 2008, 11:56 am
Filed under: commentary, ideas

it is apparent that a canadian recession cometh or, at least, an economic tailspin. to be fair, although government and business leaders are working hard to avoid such a scenario, certain areas of the country are likely to feel deep and prolonged economic wounds. the question is which areas of the nation are better positioned to cope with a pending economical ‘shock and awe’ storm?

recent work in the united states, the epicenter of the current crisis, suggests the answer to this question lies in the make up of local economies. it’s the jobs, stupid! research by philadelphia’s reinvestmet fund in collaboration with policymap.com has identified the best places to live during a recession. their criteria? places where large portions of the population worked in anticyclical industries such as government, health care, education, agriculture, and legal services. the so-called “safe industries.” indeed, medical care is in demand in good times and bad. people might feel the pinch and avoid eating out in dreary economic times, but people stilll need to eat and so farmers and grocery stores should remain afloat. dido government and education.

looking at this list, what’s interesting is that most, if not all, may be classified as those ‘creative’ industries as identified by richard florida. of course, other creative sectors may suffer, namely visual graphic design, entertainment, and computing, just to name a few.

the philadelphia’s reinvestmet fund positions cities like arlington virgina, boston, and seattle as stable and sufficiently “rotected” to weather a rececession, albeit not a prolonged one.

but what about canada? where are the safe havens north of 60? urban areas like toronto, ottawa, victoria, and montreal should be well-positioned considering high employment in education, health, law and government. those areas reliant on manufacturing or resource-based industries may suffer, places like oshawa, windsor and thunder bay in ontario. edmonton in alberta. not too mention all the smaller towns in between. these are, of course, only my personal observations and inclinations. a more thorough and accurate list could be revealed by exploring census numbers from statistics canada. perhaps a project for the coming rainy weekend?

canadian cities and uban regions, if they haven’t already done so, need to heed warmings about a pending ecnomic crisis and turn their attention towards strategies and actions to help protect local employment at risk of collapsing and attracting more stable, creative industries.



everybody, scramble!
August 28, 2008, 11:58 am
Filed under: commentary

the city of toronto is putting the pedestrian first. in a unique show of respect and support, the city began allow pedestrian scrambles on it’s busiest downtown intersection – yonge and dundas. read up on the news coverage here.

pedestrian scrambles allow pedestrians at all corners of the intersection to to cross in any direction — side to side, or corner to corner for close to 30 seconds while vehicle traffic comes to a complete standstill. pedestrians are also allowed to cross in the conventional way, in the same direction as traffic, when vehicles are using the intersection.

this gesture is a great move on the city’s part. they’re making it know that pedestrians and number one in this town and that the car is loosing it’s longstanding position at the top of the pedestal.

vancouver and other cities in the country really need to start thinking small in their plans to put pedestrians first. sure, large scale supporting infrastructure is important and required but the little things like this are those acts that really make us, the pedestrian, feel safe, important and respected.