the renewed city.

structural effects b/w built environment and travel GHG emissions in vancouver
December 8, 2009, 10:12 am
Filed under: ideas, presentation

follow this linkĀ to download a copy of my masters thesis defense presentation which was given 4 december 2009 at ubc’s institute for resources, environment and sustainability. the research’s abstract is as follows …

This thesis summarizes efforts to isolate and quantify fundamental relationships among built environment characteristics, activity patterns and vehicle use in order to assess their relative influences on vehicle GHG emissions in the Metro Vancouver region of British Columbia, Canada. Activity-based structural equation models were specified in a cross-sectional study design using local travel survey data and highly detailed urban form data. This approach yielded two benefits. First, structural equation analysis permitted explicit modeling of the indirect effects between built environment variables and vehicle emissions as mediated through activity patterns and vehicle use. Second, modeling travel at the activity-tour level allowed for a deeper understanding of the relative contributions of local and regional built environment variables is explaining tour complexity, vehicle use and emissions. Controlling for pertinent socio-economic and demographic variables, standardized parameter coefficients show the built environment to be a significantly strong predictor of vehicle-related GHG emissions across all models, although the strength and magnitude of these effects is demonstrated to vary by activity tour type. The local built environment is a stronger predictor of vehicle use and related emissions for non-work/school tours, while regional accessibility measures yielded larger effects on the carbon-intensity of work and school tours. Vehicle accessibility yielded consistently significant and large effects on vehicle use and emissions across all models. Findings suggest that policy directions beyond promoting more compact, walkable and regionally connected development to curb emissions are required. Additional strategies may include those that address vehicle use in a more direct manner, including higher taxation, insurance or parking fees. Future research would benefit by incorporating travel and residential preferences to control for self-selection, assessing the affect of the work and school built environment on activity patterns and undertaking a more holistic assessment of the links between the built environment and total household emissions and energy use (including building, transportation, etc).


where is vancouver headed?
May 2, 2009, 3:33 pm
Filed under: ideas

every year, vancouver is drenched in praise from around the world for it’s leadership in sustainability, urban design and quality of life. certainly, a key element helping contribute to many of these achievements is the city’s equally well-recognized built environment. the downtown core is one of the most walkable and livable neighbourhoods in all of north america. a lack of freeways and heavy investment in traffic calming has helped discourage car use and foster a culture of active transportation and public transit. the introduction and spread of citizen planning committees in the 1970s gave residents an outlet to be engaged in the growth and development of their own neighbourhoods and molded strong community pride and ownership.

vancouver’s reputation, and the means that have helped to shape it, did not happen by accident. they are the products of visionaries who were not afraid to challenge more dominant but by no means appropriate paradigms of the time. two big ones that come to mind are the urban renewal policies of the 1960s and the stifling, top-down, and unbureacratic planning approaches of the 1970s. surely, if vancouver followed the lead of cities like atlanta or buffalo, i would not be sitting here writing this today.

this acknowledgment, however, yields a very important observation. the foundations of vancouver’s success today is in large part due to the actions of the past. and so, it is logical to ask, then, where is vancouver and the greater vancouver region headed today? or, better yet, are we doing enough to maintain the understructure laid by those before us? does creativity and ingenuity continue to play a key role in the maturation of our city or the growth of the city’s outlying areas? or has the city or region as a whole fallen victim to a sort of apathetic mentality that in turn fosters a similar attitude in its people and development patterns?

these are important questions that need to be tackled if vancouver and it’s surrounding areas are to remain sustainable and livable well into the future. i’d like to explore this idea over the course of this year. while i don’t have a ‘game plan’ on how to tackle it just yet i am leaning towards breaking the question down into smaller, more workable parts like themes. of course, i would love to hear any feedback you might have on the topic of vancouver’s future as well.

stay tuned.

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 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.

thoughts from portland
July 15, 2008, 9:43 pm
Filed under: commentary, ideas

portland is dubbed the mecca of urban planning in north america. i got the chance on a recent trip down united states way to see it for myself.

i’ll start with this: the mecca moniker certainly suits it well. the city has the smallest blocks on the continent (even putting new york and vancouver to shame). pockets of mixed use extend beyond the downtown where shops and everyday services like pubs, post offices, grocers, banks and laundromats are scattered throughout housing tracts in the city’s neighbourhoods and corridors. medium density development characterizes the entire town. even the swanky homes on nob hill are, to swipe a verse from thom yorke, packt together like sardines in crushed tin box.

and those are just the big ticket items. the city even gets the little things right. street art and pedestrianized intersection are very common. public drinking fountains are found at almost every intersection (perfect for those 100 degree plus days!). there are big, bright and readable maps setup throughout the city for pedestrians and bike route signs that give you an estimated time before you reach major intersections or destinations. even the (very neat) MAX light rail transit system gets in on the action. all of the system’s platforms are at-grade allowing for better access for all kinds of people. the system extends throughout the city and is not just limited to a one or two corridors. did i mention it’s free to ride in the downtown as well?

throw in a firm urban boundary keeping new growth contained and a geographically small city and the result is a very walkable, well-planned and most importantly, accessible, community. i was in heaven.

and so my girlfriend julie and i took advantage and walked. we walked everywhere. hawthorne, downtown, nob hill, 21st/23rd avenue, and the pearl district. but, here’s the kicker. aside from the tourists, it seemed nobody else was. the weather couldn’t be blamed. it was the most gorgeous weekend of the year with temperatures in the 90s and not a cloud in the sky. what gives? why doesn’t it work?

some recent writing by bill mckibben lends some ideas to why this is the case. in an essay entitled “if you built it, will they change”, he questions whether our built environment has the capacity to bring about real change in our behaviour, travel or otherwise. he writes: “has it [a more pedestrian-friendly urban form] managed to bring out the part of [human] nature … that likes the public world, the world of parks and plazas and ballrooms and theaters, that likes to rub shoulders with the rest of the city? change like this is essential if we are to deal with the environmental and social questions we face.”

culture is a funny thing, very malleable. our current culture of paranoia, self-centered mindsets is the product of the media, terrorism, consumerism, the economy, plastic surgery. but, the built environment certainly helps too. suburbs mean more driving and less social interaction. as planners, our work and communities provide the medium for cultural change to happen. it’s certainly not a panacea. portland is a good case in point. but everything helps, right?

for toronto, the best diet might be better land use planning
June 18, 2008, 4:44 pm
Filed under: commentary, ideas

toronto is a fat city. so says statistics canada at least, this country’s data collecting czar’s, in the results of a recent health survey of canadians. the survey found that more than one-third of adults who live in the city of toronto health region are overweight.

surprising? it shouldn’t be. one is hard pressed to find torontonians, particularly outside of the downtown core, relying on walking and cycling, even public transit, to get around the city – three means of transportation who’s use has proven physical health benefits including reduced prevalence of obesity, diabetes and heart disease (see work done in Atlanta and Seattle/King County by Dr. Lawrence Frank and colleagues). this, despite toronto priding itself on being one of the most densely populated and most walkable urban regions in north america. indeed, toronto’s density’s (a key component to making neighbourhoods walkable) are among the highest on the continent, even surpassing many european cities. so what’s the problem? why so sedentary?

the problem lies in the finer details of toronto’s urban landscape, especially outside of the downtown core. truly walkable places need to have more than higher density’s to succeed. this needs to be coupled with dynamic and finer-scale mixing of uses and services, appropriate urban design and other transportation options – those elements that both make us want to and make it easier for us to walk and cycle for daily trips and tasks. this landscape is very much missing in toronto’s outlying urban areas. here, there is a severe disconnect between high density residential neighbourhoods and the sitting of accessible mixed use centres and efficient public transit opportunities. i lived just west of yonge and lawrence a few years back, a very established and very dense neighbourhood but was subject to a 20 minute walk to the lawrence station and an equally long walk to the nearest grocery store and LCBO. the bus system on the local streets was vastly under serviced and the long headways between buses made public transit an inviable option for me. the result? i hoped in my car more often than not.

pierre filion, a professor of urban planning at the university of waterloo, completed a study in 2006 looking at this preceived disconnect in greater detail. his findings back up my own observations. he notes, for example, that of the fifty-one non-downtown subway and light-rail transit stations in the city, only thirteen (26%) are in or close to high-density census tracts. this urban landscape, one of high density residential pods with no real connection to one another or everyday services like shops and transit, sustains a continued reliance on the automobile and less walking and cycling for daily trips. truly walkable places are characterized by a dynamic mix of uses and density. apart from downtown toronto, the danforth, queen west and yonge and sheppard are examples of this idea.

planners and developers, then, could do a lot to extend the “walkable city” mantra beyond bloor, the dvp, and bathurst. injecting more mixed use redevelopment/infill and better transit opportunities in these outer areas is defiantly a start. who knows, it might just be the diet that the city needs to get back into shape.

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?”