Here’s a photo I took last summer of a few grasses on a cliff in Oregon, overlooking the Pacific. A truly beautiful coastline.

Ellen Dunham-Jones spoke on Next Generation Urbanism on Tuesday evening as part of the SFU City Program, here in Vancouver. She is a new urbanist and member of the Congress For New Urbanism. She co-authored Retrofitting Suburbia. She spoke on many things and I thought it was a thought provoking presentation that was nicely balanced between being theoretical and conceptual, as well as practical and realist. Her main topic was critiquing a new upstart which is challenging new urbanism. This new movement is called Ecological Urbanism. According to Dunham-Jones, while new urbanists like to plan through good design, ecological urbanists don’t. They prefer to set something in motion and see what happens. Kind of more ecology in the city, but it also seems to be more lower density suburbia where, although surrounded by hills and other natural landscapes, most people would still have to drive everywhere. Being a new urbanist, unsurprisingly, she is fairly critical of ecological urbanism, although she did acknowledge that new urbanists can learn something from the less planned, more spontaneous places that seem to be so popular. I asked a question at the end, suggesting Vancouver’s own Granville Island was a good example of this. She hadn’t heard of Granville Island, but I hope she has time to check it out during her stay. Now I don’t know for sure whether Granville Island was unplanned or whether it just appears that way. But Dunham-Jones didn’t seem to think that mattered. The fact that it feels different and looks different, in a good way, is enough.

She also mentioned that post recession, we will have to find cheaper ways of doing things. People may become less consumer focused out of necessity. Will there be a new emphasis on seeking happiness? I thought it interesting that she thinks that as a result we’ll have to find alternatives to retail to enliven our public spaces.

As part of this, she mentioned some small scale examples of temporary things people have done to enliven public spaces. Examples included Parking Day, Build a Better Block, Pop Up City and, one I especially liked the sound of, Pie Day.

And I won a book. ‘Historical Atlas of Vancouver and the Lower Fraser Valley‘ by Derek Hayes. It has a lot of old maps in it – I like it already. Thanks to Gordon Price and the City Program for that. All I did was stand up when asked who had a blog!

I’m not sure, but this article in the Vancouver Sun by columnist Daphne Bramham makes the case for greater thought to be given to pedestrians by City Council. She highlights infrastructure issues such narrow sidewalks and inadequate pedestrian crossings  as well as statistical data such as pedestrian accident statistics and the fact that we’re an aging population. ‘In the future there will be more walkers with walkers’.

A couple of things recently have brought my attention to the fact that pedestrians are perhaps becoming overlooked in the development of our cities. I know this sounds crazy, but bear with me. They are being overlooked, often, in favour of cyclists. At a recent Gaining Ground workshop that I attended there seemed to be a consensus that while bicycle advocacy was well advanced in some areas (and rightly so) and has achieved some notable victories (Vancouver’s downtown bike lanes for example) there is no one flying the flag for pedestrians.

The City of Vancouver has a Bicycle Advisory Committee which is consulted on major development proposals and capital projects to ensure that cyclists needs have been taken into account. In addition, there is the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition who are the leading cycling advocates in the area and then there is, of course, Critical Mass. All of these bodies do great work (although I sometimes have doubts about critical mass). The point is not that bicycle advocacy has gone too far, but that pedestrian advocacy has, erh… well, not really started yet. The best example in Vancouver of this imbalance  is pedestrian’s losing the eastern sidewalk on the Burrard Bridge to cyclists. Road space should have been taken away from cars, not pedestrians!

I am not the only one to think that pedestrians need a flag waver, and not just in Vancouver. I recently read  Dom Nozzi’s latest blog entry which is on this very subject and he’s located all the way down in Florida. In Vancouver specifically, an SFU professor agrees that a pedestrian advocate is needed. The best Vancouver has at the moment is probably the Vancouver Public Space Network. They do some great work. However, their interest is far larger than just pedestrians. Other cities that Vancouver likes to compare itself against, such as Portland OR have a Pedestrian Advisory Committee. And it was formed in 2000! In case you’re wondering what a body such as this would do, Portland’s Mission Statement reads:

The mission of the City of Portland Pedestrian Advisory Committee is to act as advocates for pedestrians by:

  • Reviewing new projects that effect pedestrians to ensure they meet City of Portland Pedestrian Design Guide standards;
  • Advocating for safe access for pedestrians;
  • Supporting education, outreach, and advocacy of pedestrian issues; and
  • Developing policy and plans to better meet the needs of pedestrians.

So, why isn’t there one in Vancouver? Perhaps it’s because we’re all pedestrians, so we all assume someone else is doing something about it. Or perhaps it’s because everyone assumes pedestrians are doing just fine – give them a sidewalk or a cross walk and that should do it! The example of the Burrard Bridge road space reallocation shows that it doesn’t just happen by itself.  It’s time Vancouver had its own Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

If you look at the Blog on a computer, rather than on a smartphone or through the RRS feed, you’ll notice I’ve refreshed the style and look of the blog. I wanted to make the content clearer and generally clean things up. Hope you like it.

This article in the Globe and Mail got me thinking about how Translink should be funded in Metro Vancouver. Basically, Translink needs more money if it is to continue to expand services to meet the growing demands of more and more residents. Currently, Translink has four ways to raise money; property tax, gas tax, fares and a possible flat vehicle levy. One area I believe should be explored is allowing Translink to receive some of the Development Cost Charges that municipalities charge developers when they construct new buildings. These charges go towards paying for new infrastructure costs such as water, electricity, sewerage and roads. That’s right. Just roads. Or bicycle paths, or greenways. But not transit. Municipalities are taking this money to cover the costs of new roads, so they are provided, but Translink gets nothing to pay for new bus service. So it often doesn’t happen. Now you could say that over time, increased property taxes from these new developments will allow Translink to introduce services. But we all know that these services should be provided from day one, like the roads, so that sustainable travel habits can be established from the beginning. Enabling Translink to directly receive a portion of the Development Cost Charge would allow them to provide new services up front for the areas that require them most. The current system leads to an inherent bias towards roadway provision.

Well, this is supposed to be a place to show off my photos as well as my thoughts on planning and urban design. So, with that being said, here is a recent photograph I took while on Quadra Island for a few days with some family. It was the cloud formations that especially struck me, which I exaggerated slightly using a nifty piece of software called Viveza 2 from Nik Software.

Here is an interesting idea from the City of Mission in Kansas, USA. The City wants to charge fees based on how much traffic a development generates. Developments that generate more traffic and thus more wear and tear on the roads will be charged more. The article, from the Kansas City Star states that:

Larger businesses that generate lots of traffic, such as Mission Bank, could pay $5,659 a year. A drive-thru fast food restaurant could pay $12,200 a year. Target could pay as much as $64,750 annually.

From the article it sounds like this is a set fee, based on looking up an ITE trip generation table (or similar) to tell you how much traffic a certain development type will generate per unit area (usually per 1,000 sq ft). This in itself is an outdated approach of course, as surrounding land use and density have a vital role to play in influencing the trip generation of a certain development type. However, it is a good idea in theory. I would suggest a couple of improvements to this approach, that would further promote smart growth principles. Firstly, it should include a factor which acknowledges that building a McDonalds (for example) in a higher density, pedestrian friendly area will generate less traffic than building one out in suburbia on a strip mall. This would financially encourage developers to locate in built up, walkable neighbourhoods, as it will cost them less in ‘traffic tax’. Even better, for larger developments, this should be done dynamically. With a permanent traffic counter (or temporary one used at regular intervals) on a site driveway, the number of trips the development generates can be regularly monitored. The more car trips, the more tax they pay. Therefore reducing these trips has a direct financial advantage for the owner. This would make developers think about the location that they build in, but also strive for continual improvements in the travel mode of their employees and visitors. A potential drawback of this approach is that municipalities receive less tax revenue if developments successfully implement vehicle reduction strategies.

Of course, the traffic counter approach only works if each development provides its own parking supply. In urban centres, it is good practice to have a pooled parking supply of on-street parking and municipal owned public parkades. In conclusion therefore, making developments that generate more traffic pay more for the upkeep of the roads makes sense, but the system needs to reward location and potentially other measures such as TDM strategies that an individual development may wish to implement.

This photo was taken a few weeks ago before one of the ‘Celebration of Light’ fireworks nights, here in Vancouver. As you can see, the crowds get pretty extreme, even hours before the fireworks start. I often wander what tourists think who happen to be in town but don’t know about the fireworks. Do they just think, ‘wow this is busy’!

English Bay is, of course, an example of one of Vancouver’s well used public spaces. It’s a meeting place, a hang out place and is used for events through the (summer) months of the year.

If case you missed it, there is a debate going on in Canada at the moment concerning the government’s announcement that they wish to abolish the long standing mandatory census and replace it with a shorter, voluntary one. Urban planners and others rely on the census data to make important decisions about all sorts of issues. A voluntary census will cost Canada more in the longer term with poorer decision making. Brent Toderian, Director of City Planning at the City of Vancouver, makes his case here.