Archive | October, 2014

Clean those leaves

29 Oct

Feeling grouchy after my soggy bike ride from yesterday. Once again I had to take the detour around Stanley Park rather than risk the Causeway because the sidewalk remains covered in piles of slippery autumn leaves. The Causeway sidewalk is supposed to be maintained by the province, but it seems to be neglecting its duties, leaving pedestrians and cyclists with limited options and still without a barrier separating them from motorized traffic.

Oh how we live in an absurd world! There is this paranoia about bike helmets, but almost no interest in building bike infrastructure than will do more to save peoples lives than a dinky helmet.

In my opinion helmet laws need to be abolished, or modified. In Tel Aviv, in order to bring in bike share, the helmet law was modified where only children under 12 are required to wear a helmet. We in North America do not seem to understand that as long as a helmet is required, people will continue to think cycling is a dangerous activity. In fact cycling is much safer than driving, the only reason it is more dangerous in North America is because our bike lanes are paint on a street.
I’d bet the amount of lives saved with helmets are more than lost by the number of people who, put off by helmets and the “danger of bike riding”, stay behind the wheel of their cars, getting fatter and suffocating on car fumes.
Forget about helmets for adults, and focus on first world bike infrastructure.

Passerelle of the Future – 2: 11th Street Bridge

27 Oct

Perhaps this will provide inspiration for the redevelopment of Granville Bridge, providing a better cycle and pedestrian connection between Granville Island and the to be transformed north end of the bridge.

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In September, PT posted the 11th Street Bridge competition in Washington, DC here.

And now the winners:

Landscape architecture firm OLIN and architecture firm OMA were announced as the winners of a national design competition to create a 900-foot-long bridge park spanning the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C.



More here, plus video, in the Washington Post.

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A Change of Scale 3 – In North Vancouver

27 Oct

This is part of my cycle route from home in Kitsilano to our offices in Lower Lonsdale. I am pleased with the transformation, but will the three local governments and the Squamish be able to collaborate on a long term plan to build a tram or fixed link transit option to move all these people between Park Royal and Lower Lonsdale? Or is the solution to just let automobile congestion clog up Marine Drive?

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From The Daily Scot:

A stroll around the North Vancouver District portion of Marine Drive last month reveals a rapid transformation from arterial to mid-rise mixed use corridor with a flurry of infill construction.



It’s rumored that District of North Vancouver’s goal is to turn Marine Drive into West 4th in Kits.  The scale and proportion of the buildings and the variety of materials used – brick, wood, metal – go a long way to adding interest and creating a human scale environment that trumps the massive block sizes of concrete and glass of some tower projects.



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The Fundamental Rule of Traffic

27 Oct

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This really shouldn’t be necessary to post (certainly not to most readers of PT), but apparently it’s needed when those running for office in Vancouver don’t get that trying to reduce congestion by increasing the efficiency of the road network – whether through widening or counterflow lanes – isn’t going to work: 


The “fundamental rule” of traffic: building new roads just makes people drive more


This article from Vox begins with a stunning revelation.  Well, it would be if it wasn’t so consistent with the ‘fundamental rule.’


Orbitz Names LAX As Busiest Airport For 2011 Thanksgiving Travel

After years spent widening the interstate 405 freeway in Los Angeles, travel times are slightly slower than before.


Decades of traffic data across the United States shows that adding new road capacity doesn’t actually improve congestion. The latest example of this is the widening of Los Angeles’ I-405 freeway, which was completed in May after five years of construction and a…

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The Beautiful Ones

24 Oct

I have been privileged in my life time to have known almost all of them, but what makes them unique? Why are some cities so darn awful, qu’on veut juste les oublier, and others so inviting that we can’t stop going back for more.

Apart from being far away from everything, Cape Town is a magnificent city. Capetonians enjoy stunning scenery, a largely car-free urban centre, outdoor markets, patios, beaches, and unparalleled cultural diversity. I consider myself fortunate to have it permanently stamped in my passport as “place of birth”, despite all the life implications it had for myself and my family for so many years.

Rio de Janeiro was briefly home back in the early 2000’s. It was there I fell in love with urban cycling, as even back then A Cidade Maravilhosa had an impressive cycling network, which allowed one to ride from the most southern of Rio’s suburbs all the way to the city centre. It is my understanding this network has grown significantly as the centre becomes safer, though, as in Cape Town, it remains hampered by the reality of Rio de Janeiro’s large income disparities.

I spent a year there – London is an imposingly beautiful city, which is remarkable considering it is one of the most densely populated centres in the world. Driving through London is intolerably slow, with average speeds around 10 miles per hour; everything about the place is expensive, even a sandwich at M&S will set you back 4 pounds. Yet London is teeming with parks, the city has a magnificent Thames River Walk, and its transport system is remarkably clean and efficient given its age.

Barcelona has blocks and blocks of pedestrian promenades, plazas, and street patios. The beach side features one of the greatest sea walls in the world, stretching for miles between the city of Gaudi and the shimmering beaches of the Mediterranean. At sunset one can dance to music on the beaches without the complaints of residents, while at night the city is alive with street life and live music. A gem I was fortunate enough to spend time in as a student while at grad school.

Other beautiful cities populate lists of all kinds, for all sorts of reasons. Vancouver is often on those lists, which is of no surprise. Our city is blessed with an improbable combination of sea, mountains, moderate climate, and an ethnically diverse population. Vancouver is free of the poverty of Rio de Janeiro, or the slums of Cape Town, it is far from the political instability of the Mediterranean that fronts Barcelona, it is out of the spotlight that shines without pause on London, Paris, and New York. Yet our city also has its downsides. There are no pedestrian corridors in the city centre, no plazas, no bike share programs, limited bikes lanes, a small and neglected public transit system, increased income disparities between east side and west side, and an unsolvable housing crisis.

At home on a Friday night, I am also acutely aware that in Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, or Barcelona, the last thing I would be doing is sitting in front of my computer alone. Yet this is one of the realities of a city that is terrified of noisy public places and the outdoor consumption of alcohol. I have no desire to mingle in a hockey lovers ghetto on Granville Street with rowdy 20 year olds hiding whisky in their pockets, just like I have no interest in listening to a tirade of Miley Cyrus songs pouring out of the doors of many of the establishments that are supposed to represent the night life of a city convinced it is the “Most Beautiful Place on Earth”

Vancouver has many of the elements in place to be the best of great cities, hopefully we can take an eye away from the mirror to learn a bit more about the successes of our rivals, so that we too can take our urban landscape to the next level.

Gentrification: bourgeois, burgers, and burghers

22 Oct

This post is quite different from my previous posts; however occasionally I feel it important to explore some of the language commonly used in modern debates around urbanization and urban land policy. Words such as bourgeois, bourgeoisie, burghers, boroughs, gentrification, industrialization. All of these terms are regularly employed in the politics of urbanization; however, it is their etymology that is particularly interesting, as each of these words provides a window into the history of urbanization.

Karl Marx, and the more radical communists who followed him, railed against a class of urban inhabitants who were the financiers and entrepreneurs behind the industrial revolution in Europe, Canada, and the United States. This class or new establishment were known as the “Bourgeois” or the city “Burghers”, and they were critical to transforming Europe and North America from rural to urban societies in the 19th and 20th centuries . (1)

The word bourgeois means “inhabitants inside the city walls” and is from medieval french. (2) In medieval France they were the craftsmen and lenders who lived inside the city and served the royal court. The Bourgeoisie or burghers of 19th and 20th century Europe were neither the aristocracy nor the working and rural classes, they were the holders of land and industrial wealth who also inhabited areas inside the traditional city walls in boroughs, which adjoined the inner centres of the great cities of Europe. (3) Vienna is a classic example of this urban model, where prior to 1918, the aristocracy enjoyed almost exclusive control of the palaces and lands of the inner centre of the city. Outside of this node, in an enormous doughnut, a large bourgeoisie arose, and it was through their wealth that cities like Vienna rapidly grew under the expansive wealth of the bourgeois class. Further beyond the gentrified neighbourhoods of the bourgeois, extended the lesser boroughs, known in French as the “faubourges”, essentially meaning “outside the bourgeois”, or “outside the town walls”. (4) This enormous populace were the factory workers, cleaners, and scrubbers of the industrial age – the proletariat. These huge geographical areas extended outwards into the rural countryside, and had limited contact with the aristocracy and elite bourgeois located in the inner rings of the city. (5)

1918 changed all of this. The calamity of the Great War, which resulted in the end of Hapsburgs and many other aristocracies ushered in a new era, where the aristocracy were replaced by a new and powerful industrial class sprung out of the elite bourgeoisie. Europe underwent a great period of mixing and political instability as the world lurched from one “ism” to another. In Russia the aristocracy lost their heads, and the bourgeois were stripped of their wealth and status to become workers of the state, along with the former proletariat. In Central Europe the Nazi Holocaust slaughtered millions of urban workers through conflict and industrialized ethnic cleansing, in an attempt to create a Greater industrial Germany.

The political instability in Europe both in the 19th and 20th century lead to large numbers of German speaking peoples leaving central Europe to settle in the United States. This was a period of industrialization in German speaking Europe and the rise of German Unification, where in the 1860’s and 70’s Bismarck and the Kaisers of Prussia forced all German peoples outside of the Helvetic Confederacy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire to form a single empire of ethnic Germans. (6) German immigrants to America brought their language and customs, both of which had lasting and significant impacts on all aspects of American society. Including American cuisine, which today is known for the Hamburger, or burger for short, a meaty patty whose origin can be identified to the city of Hamburg, located in modern day Germany. (7)

The name Hamburg is most likely derived from the words town and forest or pastures, essentially a town or group of inhabitants in a forest or fields; however, the etymology of Ham is not entirely clear. What is clear is that burgher has the same origin and meaning as the french word bourgeois – both are expressions of inhabitants of urban centres inside the traditional town walls. Thus the pop culture modern burger served on plates worldwide and most commonly associated with American cuisine is in fact a German word for bourgeois, the very class of people so despised by both Marx and the communists.

Today bourgeois and bourgeoisie are associated with gentrification, a word whose etymology is equally fascinating. Gentrification derives from the word gentry, which is believed to mean of “gentle origins”, or those who have accumulated their wealth through gentlemanly ways free from the sweaty toils of manual labour associated with the proletariat or the rural class. (8)

Bourgeois, burgers, burghers, boroughs, gentrification. This exercise demonstrates the importance of words and their meaning in the daily discourse of politicians, academics, developers, and community leaders. Understanding their origin helps not only comprehend the current urban environment, it also provides a context to the great events and tragedies that shaped the cities of the world.









Notes: I consider Stefan Zweig to be one of the greatest biographers of modern times. For those seeking an insight into Europe from 1892 to 1941, there can be no better biography than “Le Monde d’Hier”

Building a Home in Vancouver

18 Oct

The bulk of my focus on this blog is on the urban issues here in Vancouver, specifically snapshots of bike lines, cycling, zoning, property development; however, more general themes related to urbanization as a global phenomenon, the urbanization of the Internet (clustering of activity around super sites such as facebook or google), and other not so Vancouver themes will occasionally pop up.

One of the reasons I returned to blogging was an interest in the micro process of property development. What happens on the ground? How hard is to build or renovate a house in Vancouver? What is like working with City Hall? The best way to do this is to actually blog about a project from its inception to its conclusion, which is what I intend to do.

The current project I am working on was originally intended to be a demolition and new multi-unit development; however, that objective has evolved quite radically into a restoration project. The motives behind this are that the city has imposed very strict rules on what homes can be demolished. While the property in question has limited redeeming features (what I thought when I wrote the offer), the residents in the neighbourhood have pushed City Hall to favour restoration over density. The initial work with the architect and consultations with the city planning department have confirmed this, which means the end product will be mostly a completely refurbished old house containing two, rather than one single home. In all honesty I tend to prefer the restoration option, primarily because less waste goes to the landfill, but also our company is a master in the area of home renovations and restoration.

At this point it is still uncertain as to whether I will hire a full service builder or end up building the house myself and hire services to fill in what is outside of my area of specialization. Increasingly the cost game is forcing my hand in one direction; however time will tell. One of the areas I have no expertise in is raising a home of its foundations. This procedure is increasingly common in Vancouver, as the City of Vancouver balances a push towards medium density outside of the downtown, with the demands of local residents to retain the existing neighbourhood feel.

Regardless of the option I choose, the aspect of jacking the house up, laying the new foundation, drainage, services, and framing infill will outsourced. One thing I have learnt in business is to focus on what you know, do it well, and outsource what you don’t know to strategic partners. The world’s most successful companies do this – Apple, Adidas, Bombardier. The less successful companies try to do it all – think HP, Target Canada, RIM (now called Blackberry).