From parking lot to paradise?
Congratulations Leslie! What an ingenious way to leverage older public assets—City-owned parkades—into much-needed affordable, workforce housing. (See July/August 2017)
Too bad, the City isn’t committed to affordably sheltering the majority of its citizens. “Trickle-down” economics propels their “trickle-down” housing myth. City politicians, staff, and real estate investors have only one vision for Victoria: to create premium-priced properties that cater to tourists and privileged members of society, many of whom live in their towers on a seasonal basis.
Developers want lucrative projects built in the shortest time, with as few restrictions as possible. Developers demolish affordable, older low-rise wood frame apartment blocks and erect expensive multi-storey condos for high-income retirees, well-paid high-tech workers, and professionals in government. What poses as city planning is rampant deregulation of unit size, increased density, and decreased parking requirements.
Our capital city is now unaffordable to a large number of residents. Many face displacement.
The City owns more than 600 properties and facilities, including the five parkades mentioned in Leslie’s editorial. Many of these are near the end of their life-cycle and will need costly seismic upgrading to avoid public liability. Two major geological fault lines lie beneath the city. These seem not to be a major concern to politicians, owners of rental properties, or even the financial institutions.
The City is reluctant to undertake any risk-assessments and serious mitigation measures to reduce liability from earthquakes, storm surges, or toxic contamination in soil resulting from leakage of industrial chemicals from old underground storage tanks.
What good is building high-priced Downtown condo towers, decorative pathways and segregated bike lanes when much of the City’s infrastructure (roadways, sewers and storm drainage system, and potable water pipes) need costly repairs and would almost certainly be destroyed during any major seismic event?
David Broadland’s article “Dumb questions and their (possibly) profound consequences” is also revealing and thought-provoking. “Due diligence” of major infrastructure projects such as the Johnson Street Bridge and “the need for public oversight of council and the City administration” seems beyond the scope of our elected officials.
Councillor Madoff’s admission re lessons learned from the Blue Bridge saga is an indictment of our current civic governance—the unwillingness of political representatives to face reality, assume responsibility, be held accountable for their own role (and that of the previous council who approved the project). All have contributed to this mess.
Council’s collective failure on the Johnson Street bridge replacement, to sniff out inaccuracy and under-estimation and overselling by experts, has real consequences for citizens. Taxpayers will bear a heavy burden of hidden liability and debt which can be traced to these elected officials’ poor decisions.
Those who do not recognize the two active fault lines that lie beneath our City have little interest in undertaking critical measures to mitigate the potential damage to property and loss of life during an earthquake. They are the same individuals who find no fault in their roles as elected officials. And find no problem with their decision to approve the construction of a less-than-fault-proof bridge.
Are the CRD’s climate change goals pie-in-the-sky?
Leslie Campbell’s hard look at the CRD and climate change is timely and apropos. (Sept/Oct 2017) Perhaps even a game changer. The game is governance. The subtext is that the CRD can’t do what people want it to do. She notes three areas where this is true: Growth, transportation inaction, and consequent upon that, pie-in-the-sky climate change policy.
The question is what should regional government look like? A recent report on CRD governance didn’t fully answer that, though it noted, “Getting to ‘yes’ on big contentious issues is a problem.” Well what are the consequences? Campbell pointed to important ones where the report did not. So where next?
I think the Province should take a look at how this region is governed and ask is this what we want—to be the cop when things go pear- shaped? The region as provincial ward? I say: the region. Amalgamation is another issue.
The sort of issues you raise are not going away.
Re: Leslie’s editorial on the conundrum of urban densification vs greenspace preservation (or compact vs sprawl): Please write Part Two, namely the unavoidable conclusion that without population control (local and global), no other ecological problem will be soluble.
I’m not sure why people, including environmentalists, always stop the discussion short of this stage, but it would be great if one of Focus’ writers tackled the issue. I find telling and haunting statistics at www.populationmatters.org. All our politicians are fiddling while Rome breeds. They fear to touch the subject. But Focus has been fearless in the past, so maybe about this?
Difficult conversations on the steep descent ahead
I am reading the letters to the editor in Focus’ September/October edition around “Mayor Helps 1.5 percent solution” and I feel compelled to add my first-ever letter to this magazine.
I just celebrated my 75th birthday. I did not ride a bike in my childhood. In fact I learned to ride one in my early 60s. I cycle on Dallas Road, in Oak Bay, around Fairfield, sometimes even up Shelbourne to Feltham. And on the Goose, of course. I love what’s happening with cycling paths in the core area. I totally support more protected lanes. It’s fine to nitpick how we go about it, but we do need to give more space to human-powered transportation.
I cycle a lot, and support efforts to provide more room for bikes on roads, with as little disruption to vehicles as possible, and as cost-effectively as possible. The bike lane project timeline on the Victoria website shows an evaluation and monitoring process, so I hope future phases will benefit from lessons learned, and that the project will eventually result in fewer car trips and miles.
I agree with David Broadland that, as the consequences of global warming worsen, our options for having a functional world in 80 years seem to be narrowing to a “moon shot,” or a collective generational effort like WWII. When looking for solutions, I urge readers to find Tony Seba’s “Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation” on YouTube. Among other observations, he suggests that within a very few years, the convergence of driverless electric vehicles and web-based Uber-style services could provide a preferable alternative to owning a vehicle—at a tenth of the cost. In addition to climate benefits, there would be advantages in densification, affordable housing, clean air, less road congestion, productivity and less wasted time.
There are many factors that could prevent positive disruptions like this. They include the mighty oil and auto lobbies, and good old-fashioned resistance to change. Another critical problem could be the lack of politicians to champion such innovation.
Politicians often risk failure—think of all the time, money and effort spent trying to move the stars into alignment for LNG. Think of fast ferries, Site C (possibly), pipelines, seven-fold increases in tanker traffic, highway expansion, clean coal, and the local bridge and sewage projects examined in Focus. If politicians are willing to risk failure so regularly on projects like this, why not take a shot at carbon taxes, road pricing, vehicle standards, and public transport investment? Why not risk creating a city, province and country where existing innovations get us where we need to go?
Victoria’s mayor and City planners’ dream to create another Amsterdam or Copenhagen for bicyclists is a nice pie-in-the-sky dream, but there are a few important differences that can not be overcome.
First, Amsterdam and Copenhagen are very flat! No up and down hilly streets to master.
Secondly, both cities are much older than Victoria. Meaning, their citizens are accustomed to use bicycles for their daily errands—for many generations. And much of biking and walking is done in combination with other transport modes. Children grow up to use a bicycle to go to school. (There are few school buses and parents don’t line up in autos to pick up children.)
In much of Europe, grocery shopping is done almost daily, and the small amounts can be picked up with a bicycle.
Rigorous bicycle traffic rules are in place in Europe. No bicycle is allowed to sit in a car-lane in front of cars for a left-hand turn. If no bicycle lane is available the biker has to follow the pedestrian rules.
Extra bicycle-lanes will not encourage Victoria’s high percentage of senior citizens to suddenly climb on a bicycle and leave their BMW’s and Mercedes in the garage.
Europe’s high percentage of bicyclists and walkers has to do with the fact that many grew up without a car in the family. Teenagers with a driver’s license? No way!
As long as the world-wide car industry is rolling out new automobiles daily and electric cars are higher-priced than the fossil-fuel gobblers, not much will change in the foreseeable future, even as astonished voices cry: “I never saw such rising waters in my life. I never saw such hurricanes in my life. I never saw such wildfires in my life.” Right, baby—you never did! Hold onto your hat; it will get worse, not better.
One man’s trash…
I thought I was reading a lovely fairy tale with unicorns and rainbows when I finished the September/October Focus article “One Man’s Trash.” I have been involved in the recycling industry in Western Canada for almost 25 years and I can safely say that BC (and the rest of the planet) will never see garbage as “obsolete.” China has been responsible for the “recycling” of up to 85 percent of the world’s plastic. But as of September, China has notified the World Trade Organization that they would stop all recycled plastics and mixed waste paper from importation. In the last 30 years China has become the world’s home for the rest of the planet’s problems, and their government has had enough. Already the recycling industry worldwide is reeling from this development, and completely unprepared as to how to deal with it. So don’t expect any miraculous improvements in the future as far as materials going into your blue boxes—you may soon be putting some of that right back into your garbage container just like we used to do.
Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic responds: It’s true that China has been the world’s leading importer of raw recycled goods these past few decades and has now stated its intent to ban plastic and mixed waste paper due to unacceptably high levels of contamination. (Canada does not seem to be on its list of offenders.) It’s also true that China in this same era has been the world’s biggest exporter of cheap finished goods, which means, ironically, that much of the world’s recycling is a boomerang that has quietly been ricocheting back and forth in recent years.
China’s ban will likely not affect us too much. The only commodity BC still sends whole-scale to China is mixed paper, and Recycle BC is working to change that by promoting new innovations and partnerships for keeping locally-collected materials in the local market. That’s the whole point, says Allen Langdon, managing director of Recycle BC. That’s the only way we will succeed in minimizing our carbon footprint and connecting recycling to manufacturing in a circular and more sustainable economy.
Vast improvements in collecting, sorting, cleaning, baling and transportation systems over the last decade, as well as the development of increasingly more local end-markets ensure that recycled materials are becoming a valuable commodity. The nearly 1300 businesses in this province that collectively pay $83 million annually to have these materials properly recycled would not consider the long road to the landfill via the Blue Box to be acceptable value for their imposed tariff. Add to that the thousands of people working in the growing recycling industry in BC, and the probability of it all being a charade becomes quite unlikely.
In the end though, recycling, even at a 100 percent recovery rate, is only part of the solution. As long as the world continues to buy a million plastic water bottles every minute, there’s a mountain of work to be done. I continue the discussion in this issue and recommend Recycle BC’s 2016 annual report, available online, for further reading. TDM
Annie Leonard has a stunning insight in her charming free online “Story of Stuff “animation: Even if we recycle 100 percent of everything in the Blue Box, that is only 1 percent of the world’s waste. And CRD is nowhere near that.
Recycle BC is the privatized and green-washed takeover of the formerly primarily public CRD program. The 1300 companies that comprise the “Stewards” list are not altruistic.
The biggest among them realized they could now profit from certain waste-stream products. They are now benefiting from the past 20-plus years of public subsidy. This is what created a high enough Blue Box participation rate for the companies to profit from it.
And the profitable products reflect inferior recycling quality: glass bottles crushed for roads benefit paving companies, but do little if anything to reduce the carbon footprint.
Most “recycled” paper has less than 30 percent post-consumer content. And the “100 percent recycled” definition allows wood chip debris from ancient-growth trees. It has to say “100 percent post-consumer recycled” to truly be so.
Same for recycled clothing and carpets. When companies pay us handsomely to get back and reformulate everything they sell us, including cigarette butts, then you’ll know we’re genuinely recycling everything. Better yet—lease products rather than sell them. That’ll keep plastic out of our waterways and off our beaches. It just takes legislation.
Don’t waste the Blue Bridge: park it
The impending completion of the new bridge must bring great relief to many people, but it is distressing to consider the idea of the Johnson Street Bridge being demolished. What a terrible waste. A much better idea would be to re-develop the historic Blue Bridge into a fabulous new enhancement for downtown Victoria by turning it into parkland that everyone could enjoy as The Blue Bridge Park.
This is not really an original idea but rather a proven success in other cities. New York re-imagined a downtown elevated railroad track into the High Line Park, making it one of the premier destinations in the city and revitalizing the neighbourhood that surrounds it. Google “High Line” to see what a beautiful idea it is.
Stated simply, the approaches and the roadways of the existing Blue Bridge would be covered with grass and feature landscaped gardens, trees and pathways with strategically placed seating areas. The current approaches would become new parks on both sides of the water. I expect the passage would have to remain open since I doubt there would be any interest in funding the ongoing operation of the rising section. However, as a permanent tower the structure presents amazing possibilities in design and function.
There is a sore lack of green space to compliment all the development and growth Downtown. The Blue Bridge Park would be an accessible and inviting public place for people to walk, to play, to picnic. It could showcase events and public art and provide a unique vantage point for locals and tourists to enjoy the harbour and city.
Province must act on professional reliance
We have a fundamental problem in British Columbia, Canada, whereby the province is not living up to its constitutional obligation to look after natural resources in the public interest. The provincial government needs to re-draft legislation for all resources so that the respective statutes are subordinate to over-arching legislation for sustainability and for regional land-use planning. Professional reliance has done a good job of showcasing this fundamental problem of constitutional negligence. Now, our new provincial government must act to redress the problem—we expect no less.
The costs of Site C:
I attended the BC Utilities Commission hearings on Site C here in Victoria on October 11. I have hope for this review. If it is done honestly and with the deep interests of British Columbia at its core, it will determine what we’ve known for a long time: that we don’t need Site C and that it would open the way to enormous loss.
The usual arguments against Site C are well known. I won’t repeat them here. What I’m hoping for is long-term vision for BC’s health in the broadest sense, for an honorable understanding of what reconciliation really means, for deep humane, environmental and ecological thought. For support for farmland. And of course, bottom line, for what’s best for the economic future of BC in the broadest, most open-hearted way—one based on “full cost accounting” of the environmental, social and economical costs and benefits.
These are costs we sometimes overlook. Thus, the loss of prime farm land in a time of global warming is a huge financial loss.
The loss of a First Nations burial ground, safe fish and ungulates, and most importantly, the loss of belief in the possibility of a respectful relationship is an enormous financial loss.
The loss of one of the most beautiful valleys in the province is a loss to tourism, of course, but more importantly to all of us who love this land.
The loss of the opportunity for green renewable jobs rather than the over-inflated, over-promised jobs forecast for Site C is a financial loss and a deficit of vision.
The loss of wildlife corridors and their many species is an economic as well as an environmental loss. For First Nations and the rest of us, poisoning fish by methyl mercury is a huge loss.
The increase in methane gas, and thus GHGs, is a loss we absolutely cannot bear at this time. Big dams are fossil thinking, especially a dam which is planned to support LNG extraction, with its accompanying risks of poisoning ground water and increasing seismic activity.
We need now more than ever to apply both hearts and minds to the problems of our times. The fallout from the decisions we make may turn the Earth as we know it into a place where our grandchildren can’t survive. We need to feel our love and gratitude for our lives on this beautiful planet and then to act from that understanding.
We need, in fact, to Stop Site C.
I am a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and I have treated shingles very successfully as any acupuncturist or Chinese herbalist could. Even difficult cases can be treated with TCM fast and effectively—without the controversial vaccine, utilizing the body’s own healing ability.
I feel overwhelmed thinking of the task ahead, of the level of public education needed, given that the shingles treatment in TCM is not yet known to the medical society or the public. Chinese medicine can be such a great complement in our modern reality. We need to be open, and not prejudiced, against other medical systems.
I enjoy reading Alan Cassel’s articles. I feel his work offers healthy criticism of the current medical system in our community.
Dr Katrine B. Hegillman, Dr. TCM, BSc. R.Ac.