Future proofing Victoria
Ross Crockford’s eloquent post-mortem on Victoria’s civic election (“Great politics vs. good governance,” November/December 2018) notes that the new council will need to move quickly to address “a mess of detailed, practical issues.” Heading the list is affordable housing, the Crystal Pool, and fendering on the Johnson Street Bridge. If these issues are successfully “juggled,” as he puts it, and City Hall is seen to be well run and financially stable, our mayor and council “will bring Victorians together.”
I wonder if this is true—and I wonder because none of these issues genuinely matter to the future of our city.
We are living at the edge of an inflection point in human history, a time of significant change, a turning point. The smoke from forest fires that enveloped our city—and so many others—this summer was a visceral reminder that climate change is real, it is happening now, and we are not immune to its effects.
Similarly, radically advanced robotics and artificial intelligence are re-shaping the employment landscape worldwide, but they are doing more than that; they are changing the ways in which humans interact with each other and the world around us. As a bona fide technology hub (albeit not so much in robotics or AI), this could be an opportunity for Victoria to showcase how it is using (or will use) AI to facilitate smart urban development, for example, but neither our mayor nor any member of the new council campaigned on a future-focused strategy of how this might be done.
The issues that command our immediate attention, such as affordable housing, or the fate of the Crystal Pool, are real enough and yet they also seem parochial; too small to define the conversation about the path Victoria is travelling through time. Each of them is most properly cast as an objective that, if approached intelligently, would support the realization of something greater: a city that is resilient in the face of change; a city that excels at pattern recognition and the seizing of opportunity; a city that future proofs itself and its citizens.
What exactly does future proofing mean? It is the conscious, intentional decision to do certain things—and crucially, not to do others—that insulates the city against economic, environmental and social change that might otherwise be de-stabilizing. This is especially important for island communities. We are vulnerable to many of the global forces that are playing out in distant places—though in our complacency we delude ourselves into thinking that we are sustainable. Our energy and our food, for example, come to us from the Mainland, and are susceptible to supply chain shocks. Imagine the chaos if either our energy or our food supply were interrupted for even a few days? Beyond these obvious supply chains, there is another, less well-known attitudinal chain, that is equally important. What is the collective attitude about Victoria today? What do we think about when we think of the future? Do we even know what the future means to us anymore, or have we forgotten?
Without memory we have nothing.
The decisions local governments make about infrastructure—be it buildings, bridges, roads, or sewer and water mains—leave an indelible physical imprint on the city that endures for a century or more. Equally, those decisions shape the emotional experience of this place, the feeling sense that each of us has as we walk around Downtown. There is a good deal of development taking place here, but what is the narrative or story that it tells? What does it say about the atmosphere of Victoria at this moment in its history? What does it say about what makes Victoria special?
Victoria needs to incubate a conversation about the future, about what this city could mean to us (and others) a generation from now. What are the forces laying in the shadows that we need to confront? What is our vision, distinct from any other city, that conveys a sense of uniqueness and palpable civic pride? Better still, how might Victoria recover the sense of community that is ultimately the most potent competitive advantage any city can have and use it to inspire each of us to reach for the stars rather than muddle through. Now if we could make progress on that kind of agenda, then I think we’d truly bring Victorians together.
I remember looking forward to Stephen Hume’s conscious and eloquent Vancouver Sun articles. What an honour to have his gift at Focus.
“Orcapocalypse” stirringly articulates the planet’s dire condition.
Four films together present a simple vision and strategy to end the eco-catastrophic era. Watch Living Downstream, What the Health, Cowspiracy, and Stink (the latter three on Netflix).
About that nagging climate change dilemma: UK’s Paisley University Social Sciences Emeritus Professor John Foster insists that neoliberal policies, including those enshrined in European Union treaties and directives, preclude the action necessary to combat climate change effectively. “Such an urgent, radical transformation is not possible without large-scale public ownership, investment and planning, which means a revolutionary advance to socialism,” Mr Foster argued. Doesn’t Mr Foster know socialism “always fails”?
As Stephen Hume (November/December 2018) alluded to, and David Broadland (November/December 2017) noted, “Rivers running into Puget Sound have perennially low returns of Chinook salmon—currently estimated at just 10 percent of their historic levels—even though many of them are enhanced with hatcheries. Last year, scientific research connected this decline to secondary sewage treatment plants discharging partially-treated effluent into Puget Sound.”
Jay Inslee, Washington State’s governor, wants $1.1 billion to pay for a state effort to help recover the critically endangered Southern Resident population of killer whales. With 100+ secondary sewage treatment plants on Puget Sound in critical need of upgrading, will any of that $1.1 billion be used in this regard? Or is even the mention of the pollution in Puget Sound somehow to be avoided, not only by Washington State, but by our government in Victoria?
I expect such a task would gobble up that billion dollars and then some—which means that any effort envisioned by the governor is at best tinkering around the edges.
Landslide Lisa’s record
The structure of the “City Family” and the conduct of its business should come as a surprise to no one (Focus, November/December 2018), and probably doesn’t. A bit more surprising, though, is the suggestion of one correspondent that “Reconciliation is of supreme importance to all of us.”
Arguably what should be of far more importance to all of us is the issue at hand that can’t be even mentioned in public: race politics. A long and ugly practice, with harrowing results, particularly when politicians get aboard, as we now see in Victoria.
Everything we do counts
As ever more dire climate disruption is reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it was encouraging to read Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic’s last two “finding balance” articles about that very subject and what we as individuals can and must do. Her list includes a multitude of individual actions that can add up to a fair-sized difference, with little sacrifice and a growing sense of what really matters. I thank her for contributing to the crucial conversations we all need to have amongst ourselves and our political representatives.
My experience over the last 35 years has taught me that there are far more gains than losses in choosing greener options, especially with those hot-point issues that seem so daunting, like “giving up my car” or “paying more at the gas pump.” Here’s how a few little mishaps inadvertently led me to ride my bike to work and live happily ever after.
In the 1980s, as a busy single parent living in Lethbridge, Alberta, I drove the 1.75 kms to work every day without thinking. Everyone did. Then one winter morning my car wouldn’t start, so I had to catch the bus two blocks away. It was surprisingly pleasant not having to warm up my vehicle, or worry about icy intersections, and I had a blissful few minutes to sit and relax. So I rode the bus after that, saving money on gas, and enjoying my brisk walk to the bus and back.
Then one day I missed the bus. After a quick calculation of time and possible shortcuts, I decided I would get to work sooner by walking than by waiting for the next bus. So off I trotted, arriving surprisingly refreshed and only a few minutes late. Why not walk home too? That became my new routine every day after that, saving more money, sleeping better, feeling more vibrant and alert, and enjoying the sights, sounds, smells and greetings of my community. Even in the wind and rain. Even in snowy and minus-30-degree weather. When I got to work, co-workers would say incredulously, “You walked to work this morning?” and I would reply, equally amazed, “You drove?”
An added bonus occurred one morning in 2002, when my path crossed that of a fine man walking to his workplace. We continued to walk together until he retired and my office moved too far for me to reasonably walk. So that is when and how I came to ride my bike to work, and for errands, and for the sheer joy of it.
To this day, Sidewalk Man and I routinely walk or ride our bikes instead of driving. If we can’t walk or ride, we take the bus (where texting is both safe and legal, by the way). Only when no other options work do we get in the car and drive. Now our home is Victoria where there is so much to see and do, but even our “adventures” are mostly within a 30-kilometre range. We do not feel deprived. We are both well over 65, never were and still aren’t what you would call athletic, but our main form of day-to-day transportation is active and much preferred to the hassle of driving and parking. Plus, a wide choice of tasty calories provides our fossil-fuel-free fuel.
I was lucky to be led by chance to a finer way of living. The climate imperative before us all requires bold and urgent action to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Failure to do so is not a viable option. Neither is continuing to delay. For inspiration, hope, and bright possibility, I encourage you to check out online Canada Post’s proposal “Delivering Community Power,” just one of many leaps in thinking waiting for the political green light to move us forward into a sustainable economy and a better future. Discover for yourself that saving life on this planet holds many gifts, and is not to be feared. Let’s do it together. There’s no time to lose.
Transportation in Victoria’s urban core
It should be obvious to residents of Victoria that there are too many cars on the busy streets Downtown. Rush hour now can be any time between 7 am and 6 pm depending on the day. This situation will only worsen as densification of this area continues. Thousands of living units will have been added in the period from 2014 to 2024. Not all of the residents of these rental units and condominiums will have cars, but most of them will. Add to these the increasing population of the Greater Victoria area, as well as off-island visitors, and you have a big traffic problem. The problem will exist whether we have bike lanes or not.
Therefore we have to look to the future when deciding on the best way to move people within the urban core (Inner Harbour to Quadra, Belleville to Chatham). Using cars for this purpose is not efficient or appropriate; they are a convenient means of transportation but they have a high social cost. For example, they occupy much more space than a pedestrian or cyclist and, except for electric vehicles, they pollute. This is most obvious on the busiest streets at the busiest times of the day. As well, the more cars there are on the streets, the longer it takes to get anywhere, the more exhaust fumes spew into the air. Where to park and how much valuable core land should be devoted to parking cars are other important issues.
Public transportation vehicles such as buses are less convenient than cars but have a lower social cost. Large buses are particularly appropriate for destinations such as the University of Victoria, the Western Communities, and the Peninsula. The Douglas corridor is making it easier for these buses to move people into and out of the core. However they are large, noisy and spew exhaust (until they become battery operated). They are not appropriate for providing convenient transportation within the urban core.
The core could more appropriately be served by smaller public transit vehicles, “people movers” (PMs). The PMs that I envision are rubber-tired, electric mini-buses that have a maximum capacity of 20 or 30 passengers. They would run frequently, depending on the anticipated load, at different times of the day. They would have more loading zones than are available now for buses. They would be accessible by the elderly and disabled. The fare for these vehicles would be low, perhaps a dollar for a day pass that would be good for these vehicles only. A monthly pass would also be available at a slightly lower daily price. Anybody with a pass for the large buses would not need a special one for the PMs. This system would encourage people to be a bus user all over the city, transferring to a PM when in the core area.
These passes would be marketed to tourists as well. With one of these passes the vehicle would essentially be a “hop on, hop off.” It would be easy to get quickly to all parts of the core. They would be convenient for shoppers, tourists, business people, employees of Downtown businesses, and government employees.
A district that would particularly benefit from these PMs, rather than big buses or cars, is James Bay. It is possible to walk to the core from James Bay, but it is not always convenient. One route that would be important would originate from Ogden Point. This would be popular with cruise ship passengers, multifamily residences, and future development at Ogden Point.
In large cities such as Montreal and Toronto, this kind of service is accomplished to a large extent by underground trains. In Edmonton, LRT trains run underground in the core, above ground outside of it; in Calgary they run above ground. We used to have electric streetcars (trams) running on surface rails in our core, and to outlying residential areas. These were efficient people movers at the time, but they were replaced by large gas buses.
Residents of Greater Victoria have to realize that there is no future for the car as the primary means of transportation within our core. We have to accept this as a fact for our city and pressure the civic, provincial and federal governments to support initiatives to replace cars with efficient, convenient, non-polluting alternatives such as the People Movers that I have suggested. It isn’t the only alternative but I think it is a good one.