Another timeline: “Great Urban Thinkers”

Again, a work in progress…I made this timeline partly as an assignment and partly as as a study aid for my Great Urban Thinkers course.

GUT Timeline

The small grey arrows at the top of the timeline indicate events hidden from view due to zoom level. To see them, either zoom in, or click on the arrows to see only the entry title and date.

Categories of thinkers

  • Utopians: orchid
  • Regionalists: light green
  • Early greens: dark green
  • Modernists: turquoise
  • Chicago school sociologists: yellow
  • Radicals: pink
  • Placemakers: sky blue
  • Economic development theorists: orange

Notes

  • I’ve included all urban thinkers and most “antagonists” covered during the course, as well as adding a couple more I thought were significant.
  • I didn’t want to get caught up in decisions about which thinkers or events were more important than others, which I think would be fairly arbitrary without some more specific criteria to measure against (i.e. more important to what?). As a result, I made all the thinkers the same size (60 pt) and all the books and events slightly smaller (50). Normally I would make the events larger than the individuals, but this course was focused on the thinkers.
    • Sizing was also a design decision – I wanted to have as few hidden events as possible.
  • For thinkers still living, I set the end date as December 31, 2080 – far enough in the future to not jinx anyone.
  • I haven’t included photos for now, due to time constraints and the challenge of finding images without copyright restrictions that prevent their use.
  • The colour-coded categories are meant to make the timeline easier to read and digest. I realize that many of the thinkers could be put in more than one category or are not a perfect fit for any of them.
  • Other than books, I haven’t colour-coded events, unless they are clearly tied to a particular thinker or category.
  • I have set most dates (other than lifespans) as years (rather than specific dates) as a time-saver. Those dates will show up as January 1 of the applicable year.
  • I chose to include a bit of contextual information for each thinker (rather than date info only), but wanted to make this part efficient, so I mainly quoted selected excerpts from Wikipedia (and provided links).
    • As I’m able to in future, I will track down and substitute more academic sources of info.
  • I’ve also thrown in a couple Vancouver events that we’ve discussed in the course – not significant to viewers outside the city.

Please feel welcome to point out any errors.

Similar useful timelines

Planning history timeline by Professor Scott Campbell (U of Michigan, also U.S.-focused)

Urban theorist timeline, also by Professor Scott Campell (pdf)

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A timeline of housing-related Airbnb events

I’ve created this timeline of events related to Airbnb’s impact on housing (rental housing in particular). I thought it would be useful because there has been so much housing-related news about Airbnb for the past several months, and even before that. Sorting out everything that’s happened in New York, San Francisco, Portland and elsewhere can be confusing. I hope this timeline helps me (and anyone else who’s interested) keep things straight.

Timeline

It’s a work in progress and I’ll be updating it as I go along. The information comes from online articles and news stories, which I’ve quoted and linked in most cases. Please bring any errors you catch to my attention through my contact form or Twitter.

Sharon Zukin, revised

Now and then I will be posting work, like this, that I’ve done as part of my master’s of urban studies program. I wrote this Wikipedia entry on urban theorist Sharon Zukin as a short assignment in my “Great Urban Thinkers” course. The main reason I was interested in Zukin is that she was presented in class as somewhat of a counterpoint to Jane Jacobs, whom I’ve long admired. I wasn’t really aware of the various criticisms of Jacobs before taking this on, so it was a fruitful assignment and I now have a more nuanced view.

The entry did exist before I started mucking with it, but it was very short – 300 or 400 words max, only one footnote. I plan to tweak it a bit more still, when I have time.

Wikipedia: Sharon Zukin

Update: I emailed Sharon Zukin to let her know I’d revised and expanded her entry, and she very kindly wrote me back promptly to say thank you.

Back and forth on CACs

So, did you know that community amenity contributions (CACs) are at the root of every housing problem Vancouver faces? Neither did I, until I watched Glen Chernen of the Cedar Party in a civic election debate on housing affordability last week. Perhaps I exaggerate slightly, but Chernen really did seem to work something about CACs into each of his responses, and I gather this was not a one-time occurrence. CACs, in a nutshell, are contributions the city negotiates with developers who seek rezoning. In probably 99% of the cases, the developer is asking  to  build more units than the current zoning allows, i.e. to increase density. And in the vast majority of cases, if granted, that extra density will be achieved through the construction of taller buildings. The amenities requested in return might be green space, public art, affordable housing, or sometimes just the cash to buy these things. There’s been a lot of interesting debate recently about the pros and cons of Vancouver’s CAC system, but suffice to say I don’t think Mr. Chernen’s remarks contributed to it. This was the first time I’d heard him speak and I didn’t find him credible (or informed) at all; I’m stretched to believe that anyone else would. You can view the debate here and decide for yourself.

However, the debate did include some substantive discussion on CACs, which came about one hour in, in response to a question from Vancouver Sun journalist Jeff Lee (a former journalism instructor of mine). Lee said that the money in the city’s CAC reserve fund had increased from $48 million in early 2009 to $128 million in 2013. He asked each of the candidates whether she or he would support spending that money on affordable housing.

Although it provoked responses I was interested in, I think the question was a bit off the mark in that, as I understand it (and I stand to be corrected), a good chunk of the CAC reserve fund is probably already earmarked for spending on affordable housing – that’s one of the various purposes for which the city uses CACs. The other thing is that the money in the CAC reserve that isn’t already designated for affordable housing has been designated for spending on other public goods, such as the ones already mentioned. I’m no authority on how CACs are negotiated and I’m not one to have blind faith in governments, but I am fairly confident that the amount and type of CACs that are negotiated for each project is not random, but instead the product of deliberate decisions, likely (hopefully) based on an assessment of neighbourhood needs. I’d even venture so far as to suggest that there is some means (I’m not saying adequate means) for communities affected by each development to have input into how the associated CACs are used. If that’s the case, it would be poor process and antidemocratic to overturn the existing decisions on how to spend CACs so that all the money could instead be funneled into affordable housing, as dire as the need for that housing is. The only candidate who seemed to agree with the idea was OneCity’s RJ Aquino, whom I otherwise think has worthwhile housing ideas. The others all said no, for somewhat different reasons. Chernen and the Green Party’s Adriane Carr called the current CAC system “broken.”

Even before this debate, I’d been thinking quite a bit about CACs because the topic came up in the class on “great urban thinkers” I’m taking as part of my master’s in urban studies. That discussion led me to wonder if there was a comprehensive list somewhere of all the city projects that had ever been funded partly or wholly through CACs. And if not, it made me think there should be. Doesn’t that make sense? CACs (and the related topics of development, housing and density) are subjects of debate and even controversy. It would be helpful for our local government to provide its residents with a list of public benefits the CAC policy has produced and what was traded to get them. I don’t see this information as supporting one side or the other of the debate, but instead just part of transparent and accountable governing. Unfortunately, a comprehensive list does not seem to exist, at least not in the city’s possession, and I did ask. Granted, such list would be very long indeed, stretching back about 25 years (for a brief history of CAC policy, see this article originally found on the Price Tags blog).

What does exist, however, are three publicly available (though not easily findable) annual reports that provide details on the benefits obtained through CACs in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The city planning department informed me that a 2013 report is in the works, which is good news. While I’m very glad the reports exist, they are provided in pdf format, which makes it onerous to sort and compare information, and they don’t have all the information I would like to see included.

Therefore, to aid analysis, I have compiled the information in those reports into a spreadsheet and posted it here:

https://docs.zoho.com/sheet/published.do?rid=32ek9248ec85b33014b818b229b4f0b138900

Please note:

  • The city reports do not include information about before and after floor space ratios.
  • The city reports do not include the names of the developments or developers (I plan to add those gradually), only their street addresses.
  • The city reports do not include a column for “recipient,” which I have added and aim to fill in as I’m able.
  • I created the “type” column and the types with the goal of making it easier to sort by type of benefit.
  • I have checked this data for accuracy against the city reports, but use it at your own risk – you may wish to check its accuracy yourself.
  • I recommend reading the city reports for context and policy information.

Adding pre-2010 data seems like a worthwhile but daunting project since it would require sifting through city reports on each rezoning. That’s unfortunate, since as former planning director Brent Toderian put it, “Our annual DCL and CAC reporting has made the results of public benefit system much more transparent and understandable for members of the public.”[3] I agree.

I have also compiled an incomplete list of some Vancouver civic leaders and urban thinkers who either support or critique the current CAC system. “For” or “against” in this case doesn’t necessarily mean that any of those listed are unreservedly in support or opposed to all aspects of the current CAC system; it just signifies where I think they best fit.

For

Against

Continue reading

New publication! My short-term rentals story in The Tyee

I am pleased to announce my first actual byline in, oh…longer than I want to say. My story on how short-term rentals, as facilitated Airbnb and similar web tools, affect the supply of long-term rental housing in Vancouver appeared in The Tyee on June 27. Read all about it here: Are Online Vacation Renters Displacing Vancouverites?

I’m also pleased to see follow-up coverage by CBC Radio and TV. BC Almanac did a segment July 5, which covered much of the same ground as my story, though focused more on the lack of lodging taxes paid in these transactions.

Then on July 6, CBC TV did a 2-minute news segment. It’s great to see this, though I note that they interviewed a Yaletown resident who rents out the second bedroom in his condo. From a safety and security point of view, that sort of short-term rental is not really the issue, since the host will often be present when the guest is there and that does a lot to mitigate concerns and risks.

More to my point, I would argue that renting out a spare room (or an entire apartment or home while the usual resident is away) has a fairly minimal effect on the supply of rental housing that’s available to actual Vancouver residents. It’s true that that second bedroom could be housing a local resident instead of a tourist and we certainly need all the affordable housing we can get in Vancouver. But I think policy-makers should be much more concerned about the many entire apartments, condos and secondary suites and houses that are being rented to tourists (at higher rates and without the oversight of the Residential Tenancy Act) instead of adding to the city’s woefully inadequate and aging rental housing stock.

I also don’t know, but would like to, where CBC TV got the figure of 3,000 rooms available for short-term rental to tourists.

Elsewhere, Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs elaborated on the comments of his I included in my story on his own blog. And a Gabriola blogger chipped in here.

 

Thoughts on Green talks at the Burnaby Board of Trade

I volunteered last week to help collect public input on the City of Burnaby’s draft Environmental Sustainability Strategy. The strategy has been in the works since early 2012, and is being overseen by the mayor and various topic-specific steering committees. On Tuesday night, planning staff set up displays at the Burnaby Board of Trade’s Green Talks event, and we volunteers went around with iPads encouraging attendees to complete an online survey about the strategy. If you live, work, or go to school in Burnaby, I suggest you take the opportunity to provide your input, which you can do here until May 31.

I volunteered to help with collecting input on the strategy because I’m interested in urban environmental issues and thought I could learn something by participating. That’s already turned out to be true, because one of the benefits of volunteering at this particular event was getting to listen to the Green Talks speakers for free.

Julia Smith, co-proprietor of Urban Digs (a newish farm in Burnaby’s Big Bend area) was one of the speakers I enjoyed most.  Julia emphasized her commitment to animal welfare and explained the different ways she tries to walk her sustainability talk. She raises pigs and ducks fed on organic-only waste produce collected from the farm and local wholesalers (no commercial feed). The farm also has laying chickens and produces a wide variety of organic vegetables. This summer, Urban Digs has a farm stand that’s open to the public on Thursdays from 1 to 6 pm. Julia’s talk made me curious so I later visited Urban Digs with a friend to buy some veggies. Julia invited us to say hello to the animals while we were there.

IMG_5308

Other interesting speakers and projects included CowPower, an enterprise that supplies renewable electricity to BC Hydro using cow manure from an Abbotsford farm, BCIT’s Rivers Institute and Left Coast Naturals, a Burnaby-based company that manufactures and distributes organic bulk food and brands.

Aside from the speakers, volunteering at the event also left me thinking about the physical diversity and size of Burnaby, and the challenges that poses when drafting an environmental strategy. A tricky business when your planning boundaries encompass dense residential and commercial neighbourhoods such as Metrotown, as well as farms, industrial areas, salmon-bearing streams, Burnaby and Deer Lakes, Burnaby Mountain, and the Fraser River foreshore.

It also made me want to know more about municipal environmental strategies. How common are they? Do all the Metro Vancouver municipalities have one? How do they compare? What metrics do they use? It would be interesting, for instance, to compare Burnaby’s strategy, once it’s done, to Vancouver’s Greenest City Strategy, or to Surrey’s equivalent (assuming it has one).

It’s all making me wish I’d signed up for the course on urban sustainability my department (SFU Urban Studies) offered this summer. But since I didn’t, I’ll just add these questions to my long list of things I’d like to research. Maybe something to follow up on in a future post…

Kudos to the Burnaby Board of Trade for organizing a stimulating event.

 

 

First picnic of the year

Hummus, pita chips, baby carrots, and pasta salads from Safeway’s deli. Nothing gastronomically remarkable, but the air was warm and the light beautiful. I think I might count this as my unofficial start of summer. Definitely a moment to appreciate Vancouver.

Spanish Banks sunset

Spanish Banks sunset