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.


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

Gardens project

A few years ago when I first got a plot in a community garden, I was looking for easy ways to build raised beds. I started poking around the various gardens for ideas. Ever since then, I’ve been thinking how fun it would be to team up with a photographer and put together a coffee table type of book that features all the community gardens in Vancouver. The book would be a visual feast and also tell an important story about Vancouver, its community gardeners, and the role of the gardens. I picture a double-page spread on each garden that would include something about its origins and history, and stories or interviews with the gardeners. Something that would appeal to both local gardeners and ecotourist types.

Depending on how you define the term, there are are now about 90 community gardens in the City of Vancouver (according to this list). And I don’t think that  includes gardens that are more “guerrilla” style, or boulevards and traffic circles that have been taken over by neighbours. So, it could be quite a thick book – and an expensive one, given the cost of printing full-colour photos. The number of gardens would also make it a time-consuming project.

16 Oaks Organic Community Garden at 16th & Oak

As an alternative to the book idea, I’ve also thought about visiting each of the gardens and documenting  them all on a dedicated blog. Someone did a similar thing for Vancouver Public Library branches a while back, but I think that blog is dead. I would like to see pictures of all the city’s amazing community gardens gathered together. Many of the individual gardens have their own websites, but not all – and there’s something that appeals to me about collecting and presenting the photos and stories together in one place.

So, one part of this new blog of mine is going to be a start on that project, with no firm promises of finishing.



Favourite things on my way downtown (Part 1)

I often walk (and cycle) the Adanac bikeway on my way to my garden plots or downtown. These are some of the things that delight me along the way.

I’ve recently discovered that whoever lives in one of the houses on Adanac (at least I assume that’s who’s responsible) has been creating little tableaus in sidewalk planters. Fun.

Figures in planter

They change from time to time. I love this one with the deer.

Deer tableau

Raawr! Grizzly, maybe? Reminds me of Rewilding Vancouver, which you should go see before it ends in September 2014.


I’ll be making a point of checking in at this house from now on to see what the latest is. I hope passersby continue to leave these scenes intact.

And then there’s my favourite East Van graffiti. I did an honours B.A. in history, so that’s part of the reason it appeals. I also like to think that whoever made these meant to prompt thinking about the many layers and aspects of history and herstory that created the landscape we traverse when we pass through this rapidly changing part of East Van. Geological, First Nations, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, labour, land use, and more…lots to ponder.






The bikeway has amenities, too. This recent addition provided by a newly opened craft brewery (speaking of neighbourhood change).


More to come in Part 2.

Post-semester reading

Ah, the end of the semester….freedom to toss all the books out the window, or to delve into the ones you’ve been dying to read but had to slot behind assigned reading lists. And these days, most of my academic reading is in the form of pdf or online journal articles anyway, so not that many actual books involved. Here’s an armful I took home from the library this week – left a few behind to spare my arms and back.

Books from Belzberg

Books from Belzberg

Methodologies in Housing Research, in particular, seems like it could be very useful for my thesis preparation and research.  I’m really looking forward to Manhattan for Rent by Elizabeth Blackmar, whom I remember and admire from researching the history of Central Park for my history undergrad honours paper. Blackmar co-wrote The Park and the People, one of my favourite urban history books, with Roy Rosenzweig.

Success! Kimchi Yaki Udon

I’ve been wanting to make kimchi yaki udon since a friend introduced me to Zakkushi‘s version of the dish several months ago. Being unfamiliar with cooking Japanese or Korean food, I assumed that recreating this dish would involve tricky procedures and a long list of ingredients. Happily, not so. It’s easy, unless cod roe makes you squeamish. Fujiya is a good place to get the ingredients. I used this recipe from a local food blogger, which turned out great.

Kimchi Yaki UdonHow does it taste? Buttery, almost cheesy – I guess that’s from the roe. I thought there might be some mayonnaise in the recipe, and one of the versions linked below does call for that, but not the one I made. It’s not hot, despite the kimchi. I’d say a bit tangy. Delicious. I’ll definitely make it again.

Alternate recipes here and here.