Highlights from housing (and other academic) journals

I recently set up table-of-contents alerts on a bunch of housing, urban studies, and tourism journals and am finding it a great way to keep abreast, however superficially, of current academic literature in these areas. I’m mainly doing this in order to be alerted to new articles on short-term rentals (see my other blog for more info on that), but this tactic has the side benefit (or curse?) of bringing a lot of other interesting stuff to my attention. How to deal with that? I sometimes feel I’m a bit compulsive about sharing information I think might be relevant to people I know. I know info overload and the flittish (word?), distracted frame of mind it tends to create is a real problem for me and many others, so perhaps I’ll use this blog as an outlet for my sharing impulse instead of spamming inboxes…

Please note: When I post a title and/or abstract here it doesn’t mean I’ve read the whole article or endorse the views expressed. It means I think it looks interesting, I might want to read it, and/or that it seems somehow timely or relevant to current urban or other social policy debates. Some of these articles may have been published in journals as long as a few years ago and just more recently made available online: Hope some find this useful…

One more thing: Regarding access to the full text of these articles…I have access to a smorgasbord of stuff right now (thanks SFU library!) by dint of the fact that I’m paying tuition to SFU. If you don’t have that same access, try searching for the full text through your own public library, such as the VPL. There’s a good chance that will work for you. If not, you might want to check out the external access programs offered by your local post-secondary institution – I think most have some version of that by now. Info on SFU’s program is here. There’s also Google Scholar…or google the article author/s – sometimes they post their own published articles or similar versions.

This first article is definitely relevant to current Vancouver debates on community planning and public engagement, and specifically to the question of whether we should have a citywide plan instead of (or in addition to?) a series of neighbourhood plans. Some point to the mid-1990s CityPlan process as a model to be revived, but I’ve heard other knowledgeable people suggest that process has been somewhat overhyped or romanticized…

Governing cities through participation—a Foucauldian analysis of CityPlan Vancouver

by Marit Rosolin in Urban Geography
Abstract: In 1995 Vancouver City Council approved new policy guidelines for future urban development that departed from the traditional model of suburban growth, instead prioritizing urban intensification. Theoretically guided by the Foucauldian governmentality approach, I argue in this paper that this shift towards intensification can be understood through an analysis of Vancouver’s extensive participatory planning process known as CityPlan. Created as an answer to conflicts around the intensification of historically evolved urban neighbourhoods, CityPlan Vancouver exemplifies a specific form of urban governance that has been understudied in geography and participation research: a governance consisting of conducting the conduct of citizens through participatory processes. The paper examines this “governing through participation” by carrying out a microanalysis of the problematizations, rationalities, and technologies of CityPlan. Such an analysis differs significantly from an evaluation of participatory planning processes against normative ideals, and thus enriches critical research on participation in urban governance.

Onto the next…gentrification, ever a hot topic in these parts (and rightly so):

“They want to live in the Tremé, but they want it for their ways of living”: gentrification and neighborhood practice in Tremé, New Orleans

by Trushna Parekh in Urban Geography
Abstract: In this study, I deploy an ethnographic approach to analyze the detrimental effects of gentrification on longstanding residents in New Orleans’ Tremé neighborhood. I focus on conflicts between long-established residents and gentrifiers over the use of neighborhood space on a day-to-day basis as a means for examining the consequent changes in neighborhood life. As their neighborhood gentrifies, long-term residents of Tremé must contend with greater policing, the erosion of place-based knowledge, practices, and cultural traditions, the loss of social networks, and the closure of vital neighborhood institutions. These changes in neighborhood life provide a starting point from which to begin to understand the broader effects (beyond displacement) that longstanding residents experience as a result of gentrification.

This one looks very interesting – think I will have to read it.

The rules of residential segregation: US housing taxonomies and their precedents

By Sonia Hirt in Planning Perspectives
This paper reviews how urban regulations in history have been used to relegate populations to different parts of the city and its environs. Its main purpose is to place the twentieth-century US zoning experience in historic and international contexts. To this end, based mostly on secondary sources, the paper first surveys a selection of major civilizations in history and the regulations they invented in order to keep populations apart. Then, based on primary sources, it discusses the emergence of three methods of residential segregation through zoning which took root in the early twentieth-century USA. The three methods are: segregating people by race, segregating them by different land-area standards, and segregating them based on both land-area standards and a taxonomy of single- versus multi-family housing.

Not recent published, but recently found…Another for the reading list….soon.

Are There Limits to Gentrification? The Contexts of Impeded Gentrification in Vancouver

by David Ley in Urban Studies
This paper examines conditions that impede inner-city gentrification. Several factors emerge from review of a scattered literature, including the role of public policy, neighbourhood political mobilisation and various combinations of population and land use characteristics that are normally unattractive to gentrifiers. In a first phase of analysis, some of these expectations are tested with census tract attributes against the map of gentrification in the City of Vancouver from 1971 to 2001. More detailed qualitative field work in the Downtown Eastside and Grandview-Woodland, two inner-city neighbourhoods with unexpectedly low indicators of gentrification, provides a fuller interpretation and reveals the intersection of local poverty cultures, industrial land use, neighbourhood political mobilisation and public policy, especially the policy of social housing provision, in blocking or stalling gentrification.

And related…

Urban rapid rail transit and gentrification in Canadian urban centres: A survival analysis approach

by Annelise Grube-Cavers and Zachary Patterson in Urban Studies
Despite the existing knowledge that urban rapid rail transit has many effects on surrounding areas, and despite some attempts to understand the links between transit and gentrification, there remain methodological gaps in the research. This study addresses the relationship between the implementation of urban rapid rail transit and gentrification, which is conceived of as an event. As such, an event analysis approach using ‘survival analysis’ is adopted as the statistical analytical tool. It tests whether proximity to rail transit is related to the onset of gentrification in census tracts in Canada’s largest cities. It is found that proximity to rail transit, and to other gentrifying census tracts, have a statistically significant effect on gentrification in two of the three cities analysed. By providing a methodological framework for the empirical analysis of the impact of urban rail transit on gentrification, this paper is a reference for both researchers and transportation planners.

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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

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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.