Ottawa as a City

As I previously wrote, I attended FCM this year, which was held in Ottawa. I had not been to the Nation’s Capital for something like 25 years, so after the meeting, I stayed a few extra days to visit some family and look around the City, concentrating on the holy trinity of nouveau city-making: public spaces, transit, and cycling infrastructure.

Ottawa has numerous amazing public spaces. Everywhere we went, there were public parks, squares, and market areas. At first blush, it appears to be a model for use of public space. Problem is, it seemed these were mostly serving tourists. Perhaps it is a result of me being a tourist (and my resultant gravitating towards “tourist areas”) I found a general lack of outdoor activity and “street life” compared to Vancouver or other large cities in Canada. Ottawa seems to be City where folks pack up after work and go home, leaving some surprisingly empty public spaces on a warm summerish evening.

The most active street in downtown Ottawa at 10:00 on a Thursday  night.
The most active street in downtown Ottawa at 10:00 on a Thursday night.
The Market area has some nice Public Spaces,, though mostly for tourists, not denizens.
The Market area has some nice Public Spaces,, though mostly for tourists, not denizens.
A cool use of public space in the Market area on a Friday night- Movies on the Street!
A cool use of public space in the Market area on a Friday night- Movies on the Street!

Of course, Ottawa is a lot of things: a political town where many of the workers get out of town on the weekends, a tourist town full of museums and important institutions, and a town where business gets done on a government schedule. Comparatively, the high-tech worker town is a new phenomena, so it still relies on expanding suburbs and exburbs, and shares a workforce with Hull / Gatenau (but has virtually no transit service across the river). When I arrived it was midnight, and I hopped on the bus to the hotel and arrived late in the evening to find downtown not just empty, but Zombie Apocalypse abandonment empty. It was eerie. There is virtually no mixed-use development downtown, but not too far away are leafy neighbourhoods of real mixed density, from single family homes to quadraplexes and townhomes. There were some interesting developments happening, and Sparks Street was trying really hard to be somewhere, but no matter where we went, it never felt like a vibrant City.

Much of downtown was being dug up to install new subway lines.
Much of downtown was being dug up to install new subway lines.

That said, much of downtown Ottawa is under construction, as a light rail system is being constructed to replace some of the dedicated “Transitway” routes, the “Bus Rapid Transit” system that has connected Ottawa to the burbs since the 80’s. This system is a model for what some other metro regions have considered as a “stopgap” between buses and light rail systems. It is fundamental to the transit in Mexico City, Bogota, and other cities, and some have even suggested this as the best way to get transit up the Fraser Valley along the Highway 1 route. As a people-mover, it worked great. However, it was notable that the limited stations didn’t appear to spawn development booms like we would expect to grow at a “real” rapid transit station that connects to downtown of a major City. Still, for $3.50 from the airport, dedicated road to avoid traffic congestion and super frequent service, the Transitway couldn’t be beat – maybe 75% of the service of SkyTrain at probably 25% of the cost.

Airport to downtown in less than 30 minutes for $3.50. and little traffic delay. Nice.
Airport to downtown in less than 30 minutes for $3.50. and little traffic delay. Nice.

We also discovered that Ottawa (at least in the summer) is definitely a cycling city. There are bike racks throughout downtown, and they were full of bikes on business days. There is a comprehensive bike route network along the numerous waterways and canals that run through the City, and decent bike infrastructure in the more trafficked areas, though the map is not completely without gaps or terrible design choices.

Downtown had lots of bike racks, and they were all bulging with bikes.
Downtown had lots of bike racks, and they were all bulging with bikes.
Away from downtown, not as many bike racks, but bikes were still parked everywhere.
Away from downtown, not as many bike racks, but bikes were still parked everywhere.
Although the bike routes along the Canal s were great, and a few separated routes existed in downtown, there were still some notable infrastructure gaps...
Although the bike routes along the Canal s were great, and a few separated routes existed in downtown, there were still some notable infrastructure gaps.

I took a couple of opportunities to use Ottawa’s bikeshare program, VeloGo. The system is very similar to Portland’s, in that the network and booking electronics are installed in the bike, and the bike’s location is tracked using GPS, allowing you to drop bikes everywhere, not just at the “stations”, although it is less expensive to drop them at the station, and it is generally hard to find one to pick up anywhere but at a station. The system is easy to use, and the durable, shaft-drive upright bikes worked great.

A quick spin between conference/lunch venues is where bike share shines.
A quick spin between conference/lunch venues is where bike share shines.
The bike share bikes were typically Euro (upright and durable), but not sure I've ever seen a shaft-drive bike used this way before!
The bike share bikes were typically Euro (upright and durable), but not sure I’ve ever seen a shaft-drive bike used this way before!

Unfortunately, the station network and number of bikes is pretty limited, and concentrated along the aforementioned canal routes with no stations in the downtown, so the system was (are we sensing a theme here?) more useful for tourists than for the residents of the City. It was simply not a viable alternative for short cross-town trips, like my daily 15-minute walk to the conference centre, or for the 20-minute walk to the Museum of Canadian History where a reception was held. This was disappointing, because it was trip like that that are perfect for bike share, and will make the system a sustainable part of the transportation network instead of just a tourist curiosity. Compared to New York or Montreal, the system seems like a half-assed effort.

In short, Ottawa was a great City to visit, for the obvious reason: there is so much to see and so much history. Riding a bike along the Canal and through the ample green spaces was pleasant, but it curiously lacked the feeling of a vibrant City where residents enjoyed public space. It felt like too many US cities where the downtown is for business, and the burbs are where people live their lives. Which was in contrast with out next destination: Montreal.

Two down, two to go.

It’s been just a little more than two years since I became a City Councillor in New Westminster. In the spirit of consistency, I probably need to follow up on last year’s Year-in-the-Life post. So here are some thoughts about being a City Councillor at the half-way mark of my first term.

That New Councillor Smell has definitely worn off. Although this role involves constant learning, I feel I am up over the steep part of the curve and am more confident in my ideas about what does and does not work in the City. This is manifest in a (hopefully subtle) change from me asking myself “why are things this way?” to a more pointed asking others “Do things really need to be this way?”

I am also becoming more aware of the politics that affect my ability to do my job. Every decision you make in Council is a compromise between competing forces. Even the best possible decision is going to be perceived negatively by someone, for good reasons or bad, and no matter how open, pragmatic, or evidence-based your decision making is, criticism can come from any random, unanticipated direction.

I feel fortunate that our Council, despite our ability to disagree on many issues, is remarkably functional. I hear disaster stories from other Councils that refuse to work together or allow their grievances (petty or serious) to prevent them from doing their work. Some are played out in the media, some others I only hear about through the various grapevines. I have heard first-hand accounts of Councillors in other cities suffering from bullying and harassment within their Councils, and of serious enough threats from the public that police involvement was required. I feel fortunate that our City, as passionate and engaged as it is in civic matters, is largely free from these types of conflicts.

I still lose sleep on Sunday nights before Council meetings. I still struggle with some of the hard decisions and increasingly wear the less-than-ideal things that happen in the City. However, I still believe that government can be open, accountable, and effective, and that we can make (are making?) progress towards the City working better in ways people can see.

I am worried about the impact our aggressive capital replacement plan is having on our budget – but also worried about what happens if we let our capital program slide for too long. I fret a bit over our seemingly chronic inability to complete projects on time. I am trying to be vigilant in avoiding creating my own communication bubble where I am only hearing reinforcement of my own ideas (this is most prevalent in the OCP discussion – I think we are on a the right track, but need to keep an open mind for when the draft plan gets to Council in the New Year). I am trying to be mindful on the job and open to better ways to do it.

I was asked recently at a Christmassy social event: “What is your big goal for this Council thing?” I started talking about this blog, the outreach I have been working on, the City’s Community Engagement efforts, and my overall desire to open up the process of democratic decision making. My inquisitor kept trying to get over to tangibles: new buildings, bridges, parks, things you can attach a brass plaque to. It’s funny I couldn’t get there. We are making progress on several projects, the CGP replacement, library upgrades, a better functioning City Hall, the reformation of the waterfront, but I don’t see those as “my” successes or projects. These are things that large teams of people are working towards, and 70,000 taxpayers are paying for. Although I suppose my feeling of ownership will change if I see my name on a brass plaque…

Finally, I’m half way through the term and finally accepting that adjustments need to be made in my lifestyle. I have been burning a lot of candles, and have frankly lost track of which ends of which I have lit. I am going on vacation for a few weeks to recharge my batteries and pay some much-needed attention to my partner. For my return, I have some pretty drastic lifestyle adjustments planned in order to maintain my household, my relationships, and my sanity. I want to keep blogging (and even do more), I want to be more timely at returning communication I receive, and I have a few tangible projects around town and regionally I want to take a bit of ownership over. I have a long list of “we need to get together over coffee/beer and talk about that” dates I need to keep (you know who you are). This will take a change in programming. Stay tuned.

Until then, we’ll call this a Christmas break. I hope you enjoy your Holidays in whatever form that enjoyment takes, and your 2017 is filled with he things that make you happy. Blogging will resume in January, inshallah.

Outta here (for a bit)

I have, once again, been really slow to get new posts up here, and this one is mostly to tell you it is going to be a bit of time before you see another one.

The picture above is from an SFU City Conversation I had a couple of days ago with two other City Councillors, under the guise of us representing Young/New leadership in local government in the region. Nathan Pachal is definitely young (under 40) and new (in the job for only a few months), Mathew Bond is definitely young (40ish?) and is new (this is his first term on Council), and I am only young in the context of the average age of City Councillors across the region, and that new-Councillor smell is starting to wear off. It was great to be in the company of these two very bright and very engaged local government representatives

It was also good to have three Councillors from municipalities across the region come together to talk to a (mostly) City of Vancouver audience and expand the focus of the conversation to the wider region. The audience was receptive to our self- and hometown-aggrandizing, and we could have gone on for hours talking about public engagement, housing affordability, transportation, taxation, and other challenges our region faces. We were thinking maybe we should PodCast.

I also got a commitment from the organizers that a future City Conversations panel would discuss the issue of gender and ethnic diversity in local government politics, for what might be obvious reasons from the photo above!

So that is it for now. I am off to enjoy a quality long weekend with a couple of friends suffering on my bicycle for some seriously needed recuperation and to get my swollen-up cynicism gland drained. I will be far away from blogging devices. I have three (!) Ask Pats in the queue, and will button them up soon after I return. Hopefully.

In the meantime, if you want to enjoy your screen time in a hyper-local way, you should be over at Tenth to the Fraser, and see what real, local, high-quality content looks like instead of slumming over here.

Have a good long weekend, watch for flying anvils.

Vacation

I took a vacation. After a busy but very rewarding year with too much work, a too-stuffed schedule, and too little recreation time, it was good to get away for a couple of weeks and chill.

Of course, I read some books about urban planning (reviews soon, if I get time) and spent a lot of time looking at the urban realm while tracing the career path of Peter Stuyvesant. Here are three thoughts.

1.City Bikes are cool.

This is New York’s bike-sharing program, and while spending an unseasonably warm Christmas in Brooklyn, we had an opportunity to spin around on the almost-ubiquitous blue bikes.

vac3

The bikes themselves are sturdy Dutch-style upright bikes with full fenders, enclosed chains (no grease to worry about), simple but effective three-speed internal hubs, drum(!) brakes, and hub-generator powered lights. Tough? The bikes are (to paraphrase Neal Stephenson) “built as if the senseless dynamiting of [Citybikes] had been a serious problem at some time in the past”. They are pretty much a perfect balance between bulletproof and efficient.

There are many options to pay, from paying for a single ride to buying an annual pass. We bought a couple of 24-hour passes for $10 each. This gave us unlimited access for 30-minute rides. We were able to ride from our apartment in Bedford-Stuy to Barclay Centre, then from Braclay to downtown Brooklyn. Dropping bikes at a convenient station (you are never more than a 5-minute ride from a station within the service area), we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, wandered around a bit in Manhattan, picked up a couple of bikes in Little Italy, rode across the Williamsburg Bridge, dropped bikes and visited a microbrewery, etc., etc.

Actually, bulletproof and efficient pretty accurately describes the entire system. The kiosks and payment process is simple to use, and features a little digital map you can scroll around to navigate your neighbourhood, the on-line app will guide you to the nearest station (if your 30 minutes are running out), and there are very few surprises.

vac2

Is the system successful? 10 Million individual rides in 2015, and ongoing expansion plans to reach 12,000 bikes and 700 stations by 2017. Before anyone talks to me about my helmetless pictures above (Hi Karon!), there is no helmet law in New York, and with literally tens of millions of rides since its inception 2013, there has never been a fatality or a serious injury on a City Bike. Looking at NYC’s pedestrian and traffic fatality stats, CityBike may be the safest way to travel in the Big Apple.

Yet, globally, no jurisdiction with a helmet law has successfully launched a bike-share program like Citybikes. Every one has failed, or failed to launch. And I predict Vancouver’s will fail for this very reason.

2. Even in New York, pedestrians are serfs.

Walking Fifth Avenue from Central Park to the Empire State Building is an incredible experience. From the Plaza, past the Library and Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, through the (unofficial) centre of world shopping, it is a spectacular combination of sights and sounds and people and shopping and urban buzz. A couple of days after Christmas, I got to share it with tens of thousands of other people.

It got rather more intimate than most would probably like, because all of those people were crowded behind barriers on too-narrow sidewalks as hundreds of police spent their holidays keeping the vast expanses of asphalt between the sidewalks free for the movement of – a couple of dozen cabs and towncars.

vac7

Just look at this photo and look at how the public realm is divided up. 4m sidewalks, 20m of road, and look at where the people are. Overall, New York City is one of the most walkable places on earth, and between the incredibly convenient subway system (although, I noted only about 10% of station were accessible for people with disabilities!), short distances to get any kind of shopping you might want, and a huge reliance on walking as the primary form of transportation – the guy in the town car somehow gets priority to an opulent amount of the public space. It’s bizarre.

3. Aruba may be the Netherlands, but it ain’t Dutch.

We picked Aruba for our vacation because we didn’t want adventure this year, we just wanted to chill on a beach, and according to legend, Aruba’s beaches are amongst the best. A legend I will whole-heartedly confirm.

However, we were also intrigued by Aruba’s Dutch heritage (it is still part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands), and hoped to see a little of the Dutch personality of the island. Unfortunately, aside from ubiquitous Heineken and plenty of young Dutch nationals working the tourist bars and restaurants, there was not a lot of Amsterdam to be found in Aruba. For a small island with incredibly pleasant weather, It was a depressingly car-oriented community. We used the local bus service (inexpensive, predictable, convenient, almost empty) and walked most of the time, where most people used cars, truck, atvs, and motorcycles. The only cyclists we saw were of the lycra-clad sporting type. The pedestrian realm ranged from non-existent up on Malmok where we were staying to downright hostile once you got a block off of the tourist strip in the resort areas.

vac5

Maybe we should try Curacao

4. Vacation notwithstanding, it’s good to be home.

And I am realizing that New Westminster has pretty much all of the assets that Jane Jacobs mentions when talking about vibrant communities, which is a hopeful sign…

Disappointing, not surprising.

The announcement that Fraser Surrey Docks had been approved to ship crappy thermal coal from the Powder River Basin through the Fraser River was not really a surprise, but it was disappointing. During these long drawn out policy discussions, it became clear then very few people in British Columbia agreed with the plan. Every single Municipality that responded to the project, from the US Border to the Fraser River to Texada Island, was against it. Every First Nation that expressed an opinion was against it. Academics, economists, even our regional health officials; people were lining up to raise concerns about this project. This is one of those rare occasions where James Crosty and I agreed on something*. How did it get approved?

Someone suggested that this project “fell through the cracks” between Federal and Provincial Environmental Assessment legislation and the other checks that might have allowed meaningful public input. That is not true. There was no “falling” involved. It was instead jammed firmly into a huge crack that was ripped into the legislation meant to protect our fisheries, our air quality, and our climate in such a way that no amount of public outcry could close the crack again. This was not a mistake or an oversight on the part of the Federal Government- this was part of the plan.

This is also an example of why the public no longer trusts public consultations. Unlike recent consultations by TransLink over the Pattullo Bridge, the Port’s consultations were not meaningfully reported out. They admitted that had received feedback from thousands of people, but they won’t admit that vast majority of that feedback was in the form of opposition to the project for a variety of reasons. Yet somehow the project was approved after these “consultations”. Why even bother asking?

Coincidentally (except it probably isn’t a coincidence), there was other coal news this week, likely just as important, but with much less fanfare here in BC. Turns out yet another proposal to build a coal terminal in the Pacific Northwest to move Powder River Basin thermal coal to jurisdictions where it is still legal to burn it has been rejected by state legislators, after significant political pressure from local Tribal groups, fishers, environmentalists, and community persons who are starting to feel the ethical debate around Climate Change. This brings to a half dozen the number of terminal proposals rejected or indefinitely delayed in the last few years in the Pacific Coast, none of them in Canada.

This is, of course, putting pressure on American coal producers, and is creating some interesting adaptations. For example, American coal industry giant Cloud Peak Energy just last week signed an agreement with the Canadian coal producer Coal Valley Resources, where Cloud Peak pays their Canadian competitor $37 Million to ship the Canadian product north through Prince Rupert. This would free up space at Westshore terminals at Port Metro Vancouver’s Roberts Bank terminal that was allocated for the Canadian coal, so Cloud Peak’s dirty Powder River Basin coal can be shipped through Canada. No Environmental Assessment needed.

It was only a few days ago that the New Westminster Environmental Partners had Kevin Washbrook from Voters Taking Action on Climate Change give an inspiring talk at the stunning Aboriginal Gathering Place at Douglas College. He spoke eloquently about climate change as a moral imperative. The message was clear: Climate change is happening right now, we are causing it, and the results are unpredictable, but almost certainly dire. The more detailed message was about “now” means we keep blowing past the worst predictions of the rate of change we while governments blithely let pass their own commitments to act; how “we” is the richest nations on earth, with Canada and Australia embarrassingly leading the charge; and how the most dire consequences are already being felt in the poorest nations that cannot afford to adapt, and had virtually nothing to do with creating the problem.

But that wasn’t all that took place, because we had a group of a few dozen people who discussed the problem, and talked about the solutions they can see, some in the far distance, some accessible right now, some we are already well into adopting. There was talk of hope: not the type of hope where you sit and wish something would happen, but the kind of hope that if you and everyone around you gets to work, it is inevitable that it will happen.

At this point, with global CO2 blowing through the 350ppm, then 400ppm barriers, the idea that we can limit climate change to a planet-altering 2 degree Celsius warming has gone away; at this point we need to stop much worse levels of warming. No-one is suggesting we can fix the problem anymore, we are now working on how to limit the problem so the impacts are manageable by the next and not catastrophic.

It is late, but not too late. The challenge is real, but it is doable. And British Columbia is one of the most important fronts in this battle. British Columbia is choosing (and yes, it is a choice among many other possible paths) to become a conduit for the acceleration of carbon into the atmosphere. We are seeing pipelines, coal ports, and massive increases in natural gas extraction: all with the intent of making burning carbon for all of our energy needs more affordable through lax regulation and unaccounted environmental impacts so that the practical and reasonable alternatives that exist will not be exploited. For a shitty few jobs (and yes, the Carbon Economy in British Columbia is less that 3% of our GDP, and accounts for less than 1% of our employment) we are helping a few profiteers rake in cash by making the world a less safe, less stable, less liveable place for the next generation.

We need better leaders. We need more accountable Governments. We need a vision to stop destroying the future and start building it.

*James and I have some fundamental differences about the reasons for opposing this proposal, and I took a bit of a humourous dig at his comments in an earlier version of this footnote. In hindsight, it was an unnecessary and not very nice, so I retract. 

Sufferfest (the photo essay)

Disclaimer: I am much better at riding bikes than I am at taking pictures. And I’m not very good at riding bicycles. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. For background, read this:
Day 1: Vancouver to Whistler begins, as all great Bike Rides should, in the traditional Italian Style- Caffeinated. Note Italian-built Steel bike, Canadian-built Steel Bike, and Italian-built Plastic Bike. We are all about diversity.
The pouring rain of Saturday AM was tempered a bit by a social stop at Porteau Cove campground to enjoy some friendly fire
Flat #1 arrived on the edge of Squamish, where it had (momentarily and mercifully) stopped raining, so as far as these things go, that’s success. Squamish people like their roadside dirt curiously angular. 
Brackendale was time for Coffee #2, courtesy of former co-workers. And it was dry there, which was nice for a day where it almost, but never completely, stopped raining. 
AA demonstrated the appropriate technique for acquiring the 5,000 calories a day we will burn. This apparently included adding chocolate to everything, be it milk or pretzels. 
End of Day 1, with a glass raised and shout-out to Red Van Dan who
could not join us this weekend.
Day 2 saw the addition of various Sufferfest hangers-on of note. Today we ride the Ironman Canada Route.
First stop is the end of the road in the Callaghan Valley. Yes, that tattooed calf belongs to an Ironman Finisher. He put some hurt into us before the day was done. 
Then we had to go a little past the end of the road to see the sights. 
Then it was distressingly downhill to here, where we stopped for lunch. Distressing, of course, because  we knew those hills have an “up” as well. 
The Freight Train really began to roll down the Pemberton Meadow Road. Nothing like 4 guys in formation  pulling 40 km/h for 25km…
…until you run out of pavement, and have to turn that freight train around to face the wind that has been flattering you for 25km. 
Flats #2 and #3 both occurred in one of the most beautiful gas station parking lots in the world. 
Less said about the climb back to Whistler from Pemberton, the better. We dug deep into our panniers of courage, and came back wanting. This is me, unraveled in the bus after, on our way from out lodging to the village and an inevitable one-beer drunk.
Day 3: Back at it. I just realized I was frighteningly close to a bike-matching kit here. With me is the human hummingbird: although a misnomer, as he eats more often, has a shorter attention span, and weighs less than a hummingbird, and has all the aerodynamic qualities of a discarded WalMart grocery bag. Dropped us like bad news on the hills, he did. 
Cheesecake: it isn’t just for breakfast anymore. 
Feeling the pain, here Hummingbird poses in properly menacing from with AA, who was acting all Jens on us – putting the hurt on in the rollers and the flats, churning the air in front of us and forcing hangers-on to contemplate their place in life, until he used the sprint to dash illusions. All the time apparently smuggling cantaloupes in his calf-warmers.  
Although we were well over 400km, the Duffy was not available to us, so we need to put a cap on this thing with a quick spin to the top of the Cypress Mountain Road, where AA entertained with his mad donut skills.
The toll for the weekend: about 470km, 6000m of climbing, three tubes, 15,000 calories each. Untold suffering.   

3 shorts: Traffic, Coal, and Anvils.

I am crazy busy these days, and I’m not feeling that good right now. Work and other life-like things are causing me a little bit of stress at this moment, and I am about to take off for a little vacation, before which I need to get a lot of things done. Also, there is apparently some sort of holiday coming up which requires preparation and such. So blogging will be a little light this December. I need to concentrate on real life, Ms.NWimby, and trying to get a little exercise and reading (for sanity preservation), so my writing time is something that might have to give a bit for a short while.

To hold you, my dedicated readers (Hi Mom!), here are some short takes on the local news stories that seem to matter right now, and yes, I’ll keep them short:

1) Pattullo Traffic resulting from Port Mann tolls: It is too early to tell anything. At this point we have anecdotes, and the plural of anecdote is not data. We will all have inkling feelings traffic is a little better or a little worse, but the true impacts will not be known until well into the new year, when we get some data from the City and/or TransLink. Good to see New West and Surrey are having Council-to-Council discussions about the fate of the Pattullo though. My only question is what too so long.

2) The proposed coal terminal in Surrey: The alleged dust concerns bother me none: worse stuff than a little coal dust will enter our airshead from the BunkerC and diesel burned by the boats and trains transporting the stuff, and the facility will not be used for storage, but just for direct transfer from the trains to the barges. Still, the stuff is kind of nasty as far as any spills into the River, and the idea that we are happily shipping lower-grade thermal coal to be burned in far east power plants seems to thumb a nose at the idea of Anthropogenic Global Warming. Profiteering from Climate Change while saying it is a problem and “someone else should address it” is a bit, I don’t know, unethical, isn’t it?

3) The latest revelations about the MUCF deal going sour. Apologies to Chris Bryan and all the Twitteratti who have been all over this, but this (seems to me) much ado about very little. Admittedly, I have only given a quick read to the heavily-redacted document attained by FOI and posted by the NewsLeader, but it appears to outline the pre-Memorandum-of-Understanding phase of the negotiations between UPG and the City. Seems the developer made an initial offer to build the entire building and then give the semi-finished MUCF Anchor Centre over to the City, at a cost to the City close to the $35 Million earmarked for the project in the DAC funds.

At first pass, this sounds like a much better deal than the $94 Million the City is currently estimating the complete building will cost. $35 Million is definitely less than $94 Million. But we are not comparing apples to apples here.

Remember this drawing? The MUCF sandwich: this is what the City is budgeting: $12.5M for a three-level car garage, $41.5M for the completed MUCF Anchor Centre, $33M for the Office Tower, and $7M for “fitting out” the tower once a client is found. The City now has complete say over all aspects of design and layout, and once built, the City will own all of it – the $94 Million building, the land it sits upon and the air it sits within. Much of that will be a sale-able asset, or will return a revenue stream.

Although much of the financial detail is redacted, we can develop a pretty good picture of what the deal offered by UPG looked like from the document in the story.

The City gives UPG some undisclosed amount of money, which is apparently close to the $35 Million available from DAC Funds (7th bullet point, Executive Summary). For that, the City gets the shell of the MUCF Anchor Centre.  Even the fit-out and appointment of the MUCF Anchor Centre is at the cost and risk of the City (see third paragraph, page 23), and not part of the guaranteed cost. The City does not get the two-level parking lot: it belongs to UPG, and if the City wants their own level of parking they need to pitch in another $7 Million. (see note 5 on page 22). The City cannot even dictate the parking rates in its own MUCF Anchor Centre.  The City would still own the land under the MUCF Anchor Centre, but not any of the air parcels for the two levels of parking or the tower. Actually, they were bound to leasing some of that air space for the exclusive use of the Office Tenants for $1 a year, for perpetuity (Point 7, Page 27) and keeping the rest of the airspace free for perpetuity to protect the views of the tenants, for no compensation. The City would need to pay for the demolition of the existing structures and takes all of the demolition/ excavation/ contamination risk; Even the risk of changes in construction costs or delays in schedule fall on the City, not UPG (See note 8, page 25)

Another way to look at this deal: UPG gets to build and outfit a $40 Million office tower building, $5 Million worth of parking spaces, and two retail outlets (the restaurant and coffee shop) on land they are given for free in the centre of an urban downtown adjacent to a busy crossroads and a SkyTrain Station. Their timing, construction and marketing risk are externalized, to the point where they even get final approval on what is built across the street (point 8, page 27) while they maintain the right to make all of the contracting decisions. For this, they have to build the City a $35 Million building, but the City is going to pay them the $35 million for that building! So their first sale is guaranteed by the City!

Yikes. With all due respect to everyone involved, suddenly I’m not surprised the subsequent attempts by the City and the UPG to complete a deal based on this proposal didn’t work out. I cannot imagine what the critics of the failed deal would have said if they saw this deal signed by the City.

Actually, I can imagine. I just imagine it being very similar to what they are saying now.

Upcoming things – Seeing into your Future

My schedule is stuffed full for the next little while, so let me just send a shout-out to these three upcoming events. I ask that you, instead of sitting there reading my tripe, go out and do something.

Or, more specifically, do these three things:

This Sunday is not just my Mom’s birthday (Hi Mom!), it is also the day of the Annual Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup- New Westminster edition. It will be a nice sunny morning, so get some friends and/or family together and spend an hour or two in the morning doing something good for the community while getting some fresh air and enjoying the unique Queensborough waterfront:

The Shoreline Cleanup is part of Fraser River Fest, as is the River Day Celebration the following Saturday (September 29th) . There will be screenings at the theatre in the Fraser River Discovery Centre, music on the outdoor stage, booths, displays, and other activities: all oriented towards getting the community connected to the River that Runs Through. As good a Saturday as any to hang around the River Market and Quayside Boardwalk.

Finally, (putting my Tony Antonius hat on) its time to start the music, its time to light the lights, its time to get things started for the New West Doc Fest next month. (That’s is why Tony is a Poet, and I’m a blogger – right there, folks. )

The second annual Documentary Film Fest will be building on last year’s success – with a great selection of movies, music and other entertainment. The Film List fits the overall theme of “sustainability”, but with an emphasis on Social issues, from an intriguing look at the lives of young Indian women facing different forms of “cultural indoctrination”, to a deep look into “gamer” culture, and controversial movie about the making of a controversial movie about a controversial topic, and the controversy that ensues.

Tickets aren’t available quite yet, nor is the complete list of shorts and other entertainment (although the guest speaker list is starting looking interesting!) but save the date – October 19th & 20th.

Signs of Protest

I was driving along Highway 3 this past weekend, along one of my favourite roads. I have driven and cycled this road more than a hundred of times in my life, the 600km from my first Home to my adopted Home. It seems I know every curve, every hill, every summit (can name them off the top of my head, and picture each clearly: Allison, Sunday, Richter, Anarchist, Phoenix, Paulson), every place where the Police hand out tickets.

One of the spectacular stretches for a geologist is west of Richter Pass, as you drop into the wide, flat Similkameen Valley, bounded by the vertical wall of the Catherdal Range of the Okanagan Mountains. The valley floor has a classic underfit meandering river flanked by the shallow drapes of alluvial fans leading up to much steeper scree slopes of colluvium. Traditional ranching and hay fields on the slopes are increasingly being turned over to viniculture, while the orchards of Keremeos continue to pound out unreasonably good cherries, apples, and stone fruit.

Aside from the human uses, these grasslands represent a rare ecosystem in British Columbia: A sagebrush desert. With rapid development up the mountains in the adjacent Okanagan Valley, these ecosystems are under a lot of pressure. To call it a desert makes it sound, well, deserted, but this area has the highest concentration of threatened or endangered species of any similar-sized region in Canada; at least 23 different listed species, from Pacific rattlesnakes to Flammulated owls, and one-third of the red-listed species in the Province. Protection is spotty, development is encroaching, and the ecosystem is threatened.

With this in mind, the (Liberal) Federal Government signed a memorandum of understanding with the (Liberal) Provincial Government in 2003, to do the appropriate feasibility studies towards developing a National Park or National Reserve Lands (the first in the Okanagan). The MOU includes the statement:

“On February 11, 2003, the Government of British Columbia announced in its Speech from the Throne its interest in exploring the potential for establishing a new National Park Reserve in the Okanagan area, and its “Heartlands Economic Strategy” by which economic development plans will open up new opportunities for tourism, resort development and recreation, among other things, in the Province of British Columbia”
Sounds good; a Park plan which will balance out economic growth in an area of intense tourist interest and very unique geography and ecology (currently unprotected by any National Parks), to provide recreation opportunities while limiting impacts. In a region full of seasonal hotels, campsites, fruit stands, and tourists, who could possibly oppose?

People who like to shoot things and burn hydrocarbons for entertainment. That’s who.

A local “No National Park” movement began, led by a small but determined group of hunters and ATV enthusiasts out of Oliver, BC, who were offended that their chosen recreation activities may be even slightly encroached upon in the name of protecting ecological lands or endangered species.

Long story short, after 9 years of consultation, the Province caved. With her characteristic ability to solve problems, bring people together, and provide leadership you can believe in, our Premier was unable to voice support for a Park that had broad local and First Nations support, with backing from a broad range of people and groups across the country. Apparently recreational lead-shooters and gasoline-burners have a lot of voice in one of the last remaining BCLiberal strongholds in the Province. The Federal Conservative Government, citing a lack of interest on the part of the BC Liberals announced this spring that they would no longer explore the Park. Even while they announce a big park up North that will apparently feature spectacular mining expanses.

The fight may be over (or not…), but the signs are still up all through the Similkameen Valley. To me, this entire story has been about a 9-year sign war played out across the Cawston countryside. That small, organized group did a good job plastering Highway 3 with red-on-white signs, stating “No National Park”, confusing the hell out of thousands of RVs from Alberta and Germans in rental cars every year. Really, it does not present the most inviting message to passing drivers: “Wer ist gegen einen Nationalpark?!?”

It has only been the last year or so that a counter-protest sign campaign has started, using much more positive, if derivative, imagery:

And even some more creative approaches:

And now, with the entire thing in limbo, maybe the time was right for the ultimate modern slacktivist movement:

Now there is a protest I can believe in.

?

Where I been

I’ve got excuses.

I haven’t written much in the last two weeks, but I have been on vacation, pulling Scotch Broom, digging a km of Mountain Bike trail, sawing down trees without a chainsaw, drinking beer to stave off the heat, and, most time-eating of all, I picked up the latest Neal Stephenson novel, REAMDE.

This was an impulse purchase the way off to vacation, but I knew what I was getting into. I still remember where I was (on a school bus in the Nevada Desert) the first time I read chapter 1 of Snow Crash and met The Deliverator.  I love the stuff Stephenson writes, and I had held off until the new one came out in Paperback, partly to reduce the size of the damn thing to less than a curling rock, and partly because I don’t have time for fiction right now.

Alas, it is pretty engrossing. It reads like an action movie (much like his break-out novel Snow Crash), and large swathsof it take part in my old neighbourhood – the Kootenays. So far, it is less intellectually satisfying than some of his other books. I think this is because it is Stephenson’s first book where he has fetishizes guns. Much like he fetishized nanotechnology in Diamond Age or Science-as-Religion in Anathem, this is a book not about guns, but where guns are the locus of most plot advancement from the opening scene of a family reunion shoot-off. And unlike other topics he has fetishized in the past (radical environmentalism in Zodiac, code-making and code-breaking in Cryptonomicon), I am just not all that interested in guns as a topic.

Still, the guy can write some compelling characters and his level of detail makes me want to have a copy of Google Earth open while I read, just so I can scan the streets he is describing in Xiamen, China or Georgetown, Washington. (he also has an early humourous tip-of-the-hat to the legend that the original idea for Google Earth itself was cribbed from his novel Snow Crash)

I’m only 700 pages in, so bug off, I’m reading. Its Summertime.