Real estate speculation happens across the country, but is particularly popular in our largest cities. Some say foreign ownership and speculation is driving housing prices up for local residents: wealthy investors living in far-off countries buy housing with no intention of living in it. But should the government step in and regulate the practice of flipping houses?

Just a month ago, the Simon Fraser University Urban Studies program held a symposium on housing affordability. Their data-packed brochure indicated that Vancouver has been second to last in housing affordability for the past six years, and 40% of residents consider the high cost of housing to be the most important issue in the city. The city’s annual homeless count has identified an increasing number of homeless people in the city–some 2,700 people in 2014 compared to about 1,100 in 2002. While 35% of homes in Vancouver are rented, only 17% of new construction was purpose built rental housing. Urban Futures has done a number of studies on foreign ownership: in one, they found that the 2011 Census (National Household Survey) showed that Vancouver didn’t have an excessive level of foreign occupancy–that is, about 1.4% of the apartment units in the city were occupied by foreign or temporary residents, but there are no Census data that specify their citizenship, length of stay, or that support a thesis on foreign investment. In another, they found that only 0.4% of purchases in the region in 2010 were made by people living outside of Canada. But an article in the New Yorker last year quoted a report from Sotheby’s International Realty Canada: in the first half of 2013, foreign buyers accounted for nearly half of luxury home sales in Vancouver.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson announced on Friday that he has proposed that the BC government develop a speculation tax who “buy a home just to make a quick buck” by selling it 6 months later. He’s asking Vision voters to support the call for a new tax on investors, and other tools like an increased property tax on the most expensive residential properties with proceeds invested in new affordable housing.

“Together, we can send a message that housing shouldn’t just be an investment commodity – it should be for living in.” –Mayor Gregor Robertson

Less than two days after Robertson’s announcement, a petition started circulating in Toronto calling on Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development, Employment, and Infrastructure, to restrict foreign investment in residential real estate in the Toronto region. As of 5 pm today Shaan Brach’s petition had 10,491 supporters.

I’m sure that the Liberal governments of both Ontario and BC will shy away from regulating real estate speculation and taxing the rich, but nevertheless the petition and call for a new tax do raise several troubling questions: who should be allowed to buy housing in Canada? Should the government (either provincial or federal) intervene when housing prices climb too high for the average person or household to afford? And if so, how should this be done?

Canadian governments have a history of intervening when market conditions create affordability issues for local residents or when housing conditions are poor. Forty years ago, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation was busy supporting the development of co-operative and non-profit housing with the ample funding of the federal government. The federal government helped develop co-operative housing from 1973-1991, establishing long-term operating agreements coinciding with the length of the mortgage. They also had programs to help first time homebuyers, supplement rents, and rehabilitate housing in historic and central neighbourhoods. But over the years, their balanced approach to housing affordability changed. The two ends of the spectrum (households with very low incomes and homeowners with enough equity to buy) continued to benefit, but programs that helped renters and low- to middle-income households were gradually dropped.

Municipalities and developers have also introduced innovative solutions to housing affordability:

  • Equity loans–Toronto’s Option for Homes and the City of Saskatoon/Affinity Credit Union Equity Building Program help people move into affordable ownership by loaning purchasers a small percentage of the downpayment
  • Shared equity–at SFU, units in the Verdant building are reserved for university faculty and staff and resale prices are restricted to 20% below market value), and community land trusts.
  • Affordable Housing Trusts–municipalities such as Vancouver, Surrey, Richmond, Coquitlam, and Whistler have developed housing trusts through legislation and with the cooperation of the BC government

The issue of foreign investors driving up housing prices is critical in cities like Toronto and Vancouver, but there’s no quick fix for the affordability problems that took decades to create. In cities like Calgary, Fort McMurray, and Kelowna, affordability is still a major issue even without high levels of foreign investment. In Edmonton, 33.5% of all condominium units are rented. Researchers and policymakers across the country have been trying to find and implement the solutions for at least two decades. A speculation tax would only be part of the solution, but combined with better rent controls and a higher high-end property tax whose revenues would be used to build and maintain housing of different types for different income levels, it could be a good start. We definitely need an increased role for the provincial and federal governments in affordable housing, but that’s not news.

“Canada’s housing challenges are too big and too complex for any single order of government to solve on its own. We believe the government’s commitment in Budget 2013 to evidence-based solutions such as the Housing First approach for homelessness is a promising start, but they need to back it up with real results and expand that action to other areas of our affordable housing problem.” –Gregor Robertson, Vancouver mayor

Along with other big city mayors in Canada, Gregor Robertson announced a new national campaign to create more affordable housing and involving all levels of government to create a long-term housing plan. The Big City Mayor’s Caucus is part of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which often advocates a larger role for municipalities in federal issues such as housing.

Although housing affordability remains a major problem in Vancouver, the city has done a considerable amount to address it in recent years, including enabling new affordable rental housing on City-owned land, developing an arms-length Affordable Housing Advisory, establishing a Rent Bank to help renters in crisis through short-term loans, and creating the Rental 100 program which provides incentives for new, 100% rental housing. But of course, there’s only so much municipalities can do–housing experts agree that the federal, provincial and municipal governments need to cooperate to develop a long-term, sustainable funding model for affordable housing.

 

The researchers at the Center for Neighbourhood Technology and the Center for Housing Policy have recently added to their impressive body of work on the combined costs of housing and transportation. In Losing Ground: The Struggle of Moderate Income Households to Afford the Rising Costs of Housing and Transportation, CNT and CHP have again shown why it is often more affordable overall to live in cities that are characterized as having expensive housing.

While the combined costs of housing and transportation rose in the largest 25 American municipalities, including the transportation costs in their measure of affordability has resulted in some interesting results: while Houston was the 8th most affordable city for housing, once transportation costs were considered, it dropped to 17th place. This applies to other cities like Miami, Tampa, Riverside, CA, and Los Angeles. Washington, D.C., which ranked dead last for housing affordability, had the lowest combined housing and transportation costs; following it were Philadelphia, Baltimore, Minneapolis and Boston. The report delves into much more detail on medium- and low-income households.

As in their other studies, CNT and CHP recommend the preservation of affordable and rental housing near job centres and transit stations, regulatory reforms like location-efficient mortgages, incentives or requirements to include affordable housing in areas with good transit access, mechanisms to ensure long-term affordability, and improvements to transit service and walkability in compact areas where housing costs are low.

We can all rest easy. Despite many studies showing increased income inequality and a shrinking middle class in Canada, a rags-to-riches story is more likely to happen here than in the “land of opportunity.”

University of Ottawa professor Miles Corak, a social policy economist and former director of family and labour research at Statistics Canada, and his co-authors Lori Curtis (Professor of Economics, University of Waterloo) and Shelley Phipps (Professor of Economics, Dalhousie University) found that Canadians are three times more economically mobile than those in the US. The difference is largely due to those at the very top and the very bottom of the income distribution. In Economic Mobility, Family Background, and the Well-Being of Children in the United States and Canada, the three researchers found that social supports such as the Child Tax Credit, paid parental leave benefits, and schools funded through provincial income taxes help ensure that children receive better care and schooling than in the US, where these supports are absent and schools are funded through local property taxes, leaving poor neighbourhoods with failing schools. With sky-high tuition fees at universities, the richest Americans can buy their children the best educations and tutors. These differences between rich and poor mean that if you’re born poor in the US, you tend to stay poor; this also applies to the 1%–the very top of the income pyramid. For example, although “the average Canadian child is not as affluent as the average American, the poorest Canadian is not as poor in an absolute sense as Americans at the bottom of the income distribution.” This may help explain why discussions of class are more prevalent in the American literature and popular press.

The authors caution that rising income inequality rates in Canada could erode the high rate of economic mobility that we see now. Indeed, a look at their graphs shows that we still have issues: 15% our poorest children may still grow up to have incomes in the lowest decile (Figure 3, p7), but they have a better chance at the 7th, 8th, and 9th deciles than they do in the US. More Canadian children are born in the lower income deciles than American children (Figure 8, p33). But Table 1 (p21) shows some clear differences in the characteristics of families and parents. In Canada, 2.1% of children are born to teenage mothers; in the US, it’s 8.3%. In Canada, 14.9% of mothers are single compared to 22.1% in the US. Far more mothers and lone mothers in Canada have completed some post-secondary education or a post-secondary certificate (but oddly, more American mothers have completed degrees). Health problems among the poorest mothers are also more prevalent in the US, likely due to the cost of health care. As the authors suggest, Canadians must protect policies such as paid parental leave, the right to return to their jobs after the birth of a child, tax-transfer programs that help reduce the severity of poverty, and funding for schools through provincial income tax, ensuring a more equal distribution of resources across municipalities and neighbourhoods. Although we have fewer barriers to health care, we need to ensure the lower-income population has sufficient knowledge on navigating the health care system and can pay for prescription medication.

Corak, Curtis and Phipps write that “The citizens of both countries have a similar understanding of a successful life, one that is rooted in individual aspirations and freedom. They also have similar views on how these goals should be attained, but with one important exception: Americans differ in that they are more likely to see the State hindering rather than helping the attainment of these goals. Yet, at the same time the citizens of both countries recognize the need for public policy to contribute to reaching this ideal, with Americans believing more than Canadians that a whole host of interventions would be effective in improving the prospects for economic mobility. One interpretation of these findings – an interpretation that only becomes evident in a comparative context – is that in some sense this need is going unmet in the United States.”

Since I finished my Ph.D. this month, today was officially my last day to use my U-Pass, and a sad day it was! Long past young adulthood, my grad school status awarded me a universal transit pass since 2005; the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University started the program as a sustainability measure way back in 2003 with the cooperation of TransLink and intense student lobbying. I’ve travelled the entire region with my U-Pass: it’s taken me to North Vancouver’s Lynn Canyon, Surrey City Centre, Richmond Centre, and New Westminster Quay, all for less than $30/month. Among other things, it’s allowed me to avoid car ownership for another six years; the U-Pass and my Modo car sharing membership meet all my travel needs. The U-Pass has since spread to encompass other colleges in Metro Vancouver, and has had a major impact on transportation mode shift in the region.

U-Passes are part of a demographic swing that’s taking place among young people in Canada and the US. Unbelievable as it may seem in countries that have espoused driving and highways as the only way to traverse our expansive vistas, young people are actually driving less than in previous years (check out the Transportation Research Board’s presentation on this among other demographic trends in the US). Car ownership rate has decreased among youth and young adults. Part of this shift is due to increased availability of programs like university U-Pass programs, better transit service, and growing mainstream popularity of sustainable transportation. Today’s young adults also spend more years in post-secondary institutions, take longer to enter the labour market, graduate with more debt, get married and have children later, if at all.

In honour of my last day with a U-Pass, I travelled to East Vancouver to the Pacific National Exhibition at Renfrew and Hastings. The #14 UBC/Hastings and #16 Arbutus trolley buses travel there, as well as the #135 express bus to SFU. The bus routes along Hastings Street transect the entire sociodemographic range that is Vancouver, from the suit-wearing jewellers in the stone-clad Birks store at Granville Street to the homeless and addicted masses gathering near the faded grandeur of Main Street’s Carnegie. It seemed a fitting way to end six years of unlimited, supercheap transit travel in Metro Vancouver; as of tomorrow, I’m buying full-fare tickets like everyone else.

About a year ago, I wrote extensively about Bill C-304, the much-needed Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians. The bill has been proposed several times, in different sessions of Parliament. Most recently, it was proposed as a private members’ public bill by Vancouver East MP Libby Davies.

After a few years passing through the first and second reading, the bill finally reached third reading debate in November. Most of the debate was in favour of the bill. Following Parliamentary procedure, on November 24th it went back to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) for an amendment requested by the Bloc Québecois. It then went back to the House for its third reading. It passed in the House and proceeded to the Senate for consideration.

Am I the only one who thinks it’s crazy that it took a year to get from second reading to the debates preceding third reading? And that this bill, in one form or another, lingered in the Parliamentary process for over four years? I realize Harper prorogued government a couple of times, but still…that only cost us a few months. We need this legislation badly. It is interesting how other governmental initiatives, like proroguing government last winter and cancelling the long-form Census this summer, seem to occur quickly and with devastating consequences for Canadians (the Liberals’ move to reinstate the long-form Censusintroduced on September 30th–will take far longer). How is it that the American government has elected a new President, had an entire housing crisis, introduced funding to support affordable rental housing, and introduced its first-ever health care legislation in the time it’s taken us to pass a single bill in the House of Commons?

Just a three months after Edward Jones released a report about the precarious state of the Canadian housing market, housing sales fell in Toronto and Vancouver. Citing prices higher than historical averages, easy credit, and lax government policy that allows people to get in over their heads as the three conditions that create a housing bubble, Edward Jones seemed to be right on the money. Is Canada’s housing bubble finally about to burst?

In Toronto, new home sales in June 2010 were 43% lower than they were twelve months earlier, and July was the third consecutive month of decreasing sales. Housing starts in June were 15% lower than they were in May. But not much hand-wringing is going along with these trends: many experts, like Toronto Real Estate Board president Bill Johnson, say the market “has become more balanced.” After all, average prices are still 6% higher than they were last year, and most of the decline seems to be in first-time buyers. Higher-than-average buying in the first quarter of 2010 means that total sales this year are still up by 11%.

Vancouver has also seen record drops from last year, a 45% decline from last July and the third-lowest July in a decade. But again, this had little effect on prices: the average house price in Vancouver fell by just 0.2% to $793,193. Real estate agents estimate that about a third of the buyers are first-time buyers.

Outside of the major centers, where listings were lower and the market appears to be cooling, there are plenty of houses for sale in small- to mid-sized cities. Nevertheless, both economists and the general public are becoming concerned about the state of the housing market and economic instability, as well they should be. I’ve written before on the instability of housing as an investment and the major government supports that encourage the vast majority of people to believe homeownership is the only option. Is this really the only way to house our population? More specifically, should it be the only housing alternative to receive such funding and policy support? Although there has been some tightening of lending policy and mortgage availability, there are still a lot of policies and incentives supporting homeownership. What about using some of this leverage to support rental, co-op and other types of housing?

“Why doesn’t the president of the United States ever get up and say, ‘You can be a full-fledged American citizen and rent an apartment — it’s OK.” David Wessel, economics editor, Wall Street Journal

Americans now pay more for housing than ever before, according to a report by Harvard’s Joint Centre for Housing Studies. In its annual report The State of the Nation’s Housing 2010, researchers write that 18.6 million Americans spend more than half their incomes on housing, up from 13.8% in 2001. While this figure includes both owners and renters, 45.1% of renters are in the bottom income quartile. Homeownership is at a historical low, household income barely increased in the past decade, and rental vacancies are at a historical high. No wonder the authors are calling calling the first ten years of the 2000’s “the lost decade.” But housing “unaffordability” isn’t anything new, nor are our solutions to the problem.

While the Harvard researchers blame falling wages and high unemployment (9.9% in April 2010), high rental vacancy rates and low supply of the most affordable and smallest units are also major issues. Fewer homes were built in the US in 2009 than in any year since WWII, particularly multifamily homes: 62% fewer multifamily developments were begun in 2009 than in 2008. Demolition and conversion of existing low-income rental units is also a major cause for concern. Lower immigration rates are also taking their toll: there was a sharper decline in the number of foreign-born households under the age of 35 than in native-born households from 2009 to 2010. Minority households have been hit hard by the mortgage crisis. In 2009, minorities accounted for 37 percent of householders aged 25–44 and 39 percent of those under age 25. The minority homeownership rate is still expected to increase by 2020, despite lower incomes among foreign-born and minority households and lower immigration rates due to the economic recession.

Some progress has been made in terms of rental housing: rental conversions from foreclosed housing has already been done in many cities, but Housing and Urban Development (HUD) considering introducing market-rental units into its publicly-funded affordable housing developments in order to help pay for much-needed maintenance on the buildings. And the pro-homeownership policies keep coming, including the renewal of the federal tax credit for first-time homebuyers (and its expansion to repeat homebuyers) and Federal Reserve purchases of mortgage-backed securities to help keep interest rates low. But with the expiration of the tax credit program in April 2010, Harvard’s Joint Centre for Housing Studies warns that any good news may not be long-lasting. The problem, they say, is that there is unusually low demand for new homes. The ratio of housing and transportation costs to income has risen steadily over the past fifty years (see Figure 30 and 31 of the report).

As I’ve written before, without massive government programs to support homeownership and assistance for low-income renters, housing has ever been a good deal. Check out the CBC’s digital archives on the development of suburbs. In a video clip from 1954, the narrator explains how expensive homes are for the average person and how far people have to live (up to 50 miles from the city center) to afford them. In 1953, the average Canadian earned $971/month before taxes. Don Mills, the first suburb in Canada, had house prices beginning at $11,000 all the way up to $100,000. Rental rates at that time were $300/month for the average apartment in Toronto (already hovering around 30% of the average Canadian’s income, the level most housing authorities classify as affordable) and $100/month for a basic three-bedroom in the city centre. In the new market-rate high-rise apartment complexes in the suburbs of Toronto, apartments went for less than $100/month. In Montreal, then the largest city in the country, 70% of homes were apartments and the going rent was $70-100/month, only slightly more than the rents in Winnipeg ($80/month). A house in Vancouver was $2,000 cheaper than in the east at the time. While 1950s housing solutions (demolition of existing older housing to make room for low-income public housing developments in city centres, massive concrete high-rises in the suburbs) may have been questionable, they were quite desirable at the time: the wait for affordable housing, like the still-under-construction Regent Park) was 2 years for a $29-90/month rent-geared-to-income apartment. The average rent at Shannon Heights, a 1950s assisted rental development in Halifax, was only $90/month. Commuting to the city became a new drag, and buses quickly replaced streetcars and trains, steps were taken to make commuting more enjoyable. A 1963 video clip records a housewife saying that the lack of transportation options in the suburbs mean she spends considerable time driving her teenagers around; another says her family moved to the suburbs because that’s where they could get a mortgage.

Whatever housing problems we face today, whether it’s affordability or commute distance, they’re nothing new. Solutions to these problems, like artificially stimulating homeownership through tax incentives and policies, are likewise nothing new; housing affordability problems persist. Recently, researchers at the The New York Times compared the cost of living in a suburban house to an urban apartment in the New York City metro area, and found that the suburban option cost a surprising 18% more (“High-Rise, or House with Yard?” July 2, 2010): the big difference was the higher property taxes, and their comparison didn’t include the cost of home repairs. Even the The Wall Street Journal is publishing articles saying homeownership doesn’t work (“Is the Homeownership System Broken?”, June 22, 2010): WSJ economics editor David Wessel is quoted as saying, “So now we have a system where a lot of people own homes but don’t have any equity in them, which means you don’t get any of the virtues of investing in them. And the government has been forced to take over the mortgage financing system, which suggests that it wasn’t a very strong one if the government has to take it over.” This is quite a turn of events. Could North Americans be forging a new path in housing policy?

We live in momentous times: currently, a very significant piece of legislation is making its way towards adoption. I outlined the reasons for the creation of a national housing strategy during Homelessness Action Week. Housing has a profound influence on the planning of our cities and regions, and housing provision in Canada has been subject to a litany of policies and programs that have decreased housing choice, made homeownership the only viable choice for most Canadians, and undermined the ability of developers to construct rental housing.

The Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing Act (Bill C-304), was proposed by Vancouver NDP MP Libby Davies in February of this year. It has been a long time coming: similar bills were introduced in 2008 and 2006, but the instability of minority governments prevented them from gaining any serious ground. Parliament voted to move ahead with Bill C-304 on September 30, 2009 (this second reading passed with a vote of 147 to 138) and now it must go through a House Standing Committee Meeting before being brought back to the House of Commons for a 3rd reading. Some significant passages from the bill:

  • “Whereas the provision of and access to adequate housing is a fundamental human right according to paragraph 25(1) of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights…”
  • “Whereas Canada’s wealth and national budget are more than adequate to ensure that every woman, child and man residing in Canada has secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing as part of a standard of living that will provide healthy physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual and social development and a good quality of life…”
  • “Whereas improved housing conditions are best achieved through co-operative partnerships of government and civil society and the meaningful involvement of local communities…”
  • “3.(1) The Minister shall, in consultation with the provincial ministers of the Crown responsible for municipal affairs and housing and with representatives of municipalities and Aboriginal communities, establish a national housing strategy designed to ensure that the cost of housing in Canada does not compromise an individual’s ability to meet other basic needs, including food, clothing and access to education.”
  • “3.(2) The national housing strategy shall provide financial assistance, including financing and credit without discrimination, for those who are otherwise unable to afford rental housing.”

Under the specific requirements, the Act ensures the construction of housing that “includes not-for-profit rental housing projects, mixed income not-for-profit housing cooperatives, special-needs housing and housing that allows senior citizens to remain in their homes as long as possible”, housing for the homeless, temporary and emergency shelters. They even managed to include standards for sustainable and energy-efficient design. The Act prioritizes housing for those who haven’t had access to stable, secure affordable housing over an extended period; those who have special needs due to family size or status, or mental or physical disabilities; and those who have been denied housing due to discrimination.

The Act requires the federal housing Minister to work with the provincial ministers of housing and municipal representatives, and (s)he is required to convene a meeting of these within 180 days after the passage of the Act to develop standards and objectives for the strategy, set targets for the commencement of programs, and develop principles of agreement for implementation of the programs. The Minister “may take any measures that the Minister considers appropriate to implement the national housing strategy as quickly as possible.” The Minister is required to present a report of this meeting “before each House of Parliament on any one of the first five days that the House is sitting following the expiration of 180 days after the end of the conference.”

Like many Canadians, I’ve been following Bill C-304 rabidly. Legisinfo provides the latest updates so stay tuned: the House Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities met on Nov. 5th and will meet again on Nov. 17th. They need to report on their debates to the House of Commons before the 3rd reading of the bill. To quote Chris Brown, the NDP MP for Hamilton Mountain, “It is about rights. It is about dignity. It is about investments. It is about jobs. It is about time.”

No matter what your profession, you’ve probably been to your share of conferences. From professional to academic, trade shows to think tanks, conferences are still the most popular way to share your research and ideas with a larger audience. In academia, paper presentations and face-to-face networking with other academics are still the norm even in our increasingly wired society. Similarly, practicing planners share their policies, plans and tools with each other at the Canadian Institute of Planners/American Planning Association conferences, and their provincial and state equivalents.

I confess that while I gain a lot from these events, and often meet other interesting researchers in the field, I find the whole thing a bit draining. Several days of listening to presentations and networking is tiring. The other thing is that there seems to be a divide in the types of people these conferences attract: practicing planners go to one conference and academics to another. It’s rare that you have that blend of practicing planners, academic researchers, and those working in municipal, regional and federal policy development.

Last March, students at SCARP organized such an event on sustainability, and I wrote in an earlier post about the success of this one-day symposium and our PhD panel on research dissemination. SCARP repeated the success of this event with another one-day symposium on affordable housing funded by the BC provincial government and several key sponsors like VanCity and the Planning Institute of BC. Papers were presented by both Masters and PhD planning students, municipal planners, housing developers, architects, and more. It was a rare confluence of research, policy development and practical planning tools that have impacted the construction of affordable housing in Canada. Some of the sessions I attended included Haley Mousseau (BC Non-Profit Housing Association) on the long-term survival of non-profit housing units in the province; Andy Yan (Bing Thom Architects) on the impact of empty condos on Vancouver, and Vanessa Kay (internship for the City of Vancouver) research on the long-term costs associated with amenity spaces in Vancouver condos.

The breadth of experience in the room was palpable, and it was easy to strike up conversations over breakfast, lunch, and the cocktail hour with (in my case) the director of a shelter, a housing provider in a suburban municipality, a planning consultant working extensively on housing development, an academic researcher looking at sustainable neighbourhoods, a PhD candidate in geography at UBC, and a Masters student who had travelled from northeastern US to attend the symposium. Best of all, the one-day format kept things moving and packed a lot of information into a short amount of time. The only problem I overheard participants discussing was that there were concurrent sessions, so it was impossible to hear all the presentations.

It’s easy for us to become entrenched and isolated in our little silos, whether it’s a municipal department of planning or an academic faculty. Events like this provide a rare opportunity to share our work with a wider audience and to learn from a variety of different viewpoints. The short length of the symposium effectively limited participation to those within a short distance of the host city, forcing people to develop better ties in their own locality. While there is a place for big conferences, and connecting with people over continents who share our interests, it’s a sad fact that few of us have the time to create or maintain local research/practice networks outside the context of our immediate projects.

Next week I’ll be attending another rather unconventional conference, or rather “un-conference” called TransportCamp, which uses multimedia techniques to foster dialogue between participants. A similar event was held in Toronto in April 2008. I’m skeptical, but I’ll let you know how it turns out.