Public housing developments across Canada have been targeted for redevelopment for a complex set of reasons: designed in the 1950s and 1960s through federal-provincial urban renewal funding, their management has been a sore spot for the municipalities in which they are located. Many actually tore apart existing street networks and concentrated the poor in small areas, resulting in more isolated communities that were inward-looking. Most were designed without critical social infrastructure like community centres, schools, shops, and playgrounds so that young people had nothing to do. And most critically, most were sited in inner city neighbourhoods that, in the 1960s, were considered undesirable by the middle and upper class households that were fleeing the city for the suburbs.

Now of course, things have changed: most of these communities, like Regent Park in Toronto and Uniacke Square in Halifax, are in central neighbourhoods now considered to be highly desirable. Regent Park is in the middle of a twenty-year multimillion dollar redevelopment that, like many others of its kind, aims to replace only some of its public housing for very low income families. The main thrust of this type of redevelopment is better design (e.g. reinstalling the pre-existing street network, introducing mixed uses such as shops and services) fuelled by income mix: integrating market rate housing with some lower priced units.

A couple of months back, I introduced my readers to Mulgrave Park, a public housing community in Halifax which was the basis for my fourth year urban design studio this term. Beginning in September, students have been working with the Caring and Learning Centre and the Phoenix Youth Centre to redesign and reprogram some of the social and open spaces in the neighbourhood. I’d like to summarize the work they did as well as my own success in imparting some key policy and planning lessons.screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-6-12-47-pm

Students began individually, working on a historic analysis of the site, then proceeding to an individual design or programming element where they were encouraged to coordinate with each other towards a cohesive set of solutions. For the last four weeks of the term they put their ideas together into a comprehensive set of design/programming recommendations for the community. For their final presentation, they used posters to present their ideas to Crystal John from the Caring and Learning Centre and Maurice James from the Phoenix Youth Centre, and two of their staff members. They answered questions about feasibility, budget, and funding opportunities for their projects, which for the most part the clients really liked. The posters were also left in the Centre so that residents could see them and make comments on them with Post-it notes, with the intent to incorporate comments into their work. At the end of the term, the students submitted a final report to our clients which introduces the site characteristics, the rationale and criteria they used to develop their ideas, and a summary of all the concepts with maps and drawings.

One of the most interesting challenges the students had while working on this site was the way its original design, typical of urban renewal projects of the 1960s, eliminated interior streets so that the community ended up becoming quite insular. This, combined with the reputation of public housing residents among the rest of the city, has contributed to both social isolation from the city and a tight-knit community where everyone knows each other. Attempts to reduce this isolation can be detrimental to the community (as has happened in the redesign of many urban renewal projects including Regent Park in Toronto), however planners may feel about correcting the wrongs of the past. Another challenge was the physical characteristic of the site as having a steep slope, rendering much of its plentiful open space unusable. These two aspects in particular were constraints that impacted many of the students’ projects.

For the design elements, the students decided to pursue the following options:

  • Redesigning a gravelly, uneven field in the center of the community as a level playing field for kidsscreen-shot-2016-12-18-at-6-08-54-pm
  • Removing some unnecessary retaining walls and using plants to improve the appearance of others
  • Adding a second community garden and greenhouse
  • Building a skate/scooter park with lighting for evening use by removing five parking spots
  • Redesigning the existing basketball court so that it has a level playing surface and can accommodate younger kids as well as older
  • Redesigning two of the main staircases into the neighbourhood by making them wider and shallower to accommodate the socializing that happens in these locations
  • Better universal access into and around the site through introducing ramps and level pavement where possible
  • Introducing a boulevard with planting and seating, which can be used for activities like a farmer’s market

The programming elements included:

  • A Paint the Planters program to allow residents to paint window boxes and seed them with annualsscreen-shot-2016-12-18-at-6-09-25-pm
  • A program to install seating, garbage bins, bike racks, and an outdoor community events board
  • Elements to increase the perception of safety on the site (glow in the dark paint for the existing murals, a Brighter Nights program, and CCTV cameras)
  • A farmer’s market on the new boulevard, which could also be used for education about nutrition and winter events such as a holiday market
  • Better wayfinding and signage, since many buildings have street numbers that don’t correspond with the residents’ knowledge of the layout, and the internal streets are incomplete
  • Better and different types of lighting, including some solar-powered and LED fixtures, implemented over time
  • Building on the strong social networks and expanding these to allow residents to take advantage of cultural, sports, and entertainment activities around the city
  • Developing a community van that can be used to improve access to grocery stores, medical centres and other amenities

 

You can read the full report here.

Students seemed very keen to learn about aspects of housing policy, see the types of redevelopment that are happening in other public housing neighbourhoods like Regent Park, and figure out how their projects could actually be implemented through different types of funding. screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-6-08-34-pmThey struggled with the larger concepts such as social justice and how this is manifested through things like redesign, redevelopment and even simple maintenance of the site. In part this is part of the Millennial trend towards skimming the surface of a topic, without diving in deeply. But another part of this is the conflict between redevelopment and preservation of social networks and social capital. While the design of many public housing neighbourhoods was problematic, in many cases it contributed to tight-knit communities with members who look out for each other, improve their neighbourhoods together, and help generate a strong sense of community pride. City living is in again, and that means rising land costs in inner cities are threatening to displace renters, low-income households, and longtime neighbours who cannot afford the high-end luxury condominiums that are usually the markers of redevelopment projects.

When students were asked how they think the course could have been altered, they suggested using a more iterative process to develop their design/programming elements, and beginning to work together on the final report at the same time as their individual designs. These changes would have helped them to create a cohesive whole rather than a package of separate ideas. They felt that their first assignment, the historical analysis, could also have been shortened to allow more time for the design/programming component.

We are hoping that the Caring and Learning Centre will be able to slowly implement the small-scale projects, particularly those dealing with children and youth, through grants. Students were able to find many grants, both local and national, for projects supporting health communities and active lifestyles for children and youth. For larger-scale and longer-term projects, we will continue to consult with Housing Nova Scotia, largely due to the fact that one of the students will be doing his internship with the urban design team there. Crystal will also continue to advocate for the longer-term projects to Metro Housing, who report to Housing Nova Scotia. Hopefully this collaboration results in some real change for Mulgrave Park.

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Some of the units in Mulgrave Park have private yards

At the Dalhousie School of Planning, students in our Bachelor of Community Design have two chances to work on a project with a client in their final year. In fall, they choose either urban design or environmental planning studio, and in winter they work as a group on another planning project. This fall, I’m teaching the studio in urban design. As my expertise is in housing and transportation planning, I sought a client that would be interested in a project in one of these areas.

Like many cities, Halifax is facing some serious housing affordability issues. Three years ago the Halifax Regional Municipality partnered with CMHC, United Way, and several public health authorities on a Housing and Homelessness Partnership which has already released a Housing Needs Assessment outlining some key areas the region needs to focus on: more rental housing, housing for smaller households, and a focus on those with incomes in the bottom five deciles.

Our client, the Mulgrave Park Caring and Learning Centre, illustrates some of these challenges. As a non-profit organization developed by community members, they are filling in the gaps of service provision in a neighbourhood developed in a complicated era. Mulgrave Park is one of Canada’s first public housing communities. Built through the now-controversial urban renewal process in the 1950s and 1960s which involved demolishing existing “slum” housing and rehousing tenants elsewhere, Mulgrave Park was designed by CMHC architects in 1959 to take in those displaced in other downtown neighbourhoods through the Central Area Redevelopment Plan.

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Crystal (in white) shows the students around the site

The community is tight-knit, with the average household living there between 5-10 years and several returning residents. Two of those who grew up in the community and returned to help improve it are Crystal John, Director of the Caring and Learning Centre, and Maurice James, Coordinator of the Phoenix Youth and Community Centre. Another initiative in the community is Progress in the Park. Jurisdictional issues aside, municipal councillor Jennifer Watts has also been a critical advocate for the community, helping them build a community garden and hold a community-building event involving street painting.

In the quintessential Modernist style, the community has huge concrete retaining walls to deal with the steep slopes down to the waterfront, very little private space for tenants, no community services, and minimal space for social activities or playground spaces. As in other public housing communities, the maintenance of the community (open spaces and the buildings themselves) has been left to an often cash-strapped Provincial government, who oversees the Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority. Like many areas of the city (e.g. parts of the waterfront owned by the federal government), jurisdictional issues have complicated the maintenance of the community, any proposed changes, and daily issues such as how tenants’ concerns are addressed.

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Most of the open spaces on the site are too steep to be used as gathering places or for children playing

Due to operating agreements between CMHC and the Province, Mulgrave Park residents are left without many of the basic services that other Halifax residents take for granted–for example, until recently there was no playground for children, or a spot for residents to garden. The Housing Authority allowed the Caring and Learning Centre and Phoenix  to take over former housing units for their operations , since there was no community centre to base activities like employment programs for youth, cooking classes for kids or tenant association meetings.

Our class spent a couple of weeks learning about the history of Mulgrave Park, including the working class Richmond community established in the late 1800s that was destroyed by the 1917 Halifax explosion. After lying vacant during the interwar era and hosting temporary Wartime Housing for military personnel during the Second World War, the decision to use the land for public housing was facilitated in the 1950s by amendments to the National Housing Act allowing the provincial and federal governments to collaborate on building public housing, and to build new commercial development in central neighbourhoods provided that new housing was built for the displaced residents. The City of Halifax had previously expressed interest in slum clearance of valuable central neighbourhood lands in the Depression and wartime years, but it was Gordon Stephenson’s 1957 report that sealed the deal.

We visited the site on September 21st, with a walking tour by Crystal and Maurice, who answered many of the students questions about issues such as: what spaces in the community are used by children, youth, and the entire community; private versus public space; landscape elements; and maintenance issues. We’ll be visiting again at night to see things like lighting, pedestrian safety and other issues in the neighbourhood. Students will be presenting a historical analysis next week, and then will decide on a design approach for the social and open spaces in the neighbourhood. By the end of October they will each have focused on a particular design or programming element that reinforces the overall design approach. Then they will develop a report that evaluates and prioritizes the different elements, which we will present to the community.

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Clotheslines used to allow the residents to socialize informally, but they have been discouraged and mostly removed by the housing authority

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Councillor Jennifer Watts was instrumental in creating a community garden with individual plots for residents

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Street painting linking Phoenix Youth Centre with the Caring and Learning Centre was enabled through the HRM Community Grants program

 

 

 

 

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Book launch postcard-Vancouver

 

If Quebec Transport Minister Robert Poëti and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre have their way, Montreal’s fragmented public transit system is in for a major overhaul. Their proposal is similar to governance models seen in other metropolitan regions, but will it work in Greater Montreal?

Like many regions in the world, Montreal has a fragmented governance system made up of a regional authority and municipal governments. Municipal transit agencies or transportation departments run their own systems and oversee their own funding while the Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT) is responsible for parking lots, commuter trains, reserved lanes and metropolitan terminuses. The AMT is under the governance of the Québec government, and the region’s municipalities provide 40% of AMT’s budget. Every region outside Montreal, Laval, and Longeuil currently has its own Conseil intermunicipal de transport (CIT), the new plan calls for them to be merged into one authority along with the AMT. Montreal, Laval, and Longueil will retain their Sociétés de transport.

Responding to demands from elected officials in the Montreal region, the Quebec government’s new governance proposal is based on a new provincial-municipal partnership involving the member municipalities of Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal. The plan is to assign public transit planning to a regional transport authority (ART) with six members appointed by the CMM and seven by the Québec government, including an independent chair. A metropolitan transit system (RTM), headed by a board of elected officials designated by the CMM will run the commuter trains, suburban buses, reserved lanes, parking lots and terminuses.

With the adoption of the metropolitan land use and development plan (PMAD), CMM officials have decided that public transit and land use are now part and parcel of the same package.  –Denis Coderre, Montreal Mayor and president of the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal

Coderre maintains that with the adoption of the PMAD, which the CMM laboured over for more than a decade and approved in 2012, the governance partnership will “facilitate the creation of a unified vision of Greater Montreal.” A regional approach to transportation and land use planning is rare, not just in Canada but around the world, as I learned in my meta-analysis of 11 international city-regions.

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However, some mayors are concerned that an AMT with greater planning discretion will reduce their autonomy and lengthen the process of approval for critical transportation decisions. Some of the municipalities use private companies to deliver public transit, so service changes can happen within days or weeks. In Montreal, this type of decision must be studied and ratified by board members, so changes can take months. Raphaël Fischler, Director of the McGill School of Urban Planning, goes even further in his criticism of the plan, saying that local mayors “have a poor track record of decision making on urban and regional transportation planning in the region.” He cites a critical reason that those in the planning profession have heard before: elected officials tend to prioritize long-term local concerns over long-term regional concerns.

These are not new concerns: it’s well known that Vancouver has also struggled with regional transportation governance and is currently going through a referendum on the issue. Until 2007, TransLink’s board was made up of elected officials from the Metro Vancouver municipalities, with a few provincial representatives. The board held public meetings and its decision-making was generally considered to be transparent, if not harmonious. Transport Minister Kevin Falcon ordered a change, retaining a Mayors’ Council (with all 21 mayors in the region, the Chief of the Tsawwassen First Nation, and a representative from Electoral Area A) but weakening the ability of the Council to make regional decisions. A governance review in 2013 revealed major issues with accountability. In response, the Province of BC introduced governance changes last year returning regional decision-making to local mayors: the Mayors’ Council shares responsibility with the board of directors (with nine members appointed by the Mayors’ Council and two by the province). The 2014 governance changes eliminated the Regional Commissioner of Transportation and the ability of the provincial government to set the regional transportation vision. Metro Vancouver provides input on long-term strategies and planning, and the province on long-term economic, environmental, and transportation objectives. The referendum that Metro Vancouver residents are currently voting on concerns the long-term transportation strategy prepared by the Mayors’ Council.

If Vancouver’s experience is an illustrative example, it’s likely that the Montreal region will stumble a little if this new governance model is introduced. Planning operates in a fragmented governance framework that has always made longer term, regional initiatives difficult to develop and implement. Governance expert Andrew Sancton has written that regional governance initiatives are often seen as eroding the power of local councils. It will take municipal planning departments and elected officials a while to adjust to thinking in these terms, to thinking as one as they develop a regional vision that will guide their decisions. And as Sancton noted, restructuring is only part of the answer to successful governance within a region: partnerships with the private and non-profit sectors are critical to improving quality of life. Montreal’s struggle with regional transportation governance is one shared by most metropolitan regions in the world.

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As a planner educated in British Columbia, there are number of things about Ontario’s system that make little sense to me, first and foremost the Ontario Municipal Board and its stranglehold on urban development. There are other oddities too, like the lack of coordination between provincial plans and lower-tier plans within the same upper-tier municipality, and the seemingly unending appeals that are allowed on virtually any planning decision–despite the requirement of the Planning Act to include public participation/consultation in planning processes.

No other province has an independent administrative board that hears as many appeals on municipal planning disputes as the OMB: in 2011, the City of Toronto had 121 cases at the OMB involving 240 days of hearings. The system favours the party who can pay more for legal advice, usually developers, while community associations hold fundraisers to build up hundreds of thousands of dollars in anticipated fees. And most disturbing of all, it isn’t just cases of individual buildings or lot disputes that make it to the OMB–it is currently permissible to appeal an entire municipal official plan. Even though a municipality is required to update its official plan every five years, the plan has often not made it through the OMB by the time a new one is required (go online and download your municipality’s OP and you’re likely to see an entire section at the front listing all the policies that are still at the OMB due to “site specific issues”). This “death by a thousand swords” is diluting any sustainable, innovative planning approaches that municipalities dare to produce and slowing planning to a standstill. And it’s completely unnecessary: no other province has an adjudicative tribunal with the scope and power of the OMB.

Surprisingly, all of this might be changing in the near future. When Kathleen Wynne won the provincial election last summer, she set out mandates for the provincial ministries. The priorities for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing included:

  • Moving Forward on Social and Affordable Housing
  • Improving Land Use Planning
  • Reviewing Provincial Growth and Greenbelt Plans
  • Reviewing Municipal Governance
  • Strengthening Partnerships with Municipalities
  • Amending the Building Code
  • Reviewing Disaster Response
  • Developing a Community Hubs Policy

MMAH is making steady progress on these goals, including the coordinated review of the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Greenbelt Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and Niagara Escarpment Plan, which is now at the stage of public consultation.

A couple of weeks ago, MMAH announced that it is proposing sweeping changes to the way land use planning is done in the province, in fulfilment of its mandate which recommended a review of the scope and effectiveness of the Ontario Municipal Board, amending the Planning Act and Development Charges Act to improve planning and develop more sustainable communities, requiring citizen input during the planning process and reducing the number of applications to the OMB. The proposed Bill 73, Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, aims to introduce the following changes to the Planning Act:

  • Two-year moratoriums on development applications–no official plan may be amended within two years of its adoption. This also applies to zoning by-law amendments.
  • Limitations on applications to the OMB, including put an end to global official plan appeal, ending appeals to lower-tier plans not in conformity with upper-tier plans, and ending appeals to any part of an official plan implementing provincial policy related to the Greenbelt Act, Clean Water Act, Growth Plan forecasts, or settlement area boundaries
  • Additional emphasis on public participation–requiring Official Plans to include a description of public participation to be undertaken during OP amendments, zoning by-law amendments, minor variances, consents, and plans of subdivision and requiring Councils to actually explain how public comments affected their decision on development applications
  • An extension of the 180-day period for decisions on Official Plans and Official Plan Amendments–currently anyone may appeal an authority’s failure to make a decision in respect to an OP or OPA if a notice of decision hasn’t been made within 180 days. It is proposed that this be extended by another 90 days
  • New criteria, designated by the Minister, for minor variances that would be over and above those set out in subsection 45(1) of the Planning Act
  • Extending the review cycle of the Provincial Planning Statement and Official Plans to ten years, rather than the current five year cycle
  • Requiring park plans and reducing cash-in-lieu of parkland for residential subdivisions
  • Introducing additional transparency and accounting requirements for Section 37 (Community Benefits), which allows municipalities to collect money to be used for community benefits such as affordable housing and public amenities
  • Introducing mandatory planning and advisory committees for upper- and single-tier municipalities in the province
  • Allowing the Minister and upper-tier municipalities to require a Development Permit System for prescribed circumstance

Proposed changes to the Development Act include:

  • Improved capital recovery for transit through development charges–currently capital costs for services are reduced by 10% when calculating development charges unless the service is included in a list of services for which no such reduction is required. Bill 73 proposes to add transit to this list
  • The requirement for background studies supporting development would be expanded to include an asset management plan, showing the financial sustainability of all assets through their life-cycle
  • Additional reporting requirements on the use of funds

This is a remarkably bold set of amendments which will likely do a lot to streamline planning within the province. Putting an end to several of the most controversial practices (appealing an entire official plan, amending an OP days immediately its adoption, and appealing policies that aim at implementing provincial policies or plans) is likely to find favour among planners and public administrators in the province and contribute to a less complicated system overall. Extending the deadline for issuing a decision on an OP or OPA also makes sense–it’s often difficult for smaller municipalities, or overworked larger ones, to respond within the current timeline. The City of Toronto, like other municipalities in the province, has been working towards a Development Permit System. Many of the other proposed amendments deal with clarity and legitimacy–wouldn’t you like to know how your comments were used in a development application decision, or how your municipality used the funds they collected to be used for public amenities? Clarity and legitimacy were addressed in the debates on Bill 73 in the Legislative Assembly as well. Overall, it’s like a breath of fresh air is finally making it past the stodgy gatekeepers of Ontario Planningland.

The First Reading of Bill 73 was on March 5th and by April 21st it was in the debates preceding the Second Reading. You can monitor the progress of Bill 73 here.

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Metro Vancouver is facing a critical choice this spring. From March 16 to May 29, 2015 residents of the region will have the chance to decide on future investments in public transit with the Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite.

The referendum is a direct result of changes in transportation governance. In June 2014, there were changes to regional transportation authority TransLink’s governance model. Two groups now govern TransLink: the Mayors’ Council and the TransLink Board of Directors.

  • The Mayors’ Council is made up of representatives from the 21 municipalities in the transit service region, Electoral Area A (UBC campus and Musqueam lands), and the Tsawwassen First Nation. The Council appoints the majority of members on the Board of Directors and approves long-term transportation strategies (≥ 30 years), 10-year transportation investment plans, first-time short-term fares and short-term fare increases, changes in customer satisfaction survey processes, changes in customer complaint processes, TransLink’s Executive Compensation Plan and director compensation levels, and oversees sale of major facilities and assets.
  • The Board of Directors includes nine members appointed by the Mayors’ Council and up to two members appointed by the Province, selected on their skills and expertise. The Board appoints the TransLink Chair, Vice Chair, and CEO, supervises the management of the affairs of TransLink, submits long-term transportation strategies and 10-year transportation investment plans to the Mayors’ Council for approval, approves TransLink’s annual operating budgets, proposes to Mayors’ Council changes to customer satisfaction survey processes and conducts surveys annually, proposes to Mayors’ Council changes to customer complaint processes and implements approved processes, publishes annual reports, holds public annual general meetings, and establishes subsidiaries and appoints their Board Chair and members.

The “new and improved” Mayors’ Council represents a fundamental shift in the way regional transportation planning decisions are made, returning a voice to the public through their elected representatives, who have a vested interest in building a collaborative vision and plan for transportation and transit (TransLink’s mandate includes roads, bridges, and public transit). In 2007, Minister of Transportation Kevin Falcon said that there was too much in-fighting among the municipalities and little agreement on regional goals. He introduced governance changes that weakened the ability of the Mayors’ Council to determine the regional transportation vision. But a 2013 governance review criticized the lack of accountability to local residents. The 2014 governance changes eliminated the Regional Commissioner of Transportation and the ability of the provincial government to set the regional transportation vision.

As many of my readers know, municipal/regional transportation authorities have an uneasy relationship with their provincial ministries at the best of times–the Province of BC’s decision to prioritize of the Canada Line over the Broadway Line and Falcon’s 2007 governance changes soon afterwards highlighted this power struggle. In Ontario I once overhead a longtime provincial policy analyst say that he “didn’t think the province would ever let go” of its legislative authority over municipalities. The governance issue relates back to the British North America Act, which granted authority to the federal and provincial governments, omitting municipal governments because Canada was largely a rural nation in 1867. Today municipalities, and local/regional bodies such as transit agencies, struggle to fund their services because they lack revenue streams that the upper levels of government have (e.g. the Goods and Services and Provincial Sales Taxes) in a country where over 8% of the population now lives in urban areas.

So it transpired that in February 2014, the BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure asked the Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council to confirm its transportation vision and to clarify the costs, priorities and phasing for investments and actions. The Mayors’ Council established a Subcommittee on Transportation Investment, which worked with TransLink, Metro Vancouver and municipalities to define their vision, establish spending priorities, and recommend new funding mechanisms. For those of my readers in other cities and countries, this kind of collaboration towards a common vision is typical of the Vancouver region, where the first regional plan was articulated over forty years ago. Liberal Premier Christy Clark asked for a referendum on the Mayors’ Council plan.

The actual wording of the ballot is:

The Mayors’ Council has developed a transportation and transit plan called Regional Transportation Investments – A Vision for Metro Vancouver. The plan will:

  • add bus service and new B-Line rapid bus routes
  • increase service on SkyTrain, Canada Line, Seabus, and West Coast Express
  • maintain and upgrade the region’s major roads
  • build a new Patullo bridge
  • build rapid transit connecting Surrey Centre with Guildford, Newton, and Langley
  • build rapid transit along Broadway in Vancouver
  • extend the region’s cycling and pedestrian walkway networks.

A new Metro Vancouver Congestion tax would be applied as a 0.5% sales tax on the majority of goods and services that are subject to the Provincial Sales Tax and are sold or delivered in the region. Revenues would be dedicated to the Mayors’ Council transportation and transit plan. Revenues and expenditures would be subject to annual independent audits and public reporting.

Do you support a new 0.5% Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax, to be dedicated to the Mayors’ Council transportation and transit plan?

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You can get more details on the Mayors’ Council, and their plan, on their website (www.mayorscouncil.ca). If you live in Metro Vancouver, and are a registered voter, you can vote by mail between March 16 and May 29th. If you’re not registered, and you are 18 or over, a Canadian citizen, a resident of Metro Vancouver and a BC resident for at least 6 months, click here to go to Election BC’s website.

I’m also supporting Moving In a Livable Region, a consortium of businesses, organizations, local governments, and transportation leaders working together to create a long-term sustainable funding regime for transportation in the Metro Vancouver region, in their efforts to get information out to the public. Click here to read my guest post. Transportation referendums are exceedingly rare in Canada, so don’t miss your chance to have your say!

In July 2010, the decision to scrap the long-form Census was made quickly and with very little time to mount collective action. The long-form Census was distributed to every fifth household, giving researchers, policy makers, banks, non-profit organizations, and community groups access to a 20% sample of the population for questions such as commute mode, housing type, and ethnocultural background. This may not interest you–but it does impact your daily life.

Municipalities used the long-form Census to help plan future schools, community centres, and water and sewer services; non-profits used the data to determine the number of low-income or target populations used their services; and researchers used the data to conduct studies that aimed to expose patterns such as income disparity among immigrants, transportation patterns among young people compared to older groups, and access to affordable housing. My own Ph.D. work relied heavily upon the long-form Census, because I wanted to study how Filipino immigrants’ housing and transportation choices had changed over time. I was able to use Census data from 1986-2006, because the variables on the long-form Census had changed very little during that time period. In the absence of a national transportation study–which Canada also does not have–the Census is a treasure-trove of information for researchers looking at sustainable transportation.

By the way, Canada is the only developed country that does not collect such data–and countries such as the Netherlands, with a much smaller population, collect much more detailed information on issues such as transportation mode, commute distance, and employment characteristics. Every time I present my work at a conference, researchers from other countries are astounded that Canadians don’t have access to detailed statistical data on such important issues–so we just can’t conduct the research we want to, like comparing transportation trends across cities, or among ethnocultural groups.

The National Household Survey, a voluntary survey aimed at replacing the long-term Census, has been judged to be inaccurate and invalid by many statistical experts; the head of Statistics Canada, Munir Sheikh, resigned over the issue in 2010. Many economic organizations, such as TD Bank, have mourned the loss of the long-form Census. The public sector, including municipalities and provincial ministries, had long relied on the data to predict population and employment growth. The new NHS is just not statistically accurate–many groups such as Aboriginals, immigrants, and youth are underrepresented–and cannot be compared to earlier data, making it difficult for anyone to understand long-term trends. And this is what needs to happen if policymakers, non-profit organizations, and community groups want to change those trends and improve living and working conditions for everyone. The Canadian Institute of Planners has spoken out on the issue and urged its members to support reinstatement of the Census.

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Recently, MP Ted Hsu (Kingston and the Islands) introduced a private member’s bill, Bill C-626, to reintroduce the mandatory long-form Census. As many of you know, a private member’s bill is precarious at best–this was particularly the case when we had minority governments. You can track the progress of the bill on Legisinfo here. If you can, please take one or more of the following actions:

  1. Write or speak to your MP to encourage them to support the bill and reinstate the mandatory long-form Census.
  2. Write a letter or op-ed for your local paper explaining the value of the Census and the need to pass Bill C-626.
  3. Share this information with your friends, family, and colleagues.
  4. If you want to contact Ted Hsu, email him at: ted.hsu@parl.gc.ca.

Thank you for all that you do.

Planning transportation and land use at a regional level is something that very few urban areas have done well. It’s recognized in The Netherlands that this type of collaboration among municipalities, land use and transportation authorities, regional and provincial governments is difficult, but needs to be done to achieve sustainable, compact urban growth. On November 27, the Province of North Holland launched a new program called Maak Plaats! (or, “Make Way!”) which will attempt to develop a provincial strategy for public transit and the areas within 1200 meters of railway stations. Click here to download a copy of the report (the only English text appears on p230-231, “English Summary”).

No doubt inspired by StedenbaanPlus, the integrated regional strategy and co-operative agreement between TOD actors in the Rotterdam-Den Haag region, Maak Plaats! has integrated the plethora of transportation and spatial analysis provided by Deltametropolis. Deltametropolis has done detailed analysis of each node in the North and South Wings of the Randstad which make it easier for the various levels of government to visualize which areas would be the best for future TOD. Below is some of their work for the South Wing.

StedenbaanPlus analysis of station areas

Deltametropolis analysis of station areas for StedenbaanPlus showing the potential for each node

For detailed analysis of each node in North Holland, see p235-363 in the Maak Plaats! report.

North Holland corridoroverzicht

The eight designated corridors in North Holland

In North Holland, eight corridors have been designated:

  • Heerhugowaard-Amsterdam (pilot)
  • Enkhuizen – Amsterdam
  • Daman – Alkmaar
  • Amsterdam – Leiden
  • Amsterdam – Amersfoort / Utrecht
  • Amsterdam – Utrecht
  • Amsterdam – Uitgeest / Zandvoort / Leiden
  • Amsterdam – Lelystad

The goals are to locate at least 50% of new housing around public transit nodes, prioritize plans that occur within the built-up area, reduce surplus office space in areas that are not transit-accessible, locate regional services in transit-accessible locations, and improve trip-chaining facilities. These are not surprising considering the previous policies such as A-B-C location policy (introduced in 1989), which aimed to concentrate employment growth at station locations but had disappointing results.

Starting in 2014, the province will monitor urban development around public transit nodes, prioritize location of new housing within station areas, and facilitate regional consultations and alliances between public and private actors. Specific grants or investment programs may be used to develop key Provincial Nodes. Partners include municipal and city-regional governments, regional bus provider Connexxion, national rail agency NS, rail infrastructure provider ProRail, the OV office, the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, the Universities of Amsterdam and Nijmegen, and Deltametropolis.

As StedenbaanPlus was the first regional collaboration and agreement between transportation and land use actors in The Netherlands, Maak Plaats! can be seen as building upon this success. Deltametropolis has also done a lot to familiarize planners with TOD concepts, mainly through their SprintCity gaming sessions.

So far, the willingness to collaborate on regional TOD strategies has been developed through informal cooperation networks, but not a lot has actually been implemented. Rotterdam-Den Haag is making some progress with the RandstadRail corridor and projects, which include integrated LRT and BRT linking Rotterdam, Den Haag and Zoetermeer.

A couple of weeks ago, we had what was probably the two busiest weeks in SCARP history. Susan Fainstein was here as our Scholar-in-Residence, SCARP celebrated its 60th anniversary, we hosted our third annual Student Symposium, and two doctoral students successfully defended their dissertations. Writing about all these other events has kept me busy until now!

Leslie Shieh examined Shequ (Community) construction in China, in particular the effectiveness of State policies in local communities (read the dissertation here). Her study, “Shequ Construction: Policy Implementation, Community Building, and Urban Governance in China” shows the impact of a wide set of policies intended to carry out administrative functions and deliver social care: under Shequ policies, thousands of service centers have been built, offering cultural and social services to residents. While many Western planners advocate for community-led change, Leslie’s interviews with local community groups and residents shows how much agency residents have under the Shequ policy framework and urban governance model, and challenges North American experiences of ineffective state planning interventions. Leslie’s work was published in City (“Restructuring Urban Governance: Community Construction in Contemporary China“, 2008) and she has a chapter in the forthcoming Global Capitalism and the Future of Agrarian Society (Arif Dirlik and Alexander Woodside, eds.). She is now busy publishing more of her research findings and working in the Vancouver urban development scene.

Janice Barry’s dissertation is entitled “Building Collaborative Institutions for Government-to-Government Planning: A Case Study of the Nanwakolas Council’s Involvement in the Central Coast Land and Resource Management Planning Process” (read the dissertation here). She examined a government-to-government process involving a First Nations group and the Provincial government, using interviews and content analysis of policy documents. Her work contributes to the growing body of literature linking planning and new institutional theory, clarifying the drivers and dimensions of institutional change. Janice is currently  a postdoctoral researcher in the Urban Studies department at the University of Glasgow with Dr. Libby Porter. They have just started fieldwork for another study involving First Nations communities in BC: “Planning with Indigenous Customary Land Rights: An investigation of shifts in planning law and governance in Canada and Australia.”

Congratulations to these stellar graduates, who have been great mentors, co-conspirators, and friends during my time at SCARP.

Update: Janice became a lecturer at the University of Sheffield Department of Town and Regional Planning in July 2012.

TransLink, the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority, is responsible for roads, bridges, public transit, and cycling in the Vancouver region. TransLink’s revenues come from transit fares and advertising, property taxes and fuel taxes. The regional transportation authority regularly consults with the public on transportation planning issues including financing, rapid transit, bus, and cycling options. Their online Transit Advisory Board, launched a few years ago, allows Metro residents to have a say in all sorts of decision making. Their current survey deals with their 10-Year Transportation and Financial Plan, a step towards Transport 2040, their 30-year plan. The survey presents three scenarios: spending $460 million more annually to expand transit, road, and cycling capacity, spending $260 annually to maintain the current situation, or cutting back service drastically.

As they have been in existence for just a decade, TransLink also published a list of accomplishments from 1999-2008. Among these are a 37% increase in transit hours, 38% increase in bus fleet size, 99% increase in annual funding for transit operations, and a whopping 283% increase in capital investments. While those who use TransLink on a daily basis complain about it regularly, and Metro Vancouver doesn’t have nearly the transit service it needs to service almost 2 million people, these are some impressive results over a ten-year period.

TransLink is an excellent example of how complicated it is for municipalities and regions to fund, plan, and provide transit services. Power struggles between all three levels of government are played out every time budgetary consultations are due. While TransLink is unique in providing services and capital improvements for roads, bridges, transit, and cycling, this balanced approach frequently puts the provincially-created body at odds with its creator. The transit strike in 2001, the struggle over funding for the Canada Line, and increased pressure on the UBC line are all potent examples of biting the hand that feeds transit in Metro Vancouver. An effort in 2001 to add a vehicle levy to funding sources was rejected by the Province, which put a stop to service expansion, fuelled service decreases and led to a four-month-long transit strike. One of the other funding challenges is that the income from fuel taxes (about 30% of TransLink’s funding) fluctuates with gas prices.

These struggles occur because often the upper levels of government are at odds with the municipalities; it is one area that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has fought to reconcile. Municipalities know what works best at the local level: in this case, more funding for public transit, cycling, and walking. Funds can be raised through taxes on less sustainable transportation modes. But the Province of BC has long fought this approach, like other Provincial governments, sticking to the postwar status quo: fund road and highway infrastructure to cut down on traffic and make goods movement easier and cheaper. An excellent example is the Gateway proposal, a $4.5 billion dollar road and highway expansion project bitterly fought by Vancouver and Burnaby councils and decried by environmentalists, will now be funded entirely by the Province. BC Minister of Transportation Kevin Falcon’s spearheading of the Gateway proposal, against the recommendations of cost benefit and environmental analyses, made lifelong enemies of many GVRD transportation advocates. Falcon was replaced as Minister of Transportation by Shirley Bond when Gordon Campbell was recently re-elected as Premier on May 12, 2009. It isn’t known yet how much Bond will support public transit, cycling, and walking in the Province; it may not matter, considering Campbell’s support of the proposal. A glance at the Provincial Ministry of Transportation website indicates its primary interests in goods movement and airport management; public transit is clearly low on its list of priorities. The Province of BC released a Transit Plan in 2008 that contradicts TransLink’s long-term plan. Clearly, these power struggles indicate that transportation, at the level of public transit and commuter services, is an area that should be wholly given over to Canadian municipalities. There is considerable dissention in the ranks, because without funding from the upper levels of government, municipalities would face the same challenges in transportation that they do in housing: responsibilty with out much-needed cash.

But despite these struggles, TransLink has accomplished a lot in a city that is rapidly growing and needs transportation alternatives. As I write this, the new 19-km Canada Line is being tested for its Labour Day opening, a new SeaBus glides across Burrard Inlet, and the 24-km Central Valley Greenway has just opened. These victories, in addition to the gains in capital investment, and sheer numbers of passengers using the system, are worthy of celebration.