HRM active transportation coordinator Hanita Koblents discusses her redesign of Argyle Street. The students, who live all over the region, had never been on this street before.

Last Friday, May 18th, the Dalhousie School of Planning was thrilled to offer a workshop for African Nova Scotian high school students in partnership with the Black Business Initiative in Halifax. Eight students attended our workshop on planning and ten attended the workshop on architecture held by the School of Architecture on the same day. Architecture professor James Forren pursued this idea with BBI throughout the fall, and then recommended that the School of Planning get in touch so we could possibly hold a parallel workshop. We all felt that this was a great way to introduce high school students to our disciplines, which most of them don’t know about until well into their undergrad degrees; BBI aims to introduce students to non-traditional careers. Our sponsors were all thrilled about the event, including our main funder, the provincial government, and the Dalhousie President’s Office, who paid for books for each of the planning students. BBI representatives Laurissa Manning (Director, Stakeholder and Community Relations) and Tracey Williams (Business is Jammin’ Youth Coordinator), some of the parents, and a few of the sponsors observed the event.

Aaron Murnaghan, heritage planner at HRM, introduces students to some of the historic business district, with the Grand Parade and Barrington Street.

For our workshop, we planned a few activities: a brief primer to planning as a field and a mapping exercise that would get the students out into the city in the morning, and discussion in the afternoon. Colleagues Eric Rapaport, Dave Guyadeen led a mapping exercise on four nearby streets: Argyle, Barrington, Hollis, and Lower Water. We chose these for their proximity (Argyle begins just two blocks from our building on Spring Garden Road) but also because they show such a range: Argyle was just redesigned into a pedestrian-oriented strip; Barrington is the narrower, more traditional historic main street; Hollis is the 1950s car-oriented version; and Lower Water is both historic and tourist-driven. Students were given maps with one block of each street, and we got them to map things like lighting, seating, trees, retail and commercial land uses, and observe the way people used the street. HRM active transportation coordinator Hanita Koblents met us to discuss the redesign of Argyle street which she led, and then stayed to answer questions for the students; for Barrington Street, heritage planner Aaron Murnaghan discussed a bit of Halifax history; and urban designer TJ Maguire showed the students some of Waterfront Development Corporation‘s work on the sea bridge and the famous orange hammocks on the boardwalk.

HRM Councillor Lindell Smith dropped in to meet the kids and discussed how community support encouraged him to run for office, and the responsibility he feels to represent the community.

After a lunch break where students got to meet the students in the architecture workshop and representatives from BBI and the Dalhousie Presidents’ Office, we held a discussion on their observations. HRM City Councillor Lindell Smith dropped in to meet the students and discuss the responsibilities of holding public office as a member of the African Nova Scotian community; Smith made history in 2016 when he became the youngest councillor and the first African Nova Scotian councillor in over 20 years. Our current Bachelors students Taylor MacIntosh and Ryan Tram also shared their experiences in the BCD program, though by mid-afternoon it was a little more difficult to hold the students’ attention on what was for them a Professional Development day at school. BBI’s Tracey Williams asked the students to answer a few questions so they could evaluate the success of the workshop, and he asked whether they might consider planning as a career; we were surprised when half the students raised their hands! Each of them took home a copy of my edited book Planning Canada: A Case Study Approach, which will provide them with a more thorough introduction to the field, copies of Indigenous community plans completed by our School’s Cities and Environment Unit, and some information about our undergraduate degree. Check out the article about the workshop on the Dalhousie News site here.

Our team: Dave Guyadeen, Eric Rapaport, TJ Maguire from Waterfront Development, BCD students Taylor MacIntosh and Ryan Tram, and me on the sea bridge

Next year, Forren wants to hold a summer camp for youth to introduce them to architecture. We are strongly considering holding our own for planning, and many of the funders have indicated that they are on board, including a representative from TD Canada Trust and the President’s Office. Eric, Dave and I agreed that, as planning professors, this has been one of the most exciting initiatives we’ve been involved in so far! If we get the chance to do this for an entire week we’ll have time to introduce students to some of the interesting historical planning projects, like Africville and the Cogswell interchange projects which had major impacts on the African Nova Scotian community; social planning aspects like the community-driven initiatives in Mulgrave Park and the Halifax Local Immigration Partnership; transportation work being done by Halifax Cycling Coalition; and the Ecology Action Centre’s initiatives.

 

 

Students attending both planning and architecture workshops, along with the professors, BBI staff, and funders. Thanks to our Dalhousie photographer Nick Pearce for this shot.

A couple of months ago, I reported that vehicle licensing rates among youth and young adults in British Columbia had decreased. Now Alberta is reporting a similar trend (“Driver’s licenses not a priority, say young Albertans,” CBC News, August 5, 2014). Alberta Transportation reports that the rate of licensed drivers aged 15 to 24 has decreased by 20% in the past 20 years, from 90% to 75%. While this isn’t as great a decrease as that seen in BC (ICBC reported a 70% decrease among 20-24-year-olds from 2004-2013), it’s pretty big news in Canada’s oil-producing province.

As in other younger populations, Alberta researchers have cited the prevalence of social media for interacting with friends and the higher cost of living that today’s young people must incur in rent and tuition. But access to transit is also mentioned, aligning with the results of several high-profile studies in the US, Great Britain, Japan, Sweden, and North Korea. Rather than just suggesting that car ownership is merely delayed a few years while millenials establish themselves, Dr. Alex de Barros from the University of Calgary suggests that young people may opt for more sustainable transportation options now and in the long run.

If transit were a soft drink, it might adopt the slogan, “Transit: The Choice of a New Generation”. Evidence continues to lend support to the idea that young people in Canada and the US choose to take public transit rather than drive.

In Vancouver, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) reports a significant decline in driver’s licences among 20-24 year olds, from 70% in 2004 to just 55% in 2013. For 25-29 year olds, the rate decreased from 77% in 2004 to 67% in 2013. The only increase in the licensing rate was among older adults.

The greatest declines were seen in the municipalities that are the most urbanized and served by a substantial level of public transit…Burnaby and New Westminster’s proportion declined from 68 per cent to 50 per cent, likely due in part to the increased accessibility to transit following the construction of the Millennium Line. Richmond also saw a similar drop of nearly 20 per cent from 2003. Metro Vancouver’s data shows that the biggest year-to-year drop for both Vancouver and Richmond was in 2009 when the Canada Line opened for service. –Kenneth Chan, VanCity Buzz

A survey released recently by the The Rockefeller Foundation and Transportation for America surveyed 18-30 year olds in ten major US cities found that 4 out of 5 wanted to live in places with a variety of transportation options. More than half (54%) said they would consider moving to another city if it had better options for getting around, and two-thirds said they access to high-quality transportation is one of the top three criteria in deciding where to live next. But transportation mismatch is prevalent in cities like Nashville, where 54% said they would like to live in areas where people have alternative transportation options to the car, but only 6% lived in such areas. In the US, the millenials (those born from 1982-2003) are the largest generation in history, which is why the study focused on this group. Click here for the survey’s topline results.

Interestingly, the travel demands of youth and young adults will be more aligned to those of older adults in the future. Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur of Planners Web reports that 21% of the over-65 population in the US do not drive. Many planners advocate complete streets, transit-oriented development, and volunteer drivers in rural areas in response to the problems faced by an aging population who can no longer drive. So planners interested in providing alternative transportation solutions will be able to develop solutions that work for both the young and the young at heart.

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.

Since Easter weekend, when record-breaking numbers of voters took to advance polls, election fever has gripped this country from coast to coast. I can’t remember a more exciting campaign, nor a time when the Liberal and NDP parties have ever changed places in a mere five weeks (according to pollsters, anyway). The surge in NDP support has left political commentators breathless: could Jack Layton’s NDP become the official Opposition party? The Toronto Star endorsed Layton as Prime Minister, but urged Canadians to vote strategically to prevent a Harper majority. The Globe and Mail, rather characteristically, endorsed Stephen Harper…and went so far as to call this “an unremarkable and disappointing election campaign”!

The polls have been fluctuating wildly in the past week, leaving the outcome undecided: will the NDP grab seats in BC, as the polls suggest? Both Harper and Layton ended their campaigns in Vancouver this week: we’re home to several key ridings like Burnaby-Douglas, Vancouver Centre, Newton-North Delta, and Surrey North. Will waning Liberal support lead to Conservative wins in key ridings? Will the Quebecois shift their support from the Bloc to the NDP in ridings like Gatineau? How exactly will the NDP surge play out in terms of number of seats? The media are also trying to decipher the significance of youth turnout encouraged by vote mobs (see my last post: this picture is from today’s vote mob in my hometown of London, Ontario which gathered over 1500 people. London, you may recall, is where two students were kicked out of a Conservative party rally way back at the beginning of the campaign. Organizers say London’s was the biggest vote mob of the year.)

Is this election campaign best summarized by the Globe and Mail‘s headline, “Federal elections a tight race between boredom and hope” (April 29, 2011)? Or has this “unnecessary election” changed Canada for the better? (May 1, 2011) The youngest voters and NDP supporters are hoping for change across this great country, and at this point it looks like there is no hope of a Harper majority. My hope: that the 35% increase at advance polls signals high voter turnout on May 2nd…and that Harper is not re-elected to form a government, majority or minority. Hold on, kids, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

In the past two weeks, an amazing development has taken root at university campuses across Canada.

Spurred by comedian Rick Mercer and activist groups LeadNow, Project Democracy and Apathy is Boring, students are holding vote mobs to show that they will be voting in the upcoming federal election. Media coverage of the vote mobs has been slow and grudging, but that doesn’t seem to have dampened the spirits of young voters.

Mercer’s rant was recorded on the day the government fell, March 29, 2011. In it, he said that there were over 3 million eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 24 and “as far as the major political parties are concerned, you may as well be dead.” He encouraged young people to get out there and “scare the hell out of the people who run this country”, since only 37% of this group voted in the last election. Mercer has been characteristically humble about his rant, saying that he had no idea young people would react the way they have. Beginning with the University of Guelph, students at over 25 universities have held vote mobs so far. The resulting videos are so fun, positive, and non-partisan that they have provoked both local (London Free Press, Guelph Mercury) and national (CBC, CTV) media attention.

One can’t help but notice the parties’ lack of response to students’ desire to vote this time around. If hundreds of seniors all across the country started mobilizing to vote, it would be front page news. When young people do it, it’s cutesy headlines (“Thanks a heap, Rick Mercer–the students might actually vote” and “Voting-mob mentality has young people running amok” at The Globe and Mail) and skepticism (“Will vote mobs translate into actual votes?”, Toronto Star ). One notable exception: the Toronto Star’s Youth Nation, which profiles candidates under 30 blogging about issues as diverse as renewable energy and social justice.

 

“I’m not sure what a flash mob is but it sounds a bit disconcerting … I don’t know about ‘flash’ or ‘mobs’ but I don’t like the context of either word.” –Conservative MP John Baird


Baird’s comment made many students shake their heads in disbelief. It illustrated the disconnect between federal politicians and youth. Several studies have shown that Canadian youth aren’t disengaged at all; they just participate in different ways and have different values from older adults (check out an article I wrote on youth participation in transportation planning a couple of years ago).

The sole political response to vote mobs has been from the Conservative party, who tried to have a special ballot held at the University of Guelph declared illegal. After the success of their vote mob, over 700 students stood in line for an hour to cast votes on April 13th; special ballots are often held for groups with lower than average turnout, such as students, aboriginals and those with physical disabilities. Elections Canada declared the Guelph special ballot valid, but in order to avoid controversy it said it was stopping all special ballots at universities. The Conservative party had already come under fire on April 3rd for kicking a couple of students out of a rally in London, Ontario, a move that Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and NDP leader Jack Layton swiftly criticized (check out the Liberals’ cheeky “Hey Stephen Harper, stop creeping me on Facebook”). The events seem to have lit a fire of passion among students across the country (LeadNow assembled 3600 signatures within 12 hours in an online petition to have the Guelph votes declared valid). But one wonders at the wisdom of cancelling special ballots at universities: way to make voting harder and even more confusing for first-time student voters.

I was at UBC’s vote mob today with about a hundred other students. While the event itself was non-partisan, these images show that there was some interest from the major parties. The Young Liberals of Canada handed out flyers (above right) at the bus loop entering UBC. Conservative candidate Deborah Merideth (Vancouver Quadra) handed out free snacks after the event. And the Green Party’s Adriane Carr (Vancouver Centre) was also on hand (below right).

Young people have been discounted and discredited as lazy, apathetic non-citizens for far too long. They’ve seen the political leaders court seniors, women, families, and immigrant groups while persistently ignoring youth in this and every other election. Issues that matter to youth, like the environment, health care, education, and civil liberties (not to mention public transit), linger on the back burner while tax cuts and deficits dominate the media. It’s about time they took matters into their own hands.

 

No, TransportCamp isn’t a bunch of transit geeks getting together at a fantasy camp in the woods. In fact, it’s a transportation “unconference” that brings together people from variety of fields with an interest in sustainable transportation. The participants are actively involved, from brainstorming ideas to generating sessions for the day. There are no formal presentations, no PowerPoint, no real organizational structure other than brief opening and closing remarks. Toronto held a TransportCamp last year, and Vancouver decided to follow suit today, with the event held at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) building downtown.

I was skeptical about this event, even more so when I received an update about a week ago from organizer Bernadette Amiscaray. She works for the Car Co-op, a major sponsor of this event, and from her email it seemed to me like we’d be doing more Facebooking and Tweeting than face-to-face networking, which I wasn’t that excited about. But having forced myself out of bed on a typically dark grey Vancouver morning, I was pleasantly surprised by TransportCamp.

First of all, while I did see some familiar faces from the School of Community and Regional Planning (past and present) I also met people from architecture firms, engineering companies, municipalities, and the provincial government. There were transit advocates and bike share/car share representatives, and students from SFU, BCIT, and UBC. Some had a wealth of experience implementing programs or policies, while others had only ideas of where they wanted to see transportation innovations happen. In this way, the experience was a lot like SCARP’s recent Housing Symposium for Affordable Housing. Old connections were deepened and new ones made. This was enhanced by ample time for chatting between sessions and at the lunch break. But the organizers also placed brown bags out, encouraging participants to write an issue on the front: anyone else interested in the issue could drop in their business cards and the organizers would make sure the group got in touch with each other through a listserv. They asked if we wanted our emails to be included on a general listserv around sustainable transportation issues.

Second of all, like Gordon Price, who offered the closing remarks, I had never been to a conference where the participants created the agenda and sessions themselves. It was done in quite a simple way: the organizers asked people to volunteer ideas for sessions. As people raised ideas, another organizer typed them directly into a chart on his computer, which was hooked up to a digital projector so everyone could see it. They quickly filled in the chart, which had available rooms on one side and available time slots along the top. Then they kept going, writing down other ideas as they came. Once all the ideas for sessions were up, they asked if they could merge some sessions together so they all fit in the alloted spaces/times. We then wrote down the times/locations of the sessions we wanted to attend. It seems so simple, but somehow it worked.

The sessions were very simple and low-tech. The group (from 10-20 people usually) would select a note-taker and a facilitator, then begin discussing the idea. Session ideas ranged from civic engagement to transit-oriented development to social media; one participant suggested “congestion: friend or foe”. Each session was an hour in length, generated a ton of both old and new ideas, and bridged the divide between activists and policymakers, students and professionals, pessimists and optimists. It was inspiring to be surrounded by people who genuinely believe in sustainable transportation and are committed to it in their own way. I’m used to that at school (students are at most times fairly optimistic) but it was great to be among a whole range of people of various ages who, although they might disagree on timing and methods of persuasion and priorities, at least agree that we need better transportation options for everyone in this region.

Some interesting ideas shared in the three sessions I attended included examples of car-free housing developments in Sweden and Toronto, the TTC using Twitter to interact with transit users and send out service updates, using social media sites to allow participants to create an organization’s vision/mission, and giving municipalities in the region “credits” for their adherence to the regional plan (such as preserving their Agricultural Land Reserve properties or issuing development permits within transit-accessible areas). Best of all, the whole day was short and sweet: an opening brainstorming session at 8:30am followed by a half hour generating the sessions, then three one-hour sessions, ending at 3:30pm.

I’m particularly impressed with the low-tech, low-organizational needs for this type of event, which has lots of interesting implications for working with communities, disengaged populations, etc. All you need is a few organizers, a few rooms, a small registration fee ($25 in this case) to cover snacks and lunch, and people willing to share their ideas. There was supposed to be wireless service set up, and we were encouraged to bring our computers, but unfortunately BCIT’s wireless service was down today. I actually think this might have been a strength of today’s TransportCamp because this forced people to chat and share ideas more than Tweet them. I am doing my part by blogging about it though, despite having the reputation of a Luddite. Long live simple solutions!

A couple of years ago, when I presented the results of my Masters thesis on the social travel patterns of youth and young adults to TransLink, I got some mixed reactions. On one hand, the younger transit planners in the room nodded and understood the changing travel patterns, with more young people choosing to remain car-free. On the other hand, the older planners expressed surprise that young people were continuing to use transit, walking, and cycling well into their 30s: given my small sample size, they thought my study only reflected real transit junkies and that the trends did not reflect trends in the general population. I’m pleased to say there are now a number of other studies out there that confirm my results that young people really do have different transportation preferences, and not just because they can’t afford to own cars.

A recent article in the LA Times portrays the younger generation as increasingly anti-car. JD Power and Associates conducted a study of hundreds of thousands of “conversations” on car-related sites, personal blogs and sites like Twitter and Facebook in order to get a sense of teens’ (12-18) and young adults’ (22-28) perceptions of cars. According to the market research firm, the reasons are only partly economic. They also found that social networking sites may be relieving the need for young people to physically meet up with friends and socialize, decreasing the need to travel. They found that young people generally had negative perceptions about the auto industry (not surprising considering the fall of the Big Three automakers and the failure to address cleaner-burning engines).

This is no news to most of us in planning, but Elizabeth Caitlin Cooper’s recent study of SFU students is definitely food for thought. Cooper’s study found that young adults who had used a U-Pass during their time as students were much more likely to be regular transit riders after they had graduated. Her thesis, “Creating a Transit Generation”, was featured on the front page of the Georgia Straight in August. Yuri Kagema wrote about decreased car use among Japanese youth in the Oregon Business News earlier this year. Car manufacturers are naturally concerned at this turn of events (the LA Times article appeared in the “car” section of their newspaper) but the news from the US, Japan, and Canada seems to indicate changing trends.

It’s definitely time to reconsider the notion that car ownership is a mark of adulthood, and that everyone automatically switches to driving when they turn 16 (particularly with graduated licensing these days!) I will be taking a deeper look at youth and young adults’ transportation trends in Canada’s 10 largest Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) in the December issue of Plan Canada, so stay tuned all you planners out there.