The Liberal government’s newspaper bailout will undoubtedly help big media players like Postmedia or The Toronto Star, but it will likely have little to offer the hundreds of smaller local newspapers in Canada. As many of these community newspapers shrink in size or get closed down entirely, a lot of Canadians are finding that the only remaining place to find out what’s happening in their hometown is Facebook.
On a Saturday in early March — when sunny weather drew hundreds of people to the mountains in suburban North Vancouver — I made a contribution to the trails I hike every week. I joined seven volunteers from the North Shore Mountain Bike Association (NSMBA) to spend a day rebuilding a forest trail on Mount Seymour. We shouldered shovels, pickaxes, and plastic buckets as we hiked to the snowline partway up Bridle Path, a popular local trail.
Our leader, Penny Deck, wore sturdy work pants and steel-toed boots. Once we’d unloaded our tools, she knelt down and knocked aside hard-packed snow to uncover a cedar ladder bridge. The bridge once kept riders out of rain and stream water flowing around the trail, but years of erosion had left it nearly buried under black mud. Now, hikers and riders splashed through muck in wet weather.
By the day’s end, the bridge was gone. We replaced it with an elevated trail, stone retaining walls, and drainage ditches to carry water away from the path. The day’s work represented a small section of the 226 kilometres of trails in North Vancouver, most of which are maintained by hikers, runners, and mountain bikers who volunteer with NSMBA. Their handiwork has produced some of the world’s highest-ranked mountain bike trails, all while emphasizing social responsibility and environmental sustainability.
This month we were invited to visit friends living in China. We spent three weeks in Chengdu and Beijing, and honestly had a wonderful trip.
On our return I wrote a series of three articles for Vancouver’s Price Tags blog about what I experienced while travelling in those cities.
Why We Should Look More Closely at Beijing Subways
August 14, 2019
Surveillance and the police state excepted, the Chinese subway systems are in most ways superior to the Skytrain. This was demonstrated when I returned home and found a Chengdu mother and child at the YVR Skytrain station struggling to figure out how to get to Surrey and how much it would cost. Once I helped her get her tickets she rode with me to the Waterfront station, out one set of turnstiles, up an elevator and around a newspaper kiosk, into another set of turnstiles, then was pointed to the Expo line. After a fifteen hour flight that was far more complex than any traveller should have to deal with.
How China Reduces Automobile Usage
August 21, 2019
The Chinese government is still building and maintaining an impressive network of multi-lane freeways, highways, and flyovers — with regular toll plazas — to move large volumes of automobiles relatively efficiently, but the Chinese government has also tried to move the country (or at least the major cities) away from internal combustion engines.
As well as making lots of safe space for transit users, bikes, electric motorbikes, and pedestrians, the Chinese have done one other thing to improve the traffic mix in Chengdu and Beijing: they’ve made it really hard to own a car. Much like the licences and charges in London and Singapore, rules in China pretty much limit car use in the city to the very wealthy.
China: Bike Share, Electric Motorbikes and Pedestrians
August 22, 2019
Admittedly, lots of things are easier in a one-party police state, but by the same token, that doesn’t necessarily make them bad ideas.
On many arterials in Chengdu, you’ll find a full traffic lane on each side of the road dedicated to bicycles and electric motorbikes. These lanes are protected by low barriers – good looking metal railings, not concrete Jersey barriers – that keep slower vehicles safe from automobile traffic.
Outside of the bike lanes are sidewalks that are wider still, encouraging pedestrian traffic, although they’re also used by bikes and e-motorbikes. Despite these interlopers (I don’t actually know what the local rules are) the sidewalks feel spacious and safe. Tactile paving is widely used as well.
July 9, 2019
(many thanks to the Price Tags crew for allowing space for this essay.)
During the Q&A that followed the Price Tags taping at the North Vancouver District Public Library moderator Gordon Price asked Holly Back, a member of the City of North Vancouver council, how she felt about the “bargain” that had been struck between the City and the District.
The bargain is straightforward: the City will build lots of new housing, more than a thousand new rental units, and low income and supportive housing, while the District will do nothing, in order to preserve a suburban community of single family detached homes.
As the City grows, the District will remain unwelcoming—to both outsiders and population growth.
The current District council is smug in its determination to block all new development, and openly hostile to developers, but I suspect they’re fooling themselves if they think this is a triumph. By refusing to approve any development, and asking staff for help in shaming council members who accepted developer contributions, the District is trying to preserve the type of community that was popular a half-century ago; one with suburban houses, big shopping malls, and a complete dependence on cars for transportation.
Meanwhile, the City is densifying, diversifying, and creating a twenty-first century municipality that acknowledges these changing demographics, as well as the looming threat of climate change.
While the District is chasing away projects that would offer services and housing to seniors, the disabled, and the low income workers that drive the retail sector, the City is welcoming them with open arms.
Already you can see and feel the difference. The lower half of Lonsdale Street—especially near the Shipyards and Seabus terminal—is alive with new development. A new Whole Foods store has opened, and a flurry of new businesses, restaurants, and services have appeared that are supported by the rising population. Equally noteworthy is the sense that it’s a young population moving in, with different priorities and different spending patterns. Compared to Lynn Valley where we live, it’s a community—alive and vibrant. There are even people on the streets after nine o-clock on a weeknight.
The feeling that the City is younger is in fact supported by the 2016 census; the City’s population is growing at a rate several times faster than the District, and much of that growth is in people in their prime earning years. That working age population represents a bigger percentage of the City’s residents, than the District, and it skews younger too. While the District’s population currently has more children and teens, by adulthood they’ll join the “missing middle” — younger working adults who can no longer afford to live in the District. Meanwhile, the District is left with a surplus of people at or approaching retirement age.
What hasn’t been discussed by the new District council is what all of this holds for the future. As the City adds housing, and population, and density, it will also grow its tax base and its economic activity.
Building housing will allow the City to grab the lion’s share of Federal and Provincial funding that has become available. More people will mean more spending, more jobs, and more vitality and resilience. A population that is younger and more diverse will create a city that can see new opportunities, and find new solutions to the problems faced by any municipality in the Lower Mainland. And of course, more density will encourage TransLink to improve transit services.
And the District? As the population ages into retirement ,the incomes that support local businesses will decline. As council insists that they only want two million dollar single family homes, they’ll see young people and young families choosing to live in the City. Those people will be looking south, towards the galleries, and shopping, and excitement of Lower Lonsdale and Vancouver, and eventually won’t even think about the District as a place to live or visit.
While the City thrives, the District will just fade away, becoming less relevant with every year.
The District of North Vancouver is going ahead with improvements to East 29th Street between Lonsdale and Lynn Valley Road. As well as making the road safer and quicker for automobile drivers, including improvements to pedestrian infrastructure, the plan will eliminate almost all automobile parking below Tempe Crescent in favour of new continuous bike lanes.
During its May 27th meeting, the council approved an additional $972,000 for a total budget of $1.45 million. The city will contribute approximately $330,000 to paving costs. Phase 1 work will happen this summer to coincide with repaving between Lonsdale and William Avenue.
Arash Memarzadeh feels that the council just doesn’t understand the reality of Deep Cove. “To me it sucks to live here. We don’t feel like we have any ownership in the place where my parents raised three boys.”
A year after the District of North Vancouver brought in new rules to control the volume of visitor traffic into Deep Cove, some businesses feel as if little has changed. New parking restrictions and a ban on commercial tour busses were supposed to rein in the crowds that visit Deep Cove and Quarry Rock on sunny summer weekends but there is doubt how effective the changes were.
The District of North Vancouver has added 17 new Nissan Leaf electric vehicles to its fleet.
According to fleetcarma.com the Leaf is one of the top two electric cars in Canada during 2018, a year that has seen EV purchases leap by more than 150 per cent.
Reducing carbon emissions was important to the District, but this purchase is about more than just jumping on the green bandwagon.
District Energy Manager Monica Samuda worked with fleet managers on the business case for moving to electric cars. They looked at five brands of vehicles and when the numbers were crunched, reduced maintenance costs and the reduction in green house gas emissions …
Councillor Jim Hanson has proposed that District owned rental housing should be earmarked for use by non-profit agencies who are able provide housing to clients.
During the April 1st Council meeting he presented a report on “Prioritizing District-owned residential-rental housing for non-profit organizations” which asks staff to develop a new policy. Council specified that there is no intention of evicting existing tenants.
Hansen explained that, “The District does for various reasons own residential properties, in many cases on a temporary basis. To the extent that the District owns residential properties, and to the extent that those are rented for whatever period of time during which the District is considering the long term use and purpose of those properties, it make sense that they be used for a social purpose.”
In an email Janine Ryder, the District’s Manager, Real Estate and Properties, said the District currently owns 14 single amily homes, four of which are already rented to non-profit agencies, and ten of which are rented for residential use. This week a 1,404 sq ft ranch house on Belle Isle Place in Lions Gate is being advertised to qualified renters for $2400 a month. Ryder added that “The District purchases residential properties for other purposes not specifically for rental. The rental properties turn over infrequently.”
Hanson described the Marineview Housing Society as the type of group that could benefit from this policy. Marineview is a non-profit society incorporated in 1975 and is dedicated to providing safe, affordable housing for people on the North Shore living with psychiatric illness. Marineview currently operates four facilities, three in the City which are owned, and one of which is rented in the District. These include Chesterfield House, a 24-unit apartment building located near the civic center in the City of North Vancouver.
Marineview Executive Director Madeline Boscoe says that the motion is “a step in the right direction” but that much more housing stock is needed, not just for “teachers and nurses”, but also for those who can’t afford market rents. Boscoe was unfamiliar with Hanson’s motion, but explained that in order for a house to be used for their purposes it needs to be specially licensed, and would require a number of specific changes including fire sprinklers, upgrades to electrical systems, and other renovations specific to a residential care facility.
The North Shore Winter Club’s dream of a new facility on Dollarton highway was questioned by District of North Vancouver council at the March 4th meeting.
The club plans to build a new $200 million facility If they can do a land-swap deal with Darwin Developments at the site of the former International School at 2420 Dollarton highway.
Darwin will swap that for the ownership of the current NSWC property on Kieth Road with a proposal to build new residential towers. That land parcel is next to Darwin’s proposed Innovation District.
The NSWC’s current facility is in need of an estimated $50 million in repairs and renovations, an amount that NSWC President Jay Frizell says is far beyond the club’s capacity to borrow.
Falling membership numbers have left them in a tight financial situation, he says, and the club’s membership believe the Darwin plan is the best way to ensure the club’s future.
The NSWC began looking for a new location after members voted 94% in favour of relocating.
If built the club complex will include two full size ice rinks, and a smaller training rink, fourteen tennis courts, racquet courts, a twenty-five meter pool, a gymnasium, and a restaurant. The new facility would expand their building from 225,000 to 300,000 square feet.
The club has 2200 members, two-thirds of whom live in the District, and more than half of whom live east of Highway 1. A further 20,000 non-members each year visit the club to take part in classes and activities. The Winter Club’s hope is a that new facility will draw in new members and cost less to operate.
Mayor Mike Little asked what had changed since the 1980s when the Winter Club received council approval to subdivide their property to deal with another cash crunch.
“My concern is some of the history here. About 1982 there was a period of time there where the club itself was not solvent. The club was in a very difficult spot financially and it came to the District for help. But specifically at the time the District said ‘this can’t happen again’.”
In an email, Little said his concern from the 80’s was still relevant. He said the club’s survival required unlocking value from the property from the then council.
“Even though they were told at the time that they needed to raise their dues to cover the proper maintenance and replacement of their facility, successive NSWC Boards refused to set aside enough money and here we are again where the survival of the club is based on further up zoning the property.”
Councillor Megan Curren suggested that there had been a lack of transparency and wondered about the lack of community benefits.
“One of the concerns I first had when I learned about this project was the impact to the community and the fact that the community’s not hearing the whole story,” she said
Councillor Lisa Muri also shared Mayor Little’s concerns.
“What happened years ago when the District did agree to allow a rezoning in order to fund the club. What’s changed? It still seems to be that that’s the same solution. It’s like selling bits of your back yard to pay off your credit card.””
Despite the negative response from council, Frizell says that the next step is to prepare a package for the District outlining the project — the NSWC’s needs, and what it would take to renovate their existing home. At that point the NSWC hopes to get direction from Council about whether it’s worth proceeding, or what elements like traffic studies will be needed next.
Frizell says if the club don’t get approval then the plan is to try to start renovating.
“We’ve been delaying a lot of upgrades because we’ve been waiting to hear from the District.”
When asked if he thinks the current Council will support the Darwin project Frizell says “ I will be very surprised if they approve anything. Our hope is to get some direction one way or the other. If there are going to be traffic studies, and area studies and various hoops that we have to go through before anything can be considered we’d like to get that started so that we’re ready three years from now when there may be a new Council.”
February 13, 2019
On Monday it was raining in North Vancouver. In January it’s always raining in North Van.
I climbed into my rain gear and hiking boots, and collected my lunch, phone, travel mug of coffee, and wallet. With the phone attached to the dash, and the day’s first podcast lined up (the Archers, a long-running BBC soap opera) I checked my schedule and pulled my indestructible Ford Ranger pick-up truck out onto the road.
Like most writers I have always had a day job: I co-own a dog-walking company called Four Legs Good, and take groups of dogs out for off-leash trail hikes in the mountains outside of Vancouver.