Night Music: The Kinks

November 14, 2014

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The only British pop band that could genuinely compete with the Beatles.

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Upon Reflection: The Marine Building

November 14, 2014

upon reflection_Marine Building I


I’m Voting Kirk LaPointe for Mayor

November 14, 2014

I was invited to write an op-ed piece for the Vancouver Observer today.  It is my final say on the mayoral race, for what it is worth. This is it:

There are, of course, a great many reasons to vote against Gregor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver party – six years of refusing to the listen to the residents of neighbourhoods (no matter how loud they shout); six years of cozying up to donors and cronies in the development and real estate business; six years of failure to control homelessness and the number of tankers in Vancouver Harbour (both have doubled under Vision); six years of failure on affordability, transit, and electoral reform.

It would be easy to fill this column with negative comments about what a terrible choice Gregor Robertson would be as Mayor for the next four years.  From my perspective on the activist neighbourhood barricades, it might seem a lot more difficult to find positive reasons to vote for Kirk LaPointe.  But in fact, it is not.

I believe that Kirk LaPointe represents a return to the glory days of the NPA, the days in which the NPA introduced both CityPlan and the Four Pillars strategy.  Both these programs have been recognized by experts around the world as extraordinary examples of how principled municipal governments can get things right in the face of seemingly intractable problems.  (In their place we have a City regime under Robertson that took over and expanded EcoDensity and its top-down style of “community engagement” for planning, and which talks of drug policy as a federal “grey area” that the City should avoid).

By his very public endorsement of the Principles & Goals planning document of the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, LaPointe has grasped the future of collaborative planning.  Following these Principles, he will work closely with each neighbourhood to ensure that Vancouver’s inevitable and welcome growth is managed in a way that encourages neighbourhoods to say “Yes”.  

This will be an important and welcome change from the present system under Vision that encourages the kind of protest and resistance we have witnessed right across the City in the last few years.

Moreover, those of us activists supporting Kirk LaPointe as Mayor believe that collaboration with the neighbourhoods will be reflected in a more collaborative approach toward solutions for other important aspects of urban life, including housing affordability, transportation, and the local economy. LaPointe’s demeanour and quick intelligence on the campaign trail and in smaller meetings leads many of us to believe that he is a man one can work with.

There are parts of the NPA platform that I would prefer were not there (the Broadway subway, for example), and that is why many of us are suggesting voters choose a mixed slate of candidates rather than accept another one-party majority that can do whatever it wants for the next four years.  But LaPointe’s promises on transparency and accountability (such a contrast to the closed hermetic kingdom of Vision Vancouver over the last six years) give hope that he can manage the Council well.

I want a non-majority Council, that’s for sure.  But I am equally sure I can trust Kirk LaPointe a lot more than the other character to make that non-majority Council work.


The Value of Slums, Again

November 14, 2014

Some years ago, I wrote a couple of posts (here, and here) about the value of slums. It was interesting, therefore, that the first paper I managed to read from the Urban Age Conference is also about that subject. This is Sanjeev Sanyal’s piece called “India: Preparing For the Great Migration.”.

Sanyal notes that:

urbanisation is an intrinsic part of economic development. Rather than being seen as a problem to be denounced and somehow delayed, it is now accepted that urbanisation, in its various forms, needs to be accommodated.

In India, this means accommodating more than 300 million new city dwellers over the next generation!  The government is already talking about building 100 new cities. Part of the answer, Sanyal says, is to accept slums as a good thing.

As with other complex adaptive systems, the term “slum” is not easy to define. A slum will generally include elements such as urban poverty, dense living conditions, informal economic activity and migrants, but is more than the sum of its parts. Most people will know a slum when they see one. Nonetheless, it is important to distinguish between the problems of agglomeration faced by slums and the problems of decay faced by Detroit.

Almost every country has suffered slums during the urbanisation phase. The slums of London and New York were notorious well into the 20th century. A century ago, the now trendy Meatpacking District of Manhattan had over two hundred slaughter-houses where many new immigrants worked. Harappan cities and Mughal Delhi had slums. Even today’s China, despite the administrative controls, has slums …

Once one looks past the squalor, slums are ecosystems buzzing with activity – shops, mini-factories, people moving in, people moving out. This is where migrants will first find shelter, get their first job, become connected with social networks and receive information about opportunities in the wider city. In other words, slums play a critical role as routers in the migration process.

What is even more interesting is that slums are surprisingly effective in this role. According to estimates by UN Habitat, 60 million people moved “out” of Indian slums between 2000 and 2010. Some may have gone back home, but many climbed the economic ladder into the new urban middle-class. This is exactly why slums continue to attract new migrants despite the awful living conditions – the migrants know that they or their children have a fighting chance of breaking out of the cycle of poverty.

After a fascinating look at what makes slums so important, Sanyal concludes:

[S]lums have always played an important role in the urbanisation process. This is where new migrants are absorbed and naturalised into the urban system. Indian policy-makers need to design for urban spaces that will play the same role. By anticipating this need, one hopes that the absorption process can be made more efficient and the worst of the squalor can be avoided.