Build for Need, Dammit!

September 12, 2021

The truth was a long time coming. The City of Vancouver’s grand plans to build housing units — using the policies that have brought our city to such insanity as incentivizing $4,000 per month apartments on the eastside on the basis of their tone-deaf definition of “affordability”, and which continues to propose to incentivize thousands more units than any reasonable population projection can support — was built on a scaffolding of zero data.

Staff at Vancouver Planning and development were, essentially, making it all up in their presentations to City Council in support of urban planning initiatives and individual developments.

Spurred by Sullivan’s eco-density, put on steroids under Vision, and continued under whatever regime we claim to have today at City Hall, Vancouver’s build and build again for growth’s sake — driven by the City’s “expert” staff (some of whom moved on to financially-rewarding careers with developers), combined with the City’s insatiable need for development fees to help balance their inflated budgets, and the RE industry’s need for profit — has failed to deliver the affordable housing we need to meet local salaries, has exacerbated the homeless crisis and all that goes with it, nd has fueled the vast inequities that we see around us in Vancouver every day.

There have been questions raised by activists and urbanists for years about the level and type of housing developments that CoV was pursuing. For more than a decade civic minded figures such as Elizabeth Murphy and CityHallWatch have been actively seeking information, for example, about the existing zoned capacity in the city, and being chastised for asking the question. Even in this blog, I have argued that Planning’s “facts” didn’t seem to match reality (see, for example, Why Are We Building So Much So Fast?)

Things began to become clearer (or at least so we hoped) when Councillor Colleen Hardwick took up the fight. As CityHallWatch described it:

“This breakthrough is largely thanks to persistent efforts by Councillor Colleen Hardwick, who spearheaded a motion, adopted by Council in May 2020, directing City staff to provide planning data upon which the planning department was basing its projections, policies, and development and rezoning recommendations. And thanks to persistent efforts by academics, particularly Prof. John Rose, who accelerated his attempts this past year. Many citizens and community groups also voice their requests for the City to release the data, in writing and in person. It is difficult to understate the amount of effort that went into all the various requests. Previous responses by senior staff were incomplete and unsatisfactory.”

Now, finally, the Director of Planning, Theresa O’Donnell has admitted in a letter to Professor John Rose that a primary graph used to sell the growth policies was “inaccurate and misleading.” The primary trend line had “no data-driven analysis behind” it. “It was an approximation made by staff for illustrative purposes only.” Moreover, the approach used by CoV to determine Development Capacity has “a number of limitations”.

And yet it these “illustrative purposes only” policies that are continuing to drive development and urban planning in Vancouver.

I have my doubts as to whether the majority of the current City Council will have the willingness or understanding needed to follow through on these revelations. What implications do they have for the Vancouver Plan, for example? Will this new willingness to open up by the Director lead to a thorough-going overhaul of transparency at City Hall? What kind of people do we need to elect to hold the staff accountable and to move us to a build for need strategy in the future?

Night Music: Lawyers in Love

July 24, 2021

For Carlito.

Religion as Mosaic in India

July 18, 2021

Here in North America we tend to see religion as black or white: there are “liberal” religions and there are “conservative” religions; and religions tend to be seen as monolithic, like Catholicism or Islam. A new survey published by Pew suggests that religion, and “Christianity” in particular is far more colourful in India.

As they point out in their introduction:

India’s massive population is diverse as well as devout. Not only do most of the world’s Hindus, Jains and Sikhs live in India, but it also is home to one of the world’s largest Muslim populations and to millions of Christians and Buddhists. A major new Pew Research Center survey of religion across India, based on nearly 30,000 face-to-face interviews of adults conducted in 17 languages between late 2019 and early 2020 (before the COVID-19 pandemic), finds that Indians of all these religious backgrounds overwhelmingly say they are very free to practice their faiths.

Yet, despite sharing certain values and religious beliefs – as well as living in the same country, under the same constitution – members of India’s major religious communities often don’t feel they have much in common with one another. The majority of Hindus see themselves as very different from Muslims (66%), and most Muslims return the sentiment, saying they are very different from Hindus (64%). There are a few exceptions: Two-thirds of Jains and about half of Sikhs say they have a lot in common with Hindus. But generally, people in India’s major religious communities tend to see themselves as very different from others.

These perceived differences are reflected in innumerable social protocols that in everyday life tend to keep the religious groups segregated. There is a widespread dislike of inter-marriage, for example:

These social protocols operate within the caste superstructure, each reinforcing the other.

Indians, then, simultaneously express enthusiasm for religious tolerance and a consistent preference for keeping their religious communities in segregated spheres – they live together separately. These two sentiments may seem paradoxical, but for many Indians they are not.

A fascinating analysis that extracts the survey data on India’s millions of Christians illustrates the mosaic of belief systems that fall under the heading of “Christianity” in India.

Most Indian Christians say they believe in karma (54%), which is not rooted in the Christian religion. And many Indian Christians also believe in reincarnation (29%) and that the Ganges River has the power to purify (32%), both of which are core teachings in Hinduism. It is also somewhat common for Indian Christians to observe customs tied to other religions, like celebrating Diwali (31%) or wearing a forehead marking called a bindi (22%), most often worn by Hindu, Buddhist and Jain women.

And much of the divergence in belief can be traced to which caste the Christian considers themselves to be:

I had an uncle who was a professor of sociological statistics in the 1960s and 1970s. I blame him for my interest in this kind of survey.

Britannia Renewal Meeting Tonight

June 1, 2021

Tonight at 6:00pm, Britannia is holding a Community Conversation tonight to report back on what they’ve heard during Renewal consultations.

There will also be an opportunity to offer your thoughts during small group discussions.

Join at:

The Britannia Renewal project, along with the Safeway site redevelopment, is one of the two major planning concerns for Grandview over the medium term. These meetings are a way for you to stay in touch with decisions that have been, or are close to being, made about a significant community asset and the heart of our district.

Night Music: Who Knows Where The Time Goes?

May 28, 2021

The long-lost and much lamented Sandy Denny. Gosh, we were young then.

Happy Towel Day!

May 25, 2021

To celebrate the wonderful Douglas Adams, May 25th is celebrated as towel day because, as he wrote, a towel is the most important item an interstellar traveler can take with them.

Towel Day | Galactic Hitchhikers

Night Music: Don’t Explain

May 22, 2021

Another Look At Vending Machines

May 21, 2021

The Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution has a fascinating short piece today on the history of vending machines. It focuses on Nathaniel Leverone and his Automatic Canteen Company:

“Importantly, Leverone utilised a new space for vending machines: factories. The Canteen sales pitch involved two steps: first, convince managers that workers needed a snack between meals. Leverone argued that “candy, which had previously been considered as a treat for children, actually constituted a food which was the source of quick energy for hardworking factory employees.”

It was an interesting article by itself, but it reminded me of something I wrote more than a decade ago about an automatic pizza making vending machine. So far as I can tell, his machine is still going.

Image: Street Art #2

May 11, 2021

Food Photographer of the Year 2021

April 28, 2021

The Guardian has an excellent spread on winners in the 2021 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year contest. The overall winner, and one of my favourites, was:

Photographer: Li Huaifeng

I also liked:

Breakfast at Weekly Market by Thong Nguyen
Making Rice Noodles by Abdul Momin

Night Music: If You Go Away

April 18, 2021

Night Music: Autumn Leaves

April 16, 2021

Night Music: Misty Roses

April 14, 2021

Night Music: Smooth

April 12, 2021

Night Music: Harbor Lights

April 6, 2021

Falling Sperm Counts: The End Is Coming

March 28, 2021

I figure this story is either an academic boondoggle or the advance warning of a crisis as important as climate change. Either way, I leave it to you to decide:

It has been reported in the Guardian no less, that some scientists believe we are seeing a catastrophic collapse in reproduction rates due to falling sperm counts. This collapse will lead “most couples … to use assisted reproduction by 2045.”

This news comes from an interview with

“Shanna Swan, professor professor of environmental medicine and public health at Mount Sinai school of medicine in New York City, studying fertility trends. In 2017 she documented how average sperm counts among western men have more than halved in the past 40 years. Count Down is her new book.

Which chemicals are the most worrying for reproductive health and how do they work?
Those that can interfere with or mimic the body’s sex hormones – such as testosterone and oestrogen – because these make reproduction possible. They can make the body think it has enough of a particular hormone and it doesn’t need to make any more, so production goes down.

Phthalates, used to make plastic soft and flexible, are of paramount concern. They are in everybody and we are probably primarily exposed through food as we use soft plastic in food manufacture, processing and packaging. They lower testosteroneand sohave the strongest influences on the male side, for example diminishing sperm count, though they are bad for women, too, shown to decrease libido and increase risk of early puberty, premature ovarian failure, miscarriage and premature birth.

Bisphenol A (BPA), used to harden plastic and found in cash-register receipts and the lining of some canned-food containers, is another. It is oestrogen mimicking and so is a particularly bad actor on the female side, increasing risks of fertility challenges, but likewise it can affect men. Men occupationally exposed to BPA have shown decreased sperm quality, reduced libido and higher rates of erectile dysfunction. Other chemicals of concern include flame retardants and certain pesticides such as atrazine.

How dire is the reproductive crisis? You’ve said we are on course for an infertile world by 2045
It is serious. If you follow the curve from the 2017 sperm-decline meta-analysis, it predicts that by 2045 we will have a median sperm count of zero. It is speculative to extrapolate, but there is also no evidence that it is tapering off. This means that most couples may have to use assisted reproduction.

Remember, of course, she has a book to sell.

Night Music: Refugee

March 20, 2021

Night Music: In Dreams

March 8, 2021

Night Music: Into The Mystic

March 6, 2021

Wise Words

March 6, 2021