Why a bridge to The Mainland would benefit Vancouver

August 31, 2011 at 9:00 am | In just_so, vancouver, vancouver_island, victoria | Comments Off on Why a bridge to The Mainland would benefit Vancouver

Sure, one might assume that a bridge from Victoria BC on Vancouver Island to Vancouver BC on The Mainland would wake up Victoria – which is exactly why NIMBYs everywhere in the Capital Regional District who want to keep Victoria “sleepy” resist the notion with objections galore – but maybe it’s actually the case that such a bridge would benefit Vancouver by making it more livable.

Why? Consider this item, just in: Vancouver loses top spot on most liveable city list.

One of the reasons cited (in all seriousness) by The Economist Intelligence Unit’s liveability survey  for Vancouver’s slip from first to third place (behind Melbourne Oz and Vienna Aus) is congestion on a stretch of Highway 1 known as the Malahat.

For those of you who are geographically challenged by these terms, get an atlas (or go to Google), or simply realize this: the City of Vancouver is on the continent (aka The Mainland) and the ‘Hat (aka The Malahat) is a stretch of Highway 1 that’s part of the Trans-Canada Highway which runs from Victoria to Nanaimo …on Vancouver Island.

Island, as in: not attached to The Mainland unless you can swim ridiculous distances or have a boat. There is no bridge, no fixed link. The ‘Hat is on Vancouver Island.

Why would problems on a highway on an island 60 kilometers away from Vancouver impact livability in a city that’s not even on that island?

Well, first, it seems that The Economist’s study took into account “increased traffic and congestion problems in Vancouver and [the] Malahat” [emphasis added] (although, if you ask me, that’s bogus reasoning by any measure). Second, the folks at The Economist only took the Malahat as an example of worsening traffic conditions. (And a screw up of an example it was: sorry, folks, you goofed big time here.)

But what intrigued me in the whole kerfuffle was this: integration of Victoria into Greater Vancouver could actually benefit Vancouver insofar as a fixed link (aka “bridge”) would alleviate traffic congestion on Highway 1 simply by eliminating it as a needed route. After all, if you had a bridge from the Greater Victoria peninsula, why would you bother driving all the way up to Nanaimo/ Departure Bay in the first place? I never thought of it in those terms before, having always pondered how a fixed link could benefit Victoria. A silly “most livable cities” list made me see that it could benefit the other guy city, too.

The other thing that became more salient for me: Canada, that huge-huge land so sparsely populated and so dependent on a massive system of mostly government-funded infrastructure – railway, highway, tele-, radio-, and television-communication, fiber-optic cables, etc. – is committed to that infrastructure because it represents national unity. The Malahat, now largely a commuter highway between Victoria and the bedroom communities of the Cowichan and Duncan, is not part of any necessary route to get from Victoria to Vancouver. But it is part of that near-mythic national-unity-creating infrastructure. It is part of the Trans-Canada Highway, impossible to shunt aside.

I would argue that the only reason The Malahat was included, even as a mistake, in the data crunched by The Economist folks is because this highway is part of that highly symbolic highway infrastructure system. I mean, I bet they literally had no idea where it’s actually located.

But The ‘Hat remains significant and symbolic even though most of the actual transportation that goes on between Victoria and Vancouver takes place not via The Malahat and its endpoint of Departure Bay (from whence ferries leave for Vancouver), but from Swartz Bay (from whence ferries leave for Tsawwassen near Vancouver). Or, more directly, the money-intensive business traffic happens via air- or floatplane, either from Victoria International Airport to Vancouver International Airport, or, even more expeditiously, downtown-to-downtown, from Victoria’s Inner Harbour floatplane airport to Vancouver’s Coal Harbour floatplane airport.

None of the preferred (or fast) options include the Malahat or Departure Bay, Diana Krall’s wonderful song notwithstanding.

Now, given Canada’s self-image, imagine the consequences of lopping off the Trans-Canada Highway as a branded (TCH1) link between Victoria and Vancouver…? Suddenly, all sorts of issues heave into view. A direct fixed link from Victoria to Vancouver would undermine the symbolic significance of the Trans-Canada Highway running from Victoria to Nanaimo. And, weirdly, a fixed link might do more to raise Vancouver’s livability than Victoria’s.

Another reason why it’ll never happen.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

August 28, 2011 at 2:30 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • Sounds like it’s all kind of symbolic – or rather, the “acupuncture” aspect is really extraneous.
    Drawing from the ancient Chinese healing art, this strategy views cities as living, breathing organisms and pinpoints areas in need of repair. Sustainable projects, then, serve as needles that revitalize the whole by healing the parts.
    Not sure I can be onside with attempts to stick a “cool” label (say, acupuncture, in this case) on interventions that aren’t actually what the label advertises.

    tags: cities urban_acupuncture acupuncture

  • Great article by Nicholas Kevlahan, comparing Vancouver and Hamilton (Ontario). In the conclusion:
    …the most important lessons from the Vancouver Model are generally applicable:
    1. Residents have the power to decide what sort of city they want to live in. Vancouver residents deliberately rejected an urban freeway-based proposal, and eventually developed a dense, mixed-use pedestrian-based alternative. (…)
    2. Effective city planning requires deciding on a strategic vision and sticking to it. Vancouver has followed the same basic urban planning strategy for 40 years now, regardless of changes in council and city administrators. This consistency allows the city to learn gradually how to do things right, and lowers the risk to developers. However, it needs all city staff (and council) to work together. (…)
    3. Sustainability and livability are achieved in dense, mixed use, pedestrian-oriented development. Vancouver is consistently rated one of the most attractive and liveable cities in the world because it has focused on these qualities. Density makes cities more financially sustainable because it costs much less to provide services for a given number of people in a dense neighbourhood. (…)
    4. Planners must be insulated from council and flexible in achieving strategic goals. Vancouver’s planners operate largely free of direct council (and OMB!) interference, and have the power to mandate mixed use and particular built forms. Planning is prescriptive and interventionist. (…)

    tags: nicholas_kevlahan vancouver hamilton_on urbanism cities urbanplanning urban_development

  • Heard grumblings about this from the cabbie that took me from Logan Airport in Boston to downtown, two years ago. Am seeing it locally, too, albeit not so much in big compensation to rank-and-file, but in inflated / overly-generous compensation packages for top-level management bureaucrats. Hmm…
    The budget pain that thousands of cities and smaller governments are experiencing is likely to worsen. For one thing, states have balanced their own budgets by reducing the financial aid that they send to municipalities and school districts. The federal stimulus money that started to flow in 2009, sending nearly $300 billion in aid to states and localities, is now largely used up, too.

    tags: city_journal steven_malanga cities compensation salaries benefits pensions unions

  • Memo to self: check in on Cathy Davidson’s Sept.20/11 talk on “How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn.”
    Approximately fifteen years into industrial-era management science, the medieval university began its rapid metamorphosis into the modern twentieth-century research university. Now, fifteen years after the commercialization of the Internet and the World Wide Web, we are at an optimal moment for reconsidering these fundamental institutions for our own era. Davidson is neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the role of technology in our lives but, rather, asks how we can use technology as an engine of transformation. This talk helps us to think in historical, theoretical, and practical ways about how, as individuals and institutions, we can learn new ways to thrive in the interactive, digital, global world we already inhabit.

    tags: berkman cathy_davidson attention_economy brain

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

August 21, 2011 at 2:30 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • Amazing photographs…
    As much as the project is about the quirkiness of childhood, it is, more strikingly, a commentary on class and on poverty. But the diversity also provides a sense of togetherness.

    Everybody sleeps. And eventually, everybody grows up.

    Grows up into what…?

    tags: education childhood children james_mollison nyt photography class

  • Two Thursday morning nuggets from live-blogging of Grow Conference (Vancouver) by TechVibes:
    9:00 AM. Debbie says entrepreneurs need nourishment. Talks about the “next gen entrepreneur.” They grew up online. Their businesses are lean, cloud based, collaborative, viral, social, authentic, metrics driven, and transparent. Old businesses were about location—with the internet, new businesses are about attention.

    9:05 AM. Howard returns to discuss philosophies—”social leverage over financial leverage,” “too small to fail,” “punch a banker, hug a developer,” and more. He says you have to be passionate about your startup, build domain exprtise, and expect to fail once, twice, thrice. He says distribution is underrated, don’t worry about profitability immediately. In Today’s world, developers make you, not bankers anymore. It’s important to visualize things and wirte stuff down. Howard advises entrepreneurs to play Risk. Attack incumbents with one core feature that you have mastered and grow from there. Entrepreneurship is a little like Poker, where a young kid can beat an older man. It’s a mix of skill and luck and underdogs can win.

    tags: growconf howard_lindzon debbie_landa entrepreneurship techvibes vancouver

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The Nivea ad: Is it racist? Yes, it is. And more.

August 19, 2011 at 8:13 pm | In advertising | 1 Comment

Good Magazine‘s associate editor Nona Willis Aronowitz raised excellent questions in her August 18 post, Nivea’s Racist Ad “Re-civilizes” a Black Man. Part of Nivea’s “Look Like You Give A Damn” skin care for men campaign, it’s the only ad that features a black man. It’s also the only one where the added words, “Re-Civilize Yourself,” jump out at the viewer.


To Nivea‘s credit, the company pulled the ad, seemingly within hours (see the company’s apology on Facebook).

Hang on, let’s re-examine that ad before it slips away…

If the words weren’t inflammatory enough (a black man is admonished to “re-civilize” himself), it’s actually the image itself that’s more profoundly disturbing. How come? And how is it a problem of black and/or white representation?

There is a white man in the same ad campaign:


If there’s a black guy and a white guy in the campaign, how are they different? Why do I think the black man is shown in unjustifiably (eg., racist) negative terms?

Two ads

Aronowitz’s article references this Facebook page, here, which was updated to show that Nivea had two ads with the “re-civilize yourself” command: one for a black man and one for a white man. While the black man is holding what looks like a head with an Afro hairstyle, the white man holds a head with unkempt “caveman” hair – so perhaps the intention was to show both men with “pre-civilized” styles.

However, an Afro hairstyle is natural to a type of hair (extremely curly) and, unlike a “pre-civilized” caveman look, it’s actually a style choice that’s linked to black pride.

Even if we cut Nivea some slack and say, “Sure, they were just suggesting a caveman look for both, not intending to slag black pride” (which isn’t an unreasonable assumption at all), why are these images still plain wrong?


My answer derives from art history. When I saw Nivea’s ad with the black man, my first association was with a painting by Francisco Goya, Cannibals Savoring Human Remains, painted during a dark period in Goya’s life and in Spain’s history (short Youtube film about Goya here). Cannibalism is arguably a nadir in human behavior – not the sort of thing anyone can make relativistic excuses for. In fairy-tales, cannibalism scares little children. In grown-up media (“entertainment” and news), slasher movies and real-life psychopaths terrorize adult imaginations with the unfathomable darkness of eating human flesh for pleasure.

Goya nailed it with this painting of cannibals, which must be seen as part of a series of images Goya made (including depictions of bandits, rapists, brigands, soldiers, religious Inquisitors, and subjects from mythology) that represent human depravity:


First, note that these cannibals are white. Depravity knows no “racial” markers. Then, note that the cannibal’s right (raised) hand holds a severed hand, while his left hand, lowered, holds the object featured in Nivea’s ad: a human head.

Goya came to my mind when I saw that ad

Sure, you might say, “You thought of Goya because of your art history training.”

But is that really so? What if Goya merely gave pictorial form to scary stories we somehow are familiar with, whether through fairy-tales or some kind of atavistic osmosis connected to our “pre-civilized” brains?

For me, in other words, the black man in Nivea’s ad was associated with cannibalism. In terms of negative racist allusion, it couldn’t possibly get any worse than that.

It couldn’t possibly get any worse than that …or could it?

So what about the white man, who is also holding a head?

Well, just consider the different physical attitudes expressed by the two men. Both are undeniably handsome and attractive. The black man looks athletic, as though he’s about to throw a discus at the Olympics. In that sense, he looks very classical, a veritable Discobolus.


But wait!

He’s not going to toss a discus, he’s going to toss a human head.

What’s that all about? Who would toss a human head around as if it were a sports instrument?

Oh, right… A cannibal, maybe?

In other words, there’s a profound disconnect between the man’s pose and the object he’s holding.

Black guys are athletes, white guys stand around and ponder…

As for the white man, his look also suggests a classical pose, albeit a less action-oriented and more cerebration-oriented one. Should we believe that black men are “naturally” athletic, while white men tend toward reasoning? Hmm…

Our white man seems modeled on Michelangelo’s David:


But hang on! Wouldn’t holding a decapitated head destroy that allusion?

Well, not exactly. Michelangelo’s sculpture shows David as he’s preparing to deliver the fatal blow to Goliath. We may be excused for forgetting that David not only kills Goliath, but also decapitates him.

So, in alluding to David, let’s reference another painter, Caravaggio. His David with the Head of Goliath (below) expresses what might be called an altruistic nobility in killing another person:


David is profoundly affected, as a reasoning being, by his act. He’s no athlete, no Discobolus, no mere performer. He’s a thinker. His act was violent, but he thinks about it.


Violence (or even plain old vehemence) is parsed differently, depending on what skin color you have in mind…

The two decapitations – the white Nivea man’s head and Caravaggio’s head of Goliath – even appear similar, while the black Nivea man’s head has more pronounced tribal mask features …which also depersonalizes it.

The black man is given the pose of a classical Discobolus, but handed a fully inappropriate object (a head) to toss. This actually heightens the taboo (against murder) and strengthens  the allusion to something quite depraved (say, cannibalism for sport or pleasure). The white man is given the pose of a noble, classical actor, David from the Old Testament. His pose is in a style reminiscent of Michelangelo. And he holds the severed head like Caravaggio’s David holds the head of Goliath. There are two very different levels of approach – and, possibly, respect – embodied in the two images.

Yes, the Nivea ad for the black man is disturbing and it’s a multifaceted racial put-down. The ad for the white man, on the other hand, blends in with much of the noble/ superior posing that passes for attention-getting in advertising. Both are cliches.


Tea Party? Sweet Potatoes are better

August 17, 2011 at 8:17 pm | In leadership, politics | 1 Comment

Some heartening signs.


Read the Salon.com article, Tea Party people less popular than many other hated minority groups (subtitled: They may want “their country” back, but their country doesn’t really want them):

This tiny band of fanatics is largely distrusted and despised by regular Americans, but a terrified media coddles them and pretends they’re harmless. I am speaking, of course, of the Tea Parties, a group now officially less popular among Americans than Muslims.

Listening to the mainstream media, it’s easy to think the Tea Partiers set the tone, …and yet (among real people) they’re “officially less popular among Americans than Muslims”? What the hell?

Did I miss something about Muslims trending in popularity in America…?? No? Didn’t think so. Apparently, atheists are hated, too…

But look on the bright side: we Americans despise the moronic Tea Party bigots!


On Monday August 15, Jon Stewart aired this zinger segment: Indecision 2012 – Corn Polled Edition – Ron Paul & the Top Tier (subtitled: Even when the media does remember Ron Paul, it’s only to reassure themselves that there’s no need to remember Ron Paul). Stewart really rips the mainstream media, which has ignored Ron Paul even though he placed second in Iowa’s straw poll.

You have to wonder what the hell is going on.

Daniel Ratigan has some ideas – see Dylan Ratigan, Mad as Hell: His Epic “Network” Moment. I can’t say I’m steeped deeply enough in the issues to assess his theories. But, for what it’s worth, his main point is an attack on the financial institutions:

We’ve got a real problem…this is a mathematical fact. Tens of trillions of dollars are being extracted from the United States of America. Democrats aren’t doing it, republicans aren’t doing it, an entire integrated system, banking, trade and taxation, created by both parties over a period of two decades is at work on our entire country right now.

But best of all is a segment I heard on NPR this afternoon: Amid D.C. Squabbles, A Look At Life At A Restaurant. Do yourself a favor and listen to this 4+ minute segment about Sweet Potatoes, a Winston-Salem, NC restaurant, and its very smart and articulate owners, Stephanie Tyson and Vivian Joiner.

When Vivian Joiner called out the financial system, DC, and public “servants” (whom do they serve?, not the people, not the people) in this NPR segment, I found myself yelling, Tell it, sister. She is soooooo right. Why don’t we have people like her running the country? Why do assholes like Perry or Romney or Bachmann or Palin or even puppet Democrats (like… fill-in-the-blanks?) get all the coverage and all the money? Why?

More like this, please.

Chef Stephanie Tyson (r) and her partner Vivian Joiner (l), the dedicated (and smart!) owners of Sweet Potatoes in Winston-Salem, NC

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

August 14, 2011 at 2:30 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • Symposium-style v conference-presentation-style?
    Not that anyone believes the slick-presentation conference approach will go away, nor should: Wurman thinks TED and other shows will continue to be crowd-pleasers. But he sees it as a 20th century model. “What I’m trying to think of,” he says, “is how to do the best conference for the beginning of the 21st century.”

    tags: tedco richard_saul_wurman conferences

  • Rory Stewart makes a lot of sense.
    British MP Rory Stewart walked across Afghanistan after 9/11, talking with citizens and warlords alike. Now, a decade later, he asks: Why are Western and coalition forces still fighting there? He shares lessons from past military interventions that worked — Bosnia, for instance — and shows that humility and local expertise are the keys to success.

    tags: tedco rory_stewart war afghanistan video

  • “But his tone is his real strength. “I try to identify that thing in a product that matters most to me,” Lisagor says. “I’ll glom onto that element and try to recreate it in this linear story I’m telling.” That calm, Billy Mays-free approach conveys an inherent trust. It assumes that the viewer is the kind of person smart enough to appreciate the product’s value. That’s exactly the kind of customer tech startups want, which does much to explain their love for him: Lisagor is sui generis–“the best and only one doing what he does,” Dorsey says–and his promos blend “the aesthetics and techniques of advertising with the storytelling of an instructional video,”says Malthe Sigurdsson, Rdio VP of product design.”

    tags: lonely_sandwich adam_lisagor video advertising

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The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

August 7, 2011 at 2:30 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • Great opinion piece by David Frum (a Republican).
    Only about one-third of Republicans agree that cutting government spending should be the country’s top priority. Only about one-quarter of Republicans insist the budget be balanced without any tax increases.

    Yet that one-third and that one-quarter have come to dominate my party. That one-third and that one-quarter forced a debt standoff that could have ended in default and a second Great Recession. That one-third and that one-quarter have effectively written the “no new taxes pledge” into national law.
    Frum then outlines 7 theses. Excellent read.

    tags: david_frum cnn republicans debt_ceiling fiscal_crisis

  • Curious. Counter-intuitively, the “addict” personality has *less* pleasure (or feels less pleasure) from his/her activities than the non-addict. On the plus side, his/her desire for stimulus serves him/her well in other endeavors.
    The risk-taking, novelty-seeking and obsessive personality traits often found in addicts can be harnessed to make them very effective in the workplace. For many leaders, it’s not the case that they succeed in spite of their addiction; rather, the same brain wiring and chemistry that make them addicts also confer on them behavioral traits that serve them well.

    So, when searching for your organization’s next leader, look for someone with an attenuated dopamine function: someone who is never satisfied with the status quo, someone who wants the feeling of success more than others — but likes it less.

    tags: addiction nyt david_j_linden brain neuroscience

  • Right on.
    Americans making over $250,000 in 1944 — over $3.2 million today — paid 69 percent of their total incomes in federal income tax, after exploiting every tax loophole they could find. In 2007, by contrast, America’s 400 highest earners paid just 18.1 percent of their total incomes, after loopholes, in federal tax.

    None of the debt ceiling “deals” that House and Senate leaders advanced last week asked any of these top 400 — or any other rich Americans — to pay a penny more in taxes than they do now. In the 2011 debt ceiling struggle, inequality has clearly triumphed.

    So what ought we learn, amid this triumph for greed, from FDR’s debt ceiling battle? Maybe this: We really can have a more equal America. We just need to fight for it.

    tags: fdr debt_ceiling taxation usa fiscal_crisis republicans sam_pizzigati too_much

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Colder and cloudier summers in the Pacific Northwest?

August 4, 2011 at 8:30 am | In green, nature | 5 Comments

I came here for the weather. Seriously. East Coast winters (cold) and East Coast summers (Triple-H: hot hazy humid) drove me bonkers.

But global warming is making me feel a bit like Rick in Casablanca: misinformed.

Misinformed – you know, that great line where Louis asks Rick why he came to Casablanca, to which Rick replies, “for the waters.” When reminded that Casablanca is in the desert, Rick deadpans, “I was misinformed.” See the clip here:

Well, it seems global warming is going to teach all of us a lesson or two about being misinformed.

While we’re not getting that much hotter (at least not in my lifetime, it seems), extreme heat inland will cause a curious weather pattern over the ocean in our immediate vicinity: one of increased clouds and cold during our spring and summer months.

In other words, if you thought this year’s spring and summer (for the most part) have been cold and depressing, you’re absolutely right! They have.

And climatologists and weathermen have predicted it for years.

Earlier this week, KPLU, the NPR affiliate radio station in Seattle, ran this report: Seattle spring was the coldest, one of the cloudiest on record.

Listen here

Or read an extract:

Scientists have confirmed what many suspected about this year’s weather. It was the coldest spring on record for Washington and one of the cloudiest.

The average temperature for April, May and June was lower than any year since 1900, say University of Washington scientists. And the days were more cloudy than all but one year since those records began 60 years ago.

One of the weather scientists quoted is Cliff Mass, who adds, “the hotter it gets inland, the more we seem to get the sort of pattern that brings cooler air from the ocean into western Washington.” This is obviously exactly what we’re getting in British Columbia, and it seems to be happening to some extent further south as far as Northern California, too.

But get this: Cliff Mass was already telling us about this five years ago, when our spring and summers were still pretty sweet to gloat about to our Eastern brethren. Mass called it in a 2006 Seattle Times article: An even grayer Seattle from global warming?

For those harboring the guilty hope that global warming will transform Seattle into a sun lovers’ paradise on par with the Côte d’Azur, meteorologist Cliff Mass has some bad news: It might actually get cloudier.

Mass and his colleagues at the University of Washington recently completed the most detailed computer simulation ever conducted of the region’s future weather. Among the surprises was a big boost in cloud cover in March, April and May.

“The spring is going to be gunkier — if you believe this — under global warming,” he said.

Gunkier? Ohhh-kaaayyy… That’s a good way to describe it, I suppose.

What a gunkier "spring" looked like in Victoria British Columbia


In the article, Mass also predicts more heat spikes and problems relating to the water supplies (say what?, in Cascadia, land of rain and ice-pack? …Oh, wait… Ice-melt… Ice melts away…).

In other words, global warming is actually global weirding.

Overall, I’d say this part of the globe is not a bad place to be if you don’t want to die of heat in the summer. But the gloomy and cold spring (and summer up until just a week ago) wasn’t a lot of fun, either.

My money is on keeping an eye on Mass’s work, at any rate (I really like how he thinks in other areas, too). He’s taking climate modeling seriously, and clearly getting things right, as his 2006 predictions would indicate. The key is in the details, taking local terrain into account, as the Seattle Times article explained:

Earlier forecasts relied primarily on global climate models, which give a planetary view of the way temperatures will rise as global warming continues. But those models lack any detail about the mountains and inland waters that play such an important role in local weather.

So, using a global model as a starting point, Mass fine-tuned those projections with a high-resolution regional model that can distinguish topographical features down to a scale of a few miles.

“If you’re going to play the game around here, you’ve got to have the resolution to see local terrain,” he said.

Even with the university’s enormous data-processing capacity, it took two months of continuous computer runs to simulate each decade into the future. The researchers also factored in things such as changes in soil temperature, which can affect weather.

Fascinating article, props to the Seattle Times for having published it and keeping it available online.

Meanwhile, I find myself humming a line from an old Frank Sinatra song, The Lady is a Tramp: “…she’s broke but it’s ok …hates California, it’s cold and it’s damp …that’s why the lady is a tramp…”

We can sing that up here, too.

Should downtown parking be (partly) free?

August 3, 2011 at 11:02 am | In cities, victoria | 1 Comment

I’ve been harboring a heretical thought in the wake of spending some time in the Bay Area this June: maybe cities of a certain size do better if they make at least some free parking available for downtown shoppers.

Stopping in Palo Alto often during my Bay Area visit, I finally figured out that Palo Alto owns a parking garage or two …and that the first two hours of parking are free.

Bear with me, gentle reader, if you think free parking is a gimme, for you should know that I live in a city renowned for what we locals lovingly (that’s sarcasm) call Parking Nazis. Actually called Commissionaires, they seem to be paid via a bounty system, for they are nothing if not avid in their pursuit of parking law laggards. Consequently, downtown parking has become a source of endless local complaint.

Until now, I never had too much sympathy with those issues. First, I live close by and can walk downtown. Second, I know where all the city-owned parkades are and I don’t mind paying a couple of dollars to park there if I do happen to drive in. I share the common dislike of parking meters, mainly because I can’t trust myself to get back to the meter in time (and I know the Parking Nazis will strike if I don’t).

What changed my mind?

I started to feel a little uncomfortable when I heard rumors that our city council (like many, always hungry for more revenue with which to pay its comfortably-salaried upper management at City Hall) might put parking meters into “village” (neighborhood) centers (like Cook Street Village, a neighborhood node). That just seemed greedy – and wrong. Especially since a neighboring municipality like Oak Bay, which has a thriving shopping area, charges nothing for parking. Downtown Victoria shoppers, in contrast, seem harassed and tortured – and now the city wants to extend that anxious climate into the neighborhoods? Not the way to go, council.

But the clincher to my change of heart came yesterday when I drove to another neighboring municipality, Saanich, which is now home to a brand-spanking-new shopping center called Uptown. (Note the name’s positioning, a challenge to Downtown…)

I needed to buy a gadget …and the stores in Uptown had the best selection. And when I got there, the underground parking garage was full and everywhere I looked I saw shoppers. It was like a bustling little mini-downtown – pretty much the opposite of what our dying downtown looks like these days.

For an eye-popping “fly-through” of what the mall is supposed to look like when fully built out, take 4 1/2 minutes for the following video:


While there weren’t (yet) as many people milling about the open spaces (too much still under construction), it was lively and bustling. Full of people.

And that brings me back to my heretical thought:

Maybe, if you’re not Manhattan or any truly large city that actually has a functioning CBD (Central Business District) versus a relatively poky tourist-and-government-offices downtown as Victoria has, you should lay off the draconian parking rules.

Like Saanich’s Uptown (or even, on a good day, Oak Bay’s main street), Palo Alto’s streets were also filled to the brim with people spending money and keeping the economy humming along. While bus service (and commuter train service) and bicycles are popular there, so is the car. The city recognizes this and makes it easy for those people who do drive into town to find parking – and it lets them park for 2 hours for free, right downtown. Here in Greater Victoria, too many people say they avoid downtown because the Parking Nazis and the city’s general unfriendliness to shoppers (whose suburban mindset means they bring cars) infuriates them.

But at the same time, we don’t have a downtown residential population capable of sustaining the downtown economy – which means we still need that suburban shopper with his or her suburban mindset. So why not make those shoppers feel more welcome? Right now, they’re heading to Uptown in droves – as are some businesses formerly located downtown, because they need to go where the shoppers are.

Yes, in an ideal world we wouldn’t be catering to cars – and if we were a real city, we wouldn’t need to cater to suburbanites either, and we could afford to skin them for parking. But we aren’t, and we can’t. When your downtown is dying, it’s probably not the smartest thing to make it even more impenetrable to convenience …especially when the suburban mall is “conveniencing” its ass off to grab thousands of shoppers who now have even fewer reasons to come downtown.

I know this is apples and oranges, but I can’t help but be reminded of arguments around the debt ceiling/ economy debate. The idiot Republicans want to stand on principle, saying we must “balance the budget” by cutting it (while not introducing any new taxes – this is voodoo economics 2-dot-zilch). Some saner folks are arguing instead that we should forget the cuts and focus on getting the economy going again – and then we can deal with the debt.

I feel that way about our downtown: let’s see if we can get an economy going down there again, and forget about standing on the principle (enforced by Parking Nazis for the benefit of the City’s coffers) that cars are bad, that we should all be happily jogging or cycling downtown, and that we should pretend we have a decent public transportation system that makes using a car unnecessary (we don’t).

A parking garage in downtown Palo Alto, California. First 2 hours free parking.

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