Archive for the ‘politics’ Category
“I think a lot of times, elected officials are afraid of bloggers. A blogger combines an elected official’s two most scariest things which is a journalist and an engaged citizen.”
If only that were true!
I somehow doubt that Streetsblog was actually responsible for getting Times Square closed to traffic. But possibly it helped give Janette Sadik-Kahn some support for what was actually quite a controversial decision. It also helped that its method of implementation was readily reversible if it had not worked.
“The Other Side of the Tracks” is a daily email summary of transit and related news: links to news stories and blog posts about transit and TOD from around the country are collected daily by Jeff Wood, Reconnecting America‘s New Media Director and Chief Cartographer.
“The day may come when Men will fall, and Jeff Wood cannot read every transit article…. but that day is not this day” – Some Transit Lovin Dude
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This is a magazine that is produced by the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. It is issued twice yearly and you can read it on line or request a complimentary subscription. The Fall 2013 edition just arrived – but sadly contains no information about what I think must be one of the best known of recent traffic studies - the closure of two out of three approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge which resulted in gridlock for several days in Fort Lee. To find out more (where have you been hiding out lately) just look for the #bridgegate hashtag on twitter. This one of the more recent items from the New York Times
I do try to get out to the often SFU organized public lectures and similar events, partly just to keep my brain engaged but also because the existence of a blog demands content. And it should not all be pointing to other web pages. Well, not all the time anyway. I usually go in person, but on this occasion there was a webcast. It was a live event and I do not know if at some later stage it will be on the web as a video.
However, I do think that the webcast itself says a lot about the process.
Greenest City Conversations, an innovative, interdisciplinary and wide-scale research project aimed at developing multiple channels for public engagement on municipal sustainability policies. Its two main goals were to facilitate discussion with the public on a variety of sustainability policies, and to provide a comprehensive understanding of the content and impact of different modes of public engagement.
Some of those modes involve “social media” – or information technology if you will. And on this occasion new technology was showing both its best and worst sides. Things got started on time with the usual throat clearing and acknowledgements which always seem to me to be protracted but, grudgingly, necessary. A lot of people were involved, and a lot of material was going to be covered. Some of it was already of questionable value as it had “failed to meet its objectives”. It is not clear quite what that was about as the first speaker is already showing that she was unaware that there was a webcast. Instead of the right laptop (there were two) she has her own tablet and she is talking about how much time children already spend with tablets. The people at the Wosk Centre are being shown pictures, but these are not being broadcast despite a split screen arrangement.
Then the whole screen goes blank – for quite a long time – and when the webcast restarts someone else is talking about land use and how to use “stamps” to create Utopia. What she has been dealing with is the standard problem in public consultation. The only people who come out to open houses or public meetings are the people who come out to open houses and public meetings. You feel you are talking to the same five people. The issue is one of engagement – how to reach a more significant number of people. It is also cleat that what we are currently facing is not simply a top down “education” program, where the experts who know what must be done convince the unwashed of the necessity of cooperation in a predetermined solution. They found, unsurprisingly that of they used new media like Facebook, more women wanted to be involved. If they used smart phones more young people got involved. I was especially frustrated to miss much of the talk on the City’s transportation plan which engaged people by asking them if they were happy with their commute and if not what they thought could be done about it. (Exploring Vancouver’s Transportation Future) Apparently there was a “heat map” which answered the question “Is Facebook Useful” but I didn’t get to see that: all I saw was a talking head.
The next presenter had managed to persuade people to be tracked by using their smart phones to study their travel patterns and modes. They tried getting them to answer questions like “paper or plastic?” when they went shopping but – not surprisingly – people seem to be a little tired with that one. I think it would really have helped me stay interested if this presentation had not been mostly him reading great grey slabs of text – and apologizing to the audience for the tiny size of his illustrations which were not visible at all on line.
Then we got into land use. They tried to engage citizens in place based design. In fact the city had already decided to update the Grandview-Woodlands and Marpole neighbourhood plans. We have of course discussed those at length here. They did this by creating a “sandbox” – a generic neighbourhood of as a 2D and 3D board game. They had only three variables – Land Use, Energy and Quality of Life. The City has, of course, already set its goal of a 33% reduction in GHG by 2020 so the only question is what does that do for our quality of life. I cannot tell you the answer as the PhD candidate is still working on his thesis – so watch for more on the next webcast.
The workshop materials are available online at http://gcc.sites.olt.ubc.ca/findings-and-results/exploring-neighbourhood…
The last speaker was actually in Newfoundland and joined in by Skype and managed to illustrate all the the things you should not do during a live webcast – including setting up an infinite feedback loop, and allowing the dial tone to be heard while someone else was speaking. I think that they might be better off giving the professionals at the SFU Creative Centre the evening off and bringing in a bunch of Grade 12 students to handle the technology. He was the presenter who had the enviable task of introducing art into the proceedings. He managed to use the words epistemologies, disingenuous and disenchantment all in the same sentence without creating poetry. Apparently we have to “shift away from linear engagement”. He asked how do we arrive at “truth” and “value” – and to help in that had hired a poet, an architect, a composer and a theatrical troupe. They produced “You Are Very Star” at the Space Centre which I told you about when I covered Northern Voice.
The issue you see is that no-one actually knows what a sustainable community is: what it looks like or what it might be like to live in. One of the things that artists are supposed to be good at is imagining possibilities. What baffled me is why no-one thought of bringing in some science fiction writers. I suppose they thought that might be too depressing for words. Certainly a recent collection of stories about a warmed up planet is not proving to be useful bedtime reading for me.
The final speaker was supposed to have produced “Cross Channel Evaluation” which he characterized as “herding academic cats”. In the end he decided to concentrate on the outreach to various age groups – as long as they were over 19 (something to do with the ethics of market research) which sadly left out all the kids involved in the first project. The people reached by this research were by no means representative of the population of the City but this is apparently not a Big Issue. The – very unsurprising – conclusion – digital channels attract younger people compared to public meetings and web based surveys. He compared processes and not outcomes since those are “emergent” and “contingent”. Because the process is pluralistic and poses open ended questions.
In the sum up John Robinson said that his intention was to scale up the process so that it could reach a significant number of “citizens of all stripes” – 200,000 would be good – in an interactive dialogue. The issue is no longer a one way flow outward as “we don’t know the story” that we have to get out to the people. They have to be engaged in creating the story – What Can Sustainability Really Mean?
Q & A
The first question related to the “white coat” (expert) syndrome – apparently participants in the studies did not see the researchers in that light.
The second commenter noted that none of the proposal to reduce GHG emissions seemed to aimed at big business “They got us into this mess”. The response was that people who participated did not share that view and were interested in learning about what they could do.
The City had already established its goal, so that framed the problem which meant the studies were about which levers you can pull. In some respect this created a “sense of security for government folks” concerned about an open ended process.
The distinction has to be made between “persuasive communication” versus an “emergent dialogue”. We do not know what a sustainble community is, and therefore we have to work with people in deciding what kind of community we want.
PICS wanted to encourage questions from those watching on line and suggested they use @PICSCanada as the twitter feed. They did not specify a hashtag. I subscribed to that feed and saw no activity – in fact they still have not said anything since I subscribed and the only commentary on it last night was from @carbontalks. Do you really think these folks know enough about how social media works?
In response to another question the response about the attitude of children was that they did not see “some predetermined world that their parents had messed up.”
A very keen observation was by someone who had seen the “Fantastic Four” movie and the enthusiastic public response to it. He compared that to participation in in local government planning consultation. But conceded the movie cost $100m to make. “Does it take that much to get people involved?”
The response was withering. The people who saw the movie plunked down $12 and gave up two hours of their time to be entertained. The commitment was wide but very shallow. This contrasts with the high level of commitment required in the processes they had been studying – the questions were not so much about cost but motivation and payback. Much of this came from the researcher who had worked on the transportation channel and I wish now that i had been able to hear more of her presentation.
The final question (and by now we were well into overtime) “Will the real and the imaginary use the same arithmetic?”
John Robinson: Getting the real into people’s heads won’t stop but we are looking at something emergent. It is worth noting that in mathematics the elegance of a solution is also an important consideration. We need to wary of the Dragnet theory of truth “Just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.”
The next webcast will be on October 23rd at 6pm check the PICS website.
That has been my view for a long time – but the title is taken from a “Friday Feature” in the Richmond News. Although I no longer live there, I still find that I go there quite a lot. The airport, picking up parcels from couriers who did not find me at home, car servicing, the doctor … the list is quite long. I have not tried to get there by bike. Though it would be straightforward enough, and with bike racks on buses, easy to avoid Vancouver’s hilly bits. But if I am going to use transit anyway, why hamper myself with a bike? We also still like walking on the dyke. And at one time we used to put the bikes on the car rack and go further. I am not sure why that has not been happening of late. I feel a Bicycle Diary coming on but I will leave that for later.
Richmond ought to be great for cyclists as it is as flat as a billiard table. There has long been a cycling committee there – and I am afraid that they have not achieved very much. If you remove the use of the dyke – which is much more about recreation than transportation – then there is actually not much cycling in Richmond. It is still very much a car oriented suburb and what facilities there are, were grudgingly conceded. Or pushed by the availability of funding from Translink or extracted from developers. Few bike lanes – lots of sharrows. And one or two paths shared with pedestrians and unpaved.
There is a pretty fair summation in the News piece. It would not have gone amiss to have pointed out that the No 3 Road lane was separated and raised – for some of its length, but ruined by incompetent paving and never corrected. The best example of arterial road reorganization is still Williams Road. For much of its length the traditional four lanes of traffic has been reduced to two with a centre turn lane and bike lanes each side. This gets altered at intersections, with no priority for bikes, and actually improves traffic flow, just as separated bike lanes have done in Vancouver. It also should stop on street parking – but is not well enforced.
The biggest issue for me is that after twenty years of “demonstration” it has not been replicated and should have been. Critical intersections like Granville at Garden City, or Shell at Hwy 99 remain diabolical for cyclists.
The News does not expect much to change any time soon and I think they are right. The City Council is very secure and is unlikely to face any great challenge at the ballot box, so smugness rules. They will not change and no-one seems likely to make them.
This post appears today on Island Tides and her own web site. Because of its significance I am copying it here in its entirety, but closing comments.
The very idea that the federal government, having slashed scientific research into climate change, freshwater science, ozone depletion and contamination of marine mammals (to provide an incomplete list) would be running a gold-plated research project called “the Northern Gateway project” is a stunner. The fact that $78 million is to be spent in 2013-14 on research as to how bitumen mixed with diluent will disperse in the marine environment, as well as better weather forecasting along proposed tanker routes in and out of Kitimat, with $42 million set for next year was shocking. The documents leaked from sources inside the federal government included numbers never made public.
I suppose I should not have been surprised that the response from Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was to say that somehow Dr Andrew Weaver, Green MLA from Oak Bay–Gordon Head and I had simply missed a public announcement of the funding.
It is marginally better than denying that what we revealed to the press was true. Instead, Oliver said we had not done our homework. He claimed this was all in the public domain, announced on March 18, 2013. I remember that press conference vividly. Natural Resources minister Joe Oliver and then Transport Minister Denis Lebel stood against the background of the Vancouver waterfront to announce their ‘World-Class Tanker Safety System.’ I actually watched their whole press conference on CPAC and had gone through the Natural Resources website to correct errors. It was bizarre to hear Joe Oliver claim that we had simply missed that the federal government was spending over $100 million on something called ‘the Northern Gateway project.’
I went back and reviewed that file. True, the press release said that ‘The government will conduct scientific research on non-conventional petroleum products, such as diluted bitumen, to enhance understanding of these substances and how they behave when spilled in the marine environment.’ In fact, the only substance they are studying is dilbit in the research programme called the Northern Gateway project – no ‘such as’ about it. The research is essentially a disguised subsidy to Enbridge which was supposed to have done this work and presented it to the Joint Review Panel. The key reason that the BC government submitted its objections to the project in the hearings was the failure of Enbridge to provide any evidence of the environmental fate and persistence of dilbit, either in a pipeline (terrestrial) or tanker (marine) spills.
Oliver managed to get a good chunk of media to accept that we were scandalized by something that was well-known. Nothing in the Vancouver event this spring suggested to those of us paying the most attention that the federal government was trying to fill the gaps in Enbridge’s evidence.
Nor was there anything in the announcement to suggest infrastructure investments in better weather forecasting for tanker traffic routes in and out of Kitimat.
We have placed the key documents on the Green Party of Canada website. I hope that people will go to the original documents and decide for themselves if this was something we all knew.
Hansard: June 6th, 2013
To the contrary, I asked very directly in the House if the Prime Minister planned to push the Enbridge project through:
Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP): Mr. Speaker, in 2001, the Prime Minister wrote a famous letter to the former premier of Alberta in which he urged him to act “to limit the extent to which an aggressive and hostile federal government can encroach upon legitimate provincial jurisdiction”. Six days ago, the provincial government of British Columbia said no to the Enbridge project. It said that Enbridge had completely failed to demonstrate any evidence that it knew how to clean up a spill or even knew what would happen with the bitumen and diluent.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that under no circumstances will the federal government become the aggressive and hostile government that approves a project as long British Columbians say no?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the project in question, of course, is subject to a joint review panel process. Obviously, we believe in the rule of law and in adjudicating these things based on scientific and policy concerns. The government will obviously withhold its decision on the matter until we see the results of the panel and its work.
Many may conclude it was only prudent of the federal government to spend over $100 million on ‘world class’ work in support of a project which is subject to a review process not yet completed. On the other hand, I think Stephen Harper’s claim that (as he said twice) “obviously” he will wait for the panel recommendation before deciding about Enbridge is undermined by this spending. When one follows the money, it all leads to supporting Enbridge.
Having looked at Glasgow for a comparison on Compass, here’s another very instructive comparison, a bit closer to home. This op-ed piece appears in the Toronto Sun and is by R. Michael Warren who is a “former corporate director, Ontario deputy minister, Toronto Transit Commission chief general manager and Canada Post CEO”. He was present when the decision was made to buy “the province’s untested “Intermediate Capacity Transit System” (ICTS)” which we know as SkyTrain.
The parallels between us and them are obvious. The tussle between city and suburbs, the choice of technology – it’s all exactly the same
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been on the wrong side of this issue longer than anyone. “Stopping the war on cars” to him means putting rapid transit below ground or making it grade-separated. Out of the way of cars.
It seems to me that an endorsement by Rob Ford should be enough to deter anyone. But Vision Vancouver wants a subway under Broadway. And for very similar reasons. What is even more striking is the way that the link has been made in local planning for Grandview - where towers were suddenly added to the plan, much to the surprise and dismay of those who had been consulted. And one suggestion has been this is necessary to show that Vancouver is committed to increasing density (in the form of high rise towers) at subway stations. The quid pro quo being that if the City wants rapid transit then there has to be supporting denser land use. No repeat of what happened along the Expo Line – with no development happening at all at Broadway, Namaimo or 29th Avenue stations. By the way exactly the same effect was seen along the second subway in Toronto. The Bloor-Danforth line cannot be seen as clusters of towers around stations the way the Yonge line can be.
It is also worth re-iterating that the idea that a subway can be inserted underneath an existing street without interfering with it is foolish. Sure cut and cover subways and surface light rail create disturbance all along the street, but subway stations are significant objects at major intersections and have to have connections to the surface. And despite the nonsense that was peddled by the Canada Line constructors, entrances are needed at all street corners, not just one of them. If only to handle transfers to other transit effectively.
But also if you build very expensive subways, and you want fast services, there are going to be fewer stations – and most development is going to have to occur within a short walk of the station entrance. Do not think you can do that without upsetting the neighbours. Or you can have enough new development without increasing building heights significantly.
To make the headline a bit clearer, politics is always going to decide how public money is spent on major infrastructure projects. There is no way this can decided simply by technical considerations. These are not engineering decisions. They are planning decisions. They are about place making. We have already plenty of experience of what happens to places when decision making is based on engineering standards. It is absolutely right that both politicians and communities get involved. The important thing is that the final outcome is not decided on short term political advantage.
The Scarborough RT was supposed to have been extended north and then east from Scarborough Town Centre to serve a new area of affordable housing known as Malvern. But the route, protected from development, ran though a neighbourhood that got built before the line did. When the TTC got ready to start building the local politicians listened to the protests of the neighbours who did not want trains running past the end of their backyards. Malvern, by the way, is now one of the greatest concentrations of visible minorities in Toronto – and one of the poorer and most troublesome areas for crime and social problems. Which cannot be blamed on SkyTrain!
What the headline means is that politicians tend to make decisions based on what is best for their party, or will be most popular with current voters. Politicians who act with an eye to the long term future are much rarer. But the decision to build the Canada Line underground beneath Cambie was based on those kinds of calculation. Or rather, the decision to refuse to consider light rail – either along the existing CP right of way in the Arbutus corridor or along the “heritage boulevard” of Cambie Street – was all about placating the existing voters, not about accommodating the people who were going to move to the Vancouver region. Or looking at something like “the best benefit-for-cost solution”.