Sunday, 19 August 2012


The Affordable Housing Advisory Committee had a competition  for creative ways to make housing affordable.

The winners include a proposal to build houses on the paved portion of certain existing streets. 

Two former city planners, claim that by this simple expedient we could jam another 10,000 to 20,000 units of ground-oriented housing into single-family zones. 

The Courier's Allen Garr opined that the thin street is, to coin a phrase, "An idea whose time has come." 

The planners had their eureka moment while biking on a 66' street and noticing that there was not much traffic on it. If a street isn't packed with cars then, they reasoned,  the excess capacity could be trimmed like  fat. 

( I bet that they won't be in a hurry to apply the principle of use it or lose it to bike lanes.)

Garr relishing the anachronistic origin of spacious streets, points out that 66 feet  "was the same as an English surveyor’s chain. This was also equal in length to the distance between the wickets on a cricket pitch. (This is after all British Columbia.)"

Vancouver is not the only city where such anachronisms exist. The Champs Elysee is wide because Napoleon wanted it that way. That is after all France.  In war, whether the French  got the gold or bronze, they  needed space for their own troops and invading armies to move.

France should get with our program and build housing on the Champs Elysee. ( That will be one of the benefits of Vancouver instructing the world on how to be green like us.

La plus belle avenue du monde 

On the other hand, Medieval French cities were built with extremely narrow streets. These towns grew organically. They reflected life in the middle ages. Today few cars are even allowed access. Visitors park outside the village just like at Disneyland.

Planetizen, an American Planning publication had a lead article last week, Learning to Love Congestion, a review of a book by John Norquist. He is a smart growth advocate. When traffic stands still, it is because in the author's view, people are having a good time. They  may be shopping in street markets, attending a dragon festival or walking on stilts.

When traffic is moving it is not likely that many people want to go somewhere worthwhile. A study will eventually be done to prove this.

At the heart of the American smart growth movement (the trendiest thing since Zoot Suits of the forties) is nostalgia for the ancient French village with their town squares, cathedrals, plazas, narrow curved streets and cyclists with bagettes strapped to the back fender. 


While medieval towns  will be around for a while, the idee fixee' of smart growth will last until the next thing comes along.

Developers assure us that, in light of climate change, they do increased density for the good of the planet. Any business advantage that might accrue from having more land to develop, whether in back yards, front yards or on streets, is purely coincidental. 

When  development takes place on street surfaces in my neighborhood there will  be a loss of amenity. My neighbors and I will have less open space. Someone else will always be parking in my space in front of my house. This will affect all self propelled vehicles. Vancouver is in the process of repealing not just the internal  combustion engine but all forms of machine propelled transportation. 

I will have to start riding my god damned bicycle which is suspended from the ceiling in my furnace room.

Garr explains that "The old school transportation-focused engineers were being replaced by a new generation of folks who were focused more on city building and the development of livable communities."

If engineers take over the field of  sociology and social planning, much good can come of it. They may bring legendary engineering discipline to those fields.  I hope that someone other than speed bump designers and white line painters will be assigned the task of looking after our transportation needs. The belief that the need for old fashioned transportation planning will disappear has about as good a chance of happening as the Marxist faith that the state will eventually wither away.

The thin street proposal like laneway housing  assumes that density in areas zoned for detached housing must increase. Why? 

Don't ask!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012



Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has scored an economic bulls-eye as a result of a secret trip to London last week. According to “impeachable inside sources” at City Hall the Mayor has purchased for 40 million dollars, a fleet of used Austins, the legendary British automobile, with right hand drives. Although the Mayor has been “tight lipped” we have learned this much about the project:

Several months ago Mayor Robertson wondered during a Council meeting on affordable housing, why you could get such good deals on British Cars. The price of a used Austin was a tiny fraction of that of a 1985 Hyundai Pony or a GM Vega. He asked the purchasing department to check it out.

Six weeks ago staff reported that it was because the British build their cars with the steering wheel on the wrong side.

In what SFU professor Gordon Price described as a “ point click moment”  (I forget the exact expression) no-one had ever noticed that the British Drive on the wrong side of the street.

The Mayor knows an opportunity when he sees one. The  LED light-bulb flashed in his mind. He reasoned that if he could get a billion dollars worth of cars for 40 million, he could regain  the support of the motoring public. He would set up free Austin lending stations all over the City.

What about the right hand drive? Councillor Meggs came up with an ingenious solution. Vancouver is going to revert to the system of driving on the left side of the street. This would appeal to the older, more conservative, voters like the writer. I remember Vancouver before  we switched in 1922, and feel that we lost something important as a result.

The method of transition is elegant. Mayor Robertson said, “We are going to shift to driving on the left gradually. Big changes like this you don't do at once. First we will allow only the Austins to drive on the Left. Maybe just on odd days. After that we will allow trucks on Wednesdays. Then American cars. After a year or two almost everyone will be driving on the left. Few will even notice.

Meggs mused, "A further cost savings is that we will not have to repaint the white line down the centre of the street. That can remain just where it is. He's right if you think about it.

One final point. Some 76 countries, from Anguilla to Zimbabwe drive on the left. If Vancouver manages to corner the car market in these countries the costs will drop even further. 

Never mind the spinning and lying that we will hear from mockers and detractors. This is brilliant.