Saturday, January 14, 2023

Sam Geller would have been 111 today...


Had he not died in 2004 at the age of 92, today my dad would have turned 111. While he is very much missed, in some respects I am glad he is not around to witness things happening in the world today. For one thing, he would be horrified at what the Russians are doing to Odessa, his family birthplace, and elsewhere around the Ukraine. He would also be upset by the daily news about Donald Trump, who exemplifies everything he detested - especially dishonesty. 

In recognition of what would have been his 111th birthday, my family has gathered in Vancouver and will be attending a Kiddush following Shabbat services at Beth Israel synagogue.

Below is an excerpt from an article from the Jewish Independent written eight years ago following an event held by the Jewish Seniors Alliance at which I was invited to talk about my father.

After some opening activities Moderator Gloria Levi, a social services consultant, was then introduced. Levi has a master’s degree in public policy and is the author of Dealing with Memory Changes As You Grow Older and a series of booklets, Challenges of Later Life.
She introduced Michael Geller, an architect, planner, real estate consultant and property developer, who serves on the adjunct faculty of Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Sustainable Community Development. The talk was conducted in an interview format.
Geller’s topic was Lessons My Father Taught Me. He acquainted listeners with the unique and collaborative relationship he shared with his father, Sam Geller, who was one of the first members of the Jewish Senior Advisory Council (the original name of the JSA). He passed away 11 years ago at the age of 92.
Sam Geller was born in England and was a soldier in the Second World War who had survived being a prisoner of war. That occurrence colored his life. The very fact that he had survived made him happy and grateful to be alive and he never sought material things for happiness, often saying that things could have been so much worse. He moved to Vancouver from Toronto and enjoyed life at Langara Gardens, his grandchildren visiting him, doing Sudoku, crosswords, swimming and exercising daily. Then, after an emergency life-saving surgery, Geller said his father attempted to live each day to the fullest, saying, after all, it could very be his last.
Geller said his dad was a stoic, truly enjoying what he had rather than accumulating more items just to impress others who he may not care about in the first place. The lesson he received from his father was “Do what you enjoy, what makes you happy and continue contributing to the happiness of others, as that increases one’s own inner joy.” Geller recommended the book The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine.
The love and respect that Geller said he felt for his father was reflected on his face throughout the talk. Thoughts of his father swimming are with him as he does his own laps in the pool.

Housing predictions - the Vancouver Sun


Over the years, the Vancouver Sun has invited me to share my thoughts on housing trends that might be expected in the year(s) to come.  On re-reading these articles, I have found that I am often wrong, but also right in terms of what might happen. However, I was always wrong on timing. Below are excerpts from an earlier year-end outlook column.

2012 https://vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/housing-transportation-will-be-hot-topics

In December 2012 I listed 10 things to be expected in 2013 (in alphabetical order)

Car sharing and reduced parking requirements. Just as fax machines gained popularity as more people acquired them, I predicted increased interest in car-sharing. This would allow municipalities to reduce minimum parking requirements with the attendant benefits of greater affordability, reduced congestion and pollution.

Depreciation Reports. I anticipated that the new requirement for every condominium to complete a depreciation report would result in some owners discovering the cost of repairs was greater than the value of the improvements, with a call upon government for assistance.

Fee-simple row houses. As a result of a legislative change related to party-wall agreements, I predicted an increased interest in individually owned rowhouses. I was wrong.

Laneway and coach house programs. With the success of the Vancouver program, other municipalities would introduce similar programs, but with greater flexibility to preserve smaller, older homes.

Micro suites. The success of projects in Vancouver and Surrey, combined with reduced parking requirements, will encourage other municipalities to reduce minimum suite sizes to allow smaller units for sale and rent.

Modular housing. I hoped for renewed interest in my 2009 BC Housing Study on how modular units could be set up on vacant land for the homeless, to be relocated to other sites at a later date.

Regeneration of older social housing. While awaiting a construction start on Little Mountain, I anticipated reviews of other older public and social housing projects.

Replacement Rental Housing. As older rental projects deteriorated, I predicted that housing experts would call on provincial and municipal governments to establish policies to require replacement rental housing in new projects.

Smaller housing on smaller lots. Given downsizing empty-nesters' desire for alternatives to rowhouses and apartments, some small house infill developments would get underway.

Transit funding. Discussion on this 'hot' 2012 topic would continue, with many believing a comprehensive user-pay system was preferable to selective bridge tolls and property tax funding.

I noted that none of these ideas were new. However increased interest in more sustainable lifestyles would give greater currency to ideas previously considered just fads. While 10 years later car-share has increased in popularity (notwithstanding the demise of Car2Go); reduced parking standards are in the news; condo depreciation reports have led to redevelopment properties; and replacement rental requirements are now in place, other expectations are still not happening. But they will!

In subsequent years, I have often repeated similar predictions, especially related to fee-simple rowhouses, modular housing, and what is now often referred to as 'gentle densification' of traditional single-family neighbourhoods. 

This year is no exception. Below is the article that appears in today's Vancouver Sun. I welcome your comments

Adera Development is using CLT (cross-laminated timber) as part of its SmartWood program, as the material used to construct its more current projects like the soon-to-be constructed SÕL in West Coquitlam. PHOTO BY SUPPLIED /PNG

In the summer of 1999, I received a call from then Vancouver Sun columnist Paula Brook. She was writing an article on condominium living and wondered if I had thoughts on future trends.

I responded that when condominium, or strata-titled legislation (the terms can be used interchangeably), was introduced in 1966, condos were regarded as an affordable alternative to renting. Nobody imagined that one day they would be selling for $1 million or more.

Although condominium living subsequently became widespread, I suggested one future trend would be to avoid condominium living since many homeowners preferred not to deal with strata councils deciding what flowers could be planted or when a roof should be replaced. Also, lower income homeowners did not want to have to pay someone to cut their grass. I proposed ‘fee-simple,’ or individually owned rowhouses, as a desirable alternative.

A subsequent Vancouver Sun column titled “Taking the Condo out of the Box” observed that for centuries, individually owned attached dwellings had been built throughout the world, and they were not condominiums. It was time to introduce this form of housing to Vancouver.

The article generated significant public interest; but while individually owned rowhouses are very popular in Toronto, few have been built in Vancouver.

Why? Outdated zoning bylaws require lengthy approvals and excessive municipal fees, especially for service hook-ups, resulting in them being more expensive to build.

However, in the coming year, there could be increased demand for alternatives to condominium living, with corresponding regulatory changes. One reason is many condominium owners disagree with the provincial government’s recent decision to remove restrictions on rentals and age.

There is also the desire for more housing choices within established single-family neighbourhoods. Small developments of individually owned rowhouses could fit nicely.

Similarly, ‘semi-detached’ housing, comprising two attached, individually owned homes on two adjacent lots, could be preferable to duplexes — which many forget is another type of strata-titled development.

The combined impact of the prohibition on rental and age restrictions, along with expanded or increased provincial and municipal speculation and vacancy taxes and the federal government’s forthcoming underused housing tax (UHT), might have a surprising, unanticipated consequence.

Prior to the introduction of strata-title legislation, the most usual form of apartment ownership in B.C. was the housing co-operative. Unlike a condominium, where one owns the apartment and a percentage of the common area, in a co-operative, one owns a share in a corporation that owns the building. The share is associated with a particular unit.

In recent years, co-operatives have been developed for lower-income households, usually with government subsidies. However, in the future, some higher-income households may find a New York-style co-op more appealing than a condominium since municipal, provincial, and federal speculation and vacancy taxes will not apply. B.C.’s property transfer tax and companion foreign-buyers tax will also generally not apply. Furthermore, co-ops can independently impose additional rules and restrictions, including who can live in the building.

B.C. residents should also note each of these taxes noted above has different regulations and filing deadlines: Vancouver empty homes tax, February 2; B.C. speculation tax, March 31; federal UHT, April 30.

In previous outlook columns, I have written about the benefits of another type of living arrangement – home-sharing, which matches someone who has available space with someone looking for a place to live.

As rents increase, expect more interest in home-sharing along with new home-share websites like nesterly.com, which operates in the United States. It matches homeowners with renters, including those who may lend a hand for discounted rent.

Locally, North Vancouver-based Hollyburn Community Services Society has been exploring, with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and Simon Fraser University’s Renewable Cities program, the creation of a program to match seniors occupying under-utilized single detached houses with other seniors seeking a place to live.

In 2023, we can also expect the expanded application of innovative housing construction.

Fifty years ago, the United States government created Operation Breakthrough to promote the benefits of industrialized housing systems. Since then, many of us mistakenly believed that expanded use of ‘manufactured’ or modular housing construction was just around the corner.

Recently, modular housing has provided temporary housing for the homeless. Attractive and affordable manufactured home communities have also been developed around the province. However, few multi-family projects have been built using modules.

Expect this to finally change. Manufactured housing can be faster to build, quality controlled, less wasteful, and more energy efficient. It could also help address the province’s severe shortage of skilled construction labour.

Also, expect more housing to be built with mass or heavy timber using cross-laminated timber (CLT) products. This technique can be a cost-effective and sustainable alternative to concrete for buildings up to 12 storeys. While some may worry about potential fire dangers, CLT products are surprisingly fire-resistant.

Adera Development is using CLT (cross-laminated timber) as part of its SmartWood program, as the material used to construct its more current projects like the soon-to-be constructed SÕL in West Coquitlam. PHOTO BY SUPPLIED /PNG

Regardless of the method of construction or housing tenure, a key concern in 2023 will be what is going to happen to housing prices and rents.

Notwithstanding ambitious federal immigration targets, most analysts expect housing prices to decline in 2023, but not crash. This will be due to a weaker economy and price increases experienced over the past few years, combined with higher inflation and interest rates.

However, rents will continue to increase.

One reason is new supply will not keep up with demand. The combination of higher construction costs and interest rates will result in approved projects being put on the back burner since they cannot be financed.

While it is easy to make predictions, the past few years have taught us how difficult it is to get them right. Few expected the 2020 pandemic, last year’s war in Ukraine, or the accelerated effects of climate change.

Looking forward, many B.C. municipalities have new mayors and councils, and the province has an energetic new premier. Housing affordability remains top of mind. While I do not expect expanded speculation and vacancy taxes nor foreign buyers’ taxes or bans to improve housing affordability, there is a growing acceptance that streamlining provincial and municipal approval procedures will reduce housing costs.

Many politicians have promised to speed up and improve development approval systems. Let us hope they follow through.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy and more affordable 2023.

Michael Geller is a Vancouver-based planner, real estate consultant and retired architect. He serves on the Adjunct Faculty of SFU’s Centre for Sustainable Development and School of Resource and Environmental Management. He writes a regular blog at gellersworldtravel.blogspot.ca and can be found on Twitter @michaelgeller


Sunday, January 1, 2023

The 15-minute City.


Many years ago, my father who loved books and discussion, along with Serge Haber and others initiated a seniors' program within the Jewish community that eventually became the Jewish Seniors Alliance. https://jsalliance.org/

A few years ago, I was invited to join the board and one of my few contributions is a regular column in the JSA's impressive magazine Senior Line.  https://jsalliance.org/outreach/publications/senior-line-magazine-2/

When I wrote my bi-weekly column for the Vancouver Courier, I was never told what to write. I always chose the topic for each column. However, at The Senior Line, editor-in-chief Dolores Luber has always suggested topics she thought would be of interest to the readers, and I have been happy to oblige.

Past columns have examined different forms of housing, types of care facilities, and even NIMBYs. For the most recent edition, Dolores asked me to write about the 15-Minute City. I suggested that we expand the topic to include other terms that have recently been added to the planning lexicon. Below is the latest column. I hope you find it of interest. 

The 15-minute City

Recently, several terms describing different approaches to city and neighbourhood planning have been added to our lexicon. They include ‘Missing Middle’ ‘Gentle Density’ ‘New Urbanism’ and ‘15-minute City’.

‘Missing Middle’ has two interpretations. It sometimes refers to a missing segment of the population between those who are rich and those who are poor and often excluded from most government housing programs.

However, it can also refer to a missing form of housing between a single-family house and conventional apartment building, including duplexes, triplexes, and townhouses.

This housing is also referred to as ‘gentle density’ in that it can increase the number of homes in a neighbourhood without the dramatic changes that result from larger apartment buildings.

Allowing laneway or coach houses or the subdivision of larger houses into multiple suites are other ways of achieving ‘gentle density’.

The third and fourth terms could be grouped under the heading ‘everything old is new again’. ‘New Urbanism’ is a planning and development approach based on the principles used to plan cities and towns in the past, with walkable blocks and streets, housing and shopping in proximity, and accessible public spaces. In other words, a human-scaled approach to urban design and planning.

Which brings us to the ’15-minute City’.

It too has alternative meanings for different audiences. For many, it refers to a residential urban concept in which most daily activities can be accomplished by either walking or cycling from one’s home within 15 minutes. For others, it includes accessing these services and activities by public transit within a similar timeframe.

Regardless of which definition is applied, the key consideration is that the 15-minute city or neighbourhood is quite different than the auto-oriented car-dependent neighbourhoods that planners have been creating since the 1950s.

In these neighbourhoods there are no corner stores, and you often need to drive children or grandchildren to school.  It may even be necessary to drive to a neighbourhood park or playground.

The 15-minute city concept first gained prominence with planners when it was used during Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s successful re-election in Paris in 2020. Since then, politicians and planners around the world have been using it to describe the types of neighbourhoods they want to promote in their cities or municipalities.


If you live in downtown Vancouver or Kerrisdale; along Number 3 Road in Richmond or Lonsdale Avenue in North Vancouver; or in West Vancouver’s Dundarave Village, you already enjoy the attributes of a 15-minute neighbourhood. Indeed, most urban areas built prior to the overwhelming proliferation of cars have the qualities of a 15-minute city. UniverCity, SFU’s new community on Burnaby Mountain, which I managed for seven years, is another 15-minute community.

However, if you live in other parts of Metro Vancouver, due to zoning bylaws that often separated residential, commercial, and institutional uses, it is usually necessary to get into a car to access shops, services, and other amenities.

This becomes particularly problematic for seniors and others who either do not have a car or can no longer drive.

Today, the challenge for many politicians and planners is how best to transform car-oriented suburbs into more walkable and accessible neighbourhoods that will allow seniors who want to remain in their homes to do so.

One way is to start allowing the mixing of shops and housing. This might mean including corner stores within new townhouse or apartment developments within established single-family neighbourhoods.

It could also include the transformation of arterial streets by replacing single-family houses with mixed-use buildings offering grocery stores, pharmacies, general merchandise, and offices at grade, with housing above, like those sprouting up along Cambie Street.

Another approach is to locate housing, libraries and even schools on the expansive parking areas surrounding older suburban shopping centres. While we can see the massive redevelopment at Oakridge, a similar approach, albeit at a different scale, needs to happen at other shopping centres around the region. After all, for many of us, the shopping centre is our community centre.

Finally, we need to rethink our public transit system. Instead of having to walk 20 minutes to a bus stop, why not bring the bus stop to our homes? This is already happening with HandiDART and ‘community shuttle’ routes operated by minibuses carrying fewer passengers. These tend to operate in quieter, residential communities that do not have enough ridership to justify longer 40ft buses.


While these services are more expensive than conventional bus routes, they need not be. It may just be a matter of time before minibuses are autonomous, like one I experienced earlier this year in Masdar City, a sustainable new town just outside of Abu Dhabi. I just had to select my desired destination on the dashboard, and the bus took me there. No driver.

If you do not expect to see this in your lifetime, you might be surprised! 

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

2022 Holiday Greeting 'Card' -12 Practical Ways to Speed up Planning Approvals (For the 12 Days of Christmas)

A few years ago, I offered 12 Affordable Housing Ideas. Last year, it was 12 'Missing Middle' Housing concepts. But if you can't get timely approvals, it's often all for naught. So, this year I am pleased to offer 12 ways to speed up the municipal approval process, based on 50 years planning and development experience. I welcome your suggestions for a follow up in January!































Saturday, December 17, 2022

Cote d'Azur - Food Miscellaneous



I was surprised to find so many different frozen escargot packages in the supermarket. Can you get these here?

Shopping for wine in a French supermarket was a real challenge. Unfortunately, Sally has now decided she will only drink Chablis and Pouilly Fuse

Of course, a salade niçoise!

Steak tartare as served in a small restaurant in Cap Ferrat

This supermarket Paella was so good, we had it twice.

I felt guilty eating Italian food in France, but this looked too good to resist.

I felt even guiltier ordering a hamburger, but had to see if it was very different from what we are served. (The cheese was different.)

A croque monsieur from a shopping centre fast food outlet. It was excellent!

 

Cote d'Azur - Auto Miscellaneous

One of the things I enjoy seeing in Europe are the different cars. While today too many cars are beginning to look the same, French automobiles always have a few quirky details. Here are a few auto related photos from our short trip

I noticed a number of different electric cars around France that I hadn't seen in Canada. Here's just one of them.

This electric shuttle bus offered free trips around the downtown of Nice
I noticed a lot more street parking charging stations compared to Canada



While parking is always a challenge in French cities, there really is no excuse to block two pedestrian crosswalks...even if you do drive a Porsche.

While some of the parking garages we visited were absolutely awful, this one was very attractive. Why don't we make more of an effort to beautify parking garages in Vancouver?


Around Nice - Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Villefranche and Villa Kerylos

Outside of Cap Ferrat and Nice are a number of delightful towns and villages. One of our favourites was Beaulieu-sur-Mer, referred to as Beaulieu with what guidebooks describe as its "dazzling Belle Epoque architecture". Beaulieu was once home to Gustave Eiffel who designed the seafront casino. Nearby was a remarkable place - Villa Kerylos, built between 1902 and 1908 for an eccentric individual who was passionate about Ancient Greece. As a result he had a villa designed which is described as a copy of an ancient villa, except for the glass windows. With its mosaics and archeological collection, it was well worth a visit, especially on a rainy day.

Villefranche-sur-Mer is immediately adjacent to Cap Ferrat and home to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. We visited it a number of years ago, and although I subsequently read The Hare with the Amber Eyes, which tells the remarkable story of the Ephrussi family, we didn't visit this time since it was closed when we tried to see it.




We nearly missed seeing Villa Kerylos since we couldn't find a way to get inside, but eventually we succeeded and happily so.



Some of the rooms were really quite fantastic.
The villa was planned to replicate an ancient Greek villa with various courtyards and beautiful gardens


Just outside of the Villa Kerylos is La Reserve hotel and spa, a luxurious property opened in 1905. While closed for the season, one day we will hopefully get to see the inside

The view of Beaulieu, with its Belle Epoque architecture, as seen from the Villa Kerylos
Entering VilleFranche Sur Mer.