Thursday, April 29, 2010

The NPA AGM: My Dinner With Andre

Last night, Sally and I attended the Annual Meeting of the NPA. I am a member; but Sally isn't because she does not support the idea of 'party politics' at the municipal level. However, after last night, she is thinking of becoming a member since she discovered, along with over 100 people in a beautiful room in the Vancouver Museum, that the NPA is not a party!

That's right. Based on its founding principles, the NPA is not a the extent that a party has policies and platforms, etc. etc. Rather, it is an ASSOCIATION with the mandate (according to the NPA website):
  • To strive to improve civic government in Vancouver.
  • To support the election of the most suitable candidates for civic office.
  • To oppose the introduction of party politics into the elected boards of the city.
In other words, the role of the NPA is to recruit good candidates, regardless of any other party affiliations, and to help get them elected.

Over the years these basic themes have been expanded to include the following principles (again, according to the NPA website):

  • Municipal levels of government should act for the benefit of the people and should allow every individual the freedom of worship, assembly, opportunity and initiative.
  • Individuals have the right to enjoy the fruits of their labour, and to own private property, and individual enterprise is generally preferable to government intervention.
  • Civic progress and stability can only be achieved by upholding the law, accepting social responsibilities, and accomplishing change by intelligent planning.
  • Elected civic representatives should make decisions based on the viewpoint of many individuals and organizations, and not be under obligation to policies or platforms of political parties.
So what went wrong? As Peter Ladner articulately pointed out, this is not how most Vancouverites view the 'association'. They view the NPA as a party, a party they don't generally like....a party they have soundly rejected in two recent elections.

To be honest, I didn't fully appreciate that the NPA is not a party. While I was never told what to do or say during the last election, and often thought that I had little in common with some of the other candidates, I still came to think of the NPA as a party...a party which many people thought of as Vancouver's 'Republican Party'. I tried to deflect this criticism by suggesting that the NPA I belonged to was 'not your father's NPA", but I failed, and so did the party...or rather the association.

That's why last night's meeting was so interesting, and in many respects, so productive.

There were two motions on the floor. Both were initiated by Bill McCreery, a Vancouver architect who was part of TEAM in the early 70's, but someone who has generally been on the sidelines of Vancouver politics in recent decades. In the last year, McCreery has become increasingly concerned with the behaviour and decisions of Vision Vancouver, and the lack of action by the NPA, and decided to do something about it.

He felt the NPA needed to be renewed...or more accurately, resurrected or re-branded, in the truest sense of the word. To make this happen he suggested two things: consideration of a change in name; and the development of clear policies that would let voters know where the party stood on key issues.

McCreery's motions were apparently discussed with the NPA Executive and somewhat modified before presentation last night. However, as soon as they were presented, a series of amendments were proposed. The first ensured that the old name could remain an option; other amendments attempted to address the association's constitution. Boring?

On the contrary, the discussion was fascinating...and oftentimes illuminating. Some speakers argued that THE NPA IS NOT A PARTY...and as such cannot have policies! Others echoed Peter Ladner's position that whether we like it or not, the NPA is perceived to be a party and should therefore begin a process of community engagement, to develop policies that help define where it stands. And to help voters understand what it is, and isn't.

As I listened to the arguments on both sides, I was reminded of the movie 'My Dinner With Andre'. If you haven't seen it, the movie is essentially a discussion between two New Yorkers who offer contrary viewpoints on a variety of issues. However, each articulates his position so well it is often hard to disagree with anything either of them says. That's how I felt during much of last night's discussion. I agreed with both sides.

I liked the idea that the NPA was not a party, and therefore did not develop policies to guide the candidates. On the other hand, I agreed that no one sees the NPA that way, and so it might as well develop policies, if only to let people know we are not Vancouver's Republican Party!

In the end, the motion to consider a name change was passed, but only after it was made very clear that most people preferred to keep the old name, and redefine it, rather than change the name.

The motion to develop 'policies', which was amended to the development of 'principles' was defeated, since most people were swayed by the argument that the association (I keep wanting to call it a party!) already has guiding principles...they just need to be updated and communicated. There was also agreement that there needs to be a better program of neighbourhood and community outreach and discussion, if only to help people understand what we are, and what we're not.

While I appreciated this may all sound very dull, it wasn't. In fact, Sally and I left the meeting feeling somewhat invigorated. Unlike Groucho Marx, who once quibbed he would never join a club that would have people like him as members, I discovered I HAVE JOINED A CLUB THAT IS ALLOWED TO HAVE PEOPLE LIKE ME AS MEMBERS! We are allowed to be independent, free thinking individuals, with a variety of viewpoints that may encompass the extreme left to yes, the extreme right.

I realize this may not necessarily be a good thing. As Bill McCreery pointed out, one of the reasons that TEAM disintegrated in the 70's was its inability to accommodate people as diverse as Mike Harcourt and Jack Volrich. Now that Vision Vancouver has tried to take over the centre of the political spectrum, some people may have difficulty positioning the NPA, especially if it has no position!

But we'll see. As for me, while I am daily asked whether I will run in the next municipal election, as readers of this blog well know, I am fortunate to be involved in an interesting variety of private projects and public activities. It would be hard to give this all up. (Especially to sit in endless meetings, should I be elected.) However, I am not happy with many of the recent decisions that have been made by the current council, and worry about the economic future of the say nothing of our planning future. So we'll see.

But as for the NPA, I think many people left the meeting like Sally, encouraged by the number and quality of people who showed up, and the high level of discussion. Now the association just has to figure out how it can effectively reposition itself so that it can select good candidates for the November 2011 election, and help get them elected. It certainly has to do a better job than it did in 2008!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Olympic Village Social Housing: my disagreement with Geoff Meggs

Since last Thursday night, yes night, when Council voted on the future of the Olympic Village social housing, there has been a lot of commentary and discussion on whether Council had any choice in deciding what to do. In a column in today's Vancouver Province, and on CKNW, Geoff Meggs has responded to the significant public criticism by suggesting the City did the best it could do. I disagree. The following is my response to Councillor Meggs and a letter I have sent to the Province newspaper...

There is no doubt that selling the social housing units would have been a dramatic political move for this council...and that's why it didn't happen.....but the units could have been sold from a legal, financial and even 'ethical' perspective. Selling the units was not a 'theoretical' option, as Penny Ballem told Council.

It bothers me to hear Geoff Meggs and others say this could not happen for legal reasons. I have spoken to the could have been done, especially since the city holds so many cards with Millennium. Yes, it would have required some modifications to agreements, but this happens in business, and government, all the time.

To say that it was risky because of the need for rezoning is silly...similarly, to say a decision had to be made quickly because of rising interest rates is mischevious...given the spread between potential costs and revenues, (over $120 million) a 0.15% or 0.5% increase in interest rates would be minor.

Much has been made of the fact that the rental units are not being subsidized. But this is not entirely some respects they are. A portion of the $32.1 million is being used to 'write down' the economic rent of these units to equate to market rent. The $32.1 million is not just for the core-needy units. This isn't set out in the staff report, but it should have been.

Furthermore the rental rates for the 3 and 4 bedroom units, while they seem high, are well below the average rental rate on a square foot basis for the downtown. Vancouver rates are generally $2 a foot or more...but the 3 bedroom is proposed to rent for $2,100 (about $1.71 sq.ft.) and the 4 bedroom at $2,370 ($1.60) because the units were not suitably designed as market rental units. Had these units been sold, the staff report estimates they could sell for up to $1,184,000 for the larger units.

I am very disappointed with staff and Council on this matter. The fact that this report came through as a late submission showed poor judgement and was unfair to the public. This report was essentially written months ago...I know....since the contents were shared with me and others in the housing industry on a confidential basis at that time.

What I am hearing from staff and council are excuses, not reasons for the decisions they have made. I can't help but wonder whether they are genuinely misinformed or just trying to justify a politically based decision.

To the editor:

Geoff Meggs 'Opinion" column on the Olympic Village 'affordable housing' reminded me of a company I used to work with. Whenever something went wrong, management would search for someone to blame. Then they would try and fix the problem.

City Council should not have spent $64 million to keep these units as 'affordable housing'. Instead it could have sold them and received up to $68.8 million, one of the staff options. To avoid 'competition' with the Millennium units, these could have been sold as leasehold, rather than freehold, with other conditions if necessary. Meggs claims to have been worried about the risks associated with rezoning. Hello? Isn't the rezoning decision in Council's hands? As for our commitment to the International Olympic Committee, I think they would have understood if we asked to build less expensive units on the city owned lands immediately next door..

Meggs concludes that there is nowhere to spend the $68.8 million the city might have received from the sale of these units. This is nonsense. There are numerous 'social housing' sites around the city lying fallow since the city doesn't have the money to do something with them. And aren't we supposed to 'end homelessness' by 2015. This takes money too, money we now don't have. What an unfortunate decision.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Canada Green Building Council: Vote for David

At this year's Globe Conference I moderated a panel on Smart Cities. One of the panelists was a very smart guy named David Helliwell. I first met David a number of years ago when he was working with Stephen Owen. He has always struck me as one of the lucky people.... he has intelligence, combined with good looks and a good background. But while he has so much going for him, David is a surprisingly modest person with a kind and gentle manner.

During the preparations for our panel discussion, David, who is the co-founder and President of Pulse Energy, mentioned that he has been nominated as a candidate for the Board of Directors of the Canada Green Building Council. Given his extensive background in the environmental and energy fields, I thought he would be a very good choice for the Board. I am therefore sharing some information that he provided to me, in the hope that those of you who can vote, will cast a vote for him.

I'm writing to share the news that I've been nominated for the board of the Canada Green Building Council, first, to ask you what you think are the most important things that the CaGBC must accomplish in the next few years; and second, to ask you to support my efforts to bring the CaGBC to new levels of effectiveness and productivity.

A few years ago I worked with a number of the CaGBC’s founding board members to get LEED Canada off the ground. Now two of them (Vivian Manasc and Peter Busby) are stepping down after two terms, and encouraging me to get engaged on the board.

At the beginning, LEED was all about new buildings. Over time, it has become clear that green buildings may actually use more natural resources than traditional buildings if they are not operated properly. As such, in 2006 I dedicated myself to building a company focused on making the world’s buildings perform more efficiently thanks to energy management software.

Today, I would like to be a CaGBC board member to be a part of the transition to a world where building performance is the ultimate objective. This will be an important time for the industry, involving far more than just energy management software. I am ready to work hard to make the CaGBC into a world leader in green building design, construction, and operation.

To learn more about my background (from poorly-paid pro sports to energy management for 700 million square feet of real estate) and my vision for the CaGBC, feel free to contact me at at 604.761.3434 or by email at Alternatively, you can visit the Pulse Energy website at

Here's the link with voting instructions:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Social Housing may be halved in Olympic Village

I know I should leave this alone, but yesterday's CBC and CKNW stories re: Olympic Village housing were headlined that the city was considering reducing the social housing by half. When Geoff Meggs came on CBC's On the Coast before me, he corrected this. He confirmed that the city had always intended that only half of the 252 units be rented to 'core needy' households. (This refers to households with an income in the lowest quintile.)

However, when I picked up my copies of 24Hours and MetroNews this morning both had the headline 'Social housing may be halved'. The Mayor was quoted as saying "financial realities are forcing us to scale back somewhat" in the Metro paper. He told 24Hours "its unfortunately so expensive because of cost over runs and frankly, mismanagement by the past Council in containing costs on the project."

I gather from Frances Bula that the City Manager held a press briefing to ensure that everyone got the story right. Now while I have only had limited dealings with Penny Ballem, she has always struck me as a straight shooter. But what I want to know is why is she, and the Mayor, seeming to give the media the impression that the number of social housing units has been cut in half. Or have they all got it wrong?

The reality is, the total number of social housing units hasn't changed in the last 4 years. Something's not right here. It's a shame when politics are allowed to interfere with common sense.

The future of the Olympic Village Social Housing

The long awaited report from city staff on what to do with the Social Housing was released yesterday. There were a few surprises. On one hand it recommends proceeding as before with half of the units offered as social housing and half to be rented at or near market. This was a surprise to many people who didn't realize that only half the units were actual social housing units. (Something I noted in my recent Vancouver Sun letter to the Editor)

However, to 'dress up' the idea of renting some units as market units, one former city councillor told me the city has 'adopted' my suggestion that priority be given to housing emergency workers...however, whereas I argued the housing should be offered for SALE, these units are to be offered for RENT. I strongly disagree with the staff recommendation. But I have greater concerns with the way the staff report is written.

First some background. For 10 years I worked for CMHC and the Ministry of State for Urban Affairs. During this time, I was involved in the preparation of numerous Management Reports and Submissions to Cabinet. One of the challenges of writing these reports was to set out the various options from the perspective of a community planner and ‘housing expert’ in a fair and objective manner. Each option was then evaluated from the perspective of various considerations…planning considerations, financial and social considerations, and yes, political considerations. However, I did not write out the political considerations…that was left to others, including people in the Minister’s office. Although sometimes it was hard for us staff to refrain from offering political advice.

I’ll never forget the time I was briefing my Minister Andre Ouellette on the Toronto Harbourfront Cabinet document. At one point he stared me in the eye and said “Geller, you’re the planner, I’m the politician. You give me planning advice. I’ll make the political decisions.”

I share this because when I read the report on the options for the Olympic ’social housing’ it immediately struck me as overly biased and very unfair, in terms of setting out the pro’s and cons of the various options. It seemed that the authors had made up their mind on which option to recommend, from a political perspective, without a fair consideration of the pros and cons of each options from a planning, social and fiscal perspective . Especially the options related to selling the units, something many people, including myself have been recommending.

Given that the city went significantly over budget on this housing, and significantly over budget on the other SEFC community elements, including the shoreline, community centre, daycare etc. and faces the possibility of not receiving the full land payment from Millennium (to cover these costs) , or even full repayment of its loan to Millennium (according to some sources), and given other financial challenges facing the city and its taxpayers, this option should have been fully explored. But it wasn’t.

Instead it is given short consideration as Option 3 c) on p11. The charts show the estimated sales prices at $600 a square foot and $800 a square foot (They range from $384,000 to $1,184,000) There is no discussion on where these revenue estimates come from, and whether they are considered realistic, particularly in relation to the proposed sale prices of the Millennium units.)

However, assuming these numbers do represent a realistic range, the potential sales revenues are up to $153 million….in other words, if sold at this price, the city could recover all its costs, and have $73 million to put towards social housing, (the profit from the sales, along with the $30 million from VANOC).

So how is this analyzed? Well there is a reference to having to pay DCL’s of $7.7 million (the city would pay these to itself) resulting in a net return in the range of $28.5 to $66.8 million.

Now, I would like to think that most reasonable people would say an option that returns up to $66.8 million, rather than require a further expenditure of $32 million would be given some serious consideration, from a staff perspective, but it isn’t.

There are three bullets describing where alternative affordable housing could be built, but it’s obscure.

If I had been asked to draft this report, I would note that this option will
a) allow an increased number of social housing units on sites immediately adjacent to the Olympic Village; or
b) allow an increased amount of social housing to be built on lands that have been lying vacant for a number of years within the False Creek North and Coal Harbour developments (that’s right, some of the social housing in these communities has not been built out since the city doesn’t have the funds to acquire the sites);
c) allow for a significant response to the housing needs for the homeless, etc. etc.

The report briefly discusses Option 3(c) under ‘risk analysis’.

It notes that this option will require a rezoning and ODP amendment. Is this a risk? Guess who decides if the rezoning would be approved.

The report then goes on to say “IMMEDIATE LIQUIDATION (My capitals) of the units as strata units may result in lower overall prices within the village, potentially putting the city at risk as the lender to the developer.”

I find this wording extremely unfortunate and innappropriate. Who is suggesting LIQUIDATION? or IMMEDIATE for that matter.

Staff are correct in noting that any sale would have to give consideration to the sale of Millennium’s units. (Just as they should note that any market rental of units should give consideration to Millennium’s market rental units.)

However, if staff had been doing their job they would have pointed out that one option to address this risk would be to sell the units as Leasehold, (as distinct from Freehold) with conditions to avoid competition with the sale of the Millennium units. They could have referenced the Whistler Housing Authority model, or Verdant at SFU, two local examples where this was successfully accomplished. But instead, they ignored these options.

Instead, they did ‘adopt’ the suggestion that priority be given to emergency workers and other city employees, but only as renters, not as buyers.

So, to put this in perspective, the city is now going to spend $62 million in subsidies ($30 from VANOC and $32 million from other sources) rather than receive up to $66.8 million. That’s right, in order to accommodate 126 core needy households, and 126 market renters, we are spending $62 million, instead of receiving $66.8 million. That’s a difference of $128.8 million. $128.8 million.

This is wrong! And I’m very disappointed with the staff for not giving the Councillors a fair description of the options. Hopefully they will ask some questions when the report goes to Council on Thursday. However, the decision has been made. As France Bula just stated on CBC, the Mayor has already announced his agreement with this approach. What an unfortunate situation.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Predicting the future

On Saturday night I was pleased to speak at the 'End of Year' party of the graduating class at the School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) at UBC. The theme was The Future and I was asked to offer my thoughts on what planners could expect over the coming decade

In preparing my PowerPoint slide presentation, I was reminded of Yogi Berra's famous comment "The future ain't what it used to be!" In fact, I'm not sure this is the case. While it is easy to be seduced by wonderful 'futuristic' images, like that above, and the new developments in Dubai, I think our future might well be surprisingly similar to the past... streets with trams, lined with three to eight storey buildings with shops at grade and offices and housing above...not too many cars, cyclists. Behind the main streets, one would find a mix of single family homes with coach houses in the back, rows of terraced housing for those who cannot afford a house 'sitting on its own grounds' get the picture.

I suggested to the students that to predict the future, it is necessary to review the I ran through highlights of the past four decades during which I have been working:

The 70's: the redevelopment of the South Shore of False Creek, the start on the redevelopment of Fairview Slopes, Champlain Heights and new attitudes towards inner city living, and lots of government programs.

The 80's: redevelopment of the North Vancouver and New Westminster waterfronts, the start on the North Shore of False Creek, new housing options for seniors, mixed use developments, a renewed interest in heritage renovation, Andre Molnar's California styled condominium projects, public private partnerships as governments withdraw from programs.

The 90's: Hampton Place at UBC, high end housing at Bayshore and Coal Harbour, live/work and lofts in Yaletown, redevelopment of the north shore of False Creek, proliferation of congregate housing for seniors, expanded rapid transit, the beginning of the 'leaky condos' phenomenon.

The 00's: the tower and podium condo's, smaller units, the sustainable master planned communities: UniverCity at SFU, Dockside Green in Victoria, South East False Creek, the LEED decade.

So what can we expect over the next twenty years? Here' the list of 20 ideas I presented, ( in no particular order):

1. Reduced parking requirements
2. Laneway Housing/small infill developments
3. Alternative forms of tenure: shared equity, life-lease, co-ops
4. Innovative partnerships, public, private, institutional and non-profit sectors
5. Smaller homes on smaller lots
6. Fee simple row-housing
7. Flexible housing
8. Legalized secondary suites in multi-family housing
9. Modular housing
10. Alternative to wood and concrete-steel construction
11. High Density single family developments
12. More interesting and varied high rise buildings
13. Bigger apartment buildings with bigger balconies
14. Vancouverism copied around the world
15. More contemporary looking single family subdivisions
16. Renewed interest in triplexes, quadraplexes, six-plexes
17. Housing affordability will continue to be a problem
18. The Regeneration of older Public Housing projects
19. Factory produced relocatable housing
20. Continuation of the 'sustainability lens'

In the interest of time...(They kept the bar closed until after my presentation) I skipped over a few things, but I do expect to see continued interest in creating smaller housing units, advances in construction technology, a more 'European' approach to community planning and design, and an increased interest in the integration of housing and transit.

I also expect an increased interest in the correlation between good planning and good health. This is the topic for my presentation this morning at Vancouver General Hospital:

How Community Planners can help us live longer

More on this in a future post.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The cost of the Olympics: The report to Council

On Tuesday, Vancouver City Council will receive a report from the City Manager on the costs of putting on the Olympics. This report really confuses me, especially when some councillors want to turn it into a bit of a political football….Councillor Meggs has stated ”there was no budget control under the previous administration”.

When I first read the report, I thought it seemed almost a bit mischievous.

I would invite everyone to review this report and tell me that they agree that all the listed costs are truly ‘Olympic related’.

For example, is it really appropriate to identify the $64.5 M spent on the renovation of the QE Theatre and Playhouse as part of ‘the Olympics Bill’? These are works that have been in the planning and design stage long before Vancouver was awarded the Olympics. There may have been an ‘incremental cost’ associated with accelerating the completion date, or building a certain feature, but these are not Olympic works.

What I would find helpful is a breakdown of the expenses into different categories that clearly separate the one-time Olympic expenses that were incurred and will never be recovered or offset; as compared to expenditures on infrastructure which will be recovered from land sales, etc. (The Olympic SkyTrain station and SEFC shoreline walkway and District Energy system would fall into the latter category).

I appreciate that there are some things where the cost might be split….Granville Mall upgrade comes to mind here…some costs were incurred just for the Olympics; others were incurred to improve the street for the coming decades (although I’m still very saddened by the decision to use plain ‘broom-finished’ concrete, rather than a more pedestrian friendly material down the centre of the street.)

My interest in such a breakdown is to better understand how much really was spent on the games, how much was really spent on long-term legacies; and how much was invested in lands in anticipation of future recoveries.

With respect to the latter, I was astounded at just how much appears to have been spent on the SEFC infrastructure….shoreline, parks, community facilities, etc. And how do the expenditures compare with the budgets? Unfortunately I do know some of the answers…many of these components went well over budget since the city thought it had sold the land to Millennium for such a high price a few ‘over-runs’ to improve the quality, etc. wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Well, we may never see all that land payment. Indeed, some have told me we may not see any more of the land payment…indeed, some ‘black-hat people’ worry that we may not even get all of our ‘up to $969 M market loan’ back.

If we don’t receive the full loan repayment and balance of the land payment, the Property Endowment Fund is going to take a terrible hit, with potential long term ramifications for the city’s credit rating and financial planning. It is for this reason that I am urging the Mayor and Council to be fiscally responsible when it comes to the future of the Olympic Village social housing. I know this will be a difficult political decision, but it is not a difficult financial decision. We should cut our losses.

Miro Cernetig, the Vancouver Sun columnist agrees, and wrote a column last Monday urging the Mayor to reconsider the future of the social housing. However, Miro's recommendation was for the city to hold onto the units and rent them out and make a profit. Unfortunately, Miro's calculator must have been broken because there is no way the city can rent these units at rents that will even come close to covering the costs. It's a sad reality. Below is a letter I sent to the Sun following Miro's story that was printed on April 19th. The Sun also printed a letter on Mr. Cernetig's column from Laura Stannard, a housing activist for whom I have a lot of respect, which urged the city to rent the units as social housing regardless of the costs. Here's my letter:

Miro Cernetig's Opinion column on the future of the Olympic Village social housing deserves a careful read by Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Council. Cernetig quite rightly notes that at a reported cost approaching $500,000 per unit, excluding land and future subsidies, these housing units have become simply too expensive to keep as social housing.

However, I cannot agree with Mr. Cernetig's suggestion that the city retain ownership and rent the housing as market rental units, and expect the rents to cover the costs. The numbers will not work. Even at a very low interest rate, Vancouver taxpayers will have to continue to subsidize the rents for many years to come. And for whom? People who are lucky enough to get to the front of the queue.

Instead of renting the units at a loss, I believe the city should recover its costs by selling some or all of these units as 'affordable ownership units'. I do not agree with Mr. Cernetig's 'real estate experts' who claim the city cannot recover its costs through a sale. On the contrary, there would likely be a very significant demand. To minimize direct competition with Millennium's sales program, the land could be leased, rather than sold, and other conditions could be put in place.

The SFU Verdant housing development is a model for this approach. Why do we care how Millennium does with its sales? Because they need to pay back the money owed to the city for the construction loans and the land payment.
One final consideration. While we often talk about these units as 'social housing units', in fact they never were. That's right. Only half of the units were ever intended for very low income households. The balance were to be leased at the lower end of market to non-income tested households.

For all of these reasons I urge the Mayor and Council to do the responsible thing, even if it may appear to be a tough political decision. The city should offer these units for sale to Vancouver police officers, firefighters and other mid-income people who work in Vancouver and want to live close to work. Sadly, with all the focus on the homeless, far too many other households who are being priced out of the city are being ignored. My solution would still allow for a broad social and income mix, and the city can start planning more cost effective social housing on its lands immediately adjacent to the Olympic Village.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Studio 4-Shaw TV with Fanny Kiefer

I started the day by having a very pretty young girl try to remove the shine from my forehead. She needed a lot of 'anti-shine' powder, but eventually she had been in shape for a repeat appearance on the Fanny Kiefer show. I was flattered to be invited's not always that I'm invited back! Today I appeared before a biologist discussing 'sick seas', and a very elegant lady from Toronto who was promoting her cook book...

Tuesday April 6

President, The Geller Group Michael Geller The Future of Cities
Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology & Immunology @ UBC Dr. Steven Hallam The Science of Ocean Dead Zones
Nutritional Consultant, Canadian School of Natural Nutrition Rose Reisman Favourite Family Recipes

For those of you who don't watch the show, here's an excerpt from the website:

Studio 4 with Fanny Kiefer is an hour of compelling conversation about the arts, politics, social issues and everything in between, featuring guests from Vancouver and around the world.

It is a delight to be interviewed by Fanny. She is very relaxed, inquisitive, and not afraid to express her views. She started the interview by telling me I had been invited since she heard me being interviewed on the CBC's Early Edition while driving to work. While my focus was the future of cities, we spent a bit of time talking about the housing choices people want and can hopefully expect in the future....fee simple row houses, and apartments designed for children, close to schools and urban amenities. We also discussed the features that make some housing more suitable for seniors....bathrooms with medicine cabinets and drawers, two 'master bedrooms', kitchens with eating areas, storage, and large open spaces with lots of light. We also discussed the importance of lighting, especially near closets.

The time went by much too quickly....just as I was starting to feel quite comfortable, it was over...but hopefully one day I'll be invited back to continue the discussion.

Friday, April 2, 2010

City Considers Shelter for Homeless've got to be kidding!

I read the following story on the Vancouver Sun website (dateline April 1) and thought about posting it since it as a very clever April Fools Day prank. But now I realize it is a story in TODAY'S paper....April 2! Please, please tell me this story is not for real.

City considers building a shelter for homeless chickens

Now that some homeowners are allowed to keep the birds, officials expect some to be abandoned when reality sets in

Heather Havens of Surrey holds  Zilla, one of her two hens.

Photograph by: Stuart Davis, Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER - Anticipating a wave of buyers’ remorse, city staff are recommending the city build a special shelter for hens they expect will be abandoned by owners having second thoughts.

The 36-page report to city council details every change the city will have to make before backyard egg farmers will be allowed to set up shop. In March 2009, council lifted a 30-year prohibition on keeping urban hens and directed staff to develop the guidelines.

The report deals with everything from the decibel levels of crowing roosters, which will not be allowed, to pest control techniques to ward off marauding rats hunting for chicken feed.

Apartment dwellers will not be allowed to keep chickens on their patios, as the guidelines say only single- and multi-family homes will be allowed to house hens.

The report recommends the city spend $20,000 of the community services budget to build a facility at the Vancouver Animal Control shelter to house seized or abandoned hens.

“Even now we get the odd hen or rooster in the shelter,” said Tom Hammel, the city’s chief licence inspector. “So there will be more.”

To keep the numbers down, as well as reduce the risk of avian flu, the report says residents may keep no more than four hens, which must be older than four months.

“We don’t want people buying cute fuzzy chicks on impulse and then finding out they don’t want them,” said Hammel.

Jordan Maynard, manager of Southlands Farm in Vancouver, says some urban chicken farmers may get fed up with their hens if they buy the wrong breed.

“If they get birds that are bred for meat they won’t be suitable for the backyard. Those birds are pathetic. They don’t walk properly and they grow too fast and they will just lay on their side and not lay eggs,” he said.

Also, hens usually stop laying eggs after about six years and residents may not want to kill them, but they may not want to keep them either, he said. “It depends on whether people come to think of them as pets.”

People who tire of their chickens won’t have a problem finding them new homes, Maynard said. “I’ve heard that someone on Saltspring Island is starting a retirement home for chickens.”

Hammel said the city does not recommend people give away their hens to large chicken farms because of the risk of spreading avian flu to commercial stocks.

The report includes guidelines to minimize odour, stating that coops must only be kept in a back or side yard, and that owners must remove the manure and keep the food and water inside the coop.

Those who want to kill their hens must take them to a veterinarian or farm for slaughter.

The guidelines will go before the planning and environment committee next Thursday. Should the committee approve, the report will go to public hearing May 18.

Health concerns and noise complaints were the main reasons urban chickens were not allowed in the past. But now the city says chickens have important environmental benefits.

The about-face comes as the city strives to be the greenest in the world. According to the report, by providing eggs for urban residents and fertilizer for urban gardens, backyard hens contribute to local food production, which “reduces the city’s carbon footprint.”

Hammel said there will be an online registry that owners must sign so the city can locate the chickens in case of an outbreak of disease. There will be no licence fee to keep the birds.

A final thought on April Fools Day 2010

In case you missed it, CBC’s The Early Edition did a fascinating story on April 1st about a proposed new floating community in False Creek and the Port Moody waterfront. (It would be in FC in the summer, and PM in the winter.) It was anchored by the Expo 86 McDonalds Barge, which would serve as the community centre.

I didn’t catch all the discussion, but did listen to Mayor Trasolini and former City Planner Larry Beasley speaking in support of the proposal. The mayor of Vancouver was scheduled to speak as well.

As I listened to Trasolini and Beasley articulating all the benefits of the proposal, contrary to their true personal convictions, (Beasley as always was particularly eloquent), I couldn’t help but think how good both planners and politicians are at supporting any position with a deep sense of conviction, regardless of their personal views.

It got me thinking....It seems that almost everyday is now April Fools Day, especially when it comes to the planning of False Creek and BC Place precinct, the need for rental housing programs, iconic taller buildings and view corridors, and housing solutions for the homeless.

Of course, I’m just being a fool!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

It's April Fool's Day

It's April 1st. Over the years I have undertaken a number of pranks, but my two favourites were tied to the marketing of Elm Park Place, a condominium project I built in the 90's at Larch and West 41st in Kerrisdale.

About 12 years ago, tied in with a visit by Prince Charles to the city, I arranged for a report in the Courier that the Prince was rumoured to have purchased a Kerrisdale condominium near a park. A number of excited purchasers contacted me to ask whether he had bought at Elm Park place. However, my favourite call was from a purchaser who was furious that I would sell to a member of the royal family without consulting with other purchasers. "How are we going to manage with all the extra security?" she wanted to know.

The following year I wrote an 'advertorial' that the provincial government had secretly approved a SkyTrain extension along West 41st with a station at Larch and West 41st. A surprising number of people were fooled, including one of my daughter's Crofton House classmates who brought in a copy of the Courier as her 'show and tell' story. "There's going to be a SkyTrain to Crofton House" she exclaimed. My daughter had to explain that it was just one of her dad's April Fools' Day jokes. Unfortunately, the girl had never heard of April Fools' Day.While some people get quite upset about April Fools' Day pranks, I think they can be wonderful. Below are excerpts from the list of 100 pranks on the website:

3: Instant Color TV

1962: In 1962 there was only one tv channel in Sweden, and it broadcast in black and white. The station's technical expert, Kjell Stensson, appeared on the news to announce that, thanks to a new technology, viewers could convert their existing sets to display color reception. All they had to do was pull a nylon stocking over their tv screen. Stensson proceeded to demonstrate the process. Thousands of people were taken in. Regular color broadcasts only commenced in Sweden on April 1, 1970.

10: Planetary Alignment Decreases Gravity

1976: The British astronomer Patrick Moore announced on BBC Radio 2 that at 9:47 AM a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event was going to occur that listeners could experience in their very own homes. The planet Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, temporarily causing a gravitational alignment that would counteract and lessen the Earth's own gravity. Moore told his listeners that if they jumped in the air at the exact moment that this planetary alignment occurred, they would experience a strange floating sensation. When 9:47 AM arrived, BBC2 began to receive hundreds of phone calls from listeners claiming to have felt the sensation. One woman even reported that she and her eleven friends had risen from their chairs and floated around the room.

20: The 26-Day Marathon

1981: The Daily Mail ran a story about an unfortunate Japanese long-distance runner, Kimo Nakajimi, who had entered the London Marathon but, on account of a translation error, thought that he had to run for 26 days, not 26 miles. Reportedly Nakajimi was now somewhere out on the roads of England, still running, determined to finish the race. Various people had spotted him, though they were unable to flag him down. The translation error was attributed to Timothy Bryant, an import director, who said, "I translated the rules and sent them off to him. But I have only been learning Japanese for two years, and I must have made a mistake. He seems to be taking this marathon to be something like the very long races they have over there."

#38: Operation Parallax

1979: London's Capital Radio announced that Operation Parallax would soon go into effect. This was a government plan to resynchronize the British calendar with the rest of the world. It was explained that ever since 1945 Britain had gradually become 48 hours ahead of all other countries because of the constant switching back and forth from British Summer Time. To remedy this situation, the British government had decided to cancel April 5 and 12 that year. Capital Radio received numerous calls as a result of this announcement. One employer wanted to know if she had to pay her employees for the missing days. Another woman was curious about what would happen to her birthday, which fell on one of the cancelled days.

#43: An Interview with President Carter

2001: Michael Enright, host of the Sunday Edition of the Canadian Broadcasting Corpation's radio program This Morning, interviewed former President Jimmy Carter on the air. The interview concerned Canada's heavily subsidized softwood lumber industry, about which Carter had recently written an editorial piece in The New York Times. The interview took a turn for the worse when Enright began telling Carter to speed up his answers. Then Enright asked, "I think the question on everyone's mind is, how did a washed-up peanut farmer from Hicksville such as yourself get involved in such a sophisticated bilateral trade argument?" Carter seemed stunned by the insult. Finally he replied, "Excuse me? A washed-up peanut farmer? You're one to talk, sir. Didn't you used to be on the air five times a week?" The tone of the interview did not improve from there. Carter ended up calling Enright a "rude person" before he hung up. Enright then revealed that the interview had been fake. The Toronto comedian Ray Landry had been impersonating Carter's voice. The interview generated a number of angry calls from listeners who didn't find the joke funny. But the next day the controversy reached even larger proportions when the Globe and Mail reported the interview as fact on their front pages. The editor of the Globe and Mail later explained that he hadn't realized the interview was a hoax because it was "a fairly strange issue and a strange person to choose as a spoof."

#58: Portable Zip Codes

2004: National Public Radio's All Things Considered announced that the post office had begun a new 'portable zip codes' program. This program, inspired by an FCC ruling that allowed phone users to take their phone number with them when they moved, would allow people to also take their zip code with them when they moved, no matter where they moved to. It was hoped that with this new program zip codes would come to symbolize "a citizen's place in the demographic, rather than geographic, landscape." Assistant Postmaster General Lester Crandall was quoted as saying, "Every year millions of Americans are on the go: People who must relocate for work or other reasons. Those people may have been quite attached to their original homes or an adopted town or city of residence. For them this innovative measure will serve as an umbilical cord to the place they love best."

#93: Eiffel Tower Moves

The Parisien stunned French citizens in 1986 when it reported that an agreement had been signed to dismantle the Eiffle Tower. The international symbol of French culture would then be reconstructed in the new Euro Disney theme park going up east of Paris. In the space where the Tower used to stand, a 35,000 seat stadium would be built for use during the 1992 Olympic Games.

#95: Chunnel Blunder

In 1990 the News of the World reported that the Chunnel project, which was already suffering from huge cost overruns, would face another big additional expense caused by a colossal engineering blunder. Apparently the two halves of the tunnel, being built simultaneously from the coasts of France and England, would miss each other by 14 feet. The error was attributed to the fact that French engineers had insisted on using metric specifications in their blueprints. The mistake would reportedly cost $14 billion to fix.

100: The British Postal Address Turnabout

In 1977 the BBC gave airtime to Tom Jackson, General Secretary of the British Union of Post Office Workers. Mr. Jackson was up in arms about a recent proposal that the British mail adopt the German method of addressing envelopes in which the house number is written after the name of the road, not before it (i.e. Downing Street 10, instead of 10 Downing Street). Jackson spoke at great length about the enormous burden this change would place upon postal employees, insisting that "Postal workers would be furious because it would turn upside-down the way we have learned to sort." His comments elicited an immediate reaction from the audience, many of whom phoned up to voice their support for Jackson's campaign. What the audience didn't realize was that there were no plans to change the way the British addressed their mail. Mr. Jackson's diatribe was an elaborate April Fool's Day joke.

Next year, I will try and come up with something!