Friday, June 25, 2010

Some thoughts on CBC's latest Olympic Village 'story'

There are a few things that trouble me about the latest CBC story regarding 11 or 12 buyers who don't want to close on their purchases. Firstly, it is getting far too much coverage, given the facts. Secondly, some of the facts are wrong.

Before addressing these points, it is important to note that most of the people who bought their units back in 2007 have in fact closed on their purchases.

At this time, 11 or 12 have hired a lawyer to get them out of pre-sale agreements. While I can appreciate that some of these buyers may not have spent a lot of time analyzing their purchases and some are disappointed with the final product, I suspect most if not all want to get out of their agreements since the units have not gone up as much in value as they hoped. Too bad.

As others have pointed out above, if the units had gone up in value, they would happily wait for their washers and dryers and fireplace deficiencies to be remedied.

The lawyer’s claim that the city should be shown as ‘the developer’ in the disclosure statement, since it owned the land, and lent the money, is nonsense. While I am not a lawyer, based on my experience with CMHC and SFU, this really is grasping at straws.

On a related matter, the CBC is wrong when it states that the City contracted with Rennie for two years to sell the units. This is not the case. The developer, Millennium has hired Rennie.

There is no doubt that given the significant amount of money the city has lent to Millennium, it is closely monitoring the sales program closely. And so it should. Any private lender would do the same thing.

One of the many benefits of the internet is that it makes it quite easy to go back in time. I easily found this story from the Vancouver Courier which describes the mood just under three years ago, when some if not all of the buyers who are now complaining first bought their units.

I am sure there are many stories still to be told about the Olympic Village saga. However, this story is being blown out of proportion and I for one do not think it deserves the attention it is getting.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

10 tips for attending EXPO 2010 Shanghai

A number of people have been calling me and writing, looking for tips on how to get the most out of their visit to the Shanghai EXPO. While I'm reluctant to put everything down in writing, (especially how to avoid some line-ups) here are a few suggestions:

1. I would try and spend a minimum of three days and evenings at the fair. You can buy a three day pass, but if you are 60 or older, it's less expensive to buy special tickets on a daily basis. Admission is not expensive by North American standards.... 160 RMB to get in (about $23)...or 100 RMB if you're a senior.

2. When you arrive, they'll give you an English map. But try and buy an English guide book too. Unfortunately, they may only be available at one Xinshui bookstore, on a lower level of the large complex next to the China Pavilion. It is very useful and gives you a few paragraphs about each pavilion.

3. The biggest challenge is the line-ups for the popular pavilions. One way to deal with this is to avoid these pavilions, and go to those that don't have line-ups...there are many. I recommend the five theme pavilions. Often there were no line-ups for these, especially around dinner time. You can also reserve to go into these. Look for the signs pointing to the 'reservation booths' near the main entrances. Some hotels can also arrange for VIP entry into some pavilions. Check this out when you are booking your hotel.

4. In addition to the five Theme Pavilions, I strongly recommend Spain, Germany, France and Saudi Arabia. You must go to Canada...tell them you are Canadian and you can advance to near the front of the line. You must also go to Vancouver, but there will not likely be any line-up.

5. If you are a an architect/planner/developer type, also check out the Best Urban Practices section of the's off in a corner, but well worth a visit.

6. Be prepared for a lot of walking. The site is on two sides of the river and 7 1/2 times the size of the EXPO 86 site. You can also move around by electric/hydrogen buses which travel on various routes through the site, including under the river.

The site is divided into 5 zones, and after getting an overview (perhaps by taking bus rides around the site) consider staying in only one or two zones each day. You can also take a ferry across (recommended) and a subway...a good idea at the end of the day, since it may connect to a subway line you need to get back to your hotel...check this out. (I started to take ibuprofen with me to the fair, to help get me through the last few hours each day.)

7. Be prepared for lots of pushing and lots of noise. Also you may be asked to have your picture taken with people, especially those from the countryside who have never seen a white person before. I found it often got very hot in the day, but quite cool in the evenings. A small umbrella for the sun is not such a dumb idea, although there are lots of shady spots around the site. And a sweater for the evening.

8. I wish I had brought a neck chain for sunglasses, since I was constantly putting them on and taking them off as I went in and out of pavilions. Take lots of memory cards for your camera, if you are not downloading photos daily, and a spare charged battery...I predict you'll want to take a lot of photos! Video is worthwhile too.

9. In terms of getting to and from the EXPO grounds, and getting around Shanghai, the subway is often crowded but easy to use. English is used throughout the system. Taxis are very inexpensive, but the drivers don't speak any English. Always have the destination written out in Chinese (although always give the driver the address before getting into the cab, in case he can't read. When he (or she) nods, you can get in.) You can buy a 'smart card' at a subway station which you pre-pay, (say 100 to 200 RMB, depending on how long you'll be there) which can be used for the subway, buses and even taxis. These are extremely handy. You can cash them in when you leave, or bring them back and give them to someone else heading over.

Also, (and this may sound silly) be very careful crossing the street. At many intersections, there are crossing guards, but often vehicles, including buses, run through red lights. Crossing at a pedestrian crosswalk without signals can also be a terrifying experience. I did it twice. That was enough!

10. Be prepared for a lot of security. You will be frisked by pretty young Chinese girls every time you enter the site...your possessions have to go through an X-ray on the subway. Also, if you need to change money, it can be an prepared to wait at banks.....take $US and a passport. You'll need cash since some local businesses do not accept North American credit cards, although most do.... I generally used a cash machine card from fees, other than the exchange rate. If you are not an HSBC customer consider opening an account. If you want to move all your banking over to HSBC, I'll give you the name of a wonderful Premier Private Banking Account Manager in Vancouver!

I hope this is helpful...if you have some questions, please let me know and I'll add more information.

Vancouver Canadians: The Season Opener

While I have been getting up early to watch the soccer on TV, soccer is not really my game. Baseball is. And so I was delighted when my daughters announced that they were taking me to the Vancouver Canadians' Season Opener at Nat Bailey Stadium for Fathers' Day. I'm writing this posting in the hope it will encourage many of you to take in a game at this wonderful ballpark.

Our team used to be Triple A, but now it's Double A...a more junior league. We're still a farm team for the Oakland Athletics, but none of that is important to me. What is important is that Jake Kerr and Jeff Mooney (of A&W fame) bought the team a few years ago, and are spending a lot of money to improve the baseball experience. There's a new electronic scoreboard (thanks in part to a new partnership with Scotiabank), and the ballpark has been really cleaned up. I don 't know Jake Kerr, although his wife Judy and I served together on the VAG board, but he strikes me (pun intended) as a very classy guy. He dresses well, and has a lot of style, and it shows in what he and his partner have done with the baseball stadium. It's a very nice experience, at a fraction of the cost of going to a baseball game in a major league park, or a hockey game.One of the things that I like about baseball is that it crosses all socio-economic addition to a lot of hard core baseball fans, I ran into Vancouver historian Chuck Davis, a curator at the Art Gallery, and a prominent Vancouver property owner and philanthropist.We sat in fourth row box seats, directly behind home plate, and the tickets cost $16 each. A hell of a deal. I particularly enjoyed watching the scouts, seated immediately in front of us, with their radar guns to track the speed of the pitcher, and thick binders to record every pitch and every out. It was great to see many kids in attendance. There is even a special children's play area for younger kids who can't sit through nine innings. However, I was disappointed that although there were 4500 tickets sold, it wasn't sold out. It should have been. There needs to be more media attention.

Since last night was the opening night, a celebrity was invited to throw out the first pitch.....John Furlong. John was once a great squash player, but he'll never make it as a baseball player. But he's a good guy, and one young boy who is the grandson of a friend was absolutely thrilled to have a special 'opening night' baseball autographed by John.In addition to the game, there was the sushi roll race (only in Vancouver.... unless it's an idea stolen from Japan), the formally attired performing groundskeepers, and a few other gimmicks. After the game, which Vancouver won 2 to 1, there was a very entertaining fireworks show, which will be repeated a few times over the season. Including Canada Day, July 1.The team will be home for the next few find more details, go to and there will be lots of games throught the summer, both in the evening and afternoon.

Thanks to Georgia and Claire for arranging the evening. I hope a lot more kids will buy their dad baseball tickets for next year's Fathers' Day. They won't go wrong.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Micmacs: Now Playing at the Ridge's French Film Festival

If you have an appreciation of the absurd, recycling, contortionists, and a hatred for arms manufacturers, I can recommend Micmacs, now playing at the Ridge Theatre. From the director of Amelie, another wonderful absurd French movie. Check it out at

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The influencers: BC's Most Influential People in Residential Construction Industry

What do Rich Coleman, Larry Beasley, Tsur Sommerville, Cameron Muir, Mayor Dianne Watts, Michael Geller and 14 other people around BC have in common? We were all recognized at a luncheon on Friday June 18, 2010 as the 20 most influential people in BC's residential construction industry by the Canadian Home Builders' Association and BC Homes Magazine.

While I question whether I belong on this list, I was honoured to be selected. There is no doubt that many of those recognized are important players. The following is an excerpt from a recent write-up in BC Homes Magazine, along with some of the names on the list with whom I have happily dealt with in the recent years.

BC’s Most Influential People in Residential Construction

The Influencers

The Inflluencers With the recession lifting, housing starts set to rebound and steady real estate prices even amid new regulations, it’s an interesting time in residential construction in British Columbia, to say the least. The industry is the driving force of the provincial economy, and it counts many movers and shakers who are making a real difference in its success. You can call them the industry’s leaders, allstars, changemakers or, simply, British Columbia’s 20 Most Influential People in Residential Construction of 2010. From builders to renovators to architects, this year’s top 20 have been nominated by their peers, and selected by BC Homes Magazine for their ability to continually shape and build the industry. Some have been recognized here before, some are new, but all have undeniably had an impact on our province from the ground up and beyond.


Norm Couttie

In a career spanning 25 years, Norm Couttie has had his fingers in diverse development projects, from an entire new resource community in northern British Columbia to a killer whale pool at the Vancouver Aquarium. Today, Couttie is president of Adera Development Corporation, a major player in the residential construction industry, and a leader in innovative, energy-efficient, environmentally friendly, low-rise condominiums.

“I don’t think I’ve consciously tried to make a difference [in the industry], but, occasionally, my voice gets heard,” admits Couttie modestly.


Larry Beasley

Larry Beasley’s influence is felt globally for what he has achieved locally. His “Vancouver model” of urban planning and design is the benchmark for many urban cities around the world, including in the United States, Australia and China.

As a former city planner with the City of Vancouver, Beasley’s effective land use, transportation and development plans have dramatically reshaped Metro Vancouver into a well-planned, livable metropolitan community. With his vision of a vibrant urban core, where work, home, amenities and entertainment are all within walking distance of each other, it’s no surprise his work was recognized among the World’s 100 Best Planning Practices by the United Nations.


Ian Gillespie

The youthful president and owner of Westbank Projects Corp. seems to prefer to stay out of the limelight, but it’s not because of a lack of confidence. You could hardly be meek in the business of building luxury condos, towers and hotels. As such, it’s no surprise that Ian Gillespie is considered an industry leader among his peers and one of Canada’s most innovative developers.

He has been responsible for many of Vancouver’s most striking and significant residential and mixed-use projects. Notable projects include the Residences on Georgia, the Palisades, the Shangri-La, the Woodward’s Project, Fairmont Pacific Rim Estates and the 450-foot Shaw Tower.

Gillespie certainly has the golden touch, in both the creation of his high-end buildings and their financial success.


Tsur Somerville

While there are many people offering housing and real estate analysis in Metro Vancouver, Tsur Somerville is one of the most respected. His opinions are always based on experience and knowledge, and extensive research.

Somerville is director of the UBC Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate, associate professor of strategy and business economics, and holder of the Real Estate Foundation professorship in real estate finance at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. His current research interest focuses on real estate development and housing markets.

He downplays his influence on the industry, however, claiming it’s just part of his job. “My job is to train students interested in real estate and create opportunities for them, and give the academic perspective on events occurring in our housing markets.”


Rich Coleman

Housing matters to Rich Coleman. It has to — he’s B.C.’s minister responsible for it. But just because it falls under his job description, it doesn’t make his contributions to housing in B.C. any less significant.

Coleman, who was elected to represent the riding of Fort Langley-Aldergrove in 1996, then 2001, 2005 and 2009, is the minister of Housing and Social Development. In 2006, he introduced the new provincial housing strategy, Housing Matters BC, providing innovative housing programs for those in greatest need.

“Our government is helping British Columbians who are dealing with homelessness by creating jobs and building resources to support future growth and housing opportunities,” Coleman has said. “Through partnerships, we are delivering on our commitment to provide shelter and supports.”

Under his direction, since 2001, more than 13,500 units of subsidized housing have been created in B.C. and the provincial share of the budget for affordable housing and shelter has more than tripled.


Dianne Watts

With Mayor Dianne Watts at the helm, Surrey is open for business, and residential construction is a big part of that.

“The residential construction industry is a critical component of our vision for Surrey,” says the mayor. “We want to create liveable, walkable, sustainable and visually appealing communities — communities that our residents are proud to call home.”

But, as mayor, she must think more broadly than just housing. “I strongly believe that balancing growth, investment and job creation, while protecting the environment is the foundation for sustainable communities.”

That’s difficult enough, but throw in poor economic times, and the mayor’s challenges are multiplied. “Right now we are faced with challenging economic times, but Surrey saw economic increases in the second half of 2009, so I believe that we are on track for a strong recovery.”

Under her leadership, the city provided economic incentives to encourage development, including incentives for residential development applications, such as a 50 per cent reduction in building permit fees.


Michael Geller

Michael Geller begin_of_the_skype_highlightingend_of_the_skype_highlighting is many things — an avid traveller (he blogged his observations about housing around the world while on a sabbatical), a would-be politician (he ran, albeit unsuccessfully, for Vancouver City Council), an influential public servant (he worked for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporate for a decade), an independent consultant, architect and developer (as head of the Geller Group) and a visionary urban planner (as a leader in the development of SFU’s sustainable planned community UniverCity atop Burnaby Mountain).

One of the top 20 industry shapers in B.C.? There is no doubt.

“I have consciously tried to make a difference in the housing industry by promoting public awareness of alternative forms of housing,” says Geller, who is regularly invited to speak to various organizations, and appears in print and broadcast media, in addition to his blog.

As an adjunct professor at SFU’s Centre for Sustainable Community Development, he has also taught future housing professionals about more sustainable forms of housing and tried to incorporate more innovative housing ideas in his own projects.

“In the next decade, I believe that many of the ideas I am promoting will become realities. These include new forms of higher density ground-oriented housing, innovative infill developments, apartments designed for families with children, and more choices for empty nesters and seniors wanting to move out of their single family homes, while remaining in their neighbourhoods.”

Geller also anticipates greater use of prefabricated construction, including modular housing, as a way to reduce costs and create new housing choices.

Others on the list include educators, technical experts, senior CHBA officials and officers and a number of well known names in the city.

To read the full story, go to

Monday, June 14, 2010

Korea, Spain and UK: an EXPO 2010 slideshow

I found this fascinating slideshow of three of the better EXPO pavilions through the excellent New York website and thought it might be of interest to those of you who are interested in seeing more from Shanghai 2010 View slideshow

Electric Cars come to China and my automotive secrets.

When I was at EXPO, I was impressed with the array of electric and hydrogen vehicles throughout the site. The only gas powered autos were the small number of black Mercedes and Buick Lasalles sitting by the side of the road in front of the EXPO Centre awaiting dignitaries.
In many of the pavilions, electric cars were on display...two that come to mind are Portugal, which has some of the most aggressive drivers in Europe, and the GM pavilion which features very attractive little personal electric vehicles. As I was leaving Shanghai, a story in the China Daily News (an English language paper) described China's interest in becoming the world's largest producer of electric vehicles.

I was reminded of this today when the Vancouver Sun had a story about the introduction of electric taxis in Shenzhen, a city near Hong Kong. While Vancouver is proud of its increasing fleet of hybrid taxis, I wonder how long it will be before we introduce electric taxis.

I look forward to this. I also look forward to the creation of a 'taxi culture' in Vancouver, similar to that in Shanghai, where you can travel for 30 minutes by cab and the fare rarely exceeds $5!
But that's another story.

Here's another story.... like most Canadian men, I have always been interested in cars. Below is a story which appeared in the Vancouver Sun while I was in China. While I very much enjoyed chatting with Andrew McCredie, who really knows cars, I'm sure I'll always regret sharing my automotive secrets in such a public way (Indeed, someone quite rightly pointed out that while Frank Lloyd Wright did say the Lincoln Continental was the most beautifully designed American car , he died before the 1961 model came out!)

Odd by design

Vancouver community architect Michael Geller has a long history of successful developments in and around the Lower Mainland, but an even longer history of owning all manner of cars in all manner of conditions

Read more:

Andrew McCredie continues with a new occasional feature called 'My Life, My Cars' in which we get a taste of a person's life story through their cars. Today, the subject is Michael Geller

Michael Geller blames one of the 20th Century's greatest architects for his biggest automobile blunder.

"Frank Lloyd Wright once said that the '61 Lincoln Continental was the most beautiful American car that was ever designed," Vancouver architect Geller is saying over a cup of coffee at an outdoor cafe in Coal Harbour on a sunny afternoon. "And the idea of a four-door convertible appealed to me."

So began, back in 1990, Geller's flirtation with just such a Continental.

It started, as so many ill-advised flings do, innocently enough: "I spotted it one day in a London Drug's parking lot, and put a note on the window that read simply "if you ever want to sell this car, I'll buy it."

It would end ingloriously two years later with Geller, now the owner, standing in a pool of gasoline after failing to sell the beast at auction.

"It had a hole in the gas tank line, something I forgot when filling it up at a gas station in Surrey after the auction," the affable architect says with a chuckle and shake of his head. "It was on a lark, and I had more money than sense back then, that's for sure."

As pleasing to the discerning eye as the Continental might be, it's complicated convertible roof operation, which includes eight motors, and its outdated mechanics proved too much for Geller, who would part with it for half of what he paid for it.

He would not make the same mistake with his next car, a new Saab 9-3 convertible he took delivery of on Dec. 23, 1995.

"I had just read a book called When All You Ever Wanted Isn't Enough, about what is it that people look for in life," he says, eyes-twinkling like a wry raconteur. "It asked if you were to die tomorrow, is there anything you would regret."

One beat. Two beat.

"And the only thing I ever regretted was that I'd never had a convertible with a top that worked properly."

Not only did the Saab's push-button top work like a charm, its late arrival in late-December proved the making of an annual event.

"We bought it in the early summer expecting to take delivery in July, and we eventually took delivery on Dec. 23. So I bundled up my wife and young girls, got some hot chocolate, put down the top and we toured the Christmas lights. It became a family tradition."

Michael Geller was born in England, grew up in Toronto and for the past three decades has made a home and a career in Vancouver. A noted architect and property developer, he has had a direct hand in numerous landmark redevelopments throughout the region, beginning with the Steveston waterfront through to False Creek, Coal Harbour and most recently atop Burnaby Mountain at SFU.

"I always wanted to study architecture, but a few years after working with Toronto architect Daniel Libeskind, I went on to get more into property development and consulting," he says of his early working life. " I then worked for CMHC in Ottawa, and came out here on business in 1974 and fell in love with it.

" It was white in Ontario and green here," he continues, casting his eye to the water and mountains. "I vividly recall being at the Bayshore for a drink and it was warm and the boats were in the water."

The West Coast climate also suited his taste in cars, which leans toward the convertibles of the world. (Consider he owns the only convertible that comes with a sunroof, the VW Eos).

And if anyone has had a taste of the global automotive buffet, it's Michael Geller. A quick count of the countries of origin the vehicles he's owned hail from is six.

And it began with the French.

"My first car was a Simca Mille," he recalls, adding, "Simca sounds like the Yiddish word 'simcha,' which means happiness. And it wasn't."

"It was a good day in the Toronto winter if I could drive all the way to university without smelling brake fluid."

Next up was a U.S. brand, though in a non-conformist pattern that would continue for years, Geller owned his Ford Poplar while studying in England.

"I lived with a bunch of guys in London and one of them happened to sell used cars," he explains.

"So for £35 I got a dull grey Ford Poplar. The next day I went to the hardware store and bought a bunch of different colour paint and painted it in the brightest colours. You have to remember this was London in late Sixties."

Problem with that car was that it wasn't big enough to sleep in -- evidently a bothersome oversight -- so for the princely sum of £15, he bought the first of a trio of Jaguars he has owned over the years. Unlike the next two, this one, a 1959 Mark I, had some structural issues.

"It looked quite good, from one side anyway, but every time I hit a bump on the road a piece of rust would fall off."

His last car before heading back to the New World was a 1960 NSU Prinz 30, a West German-built oddity that he and his friends called "Mr. Puffin." (That Sixties thing again.)

"I toured Europe in 1969 in it and when I arrived in Ostende, Belgium, the brakes failed," he remembers.

"We found the address of the Prinz dealer in a book in the glove compartment, but when we arrived at the address, the dealership had been replaced by a large office block."

Back in Toronto to finish his studies, he owned a couple of Peugeots -- a 404 and a 504 -- the latter of which was damaged in a train accident while be transported from Ottawa to Vancouver in 1974.

"The car was never the same, and when a friend tried to sell it for me in The Vancouver Sun, the ad focused on its excellent windshield wipers," he says with a laugh.

By 1981 Geller finally bought his first new car, a Mazda 626 coupe, and still considers it one of the best cars he's ever owned.

"But I always wanted another Jag," he says of the times, and by the mid-Eighties he figured out how to do it.

"I was just starting the first big development of my own, and I borrowed $45,000 -- $25,000 as a deposit on the property, and $20,000 to buy a used Vanden Plas at MCL," Geller related, adding that he figured the luxury car would also help his fundraising cause.

"I thought I'd look important enough to get the other $13 million for the project."

"Joe Segal lent me the money, and the fact that his wife drove a six-cylinder Jaguar encouraged me to ask for a slightly larger percentage to do the deal," Geller notes with a giggle.

"It was a beautiful car, but I had to be careful where I parked it because it leaked so much oil."

His project went well, and a few years later Geller bought a brand new 1989 Jaguar Sovereign.

"It was a longtime dream of mine to buy a new Jag, but I was never happy with it," he says, recalling that aforementioned self-help book title.

A year later he would fall in and out of love with that Lincoln Continental, and after that debacle has been somewhat sensible with his vehicle choices.

Though he himself admits, the hulking Lexus GX450 he drove during work on the sustainable community at Simon Fraser University did fly in the face of what he was promoting.

"I traded in my Jag for it because the Jag couldn't get up the hill very well at SFU, but I always felt a touch uncomfortable driving it as it used about 20 litres of fuel every 100 kilometres."

By 2007 the guilt became too much for him -- to say nothing of the fuel costs -- and he traded it in for a brand new Toyota Prius, which he still drives with pride. And only one complaint.

"The Prius is a terrific car, but the biggest drawback for me is that it didn't come with a sunroof, but the new one does." He's not sure what's next in his garage, but if it could be anything, it would be a Bentley convertible.

"They are so elegant," he says, but admits, "also a bit ostentatious."

Still, "I think the truth is, even those people who shun materialism, they secretly dream of driving a Bentley or Porsche."

Geller, like so many who have owned a number of vehicles over the years, relishes not just the driving aspect of an automobile, but understands that a car cannot only get you where you're going, but transport you back to where you've been.

And funnily enough, one of his most poignant trips down memory lane involved that otherwise forgettable Continental.

"I drove my father to the synagogue in it for the High Holy Days one year, and it brought back the memories of driving down Bathurst Street looking at the new cars. It was really something."

If you know of somebody who might be a worthy focus of 'My Life, My Cars' please drop a line to Andrew McCredie at

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1961 Pontiac Laurentian (purchased with my father)

Simca Mille

Ford Poplar

1959 Jaguar Mark I

1960 NSU Prinz 30 Peugeot 404

1969 Peugeot 504

1981 Mazda 626

Volvo Station Wagon

Jaguar Vanden Plas

1989 Jaguar Sovereign

1961 Lincoln Continental

1995 Saab Convertible Lexus

1997 LX450

2008 VW Eos

2008 Toyota Prius