We are all voting for Central Park

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I was walking in my neighbourhood this evening and saw signs up that said, “We’re voting Central Park” and fears of loss of green space. There is nothing to fear! At a July 19th Committee of the Whole meeting I made a motion that Council passed unanimously directing staff to come up with a plan for the new Crystal Pool that will result in no net loss of green space. Staff are now working on this and will report back to Council and the public in September.

Just like we did recently with Topaz Park, to much community acclaim, we will do a detailed, and community-centred consultation on the future of Central Park beginning in early 2019. We understand the strong connection that residents have with the existing park amenities. Along with building Victoria’s new aquatic and wellness centre, we will also be renewing the park; this has been the plan all along. During construction we will work to preserve as many of the park features as we can.

The Crystal Pool and Fitness Center is an important piece of Victoria’s history. It is a community hub and one of Victoria’s oldest and most frequently used recreation facilities. Unfortunately it is now reaching the end of its life and requires significant investment to meet current building, seismic and accessibility standards. Council asked staff to do a feasibility study in 2016, reviewing three options: to upgrade, refurbish or replace the ageing facility. After extensive analysis of the existing service gaps and long-term needs of the community, in February 2017 Council unanimously approved the replacement of the existing building with a new, barrier-free recreation centre.

December 2016 Crystal Pool Feasibility Staff Report
February 2017 Crystal Pool Feasibility Study Staff Report Follow Up

Today, one in five residents can’t access the Crystal Pool due to the split-level design which limits access for persons with disabilities including mobility impairments. The new facility will welcome all ages and abilities through a design that removes barriers to participation. This universally-accessible recreation centre will feature a 50m pool, universal and inclusive change rooms, an expanded fitness area, better spaces for events and programs, a welcoming community space, and public washrooms for park users.

The new facility is anticipated to see an increase in annual visits by 35%. Over the past year and a half, we’ve been focused on engaging citizens, meeting stakeholder groups and working with technical experts and other partners to first design and then to refine the design of the facility. In June, we presented schematic designs for the facility to the community at public Open House sessions and the City received feedback from the community through an online survey; 80% of people who participated expressed support for the facility design.

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The investment required for the new facility is significant and the City has committed $10 million from its Building and Infrastructure Fund towards the $69.4 million budget and we have the ability to fund up to 33% of the project with city resources should this be necessary. We are also seeking funding from external sources including other levels of government. In February, the Union of B.C. Municipalities announced the award of $6 million from the Federal Gas Tax Fund, and applications will be submitted for two other large grant programs.

To stay in touch as the Crystal Pool and Central Park projects unfold, please look for  regular updates here.

 

Compact living doesn’t shrink quality of life

Photos from inside a new apartment building in downtown Victoria. This building was approved in 2012 – the first new rental building approved in the City in the last 30 years.

There have been questions from certain corners of our community on the need for rapid densification – why do we need so many new buildings? Should we pull up the metaphorical drawbridge and protect Victoria from newcomers because we think it’s the only way to preserve the quality of life for people who already live here? There are many good reasons to answer no. I’ll highlight two and outline how a growing city and its neighbourhoods can be places where quality of life and well-being are enhanced, for everyone. I love my neighbourhood too.

At a recent talk in Victoria, the Governor of the Bank of Canada highlighted Canada’s aging workforce; as a result, currently two thirds of labour force growth comes from immigration. By 2025, he said, all labour force growth will come from immigration. This couldn’t be more true than in Victoria where we have an aging population with many people moving out of the labour force in the coming decades. These people will want to stay in Victoria and enjoy the quality of life they have here.

So, like the rest of Canada, though perhaps more rapidly, Victoria’s labour force will grow through immigration both from other provinces and other countries. This growing labour force – necessary to support those who are retiring – need places to live. That is a key reason that all this new building is necessary.

A second reason is climate change. In early March I was invited by Mayor Iveson in Edmonton to an urgent weekend meeting of mayors from around the world. The 800 scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were meeting in Edmonton the following week and Mayor Iveson wanted us mayors to help shape the conversation.

The materials provided in advance of the gathering and the speakers at the opening plenary made it crystal clear: We have little time to take radical action with regard to climate change or we lose the battle. And, cities are both the cause and the solution to the problem.

The president of the University of Alberta cautioned, “Cities need to change quickly; the window is closing.” Aromar Revi, Director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements warned us that we are now 1 degree above the pre-industrial average and we have less than 15 years to stay below 1.5. Bill Solecki the Founding Director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities put it starkly. “We have all the knowledge we need,” he said, “but at our core, we can’t acknowledge that we have to fundamentally change the way we live in cities.”

Changing the way we live in Victoria in order to take bold climate action means more compact living and more people living in all our neighbourhoods. This can happen without changing their character too much through gentle density, houseplexes, tiny homes, townhouses and more. It means more people living within walking distance of goods and services available in village centres, resulting in less traffic and pollution. It also means inclusion, diversity, new neighbours and a denser web of social relationships.

On major corridors and downtown the changes we make to how we live in order to save the planet are more visible. There are more tall buildings. But what we can’t see from the outside is that almost all of these buildings are being built with vertical backyards: playgrounds on the third floor, lush, green community gathering spaces on the roof tops, one building even has an multiple birdhouses!

We don’t need to trade in quality of life even as our city grows to accommodate a changing labour force and a changing climate. What we do need is to have real dialogue rather than name calling and finger pointing. “NIMBY” is not a helpful term as it doesn’t take seriously the concerns and fears that people have – we all want to maintain the incredible neighbourhoods we’ve built together. Nor is it helpful to have a drawbridge mentality – this makes young renters and others feel unwelcome, and prevents us from adapting to changing times.

As our city grows and changes everyone will win because ultimately we all want the same thing – to be happy and healthy, to be prosperous, to feel safe, to breathe clean air, to feel that we belong to something greater than ourselves and to know that our children will have good futures.  We’re all in this together.

A version of this article first appeared in the Victoria News here.

First National Sustainable Tourism Conference Hosted in Victoria

Plenary - Lessons from the North 2.jpgPanel Discussion: Lessons from the North                             Photo Credit: Impact Conference

In late January, Victoria hosted Impact: Sustainability Travel and Tourism, Canada’s first national conference on sustainable tourism. Organized by Tourism Victoria, Starrboard Enterprises, Beattie Tartan, and Synergy Enterprises, the conference was buzzing with energy from the moment it began.

Our local hosts and guests from across the nation grappled with important issues facing Canada and the world as the tourism industry continues to grow.  Sessions explored climate change, technology, transportation, Indigenous culture, policy, local labour markets and new tourism trends and experiences. Themes included innovation, prosperity, conservation, culture and partnership.

What does all of this mean for Victoria as host to over three million visitors a year and counting?

Victoria is booming right now. Tech and tourism are both growing. There are lots of new apartment and condos being built for people who want to live downtown. And we’ve recently been named by the renowned Condé Nast Readers’ Choice as the second best small city to visit, in the world.

The result? We have the lowest unemployment rate in the country. But this also means we have labour shortages and we also clearly have housing shortages for workers.

So in Victoria we are already not sustaining this growth. And people will continue to vacation here for the same reasons locals live here – it’s paradise.

What to do? Author of Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism was a keynote speaker at the conference. Her remarks were instructive. “You have to know what you are sustaining,” she said. She also urged us to answer key questions: “What is the culture? What is the landscape? What are the events? And what’s the transportation plan?”

What are we sustaining in Victoria? A small-scale, compact community, on Indigenous land with strong Indigenous presence where we share the values of environmental sustainability, stewarding natural assets, community, connection, smart growth and prosperity.

In Victoria and other destinations poised to grow we need a deep collaboration between local elected officials, city staff and the tourism industry to answer these questions. And we need the industry to develop according to the answers.

How do we get to 100% renewable energy as a community and as industry by 2050 while still having people arrive by ferry boat, cruise ship and plane? Do we “exempt” these emissions because they “don’t really happen in Victoria?” How do we reduce carbon emissions 80% over 2007 levels by 2050 while more people come to our destination?

Some of our operators in the region are already moving in this direction; sustainability is woven into their business practices. Wild Play as an attraction, keeps the forest intact and has a “treading lightly” program to promote sustainability such as composting and recycling on site. Ocean River sports gets visitors out on kayaks to experience nature without emissions. The Inn at Laurel Point is a carbon neutral hotel that runs with a social enterprise business model. And the Victoria Airport has set targets for emissions reduction, and has restored the creeks that run through their land, where native fish species can now spawn.

These are big questions with no easy answers. But the first annual Impact conference was critically important naming the questions, collaborating to answer them, sharing best practices and moments of inspiration from across the country, and saving the world – one destination at a time.

 

 

Bus Rapid Transit Key to Continued Prosperity of Region

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Bus rapid transit (BRT) between the Westshore and downtown is key to the future prosperity of our region and to meeting our climate action goals as a community.  In 2011, the Transit Commission adopted the Transit Futures Plan, which lays the foundation for transit development in the region. BRT between the Westshore and downtown is a key element of the plan. The lines are on the map for dedicated bus lanes. But the lanes are not yet on the roads.

This is because to date, the Transit Commission and local government partners have taken an incremental, patchwork approach to transit improvements. We’ve tackled one fragment of dedicated bus lanes at a time, starting in the City of Victoria.

But we haven’t conceived of BRT as a complete project, including all the stations, the Uptown Exchange, and an additional bus garage. We don’t have a total project budget nor do we have a current business case or a project implementation plan.

Although we hope it doesn’t take as long to get there, the sewage project serves as a good approach to thinking about transit. We received a business case and implementation plan for the project as a whole.  We call it the “$765 million sewage project.” With sewage we don’t think of the liquid processing facility, the conveyancing, and the solids processing plant as separate projects. All elements of the system are needed to make it work. This is also true with BRT.

It’s clear that incrementalism isn’t working. We know this because we haven’t moved the needle on transit ridership. In 2010 6.5% of the people in the region used transit. In 2017 6.5% of people in the region use transit. When BC Transit brought in BRT in Kelowna they expected 7% to 8% ridership; ridership jumped to 14%.

Thankfully at its December meeting the Victoria Transit Commission, which I sit on with a number of my colleagues from across the region, unanimously adopted a motion directing staff to develop a business case and implementation plan for a complete BRT project from downtown to the Westshore. We’ve asked staff to include all the necessary infrastructure in their business case. We’ve also asked them to include an analysis of the costs and benefit to our residents.

There will be an initial capital cost to building this infrastructure. But this infrastructure investment will keep money in people’s pockets and increase general well-being.  Recent research shows that people who commute daily by car spend at least 20% of household income on transportation. Research also shows that those stuck in traffic in daily commutes express lower levels of life satisfaction and well-being.

The time to act is now. We have a provincial and federal government interested in funding transit. We have a thriving economy and a growing population. And for the first time in history with the millennials, we have a generation that is driving less than the generation before them. This trend will continue. Our current and future citizens want to live and work in places with high-quality, high-speed transit. We can’t leave our future behind.

 

Victoria to remain a human-scale city

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I’ve been reading the news headlines lately: “Victoria’s skyline could soon be reaching higher” and “Vancouver-esque’ 989 climbs downtown skyline”. The latter article states, “The Harris Green strip continues to grow as Cox Development’s $75-million, two-tower condo development climbs the skyline at 989 Johnson St., hoping to shake the design restrictions set by the city.” This isn’t even true. Headlines and stories like these are causing unnecessary alarm and generating fear about Victoria’s future.

989 Johnson and all the other buildings under construction right now fit very much with “design restrictions set by the city”. They conform to the design and livability guidelines set out in the City’s Downtown Core Area Plan (DCAP) as well as the City’s Official Community Plan (OCP).

When the City undertook deep consultation with its residents and business owners between 2009 and 2012 to refresh the previous (1995) OCP, the City asked what kind of land use planning it should do. The overwhelming feedback on the City’s future land use was to concentrate density in the downtown, in village centres, and along major corridors like Fort, Yates, Johnson and Pandora, to name a few. And now, five years after adoption, we’re seeing this plan come to life.

The benefits of this kind of density concentration are twofold. First, the traditional, single family neighbourhoods that take up most of the landmass in the city will remain largely untouched and intact. Second, concentrating people downtown, in village centres and along transportation corridors allows us to achieve our climate action goals as a city and as a community.

It should be a wake up call to us all that greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions in the community – which comprise 99 per cent of all emissions – are increasing not decreasing. This flies in the face of our image of being so green and sustainable. Dense compact land use planning decreases GHG emissions in all sorts of ways.

Another myth out there is that all the cranes on the skyline are there to build high-end condos. This also isn’t true. There are a total of 2,006 housing units currently under construction in the City of Victoria. Of those, 43 per cent are rental apartment units. A further 2,237 units are currently in the planning/approvals stages with 48 per cent of those proposed as rental or affordable housing units.

It’s not only Victoria’s built form that is changing, but our demographics as well. According to the 2016 census, the single largest age demographic in Victoria are 25-29 year olds. The second largest are 30-34 year olds, and the third largest are the 35-39 year olds.

Victoria is changing, but it’s changing by design. It’s changing to meet the needs of its current population and future generations who want to live in a vibrant, compact city with lots of nature, trees, parks and public spaces for all to enjoy. Victoria won’t become a city of skyscrapers. We’ll be a world-class city with a liveable, human scale. And we’ll continue working together to make our city in the 21st century one of the healthiest, most sustainable, inclusive and prosperous places to live, in the world.

This piece was originally published in the Victoria News here.

 

Who is paying for those bike lanes anyway?

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The Pandora two-way separated bike lane opened on time and on budget on May 1st. It’s been open for a month now and the use has been staggering. Preliminary data reveal that we’re seeing well over 1000 people per day using the infrastructure. This is a marked increase from usage on Pandora before the lanes opened.

In addition to data driven declarations of success even in these early days, anecdote and observation tell a deeper story. Before the installation of the Pandora bike lane, I can’t say I’d ever seen someone under the age of ten riding their own bike downtown. Now I’m seeing young kids, on their own two wheels, trailing closely behind their parents. And not only on sunny weekend days but also during the morning and afternoon commutes.

The new bike lane is making older kids and their parents feel safer too. I got this email from a Vic High parent last week, “Good morning Lisa. We attended my daughters last dance performance at Victoria High. After we left for home in our car, she left on her bike.  She got home shortly after us. We said, ‘That was quick how did you do that?’ She said, ‘I took the protected bike lanes; Lisa gave us a map.’ Thank you. Knowing my daughter is safe means a lot to us.”

These kids and teenagers are the people we built the bike lanes for. They’ll grow up knowing how to move through the city by bicycle and they’ll be able to do it safely. Biking will be normal for them not some “alternate” mode of transportation.

In addition to smiles and emails of thanks from parents, we’ve also received emails saying that cyclists should be paying their fair share for this new infrastructure. And that the Pandora bike lane was a waste of their property tax dollars.

In fact, it’s the opposite. People who ride bikes more than they drive cars subsidize infrastructure for cars. Everyone pays property taxes (those who rent pay them through their rent) and its property taxes that pay for roads. It’s enormously expensive to build and maintain roads for vehicles. Vehicles are much harder on roads than bikes or pedestrians. Vehicles lead to potholes and the need for pavement repair. Vehicles mean that when we build new infrastructure like the Johnson Street Bridge we need to build additional new wide, expensive lanes for cars. Those who bike, take transit, or walk more than they drive are subsidizing car infrastructure.

Second, the Pandora bike lanes were not paid for with property taxes but rather with gas taxes. Gas taxes are collected when people pump gas into their cars. Many people who ride bikes also drive cars from time to time so they are helping to pay for this infrastructure too.

Want to learn more about the economics of cycling? Watch the webcast of Portland’s Elly Blue, author of Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy giving a Lunch Time Lecture at City Hall.

Why I love to drive my car and Modeshift 2017

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It was the day after boxing day. Tired of turkey, we wanted Pad Thai for dinner. The Baan Thai on Blanshard St. was closed. The Oak Bay location was open. It was rainy and dark and cold. As I drove to the Victoria-Oak Bay border down Fort Street to pick up the warm delicious food, I felt happy and thankful to be driving my car.

In the future, I likely won’t have a car. I’ll order a self-driving car using my smartphone app to arrive at my door and pick me up to go get the food. But that’s a little ways off. In the meantime, people do drive and we’ve got some work to do on transportation solutions.

We’ve had lots of feedback about #Biketoria. Some people love it. Some people hate it. It has become a polarizing issue in the community. And when the community is polarized, it’s hard to move forward.

When the city builders of the 20th century started to build the road network, they did not call it #Cartoria. They just built the infrastructure for the emerging transportation technology, the car. And there was likely much protest and complaint from carriage drivers, horse riders, and people who walked and rode bikes. But the city leaders at the time could see the future.

In 2017 I think we need to ditch the car-bike polarity that has plagued us in 2016. We need to work towards something much more inspiring as a community that other cities in the 21st century are so far ahead of Victoria on. We need to set a transportation mode shift goal and work to meet it.

A few years ago, Vancouver set a goal that by 2020, 50% of all trips in the city would be by transit, cycling or walking. Last year they hit their 2020 goal!

We don’t have a Skytrain but the Smart Bus is coming; you’ll soon be able to see on your phone, in real time, when the bus is arriving. And this federal government is committed to transit. Yes not everyone can walk, bike, or take transit. But what if as a community we tried a bit harder. I drove my car to get Pad Thai that night, but most days I either walk or bike to City Hall so that I’m freeing up a parking space for someone else. What if those of us who could did this even a few days a week to start.

Why should we care about aiming for a 50% mode shift to walking, cycling and transit? To make parking easier for those who need it. Because it’s good for our health and makes us happy to get fresh air and exercise. Because cities are ground zero for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and taking climate action. But most of all, simply because it’s the future.

Thanks to the Victoria News for originally publishing this piece and also to the Times Colonist for their coverage today of the topic. And thanks also to Eric Haight President and Co-founder of Kano Apps for both the push and the inspiration!

City of Victoria Stormwater Utility – A Primer

In 2014 the City of Victoria will be rolling out its new Stormwater Utility. Modeled in part on a similar utility in Kitchener-Waterloo, the utility will remove the portion of money that comes to the City from residents and businesses from the property tax bill (about $4.5 million per year). Instead, people will receive a utility bill based primarily on the percentage of non-permeable surfaces on a property. The good news? This is a user-pay system, you pay for what you use. And, it’s possible to get up to a 40% credit on your stormwater bill by implementing rainwater cachement solutions on your property. The bad news? It’s all a little bit complicated to understand! This blog post is meant to provide some resources to help.

A few weeks ago, City staff updated Council on the roll out of the proposed Stormwater Utility. This powerpoint presentation contains a great deal of detail, including a list of solutions that property owners can implement to get a rebate on their bill. This CBC interview I did with Jo-Ann Roberts on All Points West explains in a bit more detail how the utility will work. And this Times Colonist article has a helpful infographic that details what people can expect based on the class of property they own.

To be clear, and to clear up some more confusion around the issue, the Stormwater Utility isn’t a new tax. The City will charge $4.5 million less in property taxes in 2014; this is the amount that the City currently spends on the storm water system. Instead the City will charge residents, businesses and institutions for the portion of the storm water system they actually use. It’s more fair that way. Right now, large institutions, like the provincial government for example don’t pay any property taxes or any grants in lieu of taxes but there is still stormwater runoff that comes from their properties. Currently, everyone who pays property taxes is subsidizing this.

Finally, the Stormwater Utility is something that makes the City of Victoria a leader in Canada. It’s innovative because it encourages people, at the level of their own properities, to take responsibility and leadership for creating solutions – like rain barrels, cisterns, raingardens, bioswales – that are good for the planet and good for the City’s stormwater system.

In the twentieth century we put lots of pipes in the ground to deal with the City’s stormwater runoff. In the 21st century we are implementing smaller-scale solutions. In the long-term, this will produce a savings for the City and taxpayers. If property owners, from single-family dwellers to large developers embrace the rainwater management techniques outlined in this powerpoint presentation, in the long-run we will have more above-ground infrastructure which is less expensive to build and maintain, mimics what the earth already does, and can also be really beautiful (check on the raingarden at Fisherman’s Wharf Park) and enhance public and private spaces.

Stay tuned at the City’s stormwater site for more information including information sessions.

On Deep Sustainability

I received an email this week from someone working on economic development and entrepreneurship in the region. His work shows that the general public wants to see a more socially inclusive and clean economy. He wrote to me concerned that I’m being perceived as ‘anti-sustainability’ in the eyes of some people who are vocal about sustainability in the region. Allegedly, I’m being grouped in with people who would sell the region’s resources and its future. It seems an explanation of my approach to sustainability is required.

I’ll begin with a story. It was the mid 1980s. I was thirteen years old. A group of friends and I were tired of seeing garbage on the roadside as we biked back and forth between each other’s houses. So we bought plain white t-shirts and fabric markers and founded T.I.M.E. – Teens Interested in Maintaining the Environment. We never did more than pick up garbage. Yet from that early age, the sustainability of the planet and its people has been one of my core commitments. 

Sustainability for me is a common sense way of life. It’s why I convinced my landlord to let me dig up the entire front lawn to grow food. It’s why I travel by bicycle. It’s why I keep backyard chickens. It’s why I help to create a strong local economy as the founder and Executive Director of Community Micro Lending. It’s why I started a backyard business – The Backyard Project – with a friend. And it’s why I’ve worked as a facilitator with Lifecycles Project Society, the Good Food Box Society, the Moss Street Market and other organizations to help focus their visions and actions.

The problem that the people who think I’m anti-sustainability have is that I’ve been advocating to do away with the City’s Sustainability Department since I was elected. I just don’t think having a sustainability silo alongside all the other silos is the way to go. But, I had a conversation recently with a young local change-maker, Jill Doucette of Synergy Enterprises. She sang the praises of the Sustainability Department and pointed out what an important point of contact it is for her and others working on green economy initiatives. Others in the community working on green economy and other sustainability initiatives laud the Sustainability Department for taking leadership on these issues.

I appreciate the leadership of the Sustainability Department. And I’m starting to realize that maybe we’re just not sustainable enough yet and a stand-alone sustainability department is necessary. (An internal City E-Bulletin a few weeks ago noted that the Department of Legislative Services is now accepting reports printed on two-sides of the paper!) So let me be clear: I’m not against sustainability; I think sustainability must be interwoven into the practices of each and every department. I think that each decision request that comes to Council should outline how the proposed project furthers the sustainability goals – financial, social and environmental – of the City. I think the City of Victoria itself should be the department of sustainability, all departments working interdependently to achieve the vision laid out in the City’s Official Community Plan.

If the City and its residents and businesses are to achieve this aspirational vision, the goal of the Sustainability Department should be to embed sustainability in every nook and cranny of the City and to work itself out of existence.