Archive for April, 2006

Homeowner Protection Office (HPO) says Vancouver’s Leaky Condo Problems under control

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

Ashley Ford
Province

How long does it take to fix a leak — as in leaky condominiums?

Well, over $500,000,000 later in reconstruction loans and tax rebates, and seven years down the road, the “fix” is well and truly on, but still a long way from completion.

Ken Cameron, the CEO and registrar of the Homeowner Protection Office (HPO), the Crown corporation formed to deal with the crisis and oversee residential building licensing, is proud of the progress made to repair a sorry and shoddy chapter in B.C. residential construction history.

“This has been a real success story for our society,” he said in an interview. “It’s a story of industry and society taking responsibility for a problem, [which] has enabled people to deal with terrible problems.”

“The problem is under control and we are well under way to solving the existing situation. We have the best construction-defect protection in Canada,” he added.

In raw numbers, 14,484 units or co-op units have been helped by loans and 600 applications for Social Service Tax relief grants have been made, with 589 being approved and only 11 being rejected.

Some $550.7 million in reconstruction loans have been approved and more than $16 million in provincial sales tax rebates have been made.

(The reconstruction loan program provides no-interest loans to owners of leaky condominiums, leaky housing co-operatives and other homes who are not able to finance or pay for repairs related to premature building envelope failures).

Approximately 65,000 units faced leaky or substandard building problems, and HPO says that between 45,000 and 48,000 owners have made contact with it.

The buoyant state of the real-estate market has been of huge help to owners hit with leaky condos.

“The vast majority of affected properties have recovered more than 90 per cent of their original value,” Cameron says.

He is the first to admit there is still a long way to go but says, “No one has had to lose their home because of an inability to pay for repairs.”

Repair costs keep climbing, especially for high-rise concrete buildings. He said the problems in high rises are much more complex and the per-unit costs of restoration and repair are now between $80,000 and $85,000.

The average repair cost of a frame unit is $31,700, up from $21,000 five years ago, he said.

Some strata councils have ignored their problems or did not act on them early enough and thus have made repairs more expensive.

Tony Gioventu, executive director of the 65,000-member Condominium Home Owners Association of B.C., agrees with Cameron’s assessment.

“We started at point zero and, as of now, we are 85 per cent of the way there,” he says.

“The leaky-condo problem is still going to go on for another 10 to 15 years and it was a horrible thing.

“But people are being helped to work through it. The warranty and licensing programs have resulted in an overwhelming improvement in developing new building envelope standards and there has been a huge improvement in research and education,” he said.

Despite the added consumer protection, both say consumers must take responsibility and closely examine everything, including the strata council minutes before buying.

Gioventu says the biggest problem now is consumers themselves. Strata councils are either not repairing or not concentrating enough on regular inspections, he says.

“The protection that is there is self-enforcing and the most chronic worry is consumers themselves not taking responsibilities for themselves,” he said.

The crisis has not gone away, says Carmen Maretic, president of the Consumer Advocacy and Support for Homeowners Society.

“We are still being called by people who are either going into bankruptcy or foreclosures,” she said.

Maretic said she had no numbers on how many were facing bankruptcy or foreclosure.

While she agrees there has been some recovery in housing prices, she said the downside is there has been a huge escalation in construction costs.

“The average per-unit repair cost in March 2000 was $20,000. As of March 2006 it had risen to $60,000 per unit,” she says.

Maretic says the HPO’s own numbers clearly show the leaky-condo crisis is not over and there is a clear need for a political response.

“We want government and elected officials to implement proper consumer protection and timely and effective dispute-resolution mechanisms,” she says.

The non-profit housing-advocacy group says “many innocent, hardworking citizens have been abandoned by the current system.”

A HELPING HAND

The Homeowner Protection Office is a provincial Crown corporation that was created by the Homeowner Protection Act.

HPO is responsible for:

- residential builder licensing and establishing the framework for and monitoring of a mandatory third-party home warranty insurance;

- administering a no-interest repair-loan program and PST Relief Grant for owners of leaky homes;

- research and eduction function designed to benefit the residential construction industry and consumers.

- Online contact: www.hpo.bc.ca

© The Vancouver Province 2006

Homeowner Protection Office (HPO) says Vancouver’s Leaky Condo problems under control

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

Ashley Ford
Province

How long does it take to fix a leak — as in leaky condominiums?

Well, over $500,000,000 later in reconstruction loans and tax rebates, and seven years down the road, the “fix” is well and truly on, but still a long way from completion.

Ken Cameron, the CEO and registrar of the Homeowner Protection Office (HPO), the Crown corporation formed to deal with the crisis and oversee residential building licensing, is proud of the progress made to repair a sorry and shoddy chapter in B.C. residential construction history.

“This has been a real success story for our society,” he said in an interview. “It’s a story of industry and society taking responsibility for a problem, [which] has enabled people to deal with terrible problems.”

“The problem is under control and we are well under way to solving the existing situation. We have the best construction-defect protection in Canada,” he added.

In raw numbers, 14,484 units or co-op units have been helped by loans and 600 applications for Social Service Tax relief grants have been made, with 589 being approved and only 11 being rejected.

Some $550.7 million in reconstruction loans have been approved and more than $16 million in provincial sales tax rebates have been made.

(The reconstruction loan program provides no-interest loans to owners of leaky condominiums, leaky housing co-operatives and other homes who are not able to finance or pay for repairs related to premature building envelope failures).

Approximately 65,000 units faced leaky or substandard building problems, and HPO says that between 45,000 and 48,000 owners have made contact with it.

The buoyant state of the real-estate market has been of huge help to owners hit with leaky condos.

“The vast majority of affected properties have recovered more than 90 per cent of their original value,” Cameron says.

He is the first to admit there is still a long way to go but says, “No one has had to lose their home because of an inability to pay for repairs.”

Repair costs keep climbing, especially for high-rise concrete buildings. He said the problems in high rises are much more complex and the per-unit costs of restoration and repair are now between $80,000 and $85,000.

The average repair cost of a frame unit is $31,700, up from $21,000 five years ago, he said.

Some strata councils have ignored their problems or did not act on them early enough and thus have made repairs more expensive.

Tony Gioventu, executive director of the 65,000-member Condominium Home Owners Association of B.C., agrees with Cameron’s assessment.

“We started at point zero and, as of now, we are 85 per cent of the way there,” he says.

“The leaky-condo problem is still going to go on for another 10 to 15 years and it was a horrible thing.

“But people are being helped to work through it. The warranty and licensing programs have resulted in an overwhelming improvement in developing new building envelope standards and there has been a huge improvement in research and education,” he said.

Despite the added consumer protection, both say consumers must take responsibility and closely examine everything, including the strata council minutes before buying.

Gioventu says the biggest problem now is consumers themselves. Strata councils are either not repairing or not concentrating enough on regular inspections, he says.

“The protection that is there is self-enforcing and the most chronic worry is consumers themselves not taking responsibilities for themselves,” he said.

The crisis has not gone away, says Carmen Maretic, president of the Consumer Advocacy and Support for Homeowners Society.

“We are still being called by people who are either going into bankruptcy or foreclosures,” she said.

Maretic said she had no numbers on how many were facing bankruptcy or foreclosure.

While she agrees there has been some recovery in housing prices, she said the downside is there has been a huge escalation in construction costs.

“The average per-unit repair cost in March 2000 was $20,000. As of March 2006 it had risen to $60,000 per unit,” she says.

Maretic says the HPO’s own numbers clearly show the leaky-condo crisis is not over and there is a clear need for a political response.

“We want government and elected officials to implement proper consumer protection and timely and effective dispute-resolution mechanisms,” she says.

The non-profit housing-advocacy group says “many innocent, hardworking citizens have been abandoned by the current system.”

A HELPING HAND

The Homeowner Protection Office is a provincial Crown corporation that was created by the Homeowner Protection Act.

HPO is responsible for:

- residential builder licensing and establishing the framework for and monitoring of a mandatory third-party home warranty insurance;

- administering a no-interest repair-loan program and PST Relief Grant for owners of leaky homes;

- research and eduction function designed to benefit the residential construction industry and consumers.

- Online contact: www.hpo.bc.ca

© The Vancouver Province 2006

Vancouver’s new soccer stadium in Coal Harbour has some opposition

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

WATERFRONT WHITECAPS: Gastown coalition against new structure

John Bermingham
Province

The proposed stadium sits on the Vancouver waterfront east of Canada Place. The dotted line is the SeaBus route.

It’s got the buildup of a World Cup, but all the play will be off the field.

Both sides in the campaign for — and against — building the proposed Whitecaps Stadium are gearing up for an intense fight over the 15,000-seat venue planned for Vancouver’s waterfront.

Tuesday, a coalition launches its opposition campaign, seven weeks before the matter goes to Vancouver City Council.

The Gastown Neighbourhood Coalition, a business and land-owner group, is joining hands with a pair of newly minted groups, the Central Waterfront Coalition and the Gastown Residents Association.

The waterfront coalition is a loose alliance of Downtown Eastside and Gastown residents, non-profit groups and retailers. The Gastown association was recently founded by three Gastown residents, and is currently on a membership drive.

On the pro-stadium side, the Whitecaps have been courting the business community and key individuals such as Bruce Allen. Their supporters are organizing among the wider soccer community.

Both groups are sure to be out in force at city hall in mid-June, when council decides whether to take the stadium proposal to the next planning stage.

Next week, city staff will release two consultants’ reports: one a technical review, the other the results of its community consultation.

After a $160,000 review of the proposal, funded by the Whitecaps, city planner Kevin McNaney is drafting a report that’s due out in late May.

Staff met about 1,000 people at open houses and interviewed property owners, business groups and community groups.

Central Waterfront Coalition founding member Ian Armitage lives a soccer-ball’s kick away from the edge of the proposed stadium.

“This mega-structure would essentially entomb about 22 residents in our building,” said Armitage, who lives on the water side of Water Street.

“I think it should be shelved until they at least come up with a more coherent and cohesive plan for the [waterfront] land.”

Jon Stovell, spokesman for the Gastown Neighbourhood Coalition, said Gastown is becoming a heritage precinct and the stadium would be like a monster in its back yard.

GNC has hired two urban designers to come up with an alternative vision for the central waterfront.

GRA founding member Claudia Schulz said residents don’t want thousands of soccer fans with cars coming into Gastown.

“What we would like to see is a Soho-style urban residential area, with coffee shops and small businesses,” said Schulz.

Meantime, Whitecaps president John Rocha is encouraging supporters to write letters to city hall.

“There are specific groups that have objections to our project, but what we find is the broad support for our project is quite strong,” said Rocha.

A Whitecaps-funded poll last October showed 71 per cent of Vancouverites support the stadium, with 15 per cent opposed.

And there’s John Knox of the Vancouver Southsiders, a group of Whitecaps season-ticket holders, who says soccer fans all over B.C. are busy networking.

“I really have to laugh at what really is a concerted effort to paint the fans of the Whitecaps, by these opponents of the stadium, as being drunken yahoos, who are going to be marauding through the neighbourhood.

“It’s absolutely unfair and unfounded. We like to sing. We like to have a pint or two, but we don’t cause problems — and we’ve absolutely no interest in hassling people downtown.”

© The Vancouver Province 2006

 

A touch of sunny Spain in the Espana development

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

INTERNATIONAL VILLAGE: Private courtyard just one of many attractive amenities

Province

Espana, the final piece of the International Village puzzle, has great-looking open plans. Living room, above, and kitchen, below, have laminate flooring as a standard feature. Photograph by : Wayne Leidenfrost, The Province

Espana, the final piece of the International Village puzzle, has great-looking open plans. Living room, above, and kitchen, below, have laminate flooring as a standard feature. Photograph by : Wayne Leidenfrost, The Province

If you have ever found yourself riding the SkyTrain, looking out on the empty parking lot at International Village near Stadium Station and wondering, “What sort of project is going in there?” wonder no more.

It’s Espana Condominiums — the final stage of a spectacular development that surely will change the skyline and the pulse of downtown Vancouver forever.

“Espana is the culmination of all the hard work that we have put into [International Village],” says Graham Snowden of Henderson Development (Canada) Ltd.

Espana is the Spanish word for Spain.

“The Spanish are said to have the greatest capacity for enjoying life,” said Snowden. “Probably the most unique part of the development is the private Spanish-style courtyard.”

What’s special about the project?

“Espana will complete the International Village development. It was conceived by well-respected IBI/HB Architects and Barry Downs, creator of Canada Place. A design masterpiece, the courtyard is an interplay of sun and shadow, vibrant radial walkways and cloistered private spaces, lush garden plantings and spectacular water features.”

What’s attractive about the location and neighbourhood?

“Local amenities include Andy Livingston Park, GM Place, Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens and Chinatown. It’s a few short blocks from both Gastown and Yaletown, and easily accessible by the SkyTrain.”

What are people liking about the floor plans?

“All suites offer either an enclosed or open balcony and many suites offer both. Espana’s spacious floor plans are incredibly efficient in that an entire unit is usable, limiting corridor or hallway space.”

What special details?

“Open-concept from kitchen to dining area. Ensuites in two bedroom and larger units. Home office/den area in all units. Penthouses and townhouses are two levels with roofdecks.”

What standard features are impressing buyers?

“Standard features include laminate wood flooring throughout, porcelain tile in bathrooms, stainless-steel appliances, granite counter tops, full-size stacking washer/dryer, energy-efficient steam heat.

“The two-bedroom and larger suites also offer free-standing tubs in the master ensuite and a stainless-steel wine cooler.”

What upgrades are available?

“Appliance upgrades will be available. (Laminate flooring is standard.)”

How are sales going?

“Sales are yet to begin, however, the extensive list of priority registrants indicates that Espana units are going to be in high demand. The sales centre, at the corner of Abbott Street and Pender Street, will be opening in April.”

Amenities?

“A 25-metre swimming pool, fitness centre, whirlpool, steam room, multi-media room, conference room and two game/multi-function rooms.”

Occupancy?

“The fourth quarter of 2008.”

QUICK FACTS

Espana

What: Two highrises, two rows of townhomes, one midrise — 446 units in downtown Vancouver

Where: 505 Abbott St.

Developed by: Henderson Development (Canada) Ltd.

Sizes: One-, two- and three-bedroom units, 580 sq. ft. to 1,800 sq. ft.

Prices: $250,000 to $1.3 million

Open: Daily, noon to 6 p.m. 604-915-7198 or 604-689-8898

© The Vancouver Province 2006

 

Expo 86 brought the world and transformed our False Creek with buildings

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

EXPO 86 I The city opened its door and became more livable, more sophisticated and a lot more interesting

Doug Ward
Sun

IAN LINDSAY/VANCOUVER Jimmy Pattison, who became Expo 86 president, returns to the False Creek site of the fair, which he says succeeded beyond everyone’s expectations.

VANCOUVER SUN FILES Expo 86 was marketed as a fun event with parades, fireworks, distractions and late-night partying.

Diana, Princess of Wales, chats with Vancouver-based rock star Bryan Adams at the Expo Theatre in Vancouver in 1986. Adams was one of many performers who took part in a gala rock concert at the fair. Photograph by : Ryan Remiorz, Canadian Press Files

Expo 86 crowds in October 1986. The final count of 22 million visits far exceeded the fair’s original projection of 13.7 million. Photograph by : Bill Keay, Vancouver Sun files

Back in 1948, long before he began making his billion-dollar fortune, Jimmy Pattison worked in the windowless pantries of CP Rail passenger trains.

He made salads, often cut his hands cracking ice and slept on tables. Upon his arrival back in Vancouver after trips to Calgary, Pattison and other crew members would be unloaded at the CPR rail yards on the north shore of False Creek.

Pattison recalled that summer job recently as he returned to the CPR’s former western terminus site. The place he visited is now better known as the site of Expo 86 — the world’s fair that opened 20 years ago on May 2 and is now seen as the pivotal event marking Vancouver’s late-20th-century coming of age.

Pattison stood along the False Creek waterfront and recalled how the area was once home to railroad tracks, factories and lumber mills. These days, the land along the inlet is dominated by a forest of towers inhabited by white-collar middle-class professionals, many of whom shop at the nearby upscale Urban Fare, owned by Pattison himself.

On the afternoon of his visit to the scene of Expo, Pattison ran into Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan and venerable band leader Dal Richards. Both men live in nearby condos built as part of the post-Expo real-estate boom downtown.

“It’s really wonderful — what’s happened in downtown Vancouver,” said Pattison.

“Where we were and where we are now is a big difference, no question about that.”

As a point in time, Expo stands at the juncture of two Vancouvers — the old village on the edge of the rainforest and the new post-industrial landing strip for capital.

Pattison said the 165-day fair, which drew Diana, the Princess of Wales, Liberace, the Soviet Soyuz spacecraft and your aunt and uncle from small-town Saskatchewan, succeeded beyond everyone’s expectations.

“But it seems like the traffic never went back to what it used to be,” said Pattison, who was famously paid $1 to be chairman and later president of the Expo Corporation.

“Our slogan was invite the world. And they came. They showed up.”

Yes, and as some people have lamented, the world stayed.

Which was the hope of most of Expo’s political and business backers all along.

Kris Olds, a geography professor at the University of Wisconsin, has written about how Expo was the “perfect resolution” to the desire of B.C.’s political and business elites to forge links with successful Asian economies and become a centre for Pacific Rim commerce.

Expo’s motto was “World in Motion — World in Touch,” which in hindsight is apt considering how Vancouver used Expo to get in touch with — or grab onto — a fast-moving world.

Vancouver became busier and less affordable. Expo critics in a recent Discover Vancouver bulletin board on the Internet said: “All the funky little boutiques on Robson became chain stores. Traffic congestion increased. Rents went up, housing costs went up. My earning capacity did not. Expo 86, I hate you.”

But as a character in the highly popular Spirit Lodge, at the General Motors Pavilion, said: “To stop moving is to die.”

Traffic, chain stores and high-priced real estate notwithstanding, Vancouver became more livable, more sophisticated and a heck of a lot more interesting — post-Expo.

A new middle class came to live in Vancouver’s downtown close to the city’s booming service and information economy. Vancouver became the envy of city planners across North America.

Besides marketing Vancouver to the world, Expo was accompanied by significant government-funded infrastructure, including Canada Place, Science World, the Plaza of Nations, SkyTrain and the Cambie Bridge.

So Expo’s significance extended beyond the fair, which was organized according to the dictum set by its first president, the American Michael Bartlett: “You get ‘em on the site, you feed ‘em, you make ‘em dizzy, and you scare the s— out of ‘em.”

“I don’t want to downplay the fair at all,” said Vancouver planning director Larry Beasley, “but at other world’s fairs, amazing things happened, but not much else happened afterwards.

“In our case, Expo was just the beginning because it happened at such a pivotal moment when we were in search of a new image for our city.”

Expo Ernie — or at least the remote-controlled voice of Expo’s mascot — couldn’t agree more.

“Vancouver had a different feel to it afterwards. Vancouver wasn’t a secret anymore,” said GraigWheeler, who guided one of the six Expo Ernie robots on promotional tours and at the fair.

Wheeler, who talked to crowds through a microphone in Ernie’s chest, said what he loved about Expo wasn’t any particular exhibit or pavilion, but just the energy that came with “having a community the size of Kamloops or Kelowna all in one place. I was just happy sitting at a cafe or The Unicorn pub and watching people.”

But the best thing about Expo, said Wheeler, now a landscaper, was that it changed how we saw our city. “We weren’t that sleepy little city. We were now able to hold our heads up and expect that someone from another part of the world would know about Vancouver. It produced civic pride.”

Expo 86 ran between May 2 and Oct. 13, 1986. The final count of 22 million visits far exceeded the fair’s original projection of 13.7 million. Expo’s total cost of $1.5 billion was shared by Ottawa and Victoria and corporate participants. The $311-million deficit was covered by provincial lottery revenues.

There are more numbers: The average daily attendance was 120,000 and the single-day record was 341,806, 54 nations participated, there were 70 restaurants and 43,000 entertainment performances, over 25,000 full-time jobs were created for six months, $20 million was spent on amusement ride tickets and $94 million on food, including 4.2 million hot dogs.

Expo was truly an event of mega-consumption.

And a good investment, according to conventional wisdom these days.

“Expo gave Vancouver the attention of the world in ways that we didn’t have before,” said Bob Williams, the former NDP cabinet minister who like many on the political left was a critic of Expo when Socred premier Bill Bennett first proposed it in 1980.

Williams described himself as a “reverse snob” about Expo: initially he felt Expo was a frivolous event, a bread-and-circuses project designed to make the masses forget about the economic hard times under Bennett in the early ’80s.

“But Expo really did have a substantial impact,” continued Williams, saying it catapulted Vancouver’s presence in the global marketplace ahead by about two decades — and set the stage for the new downtown.

“In a sense it was a preliminary to the downtown Vancouver, which we now celebrate and enjoy.”

Inadvertently, Bennett set the stage for the dense livable city state, said Williams, which was later designed by Vancouver city planners inspired by left-wing urban theorist Jane Jacobs.

Bennett himself is proud of Expo 86 and its legacy — proud enough to make a rare public appearance on Tuesday, speaking to the Vancouver Board of Trade about the Expo experience.

In an interview recently, Bennett said Expo came together because of a variety of factors. He recalled how then-Socred tourism minister Grace McCarthy travelled in 1978 to London where she met with Patrick Reid, who was Canada’s high commissioner.

McCarthy was wondering how to celebrate Vancouver’s centenary. During their lunch, Reid told McCarthy that he was also president of the Bureau of International Expositions in Paris. McCarthy asked why Vancouver had never been chosen as a site for a world exposition and Reid said, “because it never asked.”

(Actually, McCarthy first suggested to Reid that perhaps Vancouver could borrow the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in Paris and make that the centrepiece of Vancouver’s celebration — but that’s another story.)

Over time, McCarthy’s desire for a world’s fair in Vancouver coincided, recalled Bennett, with his government’s plans to build a stadium in Vancouver and get a rapid transit system and a convention centre. The transportation fair, originally called Transpo 86, was seen as way to leverage federal funds for some of the projects.

In late 1979, two Bennett advisers — Paul Manning and Larry Bell — recommended that the world’s fair be linked to the stadium and built on the False Creek lands owned by the CPR.

In January 1980, Bennett, facing poor opinion polls and a declining economy, announced the development of British Columbia Place, which would tie all these goals together, with Expo being the exclamation point set for 1986.

“I think for us it took some courage,” said Bennett, looking back. “B.C. had been in a downturn with forestry not at its best, and sometimes, you need to put things together to create excitement so that people can feel more confident.

“And getting the fair, the stadium and SkyTrain and everything else did that.”

Everything came together, but not always easily. Expo’s first president, Bartlett, was fired by Pattison in 1985 for allegedly being a big spender and not having the sensitivity required to run a public corporation beholden to government. Pattison blew a gasket when he walked into the Expo parking lot and spotted the $50,000 Mercedes Benz bought by Bartlett with public funds.

Bartlett later rejected Pattison’s accusations of extravagance, saying that he paid the difference himself between the car and the lowest price of any of Expo’s leased cars.

Bartlett also said that it was him — not Pattison — who “took Expo from a small regional experience to a large international event that was an exceptional success.”

A dispute between B.C.’s building trades unions and the Socred government almost killed the entire fair. The Socred government wanted a no-strike guarantee and it also wanted the Expo site to be open to non-union firms. Pattison negotiated a series of deals for labour peace but Bennett scuttled them. At one point in 1984 the labour situation looked so bleak that Pattison recommended to Bennett that he cancel the fair — advice the premier declined.

A deal was eventually struck with the unions, but Expo still looked like a dicey proposition. In 1984, Vancouver Sun columnist Denny Boyd wrote: “Expo has to die and Premier Bill Bennett must do the killing.”

Another Sun columnist, Marjorie Nichols, compared the Socreds to the dictators of impoverished Ethiopia who staged a gala banquet replete with imported French wines. She called Expo a “big, glittering, attention-riveting, reality-deflecting untruth about the province of B.C.”

Expo generated bad press for B.C. because of the eviction of low-income residents from residential hotels and rooming houses being upgraded for the Expo tourist trade. Olaf Solheim, an 88-year-old Downtown Eastside resident facing eviction, committed suicide. Legendary folksinger Pete Seeger staged a free concert in his memory.

But by the time Prince Charles and Diana opened Expo, former critics of the fair were prepared to attend, including then-mayor Mike Harcourt and prominent New Democrats.

Socred-haters were tortured over whether to attend an event so identified with Bennett, but many set aside their consciences and walked through the turnstiles.

There were a few missteps: Diana fainted following a three-hour Expo tour. More tragically, a nine-year-old Nanaimo girl was crushed to death between a rotating theatre stand and a wall in the Canadian pavilion.

The foreign press loved Expo, including E.J. Kahn of The New Yorker, who gave the fair “somewhere between a B-plus and an A-minus,” and remarked: “It’s not so much Expo 86′s substance that accounts for its charm as it is its style. The scene has an ambience of gaiety, even whimsy. You feel good just walking around.”

Less enamoured of the middle-brow Expo was Saturday Night magazine’s Robert Fulford who wrote: “The fair was reasonably well-attended, but it was a success in no other way. The exhibits were seldom adventurous or surprising and were often mundane. The films were in most cases predictable. The architecture, with few exceptions, was commonplace or worse.”

But the customers, who are always right, kept walking through the Expo site, with few complaints, except about the lineups.

And the press, once so caustic about Expo, jumped on the bandwagon when the nightly fireworks began.

Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer noted just days after Expo’s closure that “this time all the negative nellies were wrong and the cock-eyed optimists were right.” He added: “So long beautiful. We’ll miss you.”

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In hindsight, Bennett’s Expo is seen as a great idea well-executed. But it was the timing that made Expo so significant in the long term.

Expo occurred just before a major jump in immigration between Hong Kong and Vancouver, due to Hong Kong’s 1997 repatriation to China, and the 1989 Tiananmen Square crisis.

Mega-events such as world’s fairs are designed to attract potential property investors, both local and foreign.

Among the more than 22 million visits to the fair were many Asian investors looking for places to park their money.

And among these were relatives and business associates of Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong’s richest property tycoon, who would later buy the entire 80-hectare Expo site from the B.C. government for $320 million.

Li wanted to provide his son, Victor, with a high-profile project to develop his expertise and establish a more significant North American base for the Li empire, said the University of Wisconsin’s Olds.

The urban geographer believes that the purchase of the Expo lands was even more critical to Vancouver’s development than Expo 86 itself, though it was the exposition that set the stage for the dramatic purchase.

While that purchase has been criticized as a poor deal made by a privatization-obsessed premier Bill Vander Zalm, others say it was a striking gesture that attracted more off-shore investment to the region and set the stage for the massive real estate project built by Concord Pacific under design guidelines set by city hall planners.

“Expo was quite pivotal because it provided a way to bring this huge piece of property into development in a generation,” said planning director Beasley.

He said the sale of the entire site to one developer gave city hall the leverage to get better design and more amenities than if the land had been sold piecemeal over time.

Expo 86′s influence can be overstated, said Olds, because the flow of immigrants and capital from East Asia would have come eventually, given the uncertainty in that region and changes in Canada’s immigration polices, including the business immigration program.

“Expo was in many ways more of a marker or an accelerator rather than the cause of Vancouver’s transition from the old-style Vancouver to a city with a more global metropolitan and cosmopolitan identity.”

Lance Berelowitz, author of Dream City: Vancouver and the Global Imagination, moved to Vancouver from his native South Africa via London in the year of Expo.

He recalled sitting with his wife on the deck of their rented Mount Pleasant apartment in the summer of 1986 and watching Expo’s nightly fireworks. He visited Expo a few times, failed to find much “intellectual depth,” but “it was a fun fair with fireworks, distractions and late-night booze.”

He said Expo alerted the rest of the world to the fact that Vancouver was “a beautiful place with undervalued property relative to other cities and people began to snap up the waterfront property with front rows to the city’s views.”

Berelowitz said Expo “was like Vancouver coming out at a debutant ball: ‘Hi guys. We’re here, we’re sexy and we have this to sell. What do you want to buy?’”

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

 

Key Travel websites whether for a house swap or a lake front cottage

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

Whether you want a lakeside cottage or a house swap, you’ll get help online

Andy Riga
Sun

Whether you’re still short-listing destinations or you’re ready to hammer down arrangements, now’s the time to jump online and get started on summer vacation planning.

Here’s a list of key sites to help you in your summer planning:

A lake, a deck and a case of beer. If a week at a cottage sounds appealing, visit one of the many sites offering rental listings, complete with photos and detailed descriptions. Try www.atthecottage.com, www.cottagesincanada.com, www.spiritofthenorth.com, www.cottagelink.com or www.cottage-canada-usa.com.

House swapping — you use a family’s house at your destination while they use yours — is a popular route for those with big travel dreams but tight budgets. Research and booking is usually done online. Swappers describe their homes and outline where they would like to visit and when. Other members contact them for information and to arrange swaps. Start browsing: www.homelink.ca, www.intervac.ca, www.homebase-hols.com, www.homeexchange.com.

Visit the Canadian Tourism Commission at www.explore.canada.travel, a government-industry site with data and links for the entire country. Browse by places to go or by things to do.

Help is on the way. Stumped for a family-friendly trip idea? Here are some Internet tools that offer inspiration and tips on travelling with kids:

travelwithkids.about.com, www.familytravelguides.com, parenting.ivillage.com (click on Being a Mom, then Family Travel), MomsMinivan.com, www.kidstravelfun.com.

Camps for kids. For those seeking a summer camp for a child or teenager, several sites can help, including MySummerCamps.com. It lists information on 17,000 camps, categorized by location (around the world), activity (from art to religion to sports) and price. It also has tips and suggestions for parents. Other good starting points are www.campsearch.com, www.summercamps.com and www.kidscamps.com.

World travel. Canadian youth aged 18 to 30 who would like to see the world but can’t afford to bankroll their backpacking trip might be interested in checking out International Youth Programs at www.Canada123go.ca. This Foreign Affairs department site offers information about work-travel programs in about 20 countries, from Australia to the United States. Search by country or region, or read up on all the available working holidays, young workers’ exchanges and cooperative education programs.

Travel medicine. www.travelhealth.gc.ca is a good site for travel-related health information brought to you by the Public Health Agency of Canada. On the opening page, click on Information for Travellers. The site offers travel-health advisories, disease-related travel recommendations and immunization suggestions, plus general advice for travellers. Scroll to the bottom for a link to a long list of other travel- and health-related sites.

The Consular Affairs department (www.voyage.gc.ca) is a crucial federal resource for Canadians travelling abroad. Among the practical bits is Bon Voyage, But . . . , a new version of Foreign Affairs’ informative, 29-page pamphlet. It includes things to think about before you go (types of documents required, items not allowed on planes); while on the road (precautions to take, avoiding legal problems); and upon your return (what you can and can’t bring home). The site also features a travellers checklist, country profiles (information on what to expect in terms of crime, health-care services, etc.), travel warnings, and data about current issues (avian influenza, natural disasters, security).

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

 

Woodwards sellout is an example that rapic transit does not work – People want to be close to the city & Skytrainis a waste of time

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

Bob Ransford
Sun

It’s little wonder the Woodward’s project sold so successfully last Saturday — 536 homes, 536 contracts signed in one day of selling. Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside may be the last Vancouver neighbourhood in which development that ensures urban livability in the Lower Mainland can be created.

Signs are already pointing to the pending failure of all attempts at bringing downtown livability to the city’s first-ring suburbs.

These early signs are alarming. They seem to indicate Vancouver is prepared to abandon many of the opportunities that were supposed to flow from a deliberate collective decision to invest significant taxpayer dollars in improved public transit infrastructure.

Build SkyTrain and they will come. These rail transit lines were to link regional town centres that would intensify with mixed-use developments where people could live, work and play. Along the line there would be a series of stations where nodes of high density development would feed riders to the transit system.

That was the mantra behind the original Expo line running diagonally across Vancouver and Burnaby to New Westminster and Surrey. It was also the rationale for its twin, the Millennium line.

The RAV project, now expected by most to exceed $2 billion, was supposed to link Richmond’s rapidly growing town centre with Vancouver’s downtown and create all kinds of new development opportunities not just in Richmond, but at various nodes along the under-populated Cambie corridor.

These nodes and corridors are the places where Greater Vancouver can accommodate the next million people that will flock to this region over the next 30 to 40 years.

Densification at these nodes and along these corridors can provide the housing supply that will help to temper rising housing costs.

For a number of reasons though, reality is falling short of expectations.

Central Surrey is struggling to become a downtown. New Westminster has seen limited success, but that city’s downtown certainly hasn’t yet realized its full potential. There have been some good examples of transit-oriented nodal development around a number of Burnaby’s SkyTrain stations, like Metrotown and Edmonds stations.

But, with the exception of the area around the Joyce Street station, Vancouver hasn’t seen the kind of density that should have developed around the SkyTrain lines.

Neighbourhoods around the Nanaimo station, the 29th Avenue station, Rupert station, Renfrew station, Broadway station and Main Street station continue to be primarily singe-family neighbourhoods where the potential for in-fill density hasn’t been realized.

Most alarming is what is already unfolding in the planning along the new RAV line.

The RAV route was deliberately aligned not along the higher populated Arbutus corridor — largely for political reasons — but instead along Cambie Street where supposedly more potential riders would come from the job centres along the line.

But the RAV project promises to be a disaster in terms of cost-benefit if what is unfolding around one of the line’s best opportunities for higher density suburban renewal – Oakridge – is an indication.

Plans for re-development of Oakridge have been limited to the existing 28-acre shopping centre, instead of encompassing the larger neighbourhood within walking distance of the planned RAV station at Cambie and 41st Avenue.

The preliminary concept plan for re-development of the shopping centre, drafted after a number of meetings with neighbouring residents over the last year and a half, falls far short in terms of over-all density for a major first-ring suburban transit node like Oakridge.

Five mid-rise and a few low-rise buildings are proposed — bringing about 1,300 to 1,500 new apartments to the Oakridge node. This plan appears to reflect the influence of existing residents in the surrounding neighbourhood who have expressed opposition to the form of higher density development, opposing higher towers and fearing increased traffic.

City council won’t see the plan until later this year. But if the current draft is the benchmark for the intensity of re-development along the RAV line, then RAV will be a failure.

Meanwhile, in Richmond, planners and politicians seem to have missed the whole point of investing in rapid transit infrastructure. On the one hand, Richmond is willing to accommodate densities in the town centre slightly higher than those currently proposed for Oakridge. But Richmond is also penalizing developers wanting to take advantage of this density potential.

It is charging developers $4 per square foot for every new home they build to pay for what the city calls “transit-oriented improvements” in the downtown. This cost is in addition to the $2 billion plus spent on RAV by taxpayer. The city is willing to trade payment of this levy for a reduction of parking that a developer must build as part of a new residential development.

However, instead of automatically reducing parking to encourage transit ridership in a new transit node and make housing more affordable in a more location-efficient area, the city is penalizing land owners by charging an additional fee.

When are we going to learn?

Bob Ransford is a public affairs consultant with COUNTERPOINT Communications Inc. He is a former real estate developer who specializes in urban land use issues. Email: [email protected]

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

Woodwards sellout is an example that rapic transit does not work – People want to be close to the city & Skytrainis a waste of time

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

Bob Ransford
Sun

It’s little wonder the Woodward’s project sold so successfully last Saturday — 536 homes, 536 contracts signed in one day of selling. Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside may be the last Vancouver neighbourhood in which development that ensures urban livability in the Lower Mainland can be created.

Signs are already pointing to the pending failure of all attempts at bringing downtown livability to the city’s first-ring suburbs.

These early signs are alarming. They seem to indicate Vancouver is prepared to abandon many of the opportunities that were supposed to flow from a deliberate collective decision to invest significant taxpayer dollars in improved public transit infrastructure.

Build SkyTrain and they will come. These rail transit lines were to link regional town centres that would intensify with mixed-use developments where people could live, work and play. Along the line there would be a series of stations where nodes of high density development would feed riders to the transit system.

That was the mantra behind the original Expo line running diagonally across Vancouver and Burnaby to New Westminster and Surrey. It was also the rationale for its twin, the Millennium line.

The RAV project, now expected by most to exceed $2 billion, was supposed to link Richmond’s rapidly growing town centre with Vancouver’s downtown and create all kinds of new development opportunities not just in Richmond, but at various nodes along the under-populated Cambie corridor.

These nodes and corridors are the places where Greater Vancouver can accommodate the next million people that will flock to this region over the next 30 to 40 years.

Densification at these nodes and along these corridors can provide the housing supply that will help to temper rising housing costs.

For a number of reasons though, reality is falling short of expectations.

Central Surrey is struggling to become a downtown. New Westminster has seen limited success, but that city’s downtown certainly hasn’t yet realized its full potential. There have been some good examples of transit-oriented nodal development around a number of Burnaby’s SkyTrain stations, like Metrotown and Edmonds stations.

But, with the exception of the area around the Joyce Street station, Vancouver hasn’t seen the kind of density that should have developed around the SkyTrain lines.

Neighbourhoods around the Nanaimo station, the 29th Avenue station, Rupert station, Renfrew station, Broadway station and Main Street station continue to be primarily singe-family neighbourhoods where the potential for in-fill density hasn’t been realized.

Most alarming is what is already unfolding in the planning along the new RAV line.

The RAV route was deliberately aligned not along the higher populated Arbutus corridor — largely for political reasons — but instead along Cambie Street where supposedly more potential riders would come from the job centres along the line.

But the RAV project promises to be a disaster in terms of cost-benefit if what is unfolding around one of the line’s best opportunities for higher density suburban renewal – Oakridge – is an indication.

Plans for re-development of Oakridge have been limited to the existing 28-acre shopping centre, instead of encompassing the larger neighbourhood within walking distance of the planned RAV station at Cambie and 41st Avenue.

The preliminary concept plan for re-development of the shopping centre, drafted after a number of meetings with neighbouring residents over the last year and a half, falls far short in terms of over-all density for a major first-ring suburban transit node like Oakridge.

Five mid-rise and a few low-rise buildings are proposed — bringing about 1,300 to 1,500 new apartments to the Oakridge node. This plan appears to reflect the influence of existing residents in the surrounding neighbourhood who have expressed opposition to the form of higher density development, opposing higher towers and fearing increased traffic.

City council won’t see the plan until later this year. But if the current draft is the benchmark for the intensity of re-development along the RAV line, then RAV will be a failure.

Meanwhile, in Richmond, planners and politicians seem to have missed the whole point of investing in rapid transit infrastructure. On the one hand, Richmond is willing to accommodate densities in the town centre slightly higher than those currently proposed for Oakridge. But Richmond is also penalizing developers wanting to take advantage of this density potential.

It is charging developers $4 per square foot for every new home they build to pay for what the city calls “transit-oriented improvements” in the downtown. This cost is in addition to the $2 billion plus spent on RAV by taxpayer. The city is willing to trade payment of this levy for a reduction of parking that a developer must build as part of a new residential development.

However, instead of automatically reducing parking to encourage transit ridership in a new transit node and make housing more affordable in a more location-efficient area, the city is penalizing land owners by charging an additional fee.

When are we going to learn?

Bob Ransford is a public affairs consultant with COUNTERPOINT Communications Inc. He is a former real estate developer who specializes in urban land use issues. Email: [email protected]

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

 

High-tech IDs would use ‘brain power’

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

Researchers are developing a new brainwave technology which would make troublesome computer passwords a thing of the past for users

Charles Mandel
Sun

Digital security researchers at Ottawa’s Carleton University are proposing a new biometrics system for computer security using “pass-thoughts.”

Users would employ their brain signals as passwords, transmitting thoughts to their computers to verify their identification.

The researchers say pass-thoughts could help defeat so-called shoulder-surfers — people who watch others punch in computer passwords in order to steal them.

“We’re in the process of doing a proof-of-concept right now,” said Carleton researcher Julie Thorpe in an interview Friday. “We’re just experimenting in the lab and seeing what we can get.”

In a recent paper titled Pass-thoughts: Authenticating with Our Minds, Thorpe, Paul van Oorschot and Anil Somayaji — researchers in Carleton’s Digital Security Group in the School of Computer Science — write that they’ve outlined “the design of what we believe to be a currently feasible pass-thought system.”

The system builds on current brain-computer interface (BCI) research used in areas such as prosthetics for disabled patients. Thorpe notes that with BCIs scientists have made it possible for the disabled to control computer cursors on screens and use rudimentary spelling devices.

Pass-thoughts could consist of words, images or even music.

Users would wear a headphone-like device featuring external electrodes attached to their heads. They would press a computer key, causing some sort of stimulus such as an image to be flashed at them. Their response to that stimulus would be the pass-thought, unlocking their computer.

Thorpe said an alternate pass-thought system might involve thinking a specific thought in response to the stimulus.

The researchers believe electroencephalogram (EEG) signals, which represent electrical activity in the brain, have potential as thought-passes because the “alpha frequency (a signal feature in an EEG signal) has been found to have considerable variability between subjects.”

Just don’t expect to wrinkle up your brow and beam thoughts at your computer any time soon.

Several challenges exist before thought-passes become an everyday technology.

The toughest problem is separating the pass-thought from all other brainwave activity.

“There’s a lot of things going on in your brain at any one time,” Thorpe said. “You want to be able to isolate one piece of that. That’s the part you want to be repeatable for your pass sign.”

Thorpe said even if the scientists arrive at their proof, it will likely be decades before pass-thoughts are commercially available.

David Lie, an assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Toronto, believes engineering such a device might be difficult but not impossible.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

 

The future of TV is mobile

Friday, April 28th, 2006

Alex Strachan
Sun

We have seen the future of TV and it is mobile. If what is happening in the U.S. is any indication, you may soon be watching TV on your iPod or cellphone.

You can’t watch The Office while at the office on these devices just yet, but a combination of technological advances and growing interest in “TV on the go” in the U.S., Japan and Europe means that day may not be far away.

A recent ratings survey of TV episodes available on the U.S. iTunes store found The Office landed in 15 of the top 40 spots that week.

One major U.S. network, ABC, will offer ad-supported, full-length episodes of Desperate Housewives, Lost and Grey’s Anatomy free of charge at www.ABC.com, beginning in June. The entire season of Alias will also be available.

Fox and Toyota will team together next month to produce Prison Break: Proof of Innocence, a series of two-minute “mobisodes” spun off from Fox’s Prison Break. Each mobisode will open with a 10-second spot for Toyota, and will be seen exclusively on cellphones.

Similarly, NBC is planning to air 10 exclusive, online-only “webisodes” of The Office over the summer, starring some of the show’s lesser known, supporting players.

Weekly 30-second promos for 24 are already available for download from Canada’s iTunes. Full-length episodes of TV shows are not available here yet, but if CTV, Global and iTunes Canada decision-makers have their way, they soon will be.

Mobile TV, the latest in a long line of promises of TV interactivity, is no longer a pipe dream. The prospect of being able to watch that lost episode of Lost on a cellphone or iPod while standing in line at the bank is too good a deal to turn down for many TV consumers.

TV content is supported and paid for in large part by the advertising industry. Increasingly, however, viewers complain it is being delivered in a way that is incompatible with their lives. The traditional television industry — the mainstream broadcast networks and the cable specialty channels — is in danger of being “Napsterized,” some analysts believe. Despite generating $60 billion US in ad revenue, these analysts insist, TV will have to adapt or eventually die.

“If you’re a marketer, you need to be where the eyeballs are,” David Katz, head of sports and entertainment for the Yahoo Media Group, told reporters earlier this year at a conference in Pasadena, Calif.

“And that goes for network television programmers as much as any other product or service.”

But being able to watch Desperate Housewives on the go will not spell the end of traditional viewing as we know it, says Albert Cheng, president of ABC-Disney Television’s digital division — the same studio that produces Desperate Housewives, Lost and Grey’s Anatomy.

He insisted at the same conference that, far from driving viewers away from the traditional networks, iPod downloads and so-called “podcasts” actually drive more viewers to the original network broadcasts.

“We’ve seen that already with things we’ve done for Apple iTunes, with Desperate [Housewives] and Lost,” Cheng said.

“It has not taken away viewers from our shows, not at all. It’s actually increased our viewership.”

Cheng said ABC-Disney embraced the iTunes concept to stymie what the company saw as unchecked piracy and file-sharing.

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“This technology is changing the way people are consuming media,” Cheng said.

“The company took a huge, bold step, but in a way it has made my job easier. We need to make sure we are where the consumers are, and deliver something consumers will value. The key message here is that we need to be forward-thinking about what consumers want.”

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Skeptics can be forgiven for wondering if mobile video is yet another example of gadgetry run amok, out of touch with the reality of people’s everyday lives, or pie-in-the-sky promises that don’t match expectations once they’re realized.

Brad Adgate, research director for Horizon Media, says it’s a generational issue: Young people get it. Older people are more resistant.

“Take the MTV Video Music Awards as an example,” Adgate said.

“They had 11 million downloads within two weeks of its air date at the end of August, and their ratings were down 22 per cent. The MTV Music Awards targets an audience that is 12- to 34-years-old. Last summer, the Live 8 concert on ABC had three million viewers, but a cumulative five million people downloaded the concert online. The tide is changing.”

Others wonder if people are really willing to watch TV on a two-inch TV screen.

Media analyst Mark Glaser, who supervises PBS’s technology-oriented MediaShift blog at PBS.org, has wondered himself.

“I asked this very question on the blog I started [at PBS],” Glaser said.

” ‘What would you watch on a small video screen, on an iPod?’ And people were saying, ‘If I was stuck in a line somewhere, I would watch anything.’ “

ABC-Disney’s Cheng concurred.

“With young people, screen size doesn’t really matter that much,” he said. “When you look at the demographic of the Apple iPod user, it tends to skew young, anywhere between 15 and 29.”

OPTIONAL CUT STARTS

Digital downloads and mobile video may eventually prove a boon for lesser-known, out-of-print titles, the way DVD has, said Glaser.

“In the past, moves, books, music — all those things that depended on distribution to retail outlets — had to deal with a finite amount of shelf space,” he said.

“The Internet and new distribution avenues like mobile video are opening it up to the point where you can have an unlimited amount of inventory. If you can pull out all your old TV shows, all the books that are out of print, all the old music that’s gone out of print, and somehow make that available online, this pent-up demand for out-of-print media could create a million little niches.

“What that means to a big media company is that you can do just as well with all these little niches as you do with your big, mass market hits.”

Companies like Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner are betting big on new delivery technologies.

“They are investing billions of dollars in this,” Adgate said. “I don’t think this is something they would be investing in if they didn’t think it was going to happen. There’s too much riding on this.”

Young consumers are the future of any large corporation, he insists.

“The big media companies understand that to stay relevant to younger consumers . . . they’re going to have to embrace this new technology.”

For now, it’s a generational issue. But it may not stay that way, Adgate believes.

“As prices come down, I think it will get more mainstream. But it’s not going to happen overnight. As it stands right now, $60 billion is spent on TV. And if you look at mobile video and broadband video, it’s under a billion dollars. There’s a lot of room there for growth.

“But if you look at Korea and Japan, where the technological infrastructure is a lot better than it is here, for any number of reasons, you’ll see it’s a lot more commonplace than you might expect. And it’s embraced by all generations there. I think, some point down the road, it’s going to happen here.”

Almost everything with a screen will be competing with your family-room television for your viewing time. Some content isn’t even available on cable or satellite any more.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006