Archive for July, 2007

Buyers aren’t intending to flip units, broker says

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Greater Vancouver no longer in a ‘build it and they will come market’

Derrick Penner
Sun

There is less speculative froth in Greater Vancouver’s housing markets, according to one market researcher, evidenced by slower sales and higher levels of mortgage financing at pre-sale sites.

Projects are pre-selling about 75-per-cent of their units at launch instead of selling out, Jennifer Podmore, managing partner of research firm MPC Intelligence said.

At the same time, mortgage brokers on site are busy writing up more mortgages than they would in the sell-out years of 2005 and 2006, she added, which is a sign today’s buyers aren’t in it simply to flip their units.

“The best way to describe it is that we’ve really been in a ‘build it and they will come’ market for the last couple of years,” Podmore, said.

In the last six months, however, after a period of rapid price escalation, “we have reached a saturation point [and] a lot of investors just don’t have the ability to to be taking on units the way they were.”

Prices, she added, have risen to over $800-per-square-foot in downtown Vancouver, $550 — $575-per-square-foot in Burnaby and over $500-per-square-foot in Richmond.

That means it takes “a lot more for the end user to get in [to the units]” and speculators recognize it is less likely that they’ll be able to put down a $22,000 deposit for a condo and get a $40,000 boost in the unit’s equity over 12 — 24 months.

MPC Intelligence, in its mid-year report, counted 4,508 pre-sale units in projects that were available for sale as of June 30, with another 15,583 units in development to be pre-sold.

With buyers in Greater Vancouver taking up about 1,400 units per month, Podmore said that’s between 15 to 19-months supply.

A year ago, MPC Intelligence counted 3,654 units in projects that were available for sale with another 10,570 in the development pipeline.

Podmore added that although sales have slowed down, and the number of units under development is rising, developers “are not building to exceed the amount of [expected] demand, they’re building to match it.”

Robyn Adamache, senior analyst with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. in Vancouver, said inventories of completed and unsold condominiums in Greater Vancouver remain very low — 160 in all of Greater Vancouver and only three in Abbotsford — as of July 1.

“We don’t see any evidence of oversupply so far,” Adamache said.

However, there were also some 14,779 condominium units under construction in Greater Vancouver, a near record. Another 665 are under construction in Abbotsford.

Adamache added that a clearer picture of how well housing supply is balanced with housing demand will emerge once more of those units are complete and owners either take possession of them or attempt to sell.

As for speculative buying, while it has risen in recent years , Adamache said it has not reached alarming proportions.

CMHC uses statistics tracked by the research firm Lancor Data Corp., which counts the number of condominiums bought in the City of Vancouver‘s resale market that are sold again within 12 months.

Adamache said that as of April of this year, the average was 24 per cent of those condos resold within 12 months. In the early 1980s, the number of speculative buyers in the Vancouver market approached 50 per cent.

“I would say that [level of speculation] is fairly tame given the price increases we’ve seen over the past couple of years,” Adamache said.

 

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

 

Let’s see a plan for Riverview before arguing against it

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Objecting parties offer no alternative for growing problem of social housing

Pete McMartin
Sun

Coquitlam council is afroth. The tree-huggers are afroth. The anti-poverty activists are afroth, as they ever are, since the poor are always with us, as Jesus said.

He also said, love thy neighbour. In this case, it is proving to be an infinitely more difficult doctrine.

This case is Riverview.

The provincial government, which owns it, would like to transform it from the quasi-green space/arboretum/decaying mental institution into a new, mixed-use community that would integrate social housing for the homeless, the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled among market housing for suburbanites.

The plan is ambitious. It is big.

While there are no concrete drawings, it could entail the construction of more than 10,000 housing units, primarily condominiums and highrises. The sale of the market units, built by private industry, would subsidize the construction of the social housing component, rumoured to be more than 1,000 units.

As far as I have been able to find out, it has no counterpart in North America, either in size or application. The concept, said Housing Minister Rich Coleman, was not taken from any template. It is new territory.

Coleman discussed the still-unformed concept with The Vancouver Sun in an interview last week.

The next day, the subsequent story was greeted in Coquitlam with alarm, since it was the first anybody there had heard of it, including Mayor Maxine Wilson.

She was not impressed. Without seeing so much of a conceptual drawing, since none exist, anyway, she uttered the unlikely battle cry of “No market housing!” — unlikely because that may have been the first time those words had ever been heard in a suburb where the practice of bulldozing down trees and then naming a subdivision after them is sacrosanct. No market housing? There’s very rarely any other kind outside of Vancouver city limits, which has had to shoulder the bulk of Greater Vancouver’s social housing.

But Coquitlam has a proprietary interest in Riverview, and it is a leafy one. It expressed that interest in a 2005 report entitled For the Future of Riverview. It took a two-year task force to come up with its recommendations, which called for the preservation of much of Riverview’s green space and heritage trees, a continued, though limited, presence of mental health facilities, and the development of new enterprises that promote “artistic, educational, cultural, social, heritage, horticultural and passive recreational values.”

An idyllic vision. A bucolic vision. And one, I’m guessing, that would have to be massaged into being by many, many tax dollars.

It was also a vision that suited local naturalists, who joined with Wilson to condemn Coleman’s musings, which, they were sure, meant the destruction of Riverview’s greenery.

Joining this chorus were members of the NDP and the anti-poverty lobby, whose accusations were borne along by the whiff of capitalist conspiracy. Local NDP MLA Diane Thorne claimed it was a land grab for developers, and Downtown Eastside activist Jean Swanson claimed Coleman was using the housing crisis to justify said development.

In other words, this immediate condemnation of Liberal plans by intersecting self-interests was politics as usual.

Which is perfectly understandable.

And it may even prove to be warranted in the final analysis.

But it was, I thought, a little hasty.

No one, after all, knows exactly what the Liberals’ plans for Riverview entail exactly, maybe not even the Liberals themselves.

Nor did any of the objecting parties offer up any alternative ideas of what to do about the growing population of people needing social housing, a population that now numbers in the thousands and is spread throughout the entire Lower Mainland.

They also ignored the fact that this would not be the first time Riverview has built market housing on what used to be its lands. Riverview used to be just over 400 hectares, and had a resident population approaching 5,000 people. But in the 1980s, 275 hectares of it were sold and subdivided for residential use, while another 25 hectares were set aside as a forest preserve.

What in those 25 years made Riverview sacrosanct from further development, especially in light of its steadily dwindling population? After decades of deinstitutionalization, now only 300 people live on the remaining 100 hectares. This is surely the lowest population density rate in the Lower Mainland.

It is a colossal waste of space, considering the need and the very expensive cost of building social housing in a market like Vancouver‘s.

Meanwhile, the old tactics of demonizing the “market” not only doesn’t help, it shows a sad lack of imagination.

This is not — I repeat, not — an argument for the Liberals’ plan. You cannot make a cogent argument in favour of something you have not seen.

But the same goes for making a cogent argument against it.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

 

Riverview plan is a cover-up for real estate development

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Sun

Re: B.C. targets homeless with Riverview project, July 27

Just what the Lower Mainland needs. More condos and towers.

What the Lower Mainland really needs is help for the countless mentally ill, dual diagnosis, drug addicted individuals who are wandering our streets and creating fear among citizens.

For the past 20 years, governments have tried to shove massive projects down our throats by calling us NIMBYs if we don’t like the scale and focus of their projects.

When will we have governments that make people their massive project? The Riverview site has been neglected by every government since the original decision to fling sick individuals out onto the streets years ago.

I cannot understand why governments will not revive Riverview and make it a new model for mental health. The site is still owned by the people of British Columbia (not the government).

I keep reading about massive budget surpluses, a booming economy and the wealth being created in B.C. Maybe it’s time that a lot of it be spent on mental health beds, detox beds, treatment centres and supportive, secure housing.

Stop the Band-Aid solutions that are simply a cover-up for real estate development.

Chris Mallalue

Vancouver

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

 

Riverview housing plan shows great lack of sensitivity

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Province

One of Riverview Hospital’s magnificent trees frames its West Lawn Building. Photograph by : Arlen Redekop, The Province

The definition of a trial balloon is information sent out in order to observe the reaction of an audience. And if that was what Victoria was serving up last week with its shocking plan for 7,000 new homes on the site of the former Riverview psychiatric hospital, it certainly achieved its purpose.

The response, outlined last Friday by B.C.

Housing Minister Rich Coleman, was as strong as it was immediate. “Over my dead body” was the prevailing sentiment reported in the press.

Indeed, the proposal for a mix of private and public housing on the 98-hectare site appears to have struck local leaders like a low blow from Mike Tyson.

“It’s a slap in the face,” said irate Coun. Mae Reid, who heads Coquitlam’s Riverview Task Force.

“I think our residents are going to be quite alarmed,” noted Coquitlam Mayor Maxine Wilson.

And those residents who had hoped for the leafy site — showcasing a global tree collection — to retain its traditional “healing” ambience were clearly reeling.

In fact, one wonders why Coleman would entertain such a controversial scheme without fully canvassing local opinion.

Now, there are good arguments to be made for housing mentally ill people away from the Downtown Eastside drug ghetto — and for getting private developers to help pay for it. But the idea of turning the historic Riverview site into a housing estate seems, well, almost sacrilegious.

Certainly, this is one trial balloon that could have been floated with a great deal more sensitivity.

 

Only developers benefit from Riverview plan

Plans to turn the Riverview site into a mix of treatment facilities for the mentally ill, along with social and market housing, ignore a couple of realities.

The arboretum holds a world-class collection of rare and beautiful trees, and developing 7,000 housing units on the site will mean we will lose this irreplaceable natural wonder.

I can see the developer trying to sell luxury housing next door to facilities for the mentally ill.

Once preliminary approvals are in place and the site has been destroyed, expect a quick round of rezoning applications, because including treatment facilities will not be deemed economically viable.

I heard one government representative interviewed, and I was outraged by her arrogance. Her comment included the phrase: “It’s our land.” It is not your land. It belongs to the people of B.C., and the arboretum should be preserved for our children.

Sam Brownlee, Coquitlam

Great for developers

This Riverview proposal makes no sense, except to a real-estate developer. Riverview is a real estate “opportunity” just waiting to be exploited.

That this announcement focuses on using Riverview for predominantly private housing, with a bone thrown to social housing needs, is not lost on anyone.

Think Woodward’s project.

Riverview has been allowed to systematically go to wreck and ruin as a health-care facility; a process started under the NDP and refined by the Liberals.

Mental-health issues aren’t cured overnight; sometimes they are never cured at all. But in an appropriate facility, like Riverview, they can be properly treated.

For years, such people have been downloaded into “regular” society. Unfortunately, far too many are exploited daily by the same society, while they try to socially integrate. Sheer tragedy! We are bombarded daily with stories of women and men who can’t receive proper or timely treatment.

Meanwhile, Riverview is allowed to sit, wasting away.

Now the government has the audacity, short-sightedness and arrogance to propose it be used for real-estate development.

I guess health care and people’s lives are indeed a commodity of simple currency.

Matthew Stevenson, Coquitlam

Therapeutic sanctuary

B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman’s plan for a massive real- estate development is short-sighted. When he talks about thousands of housing units, it is as if he is talking about bare land.

Riverview is the antithesis of bare land. The grounds contain an exceptional collection of mature trees that have been allowed to grow freely to their natural mature size and form.

We need to retain what little green space we have left in the Lower Mainland.

The Tri-City area is already providing housing density in Coquitlam Town Centre, downtown Port Coquitlam and Port Moody’s north side.

The Riverview Horticultural Centre Society will always support the needs of the mentally ill at Riverview, but it is strongly opposed to market housing.

Riverview should be retained as it was originally planned: a therapeutic space and sanctuary for the mentally ill and the public.

Donna Crosby, President, Riverview Horticultural Centre Society

© The Vancouver Province 2007

 

Electronics recycling program revs up

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Costs covered by levy on new merchandise

Cheryl Chan
Province

Mike Holmberg, 27, of Vancouver thinks the levy on electronic goods to pay for recycling is ‘fantastic.’ Ric Ernst – The Province

A B.C.-wide electronics recycling program starting tomorrow will provide a proper place for e-waste.

Old and broken electronics such as computers, laptops, printers and faxes can be left at recycling depots for free, instead of being dumped in landfills.

The cost will be passed on to consumers who will pay a levy of $10 to $45 on new electronics purchases.

“Landfills are not appropriate places for electronics,” said Malcolm Harvey of Encorp, a non-profit stewardship corporation running the Return-It electronics program.

There’s toxic materials in electronics that could potentially leak out, like lead and mercury.”

The program will also prevent obsolete equipment being shipped to countries such as China or

Nigeria, where they are recycled “in the most appalling conditions,” said Harvey.

About a quarter of B.C. households have old tech equipment gathering dust, he said. In its first year, Encorp expects to receive about 10,000 tonnes of electronics junk.

Victoria’s Hartland landfill receives about 2,000 tonnes of e-waste annually, representing one to two per cent of its total intake, he said.

E-waste dumped in Greater Vancouver Regional District landfills has ballooned from 2,100 tonnes in 1998 to 20,000 tonnes in 2005. This breaks down to about 8,000 tonnes in computers, 3,000 tonnes in monitors, 2,000 tonnes in printers and 7,000 tonnes in TVs, said GVRD engineer Ken Carrusca.

People can bring in their old equipment to one of 70 recycling depots across the province. Three firms will handle the recycling, salvaging usable metal and plastic parts and disposing of hazardous materials safely. Privacy will be the consumer’s responsibility, Harvey said, advising people to “delete the hard drives before bringing it in for recycling.”

Most retailers, covering 80 per cent of the B.C. market, have signed up for the program.

Consumers say they wouldn’t mind paying the additional fee.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Mike Holmberg, 27, who just bought a “completely unnecessary” 22-inch computer monitor to hook up to his stereo. “I love pay-by-use, especially for unnecessary things like alcohol and cigarettes.”

Even if he bought the monitor tomorrow, Holmberg said he wouldn’t mind paying the $12 levy “if it was invisible rather than at the till.”

David Taylor, 41, of Vancouver also agrees with the levy.

“I was recently at the [Kent Avenue] transfer station and there were piles of appliances and computers,” Taylor said. “People trade things in quicker than they should. I think in a way as consumers we should be penalized for over-spending and buying more than we need.”

- – -

WHAT’S COVERED

THE ENVIRONMENTAL HANDLING FEE WILL BE CHARGED ON THE SALE OF NEW ELECTRONICS:

- Televisions: $15 to $45, depending on size

- Desktop computers (includes CPUs, mouse, keyboards and cables): $10

- Computer monitors: $12

- Notebook computers (includes laptops, notebook and tablet PCs): $5

- Printers and fax machines: $8

NOT INCLUDED:

- CD players

- VHS and DVD players

- Cellphones

- Cordless phones

- Photocopiers

- Radios

- Computers and TVs that are part of or built in to vehicles, marine vessels or commercial/industrial equipment.

 

© The Vancouver Province 2007

 

Electronics recycling program revs up

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Costs covered by levy on new merchandise

Cheryl Chan
Province

Mike Holmberg, 27, of Vancouver thinks the levy on electronic goods to pay for recycling is ‘fantastic.’ Ric Ernst – The Province

A B.C.-wide electronics recycling program starting tomorrow will provide a proper place for e-waste.

Old and broken electronics such as computers, laptops, printers and faxes can be left at recycling depots for free, instead of being dumped in landfills.

The cost will be passed on to consumers who will pay a levy of $10 to $45 on new electronics purchases.

“Landfills are not appropriate places for electronics,” said Malcolm Harvey of Encorp, a non-profit stewardship corporation running the Return-It electronics program.

There’s toxic materials in electronics that could potentially leak out, like lead and mercury.”

The program will also prevent obsolete equipment being shipped to countries such as China or

Nigeria, where they are recycled “in the most appalling conditions,” said Harvey.

About a quarter of B.C. households have old tech equipment gathering dust, he said. In its first year, Encorp expects to receive about 10,000 tonnes of electronics junk.

Victoria’s Hartland landfill receives about 2,000 tonnes of e-waste annually, representing one to two per cent of its total intake, he said.

E-waste dumped in Greater Vancouver Regional District landfills has ballooned from 2,100 tonnes in 1998 to 20,000 tonnes in 2005. This breaks down to about 8,000 tonnes in computers, 3,000 tonnes in monitors, 2,000 tonnes in printers and 7,000 tonnes in TVs, said GVRD engineer Ken Carrusca.

People can bring in their old equipment to one of 70 recycling depots across the province. Three firms will handle the recycling, salvaging usable metal and plastic parts and disposing of hazardous materials safely. Privacy will be the consumer’s responsibility, Harvey said, advising people to “delete the hard drives before bringing it in for recycling.”

Most retailers, covering 80 per cent of the B.C. market, have signed up for the program.

Consumers say they wouldn’t mind paying the additional fee.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Mike Holmberg, 27, who just bought a “completely unnecessary” 22-inch computer monitor to hook up to his stereo. “I love pay-by-use, especially for unnecessary things like alcohol and cigarettes.”

Even if he bought the monitor tomorrow, Holmberg said he wouldn’t mind paying the $12 levy “if it was invisible rather than at the till.”

David Taylor, 41, of Vancouver also agrees with the levy.

“I was recently at the [Kent Avenue] transfer station and there were piles of appliances and computers,” Taylor said. “People trade things in quicker than they should. I think in a way as consumers we should be penalized for over-spending and buying more than we need.”

- – -

WHAT’S COVERED

THE ENVIRONMENTAL HANDLING FEE WILL BE CHARGED ON THE SALE OF NEW ELECTRONICS:

- Televisions: $15 to $45, depending on size

- Desktop computers (includes CPUs, mouse, keyboards and cables): $10

- Computer monitors: $12

- Notebook computers (includes laptops, notebook and tablet PCs): $5

- Printers and fax machines: $8

NOT INCLUDED:

- CD players

- VHS and DVD players

- Cellphones

- Cordless phones

- Photocopiers

- Radios

- Computers and TVs that are part of or built in to vehicles, marine vessels or commercial/industrial equipment.

 

© The Vancouver Province 2007

 

Riverview plan a ‘slap in the face’

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

Coquitlam politicians vow to fight big proposal for hospital site

John Bermingham
Province

A provincial government plan would transform the former psychiatric hospital site into a mixed-housing complex. Photograph by : Arlen Redekop, The Province

Coquitlam civic politicians have vowed to battle the B.C. government over its plan for 7,000 new homes on the former Riverview psychiatric hospital site.

Coun. Mae Reid, who heads Coquitlam’s Riverview Task Force, called the plan — floated Friday to the media, catching many politicians and officials by surprise — “pompous, arrogant greed” and vowed to oppose it.

“Everybody is absolutely appalled at the arrogance of the government,” Reid said Friday.

“It’s a slap in the face. The people of [Coquitlam] believe the Riverview lands are a place of healing.

“I am vehemently opposed to market housing.”

On Friday, B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman announced plans for a 7,000-unit development on the 98-hectare Riverview site. It would include condos and single-family houses, social and supportive housing and beds for those still in need of mental-health care.

The project would use revenues from privately-built housing to pay for the 1,100 social and supportive-housing units.

Coquitlam Mayor Maxine Wilson is meeting Coleman this week to discuss the issue.

“I think our residents are going to be quite alarmed,” she said. “We’ll be making our viewpoints clearly to the minister.”

Coquitlam’s task force concluded the site should become a healing centre focusing on medical-research facilities. It also wanted the site’s arboretum and gardens, which host species collected from around the world, protected.

What it didn’t want was market residential development.

“There was a high priority for supplying social housing for people with mental-health issues,” said Wilson. “We could never accept housing on Riverview other than for mental-health needs. That is the wish of our residents.”

Coleman told The Province Friday that he’s been working with Health Minister George Abbott and Labour Minister Olga Ilich on plans for Riverview but that none are “hard and fast” yet.

Work on the site would not begin until after the Olympics, Coleman said, and public consultation would be done first.

As for critics, he said that “any time there’s change, you will often get some opposition.”

NDP housing critic Diane Thorne, who served for nine years on Coquitlam council, said a public-private partnership — the format suggested for future assisted housing on the site — is not the solution to mental-health housing shortages.

“People are stunned,” Thorne said. “It’s not OK to ride roughshod over communities. The people will not want it, I can guarantee.”

Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan said he welcomed the new social and supportive-housing component of the plan. In Vancouver, about 500 of the city’s 1,200 homeless suffer some form of mental illness.

“I have often described the Downtown Eastside as an open-air asylum. I’m very frank about that,” said Sullivan. “They are living in appalling conditions.”

Sullivan said he is not involved in the Riverview proposal, but called it a positive step.

“The City of Vancouver desperately wants a caring and supportive environment [for these people],” he told The Province.

Wendy Pedersen, an activist with the Carnegie Community Action Project in Vancouver‘s Downtown Eastside, said many residents would be willing to move to Riverview.

There are currently 300 patients at the facility. The beds are being moved to the province’s health authorities so patients can be closer to home.

Bev Gutray, head of the Canadian Mental Health Association in B.C., said 7,000 mentally ill people need supportive housing in B.C.

“Having homes for people is what’s needed,” said Gutray. “It looks like there’s some creative, ambitious ideas being floated. Obviously, the land is worth a lot of money.”

© The Vancouver Province 2007

 

2005 Mayoral candidate Jim Green’s Woodward’s site was the love of his life

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

Frances Bula
Sun

Jim Green’s office overlooks the love of his life, the Woodward’s site, in downtown Vancouver. Green has moved on after his failed bid to become mayor of Vancouver in 2005. Photograph by : Bill Keay, Vancouver Sun

Twice-failed Vancouver mayoral candidate Jim Green, 64, shown at Panama Jack’s on Howe Street, works as a planning consultant. Photograph by : Steve Bosch, Vancouver Sun, Files

When Jim Green lost his bid to be mayor of Vancouver on Nov. 19, 2005, Rob Macdonald was one of the first people to call him the next day.

Not what some might have expected from Macdonald: avowed champion of free enterprise, major developer, contributor of many tens of thousands to the B.C. Liberals.

When he called, Macdonald thanked Green for his service to the city. Green thanked him for his vote. Macdonald, in his retelling of that conversation, said, “Oh, I didn’t vote for you. I voted for the other guys. But you did a good job for the city.”

On the basis of that peculiar conversation, the two got together for lunch the next day. It was the first time Macdonald, arch-capitalist, and Green, champion of the Downtown Eastside, had ever sat down together like that, although they had had contact over a couple of Macdonald’s other projects that had come to council. It was also one of the rare outings Green had in the weeks after an election loss that was the biggest personal defeat of his life, one that still aches like an amputated limb in spite of his best efforts to maintain a state of zen calm.

Green and Macdonald ended up spending two hours talking about development and social housing.

The result of that lunch, a year and a half later, is that Macdonald’s company, with Green as the consultant, has put in a detailed 50-page application to the city’s planning department for a tower on East Hastings at Carrall that would combine 200 market condos with 66 social-housing apartments.

That kind of project is a first not only for Macdonald but for any private developer in the city.

Green calls it revolutionary.

Macdonald calls Jim Green an interesting guy: “I really enjoy immensely working with Jim. He’s been just a great teacher and I’ve tried to be a decent student. He does a tremendous job.”

This is Jim Green’s new life. The man who has been a longshoreman, cab driver, marine boilermaker, social activist, government bureaucrat, university teacher, and politician is, for the first time in his life, an independent businessman and freelance urban-ideas guy.

He is working with a handful of developers, from those he’s had a long association with, like Bastion, to new alliances, like Macdonald, typically on projects that have a heritage or affordable-housing component to them. He’s fundraising for the Vancouver East Cultural Centre and working on a proposal for an aboriginal housing project.

He’s part of a team that put in a pitch to do a master plan for Fort McMurray in Alberta, currently the top Canadian contender for City That’s Growing So Explosively That It’s A Complete Mess. He’s kickstarted a little non-profit called Urban Solutions, whose goal is to bring discussions about big ideas to the city.

To his surprise, he’s making more money than he ever has in his 64-year life. He’s even got an assistant and an office.

But it’s not just any office, some functional place to put a desk and a phone. Instead, it’s a shrine to the life of Jim Green.

From his third-floor window in the Dominion Building, Green can look out over most of his life’s work: the Woodward’s project across the street, which is at the moment mostly a deep hole in the ground, and all the social housing he got built when he worked with the Downtown Eastside Residents Association and, later, as a bureaucrat in Glen Clark’s NDP government: Four Sisters, Pendera, Solheim Place, Bruce Ericksen, Lore Krill.

And the room is filled with such a dense and personal collection of memorabilia, artwork, books and music that being in it feels eerily like walking around in Green’s brain.

There are hundreds of books — on architecture, urbanism and cultural theory — lining the walls and stacked on tables.

Postcards from the Fred Herzog photo exhibit of 1950s Vancouver, a Carmen poster, and primitive masks.

Pictures of Green with everyone who’s been important in his life, from the magazine cover showing him with then-mayor Larry Campbell as though they were in a boxing ring to snapshots of him with Jane Jacobs.

The sound system is tuned to CBC and classical music, while a CD of Arvo Part, the composer whose music has the meditative quality of trickling water, sits on top of a stack of books nearby.

All of which are consolations and a way to stay balanced in what Green admits has been a painful 18 months since he lost to the NPA’s Sam Sullivan by fewer than 5,000 votes.

It was his second try at being mayor, but this more recent defeat was far more bitter than the earlier one.

In 1990, Green was unequivocally seen as the champion of the poor and the hero of the left. Even coming as close as he did to beating

Gordon Campbell was a triumph of sorts.

The big issue of the day was housing, from the old men who had been evicted from their hotels in the Downtown Eastside for Expo 86 to old ladies being evicted from their three-storey apartments in Kerrisdale. And Green was the housing crusader.

Green’s opponents painted him as a single-issue candidate and hinted that he was a socialist. That was about as nasty as it got.

Gordon Campbell told reporters that Green was “a worthy opponent — he’s someone who’s done a good job in the Downtown Eastside.”

In another campaign story, then-NPA alderman Gordon Price commented, “I like him, but I think he comes from too narrow an interest group. If he were mayor, it would be a most interesting learning experience at the expense of the city.”

In the official biography of the Coalition of Progressive Electors, Green was a champion.

“In the best campaign that COPE ever had, [Green] almost made it, sending shivers of fright down the collective spine of the Establishment,” was the description of that election year.

The 2005 campaign was utterly different.

Green, inheriting the mantle from departing mayor Larry Campbell, was seen to have a chance of winning, in spite of the fact that he and Campbell, along with others, had split from COPE and formed a new party.

He had the support (and money) of several prominent developers in town, a track record on council, and a somewhat unpopular Liberal government in Victoria – crucial factors in civic politics.

But the election turned into one of the nastiest on record, one where personal issues played a much bigger part than policy on both sides. Green was attacked, not for being a socialist or a one-issue candidate, but on all kinds of other fronts.

Green, who always has been a contradictory mix of prickly and mentoring, pugnacious and philosophical, gracious and contemptuous, was accused of being a bully. The flamboyant Jamie Lee Hamilton dredged up stories about financial allegations from the early 1990s, when Green was head of the Downtown Eastside Residents Association, and posted innuendoes about his personal life.

Old enemies from fractious Downtown Eastside battles came out to denounce him, and it was clear, in informal conversations with longtime left-wing voters, that Green had generated a considerable list of enemies over the years.

There were problems, too, on his own side of the political fence. COPE and Vision candidates tried to patch up their differences for the election and run a cooperative slate, but COPE Coun. Tim Louis let it be known in many ways that he didn’t support Green and he encouraged people to vote for Green’s opponent. Longtime COPE supporters saw Green as someone who had betrayed the party and become too friendly with developers.

There were also quiet, personal defections in that 2005 campaign. Green had been friends with retired architecture professor Abraham Rogatnick for a long time; one of the many pictures in Green’s office shows him with Rogatnick. But in the 2005 campaign, Rogatnick decided he would support Sullivan. He was constantly at his side during the campaign and ran personal ads supporting him.

And then, finally, the campaign was clouded by the presence of a candidate by the name of James Green, a former music teacher who insisted he had a chance to become the mayor. He pulled in almost 5,000 votes — slightly more votes than Jim Green lost by — to the delight of the NPA and the dismay of Jim Green and his party.

Friends and colleagues say Green was shattered, not just by the defeat, but by the particularly personal nature of it.

“I think because of the way the election happened, it was pretty devastating for him,” says Heather Redfern, the director of the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.

Green spent a month in England almost immediately after the election. Since returning, he has tried determinedly to keep it behind him.

He has not been inside city hall once since his last meeting there as a councillor on Dec. 5, 2005.

That’s in contrast to James Green, who has made occasional appearances in council chambers, occasionally sitting next to Jamie Lee Hamilton, and has emerged recently as a public spokesman for the Little Mountain social-housing residents.

Jim Green even tries to be philosophical about the limitations of city council.

“I have a lot more control over my time and my schedule,” he says now. In a way, it’s an ideal life. “I get to do all the things I like to do, to bring some kind of a vision to what people are doing. I don’t have to gear up for a battle. There are certain ways the city works that are really dysfunctional.”

He still finds it puzzling that city councillors might end up having no say at all in a development worth $1 billion, yet end up sitting through hours of debate over something like speed bumps on a residential street.

And he shows genuine pleasure in being able to use his personal time for creative projects. He’s writing a book called Glass Bridges about “my work and the work of people I admire, like Jane Jacobs and Phyllis Lambert.”

He is writing a paper on culture and economics for the University of Bologna, where he spent some time last year.

And he is working on his favourite projects, like getting people from the Downtown Eastside to the opera and teaching them all about it before they go to the performance.

That last one is all part of his practical application of the theory of activation, which says that getting people engaged and interested in culture builds a city.

“If you can activate people, it builds social cohesion.”

But in spite of all his enthusiastic talk about these projects and more, it doesn’t take a psychiatry degree to figure out that this guy who is always restless to see things happen, to be part of the mover-shaker class, to get public acclaim for what he’s done, would love to have even the dysfunctional power that a Vancouver mayor has.

“I think I could have done a lot as mayor,” he muses aloud. “I don’t know. I feel like I’m doing a lot, though I could do a lot more.”

He still works hard to exert some influence. He had a personal meeting with Vanoc CEO John Furlong earlier this year, urging him to take more of a leadership role in making sure that the 2010 Olympics meets the commitments it made not to have a negative impact on the inner city.

He started up a new group, called Urban Solutions, as a way of showcasing speakers and ideas that he likes, especially the concept he’s pushing these days of reciprocal development — development that brings together developers and neighbourhoods in a collaborative way to create projects that ultimately benefit both.

And he clearly loves the sense of being in on big projects and working with developers and architects, although he concedes that it’s not always easy to define what he’s doing with them.

“I think they look to me for creative solutions, a creative way of looking at things. There’s no sense in coming to me if they already know what they’re going to do,” says Green.

The hardest part of his life right now, he says, is that “50 times a day, people say, ‘Jim, you were robbed.’ You try not to think about it. But you keep being pulled back to that consciousness.”

So, did that election loss change him profoundly, make him more reflective or alter his view of life?

There’s a pause.

“I’ll tell you one thing about your question,” he finally answers. “I don’t feel like I lost the election.”

And that statement says it all, both for those who think it tells you everything you need to know about the the current state of politics in the city and those who think it tells you everything you need to know about Jim Green.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

 

Dream home just takes a little bit of imagination

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

A bigger room or the illusion of more space can be achieved with changes here or there

Karen Turner
Sun

Not everyone lives in their dream home, and not every room in their home is quite as large as they’d like it to be. With space the ultimate commodity, sometimes people need a bit of design magic to make better use of it.

According to bbc.co.uk/homes, there are a number of design tricks that can create the illusion of space — especially in badly lit or poorly designed rooms.

The following tips can help improve the layout of everything from your bathroom and bedroom to your living room or office:

By replacing conventional nightstands with wall-mounted bedside tables, you have two fewer pieces of furniture taking up your valuable floorspace.

- Shelves: Extend your floor space by installing floating shelves that can replace otherwise bulky cabinets and end tables. In the bedroom, try wall-mounted bedside tables.

- Windows: Windows can be a major factor in determining the appearance of space in a room.

If you place an eye-catching object in front of a window, such as a plant or statue, it will draw visitors’ eyes toward it and naturally make a room seem larger.

- Colour: Certain colours expand a room, while others make it seem smaller. Aim for lighter colours, such as lilac or yellows in order to add illusionary space.

- Soften the edges: By placing a picture at the centre of a wall, you can draw people’s eyes away from a room’s edges. Another trick is to paint a wall’s skirting boards the same colour as your carpet in order to make the floor space appear larger.

- Furniture placement: Moving chairs and sofas away from the walls stops people’s eyes from looking at a room’s corners and can have the effect of making a room look bigger.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

 

Province offers hand to Google Earth

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

B.C. could become first Canadian province to give key data to mapping service

Marke Andrews
Sun

Google Earth’s chief technical officer, Michael Jones (centre), poses with B.C. Agriculture and Lands minister Pat Bell (right) and Ron Lake (left), organizer of GeoWeb conference in Vancouver. Jones told the conference about a B.C. government initiative to supply information to Google’s mapping service.

The British Columbia government has been meeting with representatives from Google Earth on an initiative whereby the government will supply updated information about the province for Google Earth and Google Maps, the online 3D-mapping system used by 250 million people worldwide.

In a Friday address at GeoWeb 2007 and later in an interview, Google Earth chief technology officer Michael Jones said Google Earth has been in talks with the provincial government, and if the initiative goes ahead B.C. would be the first Canadian province to supply information on such things as traffic and mineral resources to the mapping service.

“The provincial government has been talking with us about providing data so that all citizens in the province who use our service will have the best possible data,” said Jones.

Jones met Thursday with Agriculture and Lands Minister Pat Bell to discuss the initiative.

Google Earth relies on Web users and organizations to supply information about specific areas of their maps. This includes transit information — a hit on a button for the Google map of Seattle will show you which buses run on which streets, where they go, and when they reach specific bus stops.

Government input could include information on highway construction projects, so local residents and visitors to the area would know where they might encounter a delay. In the case of B.C., Google could also have access to the data and images banked in the Integrated Land and Resource Registry, which gives detailed information about all areas of the province.

“We’ve been working very closely with Google and Google Earth in establishing a link into our database system, which will provide much higher-quality video images,” said Bell in a telephone interview. “Our database is far more current and of higher quality than the existing database that Google Earth uses.

“We are very close to concluding a deal with Google Earth.”

Bell said such a link could create opportunities for the tourism industry, and provide visitors and locals alike with detailed information about areas of the province.

Some municipalities are already doing this. Jones said Nanaimo is the most active city in the world when it comes to supplying geographic data to Google Earth. He predicted there will be a time when municipal, provincial and federal geographic information will be shared universally.

“With Nanaimo, they have mapped nearly every conceivable thing using Google Earth and Google Maps,” said Jones. “Their citizens have more information about their city than the people of San Francisco.”

Jones has been a pioneer with Web cartography. He was one of the founders of Keyhole, a mapping service that made its name during the Gulf War, when CNN used its maps to show where the action was. Google Earth bought Keyhole in 2004, and Jones became the CTO of Google Earth, using information in Google Earth maps so that Web users can zoom in on specific areas.

The service, which is free to basic users (more sophisticated versions, Google Earth Plus and Google Earth Pro, are available for an annual fee), is used for many mundane tasks (zooming in to find one’s home on a city street), but can also be used for such things as planning vacations, or studying an area with the idea of starting a business there.

Jones recalls a trip to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, where a man told him how his 13-year-old daughter had used Google Earth to map out the family’s vacation to Indonesia – all this done before Google Earth information was available in the girl’s native language.

“That notion is exactly why we started the company,” said Jones. “It means that regular people’s lives are improved.”

Google relies on users to add information to their maps. Hours after the oil pipeline rupture Tuesday in Burnaby, for instance, a web user supplied information on what streets were affected by the oil spill.

Google Earth and Google Maps are free to Web browsers. People can pay $20 US a year for the more sophisticated Google Earth Plus, or $400 US a year for Google Earth Pro, whose users include realtors, architects, surveyors and search-and-rescue organizations. The rest of Google income comes from ads on the map page, ads that do not intrude into the maps.

Jones resists the ideas of advertisers buying billboards on the maps themselves.

“That’s the first thing venture capitalists suggested to us,” said Jones. “It would be like the movie Blade Runner where signs were floating by with ads on them. To me, that’s just no good.”

Jones said a better system would be to have maps provide links to commercial outlets. If, for example, a tourist in Vancouver needed new sandals, he could hit a button that would list all the shoe stores near his hotel. National Geographic Magazine has flags all over Google Earth maps that, with a click of the button, lead browsers to an article about that particular area of the world. National Geographic does not pay anything for this.

“We’re happy to help people in the world read their stories,” says Jones. “People don’t pay Google to be found in the web search. You just exist and we find you.”

Bell said he hopes working with Google will lead to a stronger B.C. presence by the Web company.

“There’s nothing I’d like better than to attract Google to a major office in British Columbia,” said Bell.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007