Archive for March, 2009

Jan. home prices in record fall; confidence edges up in March

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

USA Today

WASHINGTON (AP) — Home prices in January were down a record 19% from January 2008, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city housing index released Tuesday, and a gauge of consumer confidence rose slightly in March but remained near record lows as the economy remained weak and job prospects grew increasingly uncertain.

The drop in the home price index was the largest decline since the index started in 2000. The 10-city index was off 19.4%, also a record.

The 20-city index fell 2.8% in January from December, S&P said, while the 10-city index declined 2.5% in January from December.

The drops on a month-over-month as well as year-over-year basis were bigger than expectations based on a Reuters survey of economists.

The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index rose to 26.0, from a revised 25.3 reading in February. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters were anticipating a reading of 28 in March. The rise, though slight, followed three consecutive monthly drops in consumer confidence.

“Apprehension about the outlook for the economy, the labor market and earnings continues to weigh heavily on consumers’ attitudes,” said Lynn Franco, director of the industry group’s Consumer Research Center. “More job losses are on the horizon.”

The survey’s expectations index improved modestly, but perceptions about current conditions worsened from already extremely low levels.

Respondents also showed a strong reluctance to spend money in an uncertain economic environment. Buying intentions for new cars fell to 3.9% from 4.7%, while the proportion of people saying they were going to purchase a home over the next six months fell to 2.0% from 2.3%.

In the housing index, all 20 cities in the report showed monthly and annual price declines.

Out of the 20 metro areas, 13 areas showed record rates of annual decline in January, and 14 areas reported declines in excess of 10% vs. January 2008.

Prices in the 20-city index are down 29% from their peak in summer 2006, while the 10-city index is off 30%. Prices are at levels not seen since late 2003.

“Home prices, which peaked in mid-2006, continued their decline in 2009,” said David Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at Standard & Poor’s.



Metro area

Index1 Jan. 09

Change Dec.-Jan.

Change Jan. 08-09

































Las Vegas
















New York












San Diego

























1- January 2000 = 100
Source: Standard & Poor’s and Fiserv

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Recreation properties take a hit

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Home equity and investment losses sap capital that once poured into B.C.

Derrick Penner

Invermere realtor Wende Brash surmises that what’s happening on the streets of Calgary has a lot to do with the slow sales of vacation property on the East Kootenay‘s lake fronts and mountainsides.

“What’s happening is that Calgary is starting to do major layoffs,” Brash said in an interview, “and though we do have people who are ready to buy, they’re waiting to see if they have a job.”

Whether it is the oilpatch elites hesitating over job insecurities, homeowners fretting over the evaporating equity in their principal homes or suffering losses in investment portfolios, the capital to invest in British Columbia‘s resorts and ski areas is drying up.

Brash added that while interest has started increasing over the last 30 days, “there is no comparison” between the early months of 2009 and the equivalent months of the three or four preceding years, when recreational property markets boomed along with the rest of the province.

“Basically, nothing is happening,” Brash said, estimating that prices have declined 20 per cent.

Sales in many of B.C.’s resort-oriented markets have slowed considerably from 2008.

In the area around B.C. sun-spot Kelowna, the local real estate board reports sales down 61 per cent over the first two months of 2009 versus the same period in 2008.

For the region that includes Penticton and Osoyoos, sales were down 63 per cent for the same period. On Vancouver Island outside Victoria, now connected to Alberta by direct flights on both WestJet and Air Canada, sales were down 53 per cent through January and February.

“The second home and resort market has been a growing component of the Okanagan market over the last three, four years in particular,” Paul Fabri, a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. analyst in the agency’s Kelowna office, said in an interview.

Now it is slowing, Fabri said, but rather than being a phenomenon as recent as last fall’s collapse of world stock markets, it has evolved over the last 18 months or so, beginning with the start of deflation in many of Alberta’s previously white-hot real estate markets.

Alberta buyers, fueled by equity gains that they were able to extract from primary residences, were a big influence on the Okanagan’s resort boom, Fabri said.

“We saw prices flatten out in Alberta beginning in late 2006,” Fabri said, “so they weren’t seeing those massive equity gains they did in 2005 and 2006.”

The boom also sparked competition on the supply side, Fabri added.

“Speaking to people in the industry, they’re saying ‘people look at our [project], but they’ll also look at a project in Radium, or Invermere, or Kamloops,” Fabri said. “There are lots of resort areas now trying to tap the market.”

Rudy Nielsen, president of NIHO Land and Cattle Co., a firm that specializes in recreational real estate, said it is getting difficult to sell any recreational property.

“They are tough to move right now,” Nielsen said in an interview. “A lot of developers are in trouble, some have gone into bankruptcy, some are struggling.”

Nielsen said he has survived four significant real estate corrections over his 40-year career, but the current one is “the worst one I’ve seen. We’re selling land, but we’re working hard to do it.”

Nielsen pointed to the Wyndansea Oceanfront Golf Resort near Ucluelet which recently lost a bid to reorganize its efforts to build a massive $650-million resort property on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

“In 2006 and 2007, it sounded like a hell of a deal,” Nielsen added, “but not now. Everything has come to a standstill.”

Brian Pawluck and Doug Purdie, a partner and associate partner respectively in the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers who advise clients in the hospitality and leisure sector, said that is the situation throughout the industry.

Speaking to the market for condominium hotels — projects in which investors purchase suites in properties that pay them revenue from rentals, while retaining limited use for themselvesPawluck said the market has “almost evaporated right now.”

“The only projects that are going are those so well advanced that it makes no sense to stop,” Pawluck said. “But new ones, it’s going to be a long time before you see new ones starting.”

Purdie added that besides the evaporation of capital to invest, both by developers and individual buyers who have lost significant sums in investment portfolios and in home equity, the general downturn in tourism makes projects in locations such as Whistler more difficult.

“If [people] are not buying, they’re not coming to ski as they once did,” Purdie said. “And consequently, that underlying investment doesn’t have the same attractiveness.”

Pawluck added that they have seen some stability in the market, based on a pick-up in sales that developers have experienced in the new-housing field, “but we’re going to need a longer period of stability before people jump back in [to invest].”

Nielsen said the types of buyers his firm is dealing with are those looking for safe havens they can escape to, or investors who are hedging that land values will recover faster than stock markets.

“And at least I can jump on it, touch it, clear it,” Nielsen said. “And I figure land is going to come back faster than mutual funds.”

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Ubertor CEO has tips on how to run a Virtual Office from anywhere in the world

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Gmail, Yammer allow employees to ‘commute’ to work from Tahiti

Gillian Shaw

Entrepreneur Steve Jagger recently told members of the Vancouver chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization ( how his companies, and, trimmed down from spacious Yaletown digs at some $7,500 a month to virtual offices spread across Canada and overseas. Photograph by: file photo, Vancouver Sun

At a time of tightened budgets and economic uncertainty, businesses are casting around for ways to save money. Some may not have to look far.

Budgets for those fancy boardrooms, the humongous telephone system, expensive real estate, the lost hours spent in long commutes, can be shaved considerably by transforming bricks and mortar into virtual offices.

It’s not an option being looked at only by tech companies and nimble startups. Even such traditional operations as Telus are sending employees home from office cubicles and call centres to save money on real estate, improve employees’ working conditions and shrink the company’s environmental footprint.

Telus now has 750 agents working at home, with that number to climb to 1,100 by the end of this year.

Entrepreneur Steve Jagger recently told members of the Vancouver chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization ( how his companies, and, trimmed down from spacious Yaletown digs at some $7,500 a month to virtual offices spread across Canada and overseas.

When employees meet in person, it could be in Whistler, on a beach in Tahiti, in a downtown coffee shop, in airports. “Wherever there is Internet service we can run the business,” Jagger said.

Many of the tools he used in creating a virtual office are free or low-cost. What tools work for you depend on your business. While EO attendee Ian Daburn isn’t about to close his hair salons, he immediately implemented some of the virtual office tools to save money and make his business more efficient.

Here are Jagger’s top 10 tools for the virtual office:

1. Gmail. Web-based, with lots of bells and whistles and best of all, free — unless you want the $50-per-year-per-user Google apps version, which offers more tools plus a support number to call. Gmail also gives you video chat so you can actually see whether those employees are sitting on a beach in Tahiti or not, plus Web-based applications like Google docs for writing, spreadsheets and presentations.

2. Yammer. Twitter with a business twist. A closed circle, Yammer lets you talk to people in your company, posting updates as you would on Twitter, only in a secured setting and not in plain view of the entire Internet world. It comes in three versions: free, $1 per user per month to the gold level at $5 per user.

3. Mail Boxes, Etc. Launching a startup in your bedroom in your parents’ house could lend a less-than-corporate image when Mom answers the door to a client delivering a cheque. Jagger turned to Mail Boxes, Etc. Saving money plus trees, the company has never had to change the address on its stationery through several moves.

4. Google Voice. If you didn’t sign up with Grand Central before it was taken over by Google, you’ll have to wait to use this phone system, which delivers via a website everything a phone system does. Currently only available for Grand Central members, you can sign up to be contacted as soon as Google Voice becomes open to all.

5. Slim Timer. Another free product that also comes in a paid version, Slim Timer puts your time sheets online. Tasks can be broken out into specific functions, thereby letting you review just how much time various jobs are taking, and you can decide whether or not it is worth the cost of automating them or redirecting staff resources elsewhere.

6. Live Chat. “Live chat allows potential clients to interact with the website before they are ready to pick up the phone,” Jagger said. “People are scared to call sales. With Live Chat, they can ask their questions and when they are ready to talk to sales, they’ll call.”

7. Wikis. Move the company manual online and make it an evolving document, not something carved in stone. A wiki is an online website that can have content added and can be edited by users. There is both free and paid wiki software available. Try for one free offering or for a comparison of wiki software, check out

8. Everyone has a sales pitch. Consumers are demanding more and is one way to bring people with common interests together. used to pay commissioned salespeople to drive around meeting real estate agents and try to sign them up. Now people come to meet-ups organized by the company, all with an educational purpose and no sales pitch. Check out to find meet-ups covering a range of issues and subjects in your area. It’s also a good way to network and get out of your virtual office.

9. Twitter. If you’re not listening to what your customers, potential customers and others in the community are saying about you, someone else will. Twitter is free, sign up, start listening and start interacting online.

10. Monitoring tools. Free and simple tools such as Google Alerts and Twilerts can keep you up to date on what is being said online about you and your company. More sophisticated tools are also available. Most recently announced this week the addition of Twitter to its customer service platform Service Cloud. See and

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

To speculate in real estate is tempting fate: Author

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Ditch get-rich-quick schemes for solid investments

Pamela Fieber

Don Campbell, the author of Real Estate Investing in Canada, says do your homework and don’t let fear hold you back.

The recession isn’t necessarily bad news if you’re looking to invest in real estate. In fact, you could say it’s a great opportunity.

“People think, ‘Oh no, I have to give up on my dream because the economy won’t let me do it,'” says real-estate guru Don Campbell, author of the best-selling book Real Estate Investing in Canada: Creating Wealth with the Acre System. “But just because the economy changes doesn’t mean your financial goals have to change.”

Campbell says the biggest mistake people make is speculating on real estate rather than investing in it.

There is a key difference, and the goal of Campbell‘s book, now reissued and updated for the current economy, is to explain that difference to potential investors.

“I was becoming discouraged by human nature, the get-rich-quick schemes and flipping of properties,” Campbell says during a Calgary stop to promote his new release, which will donate 100 per cent of its profits to Habitat for Humanity. “I set a goal in 2001 to change the tone of the conversation in Canada about real estate.”

And so he did. His book has sold more than 35,000 copies, and provided more than $400,000 for the non-profit housing organization.

Campbell, who has also written 97 Tips for Canadian Real Estate Investors and 51 Stories of Canadian Real Estate Investors, says real-estate investing is still a great way to reach a financial goal — whether that’s replacing a salary income or paying for the kids’ university — but the key is to do your homework before jumping in. In other words, don’t speculate.

But don’t let fear hold you back either. “You’re not going to put your kids through university by huddling in your basement worrying about (what happened in) 1982,” he says. “The reality is, the next 18 months are going to be a rollercoaster. During a rollercoaster ride you’re always freaked out. But keep in mind that rollercoaster rides always end.”

If you’re worried about your job, that’s no reason to stay out of the market. In fact, all the more reason to get into the bank and secure that loan while you have a job.

“Are you going to try to get a mortgage for a cash-flow property while you have a job, or after you lose your job?” he says. “And if your job sucks now, then use it to get a good credit rating.”

The goal, Campbell says, is that with the secured mortgage (and a steady job is helpful in getting that from the bank) you may end up in a position where “your job becomes an option, not a requirement.”

But that doesn’t happen until you have some cash-flow properties.

That means a property that pays you an income each month. A rental property, for example, as opposed to a speculative property that you intend to flip when the market goes up again.

Never go out on a financial limb in the hopes that property values will make a huge leap, he advises. Instead, look for properties that will still pay you an income even if their value goes down. The numbers have to make sense, and Campbell‘s book makes the math look simple.

So what stops people from real estate investing? Fear, mostly.

But Campbell has an answer for that. “Always look at your financial goals,” he says. “If you don’t want to make any more money than what you make now, you want to rely on your pension, then don’t invest in anything.”

If you follow his system, there is little room for error. For example, never buy a property that didn’t offer a positive cash flow. That goes against the grain of what thousands of investors did in the past few years, buying up multiple condos, for example, and flipping them before the building was even complete.

That can work in the right market, Campbell says, but it’s a lot riskier than buying a cash-flow property that will provide a slow and steady income.

If the value goes up, you are in great shape. If the value goes down, it doesn’t matter because you still have the monthly cash flow.

The bottom line is, the recession may actually help investors.

“There is this perception out there that the banks aren’t lending,” Campbell says. “That’s not true. They are for decent deals. They care about the worst-case scenario: if they have to take the property back, can it pay for itself?” Those are the same principles that should be guiding your decision to buy.

Real Estate Investing in Canada is available in bookstores for $36.95.

© Copyright (c) The Province

Most expensive home for sale: $150M for Aaron Spelling’s mansion

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Alex Veiga
USA Today

The widow of producer Aaron Spelling is placing the 56,000 square-foot house in the exclusive Holmby Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles on the market for $150 million, 1993 AP file photo

LOS ANGELES — The widow of producer Aaron Spelling is placing “The Manor” in the exclusive Holmby Hills neighborhood on the market for a jaw-dropping $150 million, making it by far the most expensive home for sale in the United States.

The French chateau-style mansion has 56,500 square feet (5,248 sq. meters) of space on more than 4.6 acres and is the largest home in Los Angeles County. Among the neighbors are the Los Angeles Country Club and, not too far away, the Playboy Mansion.

Spelling’s late husband produced hit shows such as Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty and Beverly Hills 90210. He died in 2006.

“Everything there is glamorous, and is luxurious and it’s really great scale,” said Sally Forster Jones, an agent with Coldwell Banker Previews International in Los Angeles, which is co-listing the property. “There really is nothing to compare it to.”

Spelling told The Associated Press that she let her dog Madison, a soft-coated Wheaten Terrier, help pick out the best real estate agent for the task. She had her security bring the dog into the room every time she met one of the candidate agents and watched how the dog reacted. If Madison didn’t like them, Spelling crossed them off the list.

Prospective buyers won’t have to worry about passing such scrutiny, Spelling jokes.

“Not at all,” she says.

The three-story mansion, built in 1991, is gated and features a winding driveway that leads up to the three-story house, which includes ceilings that reach up to 30 feet high, Jones said.

While some published reports put the tally of rooms in the mansion at well past 100, Jones couldn’t provide an exact count.

Spelling says she doesn’t know either.

“You’re really asking the wrong person,” Spelling jokes. “There’s a lot. (The house) has evolved and I actually haven’t gone around and counted.”

The Spellings found no shortage of uses for the many rooms in the mansion, however.

There’s a bowling alley, wine cellar, wine tasting room, gift-wrapping room, a humidity-controlled silver storage room, China room, library, gym and media room, among many others.

The screening room is one of Spelling’s favorites.

“I had some really wonderful times entertaining in that room,” she said. “We showed movies and I still do.”

The room features a movie projection system that automatically comes up from the floor at the same time that shades extend over the windows. It’s an idea that came to Candy Spelling in dream as she sought to avoid having a projection screen open all the time.

“I wanted Aaron to have the best projection room anyone had ever seen, and the biggest, so I came with this solution, not realizing that we had to excavate a lot of dirt to get down that low, to have a special room that housed the screen that was totally dust free,” said Spelling, 63.

The Spellings also finished the 17,000 square-foot attic that includes a barber shop and beauty salon.

The home also includes a wing for service staff, including a kitchen and seven bedrooms, and five fireplaces and four wet bars.

Lavish features also can be found outside the house, including a tennis court, fountains, a waterfall, a pool and spa, a reflection pool and a pool house with a kitchen, and 16 car ports.

The estate also boasts an 18th Century-style garden, a rooftop rose garden and a citrus orchard.

Prospective buyers won’t have to worry much about parking when they host big parties. The property includes a winding motor court with space for more than 100 cars.

Spelling plans to trade her mansion lifestyle for a luxurious, two-story condo atop a residential tower in Los Angeles that she bought last year for $47 million.

“I have a lot of wonderful, wonderful, wonderful feelings about this house and special things that I went through in building it, with a love that you can’t even imagine,” she gushed. “Yet I feel like I’m moving on to a new chapter in my life.”

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Price cut gets phone ringing

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

carrington: Homes that used to start at $669,900 are now on for $569,900

Kate Webb

The Carrington townhomes on the corner of Oak St. and West 45th include two-bedroom and three-bedroom-plus-den floorplans. Photograph by: Photos by Jon Murray — The Province

If drastic times call for drastic measures, then the giant red sign advertising a $100,000 discount on a collection of new Vancouver townhomes must mean it’s recession o’clock.

“I think it’s really big — my phone doesn’t stop ringing from when I get up in the morning,” said Carrington sales manager Carla Zivot, referring to developer Listraor’s decision to slash the $669,900 starting price-tag three weeks ago. “I think $100,000 makes a lot of difference in terms of qualifying for a mortgage.”

Traffic at the presentation centre has quadrupled since the discount was introduced, she said, and the development is 35 per cent sold. The realtor added that the buyer’s market that has firmly taken grip of the city has changed the way people are shopping, and that those who eventually buy at Carrington typically come in three or four times before signing on the dotted line.

“I used to be able to sell a home without any advertising, without any display home, just meet them at a coffee shop with a few tile samples,” she said. “Now, we’re finding that people want to see a finished home . . . I’m kind of happy in one way that they’re finally asking the right questions.”

Set on the corner of Oak St. and West 45th Ave., the Carrington community has a village vibe and instant access to one of the city’s most vital corridors. Downtown, the airport, and Highway 99 are all very easy drives.

The package of interior amenities is also an attraction to many home hunters. “People are really impressed with the quality that’s in here,” said Zivot. “Things like solid wood closet doors, they love the rooftop decks, and we do have some really cool plans with a loft space that’s almost like a fourth bedroom, so they like all those little features.”

The cedar rooftop deck offered in some homes is one of the project’s most enticing features, as it offers maximum privacy on a third storey, a view of sky, treetops and a glass door that doubles as a skylight.

The washroom finishings were yet another solid choice. The master bedroom ensuite is small but efficiently laid out, with a beautiful marble or limestone countertop with undermounted sink, and a high-end frameless glass shower door.

The master bedroom has side-by-side his-and-hers closets, and is comparable in size to the two other upstairs bedrooms in the three-bedroom display.

The main floor features hardwood flooring in the living and dining areas, nine-foot ceilings, an electric fireplace with wood mantel and a choice of two colour schemes: one lighter and warmer and one darker and more contemporary.

The layout is open concept and linear, so the eye is immediately drawn to the luxury kitchen at the far end. Standout features include stone slab countertops, designer stainless steel appliances, custom wood cabinets and a ceramic tile backsplash.

Just off the kitchen is a small room that could be either for storage or a home office, a laundry closet with full size stacking washer and dryer, and a door to the rear patio.

Zivot said most of the people who have bought at Carrington are residents coming from downtown Vancouver, the West Side, and Richmond, each group for very different reasons. Those who live downtown tend to be looking for more square footage for their money, she said, while many of the West Side residents grew up in the area and are interested in the central location.

“The people coming from Richmond are really excited that because of the $100,000 discount they can live in Vancouver,” she said.

All the homes at Carrington come with secure storage lockers, two parking spaces, and individual hot water tanks. Developer Listraor’s previous developments are almost all in Burnaby, with the exception of Silver, which is at 1250 West Sixth Ave. in Vancouver.

Completion of Carrington is expected by the end of May.

The facts

What: Carrington, a collection of 30 two- and three-storey townhomes.

Where: Oak St. and West 45th Ave., Vancouver.

Developer: Listraor

Sizes: Two bedrooms up to three-bedrooms-plus-den, from 1,034 sq. ft. to 1,602 sq. ft.

Prices: $569,900 to $699,900 after promotional discount. There is one $1- million unit.

Open: Presentation centre and display home open at 6101 Oak St. from 12 to 4 p.m. Monday to Thursday, and from 12 to 5 p.m. weekends.

More info:

© Copyright (c) The Province


Bylaws must conform to provincial and federal laws

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Tony Gioventu

Dear Condo Smarts: Our strata corporation adopted a bylaw two years ago that prohibits the display of signs for provincial and municipal elections, and prohibits access to our building for campaigning.

They have always said that the Federal Election Act did not apply to provincial or municipal elections. Now we’ve heard that the laws have changed, so what happens to our bylaw, and what happens if we don’t repeal it?

— NM, Vancouver

Dear N.M.: The provincial elections legislation was recently amended, and it now includes the applications to strata corporations as well as rental/tenancy buildings. The election act applies to a provincial general election, provincial byelection, provincial or local government referendum, and local government elections and byelections.

Section 228.1 concerns tenant and strata election advertising:

(1) A landlord or person acting on a landlord’s behalf must not prohibit a tenant from displaying election advertising posters on the premises to which the tenant’s tenancy agreement relates.

(2) A strata corporation or any agent of a strata corporation must not prohibit the owner or tenant of a strata unit from displaying election advertising posters on the premises of his or her unit.

(3) Despite subsections (1) and (2), a landlord, a person, a strata corporation or an agent referred to in that subsection may:

a) set reasonable conditions relating to the size or type of election advertising posters that may be displayed on the premises, and

b) prohibit the display of election advertising posters in common areas of the building in which the premises are found.

The election act is silent on the topic of right of access to properties for election purposes; however, there is an applicable provision within the residential tenancy act that allows for political campaign access to residential rental properties.

The strata act stipulates that a bylaw that does not comply with any enactment of law is unenforceable. This is a perfect example of why strata corporations must maintain a current complete set of all bylaw amendments that are in force, and review them every year.

Laws change, conditions on properties change, and it’s easy to add one or two housekeeping amendments to your AGM to stay current.

If you have any questions regarding the election act and how it affects strata corporations, you can call Elections B.C. at 1-800-661-8683.

Tony Gioventu is executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association. E-mail: [email protected]

© Copyright (c) The Province

These walls will really grow on you

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Green roofs are often out of sight and inaccessible, but green walls are visible to all

Kim Davis

The living wall recently installed by G-Sky outside the new Whole Foods Market at Cambie and Eighth. KIM DAVIS/ SPECIAL TO THE VANCOUVER SUN

They are eco-friendly, gorgeous, and grab people’s attention, but are green walls social amenities?

“For many people, it is incredible to be on top of a green roof in the city, and I think we have a great opportunity to create the same experience for people with green walls,” says Maureen Connelly of BCIT’s Centre for Architectural Ecology.

Connelly describes being invited to an alley in the Downtown Eastside by the owners of the surrounding buildings. They wanted to know how and what technology she had to green the space.

“As I stood in the middle of the alley and looked around, the only things I could see that weren’t built were some small, concrete-confined street trees. That is what people in the Downtown Eastside are being exposed to,” Connelly says. “We have an opportunity to bring nature back into the urban centre, and to do that across the whole socioeconomic spectrum.”

Connelly talks about how, in dense urban settings, there is far more wall space than roof acreage.

“We have to take the designs and technologies of the roof and apply them to the wall — up the ante of the contribution of the whole building envelope to the ecological balance of the urban centre.”

Biophilic benefits are just some of the attributes that Connelly and her BCIT colleagues plan to research in the coming months. Using data collected from test walls at the centre, as well as from a two-storey living wall that will be installed on the Capital Regional District’s headquarters in Victoria, the Centre hopes to help qualify and quantify the benefits associated with these systems. These include: lower a building’s heating and cooling costs, air purification, noise attenuation, increased urban biodiversity, and water management.

Vancouver is in the middle of a green wall revolution,” wrote Sun gardening columnist Steve Whysall in his July 4th article last year.

Following on the heels of a number of successful “boutique” green walls, Randy Sharp of Sharp & Diamond Landscape Architecture says there are more and more large-scale and commercial developments — restaurants, hotels, big-box retailers, and parking garages — expressing interest.

“We have built up the confidence in the design and technology of different kinds of green wall systems at the small scale, and now we are able to apply that to the large scale.”

Geneviève Noel of MUBI, a Vancouver-based living wall provider, says the growing popularity of green walls has been largely due to their accessibility and their visual appeal.

“I think the idea of vertical vegetation is catching on, even more so than green roofs as it is often closer to the public, making it a good opportunity for green buildings to be identified as such,” she says.

Unlike green roofs, which are often out of sight and/or inaccessible to many building users, let alone people passing by, green walls offer a stunning, street-level greenscape.

As Sharp points out, so much of what makes a building “green” — insulation, high-efficiency windows, Forest Stewardship Council-certified lumber — cannot be seen or recognized by most people.

“It is truly green building,” Sharp says. “You are making sustainable methods visible.”


Another key reason for green walls’ rapidly growing popularity is their perceived low risk, particularly as compared to green roofs.

As Connelly points out, living walls can be much like vertical planter boxes. We know how to do it and, when installed properly, should be easy and accessible.

Green facades, where plants are planted at grade instead of a wall system like living walls, are particularly attractive, especially when it comes to cost and long-term maintenance considerations.

Sharp & Diamond Landscape Architecture successfully used this type of green screening on a parking structure at Richmond‘s River Rock Destination Resort several years ago, and will be installing another one at Hillside Centre in Victoria.

Vancouver-based G-Sky, which offers both living walls and green roofs, is probably one of the busiest providers in North America, with clients ranging from Starbucks and Whole Foods Market to the Vancouver Aquarium.

In the coming months, G-Sky and Sharp will install an 18-metre high living wall at the base of the new Canada Line terminal station at Vancouver International Airport.


Connelly says large-scale green roofs will likely offer the greatest ecological benefits in the near future, but believes there will be stronger interest in and applications for green walls in the urban core because they are so visually accessible.

“That is where they may have a stronger influence on affecting the change we need in terms of bringing vegetation back into the urban environment,” she says.

Here are few current and upcoming green building projects to check out.

Current: Millenium Water demonstration Centre, Whole Foods Market at Cambie and 8th, Joe Fortes Restaurant. Upcoming: The Flack Block, Westin Hotel in Richmond.

The BCIT Centre for Architectural Ecology holds an open house every third Thursday of the month. Come this spring, they will have one living wall and three green facades for people to see.



Sharp & Diamond


© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Digital downloads kill music on discs

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Commercial CDs head the way of the eight-track while recording companies miss out on revenue

Gillian Shaw

Music CD sales have dropped by half from their peak a decade ago, but unlike the decline of vinyl records and eight-track tapes, the current shift is bringing with it a wholesale transformation in the delivery and distribution of music.

The format change started with MP3 files, but digital music also brings multiple distribution channels — from the free sharing of music, to iTunes and other paid download services, to more futuristic channels that could see us making micro-payments to call up songs on the refrigerator while we cook dinner.

The recording industry, which failed to adapt in the early days and instead sought to hold back the change, is now paying the price. But for artists and consumers, the shift is opening up opportunities in accessibility, and lowering barriers to entry for a music career.

“CDs are being replaced by MP3 files, and the only problem is the record labels never figured out a way to charge for MP3 files until it was too late,” says Dave Kusek.

Kusek is vice-president at Berklee College of Music, a co-developer of the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI); co-inventor of the first electronic drums at Synare; founder of Passport Designs, the first music software company; and co-author of the book The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution.

“It is a format change, and the record industry had its chance when Napster first came out. They had the chance to license Napster for all their music,” he said. “If they had done that, I believe the recorded music industry would be in a much more healthy state than it is today, or ever will be again.”

Instead, the recording industry decided to sue Napster. And while it may have won that battle, it’s losing the war. In the U.S., the industry took consumers who were sharing music files to court, but it has since abandoned that tactic.

Most recently in B.C., a Vancouver company is taking on the recording industry in a B.C. Supreme Court case, asking the court to confirm that it is not infringing copyright with websites that allow users to search BitTorrent files on the Internet to find movies, music and other content.

Apple cashed in on the digital music craze with its iPods, picking up much of the revenue that CDs would have generated. But paid services such as Apple’s iTunes, Amazon and others still account for only a small portion of the music people listen to on their computers and other devices.

“If you look at the several billion tracks that have been sold on iTunes, that is a couple of months worth of file-sharing traffic in MP3 files,” said Kusek, who runs a consulting business, Digital Cowboys, that has clients such as Nokia, Pepsi, BMG, EMI and others. Kusek also blogs at

“The entire history of iTunes is [equivalent to] a couple of months of downloaded shared music,” he said.

Kusek sees a future in a type of blanket licence approach, similar to cable television’s.

“I think if it is going to happen, it is going to happen in the mobile space rather than in the computer space, although those two will merge,” he said. “The idea of selling a recording for a dollar-plus per song or $15 to $20 per disk has probably gone, or will be gone in the not-too-distant future.”

While hundreds of millions of CDs are still being purchased, sales are in steep decline. Sales of digital music in the United States grew almost 30 per cent last year, but sales of CDs dropped, with the forecast for 2009 putting them at half the level of their peak during the CD boom in the late 1990s.

According to a report by Forrester Research, U.S. digital music sales — downloads and subscriptions — will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 17 per cent over the next five years, putting digital music on track to make up 41 per cent of the music market in 2013.

The growth in these purchases won’t compensate for the decline in CD sales, leaving the overall music market shrinking by a compound annual growth rate of 0.8 per cent, to $9.8 billion US in 2013.

“I think it will become more of a utility, a service that you subscribe to that is bundled into your bill, and you get your music that way,” Kusek said.

While CDs can be played in a variety of devices, from a car to a living room stereo to a boom box on the beach, there are far more variations for digital music.

“I have a pair of sunglasses I can play music in,” Kusek points out with a laugh.

Karl Kapp, a professor of instructional technology at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania and author of Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning, thinks that while there is always going to be a need for a way to aggregate your music on some kind of storage device, it’s not going to be the CD.

“I think they will go the way of eight-tracks,” he said. “Basically, what the music business is having is a disaggregation of content.

“Rather than a CD or album, you have to find multiple distribution channels for [today’s] music. Before, there were limited distribution channels and purchasing channels.

“The music industry is in a bit of a tailspin. They are never going to get back to the level where they were.”

But with the shift comes a change in the split that artists can achieve from their efforts. The barrier to entry has been lowered. No longer do artists need the deep pockets of major recording labels to finance releases; social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, along with websites, give them direct communication with their fans, allowing them to target their audience and build a following.

“There are bands that are bypassing labels and going straight to their fans,” Kapp said. “You can do it all with software, you don’t need a huge recording studio, and it is also now easy to sell your music and distribute it.

“You are always going to have the Britney Spears and Christina Aguileras, the huge stars that need the machine behind them. But there are far more artists who can make a decent living [who] are never going to be superstars.”

The delivery system is online but it can be through your computer, a handheld device, a game console, or maybe even your Internet-connected refrigerator.

“Anything that is Web-enabled could potentially become a channel,” said Kapp, who sees the possibility of a micro-transaction model in which consumers pay a tiny fraction of a cent to play a song on one device, such as the fridge, while they cook dinner.

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