Sunday, July 30, 2006

Proportionality, war and urban planning

With apologies to Rex Murphy

The doctrines of green v. greed

Proportionality is the cry of the day since the crisis in the Fraser Valley began.

The transformation of a natural place to an agricultural place to built place; the as it were abduction of the natural world by human race is the immediate occasion of the current state of affairs between the pro-development and pro-green factions of this far-west region. The launching of the Greater Vancouver Regional District’s Livable Region Strategic Plan in 1996 may be said to provide its bristling content.

Proportionality would, I suppose, have called for the protectors of our green zone and agricultural land reserves to send in commandos abduct at least one realtor for every acre of land abducted for the purpose sprawl. For the sake of perfection balance in the planned world would thus have been met. A realtor or developer abducted from the District within which a particular acre was lost would help to make the tit-for-tat policy as immaculate as can be.

“Proportionality,” in the words of Rex Murphy, “may be easy to pronounce but, as can be seen, it’s delicate and refined in practice.”

As far as is known the green lobby does not protect itself with legal expertise when launching provoked or for that matter unprovoked attacks on the corporate development world, hiding writs, injunctions and private land deals that may later entrap the profiteers. The profiteers such as SmartCentres in the human form of Mitchell Goldhar, on the contrary, conducts its (ad)ventures only under these conditions. The presence of the legal profession representing SmartCentres at this past week’s Official Community Plan hearing bears sinister witness to what one may expect when it comes deciding the future of the Albion Flats in the District of Maple Ridge.

Council and staff have the decency to be tormented by the loss of green space; at least that is what they say. SmartCentres view the agricultural zoned casualties as a tactical and public relations utility.

The green-activists in Maple Ridge are a self-nominated militia that operates under the aegis of the Suzuki Foundation, among others, and the goodwill of British Columbia’s academic elite. The development community for its part answers to its own government – the Real Estate Board – and does not oblige itself with freelancing on its own or others' bidding.

It should be clear that to attempt the proportionality that has become so popular a cry against those who wish to protect our green zones and food-bearing lands run up against some eminently practical difficulties, not least the very idea of any rules – tactical, political or moral – being though to pertain to a green militia.

Even-handed, balanced, neutral, proportional-how do any of these words fit into the current conflict in the Fraser Valley and more particularly in Maple Ridge.

Proportionality, as the word is currently used in war and in urban planning, appears to me, anyway, to be a kind of code. The environmentalists are allowed from time to time to respond to those who threaten our green spaces and those spaces we have wrested from the natural environment for agriculture, but in no way may such a response result in putting a permanent end to the threat of development and actually end the debate permanently. The green lobby may only counter the development community according to rules that do not apply to the development community.

To accept this understanding of proportionality is to accept that the green faction is in a perpetual war of attrition, that is always obliged to contain what force it has so that it is always balanced, even to ideal equivalence, with the force so enjoyed by the developers and the institutions that attack it.

Rex Murphy says that he cannot think of any of any other state in the world that is asked and, and by the truly high-minded, expected to live in perpetual dynamic of attack and response-with the initiatives always understood to be with its enemies. When writing that statement I am sure that the furthest from his mind were issues of global warming and the fragility of planet earth, yet to this writer there is a an ever-increasing and evidence-ridden theory that human conflict, while unkind and even deadly to mankind, has more dire implications for this vessel we call earth.

Such is proportionality. It is a doctrine of cruelty and folly when it comes to the State of Israel. When it comes to the state our planet it is a doctrine of life and death.

Proportionality and the degree of force used to win an argument seem one and the same whether we are debating the loss of green space or the needless loss of the innocent in the heat of the argument itself.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Not in the news - whatever happened to the Iraq war

Just a few weeks back there was this war in Iraq - thousands dead on both sides, no hope. We have heard about it on CNN for years now.

Last week a skirmish between Israel and Hezbollah broke out - two Israeli hostages (can a uniformed soldier be a hostsage?) - hundreds dead, no hope. Since the latest outbreak CNN and the other so-called US media have ceased all reporting on Iraq. Just like that.

There is specualtion that the November elections in the US may be one reason that the US and Israel have inspired this new conflict.

Sometimes the whims of the US really are just too much.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Today in the news

Bush Gropes German Chancellor

First off, thank God the Chancellor is a woman.

Second, George Bush's penchant for warfare may have lead to his apparent attempt at strangling the German Chancellor in so public a manner. The Second World War is over George; we won. Leave the Chancellor alone.

Beirut evacuation does not look promising

US citizens who are fretting about being evacuated from Beirut this week have every reason to be nervous. Given Washington's inability to evacuate its citizens from down the road in New Orleans last year, what hope one wonders, is for those souls in Beirut when the US so badly botched the victims of Katrina?

Oh, and if they are planning to send in a cruise ship, be sure not to call Princess Lines.

Can the boomers save the world again?

Fundamental periodic changes define regional and sovereign relations

Ignoring the facts of history altogether allows the next generation of thinkers to contemplate unfettered the prospects of future global socio-political strategies.

With control being the central theme of all local, regional and global conflicts throughout our history it is not surprising that, like everything else, the controlled and the controllers change with time. Analysis of these changes can be viewed in varying degrees of scale. The table below aims at what is probably the broadest range. The periods described do not begin in a specific year, decade or century. The period headed ‘The next definition’ however may be said to have begun in 2006 or shortly before.

The world finds itself in the early stages of this period being divided into relatively small, though many in number, regions of intense local terrorist and counter terrorist engagement. The rest of world prospers – some would say booms economically – seemingly unaffected by the conflicted regions. Even a looming $100 oil price seems to have little or no effect on developed world economies. These economies adjust and move on, as surely as the opening bell rings on the New York and London stock exchanges, and as surely as the day’s trading comes to end.

It is into this world that the boomer generation begins the last leg of its influence on world history. And it is in this period, perhaps, that the boomer generation can once more set a new course for regional conflict resolution.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


“When I was a kid I was diagnosed with lazy-eye. The next thing you know the damn thing spread like wildfire through my entire body.”

Claus Andrup, July 6, 2006

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Why Maple Ridge planners need to study US demographics and changing urban trends

Certain news stories and commentary this week in the US and Canada discuss the implications for the property markets in North America as the first wave of the aging boomer generation sidles up to the grave.

There are signs that the US is coming off the frenzied highs of this recent property bonanza and that more quiet times lie ahead for both private and corporate speculators and a wide array of boom-beneficiaries such as builders, contractors and building material suppliers, all who have enjoyed several years of unprecedented cash flow. And let us not forget the various levels of government who have benefited from the increasing tax base that filled the coffers over the same period.

One view is that the boomers, faced now as it were with empty nesting, will opt for smaller living spaces. The boomer inventory of single residence, three garage mamoths that served them so well throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s into the early days of this century, will go back on the market causing a slowdown in the urban spillage we have grown so accustomed to.
In an article in the Vancouver Sun, Wednesday July 5, 2006 Patrick Condon, the James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Livable Environments at the University of British Columbia notes that: " If one million housing units were all built at typical single-family detached densities of about 10 dwelling units per hectare, it would consume 1,000 square kilometers of land, an area roughly equal to the size of the region (the Fraser Valley)." It is not surprising to learn that it was Patrick Condon who was a key player in the SmartGrowth on the ground initiative which had as its first urban client the District Of Maple Ridge. Less surprising then to learn that Maple Ridge is currently pursuing every means possible to ensure that future development is focused on the high-density variety which oddly plays directly into the trend of boomers selling off the nest in favour of its replacement - the easily lived in condominium or apartment.
Long viewed by many as a typical mid-sized town in the Fraser valley, a town that would in all probability add up to nothing more than another square in vinyl quilt of the lower mainland's disastrous urban sprawl, it seems that salvation, in the form of a balding, widening, graying and sagging generation of peacenicks, may be close at hand. For Maple Ridge the timing may be perfect.
There will be less demand for the typical sprawler and an increasing demand for the 800 to 1200 sq. Ft. condominium, even here in Maple Ridge. In all probability the curse of the environmentalists in the shape of young families will be lifted.
New young families will simply move in to replace the boomers as they move to high density spaces in the downtown centres. And with the pressures of increasing prices on big city condos it may very likely come to pass that they will opt for the somewhat cheaper versions of this market segment as it may be found in Maple Ridge.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Buying land in the ALR is a gamble

Landowners who speculate in the purchase of agricultural land seem to think that title to the land is tantamount to licence to change the landscape. Leaning on the notion that they have rights is similar to the behaviour of those World Cup strikers who choose to 'take a dive' in the penalty box and quickly put their hands up so that the referee will take notice that they have been wronged in some nefarious way. Here's a fact (perhaps First Pro - or whatever they now call themselves - is listening). When you buy agricultural land you get agricultural land. By doing so you choose to roll the zoning dice, or spin the urban planning wheel. In Maple Ridge, buying agricultural land in the hope that it may one day be accepted as a single residential subdivision or (dare I say it) a business park is closely related to other gambling activities in that you are 'betting against the house' - a bit of irony, under the circumstances.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The simple answer

It is the nature of bureaucracy to say that there are 'no simple answers' whereas simple answers are all we really have.

Take for example the debate over farmlands in the District of Maple Ridge. The simple answer is for staff to recommend to council that no further applications be accepted for exclusion from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Another answer is for staff to recommend that all applications for exclusion from the Agricultural Land Reserve be submitted to the Agricultural Land Commission for consideration.

This is just too simple for any government to accept.

Without the presence of disagreement the role of government is severely lessened. The essence, therefore, of government sustainability is for government to perpetuate argument at every turn in the sure knowledge that disagreement is the lifeblood of government. For its part government will be quick to note that the genesis of all argument is located firmly in the community. It would be hard to disagree with that. Who then, is the bigger fool?