Thursday, October 23, 2014

Getting the word out: I need your help this weekend

Over the next several weekends, my campaign is doing a major distribution of Elect Nathan postcards and will be canvasing selected neighbourhoods in the City of Langley. This will help let people know about my vision for Langley, and the reasons why I’m running for council.

We have a core group of people that are committed to helping out rain or shine, but I could use your help on Saturday, October 25th and November 1st.

Here are the details:

Date: October 25th & November 1st
Time: 10:30am to 1:00pm
Meeting Location: Frosting Cupcakery & Bake Shop at 20411 Fraser Hwy Langley

We will meet back at Frosting Cupcakery after for a little treat to wrap up the day. If you would like to volunteer, just show up at 10:30am and look for myself. If you would like more information, please email me at nathan@nathanpachal.com or call 778-288-8720.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Langley City All-Candidates Debate, Langley Advance Correction, Road Pricing, and Tolls

Last Thursday, I participated in the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce’s All-Candidates Debate for the City of Langley. Both the Langley Times and Langley Advance provided coverage of the debate.

Myself, Nathan Pachal, talking about building streets that work, a community that's strong at last Thursday's City of Langley All-Candidates Debate.

At the debate, I articulated my vision for the City of Langley which includes:

Supporting the creation of a strong local economy by renewing and investing in Downtown Langley, creating a vibrant and prosperous core.

Working hard to build an accessible and safe community for all people. Starting with simple things like making sure our sidewalks are safe and connected, and supporting innovative ways to make our community feel safer by working with the RCMP and incorporating crime prevention through environmental design principles as relates to public spaces.

Promoting and enhancing our park system. We have a diamond in the rough —the Nickomekl Floodplain— and I will work to make it shine. I will also work hard to ensure that the City of Langley takes action to restore Brydon Lagoon as a great place for residents, visitors, and most importantly, wildlife.

When I was reading the Langley Advance, I noticed in the print edition I was quoted as saying “I guess tax is a pretty crappy way to raise money.” What I actually said was “A gas tax is a pretty crappy way to raise money.” The online Langley Advance article has been corrected.

This quote was in reference to how we pay for regionally significant roads and bridges in Metro Vancouver. In the short term, I would support a shift away from larger tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears Bridge, to smaller tolls on all major crossings. Not only will this help pay for the upkeep of bridges, but it will also help people make better choices on how to travel, reducing congestion.

In the long term, I would support the gradual elimination of gas tax, replacing it with direct road pricing. Gas tax is a poor way to fund roads because as vehicles become more efficient, less revenue is generated to pay for the maintenance of regionally significant roads. Gas tax isn’t directly tied to road usage, so it doesn’t help reduce congestion. Road pricing is fairer as people pay-as-they-go. Road pricing also helps reduce congestion. You can read a post I wrote in February for more information on road pricing. Also check out the report “Congested and Nowhere to Go: Congestion, Road Infrastructure, and Road Pricing in Metro Vancouver” by Jonathan Arnold.

Of course major roads and bridges are controlled by the provincial government and TransLink. On council, I would only be able to advocate for change.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Charleston Place 2.0: No mixed-use

Back in April 2012, the City of Langley’s then Mayor Peter Fassbender and developer David Phan announced Charleston Place. Located at the corner of Industrial Avenue and 203rd Street, Charleston Place was to be a 15 storey, mixed-use building. It would have ground-level retail units, several upper floors of office space, and high-end condos. If this project actually came to fruition, it would have been a game-changer for development in Downtown Langley.

Charleston Place 1.0. Select image to enlarge.

Since this building would have been expense to construct, and since Langley City is one of the most affordable places for real estate in Metro Vancouver, I asked several developers if they thought the project would get off the ground. Charleston Place was completely different than any other project recently proposed in the City. Two developers told me no; I posted about this in April 2013.

It turns out those developers were right. Last night, City of Langley Council heard a new proposal which I’ll call Charleston Place 2.0. It is a five-storey apartment building.

Proposed 5 storey, 78 unit condo building. View from 203rd Street. Select image to enlarge.

I have no issue with low-rise buildings. Four to six-storey buildings provide the right density to support walkable, transit-friendly cores and corridors. These size buildings are probably the right scale for Downtown Langley. I am disappointed that there is no ground-level retail in this proposed project.

Proposed 5 storey, 78 unit condo. View from Industrial Avenue. Select image to enlarge.

While I would normally be in full support of a single-use apartment building project one block away from Fraser Highway, this project's location will be kitty-corner to a future transit exchange. Creating a vibrant, safe, and pedestrian-friendly area will be key to the success of the transit exchange. This apartment project will create a pedestrian dead zone. You can read more about the future transit exchange on a previous blog post.

Since I’ve lived in Downtown Langley, I’ve seen one drive-thru built, one drive-thru being building, and several single-use apartment buildings constructed in Downtown Langley. In recent memory, the Muse (at 20238 Fraser Highway) is one of the only mixed-use buildings that I've seen constructed in Downtown Langley.

Buildings with ground-level units for retail stores, cafes, and restaurants —fronting the street and treating pedestrians as first-class citizens— are the key to the success of Downtown Langley as a walkable core.

Lately new development projects in Downtown Langley seem to be reducing the opportunity to create vibrant, pedestrians-friendly areas.

Monday, October 20, 2014

City Building, Nine Planning Principles for the Twenty-First Century

Recently, I had the chance to read City Building, Nine Planning Principles for the Twenty-First Century. The book is written by John Lund Kriken who, among other things, was the founder of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s San Francisco-based Urban Design & Planning Studio.

Kriken starts his book by stating that our world is becoming increasingly urbanized. As more people choose to live in cities, he says that we need to rethink how we design cities to improve the quality of life of their residents. Kriken argues that how design cities —land-use, transportation, public space, and buidlings— most of the time do not end up building healthy nor happy places for people. He developed the nine principles to help guide place-making that enhances people's quality of life while protecting our natural environment.

With this in mind, Kriken gives a brief history of how we got to where we are today. He also explains why a comprehensive framework is needed to guide place-making from the regional scale all the way down to the neighbourhood and building scale.

Kriken’s nine principles are sustainability, accessibility, diversity, open space, compatibility, incentives, adaptability, density, and identity.

Under each of the principles, Kriken explains what the principles means for place-making, then gives several case studies. Most of the case studies are from SOM projects.

While each of Kriken’s principles are well thought out and should be considered, I wanted to share a few items that stood out for me.

Out of the gate, Kriken starts by talking about how urban settlement needs to be balanced with conversation to preserve farmland, protect air and water quality, and ensure that urban settlement isn’t built in dangerous areas like floodplains. He notes that rules are needed to protect cities from themselves; he advocated for higher-order government plans. It seems that our region has already implemented much of what Kriken is advocating for in this regard through Metro Vancouver.

Kriken talks about how to building and support multi-modal streets and neighbourhoods. He also talks about finding the right mixed of building types and densities. Interestingly enough, much of what Kriken talks about reminded me of a whitepaper from TransLink about the 6 “Ds” for creating transit-oriented communities.

One of the things that I’ve heard people talk about is that the ground-level design of a building —how it interacts with the public realm— is one of the key elements of good design. For example, a building that fronts a sidewalk with retail stores will create a different dynamic then a building that front a sidewalk with a blank wall. Kriken notes that projects need to be looked at in the context of a whole neighbourhood or community. He cautions about looking at projects in a one-off fashion; this leads to issues.

In the City of Langley, my community is trying to redevelopment and revitalize its downtown core. Kriken has a whole chapter on how to support brownfield redevelopment. He also gives a cautionary tale of San Jose, in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is still struggling to revitalize its downtown core.

At the end of the book, Kriken gives a call to arms on building better cities and regions. Kriken believes that cities are the solution, not the problem, to creating a high quality of life for people while preserving our natural systems.

Kriken book is full of great visuals to support his nine planning principles. This book is accessible, and I would recommend that anyone who has an interest in urbanism give it a read. I believe this book should be required reading for anyone who has decision-making ability that impacts the built-form of our communities.