Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sustainability Dialogues - Economy and Transportation

On March 5, 2008 metro vancouver held a Future of the Region discussion forum at the Eaglequest Coyote Creek Golf Course in Surrey.

The program was moderated by Chartered Engineer Mr. Peter Holt, and featured opening remarks from Mayor Peter Fassbender, Metro Vancouver Director and mayor of the City of Langley. The panel featured:

Gordon Price, Director and Adjunct Professor, City Program, Simon Fraser University

Chris Badger, COO, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority

Ken Dobell, Retired Deputy Minister, Office of the Premier of BC

Tony Gugliotta, Senior VP, Marketing & Commercial Development, Vancouver Airport Authority

Cheeying Ho, Executive Director, Smart Growth BC

The panel discussion commenced with each panelist speaking for five minutes and then the floor was opened to comments, questions and at times, debate.

Gordon Price opened with a quote by the late US President and former general, Dwight D. Eisenhower who said, “Plans are nothing – planning is everything”. He went on to say that Eisenhower liked this quote to much that he framed it in several different contexts, “In the heat of combat plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”. Price said he takes this to mean that the particulars will change because of circumstance. He explained that you have to have a vision, but events and circumstances will change the plans. Price said that since the 1940’s our regional plans focused around a city and a sea of green. This grew into compact communities joined by transit and now events have overtaken us because all of our plans have been established in the context of an “…infinite quantity of cheap and secure hydrocarbons, and an unchanging climactic condition”, said Price.

Price said that at a recent conference attended by leaders of world business districts to discuss sustainability the conference message that was shared by the German bankers and the English planners is that this is now “…a race for civilizational life and death” and that the future pricing schemes of carbon in the future and “…there will be no free riders.” To put it all in context Price said further “…if you are a strategic planner…if you work for the port, or YVR, or the region, or a city or a business and you are not taking into account climate change and peak oil, you simply don’t have credibility as a strategic thinker. The plans you’ve had may have been appropriate, but events have overtaken you. Planning has become more essential”

Price went on to explain that planning with future carbon prices and a changing climate could be manifest in: Urban Design – His problem with the Gateway Project wasn’t so much about the road and the bridge, more than it was about exactly the wrong message about the car and the truck at exactly the wrong time. Price said that the Premier has since recently corrected this message – comprehensive neighborhoods around transit stations, compact housing and working communities are all now on the table. Price ran out of time before he could expound on more water-born goods movement vs. trucking systems to reduce our carbon footprint. He quickly referenced this article from the current issue of The New Yorker magazine.

Chris Badger talked about the port creating many benefits that include over 50,000 jobs that pay on average $50K per year. He said that as consumers we demand goods of the highest quality at lower prices and this happens through competition and transportation. He spoke about us building very expensive roads, how more sustainable intercommunity transportation with greater integrated road, rail and water-based systems that would include logistic nodes in various communities at the intersections of these roads, rails and waterways, that he said will reduce truck movements.

Later, a participant from the audience suggested tongue in cheek that these logistic nodes should not all be located in the South Fraser region, but should be spread out to include sections of West Vancouver, Southlands and Ambleside Park.

Cheeying Ho spoke about the definition of a Gateway City and its role in a regional economy and how transportation, affordable housing and more effective regional planning and growth management. She used a definition of the Gateway Concept from a report to the Prime Minister of Canada that said the gateway is, “A nationally significant network including ports of entry and exit for the delivery of goods, people, services, ideas and capital. She talked about our traditional view of the gateway being the flow of simply goods and people, when today’s vision must include these other things and how the flow of ideas, capital or the rest should be judged as less significant than the flow of goods and people. She discussed the need for infrastructure beyond roads and transport and to include hotels, universities, communications systems and affordable housing. She stressed the need for a discontinuation of the segregation of offices and homes that necessitate people driving to work and the development of more compact and transit-integrated communities. She closed with a desire to see more effective regional planning and growth management with density targets to support transit, while still creating distinct communities of interest.

Tony Gugliotta opened with some statistics on YVR and the expected 18 million passengers in 2008 that is projected to grow to double that in 20 years. He gave figures of YVR’s direct impact on GDP at $1.6B and an indirect economic benefit of $7B. He said that one 747 landing from Asia creates 200 jobs locally.

He said that YVR’s future is rooted in meeting the economic, environmental and social needs of the area are recognized. He said that YVR strongly discourages less single occupancy vehicles coming to the airport. At the same time he said YVR encourages greater transit usage with bus ridership to the airport increasing by 13% annually since 2002 and that they support more integrated regional transportation.

Ken Dobell spoke about older people living in places that require them to be dependant on their cars and how the increased road congestion is costing us in terms of the slow movement of goods and the cost to move them. He said that we as a region have been very good at building silos and NOT integrating these silos with services like transportation elements. He said that until we tackle the task of connecting or linking the silos, we will not be as effective as planners.

There was no question judging by the comments and questions from the general participants that included elected officials, smart development, pro-rail and transit and chambers of commerce members that they would like to see reliable, effective, efficient and sustainable intercommunity transportation in the very near future.

Gordon Price summed our struggle for light rail up brilliantly when responding to a question as to how we can get light rail in the South Fraser region now instead of 30 years from now.

“Look where the money is going and that is your highest priority. That’s where the political decision has to be made. I think that resources are probably adequate and indeed given the Premier’s $14 billion dollar announcement put together in various ways, we are beginning to see the shift. But we have to decide. We are spending billions of dollars on roads without an actual working example of success, and yet when we have made commitments to build rail we have seen the benefits. It’s curious to me that we know what doesn’t work and we’re going to do that. We know what does work and we are not going to do that. And until that is reconciled politically and is reflected in the budgets, you’ll be asking your question again.” – Gordon Price

The full video of this event can be seen on the metro vancouver website.

By: Joe Zaccaria

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