Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Built Environment Summit

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a full-day summit that covered many of the issues related to the built environment and Active Transportation. This summit was organized by the British Columbia Recreation and Parks Association and they have an excellent website that can be accessed here. Participants included municipal planners, Chief Administrative Officers (CAO's) from several communities, some UBC planning students, TransLink & MoT staff, Health Authority personnel, private planning industry leaders and even a couple of politicians.

Active transportation includes such things as walking and cycling. These are health-promoting transit options that are now being recognized by public health officials, hence their participation yesterday. It also includes the removal of barriers for physically challenged people to increase their opportunities to access sidewalks, intersections, crosswalks and trails. Inclusion is very much a part of Active Transportation Planning.

Township Cllr. Grant Ward attended at my urging and we also sat with Cllr. John Herbert of the Municipality of Oak Bay. I am awaiting from materials from the event so that I can post some graphics that were presented. There was a host of issues discussed and they will lead to a series of blog posts here, so stay tuned.

Dan Burden spoke on Walkable Communities and served as our keynote speaker for this event. Burden has worked across the USA and Canada as an expert in Active Transportation. He is the Executive Director of Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, Inc. Time Magazine listed Dan Burden as one of the six most important Civic Innovators in the World. I can see why! I will focus this post on Dan's message...

Dan talked about how the car matters in our society. But, cars have not delivered everything we wanted. In the 1920's and 1930's we tore apart our cities and some efficient public transit systems to pave massive roads and make way for the auto industry. Burden has been doing lots of work in Detroit - car capital. He spoke about the City of Detroit and how devastated they are as a result of these efforts. They are now trying to get back on track.

Dan showed us a US Federal Housing Administration (FHA) document from that period that instructed planners to disconnect streets by create cul-de-sacs and through other means. A move that disconnected people, neighbourhoods and walkability. It is interesting to note that Dan quoted a modern survey on community volunteerism. Despite the largest concentration of retired folks, the State of Florida has the lowest volunteerism. Burden relates that to their car-focused built environment, which is slowly changing city by city.

Dan gave graphic example after example across North America where cities are returning to a "people focus". He said the purpose of cities is to "Maximize exchange", which should equate to minimizing time spent in transport. Seattle is seeing this change and Burden spoke about new planning guidelines there. No building of any more commercial developments without a residential component, and no residential development without a commercial component.

Lastly, Dan Burden sees the need for a "Finishing School" and that is what his organization is working towards. This is a school where our planners, engineers, transportation planners, architects, landscape architects, public health and other professionals bring the best together to serve as "Community Planners".

Dan Burden will be the guest speaker today, Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 7:00pm - 9:00pm at the SFU City Program - SFU Harbour Centre, Vancouver. You can access information on the FREE session here and you must pre-register at the link on that website. Only 300 seats are available and checking last night there were 253 registered. Dan is well worth making the effort to hear.

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