Walking – the Talk-My First TEDx!


I was invited in 2016 to prepare a TEDx talk on Walking  in Carson City Nevada

Preparing for a TEDx talk is different from anything else you will ever do, as you speak for twenty minutes on a subject you are passionate about without notes to a live audience and seven roving cameras.

I personally feel that creating walkable environments is the right thing to do and is the best way to organize a healthy, sociable, interesting and sufficiently dense area for all to live in and thrive. While TEDx works best if you are talking directly about your personal experience, I wanted to talk about walkability, why it is important, and to highlight the stories of three extraordinary people who I have worked closely with in  undertaking amazing initiatives transforming walking in their neighbourhoods. And in Vancouver, those “neighbourhoods” have populations of about 45,000 people.

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We are in a time where there are planning “experts” that talk and tell us about how to live better in cities. I believe that the people living in those communities are the experts, and just as Jane Jacobs said, neighbourhoods lead the way.  I am so grateful to these citizens for everything they have taught me-and continue to coach me on. We truly live with community heroes in our midst.

I also wanted to express my thanks and gratitude to the Carson City TEDx committee for inviting me to speak in Carson City.  It was a tremendous experience.

Price Tags

Sandy James, planner, part-time Price Tags editor and author, speaks to TEDxCarsonCity.

The transformative power of walking:  why walking is good for your bottom line.

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Pedestrian Push Buttons and Pedestrian Priority~Australia, where the Car is still King

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If you think the car is king in Metro Vancouver and in Canada generally, you need to have a visit to Australia where both the law and the pedestrian crossing times solidly put the pedestrian as a second class citizen to vehicular traffic.

The Guardian disclosed that “Pedestrians across Australia are pressing the button at traffic lights for no reason, most days of the week..In Sydney, pedestrian crossings in the CBD have been automated since 1994, leaving millions of commuters to futilely press placebo buttons for nearly 25 years…”

And if you are standing at an intersection in downtown Sydney, you feel like you are standing there for an inordinate amount of time waiting for a light to change. There are a lot of walkers~there are 1.27  million trips a day, with 1.06 million by foot.  The State Department in charge of the wait times have thankfully shortened  the automated wait times from 110 seconds to 90 seconds, but here is what is strange~an official from the State said “when traffic volume is lower the pedestrian wait time is less than 90 seconds. There are also many locations in the CBD where traffic signals operate with a double cycle, meaning pedestrians only wait 45 seconds to cross the road.”

But no one is talking about the fact that Sydney’s CBD is full of walkers and quite congested at the intersections at peak times. Shouldn’t pedestrians have more green time when foot traffic volume is higher? And shouldn’t pedestrians’ time be counted as valuable if not more so than vehicular traffic?

Darren Davis with Auckland’s Transport Council has crunched the numbers of the economic viability of walking. His work shows that eight billion dollars of New Zealand’s  gross domestic product is generated within a few city blocks, and it is “walkability  of a city centre directly impacts its economic viability and economic prosperity.”

That is part of what London is doing in the Mayor’s new Transport Strategy as reported in Price Tags. Aiming for an 80 per cent modal split for walking,cycling and public transport by 2041,  London is becoming more conducive for walking by making wait times at intersections as low as 40 seconds.

Cities with walkable downtowns are attractive for businesses to locate, and pedestrians are the economic driver to make those areas thrive. It is time to cost the pedestrian experience for comfort, convenience and safety in the downtown as paramount to that of the vehicle, signalling a shift in accountability and livability of the downtown core. The chart below illustrates the pedestrian wait times in cities in Australia and elsewhere.

Richmond Councillors Spinning Farmland into Tax Loopholed Gated Estates~Will Citizens Vote Them Out?

You can tell it is election season and in the City of Richmond the spin has already started. Under the banner “Richmond First” Richmond councillors Dang, McNulty and McPhail who voted for allowing  mega mansions of nearly 11,000 square feet  on the most fertile and important farmland in Canada are campaigning to get back on Richmond Council.

And they have added a new twist. They are not saying that they have given in to developer pressure and have approved the creation of the tax loopholed  offshore owned gated estates on former agricultural lands. Nor are they saying anything about this “get rich quick” scheme of buying land at agricultural land prices and morphing it into exclusive multi-million dollar estates with the associated land lift.  They also have conveniently forgotten  that the Province has mandated that the maximum size of houses on farmland is a massive 5,832 square feet.

Ads in the Richmond Sentinel actually state that these Council candidates are running on a platform that includes  “Protecting Richmond’s farmland and supporting local food production“. These are the councillors that also decided that a main house of 11,000 square feet  on large  farmland properties was not enough, and also allowed an additional 3,200 square foot house on the same property for the “help”.

Price Tags Vancouver has reported that the Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham will be introducing regulation to stop Richmond Council’s flagrant disregard for the maintenance of the Agricultural Land Reserve.

The Richmond Citizens’ Association  believes in maintaining farmland and respecting the Province’s Agricultural Land Reserve.  They are running four candidates for City Council including one of the founders of the Agricultural Land Reserve, highly respected farmer and current City Councillor Harold Steves. They have prepared the  video below illustrating what is happening to farmland in Richmond, where city staff are now plowing through 61 applications for the mcmansioning of the best farmland in Canada.


Talking Scooters, on the Streets or the Sidewalks?

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Price Tags Vancouver has been discussing how and when Vancouver will be addressing scooters. And we mean all things about scooters~where they are left, where they will be allowed to  operate, and what the restrictions will be on companies bringing them to Vancouver.

In a city that does not have a surplus of taxis and with taxis unwilling to do short trips, and with no ride share options on the immediate horizon, other alternatives are needed. There is definitely a latent demand  for short trips, and scooters are one way to go. The Seattle Department of Transportation”s definition of “shareable mobility devices”  include “tricycles, handcycles, tandem cycles, electric scooters, and others” with a view to providing transportation options to disabled residents. Seattle is also looking at hefty licencing fees of  up to $250,000. The Reuters clip below shows that vendors can make their money back in two to three weeks with scooter shares.

But do scooters operate on the sidewalks? And where do you leave the scooters?  Price Tags Vancouver documented what happened in San Francisco where shareable scooters could be left anywhere, and soon cluttered up sidewalks. Many cities want scooters to be in bike lanes and not competing with pedestrians on sidewalks. Seattle has placed some of the bicycle/scooter parking on public sidewalks, but officials are now looking at placing the scooter parking on the street in clearances or in parking spaces.

While the taxi industry has been vocal about the introduction of ride-sharing as cutting into their business, a scooter trip does not have similar competition. There will be a need for clear-cut regulations on where scooters are allowed to operate and where they are left on the street and public realm in Vancouver.

As Gordon Price asked last week ” So Vancouver, what’s your plan?

Taxi Cabs Charge Disabled Passengers More Because they are Disabled


In the “give your head a big shake” department comes this alarming story of  Paralympic curler Chris Daw who was visiting Tsawwassen Mills shopping mall before catching a ferry to return to Vancouver Island. Chris is in a wheelchair and obtained a local Delta Surrey Green Cab to transport his family from the mall to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. As Chris stated to  Chek News he noticed that the cab fare was already being charged before he even got in the taxi. Calling it a “standard fee” , the company charges for getting disabled folks into taxi cabs.

“I phone the cab company and I said well what’s this all about? And they said this is a service that we charge disabled people to be strapped in. I was shocked, I was absolutely baffled,” said Daw.“So I did a little research and the fact is that it’s actually illegal to charge that fee for me to be buckled in,” said D

British Columbia statutes indicate that charges can only commence once the taxi is actually moving and transporting people. So how many other disabled people have been charged extra for the simple task of stowing a wheelchair and opening a taxi door?

As Chris notes “If that’s happening in Vancouver, how many other cities across Canada are doing a similar practice? And often people with disabilities are fearful to speak out,” said Daw.

While the taxi company has agreed to review the matter, it brings attention to the fact that it is discriminatory to treat disabled customers as different from any other customer. You can see the Chek News feature on the taxi “service fee” here.


Frank Ducote and the Return of Olympic Village’s Birds


Image by Frank Ducote

I had the delight of working with Frank Ducote at the City of Vancouver. Frank is an accomplished and well seasoned city planner/designer with a keen eye and a quick wit, and has been recognized for his excellence in urbanism by the Canadian Institute of Planning as a Fellow of the Institute.

Frank has kindly allowed the publishing of  his image of Myfanwy MacLeod’s  public art sculptures “The Birds” which have returned to Olympic Village in time for two major conferences on Birds as reported this week in Price Tags. Frank’s work is also featured at the Blood Star Gallery on Pender Island as well as other gallery exhibitions.


Image by Frank Ducote

Birds~Public Art and Conferences Flock this Week to Vancouver


Birds are what Vancouver is all about this week, as both the Vancouver International Bird Festival and the 27th International Ornithological Congress flock to the city to talk about, well, birds.

And all this activity comes hot on the heels of the poll conducted by Justin McElroy to establish the unofficial brand ambassador for Vancouver.

It wasn’t Mayor Gregor Robertson (who failed to make it out of the first round), nor adopted son and hockey great Trevor Linden. With thousands of Twitter votes cast, and capturing 81 per cent of them, Canuck the Crow “defeated” Michael J. Fox for the championship.

Should you be unaware, Canuck the Crow is a human-reared crow living on the east side, and making his presence known to the locals, including neighbourhood friends, such as those delivering the mail and local passers-by. He was also implicated in a police investigation for taking a knife away from a crime scene, supposedly because it was shiny and he liked it. Canuck the Crow also has his own twitter account.


To celebrate the two bird conferences, artist Cameron Cartiere, who teaches at Emily Carr University, has worked with the public and at community centres to create over 6,000 fledglings from molds. Why 6,000? That represents the number of crows who fly around the city and settle at night. The clay crows will be travelling to different community centres where they will be available to the public to take home.

Jessica Kerr with the Richmond News outlines two other projects involving the bird conferences and public artist Cartiere. “Nesting Nests” worked with the community to weave nests out of invasive plant materials. “On the Wing” is a film that will be screened out doors using a projector mounted on a tricycle.

And just because it’s Vancouver and we’re on the subject, “The Birds”, by Myfanwy MacLeod , are returning to Olympic Village after their October 2017 removal for a trip to Calgary, and then China, for some much-needed rejuvenation; Price Tags covered their flight

Produced as part of the Olympic Public Art budget, The Birds are much-loved and are very much welcomed back; intended to provide scale in the square, they were not necessarily intended to be something that kids of all ages climbed up and slid down on. But, as you can hear from the YouTube clip below, that is indeed part of their perceived and continuing purpose.

Both the 27th International Ornithological Congress and the first-ever Vancouver International Bird Festival run August 19 to 26.

Finally the Province Says they will Stop the Private Estating of Agricultural Lands

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Finally — entering the final stretch of a hot, dry summer, the Province of BC’s Minister of Agriculture says she is going to do something about the flagrant misuse of council authority in the City of Richmond.

As The Richmond News reports:

Lana Popham the Minister of Agriculture is now saying it directly~she is closing the barn door  on Richmond’s agricultural land speculators this Fall. Ms. Popham states “Legally limiting house sizes on protected farmland is among 13 recommendations for “immediate legislative and regulatory change. We can expect to see changes coming forward in the fall with regards to that.”

Previously, this council green-lit the development of the best agricultural lands in Canada into exclusive private estates for the very, very rich — many off-shore owned. Of course, these particular land owners receive the unintended additional benefit of a ‘super’ land-lift, as their agriculturally zoned property becomes a McMansioned playground for the well-heeled from elsewhere.

The super-rich can also build said mansions up to almost 11,000 square feet, thanks to Richmond’s Council’s previously demonstrated inability to accept the Agricultural Land Reserve’s recommendation for  5,382 square-foot dwellings built on farming properties. Even better, Richmond Council approved a further 3,200 square foot dwelling on large properties for the “help”.

Even Richmond City staff supported the Provincial recommendation of 5,382 square-foot dwellings, and quoted the late economist Richard Wozny’s analysis that showed that any square footage over this amount would warp farmland prices. But no — six Richmond councillors decided that really really big mansions were still needed, and that it was “too late” to save the best farmland in Canada.

And of course, there was so much more to this story of entitlement — the lack of a foreign buyer’s tax on this Class 1 farmland. With a nominal investment of a few thousand dollars of crops or livestock, any estate could apply for the agricultural use tax bracket. It really is, or was, the perfect scam.

Last year, the Province created an advisory committee to look at what changes should be made to the Agricultural Land Commission. A survey undertaken by the advisory committee received over 2,200 responses, with 79 per cent saying that regulation of residential uses on farmland was absolutely required. This commission was chaired by the former MLA for south Delta, the much-loved Vicki Huntington. Typical of a sadly positional approach, rookie Liberal MLA Ian Paton, who took over Ms. Huntington’s Independent seat in the legislature, whackily nit-picked at the report, saying it took consultation away from local farmers. It is all a little too close, as Mr. Paton’s father was once chair of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).

However, the committee ultimately recommended the ALC instead remove authority over ALR land from Richmond City Council, who were otherwise voting on the orderly approval and processing of 61 applications to turn farmland into cash developer cows. This is, therefore, a satisfying reversal for a troubling year of threats to farmland and food security, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

While Richmond, which calls itself “The Garden City”, has been particularly complicit in shunning the regulations to create short-term developer profit, other municipalities are just as culpable for the abuse of Provincially-protected farmlands. What do mayors and councillors representing Metro Vancouver residents stand for — regional food security and the interests of future farmers, or short-term favour of the developers’ lobby?

It really is time for a much more prudent stewardship approach to local farmland, which was built over thousands of years from the Fraser River alluvial deposits, and can provide a full range of vegetables and crops for local markets.

It’s time to think not only of current developer profit but the present state and future viability of our agricultural sector, as if future generations and how they will live — and eat — in this region truly depends on it.

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