Canada’s government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is about to sign into law a new trade agreement with China. The agreement has had no public input by the Canadian people or their elected representatives. One can only suppose that it’s designed to enrich Canada’s corporate class. It certainly impoverishes Canada’s democracy.
As The Tyee, in an article entitled Chairman Harper put it:
By Nov. 1 three of China’s national oil companies will have more power to shape Canada’s energy markets as well as challenge the politics of this country than Canadians themselves. And you can thank Prime Minister Stephen Harper for this economic treason. (source)
Read the article for more details, each of which is more stunning than the last. This agreement, the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act (FIPPA), marks “Canada’s formal entry into the ranks of dysfunctional petro states,” as The Tyee puts it.
If you’re concerned about this and you’re Canadian, please sign LeadNow’s petition, Stop the Sell-Out – Canada is NOT for Sale.
Thank you for your interest in the Canada-China Investment Treaty. Although Stephen Harper prefers to keep Canadians in the dark about this Agreement’s grave implications for our sovereignty, security, and democracy, I am hopeful that we can force the issue into daylight. Your letter proves that you recognize the seriousness and urgency of what is about to take place behind our backs.
While the Canada-China Investment Treaty will likely be our most significant treaty since NAFTA, Stephen Harper plans to sign it into law as early as November 2nd, 2012, without any public consultation, any consultation with First Nations, any Parliamentary debate, or even a single vote in the House of Commons. I do not accept such blatant disrespect for either the will of Canadians or for our democratic institutions.
Sadly, in addition to the anti-democratic process to approve this Agreement, it is the actual content of this investment deal with which I am most concerned. For the first time in Canadian history, the Canada-China Investment Treaty will allow investors (including Chinese state-owned enterprises such as CNOOC or Sinopec), to claim damages against the Canadian government in secret, for decisions taken at the municipal, provincial, territorial or federal level that result in a reduction of their expectation of profits. Even decisions of Canadian courts can give rise to damages.
Realizing what the Conservatives were attempting to do, in secret and without debate, and realizing that we will be bound by this destructive Agreement for up to 31 years once it is ratified, on October 1st, 2012, I made a request in the House of Commons for an Emergency Debate to allow Canada’s democratically elected Members of Parliament to study the implications of the Canada-China Investment Treaty.
Although my request for an Emergency Debate was regrettably denied, we have not given up and are continuing to pursue all available options to stop the treaty’s approval. Given what is at stake, we hope that you will join us.
In addition to the tools found on our Canada-China Investment Treaty campaign site at http://www.greenparty.ca/stop-the-sellout, I urge you to push back against this sell-out of our sovereignty, security, and democracy, and help to educate Canadians by talking to your friends and neighbours, writing letters to the editor in local and national newspapers, calling in to talk radio shows, and filling up the comment boards of news website.
Crucially, this is not a partisan issue, and it is only by coming together to stand up for Canada that we will succeed in stopping this agreement.
Elizabeth May, O.C., M.P.
Member of Parliament for Saanich–Gulf Islands
Leader of the Green Party of Canada
I am so glad that May and Canada’s Greens are paying attention, and that the NDP is now also on board with stopping this incredible sell-out of Canada and its resources. Canadians: hewers of wood and carriers of water forever, eh? In whose interest, exactly?
Last year, when I was still in Victoria BC but considering a move back to Boston’s North Shore, I read about the impending closure of the Salem Harbor Power Station and immediately thought,”Wow, what a fantastic redevelopment opportunity!” Suffice to say that my optimism may have been premature.
Bedeviled by a Dirtball
The Salem Harbor Power Station is one of the region’s dirtiest coal- and oil-burning power generators. For six decades, the plant has occupied sixty-two acres of prime waterfront real estate, cutting residents off from all other historically and economically significant maritime uses on shore. Its hulking facility, topped by two smokestacks that pierce the skyline, has visually dominated the coastline not only for its Salem neighbors, but also for folks in Beverly and Marblehead.
And it has spewed tons of pollutants into the air. As the Denver Post put it in an article about these many long-in-the-tooth dirty power plants, “Utilities dragged feet”:
These plants have been allowed to run for decades without modern pollution controls because it was thought that they were on the verge of being shuttered by the utilities that own them. But that didn’t happen.
Indeed. The Salem station was one of those zombie economy necessities that refused to die: a lot of people shrugged and accepted it as an unavoidable evil that had to be borne. After all, the region is famous for being bedeviled, right? The struggle to force either a clean-up or a closure of the Salem station was epic – but now it’s finally happening.
Or is it?
There’s a dearth of information about how the situation went from “the plant is closing” = “really new opportunities” to “the plant is dead” = “long live the plant,” but some weeks ago, the latter option grew in strength when the station’s current owner, Dominion, began negotiations to sell the property as-is to New Jersey-based startup Footprint Power. The latter wants to operate a natural gas-burning power plant at the site. Admittedly, natural gas burns cleaner than coal or oil – but wait! There have been hints that the backup fuel could be …diesel oil. Because, you know, depending on the markets, natural gas might become too expensive and we’d have to go back to something a little dirtier.
It seems zombies are hard to kill dead.
Why has there been no recent public input on the plans?
On June 26, Andrea Fox of Green Drinks of Greater Salem moderated a discussion of current plans for the station. The three presenters – Healthlink‘s Jane Bright, State Rep. Lori Ehrlich, and attorney Jan Schlichtmann (whose work has often focused on environmental issues) – questioned the plans now on offer. Schlichtmann in particular pointed out that, while there was a surge of interest initially in what would happen to the site, the recent negotiations between Dominion, Footprint, and Massachusetts politicians have effectively put a kibosh on any further public input. The Green Drinks discussion was essentially meant to breathe some life into the conversation. It seems that as soon as the corporation(s) decided on a course of action, the people rolled over and went quiet.
The lone voice speaking in favor of Footprint Power’s plan was Shelley Alpern, a Salem resident and member of SAFE – the Salem Alliance for the Environment (but she made it clear that she wasn’t speaking on SAFE’s behalf). Alpern’s cred as an environmentalist goes way back, so it was surprising to hear her question the vision for a sustainable redeveloped waterfront site and instead pleading Footprint’s case.
The arguments at Green Drinks revolved around the following:
- how much will it really cost to clean up the brownfield site? Some put the price tag at $75m, others argue that this number is inflated and meant to scare people into accepting Footprint’s option, lest the alternative be “the padlock” (meaning the site just gets shuttered and turns into a decaying eyesore versus a toxic waste spewing eyesore). See also Speaking alternatives to power
- is the lifecycle of natural gas really that much better than coal or oil? Sure, it’s cleaner (somewhat) and currently cheaper (somewhat), but no one knows how the markets are going to shape prices in the future, near or far. And what about the externalities and costs consumer don’t directly see when the natural gas is extracted, such as the enormous environmental cost of fracking? What about the dangers of putting pipelines, which will inevitably break down and leak, through watershed areas? There are already pipelines running from Nova Scotia in Canada, through Beverly, and into Salem. What’s their “lifecycle”?
- will Footprint Power keep its promises? Some stakeholders have been told by Footprint that a natural gas-burning plant might need to use diesel fuel as a back-up; some were told that the existing plant might have to stay on for some time (vs being dismantled). Other stakeholders have heard no such thing when they sat down with Footprint – but we’re dealing with corporations, and with energy corporations, to boot …not exactly always the white-hat guys.
- what of the missed opportunities to develop something truly amazing?
That last point – missing opportunities because vision is lacking – strikes me as the most compelling. Rep. Ehrlich made the case in a Marblehead Reporter op-ed on May 14, 2012, Vision still lacking at Salem power-plant site (also available on her website, here). The column sparked a flaming letter-to-the-editor in response, Get over the aesthetics; think clean energy, whose author compared opposition to off-shore (and backyard) wind turbines to a kind of la-la-land NIMBYism that wants a “pretty” picture without facing the inescapable reality of our energy needs. His point was that Ehrlich and those who think like her are in la-la-land because we pussy-foot around the fact that we still need to get our energy from somewhere, while he is a realist who understands that Footprint’s proposal is the region’s best bet.
I think it’s a false choice.
Macro / Micro
Consider for a moment perspective. What the critics, especially Ehrlich and Schlichtmann, have is a fine-grained, close-view perspective. It reminds me of Jane Jacobs‘s analysis of neighborhoods at the street level. She looked at the details and decoded what she termed a street ballet, understanding that how people use a thing (a street) – and how they are able to use it – determines the whole, irrespective of how much planning-from-above tries to predict outcomes. This was pretty much in opposition (at the time) to the thinking of professional planners, who believed that streets must be rationally planned (preferably according to the needs of the automobile) and that buildings, placed according to mostly “ideal” reasons, would determine uses. If Jacobs had a micro view, the planners of the day had the macro view.
It strikes me as ironic that the micro-view is actually the Big Picture “vision” view, and that the macro approach, which tries to account for a larger perspective, has a blind spot about the “users” or people on the ground. The Realpolitik view defaults to the macro – and I count Alpern’s approach here. Expert knowledge about hydro-fracking regulations in Bulgaria and Pennsylvania is good to have, but it’s not enough to impel local people to act differently. Local inertia is a strong force, and if you build another power plant, you will have another power plant. For another sixty years. But if you give the people who actually want change the power to control their destinies, they can move the rest of us out of our inertia. That’s the claim mocked by the letter writer who thinks a power plant alternative is la-la-land thinking – but what is the alternative? Another planned-from-above mega-project that repeats many of the same patterns established by the old project?
Deep waters, old uses
Schlichtmann made the truly relevant point that Salem’s history was built on maritime industry. The current site of the Salem Harbor Power Station is Salem’s only deep-water port – what passes for the city’s tourist harbor is a shallow pond, incapable of harboring bigger vessels. The original coal-burning plant was built on that prime spot because of the deep harbor, which allowed ships to offload coal. It’s an incredibly shortsighted move willfully to dismiss an opportunity to reclaim that harbor for what it represents (Salem’s fantastic seafaring history). All around the industrialized world, cities are reclaiming waterfront that was savaged by mono-uses (waterfront freeways, power plants, factories, etc.), and reintegrating them into a more sustainable urban fabric. Why should Salem shut itself out from that renaissance?
Well, because we need energy. But consider this: ISO New England has said that there’s no longer any need for a power plant in Salem. As Ehrlich noted in her column, “The old plant is barely running, and ISO, the region’s reliability-cautious grid operator, said that power production on that site is no longer needed. Why such an enormous plant?”
For an informative PDF, see Repurposed Coal Plant Sites Empower and Revive Communities.
Sierra Club, Victory! Salem Coal Plant Announces Closing.
ArchBOSTON forum discussion (brief) here.
I came here for the weather. Seriously. East Coast winters (cold) and East Coast summers (Triple-H: hot hazy humid) drove me bonkers.
But global warming is making me feel a bit like Rick in Casablanca: misinformed.
Misinformed – you know, that great line where Louis asks Rick why he came to Casablanca, to which Rick replies, “for the waters.” When reminded that Casablanca is in the desert, Rick deadpans, “I was misinformed.” See the clip here:
Well, it seems global warming is going to teach all of us a lesson or two about being misinformed.
While we’re not getting that much hotter (at least not in my lifetime, it seems), extreme heat inland will cause a curious weather pattern over the ocean in our immediate vicinity: one of increased clouds and cold during our spring and summer months.
In other words, if you thought this year’s spring and summer (for the most part) have been cold and depressing, you’re absolutely right! They have.
And climatologists and weathermen have predicted it for years.
Earlier this week, KPLU, the NPR affiliate radio station in Seattle, ran this report: Seattle spring was the coldest, one of the cloudiest on record.
Or read an extract:
Scientists have confirmed what many suspected about this year’s weather. It was the coldest spring on record for Washington and one of the cloudiest.
The average temperature for April, May and June was lower than any year since 1900, say University of Washington scientists. And the days were more cloudy than all but one year since those records began 60 years ago.
One of the weather scientists quoted is Cliff Mass, who adds, “the hotter it gets inland, the more we seem to get the sort of pattern that brings cooler air from the ocean into western Washington.” This is obviously exactly what we’re getting in British Columbia, and it seems to be happening to some extent further south as far as Northern California, too.
But get this: Cliff Mass was already telling us about this five years ago, when our spring and summers were still pretty sweet to gloat about to our Eastern brethren. Mass called it in a 2006 Seattle Times article: An even grayer Seattle from global warming?
For those harboring the guilty hope that global warming will transform Seattle into a sun lovers’ paradise on par with the Côte d’Azur, meteorologist Cliff Mass has some bad news: It might actually get cloudier.
Mass and his colleagues at the University of Washington recently completed the most detailed computer simulation ever conducted of the region’s future weather. Among the surprises was a big boost in cloud cover in March, April and May.
“The spring is going to be gunkier — if you believe this — under global warming,” he said.
Gunkier? Ohhh-kaaayyy… That’s a good way to describe it, I suppose.
In the article, Mass also predicts more heat spikes and problems relating to the water supplies (say what?, in Cascadia, land of rain and ice-pack? …Oh, wait… Ice-melt… Ice melts away…).
In other words, global warming is actually global weirding.
Overall, I’d say this part of the globe is not a bad place to be if you don’t want to die of heat in the summer. But the gloomy and cold spring (and summer up until just a week ago) wasn’t a lot of fun, either.
My money is on keeping an eye on Mass’s work, at any rate (I really like how he thinks in other areas, too). He’s taking climate modeling seriously, and clearly getting things right, as his 2006 predictions would indicate. The key is in the details, taking local terrain into account, as the Seattle Times article explained:
Earlier forecasts relied primarily on global climate models, which give a planetary view of the way temperatures will rise as global warming continues. But those models lack any detail about the mountains and inland waters that play such an important role in local weather.
So, using a global model as a starting point, Mass fine-tuned those projections with a high-resolution regional model that can distinguish topographical features down to a scale of a few miles.
“If you’re going to play the game around here, you’ve got to have the resolution to see local terrain,” he said.
Even with the university’s enormous data-processing capacity, it took two months of continuous computer runs to simulate each decade into the future. The researchers also factored in things such as changes in soil temperature, which can affect weather.
Fascinating article, props to the Seattle Times for having published it and keeping it available online.
Meanwhile, I find myself humming a line from an old Frank Sinatra song, The Lady is a Tramp: “…she’s broke but it’s ok …hates California, it’s cold and it’s damp …that’s why the lady is a tramp…”
We can sing that up here, too.
There’s a great video available on YouTube right now, A link between climate change and Joplin tornadoes? Never. Based on a 5/23 Washington Post op-ed by Bill McKibben of 350.org (and narrated and illustrated by Stephen Thomson of Plomomedia), it sarcastically tells us that “It is vitally important not to make connections.”
Of course the intent is the opposite: McKibben does want us to make connections. These days, however, we’re often so bedazzled by spectacle (including disaster footage) as to feel powerless about the point of information that connects to anything else.
But if not connect now, when?
In the video we see extreme weather events, including recent tornadoes in the Midwest; wildfires in Texas and droughts in New Mexico; flooding in Mississippi, and record rainfall elsewhere. “Do not wonder if they’re somehow connected,” the narrator warns. Do not wonder…. because it’s imperative to have a passive populace, of course – one that’s transfixed by looking instead “at the news anchorman standing in his waders in the rising rivers as the water approaches his chest,” or similar “oh-wow”-human-interest angles.
It’s far too hard to look at facts, or to ask whether government policies (such as allowing more coal mining or exploiting Alberta’s tarsands) even begin to make sense when it comes to global welfare…
So how about some facts for the next time you get up off the couch and head to the fridge? According to The rising cost of food – get the data (published on June 7, 2011), global food prices this year are still 37% higher than they were last year. And there’s no relief in sight as “high and volatile food prices are also likely to prevail for the rest of the year, and into 2012.”
What’s driving this rise, which has propelled the food price index from 92 in January 2001 to 232.4 in May 2011? Theories abound, including ones around weather (too much and/or too little rain fall); a growing population (including a demand for meat in China); concentration of corporate control; and the use of food for biofuel.
But maybe the following angle, alluded to in The Guardian, reveals an aspect that vitally deserves to be connected to other facts and insights: As the article notes, there is a
massive influx of big investors into deregulated commodities markets – searching for a “safe bet” after the dotcom bubble burst – who speculate on the future price of food. On Sunday, a UN conference on trade and development said it may be necessary for governments to intervene with regulation to rein in rising food prices. The FAO adds that more must be done to improve transparency in global food markets. (source)
Ok, let’s take that “dot” and connect it to another approach, courtesy of Bob Burnett’s recent article, Roll Over, Karl Marx (June 10, 2011). When you start to think about climate change and weather disasters in conjunction with environmental despoliation and rising food prices, and plug some of that into a political analysis, you have to get politicized …which is probably very dangerous to our ruling class.
Ruling class? Why, what’s this? Class warfare?
Well, yes, it’s shaping up that way, isn’t it? Except, of course, for the lethargy of the key players…
Burnett summarizes Marx and marxist thought in broad strokes, from the Industrial Age to the later 20th century, when income inequality (Johnson Administration) lessened …before picking up again. By 2007, income inequality had reached a historic high. What’s up with that?
In the meantime, our more recent Great Recession has hugely exacerbated that imbalance while it’s also busily eviscerating the middle class – which of course leads to more polarization. Yet the populace remains docile, even in the face of environmental despoliation (which is causing disasters world-wide) and significant rises in the cost of living, particularly food prices.
Burnett addresses several factors Marx (who expected that any class under such pressure would revolt) could not have foreseen: multinational corporations; a corporate-controlled mainstream media that owns the airwaves and your eyeballs; a PR campaign that remade our perception of corporate strategy (convincing us that trickle-down economics actually work, for example), or that “markets are inherently self correcting and there is no need for government regulation.” Burnett notes, the “consequences were devastating to workers, the environment, and the American economy,” particularly as jobs went overseas while wages stagnated. Union power / collective bargaining rights were undermined or destroyed, and – most significantly – instead of being perturbed by this loss of real power, people became distracted with questions about fundamentalist religion and issues like abortion – both of which “ divert attention from poor wages and living conditions.”
It doesn’t help that the Democratic Party is (as Burnett puts it) “capitalism lite,” leaving the non-capitalist crowd without a champion in the political arena.
And yet we wonder why Obama has been so wishy-washy on the environment. Why we continue to rape the earth – frack it for all it’s worth, for example.
But of course, “It is vitally important not to make connections.”
You should not wonder…
You should instead continue to be distracted by “human interest” stories and ridiculous debates about religion and abortion and other matters that keep people on a slow boil, instead of directing them to fix real problems.
Above all, remember how important it is not to disrupt the record profits of our fuel companies…
Relevant images (links included)
It’s expensive – whether we’re talking money or resources. There’s no “free” energy, sadly. I’m referring to the question of how we’re going to proceed on the question of nuclear power in the wake of the ongoing nuclear disaster in Japan.
Earlier today I read about Iowa’s nuclear problem. Let’s talk money. From the article:
MidAmercian Energy wants to explore the possibility of constructing a nuclear power plant in Iowa. They want their utility customers to pay higher rates to pay for engineering studies necessary for the plant, which may not even get built.
Historically, when a utility wants to add new generating capacity it must build the plant and begin producing electricity before seeking to recover the costs from its customers. They can only recover costs that are reasonable and prudent.
Last year, the Iowa legislature considered cost recovery legislation that had a provision empowering the Public Utility Board to require competitive bidding for new electricity resources. Under that approach, only if nuclear is cheaper can the project proceed, but MidAmerican knows nuclear is much more costly than efficiency, natural gas or wind, so this year’s bill drops that language.
We argued against this measure last year. This year’s measure is worse.
The shareholders, the ones that will benefit from increased profits, should take on the risks and expenses related to this project, not the captive customers.
It seems unreasonable to argue with the Daily Sentinel’s reasonable argument. But you can bet that there will be plenty of argument and shifting around of responsibility, because nuclear power plants are incredibly expensive to build.
Forget about the problem of radiation leakage in the event of an accident. Just on the basis of expenditure, maintenance, and upkeep, nuclear has a huge financial drawback.
Take a look at Do We Really Need Nuclear Power? (subtitled “After Japan, everyone’s asking the question—and the answer is more complicated than you think”) by Bradford Plumer.
The pro-nuclear power argument, as rhetorically laid out by Plumer, goes something like this:
…nuclear power carries some risks, but those aren’t nearly as great as the risks of burning coal, cooking the planet, and sending all sorts of deadly pollutants into the air. Air pollution kills two million people per year and much of that is due to fossil-fuel combustion. The right answer is to learn from Japan’s mistakes and improve nuclear safety. (It’s also worth noting that the next generation of reactors are supposed to be even safer.) No energy source is risk-free, and nuclear is one of our best bets. Right?
That’s compelling – if you count up deaths, then you might conclude that nuclear is safer. Surely, it’s not killing 2 million people annually.
But as Plumer goes on to illustrate, the financial calculations are a different matter. The US, for example, gets 20% of its energy needs from nuclear and has 104 plants. (I did not know this; it’s a substantial number of nuclear plants and a substantial percentage of power.) What’s standing in the way of nuclear power plant expansion isn’t “the fear of fiasco” via melt-downs. It’s cost:
New nuclear plants go for at least $10 billion a pop—and that’s before cost overruns inevitably set in (as has happened with a much-hyped new reactor in Finland). Building intricate concrete and steel structures that can withstand all manner of disaster is a costly enterprise. According to a 2009 MIT study, “The Future of Nuclear Power,” getting electricity from nuclear costs about 8.4 cents per kilowatt hour, compared with 6.2 cents for coal and 6.5 cents for natural gas. Other industry analysts have suggested that the MIT study is too optimistic, and that power from new nuclear plants could cost twice as much. (source)
Now you can see why MidAmerican Energy wants to stiff the customers for building a new plant. They probably can’t afford to do it on their own. Additionally, as Plumer notes, private companies like MidAmerican Energy might now realize that post-disaster remediation can really bite. Even Three-Mile Island cost $1billion and 14 years to clean up (1998 figures?). Plumer refers to a 2007 report by Charles Ferguson of the Council on Foreign Relations, and then observes: “all of the 104 reactors currently operating in the United States will likely need to be decommissioned by mid-century. Replacing those reactors (so simply preserving the status quo) would mean building a new reactor every four or five months for 50 years.”
Did I mention that they cost $10 billion each?
Read the whole article – it covers a lot more than the cost of nuclear power plants, and goes into a lot of detail about the feasibility of getting energy from renewables. But the bottom line? There’s no magic bullet.
Note: clicking on the illustration takes you to CNN Money article on Aging Nuclear Power Plants in the US.
Two articles that need your attention: one, in the Wall Street Journal, Trader Holds $3 Billion of Copper in London, which describes how some trader is sitting on 80-90% of circa 50% of the world’s exchange-registered copper stockpile, squirreled away in a London warehouse. We don’t think a lot about where those metals come from.
Which brings me to the second article, in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung: Obama-Effekt erreicht Bergbau und Banken. The article looks at the involvement of Swiss banks in financing companies like Massey Energy – companies engaged in environmental despoliation of a scale that’s hard to imagine. It’s called “mountain top removal”…
This is where (and how) we get our resources.
There’s got to be a better way.
Below, image of a landscape wrecked by copper mining, via Wall Street Journal article:
Last Friday, I stopped in at Exploring the Aesthetics of Sustainability | Green Design as Art, a small (but interesting!) weekend exhibit at the newly-completed Atrium Building in downtown Victoria. The developer (Victoria-based Jawl Properties) made an unfinished/ raw ground-floor retail space available to the the organizers – props to the Jawls for their civic-minded generosity.
(For some beautiful photographs of this building, especially its eoponymous interior, the atrium, see Lotus Johnson’s Atrium set on Flickr. Her photos are stunning – I particularly love the interior shots, for example, this one…)
On Picasa, I created an album of photos I took at the Green Design as Art event, which was organized by Cascadia Green Building Council’s Emerging Green Builders – Victoria. Wherever there’s a photo of an object, followed by a photo of an information sheet pasted to cardboard, the latter is the wall post that describes the object.
My favorite objects were Gary Streight’s “automans”: two stools made from recycled tires and other materials. The fluffy-topped one was cheekily feminine, yet oh-so-tough; and the elegant brown tailored number could fit into the most soigné of setting. Loved them both.
Below: photo of the show’s producers:
There are times, I think, when having a tumblr (vs a blog) would be cool – then it would be enough just to post, free-standing, the smack-down that Peter Busby (“one of Canada’s leaders in green architecture”) gives Bob Rennie (“the influential Vancouver condo marketer who is the last say for many developers on what will sell”).
Mr. Busby: It [Dockside Green] did not make money because it was priced competitively against non-green product. Dockside was competing against buildings that weren’t trying to do anything in terms of green, so [the developer] didn’t get much of a premium in the marketplace for his green features. And that came out of his profit. And that’s why the project’s dead right now. And that’s why we have to have improved building codes. They must pay for a better envelope. Everything else is greenwash. If you don’t make a better building that performs better, you’re just putting green fuzz on buildings. (source)
I’m not heartened by reading Busby’s assessment of Dockside Green (that it’s “dead”), but he is so right to talk frankly to the marketer. I’ve been to developer luncheons – where there actually were developers who did real green projects – and their marketers (whom I spoke to as well) couldn’t get the facts, or push them into the marketplace. And I have no doubt that by the same token there are plenty of developers who continue to convince the moneybags and the marketers that it’s not possible to do green and make green.
I’d like to start something in the space between their arguments – work on retrofitting existing housing, for example. So much work needs doing there.
n.b.: I do appreciate Bob Rennie’s last (literally) word:
Mr. Rennie: I’ll be there. But we can’t just tell the consumer to pay more. This has to work for them and, if it doesn’t, they aren’t going to buy it. They’ll move somewhere else, out of Vancouver. And, in the end, that’s what we have to look at, not just what rich people in the city are willing to pay for.
He gets it from the marketing p.o.v.: it’s no good if what you’re doing drives people away. Getting more people into your city is actually a good thing (something that too many people in Victoria absolutely do NOT get, sadly).
Since I’m fuming in a conversation over on Facebook about the City of Victoria’s Department of Engineering (which seems to me benighted), I was reminded of my 2007 article, Biophilic Design: Taking Love to the Street (the link goes to the Scribd version).
Not to sound too much like I’m tooting my own horn, but that was such a good article, and such a great idea – and it was instantly shot down in a committee meeting of council without so much as a second thought by then-Director of Engineering Peter Sparanese, who told Councilor Pamela Madoff that the scheme floated by me in the above-linked article would be too expensive: as far as anyone could tell, he quoted a $12million price tag seemingly on the spot – amazing, how quickly that particular variation of a Class-C estimate materialized…
In the Director of Engineering’s mind, it was seemingly more expedient to build yet another paved road, …and that’s exactly what happened. And how did the Director get his way? By conjuring a figure that was 3 times more expensive ($12million) than what his conventional fix would cost ($4million). No one ever questioned him on how he came up with his numbers, and from what I’ve seen he has been given free rein ever since: “…Coun. Helen Hughes pointed out the last time the council looked at the project [to fix the View and Vancouver Street intersection] the cost was estimated at $1.55 million, less than half the $4,080,000 of the latest estimate.” (source) and let’s not forget how mercurial the Department of Engineering’s financial estimates regarding the Johnson Street Bridge refurbishment and/or replacement have been…
That this city has no imagination is something I’ve suspected ever since, and my suspicions have been proven again and again in every twist and turn regarding the Johnson Street Bridge fracas – where the only imagination shown is in quoting increasingly bizarre budgets for either option.
For the record, here’s my August 2007 article in full:
“Biophilic Design: Taking Love to the Street”
We know that regular exposure to nature is good for us, and yet we perfect designs that keep nature out, sometimes even erase our awareness of it. Protected from nature, we control and limit our exposure – we stay warm in winter, cool in summer, which affords us greater productivity and increases our comfort. Like most people, I’m happy to enjoy central heating and storm windows. But an over-armored life isn’t ideal, either. Think of dinosaurs or giant turtles next time your car has you imprisoned in a traffic jam or your office window won’t open because that would disturb the air-conditioning.
Today’s eco-conscious designers point out that excessive barriers to nature produce lowered quality of life as well as boring, mediocre built environments. But designing with nature, they argue, contributes to health, creates excitement, and even fosters love. Love of nature, termed biophilia by E.O. Wilson, refers to a deep-rooted need “to experience natural habitats and species.” Wilson’s colleague Stephen Kellert writes of biophilic design: a conscious bent to design access to nature into what we build in cities. It’s a mandate that can shape buildings, parks, …and streets.
Earlier this spring, the City asked for the public’s input at several Parks Masterplan workshops. Planners wanted to know how we use parks, and where we might create new ones. During one workshop, there was an electric moment when a participant suggested turning part of View Street into a linear park. She noted that traffic volume on Fort and Yates (both one-way arterials) is heavy, while it’s relatively light on View. While still allowing cars, the city could nonetheless create a linear park – which would function as a badly needed beautification project, too – and, she added, let’s incorporate exercise stations for seniors.
View crosses Vancouver Street, already blessed with an unparalleled canopy bestowed by majestic chestnut trees whose massive trunks suggest outdoor sculpture. Under the trees, wide grassy boulevards suggest to the many pedestrian commuters that here, indeed, is an urban park – or should be. The intersection of View and Vancouver is sinking, however, and presents a major engineering conundrum. But this problem could become an opportunity.
As we know from Jennifer Sutherst’s research (“Lost Streams of Victoria,” map, 2003), that intersection is built on what was a wetland fed by seasonal streams and rainwater run-off. The wetland in turn fed a stream that coursed along Pandora (accounting for Pandora’s odd bend, between Douglas and Government): the stream marked the boundary between Chinatown and “white” Victoria. It was treated badly even in the 19th-century (apparently turned into an open sewer), was soon contained, put underground, paved over. Its remnants still drain into the Inner Harbour.
Sutherst’s map shows the wetland directly at View and Vancouver. Today, its asphalted surface is impermeable, while drainage codes mandate that run-off from roads and neighbouring buildings diverts to storm sewers, versus flowing back into the marsh. Consequently, the now-hidden wetland is drying up, and as it dries, its layers of peat shrink and compress, causing the roadbed to sinks. To “fix” that problem, we’ve in-filled additional layers of asphalt, making the surface even heavier – and contributing to increased compression of the underlying stratum.
It’s in many ways a classic vicious circle, and a lesson in living peaceably with micro-ecosystems. In effect, by building yet another protective barrier between nature (the wetland) and us, we have also paralyzed the wetland’s hydrological functioning. If the land were a body, what would the wetland be? Perhaps kidneys, absorbing fluid, treating it, discharging it. By putting impermeable asphalt over that natural organ, we’ve desiccated it, and now it’ll cost a pretty penny in engineering surgery.
Since we have to throw money at it anyway, what if we did something truly innovative to that diseased organ? What if we practiced biophilic design to restore its ecological function – and gained a unique urban focal point in what could be a fabulous linear park project? Imagine, for example, an intersection with a permeable steel-grid “road-bed” suspended slightly over a daylighted wetland, the latter slowly restored to full hydrologic function. In the restoration field, daylighting typically refers to excavating and restoring a stream channel from an underground culvert, covering, or pipe. In the case of the View/Vancouver wetland, it would more appropriately refer to removing an impermeable surface, and planting appropriate vegetation that allows the wetland to resume its normal function as a water filter. Restored urban ecology also provides both an educational tool for stewardship and an aesthetic community amenity.
The art-technology-engineering challenge lies in marrying restoration with normal urban functioning: traffic (automotive and pedestrian) has to flow. But consider the value that could accrue for Victoria with a project like this. If Dockside Green, locally the symbolic heart for sustainable development, attracts worldwide attention, perhaps a brilliantly restored kidney could turn a few heads, too.