Age Friendly Recommendations Implemented!

The Cobble Hill Age-Friendly Assessment (subject of the last blog) was completed in early January, with a presentation to the Electoral Area Services Committee of the Cowichan Valley Regional District on January 15, 2013. At that meeting the Committee decided to forward the full set of recommendations to the entire CVRD Board for endorsement. That happened on February 13, 2013. Meanwhile, the community has moved forward with implementation of some of these initiatives. The first seniors luncheon will take place on March 11, with the support of the Shawnigan Cobble Hill Farmers Institute and Agricultural Society, coordinated by Al Garside, one of the project advisory committee members.

This plan is not sitting on a shelf! Congratulations to the leadership in Cobble Hill/South Cowichan. Read more on Gerry Giles’ blog.


Cobble Hill Age-Friendly Community Assessment

IPS was recently awarded a cool new project: to undertake an age-friendly community assessment for the village of Cobble Hill, in South Cowichan. Part of this project will be looking at ways to increase the vibrancy of the community, while supporting its elders to age in place. Another part will be looking at an open space near the village core to determine potential uses and design.

Cobblestone Inn, local pub

Cobble Hill is a picturesque village with strong agricultural roots. The Cobble Hill Fair, which takes place this coming weekend (August 25), is 103 years old. It’s sponsored by the Shawnigan Cobble Hill Farmers Institute and Agriculture Society, which continues to be an active voice for agriculture in the region. The Fair is an event for all ages. I especially enjoy the animal exhibits showcasing the work of the 4-H clubs. This year two of my granddaughters may be competing in the horse events!

2012 is the 103rd annual Fair

We are pretty excited about the process we have selected for this project. We are staffing a booth at the Fair all day on Saturday, hoping to raise awareness about the project and begin to gather people’s thoughts on the various dimensions of community, to assist with making recommendations to make it more age-friendly. We are also hoping to sign up a bunch of seniors for a focus group in mid-September.

Our next step is to do a walk-about in the community with the project’s steering committee members, to have them show us what they think is working well in the community, and where improvements are needed.

In mid-September, we want to have a week of community consultations, including a public meeting, a seniors discussion group, and a design charette.

Once we’ve had a chance to draft the report and the design concepts for the Cobble Hill Commons site, we’ll be bringing the project back to the community for feedback, before finalizing the report to the Cowichan Valley Regional District.

Stay posted for further developments!

Carrots, Sticks, and Tambourines …

Policy carrots lead us forward towards behaviours that are desirable. Policy sticks are used to punish bad behaviour, or “drive” us towards desirable behaviours. And tambourines celebrate and get the message out about what the behaviours should be.

Andreas Rohl’s recent lecture called "Sticks, Carrots and Tambourines: Actively Learning from Copenhagen's Transport Successes", is available on the SFU Continuing Education webpage. He is the Bicycling Program Manager for the City of Copenhagen, on temporary assignment as a Bicycling Specialist with Urban Systems Ltd.*

Active transportation was a new term to him when he arrived in Vancouver. In Copenhagen, people do not identify themselves as cyclists. For them, a bicycle is a vehicle to get from one place to another – whenever it makes sense. You don’t talk about it, you just do it … particularly when it is the most convenient way to get around. In Vancouver, on the other hand, cycling is a lifestyle choice, which means there are clubs, and people talk about it a lot. He finds this different culture around the use of the bicycle very interesting.

He started the lecture with some very interesting numbers. Although Copenhagen and Vancouver are comparable in many ways (climate, size, population), there are dramatic differences in the transportation modes. In Vancouver, the car has 58% of ride share while the bicycle has 4%. In Copenhagen, the car has a ride share of 29%, while the bicycle has 36%. If these numbers are analyzed further, the bicycle has 50% ride share when looked at exclusively for work/study purposes. The City has a lot of bicycle traffic; it also has good infrastructure support.

In Rohl’s world, infrastructure is a large part of the “carrot”. Infrastructure can make it easy or difficult for people to use their bicycles. The goal of the Copenhagen bicycling program is to make it as easy as possible for people to use their bicycles and reach any destination they choose within the city and surrounding region. The focus of the infrastructure planning is three-fold:

  • Conversational cycling: This means that the infrastructure has enough capacity that people can cycle side-by-side and have a conversation while they are riding. (This is not even legal in Canada.) His argument is that you can do this in a car, or in a bus, so why not also on your bicycle? Of course, more cycle track capacity is required to permit this.
  • Coherent network: The cycling routes need to connect, they need to make sense, they need to take cyclists where they want or need to go, and they should be easy to navigate. In other words, cycling as a form of transportation should receive the same level of respect as other forms of transportation. No barriers should be put in the cyclists’ way, unless such barriers would be equally acceptable on highways for cars.
  • Travel time matters:  In the same way that road improvements are frequently designed to improve safety and reduce travel time, cycle track improvements also need to focus on these things. One emphasis in the City of Copenhagen is the creation of “shortcuts,” ways for cyclists to get around the city more quickly and easily than if they were driving their car. The City builds bridges for exclusive cycling/pedestrian uses. While this is expensive, it is still very cheap compared with other travel modes. On very busy cycle track routes, they have taken the innovative step of imposing speed profiles (called a ‘green wave’) to reduce congestion and assist with moving cycle traffic smoothly.)

Infrastructure is also a way of communicating policy intentions to the users of the cycling system. Given that Copenhagen’s intention is to encourage people to use their bikes, the cycling infrastructure needs to encourage that. He says that “whatever we do on the streets communicates a lot,” as he points to a very ugly Translink bicycle parking facility, the purpose of which is not at all obvious or clear.

Some of the “communication” is very basic: all cycle tracks in the city are the top priority for snow removal, together with only four major roads. This means that cyclists do not need to think about whether or not they can take their bike to work, based on snow. They can just make the assumption that the route will be clear and they can follow their usual routine. All taxicabs in the city are required to have a bike rack, so that if you go out for dinner and drink more than you intended, you and your bicycle can get home by taxi. New developments are required to provide for cycling in the original design (cycle parking, cycle tracks), so that these areas do not need to be retrofitted later. Some infrastructure perks for cyclists include footrests at traffic lights, and garbage cans along the route that are angled to allow ease of garbage disposal. Bicycle parking infrastructure can be artful and fun, and not simply useful.

I can hear the objections now — Infrastructure is expensive! On the other hand, cycling infrastructure is very cheap compared with other modes of transportation, such as roads or rail. Copenhagen spends approximately $25/citizen/year in cycling infrastructure investments. Using a triple bottom line analysis, in Copenhagen, when a person chooses to cycle, this is a gain for society of $0.22 per cycled kilometre. Conversely, society suffers a net loss of $0.12 per km driven by car (in rush hour, $0.24 per km). The money saved is invested in kindergartens and libraries and other facilities which improve the quality of life in the city.

In BC’s rural communities, it is very difficult to get any attention for active transportation modes. A few years ago, there was a conversation about clarifying the purpose of the “shoulder” of the road. In that community, rather than having separated cycling/pedestrian tracks, they share the road. The cycling/pedestrian area is demarcated by a solid white line. (In other parts of Canada, such a line represents the shoulder where people should park, or represents a separate car traffic lane.) The conversation was around putting signage or decals along the cycling/pedestrian area so that drivers would know that part of the road was not for them. The municipal engineer, who is a very responsible person but thinks nothing of spending millions for road improvements, objected to the cost of the paint that would be required … I feel better prepared for such conversations in the future, having listened to this lecture.


* With the City of Copenhagen, Andreas focuses on bicycle policies and strategies to improve conditions for cycling. He and his team recently completed the City of Copenhagen’s Cycling Strategy as well as the City’s Design Guidelines for Great Cycle Roads. In addition to his in-depth knowledge of cycling infrastructure, Andreas has extensive experience with cost-benefit analysis, cycling education, and promotional campaigns.

Beauty, Elegance, Spirit and Love

This blog post is an excerpt from Jason McLennan's book called Zugunruhe, about the inner personal journey to creating profound environmental change. This passage so inspired me, that I would like to share it in full …

"… If you think about what these four words mean [beauty, elegance, spirit, and love], and imagine a world in which there is a continual abundance of reasons to use these words — a context that is worthy of their continued meaning — it is exhilarating. But if you then think of how often we actually get to use these words in describing our communities and our built environment, it is sobering indeed. While there are certainly pockets of beauty, elegance, spirit and love manifest in our society, the prevailing culture and inertia are more adequately described by words such as profit, growth, fear, efficiency and the mundane.

"When you then extend this exercise to consider human relations, it becomes a bit easier to find examples that deserve their use. Yet too often people interact with each other in ways that are devoid of love and spirit. We are a narcissistic and selfish society much of the time. I submit that this is the fundamental reason why so much of the built environment — our suburbs and exurbs in particular, are created with so little beauty and elegance. Without a culture that nourishes relationships based on love and spirit, we are unable to design community infrastructure that supports it. Instead, we end up with miles of strip malls, billboards, big box retail and parking lots — temples to drive through indulgence, consumerism and efficiency.

"Our communities, buildings and homes are outward manifestations of our relationships with each other, the wider community, the natural world and ourselves. There must be grace among us in order for there to be grace around us. It is our collective responsibility to seek solutions that are beautiful and filled with spirit — manifestations of great love and caring fo rthe human condition and the rest of the natural world.

"As we look to make significant changes in the world around us, it can be incredibly daunting, depressing and overwhelming. … In fighting for environmental change it is easy to get frustrated, angry, jaded and cynical and to simply play the role of critic, becoming a messenger of gloom and doom or shutting down. These are understandable and appropriate feelings to have when there is so much violence, ugliness and degradation apparent all around us. … But the real trick is to ask what we should do with that anger and frustration.

"How do we act and communicate in order to become part of the change we wish to see? How do we deal appropriately with our feelings and channel our energy for positive outcomes? …

"It is a comfortable thing for me, someone trained in architecture and design, to discuss beauty and elegance as necessary parts of any solution. I have seen architecture lift people's spirits and literally change moods instantly in great structures. I understand what it means to create an elegant solution — one that just simply "works" without a lot of fuss and pretence (I also understand how hard it is). But I must admit that I feel self-conscious writing about incorporating love into everything we do — whether it is building design, business practices or relationships with institutions or organizations you wish to change.

"Like many individuals, "love" is not a subject I am naturally comfortable discussing outside of private relationships. Having been raised in a left-brain-oriented, male-centered society, love and spirit is simply not discussed. Love is not rational, easily defined or quantifiable. And in our society something that can not be counted or quantified is simply "squishy" or "fuzzy" and seen to have little importance in 'matters of consequence' … There are those who believe that this is because we have so thoroughly discounted the feminine voice as a byproduct of the inequality afforded to women for so many centuries.

"But what I know is profoundly true is this — just because something is difficult to quantify does not make it less real. In fact, the intangible and invisible can be more real and more important than things that are easily counted. There is, for example, a growing backlash among economists regarding the use of the GDP as a measure of a country's wealth since it does such a poor job at really measuring the things that truly matter to people within a country. The green architecture movement is finally waking up to the fact that beauty and design does matter in building performance, just as individuals who inhabit a building play the critical role in determining how a building is operated and maintained and whether it is reused or simply demolished at the end of its first life, all of which has everything to do with how much energy, water or other resources a given structure uses.

"The truth is, anything meaningful and successful in the long term relies on love and compassion. In my experience, they are the most powerful tools in any relationship and, interestingly enough, also in any design. Love is actually the key, albeit a hidden component, to a truly integrated sustainable design. Love — for a place, for a community, for an ecosystem, for the people who will use a building — is what allows any project to transcend the ordinary to the profound. If we want a future that is ecologically healthy, socially just and aesthetically beautiful, then we must lead with love. Admit it — you are reading this book and starting your own Zugunruhe because you give a damn. You do it because you love." (pp. 154-157)

Cynicism and the Art of Community Engagement Revisited

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my nervousness going into a community consultation process for a current project. This week, I'm writing up the final report for the project and reviewing the input we received from the public about the ideas we presented for discussion.

In total, we had 111 people participating in the process over the course of 4 open houses and meetings, with an on-line survey available for one month. Farmers and foresters and other rural residents came out, as well as Area Directors and real estate developers. Their thoughtful consideration of the options, and willingness to share their opinions with us, was impressive. The people who came out really care about their community. We even had a reporter come out, who gave a very even-handed overview of the project in the Oceanside Star on June 7, 2012.

The project focuses on the rural residential areas of the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN). 82% of the people who participated live in the Electoral Areas of the RDN, i.e. they are rural residents. Most of the participants were aged 55+ (63%), and most have lived in the RDN for more than 10 years (64%). Some of the people thought that the ideas we were presenting were wonderful, because they demonstrated care for the land, while others appeared to resist any change — not just new ways of doing things, but also the change that is poised to happen in their own backyard, given the untapped development potential of the Rural Residential areas. In this combination of caring for the land, there is a foundation for consensus.

The key benefit of the community consultation process was the opportunity to clarify the options, in our own minds as well as for others, by responding to questions from the community about what certain things meant. Another very important benefit was to speak to developers, and hear their perspectives about who forms the market for new housing in the rural areas, and some of the challenges they face in getting projects developed. The perspectives of community members in terms of the potential impact of these options on them as homeowners or rural residents was also most valuable, and assisted us with refining our ideas.

It was fascinating to me to see how much diversity of opinion existed within the group. The highest level of support received by any of the options we presented was only 72%. Most options received ambiguous responses, with 45% feeling positive, and 42% feeling negative … as an example. The questionnaire did not provide clear direction as to what the community might find acceptable, but it did provide a lot of room for further discussion. The dialogue has started.

Once the final report is drafted, reviewed, edited, and submitted for consideration by the Electoral Area Services Committee (in September), these ideas will be released into the world to take root as they may. They are meant to serve as discussion starters for OCP review processes. Most of the ideas cannot be implemented without enabling OCP policy … so it could be years before this planning study begins to have an impact on how development is done. But perhaps the community members who participated will ask questions differently about how development is being undertaken in their neighbourhoods as a result of this process. It doesn't get any better than that!

I declare myself to be firmly in the uncynical camp of planners, who believe that the wisdom of the community is worth listening to … For all of the challenges surrounding public consultations, and there are many, it is the best tool that we have to test planning solutions with the people who will be most affected. And it is a good balance to the technical solutions presented by the planning profession.

Surviving, Not Thriving

Yesterday our team attended a presentation by Thanya Al-Sadoon about the lived experience of women who seek housing as part of leaving abusive relationships. The workshop emerges from a recent report entitled "Surviving, Not Thriving" published by the BC Non-Profit Housing Association and the BC Society of Transition Houses, which in turn is based on a "photovoice" project. The presentation involved a 9 minute movie utilizing the metaphorical photographs and stories of the women, together with various debriefing and action planning exercises. It revealed issues that go right to the heart and roots of the planning profession, and yet we are (for the most part) completely unaware.

The stories reveal gaps in available services that trap women in hopeless situations, and frequently lead to returns to the abusive spouse. Without safe and affordable housing, women are unable to successfully compete for jobs or housing. Women can find themselves in catch-22 situations: they can't have custody of their kids without housing; they can't get housing without having custody of their kids. Transition houses or emergency shelters don't provide supports for women with children. For example, there is no day care in the transition houses, so the women must take every child to every appointment. One of the photos was of a stroller. The story that went with it is that this woman was in the shelter with her 3 children, aged 6 months, 3 years, and 5 years. She had one stroller, which served as her "car." Imagine the challenges of carting 3 young children around to doctor's appointments, landlord appointments, job interviews … It is an impossible situation.

Many of these women found themselves in situations of substandard housing, which carry their own kinds of health and social impacts. In one story, the landlord was "hitting" on the woman and (on one occasion, when she resisted his advances) he spat in her face … and yet she didn't have the option of leaving, because social assistance rates were so low that she couldn't find other housing. In another story, the house was infested with mould, which caused a lot of illness in the family. Another story documented the willingness of these women to cut into their food budgets to be able to pay the rent … This is a common story, but there are consequences to inadequate nutrition for both the adult and the children. Underlying these stories, one could feel the stresses caused by worry and lack of security.

In debriefing the stories, and reflecting on our roles as land use or community planners, it was hard to see directly how we could make a difference. Our direct role is to ensure that there is OCP policy and zoning available, so that facilities can be built … Indirectly, we can do a better job of understanding the needs, so that when applications come forward, we are alert to good design practices based on a comprehensive understanding of the service needs. Planners responsible for facility design can ask penetrating questions and make persuasive arguments for rezoning and development permits. Is there more that we as a profession can do?


Recently the Cascadia Green Building Council’s Vancouver Island Branch presented a “Living Building Symposium.” I was able to attend the keynote by Jason McLennan, which was full of hope, inspiration, and beauty. His talk addressed the need for the many “green warriors” of different “tribes” to come together to battle for the future of the planet. He acknowledged that the movement needs a lot of metaphors to be able to convey its many complex ideas. He also acknowledged that some things which were radical a decade ago are now mainstream, at least in terms of the idea of them (not the implementation), and so the need for the living building challenge. Green building as defined by LEED standard, for example, is not going nearly far enough … According to the International Living Building Institute, even LEED Platinum certification falls within the realm of continuing to damage the environment. The argument is that we are at a tipping point, and we need to be “regenerative and loving in everything we do.”

Van Dusen Botanical Gardens Visitor Centre, from

Change is a given. The hope expressed by the Living Building Challenge is that change can occur in a way that is regenerative. Their mission is to provide examples of how that can be done, by proving it in a variety of contexts and places around the world. The barrier to these changes is one of philosophy, rather than technology. In a recent interview, McLennan expresses it this way: “A lot of what we’re preaching is about design, which isn’t a technological fix. It starts with a philosophy, an approach, a design process, a literal design, and then technology is applied at the end.”

An important point about the Living Building Challenge is that buildings are required to be proven to have met the standards after they have been operational for a year or two, rather than being certified based on “inputs.” In other words, it is a true performance-based standard.

Some nearby examples of buildings that are expected to meet the Living Building Challenge include:

  1. The new visitor centre at the Van Dusen Botanical Gardens
  2. The new child care centre at UniverCity, on the Simon Fraser University campus.

Another exciting initiative, closer to home, is the Comox Valley regional planning initiative that was entered into the 2011 competition. This initiative was more ambitious than a simple building. It was a close examination of the Comox Valley region, with recommendations about where densification should occur to protect against sprawl and support ecosystem functioning.

McLennan’s most recent book, called Zugunruhe (a German term meaning the restlessness before a migration), is about the inner search to align one’s values with the work that needs to be done to prevent the end of civilization, and perhaps the end of many of the earth’s species. I’ve now begun to read it, and expect to be affirmed, challenged, and inspired by its contents and lessons. I’ll let you know how it goes …


Affordable Housing

Many local governments feel quite helpless in the face of the affordable housing crisis here on Vancouver Island. The need is so great, and the tools available seem so limited in terms of ability to the needs.

Part of the problem is the complexity of the issue … Even the definition of what constitutes affordable housing can be tricky. Many groups now work with the idea of a spectrum of affordable housing types with emergency housing at one end, and affordable home ownership at the other. In between are a variety of other types of affordable housing: special needs housing for people who are not able to pay, social (or subsidized) housing, market rental, and so on.

From the City of New Westminster

In the Cowichan Valley, the community and local governments are working together effectively to resolve the issue. Community groups have a flexibility in how they address challenges that local governments, with their large political constituencies, do not. Local governments have access to resources that are generally beyond the reach of community organizations. By working in partnership, it appears that dramatic strides forward can be reached.

Social Planning Cowichan has taken a leadership position on the issue, through a number of years of reporting on the issue. They were awarded some funding to come up with a process to address the issue of affordable housing. They have convened an impressive group of community leaders to work together on the issue. They are now in the process is establishing a framework for a regional housing authority, stepping carefully to keep all parties to the issue in the loop and on-side with the issue. By this time next year, it is hoped that the housing authority will be in place, and able to receive funds to build affordable housing … as well as to assist worthy projects with getting off the ground.

Meanwhile, not all of their “eggs” are in this basket. They are also taking the initiative on some more action-oriented items: a “ready to rent” program, to assist people with barriers to accessing housing with some training to better understand what it means to be a renter (rights and responsibilities) is being offered in three locations in the Valley; a “rent bank” forum is planned for June 20; activities for “Homelessness Action Week” are being organized. There is a lot to do!

Congratulations to Social Planning Cowichan on their excellent leadership and vision on this thorny problem!

Cynicism and the Art of Community Consultation

Today, we move into the community consultation phase of a very interesting project. In total, four community consultation days are scheduled. The first part of the day is envisioned to be an open house, providing the public with an opportunity to read the boards at their leisure and talk one-on-one with a planner about their questions and concerns. At a certain point, we will do a presentation incorporating a series of questions for the community to respond to in terms of the options we will be presenting. Although the boards are exceedingly beautiful, thanks to our partner Jessica at Gemella Design who provided all of the illustration (drawings and photographs), this is a very “vanilla flavoured” community consultation process — Nothing fancy, just providing a basic framework for talking about ideas.

Nevertheless, I am excited about it. Early indications are that the community is very interested in the project. The web component went live on Friday, and a number of people have completed the online survey, and we’ve received one contact from a community member … although it was on an unrelated subject.

My excitement also contains a certain nervousness about whether or not the event will go well. There is a cynicism about community consultation amongst many planners today, in part because of a perception that it is always the same people who come out to meetings, so are we really reaching the “community”? There is also a perception that many of the people who come to community meetings are coming because they are opposed to whatever is under discussion, resulting in NIMBYism. Sometimes it appears that the people who come out have made it their life’s mission to oppose their local government, based on an American-style belief that government is bad. There is also a certain level of fear due to a general perception that there is a decline in the civility of the dialogue. Planners leading sessions (different projects, different communities) have been verbally abused by the public, and accused of all kinds of evil intent. It is understandable that there might be some nervousness about that!

The most troubling aspect of this cynicism for me, however, is when planners say that they know what needs to happen in a community, and that members of the community do not know. There are many different ideas within every community, competing for attention, about how that community should address its current problems, and the path it should be on. All of us, planners and community members alike, approach the challenge from our own particular framework. The highest purpose of community consultation is to find the common ground from which planners can assist the community to articulate a vision and an approach that has a hope to succeed over the long term. With all of the problems posed by the community consultation challenge, it is still the best chance we have to act democratically in our planning work, and to find suitable solutions to move forward.

It’s All in the Numbers

Several months ago Statistics Canada released their Census 2011 Population and Dwelling Counts, which unleashed a flurry of newspaper articles reporting the new numbers and changes since the previous census taken in 2006. For the Cowichan Valley, our home territory, there was an overall population increase, but four of the nine electoral areas and one municipality, Duncan, lost population. The big news story for the region was an 18% population increase in First Nations communities.

The news reports only give us a glimpse of the change that has taken place. With the 2011 census data, we can now compare and model regional population structures and change over a much longer period of time. Local planners now have twenty years of census data available online (1991 to 2011 in five year increments). The only caution is you have to dig for it from several different files and not all the present day Census Subdivisions (CSDs) have 1991 or 1996 counterparts.

For example the bar chart below (download the pdf) shows how the Cowichan Valley communities and electoral areas compare with one another in terms population position and change. The bar chart clearly highlights the District of North Cowichan’s dominance relative to the other CSDs, but there are three other relatively large population areas: South Cowichan/Shawnigan Lake (Cowichan Valley B), Ladysmith, and Duncan. All four of these areas, including Duncan even though it lost population in the 2011 census, show strong growth over the twenty years of record available online.

CVRD Pop[ulation Comparisons 1991-2011

This bar chart represents just the basic analysis; there are many more ways to explore the census data. We could look at percentage change; we could model population density per sq. km. of electoral or community area geography; or we could project future population change based on the twenty year historical trends. We could undertake similar analyses with the dwelling counts that were released at the same time as the population counts. Over the next several years finer categorizations of the data will be released that will allow more in depth understanding of local populations.

Also note in the bar chart that I’ve left out the 1991 electoral area data. It seems that sometime in ensuing five years the CVRD went through an electoral area reorganization expanding the number of areas from four to nine. Thus comparisons are not possible without additional research and data manipulation.

Population and housing data really define the validity and relevance of most long range local planning policy. The more current these data are within the context of related trends, the more realistic planning policy will be.