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July 15, 2010

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Tom pics

July 15, 2010

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tom pics

July 15, 2010

http://picasaweb.google.ca/tombroen/DriveAcrossCanadaJune2010?feat=directlink

pics

July 15, 2010

<table style=”width:194px;”><tr><td align=”center” style=”height:194px;background:url(http://picasaweb.google.ca/s/c/transparent_album_background.gif) no-repeat left”><a href=”http://picasaweb.google.ca/tombroen/DriveAcrossCanadaJune2010?feat=embedwebsite”><img src=”http://lh4.ggpht.com/_uWiouzKXj2U/TCbUNHBKPLE/AAAAAAAAAnc/EVQRVod9JTI/s160-c/DriveAcrossCanadaJune2010.jpg&#8221; width=”160″ height=”160″ style=”margin:1px 0 0 4px;”></a></td></tr><tr><td style=”text-align:center;font-family:arial,sans-serif;font-size:11px”><a href=”http://picasaweb.google.ca/tombroen/DriveAcrossCanadaJune2010?feat=embedwebsite&#8221; style=”color:#4D4D4D;font-weight:bold;text-decoration:none;”>Drive Across Canada June 2010</a></td></tr></table>

10,000 Square Foot New Library in Manhattan for $6.7 million?

March 28, 2010

I came across this in Sunday’s NY Times.  The article describes with much enthusiasm  the opening of a new public library in Battery Park City, a redeveloped residential area on the south-west tip of Manhattan.  The library, which looks stunning from the pictures, uses natural materials, abundant light, and achieved a LEED designation of sustainability.  What floored me however, was that this new facility was built for the sum of $6.7 million – I almost thought this was a typo at first, but maybe I have become to accustomed to the monster price tags attached to any new civic project here in Calgary ($500 million plus for a new performing arts centre, $400 million plus for a new central library).  I am all for city-building as I hope this blog attests to but I just don’t know how projects of this scope are dreamt up by the powers that be, and if they understand the futility of proposing them, certainly in the current economic and political environment.  It is possible to build interesting, well-designed and sustainable buildings for a reasonable price, and this should be the basis of engaging with the design and contracting community, along the lines of “dazzle us for what you can build for x dollars”, which might actually be close to amounts budgeted by public authorities and/or realizable by potential fund-raising campaigns.  Not “assume Calgary is Dubai circa 2004 and money is no object”.  The point of city-building is to actually get things built, not ugly things but as any architect will tell you, good design does not necessarily cost more, and not the things that you would want to incorporate into civic buildings, such as light, openness to the street, and conformity with the existing urban environment.  I am trying to make this perspective known in my own civic capacity, which may be futile but at least I have this outlet!

Surprise! – Toronto Transit Projects Deferred

March 25, 2010

In something that came as not surprise to me, the Ontario budget announced today that several of the major transit investments for Toronto and environs will be deferred pending a “capital spending review” by the Ontario government.  These projects were only announced last year as part of an ambitious Move Ontario 2020 transportation plan that included $11 billion for GTA area transit projects.  As the announcement says, these projects will be delayed but not cancelled as the government grapples with balancing its $20 billion plus deficit.

In my opinion, this is just further evidence that the current way that governments fund capital infrastructure projects actually works against things getting built in this country.  Without dedicated taxes and funding, capital will always be the first thing to go, due to its future benefit and multi-year nature (in this sense, one can see a key difference between the public and private sectors). Unfortunately there is a very strong bias in Canadian governments in favour of the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) model where all taxes go into one pot and are prioritized, starting usually with health care, which in our public monopoly system, cannot be deferred without causing chaos in the system.  Given the rate at which health care costs are rising, it is amazing actually that anything gets built here as a result, even with new tools such as P3s, which only allows payment of the capital costs over time (with interest).

I’m not advocating a radical overhaul of our universal health care model but I think people have to start to see that “free” health care has an opportunity cost.  No subway line can ever compete with granny’s hip, to be slightly flippant. My belief is that until we realize it is necessary to have the people who can afford to pay for a share of their health care (within the public system), we will have to make do with 3rd rate everything else.  Look at the Ontario budget numbers – we need a different way to fund infrastructure, one that recognizes that it provides long term benefits and a basis for future growth, productivity and quality of life.  There was a time, 50 years ago, when the Ontario government spent a third of its budget on transportation, but nearly all of it on roads; if we want to make a similarly paradigm-shifting investment in transit, we need to have the resources to do so.

After A Job Well Done, Calgary To Get New Mayor

February 24, 2010

This this editorial in the Herald was quite good and fair with respect to the legacy of (now) retiring Mayor Bronconnier.  While it appears from opinion on the street and certainly on the blog and message boards that his tenure was getting a bit long in the tooth insome people’s opinion, I think the Herald correctly notes he did much for the city.  Key among his accomplishment were building infrastructure with increasing momentum; he got that city building requires a lot of actually physical building and rebuilding in some cases.  The decade of the 90s was one where very little was built in this city as collective political will focused (perhaps too intently) on debt and deficit reduction, at all levels of government.  Although fiscal prudence is certainly a good thing; blind adherence to it, especially when it come to building the physical capital that boosts future productivity, can have negative consequences, as Calgary and much of Alberta appeared to learn when the oil boom hit with gusto in 2002-03.  “Mayor Dave” tried his best to catch up both in securing senior government funding, and getting shovels in the ground.  Many examples abound; many others are in progress such as the West LRT and East Village project.  I have also written here on Plan-It, Calgary’s long term planning guide that aims to focus, at least in part, on redeveloping and intensifying the inner city; this too is an intelligent change borne during the Mayor’s tenure.  Other efforts to boost the supply of affordable housing for purchase (something other Canadian cities would do well to look at) will leave a strong legacy.  I don’t think I have been here long enough to be overly partisan but if progressive civic leadership is castigated as “tax and spend liberalism”, I think people need to better consider what sort of city they would like to live in.  Just my two cents.

China and the West: The Infrastructure Angle

February 16, 2010

After too long an absense I am back!  I wanted to post on a topic of increasing interest to me: how many emerging countries are using infrastructure as a tool to fast track their development and march up into the leagues of economic power, the best example of this clearly being China.  I am currently reading a book by Thomas Campanella entitled The Concrete Dragon that documents China’s dramatic transformation since it opened to the world in 1978.  The scale of this transformation can scarcely be imagined and the author’s thesis is that this is best seen in the impact on China’s cities, which Campanella describes aptly as “the urbanism of ambition”.  China has created cities from near scratch in places like the Pearl River delta (Guangzhou and Shenzen) that have literally gone from rice paddies 30 years ago to multi-million population metropolises housing some of the most high-tech manufacturing companies in the world (he cites Foxconn, a Taiwanese-owned company that employs 200,000 people in the region and manufactures the iPhone and MacBook among many other things).  He also describes the remaking of Shanghai and Beijing as the Chinese government has sought to creative leading global metropolises out of sleepy communist outposts in one generation (and in this, he opines, with some caveats, they are succeeding).  Worthy reading for infrastructure geeks like myself.

My interest in China stems from the constrast with the West, and in particular North America/Canada which has more to do with our national psyches than with available resources, as we are so often led to believe by our political leadership.  In fact the latter argument is absurd, as James Fallows describes in his excellent article on America’s supposed decline in last month’s Atlantic Monthly.  Our parents generation built far more with much less, and China, with a per capita GDP that is a fraction of the West’s is doing today.  The need to focus on infrastructure is obvious as a potential transformative tool to hoist us out of our economic rut, and our inability to do so out of a seeming fear of offending myriad vested interests with their hands in the government trough is a cause of great concern.  I will be weighing in on this issue more with some specific case studies over the next while, but think it is appropos that today the federal government announced new rules on obtaining CHMC insurance for home buying to try and calm a market nearing hysteria.  I think the lesson of this recession for governments is that unfettered private investment alone may not be the cure all that leads us back to sustainable growth, but instead will merely beget the same mistakes over and over again.  It’s the things that the private sector cannot deliver, the public physical and human capital that will get back on the the road to long term sustainable growth.  The bureaucrats in Beijing get that – why don’t we?

Man I wish Western Canada had trains…

January 12, 2010

Well I am off to Vancouver to visit a friend this weekend and of course will be flying.  I can deny that I am a bit unnerved by the recent “security alert” that was issued by Transport Canada on the weekend.  Not to say that terrorists would target a domestic Canadian flight but as a bit of jumpy flyer regardless, it does not add to my comfort level.  What it does do, however, is cause me to lament that Western Canada effectively has no passenger train system anymore.  Sure, there is the Via train that trundles along the CN tracks from Edmonton to Vancouver a few times a week, though I think it takes close to 24 hours to make that trip such that it is not a realistic option (and there is no connection beyond buses between Calgary and Edmonton).  What there should be is a regular train service between Calgary and Vancouver using a modern train that can handle the curving mountain tracks at fairly high speeds (for example of the sort used in Switzerland that can travel well over 100 kmh on regular tracks through mountains).  Granted such a service would still take about 10 hours to make the journey but it would be realistic for a long weekend, given that you could sleep or do work along the way (I’m told these things are possible on planes but it has not been my experience given the stress filled nightmare that is modern air travel). 

Many would scoff at the amount of time required and say they prefer to fly – fine I say; my point is that there should be a choice in the year 2010.  I would also question the speed argument given that you have to get to airport up to 3 hours before departure now, and there is a good chance the flight will be delayed or cancelled.

For me, this is but one example of how governments at all levels in Canada have been complicit in the “privatization” of transportation – roughly since the 1980s your choices for inter-city travel have been the private car, airline or coach service (and it is interesting to watch Greyhound announce regularly the shutting down on rural bus services).  So much of this policy making, if it was such, has been premised on the continuation of the status quo – cheap oil, big highway budgets and a population that has forgotten when there were other, more civilized alternatives.  Restoring decent rail service across the country will not be easy or cheap for many reasons (including opposition from private rail companies), but there are many reasons governments need to get behind this initiative – civility of travel being just one.  Others such as rising energy prices, global warming concerns and the terror threat are big drivers that can’t be ignored.

GTA commute takes longer; double on some 400 highways – thestar.com

January 6, 2010

Not too surprising – this is what happens after 50 years of bad planning and 30 years of underinvesting in infrastructure…

via GTA commute takes longer; double on some 400 highways – thestar.com.