Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Here are pics

July 15, 2010

Toms pics


Tom pics

July 15, 2010


tom pics

July 15, 2010


July 15, 2010

<table style=”width:194px;”><tr><td align=”center” style=”height:194px;background:url( no-repeat left”><a href=””><img src=”; 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=”; style=”color:#4D4D4D;font-weight:bold;text-decoration:none;”>Drive Across Canada June 2010</a></td></tr></table>

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 –

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 –

Happy 2010 Plus a Few Predictions

January 6, 2010

Well it is a new year and I think promises to be a good one, or better rather than 2009, which maybe for some isn’t saying too much!  One of my quasi-resolutions was to keep this blog up and running with regular posts, as there is always much to write about in the sphere of infrastructure and urban issues these days.   I thought I would start off with a few predictions on issues that may develop and/or pre-occupy us over the coming year:

Energy Prices on the Rise Again

The price of oil has quickly bolted through the $80 mark in early January 2010, a price level where it begins to have serious consequences for transportation (trucking, air and long distance car commuting) and therefore across the broader economy.  I predict that the price will continue to ascend, though not at the frenetic pace of 2007-08, and the repreive we were granted due to the late 2008 financial and economic meltdown will be over.  This fact, more than the failed ambitions of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, will drive discussions of alternative energy and sustainability.  Peak oil anyone?

Stimulated, Now What?

2010 will see the many thousands of micro-infrastructure projects funded by the 2009 federal stimulus budget well underway or completed.  While the impact of new arena roofs, repaved roads and refurbished transit stops has likely not been significant economically, it may have better attuned Canadians to the merits of infrastructure investment.  Hopefully, it will “stimulate” a discussion of how we might take a more strategic perspective to infrastructure investment, and better overlay it with policy objectives in other areas, such as sustainable development/planning, public health, greentech/reducing energy costs and improving transportation generally.  Moreover, despite the short term focus of the stimulus finds, I hope we will better come to understand that infrastructure policy is perhaps uniquely about the kind of Canada we want to have in 25 or even 50 years.

What to do About Housing Prices

2009 was the year that millions of Canadian homeowners breathed a huge sigh of relief.  After reading endless stories about the housing catastrophe in the United States with millions of homes in foreclosure and household finances decimated, happily Canadians saw most major urban markets stabilize in 2009 and, towards the end of the year, prices even resumed their upward ascent.  Good news for existing homeowners yes, but not great for aspiring ones.  House prices remain at very high levels by historical price to income levels, or buy vs rent measures, even with the lowest interest rates in two generations.  With interest rates set to rise at least some, housing affordability I predict will come to be a major issue in 2010 and beyond.  Potential prescriptions will need to address both the supply and demand sides.

Well those are three issue floating around in my crystal ball – I hope to address each further throughout the year.  Of course none exist in isolation and are related to large degree, which is what makes soapbox analysis and blogosphere policy-making fun.  Any comments are welcome!

What Makes Europe Greener than the U.S. – 360 Environment blog

November 19, 2009

Though this was an excellent anecdotal post on the relationship between civic space and behavior (above are pictures of the beautiful city of Stockholm, as referenced in the article, juxtaposed against Houston, a generic sunbelt US downtown). The author posits that the abundance of public spaces and public infrastructure (beyond the freeway) in Europe creates a far more choices and indeed a compelling case to act in the collective interest on environmental choices.  The hypothesis here, and one I firmly believe, is that built form is important, and a key determinant of culture, in the broadest sense (from the aesthetic to the social/environmental and even intellectual).  That is why the process to determine what we build, and the tools we have to do is so important!