Land Trusts and Affordable Housing

Below is a link to an article in today’s Globe and Mail’s real estate section called “A speculation-free zone.”

The article shows how land trusts in Vancouver are combining the equity of co-ops and non-profits, along with land from municipalities at low-cost, to create the financing needed for new affordable housing.

As I show in my book, The New Urban Agenda, the lack of affordable housing in the GTHA has developed into a serious crisis. Thousands of families and individuals are suffering because they cannot afford good housing.

Government is reluctant to provide the needed funds. Maybe land trusts, equity from co-ops and some help from municipalities is the way to do it.

My new book, Democracy Rising: Politics and Participatory in Canada, is at the printer and will be released in mid March.

The book advocates that we need much higher levels of participation if we are to strengthen and complete our democracy. It is called participatory democracy, rather than representative democracy, that is now the accepted form of politics practiced in Canada and other countries.

George Monbiot, the journalist and social critic, who publishes in the Guardian, is a leading advocate of participatory democracy. This is a link to his latest article on the issue.

All Together Now

Back to the future yet again

Premier Kathleen Wynne’s decision to stop the imposition of tolls on the Gardiner and Don Valley Expressways shows the domination of suburban culture – cars over transit, low density suburban sprawl over high density multi-unit condominiums, suburban culture over urban culture.

Bikes are everywhere in Toronto

I argued in my book, The New Urban Agenda, that we are moving inexorably into a new urban era where increasing numbers of people want to live in high density communities, rather than low density suburbs. If this movement is strengthened and encouraged, it will mean a more urban way of life where transit, cycling and walking are the main ways that people get around, the threat of climate change is reduced, and our city streets and public spaces are taken back from the domination of traffic.

Premier Wynne’s decision underlines that we are still a long way from that dream. The suburbs, and car culture continue to dominate the political life of Ontario. And she is not alone. Both opposition parties swore they would oppose the suburbs over the city by rejecting tolls on the expressways.

This is a political shock. It is not only that the premier has overruled the decision of the mayor of Canada’s largest city, and the consensus of the forty-four member city council, but the decision shows she rejects the new urban agenda, of higher density living, reducing traffic with its congestion and pollution, and improving the quality of life of our cities. That is the only way to build an economically viable, affordable and sustainable city.

The political power of suburbanites is not finished yet. It is back to the 1950s – back to the future yet again.

Trump and the Women’s March

On January 19th Brian Iler, Mary Brock, Paulette Pelletier-Kelly and I drove down to Washington to witness the events around the inauguration of Donald Trump. It was a remarkable trip for us. We witnessed the promise of a powerful, transformative movement in North America.

Young National Guardsmen at the Trump inauguration

The 20th was inauguration day. We walked down to the mall, the vast space leading up to the capital building, where the ceremonies were to take place. There were lots of people converging on the mall. Young men in army fatigues were at every street corner close to the capital building. These were the National Guard. Security were everywhere. Police, on motorcycles and on horses. Cops on foot with guns and billy clubs. Helicopters, with their rhythmical sound of propellers were beating the air in the skies overhead. It was Apocalypse Now revisited.

Surrounding the mall were ten foot high wire impenetrable fences. People were lined up to get through small security gates in the fences and into the mall. It took us a couple of hours but we did finally make it. The four of us found a spot near the Washington Monument and watched the speeches and ceremony on a huge monitor.

Nobody was very happy. Maybe 50% of the crowd were Trump supporters, and the rest were people like ourselves, curious onlookers. The rain started as soon as Trump started speaking and his speech was dull and uninspired.

The next day, Saturday, January 21st, was the women’s march, and it could not have been more of a contrast. Again we set out on foot in the morning. As we got close to capital hill we saw more and more people on the street, many carrying signs. Most were women but there were many men. The crowd flowed like the tributaries of a river. At every street corner more people joined. The river grew larger and larger. By the time we were at the capital building it was enormous and it was growing by the minute.

The fence around the mall was gone. There were no police, no National Guard, no helicopters, only people, throngs of them, and there were more coming from every side.They were there to show their resistance to Trump and his sexist contempt for women. They were young and old. People of all colors and religions.

We made our way down to where the speeches were to be given, and the closer we got the crowd got denser and denser. Soon we could barely move. Cheek by jowl, shoulder to shoulder, we inched our way along, moving with the crowd because there were so many people we could not do anything else.

We never did get close to the speaker’s podium or the monitors. It was just too big a crush. How many people? All I can say is that it was the biggest crowd I have ever been in. A million? A million and a half? I don’t know because I find it hard to imagine what a million people, gathered in one spot, looks like, but it was an astounding number of people.

And though we could not hear the speakers, it didn’t matter. We talked to people that surrounded us. When they heard we were Canadians their reaction was to smile and say something like, “How can I move there?” There were people from all over eastern North America: Chicago, Virginia, New York, Atlanta, Boston, Texas, Michigan.

A girl shows her message to the marchers

There were chants: “This is what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”

The signs were truly creative. Virtually every sign was hand made by the person carrying it. “The GOP is the elephant in the womb.” “We will over-comb!” “Love Trumps Hate,” “Women Won’t Back Down,” “We are the Noisy Majority,” “She the People,” “Women’s Rights are Human Rights,” “More than Jugs and a Baby Hatch.” “Regulate Banks not Uteruses.” “We are the Granddaughters of the Witches You Could not Burn,”
The mood was electric, enthusiastic, good humoured, peaceful, and rebellious all at the same time. It was remarkable, wonderful, and moving just to be there.

This is the promise of a powerful new movement. Men have tried in the past but we can’t do it. It is up to women and minority groups. That is the powerful majority that is emerging, and they are demanding nothing less than democracy and equality for all. They will transform the world.

UN Adopts a New Urban Agenda

The United Nations has adopted a New Urban Agenda as a standard for sustainable development. You can read about it here.

The UN has recognized that cities can serve as engines of prosperity and centres of cultural and social well being. The agenda that they have adopted “provides guidance for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and provides the underpinning for actions to address climate change.”

World leaders have committed to a number of priorities that apply to all cities.

  • Provide basic services for all citizens
  • Ensure that all citizens have access to equal opportunities and face no discrimination
  • Promote measures that support cleaner cities
  • Strengthen resilience in cities to reduce the risk and the impact of disasters
  • Take action to address climate change by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions
  • Fully respect the rights of refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons regardless of their migration status
  • Improve connectivity and support innovative and green initiatives
  • Promote safe, accessible and green public spaces

The Great Toronto Bicycle Ride

The Star is saying that “Toronto is in the midst of a great epidemic” of violence against pedestrians and cyclists.

By December 1st 42 people have been killed on Toronto streets . One day last week 15 pedestrians were hit by vehicles and one killed.

There are many reasons for this. Speed is the great killer when it comes to vehicle accidents and the one certain way to stop the death toll is by slowing vehicles in cities. This is an account I wrote about a bike ride I made it late November that underlines this point.

Bill Freeman

For decades there has been talk about creating a bike path along Bloor Street, and in August it finally opened to much fanfare in the city. I promised myself that I would go for a ride on the new lane before winter set in.

What cycling can be like on Toronto streets

It was the advocacy group, Cycle Toronto, who lobbied to get the Bloor bike lane. Opposition came from the merchants. They said that a bike lane would remove parking, their businesses would suffer, calamity would result. This, despite studies that show bike lanes increase retail sales.

It was Ward 20 Councillor Joe Cressy who broke the deadlock and convinced the merchants to try a test. If business suffered the lane would be removed, he promised. He got the proposal through city council and finally in August it was opened.

I have been a bike rider since I moved to Toronto Island over thirty years ago. I sold my car, bought a bike, but I soon learned that riding in the city can be a harrowing experience. A two-ton car hurtling towards you on your bike is downright unnerving. And that’s the simple reason why I am a supporter of bike lanes.

So, here was a warm day in mid-November, not too hot, not too cold, a perfect day for a bike ride. I called a friend who agree to meet for lunch, and I was ready to go.

Now, I don’t have the newest or best bicycle in the city, and because I live on the Island and have to haul my groceries home on my bike, it has a rack on the back with wire baskets. That made the bike heavy but reliable. Or that’s what I thought. I hadn’t gone more than half a block when the seat fell off. I had to go home and get an adjustable wrench. Better take the air pump, I decided. So at the start of my adventure, I was aboard the ferry boat, fixing my bike, as we drifted over to the city. Could this be a bad sign?

But by the time the boat came into the dock, the seat was fixed, the tires pumped, and I was aboard “the clunker,” as I call it, ready to go. I headed east along the Waterfront Trail, past Redpaths, past Sugar Beach, past the new condos under construction and then turned north onto the Sherbourne bike trail.

I have been riding this trail since it was opened three years ago. There is a path on either side of the street next to the sidewalk. The traffic has been narrowed to two lanes with one lane for parking.  Periodically there are loading bays. The buses and cars can’t crowd into the bike lanes. It is safe, and the traffic is calm.

I felt relaxed. It was a beautiful fall day. As I rode along I could enjoy the scene. People were out on the street. At Sherbourne and Queen there is always action. North of Allan Gardens I admired an old mansion that had recently been painted an orange-rust colour. I stopped for a moment to admire the library-community centre at Wellesley and remembered how proud Councillor Pam McConnell had been the day it had opened because finally the city was delivering something special to the people of St James Town.

I glided into the intersection of Sherbourne and Bloor fully expecting to see the Bloor Street bike lane, but there was nothing but a jumble of cars. I was so unnerved I got off my bike and walked across the intersection on the cross walk. Bloor was a nightmare of cars, traffic, and the sense that they were all gunning for me.

“Where’s the bike path?” I yelled at another cyclist, but she ignored me – worried about her own chances of survival, I expect.

I did manage to survive the next couple of blocks as I went west bound on Bloor. I found the restaurant, locked up my bike and there was my friend waiting for me, Susan Crean, another writer and bike rider like myself. She described that stretch of Bloor as, “The most kidney crunching stretch of road I have to maneuver these days.” What did this mean for the rest of my ride along Bloor?

After lunch I saddled up on the clunker, made my way to Bloor and Yonge, and turned west. Traffic was everywhere. There were limousines in front of Holt Renfrew, taxis, vans, cars but no sign of a bike lane. I made my way carefully, past Bay Street to Avenue Road and then, miraculously, there it was: the Bloor Street bike lane!

Like the others, it runs right beside the sidewalk. To the left are the white plastic bollards – a new word for me. There was good signage and other bikes were flowing along calm and collected as if this is the way the world was meant to be.

The sun was shining. There are no hills on Bloor, and better yet no cars crowding into the lane. As I rode along, I looked at the people on the street, and thought of the merchants in their shops, and hoped they were happy because this bike lane sure is a great addition to Bloor.

I rode all the way to Shaw Street and that is where the lane abruptly ends. Why it doesn’t go to Mississauga, I thought, and east over the Bloor Viaduct and along the Danforth into Scarborough? Now that would be a bike lane to brag about. Anyway, at Shaw I turned around and headed back on the east bound lane.

This time I tried to watch the traffic as best I could. Like Sherbourne, in this section of Bloor there are now two lanes of traffic with another lane taken up by parking. The traffic was moving well, not fast, but faster than my old bike could take me. The street felt safer, certainly far safer for bike riders, but I got the sense that there will be fewer accidents because everything is clearly marked, and the cars are going slower.

Cars, bikes, pedestrians – everything seemed calmer on Bloor. And then I thought, this is the way it should be. After all, streets belong to all of us, not just cars.

And so I went east on Bloor all the way to St. George, south on that bike lane, through the heart of the University of Toronto, where the sidewalks and streets are crowded with students, south on Beverly all the way to Queen. I had to go east through the mess of Queen Street traffic to Simcoe Street. Then south on that bike lane all the way to Queen’s Quay, east to the ferry docks, and home. The old clunker never failed me.

Tolling expressways in Hamilton

CATCH News – December 5, 2016

Road tolling

Surprising support for the proposal to toll Toronto-owned highways like the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway could herald the revival of the idea in Hamilton where staff have historically favoured similar charges on the Lincoln Alexander and Red Hill parkways. A large debt still remains from the construction of the latter expressway and the city is also confronted with an enormous shortfall in the maintenance of its roadways and limited revenue sources to correct that problem.

Toronto Mayor John Tory’s tolling plan specifically argues that his city must find new funding streams other than property taxes if it is to have any hope of balancing its budget. Hamilton is facing the same problem of inadequate funds to cover capital costs and resistance to higher taxes.

A poll done the same day that Tory proposed a $2 per vehicle charge for expressway users found that 46 percent approved the move and the use of the monies to improve transit while 45 percent were opposed. That’s a remarkable increase in support for tolls that have been overwhelming rejected in the past.

There’s also strong support from the David Suzuki Foundation, from respected municipal planners and from experts like Transport Futures. A statement from the latter pointed to congestion reduction, improved geographic equity, climate and health benefits.

“Road pricing using time-varying tolls is the most attractive funding scheme for the GTHA in terms of adhering to the user-pay principle, economic efficiency, consistent and sustainable revenue yield, and equity,” argued a 2013 report from the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario.

That view was echoed last year by planner Harry Kitchen who pointed to “a general consensus that charging the users makes the most sense” because municipal property taxpayers “can’t shoulder the responsibility of improving public transit and roads.”

A proposal to toll Hamilton’s expressways was made by city staff in 2004 in response to a council request for investigation. The idea was again discussed by councillors in 2008 but rejected both times. The 2004 report estimated revenues of $3.4 to $14.3 million depending on the size of the toll (from 25 cents to one dollar per kilometer)

“There is an opportunity for the City of Hamilton to recover all or some of the capital and maintenance costs of the expressway by tolling the facility,” argued staff. “Furthermore, dependent on the level of charges, tolling can be a potential revenue generator for the city.”

Outstanding city debt for the valley expressway currently stands at just under $50 million despite an $11.8 million repayment in 2016 that made up more than a fifth of the total city debt carrying costs this year.

Hamilton’s 2017 capital budget report is again acknowledging an accumulated deficit in the maintenance of existing infrastructure that exceeds three and a half billion dollars. Next year’s roads budget, like this year’s, will fall more than $100 million short of what staff say it needed to maintain a state of good repair.

“One of the most significant infrastructure deficits for the city resides in the roads program,” explains the budget report. “The program’s service level includes a rehabilitation and replacement backlog of approximately $2 billion. Annually, the city should be investing approximately $180 M on road and bridge capital improvement. In 2017, the city is spending approximately $72 M gross on the roads capital program.”

In fact, that is $4 million less than this year’s road allocation. And while over $11 million will be used to build new road capacity next year, that spending is also $4 million less than in 2016.

The budget report reminds councillors that the provincial government “has made clear that future funding commitments to municipalities will be based on focused investments which address needs rather than wants.” Like those of the federal government, those subsidies are increasingly being directed to public transit rather than more roads to support intensified land use rather than the sprawl-type development that has put municipalities into such a deep fiscal hole.

Going bold in Burlington

(This is a posting from CATCH News in Hamilton, my favourite online news and analysis publications in the region. Across the suburbs in the GTA residents are thinking about how to adapt new urban forms to make their cities and neighbourhoods more sustainable and affordable and less car dependent. Bill Freeman)

Over 450 people came out last week for a two-hour public session with the mayor of Burlington, key staff and two world-renowned urban experts who are bluntly advocating a dramatic shift in the lakeside city toward walking, cycling and transit. They rejected road widening as a proven failure, and emphasized municipal transportation visions are useless if they aren’t backed up by major spending to implement them.

One of the experts hired by Burlington is Brent Toderian, a Hamilton native who has led Vancouver’s urban transformation and advised on similar initiatives in two dozen cities around the world. The other is Portland transit planner Jarrett Walker, the author of Human Transit: How clearer thinking about public transit can enrich our communities and our lives, who and has designed transportation changes in Moscow, Edmonton, Auckland, Toronto, and numerous US cities.

Mayor Rick Goldring opened the “Inspire Burlington” consultation by reminding the audience that Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton are expected to add three million more people by 2041, with Halton nearly doubling is population in that period. He also pointed to Burlington’s commitment to preserve all its rural lands as part of the Greenbelt, and the provincial government’s investments in transit with over 200 projects underway including all-day 15-minute GO Train service to his city.

He said dependence on autos is a hangover from a time when both land and oil were cheap but that “neither is true anymore” and Burlington must now grow up rather than out. That will require major changes in a suburban city where 90 percent of trips are currently by car, and transit investment per capita is one of the lowest in Ontario.

The session in the great hall of the Burlington Performing Arts Centre was part of engaging and preparing residents for those changes, and was Toderian’s third visit to the city. He set the context by recalling the extreme storm two years ago that flooded over 3000 Burlington homes, but said public health objectives as well as climate change “are forcing cities to plan for built-in exercise” and was the reason he was hired by the Australian Heart Foundation.

Toderian was blunt about the options to transit and cycling: “Building bigger roads actually makes traffic worse. We know that when we build more roads they fill up” and adding car lanes to deal with traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity.

“The concept is called the law of induced demand,” he declared. “When you build more roads, people will drive more. And it’s proven – study after study, meta-study after meta-study, has shown this to occur.”

Toderian also stressed designing the higher density Burlington for walkability and cycling as well as major improvements in transit. He recommended the “trick-or-treat” test for both commercial and new residential that “is all about how easy it is for kids to ring your door bell” and argued against faceless highrises and blank walls.

“I often say the most important policy idea we have in Vancouver is no blank walls. It’s the most important for architecture; it’s the most important for walkability”.

Keeping the same focus, pointedly he asked “how much of the traffic in the morning is taken up by all of you driving your kids to school and ironically making it an unsafe place for kids to walk and bike to school?”

Toderian supported the controversial New Street bike lanes but warned that they won’t attract many cyclists until a minimum connected network of cycling routes is in place. But he dismissed worries about “carmegeddon” and predicted the street will be safer and have fewer accidents.

Jarrett Walker provided a detailed review of the benefits and challenges of transit, including urging attention on the objectives and not which “shiny technology” to utilize that he lamented seemed to be the main point of discussion in many cities.

“An important feature of cars is that the more people drive cars the worse they work whereas the more people use transit the better it works,” he argued. “So transit has a positive feedback effect as opposed to the negative feedback of cars leading to more congestion.”

Both speakers stressed that visioning and fine plans are useless if they aren’t implemented – an apparent response to the reluctance of some Burlington councillors to embrace Goldring’s “Grow Bold” mantra. Toderian said Burlington has “a pretty good vision on transit” but “the problem is you didn’t do it” and he warned that change is difficult.

“Follow through is the problem and you’re not alone, you’re not unique, that’s the most common problem in Canadian cities,” he concluded. “The true measure of a city’s aspirations isn’t found in its vision, it’s found in its budget.”


CATCH (Citizens at City Hall)

Democracy Rising

Over the summer months I have not made many postings on my blog. The main reason is that I have been rushing to finish my latest book. Thankfully, I did manage to get the book finished. I didn’t quite make the September 1st deadline, but I seem to have been forgiven by the editor and publisher.

The book will be called Democracy Rising: Politics and Participation in Canada. It is not a sequel of The New Urban Agenda, but it deals with similar issues. What it talks about is Canadian democracy and citizen participation. The argument goes something like this.

Since representative democracy was established, early in the nineteenth century, elites have controlled the political process for their own ends. Not only do they have access to political power, but they use their influence to create a tax policy that favours corporations, and the wealthy, and economic policies that provides funding and other benefits for business.

Citizen groups have always existed to challenge the elite for political power. These include the trade union movement, co-ops, environmental organizations, and community groups. Reformist groups like the Progressive Movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and left wing political parties, also challenged the elite for political power. But none of these movements have broken the power of business and wealthy elites.

The book goes on to argue that, if citizens are ever to challenge the domination of elite control, we must convert our system of representative democracy into a participatory democracy. Citizens must work through various grassroots organizations to make that happen. That will strengthen our democracy and will finally challenge elite control of Canada.

The book will be out in the spring. I hope you take time to read it and think about how we can create a stronger democracy that truly reflects the people.

Bill Freeman