Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Traffic, housing & poverty in “the world’s most liveable city.”

Underneath the splendid north shore mountains, between Burrard Inlet and the Fraser River delta, Vancouver is rich in nature’s eye-candy.  It also has, as cities go, a low crime rate even amidst what looks like an on-going gang war.  Maybe other cities have bigger gangs, or the amateurs get involved more.  I don’t know.  Property crime rates are fairly high in Vancouver for a Canadian city, as I understand.

But the biggest property crime, in this the most “liveable” of all the world’s cities, is what they charge for rent here.  What will rent you an ordinary one bedroom ground floor suite in Vancouver will rent you a whole house on Canada’s other coast.  There is really no surprise that you see so many people living on the street in those odd corners of Vancouver where respectable people don’t like to look.  The kind of accommodation that the very poorest people can afford simply does not exist either within city boundaries or outside of them.

Of course, I’m talking for the poor here, and that might be out of line.  So let’s talk about the traffic. 

Downtown Vancouver achieves traffic saturation sometime around 7 a.m. every morning on weekdays, and doesn’t emerge from it until about 7 p.m.  That’s the dirty little secret that organizations like the Economic Intelligence Unit seem to miss when they rate Vancouver as the world’s most liveable city.  (See Australia and Canada dominate "most liveable cities" list)  Other organizations who put out similar lists have removed Vancouver from the top of the list expressly because of the chronic traffic gridlock.  Oh, and some don’t like the homelessness, the exorbitant rents and the poverty culture, either.

It would be easy to solve the traffic problem, at least.  All we need to do for a start is charge more for parking, and—which I understand has worked effectively in other cities—continue with a policy of limiting the absolute number of parking spaces available downtown. 

City council, as well as raising public parking rates, could begin with a levy of so much a month on all commercially available parking—residential parking and special needs parking being exempt.  This would discourage many, if not the wealthiest or the most car-addicted commuters, from driving downtown.  And the extra revenue collected by the city, and the reduction in money spent on road repairs, for instance, resulting from reduced traffic, could be dedicated to reducing or removing transit fares and improving transit services.  Public transit would thus get a boost in usage which would make it even more cost effective in the short and long term.

Vancouver’s traffic problem would be eased, there’d be fewer commuters sending CO2 into the atmosphere, and the planet will be sending us an air kiss and a hug.

Then, once we tackle the housing and homelessness situation, too, we can start talking liveable.

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