Monday, 8 July 2013

Link to my screed on the City of Burlington's lack of action on a Private Tree Bylaw

I have a tree filled yard: a large birch, two mature Maple, two mature Ash,  plus three carolinian species, two Bur Oak and a shagbark hickory. So guess how I feel about trees?

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The East End of Burlie needs to set an example 

How do we develop and live with our Railways

I have a few things to say about bridges, bicycle paths, roads and the way we get around in Burlie over at Our Burlington. Please take a look:

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Why Ghent Avenue Matters

As Cities go, Burlington may actually be the #1 Medium Sized City in Canada as some magazine or other recently claimed. Boring maybe, but heck, I think its pretty good, or I wouldn't have lived here for going on 28 years. But when it comes to media coverage of events in our town we're likely about 47th. If you're like me, busy with the day to day stuff of life here in Burlie you likely know more about the soap opera that is Toronto's mayor & council, the super size war on super sized soft drinks in New York, or the Lord the Mayor of London's hairdo, than the important stuff that goes on right here in Burlie. 

Like most of my neighbours, often I just stumble upon Burlington issues rather than read about them in the local news media. Part of the reason for this blog is to share some of these issues I trip over. So here's my take on two proposed townhouse developments in around the central Burlington that will effect all of us, even those of us living in the Mysterious East End. 

Two more townhouse developments in Burlie you ask, why do they matter so much to the rest of the city?

Two reasons:
They change the existing landscape, and these changes will set the template for future intensification in the rest of the city. Today I'm going to look at the development on Ghent Avenue and in a future post I'll look at the St Luke's precinct. 
Interesting to note the difference in the image from Google Earth (above) and the one from the City (below)

          On one side it's been reported that more than 100 trees, many native mature Carolinian tree species are to be clear cut. Gone! Poof! Replaced by 58 off-the-shelf townhomes. (A note of context here, the city of Burlington is talking about, maybe soon, starting the process of potentially, looking at opening the discussions on proposing -or not, a  tree bylaw.)
On the other side, the builder, with a good track record, has followed all the rules that the city of Burlington has put in place, and is living up to the spirit of intensification and the general direction for land use in the area. Furthermore the builder is planning on replacing the 4 city owned trees it plans to remove and planting more than 60 trees on the site. As a result, city of Burlington staff have recommended, as they should, approval of the proposal. 

The failure of this project has nothing to do with the developer, after all they're just doing what we all are, trying to make a good product and make a buck in the process. Nor is city staff to blame, they review the rules they have, and implement them. 

      So who's responsible for the FAIL? Well, who sets the rules that govern how developments like this are assembled, designed and built? Who ensures that Burlington continues to insist on a suburban model of built form when the rest of North America is moving towards one that's more innovative, more green, and more pedestrian, bicycle, and transit focused? Who stifles creative solutions and innovative urban designs? 

      To answer this, I'd like to quote my late friend Jane Irwin who pointed out to our city council that this council has continued very well in the footsteps of councils past, a tradition that's earned us the title of "Boring-ton".

So what? How does this affect the rest of the city? Firstly we loose those 100 or so mature trees. This will forever change this landscape in the central area of the city. Sure we get some new bushes, but you and I will be compost by the time, if ever, these trees mature and fill the central urban forest canopy. Approval of this project will set in motion other similar projects in the area that will further erode one of the features that makes Burlington, well, Burlington. Secondly this model of so called medium density, can, will, and is being replicated throughout the city. The monotony of the design is mind numbing, and so is the lack of respect for the existing landscape features. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm a supporter of the goals of Growing in Place, ( if anything I think it's too timid. Townhomes clustered in this way however; is a failed design model from the 1970's. I've lived in complexes similar to this one, and these 58 homes for 58 families are designed for, and with the car in mind. The street scape along Ghent, and within the development is a wall of garages.

       There is little ability in the layout and design for walking, cycling or even much interaction with neighbours and it represents a failure of imagination. Furthermore, the development increases the area's buildings, asphalt and concrete. Reduced tree, lawn and gardens, means surface storm water runoff will increase, and will add to the storm water load going into Lake Ontario. The reduction of greenery and the addition of hard surfaces like asphalt, will also increase the Heat Island effect in Burlington.

What it means is in many locations in Burlington is the same '70's show with new exterior wallpaper is coming to a neighbourhood near you. Ironically this kind of example of so called medium density means reduced transit use. While this sounds backwards, one would think that medium density means more transit use. But due to this dated design being car centric and suburban by its very nature it means more cars, and more car trips rather than fewer. Just look around the city, where and how these so called medium density projects are being built and you will find they are almost exclusively being built in a way that discourages any entry or exit other than in a car.

So when you see a pretty older home on a busy street with a FOR SALE sign on the front lawn, stop and take a photo, because chances are soon your neighbourhood will have its own so called, medium density 1970's style townhouse complex that you can drive right into.

Next Time I'll be looking at the proposal for the St Luke's precinct, or One of the great achievements of NIMBYism.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Budget night in Burlie

        Monday March 18 2013 - Budget night in Burlie. What City Council accomplished on Monday is something they do best; turn a deaf ear to the community and the real needs of our community. This can be seen most clearly in the Budget in general, and the Transit portion in particular. The mayor & the ward 5 councillor kept attempting to tell us the 4.46% tax increase was really only 2%.  We have more money for senior staff to get MBA’s and more money for the Economic Development Corporation to buy CEO’s steaks but no increased investment for infrastructure needs like Transit.

            We in Burlie have a very long way to go to improve transit in Burlington, especially in the North & East. We are still reeling from a halfbaked interim service plan that in 2012 cut the system dramatically and removed $500,000 in capital from the system. In reading this year’s staff proposal for BT I was detecting a hint at an improved direction. Some minor improvements but not major new spending, and no, the half million dollars removed last year has not been replaced; but no major cuts. Burlington Transit Staff recommended not to increase fares and asked council to establish a structure & a process for predictable fare increases. In what can only be described as a cynical move Council at the Budget committee, pulled a 8.4% transit fare increase out of thin air. In fact the budget overview sent by Mayor Goldring to residents in February made no mention of a possible Transit fare increase.

            This arbitrary 8% Fare Increase puts Burlington tied for the 2nd highest transit fares in the GTHA and according to Burlington For Sustainable Accessible Transit (BFast) with the lowest operating spending on transit & the fewest Busses per capita, and the oldest fleet in the GTHA. So I chose to make a presentation to council in hopes they might see what this increase will mean to some of the most at risk in our community. A fare Increase, especially an arbitrary 8% one is unfair to the most vulnerable of our community, and a large segment of BT’s customer base.

                                     To some bus fare is small change, they don't take transit
            To help to get beyond the numbers I feel we must use our moral imagination, and moral imagination must go beyond personal experience. To help visualize what a 25¢ increase per trip means let me tell you about I’ve recently met through some volunteer work. None of these people are eligible for the Handi Bus.
            One gentleman is recovering from a serious illness. As a result of this illness he’s lost everything, & is living in shared accommodation. 
            Another is a woman in a similar situation & has to travel back & forth to Mac several times a week for treatments. She’s attempting to find work as she's made progress in her treatments but reliance on transit is a real handicap. 
            A third is a family of modest means. The Mum has underlying health issues, & works part time, her husband also with underlying health issues, works in Oakville & it takes him better than an hour on Busses to get to work, a trip that would take one 15 to 20 minutes by car. 
            In my conversations with all of these people I've given them the contact information for the Halton Region’s Split Pass*, & my hope is not only do they qualify, but that there are passes available for them as when I last checked, Oakville's quotient for 173 Split Passes had been met & no further applications were being accepted. Burlington’s 195 still had some available. Right now, all of these people I’ve described have days when they have to choose between food and transit.
            What does 50¢ per round trip or an average of $12 a month translate to? How does it affect people who are always hungry, always tired, always food insecure? This photo illustrates what it means in real terms, the amount of food one person will have to do without in a month and spend on transit.

            In the March 13 2013 Toronto Star article on the failures of transit in the 905 Mayor Goldring was quoted without a hint of irony as saying:
 “They (fare increases) should not be done on an ad hoc basis, … There should be some clear rationale.”
            The Mayor is correct, but he didn’t listen to either himself or me. Burlington City Council went ahead with this Ad Hoc increase. Rather, than link fare increases to some facts like increases to Ontario Works, the minimum wage, and ODSP, City Council did what they often do; pat themselves on the back tell us how hard they worked & what a good plan they’ve concocted. 

            Lots of jargon was used in the Budget debate, lots of double talk about result measured outcomes and many of the other cool new MBA terms. Budgets are complex enough, we don’t need more jargon. What we do need is a clear and truthful plan, and clear and truthful numbers. We need important areas like Transit to make all of their numbers available to the public not buried & mixed in with other departments. We need the annual payments made to Metrolinx spelled out as payments to Metrolinx not included as part of the Burlington Transit operating budget. In this process we should also stop & remember one important thing, all the derivative traders who caused the financial crisis of 2008 all had MBA’s. All these MBA’s used this same jargon and double speak & the world’s financial system is still a mess because they pulled the wool over too many people’s eyes.

* One may apply for a Split Pass on the phone by calling 311. It is administered by the Region of Halton and the budget for the programme is split between three of the four municipalities on a per capita basis. The phone application will be passed on and in some cases the pass may be delivered by a social worker once one is successful. It has been expanded to include several groups that were not eligible in the past. The Split Pass is a monthly pass, and the user must purchase a special monthly pass, not discounted tickets nor discounted Presto usage. It is not on going, it must be applied for every month and it is awarded through a means test.