Sunday, December 8, 2019

Blinded By The Light

Luna - photo by Junie Quiroga
At this time of year when it's dark and gloomy and the slow countdown to the winter solstice has begun, lights start to appear throughout the city. But none are brighter or more cheerful than the ones brought to us by the folks at Lumiere who, in collaboration with various business associations, corporate sponsors and media partners, put on an annual event "inspired by light and artistic expression" at English Bay. It started in 2015 with the sudden appearance of Luna, a 7 metre long by 2.5 metre high metal sculpture with 6,000 LED bulbs made by MK Illumination. Inspired by the well known orphaned orca whale that lived in Nootka Sound, Luna reminds us of all the whales living in the waters around Vancouver.

Eugenia - photo and video by Junie Quiroga

Luna became a regular appearance thereafter and then in 2017 another spectacular installation was added called Eugenia.  Paying homage to the oak tree that lived on top of the Beach Avenue residence called Eugenia Place, this artwork has 7,600 colour changing LED lights and was also made by MK Illumination.

Stanley - photo by Junie Quiroga
Then in 2018 Stanley made his entrance and, standing 13 ft. tall and sporting 10,320 lights it was quite an entrance. Paying homage to one of the largest Great Blue Heron colonies in North America which have made Stanley Park their home, Stanley is another MK Illumination masterpiece.

Davie - Photo by Junie Quiroga
But in 2019 MK Illumination really outdid themselves with Davie, a 24 ft. tall grizzly bear with too many thousand LED lights to count. Completely taking over the corner of Davie & Denman streets, a playful looking Davie, sitting on his platform surrounded by salmon, pays homage to the B.C. wilderness and its 15,000 grizzlies which make up half of Canada's grizzly bear population. There are some other very cool Lumiere displays going on in different parts of the city but it's the nature themed installations at English Bay that will stay with us throughout the darkest hours of the winter season and help to keep us cheerful and blinded by the light.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Pay You Back With Interest

Proposed Senakw Development by Squamish Nation

The biggest news for Vancouver as the month of November got started was the announcement by the Squamish Nation of their plan to double the size of their original development to 6,000 apartments. Spitting in the eyes of all the Kitsilano NIMBY's and the City's gridlocked planning/zoning department, neither of whom have any jurisdiction or say in how they can proceed, this First Nations group, in partnership with Westbank, is going to build something that is truly radical in design to address both the shortage of rental housing in this City and how the environment is impacted.

Originally a two-tower 3,000 unit development that would be 56 storeys high, another 9 towers have now been added to the plan. In addition to being a long term rental project that will maximize revenues for the Squamish Nation, what makes this development truly unique is the almost complete absence of parking spaces. Residents will need to either walk, bike or use transit to get around instead of relying on the automobile, which would make this a first for Vancouver and finally show some leadership on how to build a community that takes its impact on the environment seriously.

Kitsilano Reserve (Senakw) 1907
Sadly this oddly T-shaped track of land at the entrance to Kitsilano is all that remains of the Squamish Nation that once resided in an area called Senakw that included what is now Vanier Park. In 1877 the federal government granted 35 hectares of land to the 20+ families/150 inhabitants living there and called it the Kitsilano Indian Reserve No.6.  However, by 1903 the City considered the reserve "no use to anyone, an eyesore to the city, an easy resort for criminals, and a waste of valuable land that could be used for better and more practical uses". In 1913, at the request of the City of Vancouver, representatives of the provincial government coerced the residents into selling the land and paid each male head of family $11,250.00 to evacuate. The residents and their possessions were loaded onto a barge and then the village was set on fire and burned to the ground. The barge was cast adrift in English Bay until the owner of Cates Tugs rescued them and towed them to the Squamish reserves in Howe Sound and Burrard Inlet.  

Squamish people being loaded onto a barge 1913
Over the next 100 years the Kitsilano Indian Reserve No. 6 had railway lines going through it, the Burrard Street bridge was built on it along with the Vancouver Museum, Planetarium, Maritime Museum, and the Molson's brewery. But in 1977 the Squamish Nation sued the federal government for failing to protect them from their reserve lands being wrongfully taken and finally, after 23 years of litigation, were awarded in 2000 $92.5 million and the return of 5 hectares of land which is what they are planning now to develop.

Building under and around the Burrard Street bridge will be a challenge but already the renderings of what might be possible has caught the imagination of many local residents and City Hall is quite supportive. Recognizing this as an opportunity to try and correct an historical injustice the City has made it a goal to create "sustained relationships of mutual respect and understanding with local First Nations and the urban Indigenous community." Other than provide services such as fire, police, water, sewage and waste removal, which the Squamish Nation says it will pay for by collecting taxes on the development, there is nothing else the City needs to be involved in.

What would perhaps be even more interesting is to see how Concord Pacific, the new owners of the old Molson brewery site right next door, decides to proceed with their development. Will they go through the many years of hearings, delays and other obstacles of the infamous Vancouver planning process or will they do something really radical and donate the land back to the Squamish Nation in return for a share in the profits? This would allow them to immediately capitalize on a high density development free of the City's involvement and potentially generate an even higher return on investment.

Just around the corner of Kitsilano are the Jericho Lands which are now owned by a consortium of Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations and a Federal Crown corporation called the MST Development. This 21 hectare parcel is larger than southeast False Creek which includes the Olympic Village and is expected to have thousands of homes. MST also owns an 8 hectare parcel at Heather and 33rd Avenue and the Musqueam are developing a 9 hectare parcel with Polygon called Lelem, which means home, with over 1,200 homes on the UBC Endowment Lands. With First Nations having first right of refusal to buy back any federal or provincial land being disposed of they are actively making deals in Vancouver and other municipalities as a way of ensuring income for their members. Best of all none of these developments need City approval or consultation which may finally bring about some changes to the tepid mindset of the bureaucracy currently running things.

The neighbourhood of Kitsilano, originally the village of Senakw, is an anglicization of Chief Khatsahlano's name by the Canadian Pacific Railway who developed the neighbourhood. The grandson, August Jack Khatsahlano, was also a Squamish Chief and Vancouver historian who shared his indigenous oral history with Vancouver's first archivist, Major J.S. Matthews. Born in Stanley Park in 1877 he died in 1971 after witnessing the utter transformation of his homeland from a village on the shoreline with an abundance of fish and wildlife to a city filled with high-rise buildings.  While there is a certain sadness in the changes that have occurred in his lifetime at least now the traditional lands of the Squamish Nation will once again be providing for its dislocated people and it will be paying them back with interest. 

August Jack Khatsahlano

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Stop Recycling, Go Nuclear, and Plant Trees

Hundreds of thousands of protesters were out in full force across the country last Friday on a so-called Global Climate Strike demanding action now to save planet Earth. However it isn't planet Earth that's in danger, it's us. Things were a lot hotter long before we arrived on the scene; remember the dinosaurs? As much as everyone would like things to change there's no quick and easy fix, particularly if nobody is really prepared to change the way they live. So, rather than ask people to give up their disposable containers, their junk food, or their cars, why not try a completely different approach and simply stop recycling, go nuclear and plant a few trees.

Coventa Waste-To-Energy Facility
Our hopelessly misguided attempts to recycle not only wastes clean water washing out refuse nobody really wants anymore (including China) most of it ends up in a landfill somewhere anyway. In fact we are often trucking it for hundreds of miles to some rural community so it's out of sight and mind. Instead we should be incinerating all this garbage in state of the art facilities that convert waste to energy like they do in Sweden, which is much further ahead of us on the environmental awareness curve. We have one of these waste to energy facilities, the Coventa plant in Burnaby, which was used for disposing of the waste we tried to fob off on the Philippines but unfortunately for political reasons Vancouver won't use it. We should have a lot more of them and we should supply 3rd World countries with these facilities for free so they could stop dumping everything into the ocean and get themselves some electricity in the process.

Bruce Power Nuclear Generating Station
In spite of the enormous amounts of garbage we produce in our wasteful society, waste to energy facilities would only provide a very small percentage of the energy we need to run our homes and businesses, particularly if we all start switching to electric cars that need charging at night. There is really only one solution for pollution free energy and that is to go nuclear. Canada is already a world leader in this technology with its CANDU reactors and we have the world's largest nuclear energy facility at the Bruce Power Nuclear Generating Station in Ontario on the shore of Lake Huron. Not only does the CANDU technology allow for the almost endless recycling of fuel it can also process nuclear waste from dismantled nuclear weapons. We have sold our technology to many other countries and we should build more of these nuclear power plants in our own country to replace coal fired plants.

There have also been recent breakthroughs in much smaller nuclear power technology that could be used for powering communities in the far north and other areas not connected to the grid. Referred to as Small Modular Reactors one SMR, being developed and tested by the Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp of Seattle and Canada's Global First Power, is small enough to fit inside a standard shipping container. It has now entered the 3rd stage of a 4 stage process being run by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories to develop a 5MW reactor which would produce enough electricity to power 3,000 homes. Safer and less complex than traditional nuclear reactors these SMRs also use new technology like molten salt as a coolant. Canada is once again poised to take the lead in nuclear technology but this will require political support to really move things forward.
Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp SMR
And if you really wanted to feel good and do something all on your own what could be better than planting a tree? The benefits of trees are many but principally they absorb carbon dioxide, provide us with oxygen, and prevent soil erosion. They live for a long time and they are easy to manage so why not get behind a national annual tree planting day like they have in many other places around the world and make it a goal to plant at least one tree for every person in the country. Nothing could be easier and we could do it immediately.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Sweet Home Vancouver

Tent City At Oppenheimer Park
Tent cities have been appearing in public parks all over the Lower Mainland and places on Vancouver Island this year as the homeless try to bring some sort of normalcy to their lives with at least a roof over their head. An eyesore to the rest of the community, dangerous and unsanitary for those living there, and they leave the parks off limits to anyone else. But where can they go? For these folks the sky high rents in the rest of the City and the overpriced high rise condos are something in another galaxy.

As bleak as the tent cities are in Vancouver it couldn't be much better living in what passes for housing on some of the First Nations reserves. Poorly insulated, mouldy, and squalid, they wouldn't even pass 3rd world construction standards and on top of that they have to stand up to extreme weather conditions. Add in overcrowding, because there is a backlog of housing construction on up to 40% of the 3,100 reserves in this country, and you have another version of homelessness that is in many ways far worse than the tent cities.

Strange how the mining and oil & gas industry has no problem with housing whenever they want to house workers at a particular site no matter how remote it may be. They bring in pre-fab housing for hundreds of employees that is designed to withstand the elements and set it up in no time without any help from the government. But in spite of a $200 million per year budget for First Nations housing nothing gets done.

For Northern communities that are only accessible by ocean these pre-fab complexes could be assembled in fall and winter and loaded onto ships for delivery when the ice melts in late spring and early summer. Another example is using converted shipping containers. Having a number of these dropped off would then provide year round employment to the local community while they did the interior conversion work.

Tents aren't even that much fun when you're camping never mind trying to function as a home. Addressing the homeless situation in this country is not a matter of technology but simply being practical and taking advantage of solutions that already exist. Setting up a work style camp for the tent city dwellers is an obvious solution. Even in Vancouver it should be possible for everyone to have something they call home sweet home.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Dirty Water

What is our problem in this country when it comes to water? We have the 20% of the world's freshwater supply, the world's longest coastline and only a tiny fraction of the world's population but we can't provide safe water for our people to drink or swim in. Once again in the middle of summer a number of the main beaches in Vancouver have been closed due to a high E. coli count but worst of all nobody seems to know why or where it came from.

Of course this pales in comparison with what's going on in the First Nations reserves where 400 of the 618 bands have been under a water advisory in the past 5 years. Unlike the rest of the country where drinking water is a Provincial responsibility, clean and safe drinking water for First Nations people is a Federal responsibility and one that has been shockingly ignored for more years than most people can remember. Plans and budgets appear and disappear and in the meantime these people have to endure something not a single person anywhere else in the country would ever have to put up with.

Even worse than boil water advisories is the actual poisoning of the water where for the past 50 years the people in Grassy Narrows have been trying to get some resolution to the mercury poisoning caused by a nearby pulp & paper mill. Another First Nations community in Attawapiskat this year had to declare a state of emergency when it discovered its drinking water contained high levels of chemical contamination caused by the chlorination process that was supposed to purify the water. This has been the 6th time a state of emergency has been declared in the past 10 years in this community because of water supply issues including in 2013 when the sewage system backed up and forced the evacuation of the schools and hospital.

This spring the perpetually leaky sewage lagoon of the North Caribou Lake First Nation burst and sent its contents towards the creek that feeds the water supply for the community but until the media got involved the government was not prepared to pay for any emergency repairs. But that's nothing compared to the 950,000 litres/day leaking from Iqaluit into Frobisher Bay, which in turn is nothing compared to the 82 million litres/day Victoria pumps into the ocean or the 205 billion litres of untreated sewage and untreated waste water the country as a whole pumps into the rivers and oceans each year. And given B.C.'s population, as compared to Nova Scotia, clearly we are the worst offenders.

If it wasn't for people like Mr. Floatie bringing awareness of the raw sewage issue in Victoria it's doubtful anything would ever have been done but thankfully now a $765 million dollar treatment plant is being built. The Federal government has committed 3 billion dollars to address the First Nations water issues and in Vancouver a major upgrade of the the storm sewer system is being fast tracked. How we ever got to such a sad state of denial is another question but at least we are starting to deal with our dirty water.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Return To Sender

50 years after landing on the Moon there is once again a race to return. Why it has taken this long is open to debate but it would appear the stars have finally aligned with a combination of private industry know-how, government funding, and a renewed interest in space travel. As beautiful as our planet Earth is, it will ultimately die, and we need to develop the technology that will enable us to move on.

In the 1960's the program to get to the Moon was called Apollo but this time around it has been named Artemis. Artemis was the sister of Apollo in Greek mythology and was also the goddess of the Moon. While the project has now officially launched it will still take until 2024 before the first woman and next man land on the Moon following a 3 stage process.

Orion spacecraft

Orion Spacecraft

The first stage is an uncrewed flight to the Moon and back with the Lockheed Martin built Orion spacecraft and, as its testing continues to progress successfully, Artemis 1 is scheduled to take place starting July 2020. Once that has been completed the 2nd Artemis flight will take place with a full crew in 2022. After Artemis 2 the various components of the Lunar Orbiting Platform-Gateway will be put in place in preparation for Artemis 3 in 2024.

The key to the Artemis program is putting a Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway into position over the moon that will act as a base station similar to the International Space Station orbiting Earth and using many of the same components such as the docking system and the Canadarm. The LOP-Gateway will provide a place for astronauts to live and serve as a staging point for manned exploration of the Moon. Ultimately it will also act as a base for going to Mars.

Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway

Getting from the LOP-Gateway to the surface of the Moon and back will be using a lunar lander and ascent stage built by Blue Origin (owned by Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame). Future missions envision setting up a lunar outpost for various scientific experiments and doing on-site resource utilization and mining. Not only is this practical, if it can supply things like water, oxygen and rocket fuel, it could also be extremely profitable.

Lunar lander & ascent stage

The surface of the Moon has been discovered to be covered with a dust-like material called regolith which in turn contains water, oxygen, various heavy metals, and Helium-3. Helium-3 is a non-radioactive isotope of Helium and has the potential to be used as fuel in fusion reactors to produce vast amounts of energy without radiation. Helium-3 is estimated to be worth $5 billion a tonne and there are an estimated one million tonnes of it on the Moon. Only 500 tonnes of Helium-3 could supply all of Earth's energy for a year. Getting some of it back to Earth would be a nice return to the sender.

Artist rendering of a mining base on the Moon

Sunday, June 2, 2019

A Fed Bum Is A Dead Bum Don't Feed The Bums

There is a persistent urban menace in Vancouver and other cities that just won't go away and that of course is the drug addled, homeless, riff-raff that camp out on streets, commercial doorways, and in parks, openly drinking, taking drugs, and panhandling. Filthy, unashamed, and disturbing to most people passing by, they defy all social norms and any attempts to move them along. Without access to washrooms they urinate and defecate in public, they scatter their trash everywhere and, in their deranged state, they are usually yelling among themselves or intimidating pedestrians with their disturbing behavior.

Neither the Provincial or Municipal governments seem capable of enacting legislation to outlaw vagrancy, loitering, or panhandling never mind dealing with homelessness or addiction. Even though it is painfully obvious that most of these people need to be forcibly put in treatment centres for their own good, various human rights and advocacy groups seem to have more sway than the voices of residents who are forced to confront the problem on a daily basis. And every year the problem keeps getting worse.

Adding to the problem of course is the well-intentioned, but counter-productive, actions of sympathetic and gullible citizens who donate food and money to these people and leave out recyclable bottles for them to cash in. All this does is contribute to even more panhandling, dumpster diving, and begging as the word gets out that certain intersections or streets make for an easy mark. Rather than getting them to seek treatment, giving them money simply allows them to perpetuate their way of life.

These street people have become just like the habituated bears who live on the margins of suburbia near the forest line. Living on the margins of the city the street bums are a dangerous nuisance and the public needs to think of them the same way they think of bears and not leave anything out for them. Signs everywhere point to the fact a fed bear is a dead bear and, until our lawmakers come up with a proper solution, we should be thinking that a fed bum is ultimately a dead bum.