Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Crisis of Happiness

As a lead-up to the February 20th launch party, and the presentation by guest speaker and author Chris Turner, I wanted to take a look at some of the progressive ideas being implemented in cities abroad that are making drastic changes to the way humanity is able live.

London, England

The view of London as a commuter nightmare is not one that most North Americans would readily apply, but, in spite of the classic double-decker buses and subway system, London has had to take drastic measures to improve air quality and reduce traffic congestion in their city core.

According to an Associated Press article posted on MSNBC, Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, increased commuter charges and are going after the big polluters, targeting 4x4 vehicles and luxury sedans. The average commuter pays $16 a day to drive in the city; the 33,000 vehicles targeted under the new legislation will pay $49 a day, if approved.. Even NYC is proposing a 'sin tax' for cars in Lower Manhattan.

Think a 'sin tax' on driving is a steep price to pay? Paris plans to ban suburban cars from the city centre by 2012 to reduce noise, pollution and congestion and recreate "the art of urban joy".

Paris, France

The Pompidou expressway, stretching from the Louvre to the Pont de Sully, is covered in sand. This is not a natural disaster, or a corporate publicitiy event, but an intentional act to reclaim city streets for the citizens of Paris, a city which Kunstler referred to as a "human-scale touch on the urban form", during the summer months. The Paris Plage, as the summer road-to-beach transformation is called, is part of an on-going movement in Paris to transition the city streets from the motorized masses and return them to Parisian people.

An article called The Happy City, written by Charles Montgomery, details French, among other, reclamation projects designed to increase human interaction. Montgomery states that these changes will "change not just streets but the very soul of urban spaces." -- and we tend to agree!

Bogota, Columbia

Under the direction Enrique Penalosa, Mayor of Bogota, and in an effort to combat a city "mired in poverty, chaos, violence and crippling traffic", this South American city ditched a freeway intended to ease the commute of the suburbanite masses (ED: Sound familiar?), and instead invested in the "frequencey of positive interaction". By building "parks, hundreds of kilometers of bikes paths and pedestrian 'freeways' [and] an efficient rapid bus system" the happiness of the city increased. How do you measure happiness? Road fatalities fell by 33% and the murder rate dropped by 40%. Now wouldn't that make you happy?

Bogota is on a roll and has voted to ban private cars from rush hour traffic by 2015. Imagine the changes in a city where rush hour traffic was concentrated on mass transit or pedestrian scale mobility. Montgomery quotes John Helliwell, a University of British Columbia professor emeritus and economist, when he states "[f]requency of positive interaction is the key."

Through these examples Montgomery emulates Chris Turner who, in his book The Geography of Hope, demonstrates that the changes we need to make in Windsor are already being made in other cities in the world with amazing success. Montgomery's article details some of the largest cities making even bigger changes successfully increasing happiness among their citizens. The message of echoes the refrain of Montgomery -- we can make drastic changes to 'they way we have always done things' and not only survive but thrive as a community, an economy and a part of the human collective.

Windsor can, must, and will make the changes necessary to revitalize itself through the work and efforts of an engaged citizenry. We, as members of that citizenry, must decide whether we want to be as the French, making changes to increase an already high standard of living or wait until we are like Bogota, ready to pull out all the stops to make the changes necessary just to survive.


International cities are making huge changes, implementing real ideas, to combat the erosion of urban happiness. What changes have you seen, or would like to see, in Windsor to increase, intensify or re-establish our urban happiness? Post your thoughts in our comments section

All quotes in the article, unless otherwise stated, come from Charles Montgomery's article "The Happy City"


dave said...

I would love the city to have more parks, even smaller ones in downtown (how about tranforming those surface lots to parks if the city can't get off their duff and build the urban village) and more bike trails.

Although I am not an artist by any means I think more attention to the arts would be a positive step as well.

More on street parking instead of the myriad of surface lots.

This is just fantasy but I always thought Windsor should bring back the streetcars on certain roads and see how they do and expand if necessary.

Urbanrat said...

The single automobile once seen as the great hope of expanding a continent has now become the number one enemy of the cities that they help build. Not that I want to return to the horse in the city, with myriad piles of steaming horse manure that once littered the streets..there's nothing romantic about carriages etc. in a city.

It is time that the use of the car be taxed and the obscene subsidies given to it in the form of road building come to an end.

And we can start with parking. I once read a book by, I think, Robert White, titled The City and in one chapter he looked at parking in a city. Imagine if citizens had to pay rent on the real commercial value of that one parking space...depending the area it was located. What is the commercial rate per square foot in the core? $75.00? $120.00?

But we really know that there isn't any free parking anywhere in the city, including the malls and big box stores as their parking costs are buried, or a lost leader to their stores. But we pay in many unseen ways.

The government of British Columbia has enacted a Parking Tax, that places special taxes on ALL parking spaces, from residential to commercial.

Go here:

It would be a place to start. White in his book stated that for Every vehicle in a city there must be at least six parking spaces available at any given time, to allow unimpeded movement of those vehicles. How much space is that in a city. Number of vehicles times spaces available, including the square footage of Each space..Astronomical in a city!

What a waste of land, since five out of six spaces has to sit empty all the time.

The car has now become the Devil incarnate to our society and regardless of the innovative green technologies they come up with to be green, won't address the destruction they are doing to our cities.

Urbanrat said...

I just found this press release from the B.C., The South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority explaining the Parking Tax.

In part:

"Chair Brodie’s motion followed a verbal report to the board from TransLink CEO Pat Jacobsen, who provided some background on the Parking Site Tax and an update on its implementation.

“Our target was $20 million net revenue in 2006 and 2007 -- the amount we would generate after deducting revenue reductions through appeals and the ‘one-time’ costs of setting up the tax. The Parking Site Tax for 2006 will generate about $25 million gross revenue at the current rate. This is the amount before appeals or set-up costs,” Jacobsen said.

She added, “Given that this is a new tax, with the challenges of creating a new roll, we will return April 19th with a staff recommendation to lower the tax rate to collect $20 million gross revenue, not the $25 million. The one-time costs, as well as the cost of collection, would be covered from TransLink operations.”

The business community generally opposes the tax in any form. However, property owners have raised a number of specific issues with the broad definition of parking site that has been in the legislation since 1992. Objections to the legislation itself cannot be resolved through the review and appeals processes underway through Property Assessment Review Panels and Property Assessment Appeal Boards. Jacobsen said that TransLink should look at options to address them, a process that cannot be completed in time for this year’s property tax notices but one that she said would be targeted for completion in 2007 if possible.

The Parking Site Tax is one of three revenue sources supporting TransLink’s $4 billion road and transit improvement plan, set for implementation by 2013. In her comments, the TransLink CEO emphasized the importance of the Parking Site Tax revenue to the delivery of those improvements.

“We’ve heard it said that this $20 million is a ‘small amount.’ But in reality, it will leverage almost $200 million in transportation improvements. It can buy over 400 new buses. Or it can pay for our share of all of the major arterial road improvements in our current three-year plan: the new Dollarton Bridges in North Vancouver, the Murray Clark Connector in Port Moody, the Coast Meridian Overpass in Port Coquitlam, the widening of the Fraser Highway in Surrey and Langley…and more,” Jacobsen said."

We should encourage the Province of Ontario to enact such a tax with the monies collected per city/town etc, given to those settlements for municipal improvements.

This would be a fair user tax!

Sporto said...

Dave, you think electric powered transit is a fantasy? It may very well be the only effective way to travel in the city in the coming years. The only problem is overcoming the political crap that goes along with antyhing transportation. The feeble-minded in leadership still want to build roads and highways and more roads all to support the private vehicle.

Sporto said...

Hamilton doesn't think light rail is a fantasy and have already begun the studies. [url][/url]

Urbanrat said...

There was once upon a time, long ago and not to far away when we had a Light Rail system. It should be again!

The Trolley Song:

With my high starched-collar and my high-topped shoes
And my hair piled high upon my head,
I went to lose a jolly hour on the trolley, and lost my heart instead.
With his light brown derby and his bright green tie,
He was quite the handsomest of men.
I started to yen so I counted to ten, then I counted to ten again.

Clang, clang, clang went the trolley, ding, ding, ding went the bell,
Zing, zing, zing went my heart strings, from the moment I saw him I fell.
Chug, chug, chug went the motor, bump, bump, bump went the brake,
Thump, thump, thump went my heart strings, when he smiled I could feel the car shake.

Imagine a system were love could bloom!

John said...

Windsor led the way for the nation in 1886. We can do it again.

Chris Holt said...

Excellent! Thank you for The Trolley Song, Urbanrat! Now - I just need to get a tune to go with it in my head.

Like Urbanrat mentioned, can you imagine if we had a transportation system that we loved instead of loathed?

Look at all the people stuck in traffic jams and being cut off by angry motorists, and you cannot tell me, at that moment, that they actually love driving!

James Coulter said...

Transit Windsor's Crosstown 2 route would be the first bus line I would replace with light rail. The R.O.W. is wide enough to accomodate tracks (except the Drouliard underpass) the bus route has decent ridership numbers and a large number of buses dedicated. Remove those buses to other routes feeding the Crosstown line and there you go.
This city could hire local companies to manufacture trolley or light rail coaches and maintain them with all the skilled trades and laid-off workers available.

James Coulter said...

Oh yeah, forgot.

1980's band The Replacements
"Kiss me on the bus"

less romantic, more adult but still...

Sporto said...

I tend to think that transit and TODs can be the biggest influence for Windsor. Any effort towards that can bring only good things. I'm wondering, if in 1003 days, a new and enlightened mayor can make a positive change, what would it be? I think in the first 100 days in office it would have to be less of a focus on the automobile somehow and a huge improvement to transit and communities that abut transit. Is that what we should expect from a new mayor?

dave said...

Sporto, it is a fantasy in this city only. As indicated we were ahead of the curve (as was Detroit)in the 19th & 20th century until people with small minds took hold of our city and never gave it back.

I for one would favour a parking tax for Essex/Windsor if it would provide sustainable mass transit. But lets be real for a moment. It isn't going to happen here nor will light transit. I still think for the betterment of downtown we need to remove some of these surface lots and instead have a bit more on street parking like in Europe. No, not on all streets but on a majority that are downtown.

Does anyone else want to chime in and present their ideas for a better city? No one has said anything yet.

John said...

I agree with you (about the street parking). There's no need for Ouellette to be double lanes in each direction south of University. Yes it will mean Windsor driver's won't have a means to weave in and out of traffic so they can get there 22 seconds earlier, but who cares? We want Ouellette to be a destination - not a thoroughfare, non?

Adriano Ciotoli said...

Considering i have a file that is currently 30 pages of brainstorm ideas for the city of Windsor, i'll spare you all the pain and just state a few ideas:)

I would absolutely love to see a new VIA/Light Rail Transit station built in the lot at Caron & Park in Downtown Windsor.

Free public transit.

A pedestrian only shopping district in the downtown core.

More arts, culture and WORLD CLASS museums in the downtown core.

The University of Windsor Engineering Department focus on Green Technology (Clean & Renewable energy, building green, etc.)

Fiscal responsibility with zero tolerance. audit every department if you have to. enough wasting money on needlessly.

bike paths that actually lead somewhere.

Those were just a few things i would like to see. trust me when i say i have plenty more.