Category Archives: Economics

Reshaping Victoria’s Economy for a Sustainable Planet

An expert panel discusses how our municipal government could help build a more economically vital and ecologically resilient community

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There have long been gaps between the vision most of us have for a socially responsible, environmentally “green” Victoria, and the high-priced, unbridled growth towards which the dominant economic forces in this region steer us. This gap was identified in city staff’s own analysis of Victoria’s Official Community Plan (OCP), and grows wider daily through disagreements over everything from new condominium high-rises to mega-yacht marinas.

In sustainable governing parlance, such gaps can ideally be bridged by making all development decisions with equal consideration for economic, social and environmental impacts, or “triple bottom line” accounting. Unfortunately, in its current OCP consultation process covering issues like urban design, energy and emissions, local food sustainability, and economic development, the City inscrutably failed to request that its economic discussion paper provide any triple bottom line analyses (see “Visioning Our Future or Our Pipe Dream?” in May’s Focus). Yet, obviously, economic decisions frequently drive bulldozers right through the most beautiful of our food sustainability and urban design dreams.

So Focus and Transition Victoria recently brought together an expert panel to brainstorm how the municipal government could help transform Victoria’s economy and economic decisions to be more in line with the social and environmental values which our citizens have overwhelmingly given voice to over the years. Continue reading

Visioning Our Future or Our Pipe Dream?

There’s a problematic gap between what many people want to see in Victoria’s Official Community Plan, and what traditional urban economics dictates.

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As the public participation component of Victoria’s Official Community Plan process officially launched, the air felt heavy with irony. It was only March, but fans were already fighting mugginess in the glass-roofed Crystal Garden, serving as a constant reminder of the preceding century of haphazard government “planning” that built a downtown saltwater swimming pool which became ­a tropical botanical zoo and then an ill-fated geographic museum and finally a less-than-ideal conference centre dependent on the public purse.

Nevertheless, as I participated in the municipality’s “Shape Your Future Victoria” event, the energies of an increasingly concerned and engaged population were stirring inspiration. Continue reading

The Problem with Thinking Charitably

Sometimes charities don’t educate us about the broader political context, and we prefer it that way.

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What’s a good charity? Malalai Joya gave an interesting answer.

Joya is the female politician dubiously ousted from the male-dominated Afghan Parliament in 2007. She was promoting her book, A Woman Among Warlords, last November at the University of Victoria. An audience member asked if a particular Afghan charity was worth supporting. Joya didn’t know the charity, but dispensed general advice: Examine the charity’s political positions.

Essentially, Joya argued, if the charity isn’t protesting the NATO military occupation of Afghanistan, then it’s likely not empowering ordinary Afghans so much as furthering the agendas of foreign powers.

Joya’s not alone in recognizing broader political context as crucial to evaluating charitable activities. The World Bank notoriously provides “aid” benefiting multinationals and rich nations more than the poor. And though many donors are unaware, international charities run from political right to left, and often take sides. For example, OXFAM provided aid in Eritrea throughout the region’s two-decade independence struggle, while CARE didn’t start helping in Eritrea until its 2000 peace accord with Ethiopia.

I was still pondering this when Canadian media’s December outpouring of heartstring-plucking human interest features began. Continue reading

This is the Liberals’ 9/11

The global recession is the excuse Gordon Campbell has always wanted.

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I didn’t want to write about the BC Liberals’ latest cuts. But for a commentator on community issues, they’re difficult to avoid. Arts funding is being cut 90% over two years. Most gaming funding will be yanked from non-profit agencies.­ (After previous cuts made them dependent on gaming money.)

It’s difficult to fathom how ugly this could become. Do you care about the environment, disability rights, the Fringe Festival, the elderly, aboriginal issues, the film industry, victims of domestic abuse, preventing fetal alcohol syndrome, the Symphony, mental health, amateur sporting events, independent watchdogs? The work of non-governmental organizations in all these areas is at serious risk.

The excuse du jour is budget shortages due to the recession.

I’m not buying it. Continue reading

The Politics of Parking

We’re paying a lot for parking. An awful lot.

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Years ago, I was awaiting the fate of a grant application before Victoria city council to help build a community garden. Instead, council got bogged down debating a developer’s building permit and re-zoning application.

The developer wanted a reduction in the number of parking spaces required in favour of more room to expand his apartment building. Discussion ensued about the number of people moving in, the number of cars they’d own, the limited availability of street and store parking in this high-traffic area, and our tight, expensive rental market.

It seemed mundane. Recently, though, an opinion article prompted me to investigate the politics of parking, and it dramatically shifted my perspective.

Most of the article’s arguments and statistics were based on Yale University urban planning expert Donald Shoup‘s intriguing book, The High Cost of Free Parking. Reading Shoup’s analyses, it suddenly seemed bizarre that, even though I’ve long been aware of the many damaging environmental and economic impacts from cars, I hadn’t thought much about the role of parking. Continue reading