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See @pricetags next week

At the end of 2012 Gordon Price @pricetags visited Auckland and spoke at an Auckland Conversations event on Moving beyond Motordom.

Auckland and Vancouver – The New Post-sustainability City: Allies from Unexpected Places

Gordon Price – Director of City Programme, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver
Tuesday 25 February, doors open 5pm, welcome 5.30pm
Upper NZI Conference Room, Aotea Centre, central Auckland

Free

Has sustainability had its time? Given the doubling down on fossil fuels and carbon transfer by countries like Canada and Australia, is there any point to pursuing modest and inconsequential strategies in our cities?

Are post-motordom cities like Vancouver able to resist the development of sprawl-feeding road infrastructure, the squandering of valuable agricultural land and an unwillingness to finance sustainable transportation infrastructure?

While the challenges of sustainable development are more important than ever, local leaders need new alliances to build the post-sustainability city. Gordon Price will dissect current trends, pose some provocative scenarios and, using Vancouver as an example, offer some alternatives.

Gordon speaks on urban issues and the development of Vancouver in cities around the world, and is also a regular lecturer on transportation and land use for the City of Portland, Oregon and Portland State University
Gordon was elected for six consecutive terms as a Councilor during Vancouver’s most transformative years and which lead the city to be voted the world’s most liveable city.

Gordon Price is Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University.

Gordon was a Councillor at City Council in Vancouver, British Columbia for six terms from 1986 to 2002. He served on the Board of the Greater Vancouver Regional District (Metro Vancouver) and was appointed to the first board of the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority (TransLink).

Gordon is a long-time columnist for Business in Vancouver.

He curates the influential blog-site Price Tags, which comments on urban issues. He covers the fundamental transportation choices; the relationship between city hall and developers; and the political will required to carry through on intensification.

Gordon is an enthusiastic photographer and has been documenting Vancouver and other cities since the early 1980s.

Gordon has written several essays on Vancouver and transportation issues (The Deceptive City , Local Politician’s Guide to Urban Transportation).

In 2003, he received the Plan Canada Award for Article of the Year – “Land Use and Transportation: The View from ’56″ – from the Canadian Institute of Planners.

You can register here.

In some more great news it was confirmed yesterday that Janette Sadik-Kahn has agreed to come to Auckland in May. That is almost certain to result in another Auckland Conversations event.

This is great news and just in case you haven’t seen it already, this is her talking about some of the changes she made to New York.

Lastly I just worked out that this happens to be my 1,000th post published on the blog (wasn’t counting, honest). I’d hate to think of how many hours that entails.

22 comments to See @pricetags next week

  • Is he talking about true sustainability (having land, growing your own food, collecting your own water, generating your own electricity, with minimum transport requirements), or false sustainability (externalising your land use, externalising your food production, externalising your water supply, buying electricity from elsewhere, and requiring significant international and national transport infrastructure to support your externalising)?

    Might have to pop along…..

    • Steve D

      Hey Geoff, the fourth millenium BC called, they’d like to tell you about this new concept they’ve invented called “the division of labour”.

      There’s nothing unsustainable about specialising in one thing and trading with others. In fact, economies based around trade, specialisation, and urbanisation have historically proved to be rather more “sustainable” than subsistence farming, which struggles from famine to famine.

      • Steve, you’re referring to false sustainability, where your planetary impact is externalised, making it easy to pretend it doesn’t exist.

        Patrick, not self-sufficiency, but rather reduced-impact living.

        If it were illegal to externalise planetary costs, western society would be unrecognisable compared to how we currently live.

        • If you want to reduce your impact then growing your own food is a disastrous way to go about it. Industrialised farming feeds around 155 people per acre of land, or about 26m2 per person. I’d like to see you sustainably feed a family of four off 100m2 with only your own labour. You’d need more like the full acre to pull that off, which is about 4000m2.

          • Rubbish Nick, an average backyard is enough to grow more veges than you can eat. Even a little planter box with three or four tomato plants produces a hundred odd tomatoes a week. Put them in a glasshouse, and they’ll produce for much of the year. Most people who grow veges and fruit at home end up with a surplus, and have to give away stuff to neighbours. Have you actually tried growing anything? It doesn’t sound like you have.

          • Actually I grow my own tomatoes as it were. Get a nice bumper crop… For about a six week season.

            People growing stuff at home end up with a surplus, a surplus of one crop while it is in season, surplus because they buy most of their food at the store. That simply details one huge problem with trying to grow all your own food, the insecurity of supply.

            If your idea of sustainability is making jam when the plums ripen on the tree then fine. If your trying to feed yourself and your family everything they need year in year out you need a lot of land and a life of labour.

        • Steve D

          > your planetary impact is externalised

          In order to be sustainable, that is, able to be sustained indefinitely by the ecosystem of the planet, you do not need to do all of those things (grow food, collect water, etc) yourself. It just requires that someone do them sustainably on your behalf. External to yourself, but it’s not external to all of humankind.

          You’re talking about self-sufficiency, which is a terrible idea, since it’s inefficient and leads to a very low standard of living. Economies of scale allow a given number of people to be fed, watered, clothed, etc., with far less impact (per person) on the environment, and as a bonus, far less overall effort. Which leaves more of our time free for other pursuits (sadly, for the most part – doing other jobs).

          Living “self-sufficiently” on a lifestyle block is fine as a personal hobby if that’s what you want to do, but 7 billion people can’t live that way, nor do most of them want to. They can live just fine if most of them cluster in cities, which are a lot easier to serve than isolated groups or single families, spread across the land.

          (By the way, I’m at work: not going to be able to watch any videos).

          • “It just requires that someone do them sustainably on your behalf”

            You just externalised the transport cost to the planet. You said nothing of the damage caused by fracking to extract the oil for the 747 used to fly that fruit “grown sustainably by someone on your behalf” half way around the planet, nor anything about the depleted ozone from the aircraft emissions, and that’s to say nothing of the manufacturing required to support these things and their support structure.

            That’s why externalising planetary costs is a form of brain damage. It’s real and tangible, but doesn’t consciously register.

          • Steve D

            > fly that fruit “grown sustainably by someone on your behalf” half way around the planet

            Yes, because those are literally the only options. Grow your own food, or it has to be airfreighted from another continent.

            Most of the food we get in New Zealand (by weight) already comes from the same island that we live on. In Auckland, a fair chunk if not the bulk of the processed food is processed within a few tens of kilometres of your home. What’s imported is also typically more long-lasting bulk items, which can be shipped by, you know, ships. I think we can have a fair bit of air travel without impacting too severely on the planet, but even if no-one ever flew again, most people in the world would have most of the same options available to them as now. New Zealand would be one of the few seriously affected, since we have no alternative to air travel if we want to attract tourists. Most other countries could relatively easily switch to high-speed, fully electric, rail.

            One of the biggest ways we can make a dent in our impact on the planet (via carbon emissions, air pollution, ozone depletion, et al) is using less energy for transport. This is one of the things that urbanisation excels at: the denser the city, the less energy used. Whereas sprawling across the land, with every family on 5-10 acres, would either involve huge long trips, or a life of mere subsistence, along with the famine and drudgery that comes along with it.

            You did mention electricity, and that’s an excellent point. A world where everyone lives off the land would not allow for comparative luxuries like electricity, which requires lots of very difficult-to-make components. You need complex supply chains for that sort of thing: factories, mines, and other centralised firms. Try building your own hydroelectric dam.

            People for millenia have been urbanising pretty much to the limit that agriculture can provide for. Unless you are a farmer, the city will always offer more opportunity for you personally, and more opportunity for you to work at some particular, specialised thing can help help thousands, or millions of others, who don’t need to do it themselves.

          • Steve, you seem to see it as one extreme or the other, either fully externalise or do everything at home. Low-impact living is about a balance.

            Living in an apartment, or living on a section and not making use of it, locking yourself into supply chain and development dependency isn’t sustainable for humanity in the long run, as it refuses to acknowledge the externalities of the concept. Those externalities are real, they are damaging, and they are finite. Eventually the system won’t work.

            Externalising planetary costs will ultimately destroy the concept of modern civilisation. You cannot do it forever. So when somebody comes along and talks about sustainable living in the manner referred to in this article, I think they are really just talking about an alternate system of unsustainable living. At the end of the day, a worsening planetary environment will see us go the way of the dinosaur. The only way we will avoid it is to stop externalising our costs onto the planet, and that means changing the way we live entirely, and will be more in line with our past than our present.

          • Steve D

            Wait a minute:

            > having land, growing your own food, collecting your own water, generating your own electricity, with minimum transport requirements
            > locking yourself into supply chain and development dependency isn’t sustainable for humanity in the long run

            Seems to rather contradict:

            > you seem to see it as one extreme or the other, either fully externalise or do everything at home. Low-impact living is about a balance.

            You were the one who said that not growing your own food meant that one’s food had to be airfreighted halfway around the world. When you figure out what exactly you’re arguing for, sing out.

            > as it refuses to acknowledge the externalities of the concept

            You still haven’t explained what externalities are produced by having a third of the world’s working people (and shrinking) produce the food for everyone else.

            Let alone what “development dependency” is supposed to be, although I know you’ve previously used that phrase to criticise the term “car dependency” – implying that depending on buildings is somehow terrible, but depending on cars is fine?

            Cities (in terms of communities of people who don’t work the land) have been around for more than 5 millennia, which seems pretty sustainable. Whereas cars have been around for less than two centuries and have some obvious issues with long-term viability.

          • No contradiction Steve, supplementing existing lifestyle with growing your own food, collecting your own water, and generating your own electricity is a balance between internalising or externalising everything.

            “You still haven’t explained what externalities are produced by having a third of the world’s working people (and shrinking) produce the food for everyone else.”

            Everyone else? More than half the world lives in poverty Steve. Those 747′s freighting your food in are bypassing the people who need it the most, and taking it all to people who could do without it. Perhaps you externalise poor people too, in addition to the price the planet plays. After all, people are dying from lack of food and medicine as fast as the planet is dying from environmental damage caused in support of keeping westerners in a state of denial over what they are doing.

            Development dependency – surrounding yourself with, and then becoming totally dependent upon, infrastructure, resources and energy in support of your survival, so that you don’t have to actually work for that survival. Massive externalities are produced, and the planet pays the price.

          • Steve D

            > supplementing existing lifestyle with growing your own food, collecting your own water, and generating your own electricity is a balance between internalising or externalising everything.

            It doesn’t make the slightest difference to the environment whether I collect my water in a rain tank, or in the Waitakeres and get it pumped through a pipe. It makes somewhat of a difference that my vegetables get trucked from a farm to a store and then driven to me, but I drive considerably less than I would if I lived somewhere low-density enough to grow all my own food. That more than makes up for it.

            And as for generating your own electricity – while you could in principle generate your own using any of the environmentally friendly sources, all renewables are more efficient if you generate a lot of power in one big plant and distribute it to people with the sustainable magic of “power lines”.

            You’re tied up with an idea that somehow for a thing to be sustainable, you have to do it yourself. It’s not at all true, and it’s actually harmful. The best way to have less of an impact on the environment is to use less energy. Which you do by living in a city where your trips will be shorter, and by having goods produced in the most efficient way possible.

            > Everyone else? More than half the world lives in poverty Steve. Those 747′s freighting your food in are bypassing the people who need it the most, and taking it all to people who could do without it. Perhaps you externalise poor people too, in addition to the price the planet plays. After all, people are dying from lack of food and medicine as fast as the planet is dying from environmental damage caused in support of keeping westerners in a state of denial over what they are doing.

            The bulk of the world’s people who live in poverty are in poverty exactly because they need to be self-sufficient. Feeding a family is pretty much a full-time job for a single family, if you can’t take advantage of economies of scale. And when something goes wrong, it’s famine – without trade, you can’t take advantage of surpluses in a good year, or have a backup in case of a bad year. As for medicine – if you think a world full of homesteads spread across lifestyle blocks can produce high-tech industrial goods like drugs, you’re dreaming. The economy that produces requires vast specialisation to produce all the millions of different goods and services used directly and indirectly in modern medicine.

            A lot of people grow a few tomatoes in the back yard and think that the task of feeding people is easy. Try doing it for every single thing you eat, and without subsidising your hobby with a day job.

            > Development dependency – surrounding yourself with, and then becoming totally dependent upon, infrastructure, resources and energy in support of your survival, so that you don’t have to actually work for that survival. Massive externalities are produced, and the planet pays the price.

            It’s not a zero sum game. There are many technologies that humanity has developed that make our collective lives easier, without damaging the environment in doing so. A great example would be electricity for cooking and heating. Wood fires are actually awful sources of air pollution and (duh) deforestation. Electricity from something straightforward like a hydroelectric dam is less labour-intensive, provides more options for people, and is better for the environment. What’s more, it only works as a collective investment, with the infrastructure to make it work.

            “Dependency” is not a bad thing, unless the thing we depend on is unreliable or has negative effects. In the real world, we always depend on other people, and on the things those other people produce through their work.

            After that wall of text, I think I’ve said pretty much everything I can say on this topic.

          • “The bulk of the world’s people who live in poverty are in poverty exactly because they need to be self-sufficient”

            Yet they are surrounded by food. But the food is not for them, it’s for us. Food production provides more food than 7 billion people need, yet half of us have next to none. That’s your ethos at work – Freight the food to the rich, let the poor die. 100,000 people every day, but hey, we can’t see them, so the don’t exist.

            In short, your idea of sustainability is to ignore all the externalities, both the environmental ones, and the human ones. It’s a “pretend sustainability”. Most people take that stance, which is why the environment will eventually be damaged to such an extent that no system will work.

    • Geoff you’re confusing sustainability with self-sufficiency. Which, as Steve has hinted at above, often isn’t very sustainable! [ie can't be sustained]. Also know as Autarky, self-sufficiency is usually not only rare and difficult in practice but also often very inefficient. Specialisation, trade, working together can be much more sustainable for many more more easily than isolation [see North Korea].

      This is this is a confusion that some in the Green movement also make, but is even more common in the Green movement’s opponents [cue gibes from senior cabinet ministers about horses and carts etc]

  • Make It Go

    Fantastic news about JSK coming here in May. Can’t wait!

  • JimboJones

    Listening to Jeanette Sadik-Khan makes you realise just how slow AT is! What is stopping them painting out two lanes of Nelson or Hobson Street – you can’t tell me we need 5 lanes in one direction. Instead AT will do study after study and consult business after business and do nothing for 10 to 20 years.
    Same with the Victoria Street parkway. What is holding it up? If there isn’t the funding, why not do something cheap now (like rip up the road and plant grass) then improve it it later? Or do it block at a time.

    • I hear one whining retailer [fashion of course] near O’Connell St- not a building owner but a tenant, and not on the street itself, has held up the shared space there by months. This guy has form, he does nothing but kvetch, so the fault is with AC and AT for not having sufficiently robust processes to get on with widely supported improvements in the face of one or a few contrarians.

  • Sacha

    Ignoring all the derailing.

    Matt, congratulatations on that milestone. We all owe you more than we can ever repay. Kia ora.

      • Matt, you deserve a medal for the amount of work you’re doing on this blog – it is absolutely fantastic, and the good thing is that it is not going un-noticed by people in positions of influence. Reading the evidence on the Basin Bridge transcripts today, I found a reference to the Commissioners noting some facts as being pointed out by some blog… transportblog. Which is nice.
        I think you should convert your work into the basis of a phd studying Auckland’s transport woes. Totally deserves it.

    • Steve D

      Yes indeed. Congratulations, Matt!

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