2018 Project Landscapes

This week I met with a landscape design and builder who specializes in permaculture and hugelkultur to discuss their participation in all my projects going forward in 2018. Combined with my Net Zero Energy approach to all projects, this will be a very interesting year. I wonder what my clients will think, if I get any?

Sea Level Rise – It’s Official

Well I just spent 30 minutes reading the recently released update of the Province’s regulations on flood plain management.  I have 2 projects currently in the early design stages that will be impacted by flood plains and I wanted to stay abreast of the requirements.  And what an eye opener it was!  Here are some of the specifics and I will cut right to the big highlights.

Sea Level Rise is happening and in a significant way.  All new buildings, subdivisions and re-zonings should be designed to accommodate Sea Level Rise (SLR) to the year 2100.  Official Community Plans (OCPs) and Regioal Growth Strategies (RGSs) should allow for SLR to the year 2200 and beyond.  This is the provonce directive to all local authorities having jurisdiction, ie. Courtenay, Comox, CVRD, etc.  Now here is the kicker!  “Allow for 0.5 metres of SLR by 2050, 1.0 metres of SLR by 2100, and 2.0 metres by 2200.  2.0 metres folks!  That is 6 1/2 feet for those of you old school with old tape measures.  Any of you currently own waterfront property that won’t be around next century?  This has a significant consequence to risk associated with development approvals and the regulations clearly warn municipalities of the potential consequences.  There is plenty of language in the document about getting suitably qualified Professional Engineers experienced in coastal engineering for just about everything.  Even so, covenants will be required on title of every affected property that states that “any reconstruction must meet the the Flood Construction Level (FCL) and setbacks requirements in force at the time of redevelopment.”  Speaking of setbacks, all exposed bluff properties defined in the regs as steep will require setbacks equal to or greater than 3 times the height of the bluffs.  Not good if you were looking to develop a new place in any of the recently approved subdivisions on the any of the bluffs in the Comox Valley.  The last few pages of the document discuss the requirements of a municipality undertaking a flood plain protection strategy in areas subject to flooding from any source but especialliy SLR.  Studies galore, and reports by suitably qualified … and most importantly, long range plans for financially supporting these strategies over the longterm, ie.  forever, as these conditions are going to get much worse before they ever get better.

If you had any doubts that any of this was actually happening, this Provincial Government ammendment to their 1994 document should put them to rest.  ANd even if you want to keep disbelieving, be warned that the development regulations from October have been changed and no amount of denial will make them go away.

Lessons from Portland – Comox Mall Redevelopment

Its Friday afternoon and my phones are turned off. Most of the weeks work is done, or at least all the fires are under control, and I feel like being provocative. If you have seen my weeks postings on Facebook at “Lessons from Portland – TDA Ltd.” you will know that I was recently in Portland Oregon and I saw many examples of a city willfully getting many things right. A few of these things were discussed this week and hopefully a few more next week. For this afternoon I had to try something that used the other side of my brain.

What if we took the site of the Comox Centre Mall and redeveloped it using some of the principles from Portland, starting with block size and street width?


The first thing you discover is that the Mall site is over 4 Portland sized city blocks in area. This little Google SketchUp exercise shows the Mall site divided into 4 city blocks with 60 foot right of ways between them. Each block is about 280′ x 280′ in size and about 80,000 sq.ft. in area (portland blocks are approximately 200′ x 200′). If you developed the blocks right out to the street edge as a rule, and developed an average of 4 storeys in building height, you would get about 1.2 million square feet of floor space. If you did a healthy mix of uses, where the ground floor was retail/commercial, and the second floor was office, you would end up with 600,000 sq.ft. of space left over for residential. At an average size of 1,000 sq.ft. per unit, this yields 600 new residential units in the downtown core.  Each lot could accommodate about 250 cars in one level of underground parking.



You can divide these numbers up anyway you like, or add density by going higher such as the 5 storeys that the Town of Comox is promoting on the old Lorne Hotel site. However you slice it up, it looks like we have lots of room to grow right in the heart of town. I want one of the penthouses overlooking the golf course! Who else is in?


Lessons from Portland – Transit

During my recent trip to Portland, I did something that I rarely, if ever do when I am at home – I took transit. Why is that? Is there something about different transit systems that make them more or less useable than others? I would argue that of course there is! When a system is designed to be used, you can tell. Everything about the Portland system is complete and user friendly. From the weather protected bus shelters with their digital displays telling you what busses are coming and how low the wait is going to be, to the efficient and quite cost effective ticketing and pass validation system, Portland definitely wants you to use their transit system. There are transit maps at every stop so if you havn’t used your smart phone to plan your route on their incredibly user friendly website, you can use the old fashion but beautifully designed old school app.


Portland’s system is made up of buses, trains and street cars. It would be very easy to say that they take you everywhere that you want to go, but that would be misleading. I have read that much of the recent development in Portland has gravitated to new locations adjacent to the various networks of transit lines. Transit has influence development to such an extent that the places that you likely want to go have moved to a location along a transit route. This is something that planners often fail to recognize. A permanent transit system, like a street car, far more than flexible bus route, will give the development community confidence that the city is serious and committed long term to their plan and that leads to new development along the line. So it should not have been that much of a surprise that when I took the train to the Knob Hill shopping district on the edge of downtown, I was greeted with the most delightful of small scale, pedestrian friendly, mixed use shopping and dining areas, quite different from the downtown core only 10 minutes away by street car.


It was pretty cool to ride the streets cars and be smack dab in the middle of the roads that were shared with cars and cyclists. This approach certainly has to be more cost effective that the “skytrains” and “subways” of the world.  And the best part is with so many people using the street cars that go where people want them to go, the use of cars is way down and the streets are not as crowded which makes them so much better to use for everybody.


For those of you in my community, we don’t need another bridge that will actually increase car traffic, we need a well planned street car system between communities!

Olympic Sized Comox Valley Hospital?

Comox Hospital Sign


I read with disbelief the Comox Valley Echo newspaper article from Tuesday April 8th, 2014 by Drew A. Penner titled “Olympic-sized companies chosen to finance and build two new hospitals”.  What immediately raised flags for me was the overall positive tone of the article.  The size and global nature of these joint venture teams vying for the opportunity to finance, construct and operate our new Comox Valley hospital (and the new addition to the Campbell River Hospital) was promoted in the article as not only necessary, but a good thing for the Comox Valley.  Given the current state of global issues including constant warring, political unrest and of course the 2008 recession from which we have not yet recovered and likely never will, this gave me cause for concern.  I am developing a healthy skepticism to very large, global scale projects and agreements.

I chuckled at the unfortunate description with “Olympic” sized companies.  It should be obvious to everyone by now that the institution of the Olympics is on an unsustainable path.  Each new games attempts to outdo the previous and to do so the host country expends unimaginable sums of money on infrastructure and security, whether they can afford such extravagance or not.  The recent Sochi Winter games spent an unprecedented amount on their games with estimates and claims widely debated but typically published as $51 billion, and like all contemporary games, a large percentage of this amount (in the billions for certain) was spent on games security.  It is common for these host countries to amass huge debt and quite regularly this debt is never recouped.  From this point alone I think that using the Olympics as a descriptor for any purpose was unfortunate.  As a resume item for the hospital proponents, I would be even more concerned.  The stories of Russian corruption and embezzling of funds from budgets that are too large to effectively keep tabs on by infrastructure providers give cause to wonder just who we might be hiring, particularly when you consider that the new hospital will be following a P3 (Public Private Partnership) process where “negotiations are strictly confidential”  and we won’t be seeing all of “the books”.

One could write chapters criticizing the both the Olympics and the P3 process and there are many writers more qualified in this regard than me.  For the time being, I find myself more concerned about the globalization of just about everything, the inability to manager effectively large institutions, the demise of democracy as it was conceived and the declining usefulness of national (federal) and regional (provincial) governments.  These are the current troubling issues for me as I struggle through life, trying to keep up with current events and participating as a member of my community, my province and my country.  As the news reports every new story, I see how intertwined all of these issues are and more incredibly, how relevant each of them are.  I have been struggling with these ideas for some time now and wondering what to make of my thoughts until this week.  I attended a day-long seminar by Mark Lakeman, founder of City Repair from Portland Oregon.  The session was titled “Re-Becoming Villagers” and Mark spent the morning half of the session talking about their work and many wonderful projects in Portland, taking back the public spaces of our cities and towns and re-establishing the commons, one block at a time.  One of Mark’s many stories jolted me upright in my chair and had me scribbling down notes as quickly as I could.  He was talking about his neighbourhood in conjunction with the new efforts of the US government in the area of health insurance.  Now I will be the first to admit that I know nothing about healthcare funding and economics, nor what he US is trying to achieve, but I heard what Mark said loud and clear.  He and his community got together and determined that given their options, it was going to be better for all of them if they got together and hired 3 doctors and some nurses and built their own facility in their own community to look after their own health needs on a community scale.  Of course!  Why not if that is an option for them?  This was the eureka moment for me and the inspiration to tackle this post.  Why could we in the Comox Valley not pool our resources (re-channel our monthly medical premiums) and develop our own made in the Valley health and wellness centre in our own vision, for the people of the Comox Valley, designed by us, built by us and operated by us.

Problems with the Current Process

How much ink could be spent writing about the problems with the current health care delivery system and the creation of health care infrastructure?  I would suggest quite a bit!  The following questions could be chapters unto themselves, exploring a variety of issues and problems with the current system:  How long has it taken to get to where we are at with our new hospital and why has it taken so long?  Where are we in the development process and how much longer is it going to take?  Will the new product be up to date or already outdated when it is finally completed?  Why are we getting what we are getting?  Do we even know what we are getting?  Will it be what we need in the Comox Valley?  Who decided and who is in control?  How do the economics work?  How much spin-off benefit will the local community get from this $400 million plus investment?  How exposed are we to global problems faced by the international consortium doing our local project?  How much work will result for local contractors and trades vs. the anticipated “influx of workers filling our hotel rooms.”?  How much say will we have in the operations of the new facility?  Why do we need Olympic sized companies to make this happen?  Will local companies be considered by the hospital P3 company for the hospital operations such as local food suppliers?

Now I have no doubt that the development of a new hospital the way the current health care model is set up is incredibly complicated, but I don’t think that it needs to be.  I’ll bet that we could do it differently than where we are presently headed, more effectively, deliver more appropriate medical services with  better value to patients, staff and the community at large.

Alternative to the Current Process

In the spirit of the visioning sessions facilitated by Mark Lakeman at the “Re-Becoming Villagers” sessions, let us keep our minds open, out of the ruts and free from the tendency to resist invention by letting go of the “we can’t do that” mentality.  As I do in all of my group visioning sessions, I will invite you to leave the room before we start (or in this case stop reading now) if you cannot simply let this tendency go and for at least a moment, let yourself think like a child, for children have the ability to cut to the crux of the problem and make specific and often delightful solutions to the most insurmountable of problems.

Imagine us all coming together as a community, starting with a whole series of potluck dinners, to discuss our community health care goals, needs and desires.  Let us ask what is working well and what we love about our current system; what is not working and what are we in need of?  Let us again, like children without lifetimes of mental baggage, propose solutions that address these issues, encouraging creativity and respecting all input.  Engage the local practioners and the operators of the existing facilities.  Use their knowledge and expertise to develop the building program that meets their needs to deliver the services that we desire and require.

One of the interesting stories the Mark Lakeman told was how they are able to do incredible things in their communities with little money by taking advantage of local capital in terms of resources, equipment and expertise.  Within most communities you will find, if you take the time to look by going door to door and meeting your neighbours, engineers and designers, equipment operators with their own equipment, materials suppliers and tradespeople, many of whom would be delighted to get involved in a local project just to be a part of it!  I am pretty sure that we have a rich and qualified resource of many, if not all the expertise that would be required to put together a new facility and to operate it to meet all of our needs and expectations for now and for years to come.

In terms of financing, if we made use of the resources that are collected monthly in terms of healthcare premiums, we would effectively be working towards a manageable and ultimately sustainable healthcare system for our community.  If it works for Mark in his community, why would it not work for us in ours.  Living within our means would become our issue and not something dictated to us and managed from somewhere else.

How Do We Get There?

What would it take to get to this?  Open minds for starters and a willingness to improve our current situation.  Just as important would be a commitment to take back responsibility for our health care, keeping it up to date, relevant and well managed.  No doubt a very important factor would be convincing the current health care authorities to relinquish their responsibilities for our health care.  We would need strong local leadership with a willingness to be inclusive with a skillset that fosters collaboration.  Starting with a few potluck dinners to kick this idea around a little bit, I would bet there would be a ground swell of passion to take this on and find a way to make it happen.

I look forward to your comments.


Site Adaptive Design – NOT!

I sometines wish that these kinds of things did not affect me so much! Saw this in the paper yesterday and all I could think of was, “Wow! This is definitely NOT Site Adpative Design.” While I recognize that we need our infrastructure to maintain our current “quality of life”, do we have to use such destructive techniques to achieve our goals? Could this substation and its access road have been inserted into a landscape (perhaps not this particular one) in a way that was complimentary to nature, or mimicked the way nature works. I have to imagine that this effort to create a man-made platform for the new facility out of sloping and forested lands was not cheap, and that it will always be subject to the forces of nature and the law of entropy which will result in on-going maintnence and the inherant costs. Might a more Site Adaptive approach actually have been less costly, longterm?

Not Site Adaptive Design