September 15, 2007
Can A Shopping Mall Save Griffintown? Find Out At Pecha Kucha Night - Tuesday Sept. 18th
Recently, Quebec developer Devimco partnered with Toronto-based RioCan to build the suburban Quartier Dix30 “lifestyle centre,” a drive-in power-centre big-box shopping mall located in a greenfield development at the intersections of Highways 10 and 30 on the South Shore.
Devimco is now working with the City of Montreal to push through a similar $1B development near the Peel Basin section of the Lachine Canal. The Gazette’s Mary Lamey reported that a parcel of land west of the Bonaventure Expressway and south of Ottawa Street, comprising 18 hectares, was to be developed. By my rough estimate, that would seem to indicate it will be sited on the former Canada Post sorting plant, but also possibly combined with other land adjacent to the Peel Basin itself. Reportedly, Wal-Mart and Canadian Tire are to be anchor tenants. Essentially, it’d span an area from Guy to Peel streets.
A suburban mall at the feet of two of Montreal’s central boulevards, in the middle of Griffintown and adjacent to Old Montreal, ignores both the “retail DNA” of Montreal and the history of a proud neighborhood. It’s anti-urban, representing low density and sprawl, and there is serious doubt that it will contribute positively in terms of built space, eyes on the street, and other issues.
Even if there is a residential tower attached, as the current proposal includes, it’s still likely going to be a lot of cheap car-dealership-style sheds separated by acres of parking lagoons… It’s an odd decision in a neighborhood that is moving towards drastically increased residential density and good urban design, and which is likely to be enhanced by the Harbour Commission’s plans to demolish the elevated portions of the Bonaventure Expressway to create a pedestrian-friendly urban boulevard and tramway links. With Peak Oil on the horizon, are big-box malls of national chain retail even viable, anyway?
We — being Stephanie Troeth and yours truly, AJ Kandy — are proposing an alternative, urbanist vision for the project in a quick six-minute presentation at the upcoming Montreal Pecha Kucha Night, Tuesday, September 18th at the SAT, starting at 8:20pm. We hope to see all of you there, and for those who can’t attend, we’ll be republishing it online with narration, background articles and links, and providing tools for action and discussion.
In the meantime, interested citizens should get in touch with the Sud-Ouest borough mayor’s office about an upcoming series of public consultations on the project.
Originally posted at Urbanphoto.
Posted by aj_kandy at 2:41 PM
July 30, 2006
The Nature of Things: Cuba's Accidental Revolution
Set your TiVOs: The CBC is rebroadcasting its two-part documentary about Cuba’s Special Period, when their agricultural system collapsed after the fall of the former Soviet Union. The film details how Cubans crash-restarted it with a program of permaculture-oriented, labour-intensive organic farming nationwide. It also shows how the nation’s diet became largely vegetarian, and the health care system switched to preventative care (eat an apple, go play soccer, dammit) versus Western-style catastrophic care.
I think it’s important because it shows what can (and eventually, will) happen here when oil and gas inputs to our food supply dwindle or vanish altogether. If you’re interested in food, period, it’s a must-see.
Part one airs Wednesday August 2nd at 10pm ET/PT (yes, YULBlog night, but tape it) and part two is the following Wednesday, August 9th.
Interesting side note: The director, Ray Burley, is himself a farmer whose previous work, Apocalypse Cow, documented the rise and ongoing threat of mad cow disease. (Salad for me, please.)
May 18, 2006
Not Just Organic, but Local
This week Wal-Mart announced its plans to expand its organic grocery offerings, aggressively priced at no more than a 10% premium over non-organic equivalents. (They’re also buying green power, green roofs and pushing for new, energy-efficient store designs.)
It’s a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t address the biggest issues in food production: the complete dependence of production and transportation on oil and gas, the insane amount of miles food travels to get to your plate, and the sheer amounts of greenhouse gas emissions created (in the UK, it’s about 22% of the total).
There is a solution of course: buying and eating local. But Wal-Mart doesn’t seem to be interested.
Observers call Wal-Mart’s moves a mixed blessing - it’ll certainly get a lot of Wal-Mart suppliers moving to organic farming practices, and the pricing will bring organic food within the reach of many more households. But will Wal-Mart’s traditional aggressive treatment of its suppliers mean that shortcuts will be taken, or that produce will be sourced from overseas, where standards aren’t as strictly monitored as here?
Beyond that, some fear that the economic pressures of supplying Wal-Mart will rule out small organic farms, and only larger firms will be able to bid; they’ll meet the baseline requirements of “organic” while still using the same practices as industrial agriculture, discarding organic soil remediation, pest control methods, the avoidance of soil-compacting heavy machinery, and crop rotation.
I’m all for more organic produce at lower prices - it shouldn’t be a luxury, it should be the norm. It’s obvious, though, that major food companies have latched onto a marketable keyword without really understanding what it entails. Wal-Mart spokespeople in the NYT article linked above seem to view organic produce as an interchangeable SKU; focusing unduly on the end-product, and forgetting that the process is equally important. And when it comes down to it, overpackaged convenience foods are still wasteful, organic or not.
My friend Andrew Potter and I differ on one major point, which is the importance of local sourcing.
Currently, the average meal travels 1000 miles before it gets to your plate; some items travel literally halfway around the world. The idea of eating “within your local biome” has been replaced by supply lines that wrap around the globe. Norman Church, writing about the British situation, found that
UK imports of food products and animal feed involved transportation by sea, air and road amounting to over 83 billion tonne-kilometres. This required 1.6 billion litres of fuel and, based on a conservative figure of 50 grams of carbon dioxide per tonne-kilometre resulted in 4.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. Within the UK, the amount of food transported increased by 16% and the distances travelled by 50% between 1978 and 1999. […] It has been estimated that the CO2 emissions attributable to producing, processing, packaging and distributing the food consumed by a family of four is about 8 tonnes a year […] It is not that this transportation is critical or necessary. In many cases countries import and export similar quantities of the same food productsFor example, in 1997, 126 million litres of liquid milk was imported into the UK and, at the same time, 270 million litres of milk was exported from the UK. 23,000 tonnes of milk powder was imported into the UK and 153,000 tonnes exported. UK milk imports have doubled over the last 20 years, but there has been a four-fold increase in UK milk exports over the last 30 years.
Britain imports 61,400 tonnes of poultry meat a year from the Netherlands and exports 33,100 tonnes to the Netherlands. We import 240,000 tonnes of pork and 125,000 tonnes of lamb while exporting 195,000 tonnes of pork and 102,000 tonnes of lamb.
Of course this is all done in the name of economics and securing the lowest price, but of course the true cost of these global supply lines is massive energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Ultimately we’re all paying these costs through altered climate; ironically, it is this altered climate that threatens farmers worldwide.
And they aren’t taking it lying down. Here in Canada, the National Farmers’ Union produced a position paper on the Kyoto treaty - they accept that climate change is real and damaging to their livelihoods - and an extensive portion of their response brief says that Canada needs to restore its formerly extensive rail network to allow farmers to ship to market much more efficiently and with a drastic reduction in greenhouse emissions, compared to previous policies which have currently shifted transportation to trucks almost exclusively.
I suppose Wal-Mart’s plan is as good a first step as we could expect from them - circumstance and public opinion may well adapt them into the local farmers’ markets of the future. In the meantime, the Hundred Mile Diet is looking a lot more appealing.
Posted by aj_kandy at 1:57 PM
January 10, 2006
Friedman: Green is the new Red, White and Blue
The NYT columnist and author of puts forth the shocking notion that energy conservation is both patriotic and helps starve corrupt, "petrolist" regimes of cash. Would turning off the oil taps in Russia, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia transform them into innovative, Singapore-esque economic tigers, with jobs for their currently disaffected youth? Maybe. I wonder in a world without cheap energy, if Friedman's vaunted "flat playing field" will stay flat for very long. We're at the top of the cheap-oil peak right now, according to geologists, and the ride down isn't going to be a smooth curve or straight line. There's going to be some discontinuity involved in switching to sustainable energy solutions, and the biggest problem isn't the technology, but getting towns, cities and states to wake up and address the problem before it becomes impossible to handle.
Posted by aj_kandy at 10:59 AM
August 16, 2005
From Wal-Mart to Sustainability
While I write my follow-up piece, urban planning blogger UNplanner has a similar article, considering the possibilities of converting big-box stores into greenhouses and their parking lots into raised-bed gardens. Given the extreme dependence of the North American food chain on petroleum and natural gas at the moment, ideas like this might help us avoid something like Cuba's recent 'Special Period' or what North Korea's going through now. Check it out here.
Posted by aj_kandy at 11:33 AM
August 15, 2005
Ikea, Wal-Mart, and the Future of Retail
Ikea are Canadians' favourite source for affordable, if disposable, Scandinavian design. Wal-Mart is, although we are loath to admit it, Canadians' favourite source for almost everything else. But if we look below the surface of these two seemingly polar opposites, there are a lot of similarities that don't bode well for the future of big-box retail.
I should begin with a disclaimer: My own home has something by Ikea in literally every room. I genuinely admire their commitment to bringing stylish modernism to the masses. It's beyond me why an Eames LCW chair made of $5 worth of bent plywood costs $600 CDN a pop when Ikea do a similar one for $50; I'm sure they're union-made, but I doubt the costs are a significant part of the price, assuming equal technology.
I have shopped at Wal-Marts; both the reasonably-sized ones here, and the gargantuan, small-town-in-itself-sized ones in the United States. On paper, their massive-central-purchasing mode of bringing prices down seems to make perfect sense, and, even as we have great misgivings about their impact on local and national economies, one cannot help but admire how it all works.
Canadians like Ikea in part because we like to think of ourselves as a bit Scandinavian, too; people of the north with liberal mores, social-democracies with state healthcare. In real terms, Ikea has made some encouraging steps towards green product sourcing and I've never heard of them having a labour dispute.
We are a little more aware of the price tag that comes with a Wal-Mart; they shut a store in Jonquière where the employees were about to unionize. Still, millions of Quebecers shop there on the magic assumption that they have the lowest price in the market. It's not as politically correct a brand as Ikea, however, for many well-known reasons.
Now - ignore all those well-known tropes and arguments, because there's a larger issue underneath: neither of these chains will be able to do business as they currently do for very much longer.
Think of them both as systems rather than as brands for a minute. Products are sourced from all over the world; shipped from all over the world; vast resources are consumed (wood, plastic, metal, and especially, oil and energy). The stores are large-surface big-box outlets surrounded by acres of parking, which require large energy inputs for heating and cooling and create heat island effects. They are located out in the burbs and exurbs, you need a car to get to them: they contribute to sprawl. They displace wildness, watersheds, habitat, carbon sinks and other "net positives" of the unbuilt environment.
In that sense, Ikea is as much a "bad design" as Wal-Mart is.
In a world where crude oil and refined fuel costs will only go higher - in short, one that will soon run out of cheap oil energy - the entire supply chain of both Ikea and Wal-Mart (the famed "warehouses on wheels") will collapse.
If Ikea is to continue, it's going to have to shift to local production; ship bits rather than atoms, licensing designs from the central office to local artisans, to produce bespoke editions of their wares on-demand, adapting to local conditions and materials.
I don't know if Wal-Mart would survive at all, given it's incredible price-sensitivity.
I have some more thoughts about greening the Big Boxes, and I'll post those soon. In the meantime, what are your thoughts and ideas? How do you feel about Ikea and Wal-Mart, together or separately? What future do you see for large-surface retail?
October 23, 2003
From Malls To Town Centers
The City of Oakland has banned Wal-Mart and similar big-box retail chains, citing undue pressure on local retailers. (via Buzzflash)
My local hardware store is a Rona affiliate, but they're still an independent store that decides what they want to stock, give me personal advice, and know who their customers are. It's a sensible balance that seems to work. Hint hint, Sam W.
Meanwhile, not far from where I work, the space across from Carrefour Angrignon is becoming another depressing, flat asphalt parking lagoon walled in by big-box retail - Canadian Tire, a Wal-Mart Supercenter, a Loblaws, a lonely little island building with a L'Equipeur and a SAQ, and now a new building under construction on the corner that will probably be a fry pit of some kind. The corner across from it is becoming depressing, cheap-looking apartment condos - well situated next to the metro, mind you, but tall buildings cause unrest.
In the space used up for this whole schlocky retailarama, they could have built a complete New Urbanist neighborhood with a mix of housing types, parks (even community gardens or commons) and integrated storefront retail. Of course, who'd want to live next to Carrefour Angrignon and the gigantic field where they dump snow from streetcleaning?
Well, actually, when the malls die off sometime in the next 20 years, they can be profitably transformed back into neighborhoods, too. Something the owners of Decarie Square and similarly orphaned, marginal retail emporia should seriously think about, given the lack of vacancies in this burg. (Check out that picture - man, is that one ugly mall.)
Posted by aj_kandy at 3:56 PM
February 18, 2003
William McDonough, Treehugger
"Cellulose paper is such a low-grade, prosaic use of something so beautiful and valuable as a tree. If you look at what a tree can do compared to human design...I mean, how many things do you know make oxygen, sequester carbon, fix nitrogen, water, provide habitat for hundreds of species, make microclimates, change colors with the seasons and self-replicate?"
"Why would you want to smash that and write on it?"
Posted by aj_kandy at 1:31 PM