Affordable Housing + Diversity = Community

When I explain to people around just what the technical definition of affordable housing is, they scoff, “impossible!”, “you can’t build anything for that!”, and my favorite, “affordable by who’s standards?”.


Despite this disbelief, here is the definition of affordable housing…
Affordable Housing | CMHC

What is the common definition of affordability? The cost of adequate shelter should not exceed 30% of household income. Housing which costs less than this is considered affordable. However, consumers, housing providers and advocacy organizations tend to use a broader definition of affordability.

Affordable Housing – CPD – HUD

The generally accepted definition of affordability is for a household to pay no more than 30 percent of its annual income on housing. Families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care.

The definition I used in a recent article came from Demographia, which states that…

The international standard for affordable housing, is that the purchase price should not exceed more than three times the gross annual household income.

This is a little easier to get a grasp on, as it breaks away from mortgage rates, the term of the loan and taxes.

Community and Affordable Housing

There is a distinct correlation between affordability and the level of community in a given area, but it’s not as simple as that. It doesn’t work to have all affordable housing in one subdivision, often that will create a ghetto effect where there is a lack of social diversity. There have been many examples of poor planning practice that have created islands of low-income housing surrounded by regular subdivisions.

Diversity needs to be built into a community with mixed housing types and cost-models. A truly diverse community is one where you couldn’t tell the household income just by looking at the house. There are many barriers to affordable housing, not least of which is the cost of building it in the first place, but that’s for another post.

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The ALR and Rising House Prices in BC

It seems that everyone wants their 1/4 acre block in a friendly suburb located not too far from the nearest Starbucks.


But is this a reality that we are prepared to watch unfold in BC? Do we want to keep trashing viable farmland for development? The Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) represents an attempt by the government to hold onto a valuable asset for farming… land.

However, with the recent report by Demographia indicating the affordability of housing around the world, a flurry of lcoal suggestions have popped up, including this response in The Province newspaper, from Philip Hochstein of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association…

World-class housing prices in B.C.

In Vancouver, Philip Hochstein… said it’s time to rethink the ALR, which makes up 20 per cent of Metro Vancouver’s so-called Green Zone. It includes parks and public spaces and accounts for 70 per cent of Metro Vancouver. “It’s one of the things driving up the cost of housing,” he said.
“Supply is being restricted by the land use policy.”
The ALR has become a “sacred cow,” he said. “Meanwhile, my kids can’t afford to buy a house.”
Hochstein said 60,000 hectares set aside for agricultural use isn’t being used for agriculture. He said it may be unrealistic to anticipate that the Lower Mainland could be fed by food grown on that land, a goal when ALR was born.

But urban planner Bob Ransford said, “If we develop all of the Agricultural Land Reserve, what would we do then?” He said Demographia is an advocate of urban sprawl.

A response the following day in the same paper gives a perspective with a rare depth of understanding of the problem. Land is not the issue, opening the ALR will only add to the problems…

Fast-buck developers create high home prices

Ask Hochstein and his big-money developers to commit to building affordable homes for the growing number of our homeless. Opening up the ALR will only allow them to construct more condos that the average working stiff like myself can’t afford.

Is food becoming less important than money, I’m sure someone could point out a historical example of the failure of a society where money and economic and social growth became more important than food?

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Pigs in the Orchard

Pigs - CC lIcensed - elekesmagdi - Living in the Kootenays you can see fruit orchards all around, especially in people’s yards. For many people getting a good crop is a bit hit and miss, usually because they don’t use pesticides to control the bugs that ruin crops, or they just don’t have the experience to get the most out of their fruit trees. However, for many farmers out there, they know that to earn money from their crops, they need to minimize the risk of infestations that would destroy or blemish their crops, and for the non-organic set, that usually means pesticides. But for the organic farmer, or gardener for that matter, finding complimentary ways to deal with problems can be a challenge.

But thanks to recent research at the Michigan State University, one common pest may be curtailed with the use of pigs…

Swine make fine pest control – Latest News – The Grand Rapids Press –

Beginning this spring, the proprietor of AlMar Orchards allowed pigs to graze on fallen apples as a way to control plum curculio — a common orchard pest usually corralled with pesticides. The results were so promising that experts plan to do a more detailed, long-term study with grant money earmarked for organic farming research.
“The early results are very encouraging,” said David Epstein, a tree fruit specialist with Michigan State University’s Integrated Pest Management Program. “We learned enough this year to be really excited about pursuing this in the next two to three years.”
Koan, a fifth-generation apple farmer who turned to organic farming about a decade ago, was looking for a way to control curculio without using the toxic chemicals needed to kill it. The small beetle inserts eggs into fruit in the spring, where the larvae develops, causing the tree to shed the fruit in June or July, Epstein said. The larvae tunnel into the soil before emerging as adults, he said.
The pigs interrupt that life cycle. “(Curculio) became a monster for us in the organic world,” said Koan, who tends 150 acres of apple trees at his orchard on S. Duffield Road. Working with MSU researchers, Koan first tried chickens and guinea hens in the orchard. The birds did a good job of finding beetles and keeping their numbers down but fell prey to owls, coyotes and hawks. “I decided I had to get (an animal) that predators weren’t going to carry away,” Koan said.

AgReport Farm Market News

For three weeks in June, scientists counted the apples that fell to the orchard floor. Then the pigs were kept in part of the orchard to feed for two to three days. The apples then were counted again to see how many the pigs left behind. The hogs were very thorough — the researchers found very few apples. “Eighty to 90% of their food was apples, supplemented with organic corn,” Koan said. “They loved the June drops — the piglets liked them best. The hogs would lie around while the piglets would scurry from tree to tree as one group to feed.”

This raises another great reason why non-domesticated animals can play a vital complimentary role in organic farming or gardening practices. Recently I wrote how Seattle has lifted their ban on miniature goats, and has even found that they play a vital role in organic weed management at the University of Washington and Seattle City Light.

Should we be rethinking the distinction and separation we’ve placed on urban and rural areas? Is our distance from “the farm” healthy? Many cities have bylaws prohibiting such animals in all but areas zoned rural. What is the reasoning behind these laws? Was it noise? Smell? Property values? Perception? I figure if Seattle can get over these issues, just about any city should be able to as well.

Pigs in the orchards, and goats mowing the weeds.

Story via GroovyGreen

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Duped into Walking?

Have you ever been duped? I mean really duped?377239545_3e6af87a30_m

Have you ever really been duped into thinking that you are doing something for a cause, and then say, you found out that it wasn’t as good as it were made out to be, or perhaps that there were really no Weapons of Mass Destruction.

After reading this article in the Times Online, I’m feeling duped….

Walking does more than driving to cause global warming, a leading environmentalist has calculated.

Food production is now so energy-intensive that more carbon is emitted providing a person with enough calories to walk to the shops than a car would emit over the same distance. The climate could benefit if people avoided exercise, ate less and became couch potatoes. Provided, of course, they remembered to switch off the TV rather than leaving it on standby.

Walking to the shops ?damages planet more than going by car? – Times Online

and that’s not all, from the same article…

  • Traditional nappies are as bad as disposables, a study by the Environment Agency found. While throwaway nappies make up 0.1 per cent of landfill waste, the cloth variety are a waste of energy, clean water and detergent
  • Paper bags cause more global warming than plastic. They need much more space to store so require extra energy to transport them from manufacturers to shops
  • Diesel trains in rural Britain are more polluting than 4×4 vehicles. Douglas Alexander, when Transport Secretary, said: ?If ten or fewer people travel in a Sprinter [train], it would be less environmentally damaging to give them each a Land Rover Freelander and tell them to drive?
  • Burning wood for fuel is better for the environment than recycling it, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs discovered
  • Organic dairy cows are worse for the climate. They produce less milk so their methane emissions per litre are higher
  • Someone who installs a ?green? lightbulb undoes a year?s worth of energy-saving by buying two bags of imported veg, as so much carbon is wasted flying the food to Britain
  • Trees, regarded as shields against global warming because they absorb carbon, were found by German scientists to be major producers of methane, a much more harmful greenhouse gas

So what’s a wannabe greenie to do? Can we do anything right? Are we destined to screw things up which ever way we look at it?


The solution is in the details.

The either/or may not really be an option in any of the above examples. There has to be a left-field solution out there for every problem, and generally the answer is in simplifying your life.

The takeaway lesson from this is that we should be embrace green concepts, but be weary of any claims of great  environmental benefits, even implied ones. 


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Would you rather be a Number?

81594481_9e3c65013b_mSounds like the Canadian Immigration Dept needs to backtrack over some pretty wild requests to people of Sikh heritage.

Sikh groups angry about a controversial government letter requesting name changes for Sikh immigrants have taken their fight to the popular social networking website Facebook.
At least five online groups dedicated to discussing the government letter, which asked people with the common Sikh surnames Singh and Kaur to change their last names before coming to Canada, have been created.

Sikh name-change letter challenged on Facebook

As an immigrant to Canada myself, I can understand the frustration of these people. I didn’t have to change my name to be here, but I did have to wade through quite the bureaucratic mess called immigration.

It’s a good idea for groups to form online to dispute this letter, coordinating this protest, while people are spread across the globe is difficult, social network sites such as facebook should make that easier, and hopefully the government will listen.

I’ve known a few Singh’s, but I didn’t realize how popular the names are…

Singh and Kaur are common names in the Sikh community. In a tradition that began more than 300 years ago, the name Singh is given to every baptized male and Kaur to every baptized female Sikh.

The names are used differently by different people. Some use Singh or Kaur as middle names, while others use them as their last names.

Common Sikh names banned under Canada’s immigration policy

My first thought is, do they want to be mistaken for someone else? My second thought, would they rather be just a number?


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Famous Architect Designs Playground

Famous architects seem to have a right to design whatever they like, and cities like New York are willing to play pay.

404649727_a87d33ecd3_m-1 Noted architect Frank Gehry will bring his daring deconstructionist aesthetic to the monkey bar and seesaw set, as city officials announced yesterday that he will design a $4 million playground in Battery Park.

Parks officials said Gehry volunteered his services two months after the opening of his first building in New York City, an office building in Chelsea. Gehry is best known for such projects as the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the titanium-covered Guggenheim Museum in Spain, and plans to design the Atlantic Rail Yards development in Brooklyn.

But the closest the architect has come to designing a play space was when he appeared, in voiceover, as himself in an episode of the children’s animated show “Arthur,” during which he helped Arthur and his friends design a new treehouse.

For architect, the playing’s the thing – AM New York

In a similar vein to the Imagination Playground, a multimillion dollar play space in Manhattan that is set to break ground this summer, I’m sure Frank Gehry will be looking to impress and expand on much of the play philosophy that has been developed over the past couple of years.


While these spaces provide excellent facilitated and free play, we still have to question the basic tot-lot playground in suburban middle and lower class society. Is there any way to spruce these up, providing safe, exciting play spaces for children of varied ages? The majority of people in the world are more concerned about their local neighborhood than what is happening in New York City, millions of dollars are not required for play grounds, just imagine how many small community play spaces could have been improved with $4 million dollars.

Other discussion on this: – We Hate Your Children

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Wiking Around – Thoughts on Buying a Bike Trailer

Wike Shopping TrailerWe live approximately two kilometers to the nearest supermarket, (no organic markets within walking or biking distance for us I’m afraid), and I’m getting sick of driving to the shops for the odd grocery, or even for the larger shopping trip. It not only feels wasteful and wrong in these times of high gas prices, but it is terrible for the environment. Apparently something like 60% of all vehicle trips are less than 5 miles, meaning that we do an awful lot of driving really close to our home or place of work. This is from an article I read a while ago, and found again, just for this quote…

The Planning Report – Solving the Public Health Crisis with Smarter City Planning

If you walk one mile, you put one gram of carbon into the atmosphere. If you drive the best possible Prius, you put 460 grams per mile into the atmosphere.

We ain’t got no Prius. Our minivan doesn’t count on the environmentally friendly scale. This site also looks at the cost of driving, (including some environmental factors).

I’m considering a bike trailer as a remedy to this situation. There are a number of options out there for trailers, most of them involve pulling kids around in something that looks like a jogging stroller strapped to the back of the bike. For shopping I think I’d like something a bit more purpose built, or if not purpose built, maybe just less built for kids to sit in?

Wike Trailers


Wike has a range of purpose built products ranging from the ubiquitous child trailers, kayak and canoe carriers, golf club trailers (now that’s cool), shopping trailers and dog trailers, to all purpose flat bed trailers and even a do-it-yourself kit trailer. Really there is a trailer for everyone and every situation, a lot of thought has gone into the concept

Now how about you get your bike serviced, get out riding and even hook up a trailer, it’s not just for the kids or the hardened bicycle tour fanatics to tow the kitchen sink. Take this quote from a satisfied customer…

Wike Bicycle Trailers: City Shopper Bike Trailer

I am a retired 63 year old male. I do not drive and recently purchased one of your City Shopper trailers. I cannot tell you what a Godsend it has been for me. Grocery shopping was always a major problem. I either had to take a taxi or walk. I could only carry enough groceries for a couple of days. Now I am able to bring home a weeks worth of groceries in the trailer. The trailer is very easy to tow and I was very impressed with the quality. Thank you for making my life a lot easier. Thank you and God bless you…

If I’m pulling my shopping on a bike trailer when I’m 63, I’ll be pretty happy, I don’t get enough opportunity for fitness as it is, I’d love to be able to make better use of the warmer weather by running errands on my bike.

Check out this Canadian company and discover another way to lessen your carbon footprint by riding to the shops instead of driving. This is not a paid post or review, I just really like the idea of this product, from the reviews and comments I’ve read, it is a simple functional design that is durable and easy to use.

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Innovative Play Spaces

Following on from my previous blog post Challenging Playgrounds, what can we do to improve upon what we can clearly see as wrong with recent playground designs?

I see several ideas (some not at all implemented) that could improve play space usage:

Tactile Play Spaces

Using natural (and fabricated) materials to create imaginative play spaces is a good idea. Water, sand, gravel, boulders, tree trunks, can all be incorporated into play areas to add interest and imaginative challenge to unstructured play time. The ability to dam up a flowing stream with a sand bank, or some boulders is something that little boys need to do. Last night having a dinner picnic at the park, the kids of three families were congregated around the base of a young sapling tree where some exposed dirt made an impromptu sandpit. There was a perfectly good (by adult standards!) playground not more than 15 meters away! yet these kids, ranging in age from one and a half to ten were enjoying some mud time. The grassed slope was a hit too, seeing who could roll the fastest was a fun competition between the kids while the parents tried to avoid getting dizzy just watching.


Play Terrain

Playgrounds these days are modular things ordered out of a catalog, turning up on the back of a truck and assembled in a day. The modern concept of a playground arose from the tenements of the inner city areas, where green space and play areas were noticeably absent. Cities are generally flat, and the resulting playground ended up flat too. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Parents want to be afforded a view of where their younger children are within the play space, strategically placed pathways, seating and equipment can be placed on the side of a hill, on a mound or in a gully. Design is only limited by the imagination, and unfortunately, there is not enough imagination in the average play space design.

Playground Rating Systems

Inspired by ski area boundaries and the international rating system that goes from green circle through to double black diamond. The premise is that if you want to try out that terrain be aware of the risks, and the ski hill is able to limit its liability from the users injuring themselves. Following on from the concept of Play Terrain, users and parents of users should be made aware of the age or skill appropriateness of a particular section of a play space if it is uniquely suited to young children or older more experienced children.

This has the added benefit of showing the older children which areas are specifically for the younger kids, and therefore its not so cool to play in there with as much energy. Again, the ski hill example is the Slow Skiing Only areas where trails merge or beginners are present.

I’m not advocating that children need to be made liable for their own actions at age three, rather that in appropriate areas, a system of ratings may permit parents and some children to exercise a level of discernment over which equipment they should be playing on. The challenge should always be there to get children to extend themselves, but mastery of a lower level of activity should occur first.

Construction Spaces

Most kids like to build things, you see it at home with blocks or Lego, but equally, it’s important that they have the ability to build bigger things as well. Play Spaces are being designed in cities such as New York, where children are able to actively build things, and in some cases there are trained playworkers on staff to ensure that play is safe and materials are present for the children to enjoy.

Empowering Children

The end users of the equipment should be given some say in what would be fun to play on or with. Kids have differing expectations across the country and a design pulled from a catalog that states that it is suitable for ages 5-12 may really be a waste of money. An example catalog is from Timberform – (pdf here ~ 10MB). There are lots of interesting designs, but are they right for your neighborhood?

Back to the playground – The Boston Globe

“To a young child,” Roger Hart, director of the Children’s Environments Research Group at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York says, “the idea of a playground is ridiculous in the first place. The whole idea of being taken to a place to play is almost an oxymoron. Children want to play everywhere.”

If you are involved in the decision to install or approve play equipment or a new play space, don’t settle for mediocre, get the most exciting design available for your budget. Get community support for a bigger budget.

Realize that children grow and learn in play spaces.

Let us know what you think of these ideas, and share your experiences, good and bad, in playgrounds. Thanks for reading UrbanWokbench!

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