Sunday, 28 February 2010

There's a little bit of Canada......

....celebrating  tonight in the Midlands - the British Midlands that is. 

Canadian medics at the University of Warwick Medical School (and a few of their British counterparts) had gathered together to watch with bated breath as THE final olympic event was played out at Canada Hockey Place. 

Judging by the wild cheering in the background of our daughter's phone call after 7 minutes of  overtime, the ex-pat audience approved of the final result. AND SO THEY SHOULD!!!!

Great performance Canada; great games Vancouver. There were plenty of critics and not a few skeptics - but the skeptics have been won over and the critics - well, they'll still be there in 2012 when the Summer Games open in London. Against all the odds, Vancouver has pulled it off.

What's the betting it snows in Vancouver next week!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Salt Spring Island's housing needs sound so familiar

So, the recently completed housing needs assessment on Salt Spring Island confirms that the lack of affordable
housing is affecting virtually all segments of the population - and the most urgent need is housing for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness.

These findings should come as no surprise, since they mirror many of the concerns expressed in the Gabriola Island Affordable Housing Needs Assessment completed just three months earlier.

There are strong similarities (and a few notable differences) between these two island communities.
  • Both are projecting significant population growth over the next 20-30 years - and in both cases the majority of that increase will be older people in retirement, or approaching retirement.
  • Both communites have identified a shortage of good quality, affordable housing - especially in the rental sector, on which so many people, both young and old, are now dependent given the steep rise in property prices in recent years.
  • More than 20% of the housing stock on both islands is owned by non-residents, often standing empty for much of the year. Rentals on these properties are often seasonal, resulting in displacement of tenants for part of the year.
  • There is a serious shortfall in housing for those with special needs in both communities
  • The number of homeless people is increasing - though in both cases, "couch-hopping" probably disguises the true scale of the problem
  • For those with low (or no) income, access to essential services is made much more difficult by the lack of transport.
One major difference, of course, is that Salt Spring Island residents benefit from a community transit service which offers several trips a day on a network of bus routes linking several of the outlying communities with the island centre at Ganges. Four out of five Salt Spring residents believe that the ability to access public transit has opened up realistic affordable housing options in most parts of the island.

Here on Gabriola, the absence of public transit makes the village centre and north end of the island virtually the only realistic option for many who cannot afford to own, insure and run a car. Sure, we pride ourselves in our willingness to offer a ride to those we see walking along the road - but, if we're honest, we're all becoming just a little selective in who we will stop for, and who we will drive past. And not everyone wants to be dependent on the goodwill of others in their daily lives - so, for some, the hardship and isolation just spirals.

Of course, with a population of 10,000, the economics of a public transit service on Salt Spring stacks up more strongly than it ever will on Gabriola - but the social cost to the community of not having a bus on the island is becoming ever more evident.

Sure, the Islands Trust must sit down and reflect on the need to legalize the use of suites and cottages as affordable housing - but without the ability to access essential services, the scope for offering truly affordable housing is severely limited.

Next stop Gabriola?

International transport group Stagecoach will shortly commence trials of an innovative amphibious bus on Scotland's River Clyde.
The new £700,000 ($1.1 million) “amfibus” can carry 50 passengers and is built in Holland by Dutch Amphibious Transport Vehicles BV of Nijmegen.  Based on a bus chassis, the “amfibus” incorporates a hull to allow the vehicle to float and is fully safety certified for operation on road and water by European transport regulatory authorities. On the road, the vehicle operates like a standard coach. In the water, the “amfibus” is driven by twin water jets and can achieve a speed of 8 knots.

Brian Souter, Stagecoach chief executive, said: “This is an exciting transport project that would provide a seamless bus connection between two important local communities. “Passengers can use the amfibus to travel over road and water without having to leave the comfort of their seat to change from a bus to a ferry. It shows the potential of Scotland’s rivers and estuaries to be links rather than barriers to travel and we are looking forward to testing the technology on the Clyde.”

Stagecoach has already carried out tests of the “amfibus” in Rotterdam harbour where the vehicle coped well from the wash from heavily laden barges and provided a smooth travel experience. The “amfibus” being demonstrated next week is due to be used by Rotterdam Splash Tours for excursions around the harbour from next month.

A similar vehicle (or should that be "craft"?) was trialled on Lake Michigan last year. I wonder what became of that?  Since the Stagecoach group is already well established in eastern Canada, maybe they could extend the trials to include Gabriola?