Thursday, November 12, 2015


There has been a good facebook discussion on affordable housing prompted by Wolfgang Duntz's Rezoning Proposals for Parkview Slopes.  This development proposal is for a couple of lots on Cates Hill below and west of Rivendell and Artisan Square.

A feature of this proposal is affordable housing of different kinds, including housing intended to be affordable to own through a leasing arrangement.  There are a number of issues with land leasing (including what happens if the leaseholder ever goes bankrupt, because there can be liabilities for municipalities in these cases).  But in general ANYTHING we can do to provide affordable housing option on Bowen is a good thing.

However, that doesn't mean we can't be strategic.  And that means understanding our context.  As I see it we have two kinds of affordability challenges on Bowen.  We require housing for people that live and work on the island as low wage employees, making something between minimum wage and say, $20 an hour.  These are the people that staff the bricks and mortar businesses on the island and make it possible for us to be more than a bedroom community.  In general these people rent housing and are unable anywhere in the Lower Mainland to develop equity in property.  They are island-based renters, although they are increasingly commuting from cheaper digs on the east side of Vancouver.  Several of your favourite people on Bowen make that reverse commute every day. Currently the on-island renters are living in the few apartments we have around Bowen, or in basement suites or shared houses.  Their housing situations are not secure or stable, and the rents are essentially set at the level that allows the owner to cover the costs of the building: mortgage and taxes.  They get kicked out when the market spikes and the owner wants to sell.

The other kind of affordability need we have is for affordable ownership.  This is a Lower Mainland problem and because of that it creates a special problem for our first class of renters.  Whenever an "affordable" home comes on the market (and I'm talking less than average, let's say $3-500,000) it gets snapped up immediately by folks looking for affordable home ownership.  These are people capable of paying a downpayment, which in general is not your labourer, cashier or retail staff person.  The result is that we could build 1000 "affordable" homes that would do nothing to create any new housing stock for on-island renters.  It would just bring 1000 new people to Bowen who previously were struggling to make ends meet in Vancouver.  Belterra is a recent example, and although several islanders moved there, several more also arrived to be a part of the co-housing development (and don't get me wrong, they're awesome!).

So how to fix this?

Well, there are a number of things that we could try but they would be counter cultural on Bowen Island.  One major reason for this is that they have to operate outside of the market, and that makes these proposals a non-starter for some people.  Some of these things include:

  • Subsidized social housing
  • Trailers owned and rented out by a housing authority
  • Restrictions on AirBnB and VRBO rentals which take available housing out of the rental stock in order for owners to rent their places out on weekends.  (San Francisco is already confronting this)
  • Allowance for liveaboards on boats. 
  • Encouragement and perhaps subsidy of some kind for business owners to build apartments above their businesses to house their employees.

It is just not going to be enough to build more houses that are smaller and cheaper than the existing stock.  We need low rent housing that is protected for on-island workers.  This is so totally out of the box in BC right now that I expect lots of push back for an idea like this.  But it is common in many other parts of the world, and perhaps our new federal government will have a different and progressive take on addressing affordability in market-bubble zones.  Not all housing has to be market based.  And part of ensuring that your own home has a high value is that you live in a community with the kinds of amenities that can only be provided by the folks that serve your coffee, beer and sandwiches, that fix your roof, repair your boat, clean your house look after your kids and take care of your elderly neighbours.

What do you think?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Calling out a made up "tradition"

I want to do something really unBowen: call something out directly.

Today the Undercurrent published this article: Campaign road signs not 'the Bowen way'.  It describes how there is a tradition on Bowen Island of election campaign signs being restrcited only to the sign corner at the crossroads.  Apparently, it is "Not The Bowen Way" to place them on lawns or in windows and candidates that do "receive a polite phone call" presumably inviting them to do something else.

This makes my skin crawl.  I frankly don;t care one way or the other if you want to have an election sign on your lawn.  In fact there is something about the rambunctious chaos of electioneering that somehow captures the colourful energy of a democracy in full sail.  On the other hand, its dismal when, weeks after elections are over, signs are still littering public spaces.

But what really bothers me is the self-appointed community standards police who enforce this policy year after year.  It is not really a tradition; not like slug races or the Black Sheep marking a store opening, or not telling anyone where Alder Cove beach is, or dropping off Halloween candy in the homes of Deep Bay residents you don't know.

It is a kind of conspiracy hatched by the original candidates in our first municipal election and enforced by some of them and their friends to this day.  Newcomers to our island should know that this is not an official policy of our local municipality - nor could it be, for legislating this kind of thing would probably be unconstitutional, if Elections Canada had any teeth left to fight this kind of thing.  instead it is a policy with a genteel veneer that sometimes has the nasty effect of suppressing the ability for new candidates to indelibly mark your brans with their names, for better or worse.  It serves incumbents and those with name recognition.  In short, a policy like this serves the very people who tend to be most supportive of it (and those who tend to support the workings of free markets except when it comes to promoting democratic choice)

It is quaint, which is very much "the Bowen way."  It is also elitist and exclusionary and that too sometimes is "the Bowen way."   So I'm going on the record, and I know I'm not alone, in objecting to the sometimes sanctimonious way this little tradition - with all of it's nuanced sneakiness and possibly dark sideeffects- is retreaded every time an election comes around.  I fjndamentally distrust people who, through tradition, coercion, influence or otherwise, work against participation in democratic process.  Even if it's a bit messy

If we really want to see if it's "the Bowen way" perhaps leave it alone, stop enforcing it with "polite phone calls" (Those sinister scare quotes) and see if Bowen Islanders, free of the pressure to conform, choose to continue this custom, or evolve something entirely different, and entirely Bowen.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Epic hike to end the summer

We're blessed on Bowen with a small set of hiking trails which offer challenges to folks of all abilities.  Many of these are marked and official, and there are a few that are not official.

Yesterday Caitlin and I marked the end of summer with perhaps the most challenging hike possible on Bowen, the Mount Gardiner circuit.  It's an epic six hour trek that probably got us upwards of 1000 meters elevation in total.

We bagen at 1pm at the gate on Hiker's Road, on the north side of the mountain.  Climbing up a road for about 20 minutes takes you to Handloggers Trail (marked as the Midlevel trail on the map).  It's a 200 meter climb right out of the chute, but once on Handloggers heading west around the mountain another 120 meter climb takes you to a fantastic lookout over Killarney Lake and Mount Collins.

From there, the trail climbs a bit more before bending around the mountain and opening up views to the west, over Keats Island, the Paisley Group and the Sunshine Coast.  At 1.5 hours into the the trip you join the Bluewater reservoir trail, a high flat section of older growth Douglas fir and beautiful mossy forest floor gives you a chance to rest the legs for a bit until you join up with the Handloogers trail proper trail and begin steadily to move down the hill.  Some of the down hill sections are challenging, going on extending descents along cobble strewn creek beds, which were thankfully dry this season.

The Bluewater section of Handloggers crosses some impressive canyons and gullies as it makes it's way around the western side of the mountain.  After about 1.5 hours of this you arrive at the split and a decision point about whether head down to the Laura Road trail head, or complete the second half of the trip, which is far more gruelling.

At 4pm we headed up towards the South Summit of Mount Gardiner.  Having lost about 220 meters in elevation, we now headed almost straight up to recover it and more.  The 1.5 hour climb takes you up two impressive gully systems with some great views across the south part of Bowen Island, Apodaca Ridge and the Strait of Georgia and Vancouver Island.  You gain 440 meters in a little over a kilometre, which makes for a steep ascent in some places.

The trail comes out at a lovely flat saddle between the two peaks of Mount Gardiner.  From her eyou have the choice to climb to the summits, but yesterday we were pressed for time and we could feel the weather changing, so we decided to head back down again towards Skid Trail on the south flank of the mountain.  The section off the top is really steep and switchbacks take you back and forth along contours with blufftop view points opening over Sung Cove, Apodaca Ridge and towards Vancouver and the Lower Mainland away in the distance. You are now in the business of losing 600 meters or so of elevation, and the knees are knocking pretty hard by the time you get down to the Skid Trail.  The forest is all cedars and the forest floor is bereft of ferns and salal.  In the murky distance are Dangerous Dan Cowan's mysterious bike jumps.

It takes a little over 1.5 hours to go from the saddle back to the starting point, but Skid Trail becomes a friendly lovely way out.

It has been on my bucket list all summer to complete that circuit.  I estimated six hours and we were right on the dot, with time for one wrong turn that was easily corrected.  The legs feel good this morning which was a surprise, perhaps aided by a little bit of celebratory Laphroaig.  

Monday, August 31, 2015

The drought has broken

On Saturday the most violent August wind storm in history lashed the coast with damage that rivalled 2006's December windstorm.  Since then it has been raining steadily and heavily, to the tune of more than 100mm making this drought beset August now one of the wettest on record.

I went out this afternoon to look at some drainage channels I had cut at the back of my land that help the water find it's way into better drainage than under my neighbour's foundation.  I was surprise to see hardly any run off at all.  The land has been so thirsty that it has just absorbed all this rain.  Last winter, there were massive puddles and rivers of water cascading off a saturated Mount Collins.  Today, the earth is a sponge.

This bodes well for the recharging of our aquifers, the refilling of wells and the rejuvenation of the microbial systems that require moisture to do their work.  The drought is over and falls seems to be at hand.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Spear Sisters finalists in film competition (last day to vote!)

You have a chance to be a part of Kailey and Sam Spear's career boosting move to have their short film on the Twilight saga pitched to Lionsgate pictures.  Follow the link below.

Spear Sisters finalists in film competition (last day to vote!)

Friday, June 26, 2015

▶ A Day Trip to Bowen Island BC Canada - YouTube

▶ A Day Trip to Bowen Island BC Canada - YouTube

North Shore Tourism has produced a video of a day trip to Bowen.  It's full of a lot of adjectives.

But one thing I like about it is that it has a brief glimpse into Artigiani Milanesi, an outstanding small cashmere tailor that relocated from Milan to Bowen last year.  They make outstanding quality clothing from incredible cashmere wool.

Dave Witty on our OCP

LETTER: First understand the law, Mr. Long

Dave Witty, a Bowen resident and nationally respected planner, outlines what our OCP is, how it was made and amended, and why it works.  It's a good read to put into perspective the mechanics of designing an OCP for a community.

And if you want to read our document, so so here.