Category Archives: Walking for Wellbeing

Better Breathing in Cities & The Miracle of Street Trees

It was over ten years ago that a study  called “Sustaining America’s Urban Trees and Forests worked out that one single immature street tree had the same cooling impact as five air conditioners in separate rooms operating twenty hours a day. Simply increasing street trees may bring down summer heat significantly in cities.

Increasing tree canopy in cities not only fights poor air quality and heat islands, trees can reduce the hourly ozone by 15 percent, sulfur dioxide by 14 percent and particulate matter by 13 percent.

Data shows that one healthy tree can remove 300 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air annually. Trees in the United States are estimated to remove 784,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually, a 3.8 billion dollar equivalent value.

Steve Mouzon’s post in  of two years ago shows that “evapotranspiration” from trees cool heat by 2 to 9 degrees. So how do you cost the value of a street tree?  Dan Burden estimates the lifetime benefits of a single street tree as $90,000, and a street that is full of street trees raises the value of the adjacent housing by $22,000 a unit.

There is also some quirky weirdness: there is less crime on streets that are lined with trees. But think of it: the more street trees, the more walkable and accessible and cared for, meaning there are more eyes on the street as well as more foot traffic.

Add in one more benefit for Metro Vancouver: every street tree absorbs one inch of stormwater, so installing and watering street trees pays off as part of stormwater infrastructure.

But perhaps the most important aspect of street trees is the health of children: A study just released that looked at 3,000 city kids in Porto Portugal found that children who moved to live close by green spaces had better lung capacity than children who lived further away. Even accounting for other factors such as the fact that babies do not spend a lot of time outdoors, moving to a greener area by the time you are ten significantly improves health outcomes. Do trees reduce stress, or is there an impact on children’s microbiome ,the name for the different bacteria that live on human forms?

Here’s a YouTube video from the City Beautiful channel where a Sacramento commentator illustrates why street trees change livability and community.


Portland Loo, Accessible Washroom Finally Installed in CRAB Park!

After over a year saying they were going to do this,  Vancouver Park Board is finally doing what the City of Vancouver should be doing. That is setting up accessible public toilets in “underserved areas” according to the Parks Washroom Strategy. Of course, in Vancouver underserved areas means just about anywhere that is not in a park.

CRAB  Park now has two stainless steel Portland Loos which are designed to be easy to clean and maintain, and are in keeping with the Park Board strategy to expand washroom facilities throughout the parks.

At Viewpoint Vancouver we have written again and again about the need for public washrooms in Vancouver along every transit route and also in every commercial area. Viewpoint Vancouver has also written about the Portland loo

and why it is so special:  as outlined in CityLab  the design process was unique in that Portland looked at other municipalities’ public toilets and realized that the privacy of them allowed for “nefarious” activities to occur in them.

“We really looked at Seattle as what not to do,” says Anna DiBenedetto, a staff assistant to city commissioner Randy Leonard, the spiritual godfather of the Portland Loo. “We think it was the design that was the fatal flaw. Trying to be comfortable and private makes people feel more empowered to do the illegal activities that people do in public toilets.”

Portland had a “loo squad” 15 years ago and the first Portland loo was installed in 2008 in the Old Town-Chinatown area. It is still there, still functioning. The secret to the success of the Portland loo design is as follows:

-no running water, just a spout on the exterior that pours cold water;-no mirror, as mirrors get vandalized;

-openings at the top and bottom of the Portland loo so that it is not completely private, ensuring that pedestrians and police know if someone is in there.

Add in a graffiti resistant finish and stainless steel walls and doors and the Portland loo is complete. The cost for the first washroom was $140,000 USD, but is now about $90,000. Maintenance is pegged at $1,000 per month per location.

From the first flush of the Portland loo the design has been wildly successful and has been installed in Victoria B.C and in Smithers B.C. In fact in 2012 the Portland loo in Victoria was deemed to be the best public washroom in Canada and the Victoria Mayor was “flushed with pride”

You can take a look at Christine Hagemoen’s excellent article in Scout Magazine where she outlines the history of public washrooms in Vancouver.  Ms. Hagemoen also documents what happened during the first part of the pandemic when “ most of us hunkered down in the safety of our Covid-bunkers and obsessed about toilet paper,  homeless residents of Vancouver were left scrambling to find an open toilet.”

Viewpoint Vancouver also wrote about the pandemic fact that on Granville Street Starbucks would sell you a huge cup of coffee, but not allow you to use the washroom. And don’t look to the adjoining book store to help you during the pandemic either.

The first year of the pandemic showed how poorly we deal with equity for homeless people: public washrooms and libraries were closed. These are two places (besides parks) where everyone is welcome no matter who they are.

  Paola Lorrigio in The Star bluntly pointed out that the dearth of  public washrooms, once a barrier to the homeless, poor, racialized and disabled is now a barrier to everyone. The pandemic also brought out the need for public washrooms to encourage people to get outside, bike, use sidewalks  and exercise, when those were the  few things open to everyone.

Lezlie Lowe who wrote “No Place To Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs” observes that there’s no Canadian tradition for on-street, accessible, paid for by municipal government bathroom provision. City governments have relied on private businesses to take care of public washroom needs.

That needs to change.

It’s time for the City of Vancouver to step up.

Because everyone at some time needs to go.

Here’s a video from over ten years ago of the “first flush” of the Portland Loo when it was installed in Portland Oregon. That loo is still there.

Why We Need to Start Sharing the Road Now

Design editor Lloyd Alter of Tree Hugger sums up what is truly happening in the “sharing the road” adage that is so popular these days. As Lloyd recalls in this article in  “Everyone hates everyone”. That is a pretty true statement and we have to do a better job and get that done now.

 Lloyd Alter states “Unless we start planning now and figuring out how to share the space we have equitably, in 10 years it won’t be drivers hating pedestrians hating cyclists, It will be everybody hating old people. Because we will be everywhere.”

It really is not about a demographic time bomb of old people showing up on adult tricycles scooting along bike lanes. It is really about our discussion on why when talking about sharing space, we still pit pedestrians against cyclists, giving vehicular users a relatively free pass to the rest of the street without much discussion.

I wrote about the unfortunate bicycle crashthat happened with City of Vancouver’s Transportation manager (and all around nice guy) Dale Bracewell who suffered a shattered elbow when a vehicle literally debiked him.  Both Lloyd Alter and Dale quoted the just released study from Australia which suggests that many motorists don’t see cyclists as real people and vulnerable road users with as much right to the road space as they do. You can take a look at that study here.

If you have been a cyclist or a pedestrian in Australian cities you will know it is still a bit like the wild west, with vehicles having priority on streets, and state government at odds with the big cities who want to traffic calm on state run road networks and give pedestrians priority at signalized intersections.

Of course there are issues between cyclists and pedestrians as well.

Cyclists will often hop their bikes on a sidewalk for safety or convenience reasons. But the work done by Jan Garrard for Victoria Walks in Australiashows that seniors use walking as their major mode of transport, and require a higher standard of design and street maintenance to stay mobile and safe. Bikes, dogs and distractions  on sidewalks can result in seniors falling.  As Garrard notes:

 “Just as older adults can be more vulnerable to environmental hazards while walking,they also express high levels of concern about the behaviours of other road/path users. These concerns may be heightened for older adults because of their reduced ability to avoid a collision in the event of the sudden, unexpected movement of another road/path user,and increased likelihood that a collision (or the avoidance manoeuvre) will result in a fall and/or injury”.

Garrard’s work also shows that for older seniors there is a high likelihood  that senior to be deceased within several months after a traumatic fall on a city sidewalk or street. There is a reason seniors fear falling.

As Lloyd Alter surmises  talking about seniors in the United States “In 10 years, when the oldest of 70 million boomers are in their 80s, the drivers are going to have a lot more to complain about — millions of old people who take too long to cross the street, many more crosswalks and traffic islands taking up space, wider sidewalks and wider bike lanes to handle an explosion in the numbers of e-bikes and mobility devices.”

The time to have the serious conversation on how we share the city street and road surface needs to happen now. It’s time to humanize the pedestrian and cyclist by applying the Safe  Road System~Vision Zero approach and nix the 85 percentile way of building road space solely for vehicular traffic. Better design, lower speeds and changing driver behaviour on city streets are mandatory.  We need good street infrastructure, delight, visual interest, benches and public washrooms for vulnerable road users. And we also need a new way of looking at road share.

As this article by the Brookings Institute observes its no longer good enough to measure street use by a level of service. New standards measuring “broader community goals around accessibility, economic development, sustainability and livability” need to be immediately instituted.
We are all going to be using those streets in the future, and moving sustainably by cycle and foot will not only be a necessity, but a way to keep an older population agile, connected and fit, making communities more cohesive. The health of the  population, our spaces and our streets depend upon that.


Images: Tasmaniagov & Pond5

Walking, a Tsunami and the Disconnected Wind Phone

As reported in City Lab, Otuschi Japan lost ten per cent of its population in the 2011 Tsunami-about 1,600 people perished.
“A resident named Itaru Sasaki had nestled the phone booth in his garden the year before, as a way to ruminate over his cousin’s death. Longing to maintain a relationship with a departed loved one is a deeply relatable desire, but a tricky proposition. “Because my thoughts couldn’t be relayed over a regular phone line,” Sasaki told the Japanese TV channel NHK Sendai. “I wanted them to be carried on the wind.”
“The photographer Alexander McBride Wilson heard the public radio segment and traveled to Otsuchi last fall to photograph kaze no denwa, or “the wind phone,” and the people who use it. To Sasaki, the booth isn’t related to any kind of religion, Wilson says, “but you get the feeling that it’s a bit of a shrine, people who come over are kinds of pilgrims.”  Everyone is welcome to use the telephone booth. And scores of people do.
“The set-up is not dissimilar to an altar for dead relatives that’s common in Buddhist homes, said This American Life producer Miki Meek. It’s “a way to stay in touch, let [departed people] know that they’re still a big part of our family.”
“More than five years after the disaster, cities along the northeastern coast are still working to rebuild, slowly replacing temporary structures with sturdier, more rooted ones. ..As the town rebuilds, girding itself to be resilient in the face of future weather events, Sasaki’s wind phone is a reminder of those most fragile and searing losses that can’t be patched up and won’t be forgotten.”



Peter Wohlwend, Walkability and Windsor Way

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I have found that it is not city administration, policy and budgets that create great communities, but the concepts and ideas of the communities themselves. When planners talk about a three-legged stool of place making and the importance of policy, plan and then  community engagement, I have always seen it a bit differently. I think it is important to profoundly listen to what the neighb0urhood is saying, synthesize those concepts, work together, and co-create innovative work that CAN be the foundation for policy. In every instance where I have followed those principles, enhanced walkability and extraordinary examples of placemaking resulted, and city policy has been  modified to embrace these demonstration projects as innovative models.

I first met Peter Wohlwend and his wife Midori Oba about 15 years ago, on Windsor Street in Vancouver’s east side. Windsor Street for its 40 blocks in Kensington Cedar-Cottage was a street used for prostitution and traffic short-cutting, and had its share of on-street car racing. Despite the fact the street connected  three schools and  four parks, people did not walk on the street, leaving it anonymous for the drug and prostitution trade.


Peter and Midori’s house was in the middle of the drug trade opposite Dickens Elementary School. Peter had done a bold thing-he placed a bench outside of his house next to the public sidewalk. What he found extraordinary was that it was not the drug dealers and prostitutes using the bench.  The users included the  elderly couples that now walked to the grocery store and rested on the bench on their way home, or the parents waiting for the children to come out of the school across the street. The bench was the catalyst for local neighbours to stay on the street, and view the street as a place of respite.

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Peter had another idea. In front of every house along Windsor Street was a large city boulevard that Peter felt was perfect for garden planting. Such planting would provide a buffer between the curb and the sidewalk, and could be a conversational catalyst to focus the community on improving the street. By calling this initiative a “demonstration project” and mounding up  composted recycled green waste  soil above the level of the current soil, new plantings did not interfere with city services below the ground.

Neighbours along Windsor Street had massive “dig in-dig out” parties where dump trucks of composted recycled  green waste soil  moved to newly prepared boulevard gardens. Windsor Street was closed in sections for these dig in parties, where barbeques were wrangled chuckwagon style in the middle of the street for the celebratory hot dogs. Despite the fact that many of the people on Windsor Street did not speak a common language, Peter always said that “Everyone spoke the language of plants”.


Peter was right. In a short space of time over forty boulevard gardens were built on Windsor Street, and people started to walk on the street. The drug use and prostitution moved off the street as it became a place that was too public for those trades. The Windsor Street community successfully bid for a public art grant, and artist Karen Kazmer installed 20 unique aluminum banners on Windsor Street hydro poles, depicting the hands and activities of Windsor Street residents.


Peter and Midori received the Greater Vancouver  Good Neighbour Award from the Greater Vancouver Neighbourhood House Association for their temerity and vision in steering  this massive piece of work.  Peter and Midori also started up the multicultural festival that was held every spring on the Kingsway Triangle. For many of the local merchants, it was the first time they met the locals in a celebratory way. Of course this also further deepened relationships between the commercial areas and the surrounding residents.

Windsor Street has been named in the best gardened block awards from the Vancouver Garden Club. And the success of blooming boulevards in tying together Windsor Street as a contiguous, walkable street facilitated the street becoming a bikeway with further traffic calming measures.  The Blooming Boulevard guidelines are now on the City of Vancouver’s website, and gardening the city boulevard is permissible in any single family area in Vancouver.

Peter Wohlwend passed away on May 29 of this year. His funerary card contains the famous Margaret Mead quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world…indeed it’s the only thing that ever has”.

Peter’s coaching and advice made me a better planner and a better citizen, and I talk about his work in my TEDx talk on the Transformative Power of Walking. He will be greatly missed by many.


Japan Uses Local Convenience Stores to Aid Seniors “aging in place”.


Those 7-11 corner convenience stores are a staple in North American cities and in Japan. Mimi Kirk in City Lab notes that the Japanese convenience stores provide the same items as North American ones-with one exception-

“convenience stores in Japan offer services that make them hubs of their communities. Customers can pay a utility bill, buy concert tickets, or make copies at a 7-Eleven or a similar retailer like Lawson or FamilyMart. In the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, convenience stores even set up emergency support centers and sent employees to aid survivors, among other good deeds.”

As Japan’s seniors population ages, the stores have become street corner mini community centres with healthier food, home food delivery and  “seating areas so that older customers can gather to socialize and practice their karaoke skills.”

Elder friendly services are increasing with 100 new locations in apartment complexes offering these services as well as room cleaning, clothes mending and dealing with maintenance problems in apartments.

Ryota Takemoto, a researcher with an institute focusing on Japan’s real estate sector states “We must prevent [the elderly] from losing their access to a convenience store so that we can use convenience store networks…as an economic and social infrastructure where aging is advancing fast.”

It’s an interesting adaptive innovation that may find credence here as we encourage more seniors to age in place in their own communities.

Buenos Aires And Seniors Inclusivity




This article published in World Crunch describes the innovative work that another by-the-sea city, with a very  large elderly population is undertaking to improve place and home for senior citizens.  With a quarter of its residents, approximately 700,000 people as senior citizens,  the municipal government

 “has forged a comprehensive plan, called PIAM, to revamp public spaces and improve the homes of the elderly. It expects to implement the changes beginning next year. The plans include new, better-suited furniture in public places (park benches that are specifically adapted, for example, to older people’s body shapes), prototypes of tricycles the elderly can use along cycling tracks, and more roofs over bus stops. The city also plans to measure how long it really takes seniors to cross busy streets and reprogram traffic lights accordingly.”

Prototypes are needed for better wheelchair access in public places, and in the home “simple measures, such as raising the height of sockets, having fewer items of furniture, not using carpets, mats or rugs, or fixing handles” she says.

The work is based upon WHO’s (World Health Organization) age friendly city designation. But what is important here is that this process involved collaborating with all parties including seniors to ensure that old people are included-without barriers, be they architectural or cultural. It is all in the detail, and Buenos Aires seems to be on  the right track.


35,000 People Died. That’s the Population of Penticton B.C.



Did you know that 35,092 Americans died on roads last year. They were drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. They all had families. They didn’t think they would be dead.  A population of 35,092 is similar to the population of Penticton, Powell River, or Prince Albert. It is a lot of people.

Tree Hugger author Lloyd Alter notes the contradiction of the unfortunate and strange policies in the City of Toronto, “where the mayor wants to reduce congestion and speed traffic up, while at the same time, reducing the carnage on the road that killed or injured a thousand people since June, and which can mainly be done by slowing traffic down”.

It’s absolutely clear that vehicles and their movement have precedence over vulnerable road users, those pedestrians and cyclists. “Especially troubling, this national data shows that the most vulnerable road users – people walking and biking, statistically more likely to be old or very young, poor, or of color – are, each year, an increasingly larger proportion of traffic fatalities. These fatalities, and the more than 2.4 million serious and life-altering injuries that happen annually on U.S. streets, are statistically predictable and preventable through better street design and reduced vehicle speeds”.

There is actually a paradox right now-while cars equipped with airbags and seat belts have been saving the lives of folks driving them, the environment for pedestrians and cyclists has really not improved in the same way. Vehicles are getting better, and are becoming mobile living rooms, with video players and distractions. It is suggested that this increased distraction coupled with busier roads is the reason that American pedestrian deaths were up 10 percent last year, the biggest increase ever.

We know that road speed can mean the difference between life and death for a vulnerable pedestrian or cyclist. NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials) “have proven that better street design, coupled with smarter, automated speed enforcement, is the best way to increase safety and save lives on U.S. roads. In Seattle, shortening pedestrian crossing distances on Nickerson Street reduced crashes by 23% and brought excessive speeding down from 38% to less than 2%”

Redesigning our streets is absolutely key, because car drivers drive at the speed the road is designed for. Anyone driving Highway 17 out to Langley can attest that no one is driving the posted 80 kilometers per hour on that stretch. And there are many arterial roads in Metro Vancouver  where drivers are speeding above the posted speed limit.

Sure we can lower speed limits, but we need to couple that with road design and enforcement. Sweden has led the way with the Vision Zero program. The Medical Health Officer of British Columbia’s Annual Report this year, Where the Rubber Meets the Road calling for lower speed limits and better road design to halt the 280 deaths and 79,000 injuries resulting from annual vehicle crashes. As Lloyd Alter notes, we can’t wait for driverless car technology to save us. We need to start this conversation now.


That City Walk Can Kill You in the Pedestrian Death Capital of Canada



The statistics have just been released that there were 11 murders in the City of Vancouver in 2016.  The 11 murders did not include the 11 pedestrians who died by being crashed into by vehicles on city streets. And some sobering statistics for  Metro Vancouver-“the coroners’ research found that 40 per cent of pedestrians killed in Greater Vancouver were struck at intersections and in crosswalks. Of those killed in crosswalks, two-thirds were crossing while the light was green”.

Concerned citizens nationally note that somehow we view the death of walkers  by cars as an inevitable side effect of motordom, an unavoidable collateral to the convenience of the car. Indeed one of the rationales for driverless vehicle technology is that less pedestrians will be maimed and die.

Torontonians call this carnage “road violence”, a term first used when the car started to take over public streets in the early part of the 20th century. Earlier in that century cars in Paris were even regulated to only go the speed of a walker, to ensure that pedestrians had a chance. Vancouver pedestrians are dying by vehicle crashes at twice the rate per capita of Toronto, where one person is injured every four hours, and over 44 pedestrians were killed in 2016. But in Vancouver there is not the outrage, not the insistence that we look clearly at the four items that can ameliorate this awful paradigm-visibility, driver behaviour, speed and road design. We don’t have a  city councillor or mayor  that is taking this task on, and many people deride the obvious statement that reflectivity is very important for pedestrians in our low light winters. Wearing reflective items markedly decreased pedestrian deaths in Scandinavia.

We need political will to change driver behaviour, speed,and road design in Vancouver. Visibility? Pedestrians can assist with this piece. Noted journalist Daphne Bramham has written in the Vancouver Sun that  “At least half a dozen times since the rains have come, I’ve been startled by pedestrians — dressed all in black — darting across the street in the middle of the block or against a red light…Sure, it’s fashionable and comfortable to wear black. But it’s also bloody risky, especially on dark, rainy Vancouver nights.

“There is data showing that Vancouver (closely followed by Surrey) is the pedestrian death capital of Canada. During this past, bleak, rainy October, twice as many B.C. pedestrians died as were killed in the six previous years. Ten pedestrians died in five Lower Mainland communities, which brought the provincial death toll for 2016 to 47. Usually, January is usually the worst month. Data for 2010 to 2015 collected by the B.C. Coroners Service shows that, on average, 7.4 pedestrians die every January. In November, the average is 7.2, and in December, 6.3.”  And in Tsawwassen, one of those lower mainland communities, two seniors were mowed down and killed on 56th Street in two separate incidents. They were  in a marked crosswalked intersection killed  by cars making left turns.And in the Lower Mainland a disproportionate number of those killed by vehicle crashes are seniors.

Daphne also noted that “A good and caring friend gave me some reflective bands to wear. Yet even though I knew I was safer, I felt foolish wearing them”. That is the work that the Walk and Be Seen Project at Kitsilano Neighbourhood House is undertaking with seniors to change how pedestrians feel about using reflective items in our rainy winters.

Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) makes a universal reflective sash that can be used by anyone, and there are textiles, sprays and even reflective wool that can be knitted. We need to insist that winter clothes have reflectivity and are not all black as is the current style. Until we can change the paradigm with the car, being visible at night  is one thing that pedestrians can do, as well as contacting their Metro Vancouver Mayors and City Councillors and demanding that pedestrian safety be made a priority. It is a matter of life or death.


Who Are Metro Vancouver’s Bill Cunninghams?



Bill Cunningham who wrote for the New York Times died at 87 in 2016.  You may have seen his column-Bill went around New York City by bike and by foot and photographed fashion trends. But he was doing more than that-as The New York Times stated  he “ turned fashion photography into his own branch of cultural anthropology on the streets of New York, chronicling an era’s ever-changing social scene for The New York Times by training his busily observant lens on what people wore — stylishly, flamboyantly or just plain sensibly”. 




In 2009 he was designated by the New York City Conservancy a  living landmark. There is also an excellent documentary on him called “Bill Cunningham New York.” He lived in a tiny apartment in the Carnegie Hall building. And if you saw him in his peasant jacket on a bicycle, you knew it was Bill.




I think Foncie Pulice who took photos of Vancouverites from the 1930’s to 1979 was also a bit like Bill Cunningham, someone who was at ease with talking to people on the street and leaving a cultural gift of all those photographic memories. And until 2006 there was David Cohen, a music lover that went to every symphony concert he could and would always talk to anyone on Granville Mall about music, bus routes, life and living in Vancouver. David always carried books with him and was passionate about music. Bramwell Tovey the conductor of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra played the piano for David at his hospice when he was dying. David Cohen was for me the epitome of a Vancouverite, approachable, kind and just plain friendly.




Do we still have those characters in Vancouver that connect people through photography, music, or conversation on downtown city streets? If you know of one, please let us know in the comments below.