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New Address

This has been a great project for me over the last couple years, but I have found the blogger platform to be more friendly and integrated with other software that I use. Therefore the Stronger Kamloops blog will be moving to a new home at:

Please follow me there, and always feel free to email at! 


The Book!

The Book!

Stronger Kamloops is now a book! Read it, download it, print it, distribute it! Available for free at and link is provided above and below.

CNU 20

The Congress for the New Urbanism has finished for this year, with extended discussions surrounding capital finance, city coffers and financial sustainability. Faster and faster more of these lectures and interviews are making their way onto the internet. I look forward to providing some more of these over time, but some of my favorite CNU at TED videos should start a good primer:


I have recently helped start a company building Laneway Homes in Kamloops. Laneway Homes are a fantastic way to build density in really small increments in urban areas. They are a way for even the most middle class of us to make a big difference to the livability of our city. The houses we build are near net-zero energy usage and carbon neutral. They do not cost any more than any other house. They infill for density creating greener lifestyles. They create high quality downtown rental possibilities and a lower rung on the property ladder than downtown has been able to provide in the market. Building a Laneway House on your property has the ability to enhance your neighborhood, your property value and your carbon footprint. In the context of this blog though, there is alot more going on here;

Laneway Housing in Kamloops has its common association with Vancouver, but in fact Laneway Housing primarily has its roots in early 16th Century London. As West London was rapidly developing around the River Thames and the palaces along Whitehall, the ‘abode de jour’ for the upper classes we’re 6-7 story Row Houses. Great examples of this aristocratic housing still survive all over West London, from Covent Garden to Westbourne Grove. The Row Housing model was physically mandated at that time to be built on a human scale, even for the richest of the city. They we’re required to build up in order to shorten the distances in order for services and resources to be accessible and convenient. Take this example; at the height of growth in the 18th Century, when the only method of transportation was by foot or by horse, the center of London from the periphery was half a days journey. This was the limit of its growth, as the people in the center of the city would be unable to purchase wood or coal to heat the house, or food to eat, or beer to drink, etc. Even this growth was already achieved at a very dense scale. These limits forced further densification. Originally, most of the poor would live in the outskirts of the city, or seedy industrial areas of East or South London, but it became necessary to get the rich persons servants into the centre of the city.

Alleyways, called Mews, we’re constructed the whole way through the luxury row house development, to accommodate stables, storage and other service entrances. These Mews buildings we’re renovated to provide some accommodation above the stables for the servants of the house. Often only a couple rooms and housing as many as 6 servants, the quarters we’re cramped and smelly above the horses, however it provided both employer and employee with a new degree of convenience with the shorter commutes and safer accommodation. The rich areas of town did not become any less safe, in fact they became more safe with the increase of “eyes on the street”. Many of the poor servants now lived in a place where the females would be comfortable walking the streets in the early morning or late night, and the same for their children.

With the advent of the train system, the London Underground, then OmniBuses and later still the automobile, the Mews Houses we’re incrementally taken over in entirety to become houses in the alleyways. They also often became independent quarters for low-level professionals who purchased the homes from Landlords in the Row Houses whos fortunes we’re failing. The transition started.

As London experienced fantastic growth starting post-WW2, and again in the 1960’s, and to the extreme in the 80’s, the Row Houses facing the streets we’re purchased by property developers to covert each level into “flats”. Few Row Houses remain intact in Londons West End, however the Mews Houses do. The Mews Houses are now some of the most desirable real estate in the city. The transition to the Mews Houses was not purely economic though, and the attractiveness of the address is not purely economically stimulated at all. As the city hit heights of population density in the 60’s to such a discomforting degree, the streets became crowded with fast moving vehicles and hundreds of pedestrians. In contrast the Mews Houses stayed on narrow back lanes, unsuitable for fast moving vehicle traffic. The Mews became an oasis of quiet and calm in the bustling city.

It is clear that Kamloops will require extreme densification to accommodate a growing population and diversifying economy. Kamloops’ climate and natural resources make it an efficient geography in which to live regardless of the effects that may or may not be felt from Climate Change and Peak Oil. Current Capital Scarcity make downtown “skyscrapers” difficult to build, as do rising resource costs.  Both in the long and short terms, Kamloops is going to need to accommodate many, on its existing infrastructure. Laneway Homes start that transition.

These Laneway Houses may be an affordable housing solution immediately, provide a fantastic retirement residence for someone who wants to age in place, or even just create safer alleyways in Downtown and North Shore areas, but they are an established way to treat problems of the present, with a solution that can be adaptable centuries into the future, as London has shown us.

Find out more info about Laneways4Kamloops at or call Mitchell at 778.220.9090

Some London Mews:



Strong Towns

A recent blog I discovered through the KunstlerCast that does a great podcast and great advocacy work in the name of New Urbanism and Economics. I lifted this piece from the blog because it is so poignant at the moment, with the WalMart expansion being granted and new subdivisions like Aberdeen Heights given the go-ahead, while large parking lots wait to be filled in downtown. As a developer, I can see the financial sense for a private company to redevelop infill parcels, but until the city gets behind us, we all lose.

Without to much more of my input, this is from Strongtowns,org. Many other great articles are here including “Shared Spaces” and “Tactical Urbanism”. 

The cost of auto orientation
Monday, January 2, 2012
Charles Marohn in Brainerd/Baxter Strong Town Series

In the United States we’ve proceeded for sixty years with reconfiguring our public spaces to accommodate the automobile. The built in assumption of this approach, especially when it comes to commercial property, is that the more cars driving by the better. What we’ve overlooked in our haste to “modernize” is the lower return on investment we get from this approach, even under ideal conditions. Today we need the humility to acknowledge that our ancestors — who built in the traditional style — may have known what they were doing after all.

After a nice break, we want to welcome everyone back and wish you all a fantastic 2012. We’re still dedicated to publishing this blog at least three days a week (typically Monday, Wednesday and Friday) as well as releasing a podcast every week or two. We’ve got one other channel here we’ll be starting next week, so stay tuned. If you’d like to stay informed with what’s going on with the Strong Towns movement, sign up for our newsletter. We don’t share your address and we don’t spam. We do bite though, at least rhetorically.

Highway 210 runs east/west through downtown Brainerd. In the hierarchical road system, it is the top of the pyramid and would be classified in most places as a “major arterial”. It is designed as a STROAD (a street/road hybrid), attempting to apply highway design standards to what otherwise would be an urban street. In doing so, it has dramatically transformed the land use pattern of the area.

The picture below highlights two blocks that front the highway corridor. The one on the left, which we’ve labeled “old and blighted“, is a block that has retained its traditional development pattern. To the right we have identified the “shiny and new” area, the block that has recently been transformed to an auto-oriented development style, to the glee of city officials and local economic development advocates. In between is a hybrid of the two; part traditional and part auto-oriented.

The old and blighted area is a collection of run down, marginal establishments. There are two liquor stores, a pawn shop, a barber shop, a bankruptcy attorney, a campaign headquarters, a retail establishment, a cafe and a vacant building. This is not a desirable area. If the adjacent highway didn’t already ensure decline, local “improvements” have degraded what little pedestrian connectivity may have existed to the adjacent areas. None of it that remains is easy, natural or inviting. In the community’s eyes, this is an area that is waiting to redevelop, to transform itself fully into an auto-oriented pattern. That transformation has begun; note that the very westerly building, which is a liquor store, has turned two lots into a parking lot.

By contrast, the shiny and new area contains only one business, that being a new Taco John’s drive through fast food restaurant. The modern facility contains two drive-through lanes, good access to the adjacent streets and all the parking that would ever be needed. They’ve done on-site stormwater retention (the environmentalists applaud) and modern signage. It meets all of the city’s design and zoning codes. The restaurant replaced some buildings that were, themselves, part of an evolution from the original, traditional development to the auto-oriented. With the new Taco John’s, the transformation is complete.

If there was any question regarding the public’s opinion on these two lots, the city of Brainerd’s comprehensive plan specifically calls for the transformation of areas that we’ve labeled “old and blighted” into “shiny and new“. The city has designated this areaGeneral Commercial, expressing a desire to see the development along this corridor become highway-oriented. This they describe on page 93 of their plan.


General Commercial 

The purpose of this category is to identify portions of Brainerd that should contain general retail commercial uses adjacent to the arterial highway system.  The intent of this designation is to provide areas for highway-oriented businesses.  Consequently, having a strong general commercial base in the city helps the downtown as well.  Having a strong highway commercial area helps draw consumers to the city and provides for a healthy downtown. Examples of these could include highway-oriented businesses such as fast food restaurants, convenience stores, gas stations and other auto-oriented businesses as well as a number of large retailers.


In that definition of General Commercial, it is stated that a “strong highway commercial area….provides for a healthy downtown.” The problem is that “strong” and “highway commercial” are — in almost all cases — mutually exclusive terms. The numbers prove the point in this case.

The eleven old and blighted lots — some of the most undesirable commercial property in the city — arranged in the traditional development pattern along the incompatible, major arterial of Highway 210 have a combined tax base of $1,136,500.

To compare, the Taco John’s property — the one that is not only shiny and new but configured precisely as the city of Brainerd desires the old and blighted properties to someday be — has a total valuation of only $803,200.

At its nastiest and most decrepit, fighting the negative auto traffic speeding by and the absence of pedestrian connectivity, lacking all natural advantage from the neighboring land uses that would ideally accompany a traditional neighborhood design, the old and blighted traditional commercial block still outperforms the new, auto-oriented development by 41%

Imagine how much more valuable this traditonal block would be if the businesses were simply given some relief from the speed of the STROAD-induced traffic and/or provided some connectivity to the adjacent neighborhood, two things that could be done far cheaper than the millions the city has spent to make this area the dominion of cars.

Imagine how much more prosperous we would all be if we started building Strong Towns.

There is much more to report on this case study. Check back later this week. In the meantime, here is some related information:



Originally published in Kamloops This Week as a letter in 2010:

In the words of Fred Hansen, ex-deputy director of USEPA and regional planner for Portland, OR, “It’s not about MPG, its WBF”.

WBF= Weeks Between Fill-Ups. What Fred is getting at is that cars represent only 25% of our fossil fuel emissions, and no matter the degree to which we improve fuel efficiency, we will only be going a little way to solving the problem. There are hundreds of other reasons why further pursuing the auto-mobile centric form of urban planning is ridiculous.

We need to drive our cars rarely and take advantage of all the other forms of transport available. Walking is a good one, a living in a place where this is practical is a good investment. This is a huge step towards independence of oscillating fossil fuel prices and green house gas emissions. Creating a community in this ideal benefits us all– not to…

View original post 1,356 more words

Solar Water and Rising Utility Prices

Cause and Effect. The effect does not happen without the cause.

I am impressed by the uncanny ability to look at two separate council considerations and not understand how intertwined they are.

The considerations I refer to are “Increase in costs for water, sewage and garbage disposal” and the local bylaw provision for new homes to be Solar Hot Water ready.

The increase in costs for the services provided to us by the city are not stemming from run-away spending as some would have us believe. The costs of all these services are tied strictly to external factors far beyond the control of our city council, at least at first glance. The price of trucking away our garbage is not driven by wages or real estate on which to dump the refuse; the dominant price driver is the price of gas. The same is true for water delivery: In order to deliver water to our homes and water away from our homes, the water needs to be treated by electrically or gas fuelled machinery. It needs to be lubricated by oil based lubricants. The piping needs to be forged through energy intensive procedures which require more inputs in the form of gas, oil and electricity. Furthermore the same piping and machinery is shipped to us here by machines that use more gas.

Not surprisingly rising gas prices that are affecting our bottom line as residents of Kamloops are also affecting the companies and city departments that service our needs and wants.

Luckily we have a council that is doing better than our federal government in addressing the issues of climate change and rising world-wide demand for limited energy sources. At first glance our council has no ability to fight rising gas prices; they do have to ability to affect how Kamloops residents are using that energy.

When building a new house, preparing for Solar Hot Water costs only $500-$1000 depending upon the size of the dwelling. When retrofitting an old house that price can quadruple or more very easily, as the roof trusses need to be reinforced, new piping in the walls need to be installed and new equipment stored somewhere in the house. Even when retrofitting for Solar Hot Water, the system often pays for itself in less than five years, without calculating the rising cost of the services delivered by the city.

Incredibly it seems city council has a conscience and is anticipating the needs of our residents into the future and making provision for our comfort not just immediately but also in the years to come. Just as good government should.