Thursday, June 18, 2009

BC Land Summit: In Conversation with Tim Pringle

by hans peter meyer

Tim Pringle is Director of Special Programs at the Real Estate Foundation of BC. I interviewed him by telephone at the 2009 BC Land Summit in Whistler on May 22, 2009.

hpm: What is the Real Estate Foundation’s role at this year’s BC Land Summit?

Tim: The Foundation is the lead funding sponsor of the event, just as we were for the 2004 BC Land Summit. I’m here to present research done by the Foundation on behalf of the Real Estate Institute of BC on northern housing issues. I’ll be presenting later today.

hpm: Why is the Foundation taking such a strong role with these events?

Tim: The two Land Summits are unique and important events for anyone involved in land-related professions or employment. Both Summit programs integrate a number of different perspectives on the land. This year’s Summit, for example, is hosted by Appraisal Institute of Canada, the BC Institute of Agrologists, the Planning Institute of BC, the BC Association of Landscape Architects, the Real Estate Institute of BC, and the Land Trust Alliance of BC. So it’s quite a mixture of approaches to the land, within the professions, and land-related employment areas. I’m certainly hearing from people at the conference that this mix is a very attractive aspect of the event.

There are over 800 people registered. In addition to liking the mixture of people and professions, I’m hearing that the quality of the program and the range of subjects offered is also very popular. If the experience of last night’s reception is any indication, the event is also proving to be an excellent opportunity for networking.

hpm: What are some of the highlights of the Summit so far?

Tim: I very much enjoyed Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presentation at the end of yesterday’s program. His interest in the land stems from his involvement in waters and rivers issues in the US. He’s involved in several organizations that pursue strategies to protect rivers – reclaiming the Hudson River is one of the projects he’s involved with. He’s also a very successful lawyer and has been involved in some significant cases in the States. But what struck me about his presentation was the case he made for how socio-economic transitions happen. His first example was the abolition of slavery in England. When that was being debated the establishment, as it were, raised all kinds of objections. They saw economic decline and poverty as a result. In fact, the opposite happened. When the subsidies that were insinuated into the institution of slavery were no longer in the system, it created all kinds of room for innovation and change. In Kennedy’s view, this had a lot to do with spurring the rate of the industrial revolution.

Another example he gave had to do with computers, personal computers, and cell phones – and the deregulation of carriers of information: they could no longer hold monopolies; they had to allow other providers access to infrastructure. The result, in most cases, has been that the cost of using computers, and computer related services, and cell phones, keeps going down. Everything keeps getting cheaper. And providers find other ways of generating revenues, other than the actual equipment. They make their income from contracts with users, advertising, special services, and so on.

This led to his discussion of energy, and especially carbon-based energy, in America. He thinks this will go through a similar kind of change. He pointed out, for example, that research is showing that 85 square miles of desert could supply – through solar energy collection and technologies – enough energy to supply what the US currently consumes. The only challenge, other than the obvious one of getting people to agree that this should happen, is to have a grid to efficiently move the electricity generated from a location that isn’t very well serviced locally through an electrical distribution network that is in very bad shape in the US today. Canada’s is probably in a similar condition.

His point was that even in the case of oil and coal -the carbon molecule as a source of energy, the potential to change is not insurmountable; in fact, it is likely to be beneficial and a stimulus for new and "green" enterprise.

hpm: Did any workshop stand out so far in the program?

Tim: Yes, one really stood out as quite good. It featured a panel discussing the opportunities emerging from the economic transition we’re going through in North America, and the world generally. In the discussion, panelists were looking at how this transition affects the land professions. I took away the message that the members of the land professions will be wise to look for opportunities arising from basic settlement needs in real estate, development and financing. Michael Geller did a very good job of MC’ing this discussion.

The other workshop I took in looked at what local governments can do to address homelessness. It was focused on Victoria. The last two presenters were from the
Victoria Real Estate Board, which has managed to make available 100 units available for hard-to-house individuals at a cost of $16,000 per unit. What they’ve been doing is finding existing buildings that could be renovated, fixed up and made available for this purpose in partnership with the Vancouver Island Health Authority, and others. They were very astute about how to do the most with what’s available. The strategy included changing uses for some buildings, buildings that didn’t suit some of the client groups they had, and finding another location for that client group and moving the hard-to-house into the building that had been vacated and renovated for new use.

hpm: To go back to the other panel: What were some of the opportunities that stuck with you?

Tim: For the stewardship and conservation sector, there is an opportunity to have the natural capital and value of natural systems recognized by local government and developers. As we know, from some of the project activity the Foundation is involved in, this is happening. It’s clearly seen as one kind of opportunity. For planners and landscape architects, I think they realize they have more time to spend on design issues and the range of options that clients might have. In a business as usual context, when things are very hectic, there might not be time to look at these. Now that things are not hectic, there is more time to look seriously at the innovations that might deliver more holistic outcomes. Rather than just looking at bottom line return on investment.

hpm: This sounds similar to findings of Foundation research from this past winter.

Tim: Yes. We mentioned some of this in the "When Things Slow Down" article in the February posting of the Communities in Transition Information Resource. The Spring 2009 issue of the Land Trust Alliance's Kingfisher magazine has another treatment of the same research.

hpm: What’s coming up later in the Summit program that you’re looking forward to?

Tim: I’m just finishing off my notes for my presentation later this afternoon. So I’m missing Richard Hebda’s keynote on the value of ecosystem services. I will be hearing him later, however, as he’s presenting original research on the work that the Land Trust Alliance has produced on "Credible Conservation Offsets for Natural Areas in British Columbia."

Later this morning I may get a chance to hear all or part of the presentation on Urban Design. It looks at 5 Canadian locations, built at different times, and how design is changing over time.

– 30 –

End note:
The 2009 BC Land Summit was a gathering of over 800 land use practitioners from across the province. The Summit took place over May 20-22 in Whistler, and was hosted by
The Real Estate Foundation of BC was a major funder of the event in 2004 and again in 2009.

©Real Estate Foundation of BC / 2009. We encourage the reproduction of articles on this website non-profit educational purposes. Please notify the Foundation and the author of all reproductions, including in-house uses.

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