Guest Spotlight: “If Minivans Were Manufactured Like Houses”

Guest Spotlight: “If Minivans Were Manufactured Like Houses”

Written by Yasushi Ohki, Executive Director of Green Violin.

Yasushi was raised in Edmonton and has called it home since completing degrees in civil engineering (University of Alberta) and architecture (University of British Columbia). For over 22 years, he has worked in the land development industry, including greenfield development, infill residential construction and project management. Yasushi has also spent a good portion of his professional life in civil service, first in Strathcona County’s Current Planning Department, then in the Government of Alberta’s Ministry of Infrastructure, and finally in the City of Edmonton’s Housing and Homelessness Section. Yasushi brings to his work a love of urban design and a keen eye for how people interact with architecture, combined with a sensitivity to the realities of building construction and maintenance. He continues his work in community development with the establishment of a trio of sustainability-oriented organizations: the Green Violin Community Development Company, the Rose Cello Affordable Housing Society, and the Prairie Sky Property Management Corporation.

If Minivans Were Manufactured Like Housing

We can increase the capacity of existing roads, we can efficiently transport more people, our whole family can travel together! It’s such a great idea. Let’s get a minivan – not so fast, this is Edmonton and if  minivans were manufactured like houses – it wouldn’t be that easy.

SPRING:  First of all, is your property even allowed to have a minivan? Check your property zoning. Luckily, City Council has approved a new zoning bylaw that encourages density and minivans are allowed to be built as a discretionary use. That means that you must engage your immediate neighbours and get them to support your application to have a minivan. Most of your neighbours, even the friendly ones, start to feel uncomfortable. They agree that minivans are a great idea for increasing capacity, they just don’t want to see one in their neighbourhood. Some neighbours are outright rude and say they don’t want the kind of people that minivans attract. They say that it will bring down the value of their own cars that they enjoy. You’ll have to deal with them later at Council or at a special board that hears appeals.

SUMMER:  You are convinced you are doing what is good for the city and good for the environment. You engage a minivan designer and start looking for a minivan builder. At the same time, you submit your proposed design for your minivan to the City and by this time, you don’t even object to the City’s minivan planners who say you need to change the roofline and remove most of the windows on one side, you also have to lower your minivan so it doesn’t sit too high above the cars in your neighbourhood. In addition, you have to agree that no more than three unrelated individuals will ever use the minivan at the same time, and you cannot rent your minivan out for sharing. Six months have passed since deciding on a minivan but you are still determined. You have your permits approved and you are ready to start building.

AUTUMN:  Your minivan builder is busy and you have to wait for them to show up at your property. Eventually the tires arrive, followed by some of the bodywork. The seats appear one day and disappear the next. You buy some insurance against theft. One builder rep shows up but not all the components are on site so he leaves. It rains. You look out of the window as  your parts start to rust a bit. Eventually enough of the components arrive that the trades start to appear and assemble your minivan. For most of the autumn you excitedly sit in the half built shell and imagine all the road trips you will take.

WINTER:  Months pass. Parts come and go. Some parts fit, some parts don’t. Trades come and go. Some are good, some are not. Your dream minivan is looking okay, but it’s taking so long. Finally the interior finish is nearing completion, your minivan is inspected and is found to be roadworthy. Sure some painting needs to be touched up, and a few of the lights don’t work, and the left tire still leaks. These are owner maintenance items so you are handed the keys. It took some time, and a lot of effort but you are making a difference. You are part of the solution. Congratulations you have now own a minivan!

CONCLUSION:  You are not happy with the process. Minivans should not be built this way. If we do not change the process and time to provide minivans, there will not be as many as the City needs in order to fulfil the City Plan. This is imperative to meet affordability goals, climate goals and livability goals.  There needs to be a revolution. There will be a revolution. We cannot grow without it.