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How you attach to people may explain a lot about your inner life | Science

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In 2006, a team of Norwegian researchers set out to study how experienced psychotherapists help people to change. Led by Michael Rønnestad, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oslo, the team followed 50 therapist-patient pairs, tracking, in minute detail, what the therapists did that made them so effective. Margrethe Halvorsen, a post-doc at the time, was given the job of interviewing the patients at the end of the treatment.

That’s how she met Cora – a woman in her late 40s, single, childless, easy to like. As a kid, Cora (a pseudonym) had suffered repeated sexual abuse at the hands of her mother and her mother’s friends. Before entering therapy, she habitually self-harmed. She’d tried to kill herself a number of times, too, her body still scarred by the remnants of suicides not carried through.

“Her story was in the room,” Halvorsen tells me, then grows quiet as she stumbles to convey the strong impression that Cora left on her. Seven years after they met, it’s still hard to articulate: “Maybe presence is the right word.”

It was the way that Cora spoke of the atrocities done to her – in a steady voice, with clear eyes – that made the researcher wonder how someone so scarred could seem so alive, and undiminished.

At one point during their interview, when Halvorsen asked Cora to describe her therapy in a picture or a word, she’d blurted out: “It saved my life.” Intrigued, she invited three fellow psychologists to help her delve deeper into Cora’s case and uncover what had happened in the therapy room.

“We didn’t know what we were getting into,” Halvorsen told me. Following initial interviews with both Cora and her therapist, the researchers ploughed through a total of 242 summary notes that the two had written after each session over the course of the three-year study. From this data, the team selected and transcribed verbatim 25 sessions that seemed particularly important. The final material approached 500 pages of single-spaced text. Halvorsen and her colleagues puzzled over it for more than two years in a bid to understand what, exactly, had saved Cora’s life.

When you delve into it, the question of how people change through therapy can make your head swim. Here’s a psychological intervention that seems to work as well as drugs (and, studies suggest, possibly better over the long term), and yet what is it, precisely, that works? Two people sit in a room and talk, every week, for a set amount of time, and at some point one of them walks out the door a different person, no longer beleaguered by pain, crippled by fear or crushed by despair. Why? How?

Things get even more puzzling if you consider the sheer number of therapies on offer and the conflicting methods that they often employ. Some want you to feel more (eg, psychodynamic and emotion-focused approaches); others to feel less and think more (eg cognitive behavioural therapies, or CBT). The former see difficult emotions as something that needs to come out, be worked through and re-assimilated; the latter as something to be challenged and controlled through conscious modification of negative thoughts.

Some therapists don’t even talk much of the time, letting the silence wring uncomfortable truths out of their clients; others hardly pause between structured sequences of exercises and homework assignments. Across more than 400 psychotherapies available today, your shrink can take the form of a healer, a confidante, a clinical expert, a mental-fitness coach or any combination, shade and hue of these.

Over the past three years, I’ve talked to dozens of therapists from various schools, trying to understand how therapy works – and by this I mean heals: the darker entrapments of compulsive confession or the complex entanglements of unresolved transference are not my subjects here. Lately, I’ve broadened my quest to understand the basis of therapeutic efficacy to include researchers as well as practitioners, but most of these conversations left me feeling that neither the experts studying therapeutic change nor those effecting it could, when pressed, convincingly explain how people heal.

Begrudgingly, I kept going back to what Alan Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University, said in 2009 in a widely cited paper: “It is remarkable that after decades of psychotherapy research we cannot provide an evidence-based explanation for how or why even our most well-studied interventions produce change.”

To complicate matters, numerous studies over the past few decades have reached what seems a counterintuitive conclusion: that all psychotherapies have roughly equal effects. This is known as the “dodo bird verdict” – named after a character in Alice in Wonderland (1865) who declares after a running contest: “Everybody has won and all must have prizes.” That no single form of therapy has proved superior to others might come as a surprise to readers, but it’s mightily familiar to researchers in the field. “There is so much data for this conclusion that if it were not so threatening to specific theories it would long ago have been accepted as one of psychology’s major findings,” writes Arthur Bohart, professor emeritus at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and author of several books on psychotherapy.

Even so, this alleged equivalence among various therapies is a product of statistics. It says nothing about what works best for each specific individual, nor does it imply that you can pick any therapy and obtain the same benefit. Perhaps some people fare well with the structure and direction of a cognitive approach, while others respond better to the open-ended exploration and sense-making offered by psychodynamic or existential perspectives. When aggregated, these individual differences can cancel out, making all therapies appear equally effective.

A lot of researchers, however, believe that this is not the only explanation. For them, the deeper reason why no single psychotherapy seems to provide unique advantages over any other is that they all work because of shared elements. Chief among these is the therapeutic relationship, connected to positive outcomes by a wealth of evidence.

The emotional bond and the collaboration between client and therapist – called the alliance – have emerged as a strong predictor of improvement, even in therapies that don’t emphasise relational factors.

Until recently, most studies of this alliance could show only that it correlates with better mental health in clients, but advances in research methods now find evidence for a causal link, suggesting that the therapy relationship might indeed be healing. Similarly, research into the traits of effective therapists has revealed that their greater experience with or a stricter adherence to a specific approach do not lead to improved outcomes whereas empathy, warmth, hopefulness and emotional expressiveness do.

All of this suggests a tantalising alternative to both the medical professional’s and the layperson’s view of therapy: that what happens between client and therapist goes beyond mere talking, and goes deeper than clinical treatment. The relationship is both greater and more primal, and it compares with the developmental strides that play out between mother and baby, and that help to turn a diapered mess into a normal, healthy person. I am referring to attachment.

To push the analogy further, what if, attachment theory asks, therapy gives you the chance to reach back and repair your earliest emotional bonds, correcting, as you do, the noxious mechanics of your mental afflictions?

Attachment theory traces its roots to the British psychoanalyst John Bowlby, who in the 1950s combined evolutionary theory and psychoanalysis into a brave new paradigm. Aghast at his profession’s lack of academic rigour, Bowlby turned to the burgeoning science of animal behaviour. Experiments with infant monkeys (some so plainly cruel that no ethical board would permit them today) had challenged the then prevailing notion that infants see their mothers chiefly as a source of food.

Bowlby realised that “the mother-infant bond is not purely generated by the drive to latch onto the breast, but it’s also motivated by this idea of comfort”, says Jeremy Holmes, a British professor of psychological therapies (now part-retired) and co-author of the book Attachment in Therapeutic Practice (2018).

The search for comfort, or security, Bowlby argued, is an inborn need: we’ve evolved to seek attachment to “older, wiser” caregivers to protect us from danger during the long spell of helplessness known as childhood. The attachment figure, usually one or both parents, becomes a secure base from which to explore the world, and a safe haven to return to for comfort. According to Holmes, Bowlby saw in attachment theory “the beginning of a science of intimate relationships” and the promise that “if we could study parents and children, and the way they relate to each other, we can begin to understand what happens in the consulting room” between client and therapist.

Research on attachment theory suggests that early interactions with caregivers can dramatically affect your beliefs about yourself, your expectations of others, and the way you process information, cope with stress and regulate your emotions as an adult. For example, children of sensitive mothers – the cooing, soothing type – develop secure attachment, learn to accept and express negative feelings, lean on others for help, and trust their own ability to deal with stress.

By contrast, children of unresponsive or insensitive caregivers form insecure attachment. They become anxious and easily distressed by the smallest sign of separation from their attachment figure. Harsh or dismissive mothers produce avoidant infants, who suppress their emotions and deal with stress alone. Finally, children with abusive caregivers become disorganised: they switch between avoidant and anxious coping, engage in odd behaviours and, like Cora, often self-harm.

Anxious, avoidant and disorganised attachment styles develop as responses to inadequate caregiving: a case of “making the best of a bad situation”. But the repeated interactions with deficient early attachment figures can become neurally encoded and then subconsciously activated later in life, especially in stressful and intimate situations. That’s how your childhood attachment patterns can solidify into a corrosive part of your personality, distorting how you see and experience the world, and how you interact with other people.

The psychologist Mario Mikulincer of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel is one of the pioneers of modern attachment theory, studying precisely such cascading effects. In a number of experiments spanning two decades, he has found that, as adults, anxious people have low self-esteem and are easily overwhelmed by negative emotions. They also tend to exaggerate threats and doubt their ability to deal with them. Driven by a desperate need for safety, such people seek to “merge” with their partners and they can become suspicious, jealous or angry towards them, often without objective cause.

If the anxious among us crave connection, avoidant people strive for distance and control. They detach from strong emotions (both positive and negative), withdraw from conflicts and avoid intimacy. Their self-reliance means that they see themselves as strong and independent, but this positive image comes at the expense of maintaining a negative view of others. As a result, their close relationships remain superficial, cool and unsatisfying. And while being emotionally numb can help avoidant people weather ordinary challenges, research shows that, in the midst of a crisis, their defences can crumble and leave them extremely vulnerable.

It isn’t hard to see how such attachment patterns can undermine mental health. Both anxious and avoidant coping have been linked to a heightened risk of anxiety, depression, loneliness, eating and conduct disorders, alcohol dependence, substance abuse and hostility. The way to treat these problems, say attachment theorists, is in and through a new relationship. On this view, the good therapist becomes a temporary attachment figure, assuming the functions of a nurturing mother, repairing lost trust, restoring security, and instilling two of the key skills engendered by a normal childhood: the regulation of emotions and a healthy intimacy.

When Cora began therapy, it was clear that she would be a challenging patient. The letter from her GP asked for someone “courageous” to treat her, and you could see why: she insisted on retaining her right to self-harm and suicide. “I had the feeling that she could kill herself in the middle of the therapy, and I just had to take that risk,” her therapist told the researchers at the end of the study. So how did he manage to pull Cora back from the brink?

In teasing out some answers from the reams of data they’d collected, Halvorsen and her team found a curious call-and-response pattern emerging between Cora and the therapist, which has an analogue in mother-infant interactions. First, Cora would put herself down, then the therapist would acknowledge her negative emotions but also deflect them right away, recasting her destructive tendencies as survival mechanisms that she’d used as a kid to protect herself from the trauma but which hampered her as an adult. Gently but firmly, he challenged her self-loathing by reframing what she saw as damning and unacceptable about herself into something human and understandable.

Often, he asked her to think of “the child on the staircase”, referring to a memory that Cora had shared in an earlier session. “It is a really upsetting scene,” Halvorsen told me – one in which Cora’s mother gets angry at her. ‘I think she filled a suitcase with some of the child’s clothes and told the little girl to leave. And the girl was sitting outside on the staircase for many hours, and didn’t know what to do or where to go.” The therapist, Halvorsen noticed, would return to this scene over and over again, trying to evoke Cora’s self-compassion and counter her unrelenting self-criticism.

This pattern of empathising, then reframing and de-shaming looks uncannily like the mirroring-and-soothing exchanges between mother and infant in the first years of life. Spend any amount of time around a newborn and you’ll see that, when baby cries, mum swoops in, picks him up and then scrunches her face in an exaggerated imitation of his distress. According to Peter Fonagy, a psychopathology researcher at University College London, who has long studied children and young people, the mother’s amplified reflection forms a key part of the child’s developing a sense of self and emotional control. “Anxiety, for example, is for the infant a confusing mixture of physical changes, ideas and behaviours,” he told me. “When the mother reflects, or mirrors, the child’s anxiety, he now ‘knows’ what he’s feeling.”

This knowledge, says Fonagy, doesn’t come prewired into us. We don’t understand the meaning of our internal experiences until we see them externalised, or played out for us in the faces and reactions of our caregivers. “Paradoxically, even though I now know perfectly well when I feel anxious,” Fonagy explains in a video interview from 2016, “the anxiety that I recognise as my anxiety is actually not my own anxiety but is my picture of my mum looking back at me when I as a baby felt anxious.” The sensitive mother picks up on the infant’s mental and emotional state and mirrors it; the child learns to recognise his internal experience as “sadness” or “anxiety” or “joy”. Previously chaotic sensations now become coherent and integrated into the infant’s sense of who he is, allowing emotions to be processed, predicted and appropriately navigated.

But mum doesn’t just mirror baby’s emotional pain; she soothes it. Rocking the infant in her arms or cooing in that mellifluous voice that stops tears in their tracks, the responsive mother contains the baby’s negative feelings. Distress, writes Holmes in 2015, “is transmitted from baby to mother, ‘metabolised’ via mother’s musings” and so predigested. It is given back to the baby in an altered, less intense form.

Cora’s therapist likewise helped her to assimilate her most painful feelings. By learning to tolerate negative states, she could develop resilience in the face of her darker inner experiences. He encouraged her to let out her shame and anger, reflecting them back empathically in a way that made her feel seen and known. But he also contained and transformed those emotions for her by re-narrating them in terms of adaptation, protection and survival. Like a good mother, he predigested Cora’s distress by making sense of it and, by giving it a meaning and explanation, he transformed it into something that could be accepted and endured.

Eventually, the co-regulation of emotions between mother and infant, or therapist and client, paves the way to self-mastery and self-regulation. One way this happens in the early years, writes Mikulincer in 2003, is by internalising the caregiver: her voice and attitude become a part of you, and when you hit a rough patch, you pick yourself up using the same words your mother once used to soothe you. Another way to be weaned off emotional dependence in childhood is to grow your own inner resources by tackling and learning from challenges. In stretching herself, the young child confronts the inevitable risk of failure, as well as fighting the allure of myriad other activities, such as playing with toys or sticking her fingers into power sockets. “With the support, reassurance, guidance and encouragement of a caring and loving attachment figure, children can cope better with failure, persist in the task despite obstacles, and inhibit other impulses and distractions,” Mikulincer told me. In this way, kids increase their tolerance of negative emotions, and master valuable skills to deal with problems on their own.

A similar process occurs in therapy. After a while, clients internalise the warmth and understanding of their therapist, turning it into an internal resource to draw on for strength and support. A new, compassionate voice flickers into life, silencing that of the inner critic – itself an echo of insensitive earlier attachment figures. But this transformation doesn’t come easy. As the poet WH Auden wrote in The Age of Anxiety (1947): “We would rather be ruined than changed.” It is the therapist’s job, as a secure base and safe haven, to guide clients as they journey into unfamiliar waters, helping them stay hopeful and to persist through the pain, sadness, anger, fear, anxiety and despair they might need to face.

This happens not just through talking but wordlessly, too. In fact, according to the psychologist Allan Schore of the University of California, Los Angeles, who has studied attachment from the viewpoint of neurobiology over the past 20 years, change in therapy occurs not so much in the intellectual communication between client and therapist but in a more imperceptible way – through a conversation between two brains and two bodies. Perhaps this mode of attachment predominates in therapies where there is less talking, and more rule-following.

Once again, the process mirrors good caregiving early in life. Long before speech, mother and infant communicate with each other via nonverbal cues – facial expression, mutual gaze, vocal nuance, gesture and touch. In the squeeze of his fist, in the batting of an eyelash, the sensitive mother “reads” her child’s emotional states and responds appropriately through her own body. These wordless communications, writes Schore, get registered and processed by the baby’s right-brain hemisphere, shaping the nascent neural systems involved in emotion processing and automatic stress responses. Mum’s nonverbal signals become encoded as implicit, non-conscious strategies that the infant’s right brain will later activate unconsciously to regulate his emotions.

Again, something similar plays out in therapy. The good practitioner subconsciously tunes in to those emotions left unsaid, to the internal states the client might not even be aware of. Moment by moment, the therapist adjusts her own body language in response to her client’s internal rhythms, engaging them in a kind of dance in which both partners mutually influence and synchronise themselves to each other. According to Schore, over time the nonverbal attachment communications from the therapist can become imprinted into the client’s right brain, revising stored coping patterns, and giving rise to more flexible and adaptive ones.

To Fonagy, a factor that is just as fundamental to the restoration of wellbeing in therapy is social learning. From the vantage point of evolution, we might be hardwired to mistrust others because a negative bias serves survival. Yet, for an intensely social species such as ours, being constantly on guard doesn’t bode well. How, then, do we trust, cooperate and connect with other people while also protecting ourselves from the threat that they might pose?

The theory of natural pedagogy, proposed in 2011 by Gergely Csibra and György Gergely, professors of cognitive science at the Central European University in Budapest, suggests an answer. In this view, evolution has engineered a nifty mechanism to relax our natural vigilance so that we can learn from others. To recognise relevant and trustworthy sources of information, we rely on certain visual and verbal cues or signals. In childhood, writes Fonagy in 2014, these cues are the same ones that underlie secure attachment (the special vocalisations of “motherese”, for example). Babies, in other words, are primed to trust the sensitive caregiver, who, in turn, teaches them how to trust others and navigate their social world. A study from Harvard University in 2009 shows that securely attached children are discerning judges of credibility – they trust mum when she is being reasonable but go with their own judgments when her statements run against reality. Their security in themselves and others turns these kids into adults open to new information, comfortable with uncertainty and flexible with changing their views in light of new data.

The opposite holds for the insecurely attached. Anxious people tend to distort social cues and exaggerate threats, and this can mislead them into seeing their partners as unreliable, unsupportive or uninterested. Avoidant people focus on protecting themselves, which can make them cling to negative stereotypes of others in the face of ample evidence to the contrary. For example, Mikulincer’s study in 2003 had married couples rate their partner’s behaviour over the course of three weeks. While anxious people gave higher ratings when their spouses were objectively more supportive, avoidant people completely failed to register positive changes in their partners.

Insecure attachment, it appears, perpetuates our natural suspicion, keeping us closed off and unreceptive to socially relevant information. Fonagy calls this “epistemic mistrust”, and for him it might be the common denominator of many mental-health problems, explaining their severity and persistence. The chief value of psychotherapy, he says, lies in its potential to rekindle our epistemic trust and jumpstart our ability to learn from others in our social environment. By restoring attachment security, therapy lowers our social vigilance and opens us to trusting one person – the therapist – which eventually allows us to go out into the world and trust other people. The importance of this recognition is such that even in CBT sessions, when therapists are bombarded by clients’ upset feelings, they will temporarily shift their usual agenda or stance to empathise with the feeling state, and then shift back to emphasising cognitive themes and the rational control of emotional experience.

The restoration of secure attachment is what happened with Cora, too. In her last sessions, she realised that she wasn’t actually alone. She had a friend she could count on, and a sister who shared her childhood memories. It wasn’t that these people were absent before; she just wasn’t seeing them, or perhaps not trusting what was right in front of her. But her growing trust – first in the therapist, then in the goodwill of the world and her own ability to navigate it – allowed her to see others “more as opportunities for social contact, rather than threats”. Cora was by no means cured by her therapy: her trauma ran too deep. But she was saved. She was ready to live and to keep healing.

In their last session together, Cora left the therapist a parting gift – a carabiner. It is how, in the mountains, two climbers stay securely attached by rope, so that, if one stumbles, the link with the other will keep him from falling into the precipice.

This essay was originally published in Aeon. It was made possible through the support of a grant to Aeon from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation. Funders to Aeon Magazine are not involved in editorial decision-making.

… will the 2020s offer more hope? This has been a turbulent decade across the world – protest, populism, mass migration and the escalating climate crisis. The Guardian has been in every corner of the globe, reporting with tenacity, rigour and authority on the most critical events of our lifetimes. At a time when factual information is both scarcer and more essential than ever, we believe that each of us deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity at its heart.

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iridesce
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DC
sarcozona
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mkalus
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iPhone: 49.287476,-123.142136
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diannemharris
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Placebo effect seems to neatly describe the benefits of therapy.

Bodega at Twilight

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Michael Kalus posted a photo:

Bodega at Twilight



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sarcozona
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This is one of my favourite spots in Vancouver.
mkalus
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so this is the new year

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I know that human brains gobble up patterns and ritual like there’s no tomorrow, and while there is technically no difference between the December 31st of one year and the January 1st of the next it nevertheless feels like the turn of the year is when I am granted a brief reprieve from physical reality in which I get to believe that I’m the kind of person who can effect change just by wanting it a lot.

In 2019 I turned an age that is a multiple of ten, which I also know only feels meaningful because we have ten fingers and count in base ten, and there’s no rational reason for this birthday to matter any more or less than any other. But trying to argue with my brain on this account (or really any other) feels an awful lot like trying to convince my cat that there is still another half hour to go before breakfast every morning: it may be technically true but it certainly doesn’t stop the screaming.

I read about a study a long time ago (or maybe I just think I read about a study like this because I’ve been Googling for twenty minutes and I can’t find any mention of it) that tracked the same group of people for decades. Every five years (allegedly) the researchers checked in and asked just two questions: whether the people in the study felt like they had changed a lot in the preceding five years, and whether they expected to keep changing. Every time, the subjects answered overwhelmingly that they had indeed changed a lot, but that they expected to no longer keep changing, that they were in their final form.

Despite all evidence to the contrary we seem to be awfully good at convincing ourselves that there is such a thing as a final form at all, that there is a state we can reach in which no more additional change is required. Every time I contemplate writing New Year’s Resolutions I wonder whether I’m trying too hard to figure out my final form, whether that’s the blocker, because questions like “what kind of person do I want to be” and “what direction do I want my life to take” inherently imply a sort of finality, like this is a decision that I can make once and then put in a pretty box and on a shelf somewhere and never have to think about again. I know I will never come up with an actual answer, and that this is for the best, and yet when I think about continually making these decisions for the rest of my life I feel preemptively exhausted and slightly resentful.

So here I am at the start of a new year, still at the start of a new decade in my life, a new decade in the Gregorian calendar, a time of so-called renewal and professed change, and I’ve never been less certain, or more terrified. I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people is the constant refrain humming in the background of my life. A mere two years ago I spent three hours each day writing up a digest of all the terrible things that happened in American politics that day, and that may have broken the part of my brain that processes news, or maybe our brains were never meant to process how broken the world is. In the light of the fires and the bombs and the cruel cages (every cage is cruel) and the senseless wars (every war is senseless), I don’t know how to even think about the concept of future without breaking down, let alone plan for my path in it.

The future is coming though, one second at a time, whether I’m ready to think about it or not. The new year arrived and passed regardless of how I feel about resolutions, and the work will continue, and so will the fear, and the chance to make the right decision every day. As much as I believe that it can be self-care to turn off the news to preserve one’s mental health, I also believe that true and genuine self-care entails working to create the kind of world where engaging with the polity is not inherently destructive to our ability to survive. Moreover, I believe—probably more strongly than I believe in anything else—that I have a moral duty to do this work because of the abundance I have that many in the world don’t, that despondence is a luxury I don’t get because I already have so much.

This work won’t always look like marching in the streets (although sometimes it will because I am incredibly lucky that I can do so with little fear of panic attacks or state reprisal or economic instability). Sometimes it will also mean being a little kinder than I might instinctively want to be, extending a little more benefit of the doubt even when I am (correctly, justifiably, incontrovertibly) furious, because no matter how heartbreaking and disappointing I sometimes find other human beings they are still human beings.

The concept of future, and the prospect of changing it, are a big enough and nebulous enough burden that it feels like hubris to think I can make a difference at all. But that’s how all change starts, isn’t it? Just a little bit of refusal to give up, in the moment. A little bit of stubbornness in believing that change is possible even if the brightest minds of my generation say it’s not. Spite is a powerful motivator, and I want to live a life in defiance of everything capitalism, imperialism, and hegemony says I should be.

So in 2020, I pledge to be stubborn. I pledge to take on fewer things but to do more in those realms. To think more deeply than I think I have the time to do, to listen and to amplify. To be fierce and occasionally spiteful, and to cut myself some slack so I can be fierce and spiteful again tomorrow. I’m not sure what other choice I have, but I also think that finding a way to work towards a world that we want to live in is the only real choice anyone can make, the only forward momentum there is. So let’s go forward.

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Senakw Is Not a Gift

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From the CBC:

“I really think this is a real gift to the city,” said Stewart. “Everything we can do to make this project be successful is at the top of my list.”

 

Be careful.  If Senakw, the Squamish Burrard Bridge project, is a gift to the city, other proponents will come bearing gifts for similar considerations.

From Expo 86 to the 2010 Olympics, the City has seen almost a dozen megaprojects appear on the skyline – developer-driven, comprehensively designed and built, beginning with Concord Pacific in the late eighties.  All through the nineties, megaprojects sprouted – from Coal Harbour to Collingwood Village to Fraser Lands.

They all had to meet standards for complete communities, based originally on what we had learned when the City created the South Shore of False Creek, followed by Granville Island.  If a developer came to the City with a megaproject proposal, they came with a plan that met the council-approved megaproject standards.

The City extracted huge wealth from the value it created through those zoning approvals.  Lots of parkland and seawall extensions, in addition to the basic infrastructure – pipes, cables and roads.  As well: social amenities and necessities – schools, community centres, child care as a priority; housing percents for families with children, for social equity. There were design standards: for cycling, for sustainability, for the arts.  And more.  That’s what we meant by ‘complete communities’ – and you can go walk around in the results.

Developers paid for all this through direct provision of the benefits, like a child-care centre, or through ‘contributions’ – those CACs you hear about without quite understanding how they work.

In the case of Senakw, it could be the other way around.

Ginger Gosnell-Myers (Vancouver’s first aboriginal relations manager) said Senakw will give future Vancouverites the chance to live in the city and it’s up to the city to respond to concerns about infrastructure and capacity.

Stewart say he is up to the challenge, including working with the park board, the school board and the province to ensure community services are available when the neighbourhood’s new residents arrive.

At 10- to 12,000 residents, there is no way Senakw could meet some of the established standards.  Concord Pacific had to provide 2.75 acres of park for every thousand residents.  Senakw would need more than twice the area of its entire 11-acre site.  While it’s not yet clear what Senakw will  provide, it isn’t obligated.  Nor is it yet clear (or even negotiated), but the City looks like it’s committing itself to providing significant amenities and necessities – accepting density and paying for impacts.

So if the development itself – the thousands of market rental apartments – is the gift, then why would the City not be open to receiving more gifts from other developers.  Yes, Senakw is unique given its status as a reserve, so developers wouldn’t expect the same deal.  They’d just expect the amenity bar to be lowered.

How the relationship develops and negotiations occur is what reconciliation is seriously about – a relationship based on mutual interests levered for maximum value. One of the values of the City is the building of complete communities.  Squamish would point to their own history for examples.  It shouldn’t be hard to come to a consensus.

Squamish has an interest in a successful development in every respect.  The city has to demonstrate respect.  Together, they’re negotiating our collective interests.

This is the reality of reconciliation.  It’s not about gifts, or reparations.  It’s about building the latest version of a complete community, together.

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Goodman Gate

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Goodman, Vancouver’s pre-eminent seller of small (and some large) apartment blocks, has raised the alert about a Council motion that emerged from the Rental Incentives Review. The gate-worthy motion instructs staff “to prepare a report for consideration for referral to public hearing” that would extend rental replacement requirements.

…. older commercial properties with three or more rental apartments will be bound by rate-of-change regulations and will have to replace those rental apartments upon redevelopment, including redevelopment to four-storey condos.

A few observations.

If you’re in the hysteria business, don’t -gate your issue.  Overuse, like inflated currency, lessens value.

Goodman maintains that this move, if enacted, would “reduce the residual land value of these commercial properties.  (This) amounts to a downzoning.”  Leaving aside whether that is technically a downzoning, the conclusion is nonetheless “that if you own a C-2 zoned site in Vancouver, your property is on its way to devaluation.”

That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean the price will drop commensurately.  It may mean that owners over time won’t get as much a return as they might have otherwise.

It may also mean that these regulations kill off re-development and new rental housing along arterials and in some commercial zones.  But it’s hard to get as excited about something that may not happen as it is to protest the loss of existing rental stock.

It’s also hard for those who have seen a spectacular rise in their asset value to receive sympathy if the rise in the worth of their property is consequently less spectacular.  Sympathy tends to go to those downstream who pay the increased rents from the spectacular rise.

It’s surprising that the rental replacement policy isn’t already in place for apartments along commercial strips.  If Burnaby had had that requirement for its rental stock south of Metrotown, Derek Corrigan might still be mayor. In the current political climate (elections have consequences), it will be hard to persuade the Vancouver council that they shouldn’t take action to protect the rental housing stock.

However, Goodman does possibly raise something gate-worthy at the end of the missive:

“The 5th bullet says to direct staff to report back on:

“The possibility of using zoning similar to the DEOD (Downtown East Side-Oppenheimer) zoning (60% social housing and 40% rental for anything above 1 FSR) to depress land prices so it will be cheaper to buy for non-market housing.”

Gee, I wonder which councillor moved that motion.  Announcing that the intent of your policy is to sterilize land values so you can pick it up cheap won’t go down well in in the business community, or in the courts.

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sarcozona
11 days ago
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City governments should be able to use zoning to destroy land values if provinces and federal governments won’t tax rentiers’ into the fucking ground
mkalus
50 days ago
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The Permafrost and Us: An Analysis (and Plea) by Mike Brown

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The posts today are like the weather: gloomy, but it’s the environment we live in.

The Washington Post just featured this report: The Arctic may have crossed key threshold, emitting billions of tons of carbon into the air, in a long-dreaded climate feedback.

Mike Brown, who was a member of Vancouver’s Clouds of Change Task force 30 years ago (the first report by a municipality on climate change), has been doing analysis and raising questions with respect to Canada’s permafrost (and our responsibility) with urgency and trepidation.

Here is his update:

An article from the Washington Post is making its rounds today. Permafrost thaw has made the mainstream!

It refers to two reports* about the state of affairs.  Each says that there’s evidence that the annual net emissions (thaw in winter months minus growth in summer months) from the permafrost are now about .6 Pg of Carbon.  Here is a quote from the NOAA Arctic Report:

“ . . .  suggests that carbon release in the cold season offsets net carbon uptake during the growing season (derived from models) such that the region as a whole could already be a source of 0.6 Pg C per year to the atmosphere.”

Here is what the reports don’t mention.

  • “0.6Pg” stands for 600 million tonnes, or 600 Megatonnes (MT) of Carbon.
  • When Carbon is oxidized, each tonne is converted into 3.67 tonnes of CO2.   So, this 600 MT of C becomes 2,200 MT of CO2. (And there will be some methane, but it’s not quantified.)
  • If Canada has around 35% of the tundra area that bears the thawing material, that means that from our territory, there’s about 770 MT of CO2 coming off every year.    (That percent which is ours needs scrutiny.)

That is the same as we emit as humans, and is our national target (“NDC”) as expressed in Madrid.

There is no indication in either article that this annual net number can be expected to decline.

The damage caused by this extra tonnage will, of course, be distributed all around the world.   So, some will say “global problem”.  However, we already claim credit for the carbon absorbed by our growing temperate rain forests – can we claim credit for one but not be responsible for the other?

If someone said: you have to fix this problem because keeping to the 1.5 degree limit is a sacred target, then at $100US per ton, which is the currently best estimate, this would cost us Cdn$100 billion per annum which about 4 or 5 percent of GDP.      Right now, we spend about 10 percent of our GDP on health care.

The difference is this: we can affect the human emissions because that’s all voluntary.   But there’s nothing voluntary about the permafrost.  We claim “credit” for the carbon sucked up by our temperate rain forests, so how can we avoid the debit of the permafrost?

I am working away at taking these numbers and trying to extrapolate to the future.  That’s always a tricky undertaking, but I will say this now: if we assume geometric change rates going back, we should be able to figure out when in the past the permafrost became a net source of CO2 rather than a sink.

This is all guesswork because nobody has tried to do it so far as I know.   But let’s assume that this transition happened as recently as 50 years ago.  If those same rates of change prevail (big, big question) then by the end of the century something in the order of 9 percent NET of all the carbon in the permafrost will have became gaseous, emitting (net) around 450 Billion tons of CO2.

If you think that’s a big, dangerous number, well, you’re right.  It also looks to me that if ECCC is serious about getting to zero emissions by 2050, then Canadian emissions from permafrost could be four to five times as much as from humans by about half-way there (2035).   To repeat, though, these are just numbers right now and need a lot of work to become more confident.

Those of you who like graphical representations, consider this.   Total current emissions from Canadian territory are around 400 million tons; that’s about the same as 200 million cubic metres.  That would build a wall from Victoria to Halifax which is about two storeys high and two storeys wide.

 

*Here are links to the two papers:

https://arctic.noaa.gov/Report-Card/Report-Card-2019/ArtMID/7916/ArticleID/844/Permafrost-and-the-Global-Carbon-Cycle

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-019-0592-8

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-019-0592-8

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sarcozona
11 days ago
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Oh no
mkalus
38 days ago
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