May 10, 2005 at 12:02 am | In yulelogStories | 1 Comment

For Mother’s Day I got a “pro” account at Flickr, which means I can indulge in uploading a million photos that “document” some of the ubiquitous development projects happening in Victoria. I’ll tag them all with “urban development,” although some will be more “residential” than “urban” — many projects are downtown, but others are on the fringe, or in residential areas, or else in reclaimed industrial areas being converted to mixed residential and commercial use (the “Upper Harbour” is one example of the latter). The main tag for all of them will be “urban development,” but when I have some time, I’ll try to figure out how to make sets, and I’ll add additional tags to sort them into categories.

To start with tonight, I uploaded a handful of the brick wall photos which I took last February, but which I didn’t get to upload at the time because I exceeded my free account’s limit. The brick wall is part of the “Cathedral Hill” development on the toward-downtown edge of Fairfield. Since shooting the photos of the brick wall nearly three months ago, I met some people who bought a condo in the proposed development, and they swore that the developer has now decided to integrate the wall as part of the overall plan. I.e., the wall will not be demolished.

Then, last March, the son and I went to the Upper Harbour to photograph the proposed Dockside development site, which is currently still heavily polluted and needs further remediation, but which eventually is supposed to garner a platinum certification from the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system. On the far end of the trail along the Harbour, there’s a residential development that’s already finished and largely sold: the Railyards (a series of cute cookie-cutter townhouses in pomo Euro-style). What’s very nice is the public access to the trail and the water.

The uploading to Flickr takes forever.

Tonight, while it was still light, I took myself to the Humboldt Valley section of Fairfield/ downtown and photographed the several projects happening around the Fairfield Road/ Blanshard Street/ Humboldt Street area. The landmark Empress Hotel is visible from the rise, as are the rooftops of the Parliament Buildings, all icons of tourism. In addition, this area is the site of St. Ann’s Academy, once (incredibly) in the viewfinder of the wrecker’s ball, but since then saved and declared a heritage building. Its walled grounds are idyllic, with apple orchard and a sort of meditative walking garden, right on the edge of downtown. Across the street was St. Joseph’s Hospital, now turned into an apartment. Next to it, a new building, Mount St. Mary’s, is home to a pretty grand-looking assisted living facility. I didn’t photograph these buildings, but instead focussed on the residential development already taking place, as well as slated to take place or in progress. There’s a modest, older wooden church across the road from St. Ann’s, at the corner of Blanshard and Humboldt. This building is set to be dwarfed by four “high rises” (around 10 to 15 stories, which is considered high around here). I took quite a few shots of the Belvedere development across the street, currently in a state of having the foundations and parkade excavated. It’s quite interesting: the excavation abuts right up to the sidewalk, which perches over this huge pit, and the only thing that separates you from it is a light metal fence. A couple of the pictures include my foot or my hand, for scale, but that device actually didn’t work very well. I thought it was more effective when I focussed on the site materials, which often created abstract patterns. I also loved the fence, which helped create a grid across the plane of the photographed image. In the background of many of these photos, you can see the Empress as well as the now-defunct Crystal Gardens, which used to be an exotic bird sanctuary, but is now scheduled to be transformed into another Disneyfication episode, with a virtual experience of BC. (Barf.)

Finally, I took myself back to the Bambu site in Chinatown, but then my camera battery conked out. However, I did get a couple of shots, mainly showing that excavation and wrecking has started there, too. It looks very very different already from what I photographed last summer. But uploading those will have to wait until tomorrow at least…

Since the uploading takes so long, the Humboldt Valley photos, along with Bambu, will both have to wait until tomorrow. There are links to all these developments (and of course to my page at Flickr, too), but again: tomorrow. I’ll edit this, edit the photos with tags/ labels, maybe sets, but not just yet….

Very stinky progress traps

May 6, 2005 at 11:46 pm | In yulelogStories | 4 Comments

We’re doomed as a species, I sometimes think. A few days ago I heard Bill Gates (that Bill, the one of Microsoft) on the radio. He was admonishing Americans to ramp up high school math and science skills because right now, the Chinese are outpacing Americans in those areas. He said that for every computer programming job advertised in China, thousands (yup, he said thousands) of highly qualified (again, that’s a quote, verbatim) candidates apply. Mr. Gates seemed to suggest that at this rate, all computer programming jobs, along with the entire field of computer science, will soon be in Chinese hands — unless Americans can suddenly step up to the plate and provide their own thousands of highly qualified applicants for every job advertised here, too.

I have a problem with this: why is it desirable to equate quantity with …well, with what? Quality? I’m sure the quality of the applicants is very high, but what exactly is it a quality of? Math and science ability? But then, what qualities are these math and science abilities in the service of? And why do we think that having a surfeit of applicants (thousands for every job advertised) is desirable?

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that kids aren’t learning about ethics or morals, aren’t learning enough history, and aren’t reading widely or deeply. That is, the critical thinking skills are left hanging in favour of eternal rounds of standardised testing, which typically test for fact-learning, but not for understanding. Worse, in exacerbating a panic mentality regarding our poor math and science scores by invoking the visually frightening idea of thousands of highly qualified applicants in line for one job opening, applicants who are culturally different from “us” westerners (hey, they must like math and science — geez, what’s up with that?) and who will work for far less pay, Gates isn’t exactly doing the humanities and critical thinking any favours. In the wake of that rhetoric, take a guess where the voters/ parents/ taxpayers will demand to see action: in the English classroom or in the math classroom?

But how will they want to see action taken? What we forget of course, is that if the Chinese are better at math and science, it’s because they have elementary school teachers who are actually mathematicians and scientists, vs. the Jack-of-all-trades-Master-of-none elementary teachers favoured by the West. That is, the Chinese pupil learns math differently and more deeply because he or she has expert teachers (see Liping Ma’s book, Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics, subtitled “Teachers’ Understanding of Fundamental Mathematics in China and the United States”…). Then again, the humanities angle is already in a shambles and couldn’t be made any worse by a mad rush to math & science. I still feel like weeping (with rage) when I recall the response I got not too long ago from a local high school humanities teacher whom I asked why the Shoah isn’t part of the BC curriculum until grade 12 History (which incidentally is an elective): he said (quote, verbatim), “we have a secular curriculum, which is why we don’t teach topics dealing with religion.” Well, there goes the neighbourhood, I guess: the weasels have taken over, and they’re weaseling their way out of every moral and ethical issue.

This month’s Focus (a local magazine, always just chock full of good stuff) includes a Briony Penn interview with her fellow Salt Spring Islander, Ronald Wright, author of among other books A Short History of Progress. Wright asserts that all civilisations eventually fall into “progress traps,” which begin as “good things,” but end in disaster. Wright notes that in the past, civilisations were self-contained entities that didn’t drag everyone on the planet into disaster when they failed. But today, we’re all interdependent and interconnected, which makes the situation far more dangerous. Penn asks, “You attribute the problem to the fact that our cultural evolution has outstripped our physical evolution. What do you mean?” Wright responds:

Biological change is slow. We have not changed physically, either in our skeletal structure or in the size of our brain, for at least 50,000 years. We evolved as ice-age hunters. The change in our ways of life since then is through the growth of culture, and the ability to pass on the growing complexity of knowledge from generation to generation. You could say that culture is our “software.” So we are running 21st century software on hardware last upgraded 50,000 years ago. That’s part of our trouble. We are smart enough to get ourselves into trouble, but not smart enough to get ourselves out of it.

Culture is accelerating. The amount of cultural change in a decade now is far more than the change of a lifetime two centuries ago. We can’t see far enough ahead to control or even foresee the consequences of what we are doing.

What really worries me, and is at the heart of this book, is the idea that change is running out of control. We no longer have control over our technologies, or our population. We keep inventing new technologies, such as genetic engineering, or before that, atomic weapons and power, whose consequences we can neither control nor foresee. We have a hard time giving up our toys.

From there, Wright launches into depressing detail about the eco-health of our civilisation and our pathways along the progress trap.

What struck me, reading this shortly after listening to Bill Gates, was how uncritically Gates is buying into the “toys” mentality: we need those math and science majors so we can do …what, exactly? Build better technologies, better toys? Better genetic engineering? Better atomic technologies? We need those kids so we can go faster …to where? The shopping mall?

But in the meantime, while we’re all incredibly busy and geared up to go faster and faster, we can rehearse further weasel strategies: in my local daily paper (there’s an online version that disappears quickly), I read that:

The TBuck Suzuki Environmental Foundation says the Capital Regional District‘s blue-ribbon panel to review ocean dumping of untreated sewage is “another smokescreen.”

The panel will only review the existing liquid waste management plan, said Jim McIsaac, clean water director of the foundation, a watchdog on salmon and fisheries habitat issues.

“The CRD will provide the only input and will focus it to show that they are meeting the terms of the current LWMP [Liquid Waste Management Plan],” he said.


“They (CRD) know the sewage plume hits the surface eight months a year.”

Sports fishermen, boaters, windsurfers and others are out on those waters.

“In a country like ours there’s no way we should put our tourists at risk like that,” McIsaac said.

Tourism is worth $1.1 billion a year to the Victoria area and another boycott such as the one mounted by Washington state in 1992-93 is inevitable, he said.

Only a promise that in a decade, the CRD would have sewage treatment defused that situation, he said.

If the stench from that article hasn’t turned your stomach completely, check out this recent (April 13, 2005) Georgia Strait Alliance press release:

Documents recently obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request show that Joyce Murray, then BC Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection (WLAP) ignored overwhelming evidence on the harmful effects of dumping raw sewage into the ocean when she approved Victoria’s Liquid Waste Management Plan (LWMP). The approved LWMP allows Victoria to continue pumping over 40 billion litres a year of raw sewage into waters just off Victoria harbour for at least the next 25 years. [More…]

The article then goes on to cite 13 points of evidence presented to (and ignored by) the Minister — read it and weep. It concludes:

“The province has ignored years of evidence showing harm to the marine ecosystem,” says Jim McIsaac of the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation. “They have bought the CRD’s ridiculous argument that Victoria has the only benign sewage in the world. The province must put its foot down, refuse to accept any further nonsense from the CRD and insist that they move ahead with sewage treatment immediately.”

“The citizens of Victoria should be very concerned that the CRD has known all along about the impacts dumping raw sewage was having on local waters”,” says Christianne Wilhelmson of the Georgia Strait Alliance. “They cannot be allowed to continue manipulating information and putting pressure on other levels of government in order to maintain the status quo at all costs.”

The CRD pumps over 120 million litres a day of raw sewage into local waters. This sewage contains pathogens, heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants like PBDEs (flame retardants) and PCBs, many are known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and reproductive toxins. [More…]

According to the documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, Minister Murray ignored not just the evidence, but also federal laws. How can this happen? Morals and ethics, anyone? No thanks, I guess there isn’t much call for it around here — that would create a problem, after all. It’s so much easier to flush “problems” down the toilet instead.


May 1, 2005 at 11:03 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Recyclables

I’ll never figure out how mental associations work.

No one wanted to cook today, it was Sunday, it was Labour Day, and I was tired from playing farmer: I had dug in dirt, planting a black bamboo someone sold me for a song, and putting in tomato plants someone gave me when they were tiny seedlings. I also had some unexpected volunteer seedlings from the compost — I hope they’re pumpkins, they look like pumpkin plants might look, and I carefully separated them out and grew them up in empty eggcartons. Today I planted those guys out, too. I might remember to water this lot, and if I do, I might get tomatoes, bamboo, and pumpkins. Oh, and some hellebore seedlings that were thrown in for free. I’m not a farmer, I just get these occasional spurts of frantic gardening. It passes.

Since no one wanted to cook, we ordered pizza for home delivery. Just before final KP, I flattened the pizza boxes, and briefly debated whether to keep the containers in an indoor recyclables container or whether to take them outside (there was a residue of grease and cheese on the cardboard). I used to just tear off the lids and recycle those, but our Capital Regional District informs us that we now can recycle the entire carton, greasy bottoms and all. The pizza shop included a small flyer which read:

Recycle Your Pizza Box
3 Easy Steps
will keep 2 million boxes
from the landfill each year

But just as I’m using the edge of the kitchen counter to make the crease to fold the boxes, a vision — and I mean a vision — floats before my mind’s eye: the Great Marsh, or at least that specific small bit of it visible in Newbury from Route 1, on the right hand side, as one is driving north from Rowley to Newburyport. I believe that bit of it is called the Kents Island Wildlife Management Area, but at any rate it’s the part that comes up after passing the turn-off to the Dummer Academy on the left some miles previously and then crossing the Parker River, but before the Boston Road (which is one of those mysterious deep-in-the-sticks connecting roads between Rt. 1 and Rt. 1A). Nearly unexpectedly, this vision of grasses and colours and infinite vistas on the right overwhelms the eyes as one barrels up the two-lane staight-edge of Rt.1 that so very much invites speeding. Nearly unexpectedly, if one slows down enough, that is: focus on the straight shot and you might miss it. Regardless of season, the marsh looks impressive and spectacular, but in spring and summer it’s best of all, teeming with biological possibilities. In the winter it’s lumpy with snow, and in the fall it sprouts haystacks. But it wasn’t the haystacks I saw as I folded the greasy pizza boxes … along the straight shot of the straight-edge of the kitchen counter. It was the summer-time salt marsh — flat, undulating, simply gorgeous, better than anything you could buy or wear or build or eat.

Tastier than take-out pizza, too.

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