Reading ease redux

October 31, 2007 at 9:39 am | In FOCUS_Magazine, just_so, writing | Comments Off on Reading ease redux

Exactly one week ago I posted an entry called Writing for magazines: what level of difficulty? It was about achieving that supposedly magical “grade nine” level of writing (*). Well, I’m a recidivist, I guess …back- (or is that “up-“?) sliding to a more-comfortable-for-me number. I finished my December article for FOCUS Magazine, and here’s what google doc’s “word count analysis” tells me:


Average sentences per paragraph: 4.85
Average words per sentence: 13.14
Average characters per word: 5.80
Average words per page: 414.00
Flesch Reading Ease: [?] 39.21
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: [?] 11.00
Automated Readability Index: [?] 12.00

Oh well, eh? According to Wikipedia’s entry on the Flesch-Kincaid index, I just escaped the Harvard Law Review orbit…!

(*) And, mea culpa, I just looked at that entry from Oct.24 and realize that the read-out wasn’t fully reproduced. I will try to find the old draft now and fix/ update last week’s entry — the point was that my “Flesch Reading Ease” was somewhere in the 50s (I think?), and the “Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level” was 9.

Toronto gets it — will Victoria?

October 30, 2007 at 8:03 pm | In arts, canada, cities, innovation, leadership, real_estate | Comments Off on Toronto gets it — will Victoria?

Take a look at this article from CEOs for Cities: Artscape Helps Broker Triple-Win Deal in Queen West Triangle for the low-down on a fascinating & essential new project in Toronto.

What Toronto will do is provide space for artists — precisely the kind of people who provide the “infrastructure” that innovative, creative cities need, yet also precisely the kinds of people who, being on the lower end of the earning scale, typically get squeezed out when cities gentrify.

From the article:

An innovative partnership has been forged in the Queen West Triangle between Artscape, the City of Toronto, Westside Lofts (Urbancorp) and Active 18 that will see the creation of a 56,000 square feet artist live/work project within the Westside Lofts development at 150 Sudbury Street.

The development of affordable artist live/work units within a condominium complex is a first for Toronto. The deal also represents a new self-financing model for affordable housing development that requires only a nominal public investment.

“Developers, community activists, and the City have a strong shared interested in making the Triangle as creative and dynamic as possible” said Artscape President and CEO, Tim Jones. “There is no reason why this model cannot be replicated across the city to address the decades-old problem of the displacement of artists through gentrification.”

The value of the project has been independently appraised at $19 million. Artscape will purchase the units for $8.4 million, a price that includes the cost of construction but not architectural and other soft costs, land value contributed by the City in the form of free density, or profit.

Artscape plans to create up to 70 affordable ownership and rental units. Monthly rent for a one bedroom rental unit is targeted at $725 or roughly 80% of Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s average market rent for Toronto. Unit sizes and mix will be determined after consultation with potential purchasers and renters. Construction on the project will begin in January 2008 with completion projected for early 2010.

Obviously, cities like Victoria (not to mention Vancouver), which, due to housing affordability issues are in danger of losing their creatives, could benefit from schemes such as this. Seems to me it’s a pressing problem insofar as we don’t have the “other way out” for creatives at this point, namely having them merge into higher-paying industries. We’re still nurturing that along, too… Visual artists, musicians, theatre people: their support structures are just now moving from skeletal to skin-and-bones, yet our housing (UN)affordability is the 800-lb. gorilla with plenty of muscle.

Oct.31 update: Canada’s National Post also has an article about this, published yesterday, Oct.30: Details trickle out on Queen West Triangle deal. It includes more, …well, details. That article is in turn based on another one published by the same paper on the same day, City, developers reach a deal on West Queen West, and both article include photos (the former a photo of the site today; the latter, a rendering of what it might look like). Interesting quote from the “Details,” which points out the danger(s) of downtowns becoming condo-only communities that don’t have as many job-generating businesses or industries as the suburbs: “It could hopefully serve as a model. It’s not really just about the Triangle. It’s about making Toronto a place that doesn’t become a bedroom community for the suburbs.” The following bit made me sit up, since we also have an old Carnegie Library, sadly underused now and with no one knowing quite what to do with it anymore since it’s not big enough for a library, but awkward for office space, too:

“It’s a groundbreaking project in a number of ways,” Mr. Jones said, adding that the project’s self-financing model could serve as a city-wide template. “It means that if we can do it here in the Triangle, we can build hundreds of these units across the city.”

Landmark’s largesse is also helping transform the old Carnegie Library building, a nearly 100-year-old site with soaring ceilings that currently houses Toronto Public Health offices, into a “new performing arts hub.”

Here’s a picture of what the new proposal would look like:



October 25, 2007 at 3:51 pm | In business, innovation | Comments Off on Innovation

Via CEOs for Cities, a pointer to an interesting article in Business Week about innovation — Five Common Mistakes in Innovation — that included the paragraph below, which really caught my attention. Anyone who has ever participated in community initiatives, non-profit work, government or school-governance type stuff, knows the drill of endless “brainstorming” and “pilot initiatives.” The frustration of seeing those things go (almost) nowhere takes its toll. In reality, it’s like the author writes: “… the script for innovation isn’t a mystery. It just takes a long time and a lot of change to pull off.”

Here’s the excerpt that looked so familiar…

• Over-reliance on pilot initiatives “We’ll be more innovative if we do more brainstorming sessions.”In an attempt to take action quickly, some companies initiate projects that focus on a single product idea or a promising near-term opportunity. Alternatively, they latch on to a single technique, such as ethnographies or brainstorming. Yet, for most companies, the scale of impact required is too massive to depend on a single approach.

Recognizing this, successful companies such as Procter & Gamble (PG) are taking a portfolio approach to innovation, working with multiple consultants and using multiple methods so the process of innovation becomes a series of multiple experiments. They then come away with a better understanding of not only which methods and partners work, but which ones work best with their existing organizational culture.

Urban Land Institute’s Las Vegas conference webcast live

October 24, 2007 at 10:10 pm | In cities, innovation, leadership, real_estate, urbanism | Comments Off on Urban Land Institute’s Las Vegas conference webcast live

Not all of the Urban Land Institute‘s annual conference presentations are being webcast, but several key ones are, and furthermore they’re supposed to be archived for later viewing, too. Surf over to this site and follow the links:

ULI – the Urban Land Institute | 2007 ULI Fall Meeting

I listened to a fantastic presentation on P3s (public-private partnerships), by a panel that included David Leininger of the City of Irving; Robert C. Lieber of the NYC Economic Development Corporation; and John Stainback of Stainback Public/Private Real Estate. The panel was chaired by Patrick L. Phillips of Economics Research Associates. Lots of frank talk, from both sides of the fence (the private & the public side of the partnership). The fence will likely morph into something else entirely, as the panel described P3s as an “avalanche.”

This is definitely something to listen to again — I sent in a question, but it wasn’t read out, and I’m not sure this panel could have addressed it anyway. My question had to do with how Canadian cities can leverage P3s, given that we have not only a “weak mayor” system in Canada, but that Canadian cities are wholly the creatures of the Provinces, rely on property taxes for 53% of their budgets, and can’t raise revenues by collecting sales taxes (these go to the Provinces) or income taxes (they go to the Feds & Province). So how do we fund infrastructure — the responsibilities for which have been downloaded on to municipalities by the Provinces, which have had them downloaded by the Feds? And how do we offer incentives to the private side of the development that will give us — the city, the public — the control we want in shaping our own destinies? The Provincial government in BC is totally enamoured of P3s, but somehow it’s not so good for us (city) when the Province calls the shots, or tells the cities to develop via P3s without giving us the tools we need to talk turkey with developers.

Just some thoughts…

I guess it’s a question of leadership. If we had municipal leaders and mayors who just identified the right thing, committed to it, went all Terminator-like on our Premier (he gets Terminator, he’s buddies with Arnold, and gets the green agenda, too), and told him what we want and how we want it, maybe something good would come of it. But our city leadership consists of politicians who’ll go wherever the wind blows, who dream of other posts or something… We undersell and underassert ourselves, and the Province thinks we’re idiots.

Like I said, just some thoughts…

Here’s the line-up for webcasts tomorrow and the day after (see this page):

Webcast Session Schedule – NOTE: All times are Pacific Time Zone
Public/Private Partnerships: The New Underwriting Formula
David L. Leininger City of Irving 10/24/2007 2:15:00 PM
Robert C. Lieber NYC Economic Development Corp. 10/24/2007 2:15:00 PM
Patrick L. Phillips Economics Research Associates 10/24/2007 2:15:00 PM
John Stainback Stainback Public/Private Real Estate 10/24/2007 2:15:00 PM
Charting the Course for the Multi-Family Market: Overview and Outlook
William G. Lashbrook, III PNC Real Estate Finance 10/25/2007 9:45:00 AM
Ronald E. Zuzack BlackRock Realty 10/25/2007 9:45:00 AM
Geoffrey L. Stack Sares-Regis Group 10/25/2007 9:45:00 AM
Alan W. George Equity Residential 10/25/2007 9:45:00 AM
Hessam Nadji Marcus & Millichap 10/25/2007 9:45:00 AM
David Lazarus Lehman Brothers 10/25/2007 9:45:00 AM
Harvey Green Marcus & Millichap 10/25/2007 9:45:00 AM
Mega Mixed-Use Potentials and Realities: Complexity, Investment Value, and High Density Sustainability
Michael P. Buckley Columbia University 10/25/2007 11:15:00 AM
Luis E. Rodriguez Science & Technology Trust 10/25/2007 11:15:00 AM
John B. Lin Echelon Resorts – Boyd Gaming 10/25/2007 11:15:00 AM
Chris Marcinkoski Field Operations 10/25/2007 11:15:00 AM
Ramsey D. Meiser Forest City Washington 10/25/2007 11:15:00 AM
Dueling Economists
Nouriel Roubini   10/25/2007 3:00:00 PM
Susan Hudson-Wilson Hawkeye Partners, LP 10/25/2007 3:00:00 PM
Nariman Behravesh Global Insight 10/25/2007 3:00:00 PM
Catherine L. Mann Institute for International Economics 10/25/2007 3:00:00 PM
Strategy Planning in an Era of Change: Lessons Learned from the Real World

Charles A. Hewlett

RCLCO/Robert Charles Lesser & Co., LLC


11:15:00 AM

Michael P. Neal

H.G. Fenton Company


11:15:00 AM

John B. Slidell

The Bozzuto Group


11:15:00 AM

Gaudi Kaufman

Robert Charles Lesser


11:15:00 AM

Writing for a magazine: what level of difficulty?

October 24, 2007 at 12:12 pm | In creativity, FOCUS_Magazine, writing | Comments Off on Writing for a magazine: what level of difficulty?

(see update, bottom of this entry)

I’m in the middle of returning to an article for the December issue of FOCUS Magazine, the Victoria monthly for which I’m a regular contributor. My column is called “City Smarts,” and I’m usually limited to 800 words — which is really tough for someone as loquacious as I am. I spend most of my time whittling, editing, deleting, and sometimes telescoping waayyyy too much, which then means more editing to make the whole thing more comprehensible again. I have to pay plenty of attention to being comprehensible: people whose intelligence I don’t especially seek to emulate have told me that they don’t understand a word of what I write on my blog, but let’s face it: here in my blog domain I don’t have to keep an eye on popularity anyway because that’s just the kind of stubborn, ornery person I am. For the magazine, however, that’s a different story altogether. I really have to …well, focus!

I typically have these BIG ideas and only so few words to express them, which means that every word counts. Hard. I can’t afford to be obscure, fey, overly intellectual, snooty, …heck, none of the things I so enjoy doing on my blog! 🙂

So there I am, in the midst of this draft (number five million and three), and because I’m also working on another text (totally unrelated to FOCUS) and using google docs, I thought it would be easier to have two tabs open and write them both in that format. Since word count matters, I clicked on that feature (found under the “file” tab), and saw something new: my 400+ words so far (see?, I really am in the middle of this thing, never mind that the middle I have might not be the middle I end up with — ditto for the beginning…) have scores for readability. “What’s this?” I think to myself. I see something about a grade level, and I’m reminded of something I read about blog popularity and grade levels: that blogs written at grade 9 level or below are most popular…

I click through on the little question mark next to my “readability” score for the 400+ words I have so far, to this wikipedia page: Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Well, who knew? I didn’t. See how much I don’t know?

Here’s my little assessment:


oops, see update, below…

For some reason, this algorithmic assessment makes me feel uncomfortable — despite hitting the magic “grade 9” level tone… And I’m certainly not sure that I want to work hard all the time just to get my blog to that supposedly magic number, even if it did mean that my words could conquer the world!

Let’s face it, if this proves anything it’s that numbers are conquering the world, not words.

Update, Oct.31/07: I just posted another entry on this, and realized (while checking back on this one) that the numbers for my “Readability” score weren’t reproduced here, just a little box that says Readability — in teeny-tiny letters, to boot. Sorry about that, and I can’t seem to find the old draft now to pull the exact numbers in this entry. The point was, however, that my “Flesch Reading Ease” was somewhere in the 50s (I think?), and the “Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level” was 9. In the final revision, I slipped off that magical “grade nine” level, to “grade 11” and a “Reading Ease” score of 39.21. According to Wikipedia’s entry, The Harvard Law Review’s stuff is in the low 30s, which I guess is supposed to mean that its texts are appropriately lawyerly and opaque… Perhaps somewhere in the mid-30s you escape opacity, enter a level of transparency, but don’t quite liberate yourself from the palimpsest of complexity.

Using YouTube to recruit for jobs

October 24, 2007 at 7:38 am | In architecture, business, innovation, social_networking | Comments Off on Using YouTube to recruit for jobs

Here’s another way that new platforms — in this case YouTube — are affecting more traditional businesses (in this case personnel search firms) and the venues for information they relied on in the past:

YouTube – Seeking Project Architect (Midwestern U.S.)

It’s a relatively boring, straightforward read of a job description for an architect, the visual consisting of digitally-generated fly-overs (and fly-throughs) of a hospital project.

But it represents an innovative, even stealthy, way of getting the job posting out to millions of people, globally, practically for free. Headhunters, take note.

(found via

Top 100 Architecture Blogs

October 22, 2007 at 4:54 pm | In architecture, cities | Comments Off on Top 100 Architecture Blogs

Fantastic reference / resource for all urbanistas & architecture/built environment fans. From the Intro (article link repeats at bottom of entry):

If Modernism was the twentieth-century architectural trend that developed a new way of thinking, then Urbanism appears to be the twenty-first century architectural mindset. This trend is breeding urban explorers (urbex), the greening of major metropolitan areas, and a focus on merging habitats and commercial structures with politics, culture, history and the arts. Public discourse and scholarly research have found meeting grounds in this global landscape, and the results are evolving. But, this evolution has affected how individuals and partnerships present their materials on Weblogs and Photoblogs.To that end, we’re treating you to the top 100 bloggers who focus on everything from architectural news to urbanism and from the junction of design and technology to the landscape. While you won’t find blogs here that illustrate how to design a home or a business, you’ll discover plenty of dialogue, images, and ideas no matter if you’re an architect or a person who admires architecture. These blogs were chosen for frequently and recently updated blog entries, a focus on architecture, and for their attitudes and/or perspectives – no matter if they’re amateurs or professionals. Please note that the blog numbering is not meant to be a ranking, as each architecture topic is listed in alphabetical order with the listed blogs also listed in alphabetical order within that topic.

International Listings Blog » Top 100 Architecture Blogs


October 22, 2007 at 12:25 pm | In fashionable_life | Comments Off on Fairtilizer

Very fun site — tons to explore, much to hear. I have one invite left…

Fairtilizer – Track 3898 – Chungking – Love Is Here To Stay (Kissy Sell Out’s Own Private Idaho)

Tom Friedman gets it

October 22, 2007 at 12:22 pm | In innovation | Comments Off on Tom Friedman gets it

Scale is neither flat nor in silos. Scale just is. And leaders have more power to scale good and bad effects, which makes a compelling argument for good leadership in sustainability. See Tom Friedman’s op-ed piece in the New York Times:

Save the Planet: Vote Smart – New York Times


…the greenest thing you can do is this: Choose the right leaders. It is so much more important to change your leaders than change your light bulbs.

Why? Because leaders write the rules, set the standards and offer the tax incentives that drive market behavior across a whole city, state or country. Whatever any of us does individually matters a tiny bit. But when leaders change the rules, you get scale change across the whole marketplace. And the energy-climate challenge we face today is a huge scale problem. Without scale, all you have is a green hobby.


This is how scale change happens. When the Big Apple becomes the Green Apple, and 40 million tourists come through every year and take at least one hybrid cab ride, they’ll go back home and ask their leaders, “Why don’t we have hybrid cabs?”

So if you want to be a green college kid or a green adult, don’t fool yourself: You can change lights. You can change cars. But if you don’t change leaders, your actions are nothing more than an expression of, as Dick Cheney would say, “personal virtue.”

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