Playgrounds for seniors — Urban interventions

November 10, 2007 at 11:27 pm | In cities, health, victoria | 1 Comment

I previously heard of playgrounds for the elderly through various newspaper articles, but Tokyo-based Ping Magazine has a beautiful blog entry that includes many pictures, to give us an idea of what the gear actually looks like. Surf over to Playgrounds For The Elderly:Fit In An Aging Society.

Ping Magazine‘s entry includes not just pictures, but also a terrific interview with Mr. Karakawa of the Takao Corporation, which makes these playgrounds. Here are some excerpts of Karakawa’s answers, beginning with some background information:

In 2004, the Chiyoda Ward commissioned us to build an experimental model community centre to promote exercise for the elderly and decrease dependence on nursing care. The Chiyoda Ward had already started some programs conducted indoors, in which the elderly do light tactile exercise to prevent senility. However, they didn’t have any means for them to exercise outdoors, so they asked us to construct something to be used in a park.


We have been making what we call healthy playgrounds with an emphasis on exercise for decades. However, our new concept with this equipment is nursing care prevention playgrounds. We took our previous designs for equipment to help sit-ups and push-ups and modified them for light exercise especially for the elderly.


A year after our first project in Nishi-Kanda Park, we installed nursing care prevention gear at another park in the ward. At that time, professors from the nearby Tokyo National University of Fine Arts & Music and residence of Chiyoda Ward helped us with what colours for the equipment would suite best the park. They also advised on how to better name the equipment. As in our first project, we gave the gear English names, such as “stretch-step.” But this time we used simple Japanese names that the elderly can understand more easily .

Sounds like a win-win for the users and for the community as a whole.

Here in Victoria, the city is renovating a sinkhole at a near-downtown intersection. View Street, the East-West axis, would lend itself beautifully to a linear park. In fact, it could have been a perfect site for this sort of “senior playground” equipment, since the area already has numerous condos and is set to densify even more in the next few years. I also wrote about how the area could have been reconstructed in accordance with biophilic design principles in the August 2007 issue of FOCUS Magazine (see Biophilic Design — Taking Love to the Streets, PDF).

Unfortunately, the city will re-create a conventional, paved intersection, and the planned beautification of the streets (View and Vancouver Streets) probably won’t include fitness equipment for the not-so-limber. We’ll get nicely paved sidewalks and prettier lamp-posts, perhaps, but wouldn’t an obstacle course or maybe a climbing structure for seniors have been a fascinating urban intervention?

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Local, global: technology connecting at street level

November 10, 2007 at 12:44 am | In local_not_global, virtually | Comments Off on Local, global: technology connecting at street level

Fascinating entry by Digital Urban: Connected to the World but not to the City – The Local Cloud

At the heart of the argument is the desire for information, to be part of a wired society and to feel connected to the city not only on social and retail level but also architecturally. We want to be able to walk past listed buildings and to tap into local information existing at that location. It comes down to not connecting to the globe or even connecting to information via RFID tags or Bluetooth but local clouds of information.

Local Clouds would provide local services accessible within a small radius around specific points, with tailor made information this would finally allow us to connect to the city at a street level….

This is what I want technology to be able to do for me. It should endow the local, which is felt and experienced and lived immediately, with data that has the same properties.

That’s why I’m fascinated by sites like — or YourStreet (which I just learned about via MIT’s Technology Review article, Mapping News). I managed to sign up with and even managed to get a few local sites mapped — even though I’m in Canada, and therefore excluded from the above services, which currently are US-only.

Art & Science Symposium in Edmonton (on now)

November 9, 2007 at 12:22 pm | In arts | Comments Off on Art & Science Symposium in Edmonton (on now)

I would love to be at this event…  Hope someone is blogging it!   Art & Science Symposium – Edmonton Cultural Capital of Canada

Eerie, bizarre, and otherwordly…

November 6, 2007 at 5:18 pm | In just_so | 2 Comments

Outerspace sound recordings that sound like 50s space invasion movie music!

Click through on this “Cassini-Huygens: Mission to Saturn and Titan” page for all the sound files. Do it. They’re cool.

Very cool (via Coolhunting)…

Do the Conservatives really hate cities?

November 4, 2007 at 6:02 pm | In canada, cities, leadership | Comments Off on Do the Conservatives really hate cities?

Another Toronto Star article on Toronto specifically, but Canadian cities generally, written by Royson James: Conservatives have written Toronto off Annotated

James’s article relates to one from the previous day by Jim Coyle, If Tories not for cities now, when? (also Toronto Sun), which I blogged about here.

Echoing Coyle’s theme (and also Christopher Hume’s articles, which I’ve blogged about here), James ends his article as follows:

Harper and the Conservatives have written off Toronto. They’ll curry favour with Quebec, solidify the base in the west, and to hell with the city slickers and their immigrant-loving, poor-coddling, bleeding-heart liberals and environmentalists and social activists.

It’s bad enough that a national party would so alienate the country’s largest city, its calling-card urban region, and the source of so much of its budget surplus. It should be cause for alarm in every urban region where Toronto-type problems are surfacing.

That may be our saving grace in the end. For as much as Harper doesn’t care about the city of his birth, he can’t ignore voters in all urban regions. The vast majority of Canadians live in urban regions. Sooner or later, he will have to acknowledge the cries of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which says the infrastructure deficit (gaps in funding for bridges, roads, sewers, water systems, transit, housing etc.) is approaching $100 billion across the country.

Toronto Mayor David Miller has led the call for one cent of the federal GST to be given to cities. For that campaign to work, other cities may have to step up.

The key sentence, from my perspective all the way in Victoria, BC, is the last one, exhorting other Canadian cities to step up. That takes leadership, and it means that our municipal leaders have to identify what needs funding — and prioritize that list. Perhaps that’s “tricky” for politicians who feel that each item on such a list will have its constituency, which municipal politicians will alienate if they prioritize some other item.

But that’s the point about leadership: you take the heat. You make the choices, you explain why, and you give it your best shot. If you fail or if they (voters) hate you enough, you’ll get voted out next time around. But at least you’ll have done your bit to introduce accountability into the democratic process. As it stands, everyone talks and talks and wrings hands, but the status quo continues to rule.

“My medium is motion control”

November 3, 2007 at 1:14 pm | In arts | Comments Off on “My medium is motion control”

Watch this: Cool Hunting: Bruce Shapiro

It’s a terrific video produced by Ami Kealoha, on the artist Bruce Shapiro.  He grabs my attention immediately by introducing himself thus:

"My medium is motion control." 

That’s the first time I’ve heard motion control described as an artistic medium.  After seeing Shapiro’s work in the video, though, I get it, and I hope I see a whole lot more work like this.  Great stuff! 

Hmmm, I want some here, in Victoria — "Pipedreams," for example, would look great on a building facade… 


The continuing saga of how Canadian cities fund infrastructure

November 2, 2007 at 11:35 am | In canada, cities, leadership | 4 Comments

If the “continuing saga” were a question, the answer might be “badly.” Or: “poorly,” literally. The Toronto Star‘s Jim Coyle has a great column, which asks this question: If Tories not for cities now, when?

He leads us into the problem with Rabbi Hillel’s three questions, as used by Bob Rae, a Liberal politician at the federal level:

“If I am not for myself, who is for me?” An acknowledgement, Rae said, of the enduring and undeniable value of self-interest. “But if I am only for myself, what am I?” A prod, Rae suggested, to the need for generosity and justice in a world too much given to greed.

The third and final question was more succinct.

“If not now, when?”

The questions take your guard down — one hopes that many people will open their minds to the questions that Coyle’s commentary goes on to raise. The issue is how Canadian cities (municipalities) are funded: they don’t keep the Provincial sales tax, they don’t keep the income taxes, they don’t keep the GST (Goods & Services Tax, which goes to the feds). They get the property taxes — big whoop, eh? In times of economic prosperity, people earn more money (so they pay more income tax) and they buy bigger ticket items (and pay more GST and provincial sales tax). Their real estate values might go up, but their property taxes rise only marginally.

Therefore, cities don’t gain from economic prosperity at the rate they should — should, because most of the prosperity is generated by cities.

Here’s the rest of Coyle’s column. Pass it on.

In the wake of this week’s federal mini-budget, with its refusal to pony up a share of the GST to Canada’s cities, Toronto Mayor David Miller could be forgiven for joining the rabbi’s fan club, too.

If not now – when federal coffers are overflowing, when times are so good Ottawa can serve up a smorgasbord of tax cuts, when the needs of cities are apparent to any with eyes to see, when Canada’s ongoing evolution into an urban nation is made plainer with every passing census – when indeed?

Now seemed such a perfect intersection of supply and demand. Now seemed the opposite of a perfect storm providing the occasion of unavoidable disaster, but, rather, an ideal conjunction of events providing the golden opportunity for action, vision and tangible acknowledgement of new realities.

Gord Steeves, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, may even have been understating things when he said Ottawa had a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to invest in cities.

And it could hardly have been simpler. Earlier this year, Miller had launched a Once [sic] Cent Now campaign to get a penny of the GST for municipalities, which are home to 80 per cent of Canadians and generate most of the country’s wealth, but which have staggered as senior levels of government downloaded more and more 21st century responsibilities while retaining Victorian-era funding arrangements. [emphasis added]

“We need the kind of stable and predictable funding that comes with permanent access to revenues that grow with the economy,” Miller said this week. [emphasis added: this gets back to the point I made above: property taxes don’t “grow with the economy,” they stay relatively stable…]

These are hardly new words. It’s almost six years since Miller, then still a city councillor, wrote of how hamstrung cities were “because of outdated federal-provincial-municipal policies and relationships.” Cities need the sort of guaranteed funding, he said, that would allow them to rebuild. And examples are near to hand of what can be accomplished.

Whatever they thought of the verdict, almost everyone covering Conrad Black’s trial earlier this year south of the border took pains to remark on how wonderful Chicago was – it being one of the U.S. towns benefitting from billions in federal spending on urban revitalization and public transportation.

It’s striking how Rae’s ruminations on ancient wisdom seem germane to the latest news cycle.

Hillel’s third question speaks to the danger of doing nothing, he once said.

“Just as we find excuses for delay in our own lives, putting difficult decisions aside can become habit-forming in politics as well. It is easier to stick with old habits and traditional arguments long after they have ceased to apply or even make sense.”

And you don’t have to be a rabbinical scholar to know that giving cities an empty hand, and symbolic finger, when the opportunity existed to so easily do so much just doesn’t make sense.

Municipal funding is a huge problem, as far as I can tell. It colours everything, including the quality of municipal leadership we’re able to attract. I mean, who wants to go into a job where you’re hamstrung and equipped with really bad tools from the outset?

Bona-fide “made in Canada” idiocy

November 1, 2007 at 12:19 am | In canada | 2 Comments

Update, see below…

This has to be the stupidest thing I’ve read all year: Arts groups want government to regulate the web

A coalition of Canadian artists is demanding that the government control the internet for Canadian content, lest we get swallowed up by the Americans. They claim that since the CRTC ensures that there’s Canadian content on radio and on TV, it should do the same for the internet.

What a bunch of fools.

Here’s the newspaper report:


Arts groups want government to regulate the web


Robert Rocha, CanWest News Service

Published: Thursday, November 01, 2007

A coalition of Canadian arts groups is asking the government to protect Canadian identity by regulating the Internet, which so far has remained untouched by government oversight in this country.

The group of 18 associations of content creators, most of them from Quebec, argues that the Internet should be subject to the same rules as TV and radio – that is, it should contain a minimum amount of Canadian-made content.

Also, artists should get a cut of the money Internet providers make every time Canadian content is transmitted to homes, they argue.

“A drift away from regulation could be catastrophic for Canadian identity,” said Richard Hardacre, president of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA). “We could be easily swallowed up by American programming.”

Hardacre did not say how the government could impose content quotas online or which websites would be affected.

But he suggested creating something like the Canadian Television Fund, which supports domestic productions and is subsidized by cable companies.

“We have a great deal of faith in the CRTC,” Hardacre said of the federal broadcasting commission. “We’re just asking them to not let this remain the Wild West.”

The CRTC has been studying the impact of new media on Canadian creators, and how the commission’s goals can be applied to the web. But there is no talk of regulating it, a CRTC spokesman said.

“Our view hasn’t changed. There’s no need to regulate the Internet,” Denis Carmel said.

“We understand [the artists’] concern and we’ll be consulting with the public soon.”

Reactions from experts in business and technology to the artists’ plea were far from flattering.

“That’s lunacy,” said Iain Grant, an analyst at research firm Seaboard Group. “It’s like King Canute trying to stop the tides.

“There are two countries in the world that are trying to control the Internet: Saudi Arabia and China.”

Internet providers don’t monitor the billions of data packets that zip though their pipes, so it would be impossible to know which ones are of Canadian origin, he said.


Update, Nov.1: In addition to several other articles related to this, the article I quote (above) is a truncated version of Robert Rocha’s original piece in the Montreal Gazette, which you can read here.

Here are some additional quotes from it:

The CRTC has been studying the impact of new media on Canadian creators and how the commission’s goals can be applied to the Web. But there is no talk of regulating it, a CRTC spokesperson said.

“Our view hasn’t changed – there’s no need to regulate the Internet,” Denis Carmel said.

“We understand (the artists’) concern and we’ll be consulting with the public soon.”

Internet providers don’t monitor the billions of data packets that zip though their pipes, so it would be impossible to know which ones are of Canadian origin, he explained.

“And what if that Canadian content is not going to a Canadian computer?” Grant asked. “The smartest thing the CRTC ever did was recognize that the Internet is something that can’t be regulated.”

That was in 1999, when the CRTC committed to leave the Internet to market forces. However, the decision was made when most of the content online was text, which does not fall under the control of the Broadcasting Act – the legislation that says 60 per cent of broadcasts must be Canadian.

With the prevalence of digitized video and music today, new CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein said, the Internet presents a new challenge and should be closely studied.


The idea that the Internet is a threat to cultural identity has been a decade-long debate and hasn’t been restricted to Canada. It was a major topic two years ago at the World Summit on the Information Society, a UN event to discuss how people in developing nations can have access to the Internet.

Ismail Serageldin, the director of Egypt’s historic Library of Alexandria, said such fears are misguided because artists normally interpret their own cultures.

“The idea that a lot of people will lose their identities, I think, is wrong. This, in fact, is going to produce wonderful results,” said Serageldin, who was quoted by news agency InterPress Service.

“People in different cultures will continue to express themselves and will be enriched by exposure to different cultures.”

Two other articles relevant to this, both in Playback Magazine, Unions to Verner: rein in the CRTC, Oct.30 (from which comes the first quote) and CRTC to rethink Internet, Oct.31.


MONTREAL — It’s time for Josée Verner to wake up and force the CRTC to protect Canadian content. That’s the message 18 of Canada’s largest cultural unions and associations, most of which hail from Quebec, sent the new minister of Canadian Heritage at a press conference this week in Montreal.


The federal regulator held a public hearing Tuesday in B.C. on a number of broadcasting applications, and next month will begin hearings into the purchase of Alliance Atlantis by CanWest Global and its U.S. partner Goldman Sachs, a move that, if approved, could rewrite the rules of foreign ownership in Canada. It is also due to issue a decision on the future of the Canadian Television Fund in December.

That’s from the first article in Playback, dated Oct.30.  Here’s my take: while I agree that monopoly ownership of media is wrong (CanWest owns every daily around here already), it seems to me that Hardacre’s group is using that very real danger to fix up a “tidy” corner for his interests on the internet.   The CRTC’s “[Konrad] Von Finckenstein has said publicly that federal legislators should look at merging laws regulating the broadcasting and telecommunications sectors, given that technology is rapidly bringing the two together.”  Well, keep an eye on that, by all means — if anything, make sure telecommunications doesn’t kill the internet.

From the second article, Oct.31:

The coalition [Hardacre et al.] wants Verner to use her power to force the CRTC to apply Canadian content rules more rigorously. “Madame Verner has a clear directive and we need her to force the CRTC to apply the predominance rule for Canadian content. Government ministers have used this power in the past,” says Drouin. Then-industry minister Maxime Bernier stepped in twice in 2006 to dictate telecommunications policy: first with voice-over-Internet protocol, and then by announcing that deregulation of local telephone markets would proceed without CRTC assent.

ACTRA president Richard Hardacre concurs. “This is not an attack on the CRTC. I think the CRTC has a real handful to deal with… We just want the minister to pay attention, to not permit this drift towards deregulation,” he says.

Say what?

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