How Victoria’s Monday Magazine gets it wrong

February 2, 2008 at 10:16 pm | In free_press, homelessness, local_not_global, media, newspapers, NIMBYism, scenes_victoria, victoria, writing | Comments Off on How Victoria’s Monday Magazine gets it wrong

Victoria has a weekly tabloid newspaper called Monday Magazine, which, starting as an alternative publication ~35 years ago, has somehow managed to stay mired in the worst sort of “us and them” thinking that feeds into (and off) the roiling Schadenfreude of the perpetually resentful.

Lately, one of their old writers from some many years ago, Sid Tafler, returned to roost. He is riding the resentment wave, in particular with an article published a week ago Wednesday (Jan.23), when the Jan.24-30/08 edition hit the street, with Tafler’s “Faulty Towers; Empty condos a tragedy of urban planning failure.” The article — full of errors and shoddy thinking, was promptly posted to Victoria’s best online forum for urbanism, Vibrant Victoria, where it received both a thread of its own, Monday Article – Faulty Towers – by Sid Tafler, as well as lengthy critiques.

Some Monday Magazine articles are online, while others aren’t. Tafler’s wasn’t, but the forumer who started the thread posted a scanned version to the thread — if anyone wants to read the article, click through to the thread. Note that the columns of text in the scans run vertically, and you have to finish the first column on the first scan in the first column on the second scan, and so on…

In the next issue of Monday, the magazine printed 3 letters strongly in support and 1 conditionally in support of Tafler’s junk analysis, with one by former architect Roger Smeeth taking the prize for suggesting silly and impossible things. (Again, see the forum thread for really incisive critiques of Smeeth’s letter.)

I too sent a letter to Monday Magazine, dated Jan.26, but since I was critical of Tafler’s odious column, the editors perhaps didn’t see fit to publish it. And so I’m publishing it here on my blog — because I want to make sure that a record of the opposition and criticism that Tafler’s cheap shot provoked never fades from the Google record.

Here’s my letter:

Dear Editor:

I sincerely hope that Sid Tafler’s ears started burning on Thursday Jan.24, when he, with “Faulty Towers” freshly published, attended Charles Campbell‘s UVic lecture on conglomeration in the Canadian press and heard Campbell specifically and vigorously castigate Canadian journalists for their slovenly habits of retailing untruths. “Faulty Towers” is certainly and thoroughly corrupted by untruth and exaggeration, to the point that one wonders whether Tafler’s exercise in demagoguery veiled another purpose. But maybe he is just being jejune.

It’s difficult to know where to begin setting Mr. Tafler straight, because of course he’s just clever enough to appeal to legitimate concerns around affordability, which breathe enough life into his straw man (or is “Condoria” a woman?) for his article to appeal to the credulous.

But let’s just remember that practically all the condos he so abhors sit on what used to be surface parking lots, and they didn’t displace anybody’s “comfortable single-family home with a back yard.” Really, Mr. Tafler: you appear to be concerned about social and environmental ills, yet advocate a hackneyed suburban vision.

Mr. Tafler writes that “the city of Victoria approved 3,000 condo units in the last five years — 800 in 2007 alone, more than any other year” — as if that were a bad thing. I’d argue it’s a great thing: that’s 3,000 fewer “units” going to suburban sprawl; that’s 3,000 more “units” contributing to the city’s tax base (even if some of the owners are absent some of the time, they’re still paying property taxes, which happen to fund a vast part of the city’s budget); and that’s 3,000 potential “units” of people downtown, shopping, recreating, adding life to those streets.

Believe it or not, there are people living in many of those “units.” Good friends of mine live in Shutters, although, since they travelled for the past 2 months, their “unit” is dark. Likewise, you’ll find many empty-nesters who leave Victoria at this time of year to catch some sun. Their “units,” too, will be dark. In the lower price range, you will find investors buying “units,” but guess what? They rent them out, which helps alleviate Victoria’s rental crunch.

What would Mr. Tafler do instead? Have all these “units” to move to Bear Mountain? Would that be preferable? Incredible as it may seem, some of us cheer every time we can wrest some “units” back to our downtown.

Nor did these projects derail some magical solution to homelessness or affordability. It’s not the case that anyone was willing to step up to donate a building to that cause, nor is it the case that city councils can somehow magically wave a wand and make affordable housing appear.

Which brings me to my last point: you have to love the armchair quarterback, second-guessing all those lazy, incompetent city councilors, don’t you? Really, judging from Mr. Tafler’s grasp of economics (a simultaneously shallow and flaccid grasp it is), I’d hate to see him in a councilor’s seat, because I’m sure he’d go mad at the workload and the demands on his attention by every citizen who knows everything about anything better than he, the councilor, does. Those folks, as Mr. Tafler’s own example shows, are a dime a dozen, and when you’re in that seat, they’ll have you for breakfast. I wonder how Sid Tafler would like being made a meal of.

Sincerely,
Yule Heibel

Tafler was at the Charles Campbell lecture (about which I’ll have more to blog later), and my use of the word “jejune” specifically points to a rather acid comment Campbell was making about Conrad Black v. the Asper family.

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