Another thought on “localism,” via CEOS for Cities post “Gas Prices Force Rethink of the Model”

May 30, 2008 at 11:14 pm | In local_not_global, social_critique | Comments Off on Another thought on “localism,” via CEOS for Cities post “Gas Prices Force Rethink of the Model”

Richard Florida has repeatedly asked “us” (society, policy makers, planners, ordinary citizens) to think of a way to make service industry jobs valuable on the same level as trade union jobs were valuable in the earlier twentieth century. Florida doesn’t put it quite like this, but I’m extrapolating that it means that in days gone by, trade union semi- or fully-skilled labor allowed people to aggregate socially and economically, allowed them to become a social and economic force to be reckoned with. They weren’t casual workers, and they — and their jobs — were not throw-away items. Florida, who recognizes that low-paying (low-value) service jobs are a fast-growing sector in the economy, wants to know how those jobs can be made as valuable for today — because (I would add) we simply can’t afford to have much of throw-away-anything these days, least of all throw away people. Creative economies, at any rate, can’t afford gratuitous waste or open loops, which leak goodness that should be recycled back into society.

As it happened, CEOs for Cities latest blog post, Gas Prices Force Rethink of the Model, really caught my attention specifically for what it could say to Florida’s question. Carol Colletta (of CEOs for Cities), who may be the blog post’s author, isn’t spilling the beans in terms of naming names, but check out the blog entry:

Which grocery store chain has lost 3000 employees in the past five months in one major U.S. city because they can no longer afford the gas to get there?

We’re not naming names, but we do know that said chain has “blown up” its future plans for greenfield expansion and is scrambling to reinvent itself as an urban chain.

We’re not sure exactly what that means yet (and neither are they), but it should be interesting to see if this is the first in a long line of retailers who try to reinvent themselves because their employees can’t afford to get to work. (And their customers will presumably be hard pressed to afford the drive.)

… Don’t know about you, but I see a convergence here. I see value coming from local employees, people who live where they work, and who don’t need to drive half an hour to reach their jobs — who in the best case scenario don’t need a car at all to get to work. I see the rising cost of fuel as forcing a change in the usual service-employee/ employer relationship.

You want to add value to the service worker dependent on lousy public transit to get to her job downtown? Make sure she doesn’t have to live so far away. And make sure she has reliable transit to boot. Want to see your local tourism industry hum along? Be a business that meets your employees needs in more ways than just incremental increases over the minimum wage. And so on. Rinse, and repeat.

If enough of that sort of thing happened, maybe a rethink and realignment of value in service sector jobs would have to fall into place. Because if it doesn’t, and it simply costs employees in service industry jobs too much to commute, the stores, hotels, and cafes will close and the employees will not be able to travel absurd distances to get to jobs they’re not particularly attached to in the first place.

Rising gas prices (and crummy public transit) might push for that rethink of how to add value to service sector jobs. And the answer might be: live, hire, and work as local as you can. But there’s no way anyone can expect service workers to shoulder that alone if housing in desirable and expensive places becomes too unaffordable while the cost of commuting to a low-paying job drives in the final nail.

Diigo Bookmarks 05/31/2008 (a.m.)

May 30, 2008 at 5:32 pm | In cities, links | Comments Off on Diigo Bookmarks 05/31/2008 (a.m.)

Could “localism” help dilute “narcissism”?

May 29, 2008 at 9:30 pm | In authenticity, fashionable_life, ideas, local_not_global, social_critique | 2 Comments

Update, see end of post.

Ok, ok, I know it’s not a question I (or anyone) could possibly answer in a short blog post, but consider the discussions around the Emily Gould phenomenon (here, here, here, or a million other sites online). Fast Company‘s Laura Palotie column, How Emily Gould Turns Us On, closes as follows:

…we like to equally spit on fictional New Yorker Carrie Bradshaw, traditional celebrity Denise Richards and the newest, self-made breed that Gould represents. We scarf down the private, aggravating realities of each with equal appetite, and let the resulting schadenfreude provide a soothing distraction from our own neuroses.

Well, um, maybe. Except that until someone in my Twitter stream tweeted about Gould’s NYT piece, blissfully ignorant me didn’t know who she was — except of course that I had heard of Gawker.

Yes, I did on one or two occasions glance at Gawker, but never really read it and certainly didn’t “follow” it. Why not? Because I don’t live in New York City. Call me naive, but I thought Gawker was all about New York — rather a long ways away from this (literally) “neck of the woods.”

And until reading Palotie’s piece, I didn’t know who Carrie Bradshaw was — I had to reread one sentence to understand that she doesn’t really exist and is in fact one of the characters on …um, a TV show? Something called Sex and the City?

Why would I not know who the Sex and the City characters are? Um, well, …I don’t watch TV. I have a TV (I have sex, too), but I have no access to TV channels (antennae don’t work in Victoria, and I refuse to pay money to the cable company). All I ever watch are DVDs — I don’t have a clue what’s on actual TV this season.

Instead, I know a lot about what’s going on in my local space — some of which overlaps with my online spaces. Not to sound too colloquial, but I’m totally about keeping my eye on the pulse of trends, seeing patterns emerge, knowing what’s coming up in terms of technological innovation. My interest lies in figuring out how that can apply to where I live, to the local.

Neither Carrie Bradshaw or Emily Gould have a locality in my world. Maybe that makes me sound backwards (or just really old) in pop cultural terms? Or perhaps if I were a psychiatrist, I might be interested in one or the other as an emblem for some sort of mental disorder; if I were a professional sociologist, I might be interested in one or the other as a specimen of forensic interest. But I’m not.

From what I recall of Emily Gould’s fantastic (and probably fantastically paid) 8,000 word ramble, there wasn’t anything that I could pattern-match in any useful sort of way to anything I’m interested in figuring out here.

Reading some of the commentaries on Gould, and the underlying assumptions they make that, exuding Schadenfreude, we must all be greedily “scarfing up” each breaking scandal, I can’t help but think that a passionate interest in your locale, in where you are, is a kind of vaccination against the narcissism that serves as a prerequisite to keeping the culture industry humming along.

Technology is making narcissism easier, but it would be wrong to blame technology just because it’s used by what appear to be the terminally narcissistic to amplify their ends. After all, that same technology is also making possible a renaissance of localism, enabling a community’s place-making voices to emerge from under the choke-hold of broadcast media.

It all depends on what you choose to focus on. Obviously, if you focus on the Goulds or the even more fictional Carrie Bradshaws, and you lose your place. Your life is where you make it.

Update, May 30, 7:30am: So, this is ironic… As it happens, I checked our local paper’s “Arts” section this morning — something I usually never do because this paper rarely reports on local arts happenings, instead typically filling this section with pop culture “news” I can easily pick up just about anywhere else. I don’t get why they (the paper) don’t get that I wouldn’t bother looking in my local paper for stuff I can read anywhere else. But I digress…: what did my bleary eyes see on the “local” paper’s “Arts” pages this cloudy a.m.? Not one, not two, not three, but four (4!) “stories” about …yup, you guessed it, Sex and the City. The movie and the TV show. And all of them, save one, were recycled filler from the feed of Canwest News Service. The one that wasn’t from that outlet was a cut and paste job of critics’ snippets cobbled together into an “article,” entitled”From the sublime to the ridiculous, the critics’ take on Sex and the City,” by “Special to the Times Colonist.” It’s enough to make you weep.

And some people think the bloggers are unprofessional or shallow or full of crap, and that those in official media are the professionals. Well, if that were true, one would have to rethink the whole notion of “professional.”

(Oops, my bad: I just now realized that I hadn’t actually included a link to Gould’s NYT piece, and just added it, above, and here.)

An Appetite for Change

May 27, 2008 at 12:05 pm | In homelessness, victoria | Comments Off on An Appetite for Change

If you live in Victoria and are concerned about finding solutions to our city’s homelessness crisis, please consider coming to what looks to be a fabulous event at the Canoe Brew Pub on Sunday June 8, from 6 to 8:30 pm. It’s a fundraiser for the Youth Hospitality Training Centre, an innovative program that needs to secure just a bit more money to become reality.

What’s the Youth Hospitality Training Centre? It’s a facility that will provide eight homeless street youth a roof and a bed, and classroom and hands-on training for a career in the hospitality industry. Once the youths are trained and working, they move on into their own independent housing, making room for other at-risk street youth.

The Centre will be housed in a former restaurant downtown, the Taj Mahal, which comes with an attached bed & breakfast facility. It will be operated by the Victoria Youth Empowerment Society, which is an umbrella agency that provides programs for youth in the city. The Centre is quite unique: kids who are currently living on the street will have an opportunity to live in dormitory-style rooms at the Centre, and receive classroom as well as hands-on training programs in the restaurant and food services industry. The bed & breakfast facility consists of 11 rooms, and will serve as housing for the youth, plus live-in, round the clock staff, as well as counselling rooms. There will also be a “mock hotel room” so that the youth in training can learn about room maintenance and service in situ. By the time they’re finished with their program, they’ll be desirable new-hires in the staff-starved local tourism industry. See this forum thread for more info.

Ok, so where’s the party, you’re asking? If you haven’t clicked through to the first link in this post, I’ll paste below the text in full, which should give you enough info to convince you that this will be $50 well spent — on yourself and on the future of youth in the city. And, ok, even on the future of the tourism & hospitality industry, which is badly understaffed here. (Ever wonder why those cafes close at 6 or 7pm? It’s because the owners can’t find anyone to work in them, true! And you thought it was because we roll up the sidewalks after the government workers go home for the day, didn’t you? Not at all — we have an affordable housing shortage plus a worker shortage…)

Here’s the event description:

An Appetite For Change
A benefit for the Youth Hospitality Training Centre

You and your friends are invited for an evening of food, libation and entertainment
Sunday, June 8th, 2008, from 6:00-8:30pm

The best kitchens in the city have generously donated fabulous dinner party packages, featuring fully catered in-home service as well as Chef’s tables for silent auction.
Every bid is also a chance to win an exciting prize!

The event will be held in the Canoe Brewpub’s 1894 landmark heritage building on Victoria’s Inner Harbour.
The reception will be fully hosted by Canoe Brewpub and Chef Alain Léger.

Victoria’s culinary teams have come together in support of making our community a better place. Will you join us?

Ticket price is $50.
All revenue from the event will go to providing opportunities for disadvantaged youth in Victoria.

Tickets can be purchased by email reply to  spc at, by phone at 383-3514, at Canoe online or in person at the following locations:
Victoria City Hall, Canoe Brewpub or The Bay Centre Customer Service.

Free validated parking is available at Canoe and Chintz & Co.

Diigo Bookmarks 05/27/2008 (a.m.)

May 26, 2008 at 5:32 pm | In architecture, arts, green, housing, innovation, links | Comments Off on Diigo Bookmarks 05/27/2008 (a.m.)
  • Brief article by Andrew Blum about Oxley Woods, a development of “90 eco-friendly homes, with 55 more planned to fill its seven acres.” The key aspect? They’re all pre-fab, relatively cheap to build, can be built quickly, and have in-built green features.

    If Canada had a federal housing plan/ strategy, this would be something the Feds (and the Province) could take a closer look at. It sounds like it could be a reasonable (if partial) solution to our affordable housing crisis.

    tags: andrew_blum, wired_magazine, prefab, green_buildings, green_technologies, oxley_woods, affordable_housing

  • File this under “life imitates art”? There’s a fascinating battle happening in LA over whether or not Sonny Astani, businessman and developer, should be permitted to install a new kind of LED-generated image, 12 stories above the street and 14 stories tall, on the side of his 33-story condo building currently under construction in downtown LA.

    The inspiration? Opening scenes in Blade Runner of downtown LA, showing “a skyscraper-sized advertisement portraying a Japanese woman smiling before popping a snack into her mouth. Astani says an image, such as that of a flying sea gull, could now even travel from one building to the next.”

    I have to admit this sounds really cool, but I can see why many factions in LA would oppose this, too. We’re all familiar with the really bright illuminated advertisements — even Victoria has a small version of one, installed outside the arena on Blanshard at Caledonia. It’s bright, too bright. But Astani proposes a much more modulated, artistic, and dimmed level of lighting. If the images could look as subtle — yet powerful — as Blade Runner’s, it could work, but there’s no garantee, that if permitted, subsequent developers would follow in that “artistic” style.

    Another aspect is this: the proposal, if it’s art, also calls into question just how intrusive public art should be in public space. Does it have a right to be so intrusive as to be impossible to ignore? Can I, as a citizen, be obliged to register public art — and admittedly, it would be impossible not to register this project?

    Is part of what captures my attention/ imagination regarding this project its uncanny fusion of subtlety and assault, packaged as visual stimulus?

    Another question: is this an art form that expresses a corporate and anti-pedestrian city (“…neighborhood anchored by Staples Center and L.A. Live, the hotel and entertainment complex that includes the recently opened Nokia Theatre”), fitting for LA where people don’t walk anyway (but just wait: it’ll show up soon enough on the very very pedestrian-friendly Las Vegas Strip)? I’m thinking of this in terms of Christopher Hume’s writings on Toronto, and the Leslie big box/ corporate redevelopment plans, which he has characterized (rightly, imo) as being anti-pedestrian and therefore anti-urban, too. But could anyone argue that LA is in any way anti-urban? No. So is this visual art / visual stimulus for a different kind of urbanity?

    tags: astani, advertising, billboards, outdoor_installations, public_art, public_space, los_angeles

  • Michiel de Lange reports on the CHI conference “The Web and Beyond: Mobility” in Amsterdam on 5/22/08, featuring Adam Greenfield (Everyware); Jyri Engeström (Jaiku); Ben Cerveny (Playground foundation, Flickr); Christian Lindholm (Fjord, Nokia). In this post, he focuses on Greenfield’s presentation. A key aspect that struck me was this observation by Greenfield: that ubicom / ubiquitous computing creates a new level of “ambient informatics,” and “information processing dissolves into behavior.” Greenfield’s example is the seemingly choreographed swish of a public transit user who swings her purse in front of the transit card reader, never skipping a beat, but shaped indelibly by the technology into certain movements.

    tags: adam_greenfield, mobile_city, ubiquitous, ubicom, technology

Controversy around Victoria’s CP lawn bowling green continues

May 23, 2008 at 8:18 pm | In victoria | 1 Comment

I spent part of last night and again early this morning commenting at length on two blog posts by Victoria Downtown Residents Association chair Rob Randall’s blog, which was very useful for me since it forced me to think some specific issues as well as some larger things through.  Sort of.  Anyway, for those interested in Victoria politics or development and land use issues in Victoria, take a look at Rob’s March 20/08 entry, Rethinking the CP lawn bowling green, which was the entry that prompted a renewed comments flurry (even though it’s already a couple of months old), as well as the more recent City’s Request for Proposals for bowling site draws controversy (from yesterday, May 22/08).

Diigo Bookmarks 05/24/2008 (a.m.)

May 23, 2008 at 5:32 pm | In architecture, futurismo, green, innovation, links | Comments Off on Diigo Bookmarks 05/24/2008 (a.m.)

Vancouver Sun article: “Shelters turned away homeless 40,000 times in nine months”

May 23, 2008 at 3:09 pm | In affordable_housing, canada, cities, homelessness, housing, social_critique | Comments Off on Vancouver Sun article: “Shelters turned away homeless 40,000 times in nine months”

Ok, tell me you don’t find this story by Vancouver Sun’s Frances Bula rather alarming: Shelters turned away homeless 40,000 times in nine months? I wonder if there’ll be follow-ups, and whether the count that people were turned away 40,000 times over a nine month period is accurate. If it is, then that’s proof that the Province isn’t doing nearly enough to get a handle on housing, housing affordability, addictions, mental health, and homelessness — not to mention on the portfolio of Children and Families. It seems that of those 40,000 times that people were turned away, it happened almost 16,000 times to women and children.

What a society… No federal housing policy in Canada, obviously nothing much on the Provincial level — and yet the Province is swimming in money, with new gas exploration licenses bringing in something on the order of half a billion dollars?

Look, the cities are bearing the brunt of this crisis. Memo to Province: fix it! Give the cities the tools, kick municipal leaders into action in the right way, do whatever is needed.

Victoria’s problems around homelessness are growing all the time, too — see Rob Randall’s blog entry on the proposed Ellice Street shelter relocation: authorities are telling the neighbours they expect the count of people who are homeless to decline in number. Well, I doubted that when I read it then, but in the wake of Bula’s article now, I really doubt it.

Diigo Bookmarks 05/22/2008 (p.m.)

May 22, 2008 at 5:30 am | In comments, links | Comments Off on Diigo Bookmarks 05/22/2008 (p.m.)
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