Test post

September 30, 2008 at 11:33 pm | In Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Just a test, as something seems to be broken with my feed reader and I need to check whether it’s a one-off problem or something deeper.

Another confirmation that cross-use is crucial: “Reinventing Grand Army Plaza”

September 30, 2008 at 6:06 pm | In victoria | Comments Off on Another confirmation that cross-use is crucial: “Reinventing Grand Army Plaza”

I just came across this piece on Cool Hunting, on Reinventing Grand Army Plaza.  This bit really jumped out for me:

With regal statues and a sparkling fountain, it’s majestic and — its function as a busy traffic circle separates the cultural landmark from the surrounding pedestrian sidewalks — inaccessible.

In other words, the traffic arterial (a single-use feature) strangles cross-use within the Plaza.

This echoes what I just wrote for my next (November) article for Focus Magazine, on the topic of Victoria’s Tourist District (single-use) working together with other single-use areas (the Legislative Precinct, Beacon Hill Park, the Department of Defense/ Ogden Point, and the shoreline) to thwart cross-use within the residential district of James Bay.  The solution for the neighbourhood isn’t to strengthen those barriers by making them even more strongly single-use only, but rather to make them more porous, introduce cross-use into the  barriers (at least the Tourist District, as the others are too difficult to shift), and thereby encourage cross-use within the neighbourhood.

I had already blogged about this at the beginning of the month (Jane Jacobs on “differences, not duplications”), but it really became clear for me in the article I just finished today.  Strengthening the single-use areas that encircle James Bay will only increase James Bay’s troubles within its neighbourhood centre, not lessen them.

I’ll be back (i.e., I am back)

September 24, 2008 at 6:07 pm | In just_so | Comments Off on I’ll be back (i.e., I am back)

A quick sign of life from me, the semi-absent blog owner: after another month of slacking (because I was too busy doing other stuff), I now resolve — nay, promise! — to get back to regular blogging.

Some astute readers may have noticed that I stopped posting my Daily Diigo bookmarks.  I’ll re-institute them.

And I will try to stop obsessing about how I’m doing everything wrong …and instead just do it.

Heck, at least when I “just do it,” I’m not melting down the entire continent’s friggin’ economy.  That’s some small comfort, but you take it wherever you can get it, these days.

I’ve been sick to my stomach over the various elections and political events — whether the American election (in which I can vote as an absentee voter; although, being registered in Massachusetts, my vote for Obama doesn’t matter as much as I’d like it to), or the Canadian federal election (I’m also a Canadian citizen, so I get to vote here, but people?, all I can say is “ick” to what I’m looking at on this ballot), or the Victoria municipal election (double, triple, quadruple ick!), or now the hugely ICK! revelations bubbling forth from the sleaze that ran (runs?) Wall Street.  All of that adds to smaller, more personal demons and phobias.

But, as they say, Was tun? Keep going.  Just keep going.

Sometimes it takes just a small spark (like listening to an interesting speaker at a UDI Victoria luncheon today).  Just keep going.

Comment on A VC’s post, “Community Organization Is A Conservative Notion”

September 11, 2008 at 1:40 pm | In politics, us_elections | 1 Comment

I’m reblogging a comment I made earlier today to Fred Wilson’s post, Community Organization Is A Conservative Notion, in part because I want to test the disqus.com functionality and whether it works with my blog.  (Update: Harvard Weblogs denied disqus.com access, so I’m putting this in by hand.)

Read Fred’s post here — there is now a massively long comments thread, mine is just one tiny particle. I hesitated for a while before posting, because frankly I’m sick of this topic (or rather, it makes me sick). It seems like we’re skidding toward stupid faster and faster, and it’s not a joy ride from where I sit.  Everything anyone says (including me) seems to accelerate the skids.

The commenter prior to me wrote, “There have not been conservatives in the GOP in a long time.” That’s what my “Bingo” remark is aimed at.

And then I go off with the rest of it…


With her pitbull-with-lipstick joke Palin revealed that she’s radical and authoritarian.

Radicals don’t “conserve.” Authoritarians don’t need to. Authoritarian radicals are more likely to act like supermen (or superwomen) who can reinvent the world, albeit within a limited definition of what they believe to be human nature (immutable).

What that means for the rest of us is that we get to stand in the prison house of our “nature,” while all around us the world gets an ideological re-fitting.

And there’s nothing conservative about that, imo. If you’re a radical who understands human nature as unchanging and unaltered by history, then human nature (and by extension: *humans*) become “stuff,” sort of like materiel to be used up or suppressed, but not *conserved*.

…After all, women can always make more humans/ have more babies, no choice about that!

Individualism, individual liberty, individual freedoms, individual betterment: all subordinate, under radical agendas, and expendable when necessary.

Barbie Doll wasn’t a mom. Palin is, and I would bet dollars to donuts she raises her family in an authoritarian manner. I don’t raise my kids that way, and in my typically wishy-washy namby-pamby “liberal” way, I actually am stupid enough to believe that I can contribute to making the world a better place by raising good kids.

What an idiot, eh?

According to Palin, it would be so much better to give strict guidelines, lay down the law, “clean house,” and if someone screws up, make them get married …and start doing the same thing in their own (new) family.

Originally posted as a comment by Yule Heibel on A VC using Disqus.

Not sure what I would edit if I wanted to…  At some level, I was working out (and coming to a conclusion on) the conundrum that these radical “conservatives” (or Rightwingers) are pro-life/ pro-family and talk a big game around being against “big government,” and yet simultaneously come off as so anti-individual, or even anti-individualistic.  I think it’s because for them human life matters firstly as materiel.  That’s why you can have a passle of kids and run for high office, that’s why you can be a retard on women’s rights to choose.  The individual matters less.  And at the risk of pouring gasoline on the fire, Palin has five kids; Clinton has one.

Sometimes I see spots, and they’re granular…

September 7, 2008 at 6:02 pm | In comments | Comments Off on Sometimes I see spots, and they’re granular…

It’s a weird sensation: take a basic idea — but it has to be something big, like …oh, beauty — and then read around in various and different-from-one-another fields, and let the basic idea act like a filter, …or is it like a connector?  Whichever, but you begin to notice basic transferability or kinship between systems.

It’s a heck of a weird feeling, and I wish I could capture it a bit better.  Thinking, and then thinking about thinking…  And then thinking about things.  So much to think about.  I guess that’s what granular can also mean: the occasional move away from fuzzy to something quite a bit more salient?

I had a minor moment or two like that after watching Umair Haque’s Video Response: A Manifesto for the Next Industrial Revolution and left a comment in response.

Referencing it here is a mnemonic for me.  I wish I could do that as easily with the other moments, which happen while I’m out and about, observing something out there, without a free hand to scribble (or type) it out.

A comment on “Sarah Palin: the liberal voter’s worst nightmare” by John Carlson

September 7, 2008 at 12:02 am | In cities | 2 Comments

Crosscut Seattle published Sarah Palin: the liberal voter’s worst nightmare, by John Carlson, a “longtime Republican” who in this article “enumerates the many ways by which Gov. Sarah Palin could become the most beloved national figure since Ronald Reagan.”

Ok, let’s just agree to disagree here.

What really interests me is a reader comment by “Blue State.”  Entitled “Sarah Palin will not be the wave of the future,” he (or she?) writes:

The entire Republican convention, including Sarah Palin, highlighted the fact that there aren’t “red states” and “blue states” — there are urban areas and rural areas. The Convention was a bizaare effort to make the entire country believe that it should become a small town, with all of the worst attributes of anti-cosmopolitanism that involves: religious fundamentalism, hating Europe (huh?), belittling education and achievement as “elitist,” parochial discrimination against people who aren’t just like you.

Fortunately, demographics are fighting back against this vision of America. More people are living in cities. More people are tolerant of gay people and people of other countries. More people think that it’s not un-American to speak two languages or to eat French cheese. Hey — FEWER PEOPLE ARE HUNTING! It’s a fact!

Sarah Palin is a throwback. She’s not America as most of us know and love it; she’s the face of the past, not the future. The Republicans may well succeed in moving the country back a few decades, but we won’t stay there forever.

I grew up in a small town, by the way. As my mother used to say, small towns are places where everyone rallies around you during bad times and stabs you in the back when you’re doing well. That’s what Sarah’s smug whinnying about Obama’s popularity reminded me of — the small town determination to “bring somebody down” when they’re rising above the crowd based on merit, rather than being “just like everybody else.” (emphases added)

I think that’s one of the most trenchant observations I’ve come across so far.  And I think it shows what’s at stake: that smart cities might be the victims in this election.

And oh my, was Blue State’s mother ever right about the small town mentality.  It explains and illustrates so much of what I see in my town, which is experiencing growing pains as it finally becomes truly a city.  Here, too, the prevalent thinking has been to bring down those who are successful, also known as the Tall Poppy Syndrome.

It’s cynical, and useless, and very bad for cities.

Jane Jacobs on “differences, not duplications”

September 1, 2008 at 9:52 am | In cities, victoria | 1 Comment

Rereading Jane Jacobs‘s classic, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and came across the following on p.169, in the chapter on “The Uses of City Neighborhoods”:

Almost nobody travels willingly from sameness to sameness and repetition to repetition, even if the physical effort required is trivial.

Differences, not duplications, make for cross-use and hence for a person’s identification with an area greater than his immediate street network.  Monotony is the enemy of cross-use and hence of functional unity.  As for Turf, planned or unplanned, nobody outside the Turf can possibly feel a natural identity of interest with it or with what it contains.

I find Jacobs’s insights so compelling and rich because they apply not just to cities, but to life-systems.  What she has to say about “differences, not duplications” applies equally well to all the places of human use: cities, but also natural and digital/virtual places, and user interfaces of every kind.

She goes on to add the following, pp.169-170:

Centers of use grow up in lively, diverse districts, just as centers of use occur on a smaller scale in parks, and such centers count especially in district identification if they contain also a landmark that comes to stand for the place symbolically and, in a way, for the district.  But centers cannot carry the load of district identification by themselves; differing commercial and cultural facilities, and different-looking scenes, must crop up all through.  Within this fabric, physical barriers, such as huge traffic arteries, too large parks, big institutional groupings, are functionally destructive because they block cross-use.

This is something to think about with regard to Victoria’s Tourism precinct: the district defined by two giant architectural landmarks, built at the end of the 19th / beginning of the 20th century by Francis Rattenbury, The Legislature and The Empress.

I never before thought about how these structures (which can arguably be called “big institutional groupings”) are not just “district defining” (and used by NIMBYs who live near the district as a reason to thwart all other adjacent development), but are also in a very real sense “functionally destructive because they block cross-use.”  Thinking about them in those terms helps explain the curious sense of artifice and sterility that sometimes pervades this district.

Now that the Empress (in the 1980s?) blocked off the grand front door — designed by Rattenbury as a front door to the Inner Harbour, a door symmetrically centred on the building and the Causeway — effectively killing the lobby, and instead moved the entrance off-center, for use by guests only (i.e., literally no more cross-use of the building by the ordinary people), the potential for destructiveness to the district is even bigger.

Not that the Empress should be reduced, no.  What should happen is for life to grow up around and beside it, and that includes additional new development unrelated to the hotel, but still in the district.

Click here for a closeup image of the hotel’s original main wing, which shows at centre the former grand lobby entrance (now blocked off, although the barriers aren’t visible in the photo).  Click here for an image where you can see the new entrance, housed in the comparatively tiny, conservatory-style off-centre pavilion, toward the left side of the hotel.

This new pavilion entrance was added so that the original main lobby entrance, which attracted into the lobby hundreds of gawkers, both tourist and local, could be blocked off and the hotel could strengthen control over who could enter and therefore use the premises.  With this measure, the hotel protected itself, but cross-use by non-specialized users (i.e., users other than guests) was killed off, too.

That also means that you won’t find the Jane Jacobses of today, casually using this space to have a drink and conversation (we won’t mention the cigarette, now banned everywhere in Victoria)…

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