DemoCamp Victoria 02 another success

October 30, 2008 at 11:38 pm | In DemoCampVictoria, democampvictoria02, victoria | 8 Comments

Ok, I am much too wired (and tired) to be writing a summing up of tonight’s DemoCamp event at Dave Chard’s Juliet Presentation Centre, but here goes.

Overall, the event had a more serious feel than the first event back in April.  Maybe people are feeling more earnest, given the economic climate (not to mention that now it’s Fall, and back then it was Spring).  Personally, I also missed the scrappy energy that Boris Mann brings to these events — he trekked from Vancouver to Victoria for the first one,  but had commitments in Seattle this time around. <le sigh>  And I missed Tris Hussey, who moved away from Victoria this past summer and has taken his wonderful photography skills to that lucky town.  Tris’s photos of DemoCamp Victoria 01 were terrific.  Now, I think I saw some cameras tonight, but until I see the photos on flickr or …somewhere, I know they won’t be as good as Tris‘s.

But those regrets are small potatoes, not to be counted against the overall quality of the presentations.  And I’m not just saying that ’cause I presented, too! 😉  Nor does saying so slight the presentations of the first DemoCamp.  Basically, I continue to be impressed by the quirky, but potentially completely solid ideas that emerge in Victoria.  (“Potentially” because until an idea is executed and allowed to run for some time — months?, years? — as a business, you can’t really assess its viability.)

Ok, so who presented?

In order, from my notes:

First up, Thomas Ahn of MAD Ventures Inc., who wanted to present to this group as a VC, heading a company that’s looking to fund local start-ups with seed money along the lines of the Y-Combinator model.  Questions to Thomas included, “what’s your chunk?”  Answer: can range from 10 to 66% depending on the work involved, but typically hovers around 33%.  Another question: how has your strategy changed in the past 2 months?  A: Not much, as MAD Ventures continues in the Y-Combinator model.  I was sitting there thinking, “builders, not traders; that’s good.”

Next, Andrew Wilkinson of Metalab Design gave a really good presentation of Ballpark (haha on you if you clicked through on that link), which is an elegant application designed for the smaller all-hands-on-deck business client who needs to be able to track leads, estimates, and cash flow for work projects.  Ballpark is designed to give users a real feel for where they are in the monthly/ weekly cash flow.  Very slick, very nicely done application.  Great UI, too.

Tim S. Lefler was next with an intriguing idea around microitems.  Now, this is something that’s for the collectors and traders and gamers out there.  (I’m thinking, Netwoman, you’d like this.)  Microitems are virtual items (the sorts of things you’re gifted on Facebook or in Warcraft), but what Tim’s site does is provide a repository and management system for these gifts and trading objects, so that you can collect and share them freely, beyond the confines of walled gardens (like Facebook, etc.).  I think this could really take off with a certain demographic.

Ok, next up was Will Whittaker, who offered two possible demos, from which the crowd chose Pornsupercomputer.  Ok, I did not fully understand this, and it wasn’t because of the porn.  In fact, the porn (and traffic) was the part I did understand — and SETI, too, for that matter.  Will’s presentation started with a slide showing the text “My computer is bigger than yours.”  Uh-huh.  Turns out he had three obsessions or interests that kept the brain gears turning: porn sites and the tremendous amount of traffic they draw; the fact that google adwords or adsense is forbidden on porn sites; and the fact that SETI uses other individual computers for its own computing needs (i.e., SETI “uses Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). You can participate by running a free program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data.”)  And Will had this brainstorm that it would be really cool if he could somehow mash these three aspects together — hence the Pornsupercomputer concept was born.  He would pay porn sites to install a widget that would run on the porn site visitor’s computer every time s/he visited.  This widget would provide computing power to the supercomputer, which exists virtually.  That’s sort of how I understood it, but it got pretty technical in the Q&A.

After Will, we heard Hossein Dadkhah (can’t find too much information online), who presented an idea around lifetime business cards.  It’s a pretty simple concept, but ingenious.  Hossein rightly pointed out that unless you’re willing to spend a lot of money, the quality of most business cards here (locally) is pretty poor.  At the same time, he’s familiar with locales where you get high quality cards for much less.  He also thought about how it’s small businesses that really need super-good cards, but that these businesses are often also in flux, changing their addresses, phone numbers, and so on.  Each time, they’re obliged to have new cards printed.  So his idea (and apologies if I’m telescoping and/or bowdlerizing it too much) is to take the best of quality (but low-cost) cards you can get abroad and putting that together with a service to provide fixed id telephone numbers, email addresses, etc.  In other words, you pay for a business card that’s really high quality, but you’re essentially paying for things like having a toll-free number so that you don’t have to get new cards everytime you change your phone number or move your office, whether across town or somewhere completely new.

Next, I presented MetroCascade, the online local news aggregator built for this community specifically, but with the agenda to take over the region (Cascadia) and then …bwahahaha.  Well, something like that!  It’s currently hosted here, and still in beta beta beta, but once we get a designer to work on the UI (including how to get some of the features I want — where on the page to put them), we’ll go completely live.

Stephen Albinati was up next, presenting zumer, which I was familiar with, but didn’t fully understand until after Stephen’s excellent presentation.  Here’s an article from UVic’s Martlet, New website rates consumer products, which also explains it well.  Basically, “Zumer empowers you to make informed decisions about which companies get your money.”  It “allows individuals to go beyond the marketing spin and research the social and environmental impact of products they buy every day.”  So what this means is that as the database gets built up — and zumer is relying on universities and graduate students to populate it, and also uses companies and their audited materials, with the goal eventually of letting users flesh out the data, too — registered users of the site can assess products according to their personal criteria.  If you’re socially conscious, or if you’re environmentally conscious, you can set these concerns as parameters in your profile.  Then, next time you’re shopping for sneakers, you can use your mobile device to input the brand and instantly pull up a score or report card for the shoes you’re considering for purchase.  Albinati took a lot of questions about how zumer proposes to ensure the integrity of the site, so that corporations can’t “game” the system.  But overall, he’s confident that transparency and the initial base of contributors (university – affiliated) will keep things honest.

Finally, rounding things out was a potentially very intriguing idea by Morley (don’t have more info, sorry), who used to be a small business owner who then went back to school, studied programming and design (?), and is now an accountant.  Morley was basically seeking creative programmers who could work with him on an online accounting system.  He spoke briefly about the poor quality of what’s available in that field at present, and that a really ace bookkeeping software, tax return filing program, and financial management software system would meet a real need amongst small business owners.  It was clear that his ideas captured the interest of many in the audience, but at present he didn’t have a model to show us.  This meant that it remained a bit too abstract: Andrew Wilkinson, for example, managed to snag our interest because he showed his application in action (it was a real demo of the product).  Morley talked about the ideas, but I want to see what he can show us in terms of a prototype or even just a mock-up when we have our next DemoCamp.

Right now it’s up in the air as to when the next one can take place.  Dave Chard’s Juliet Presentation Centre will soon be closing, and his new presentation centre in the Juliet itself will be too small.  Either we find another helpful soul like Dave, who is concerned about Victoria’s downtown and who understands the synergy that’s created for it when events like this take place in the heart of the city, or we all go back to hibernating in our respective silos.  Let’s hope we find another champion of downtown with some square footage to spare for the city’s tech creatives.

Edit, 10/31: Trying to make sure I got the demos reasonably right while writing this up last night, I failed to mention that Mark Lise again did a great job emceeing the event and that Jessica Pryde again kept us on track for time. Thanks to all of you who made the evening a success!

DemoCamp Victoria 02 this Thursday

October 28, 2008 at 9:56 pm | In DemoCampVictoria, democampvictoria02, innovation, social_networking, victoria | 2 Comments

I can’t believe that DemoCampVictoria02 is just two “sleeps” away…!

For me, time has been flying at warp speed.  Keeping my attention in tatters are 1. new work projects, 2. a municipal election, 3. community volunteer adjudicating responsibilities, and 4. another article due (which admittedly is nothing, compared to the fact that some people have a new baby due…).

But here we go: in two more days it’s Thursday Oct. 30, which means that if you’re in Victoria and interested in technology, innovation, and creativity, you must check out our second DemoCamp (Facebook page here).

DemoCamp Victoria 02 is happening in the same location as DemoCamp Victoria01:

834 Johnson St. (David Chard’s “Juliet” Presentation Centre).  MAP

Set-up and mingling to start at 5pm, presentations to start at 6pm, sharp.

Yours truly will be demo-ing, too.  (OMFG…)

Don’t miss it!

What a good online candidate-matrix should do

October 27, 2008 at 9:02 pm | In politics, victoria | 1 Comment

I posted the following comment to my Oct. 25 vent-a-thon against the Chamber’s $45-admission mayoral-candidates meeting, and realized that it has enough substance to be a blog post:

To the Chamber’s credit, their municipal election site for candidates (questions, with candidates posting their answers) is quite good and informative.

It goes some way toward satisfying Davin‘s request for an online candidate-matrix.

The problem I see with this format is that it’s difficult to compare candidates — each one is on a separate page, and voters/ citizens have to wade through an awful lot of pages, clicking between tabs to get close to comparing candidates’ stances.

It would be cool if users (of the site) had the option to click on a question (eg., “Do you believe the region has sufficient protective services? Please explain your answer”) and by doing so call up all the responses to date (some candidates are so unserious that they don’t bother responding to these surveys at all), with names of candidates appended (which would give users information on who has bothered to respond: another criterium for voters as to whether we should take the candidate seriously).

An additional feature I’d like is then, as a user of the site, to be able to “score” each candidate, so I can keep track of how they do (for me) on each question.

At the end, I could then print out a score card.

Matrix!, dudes and dudettes… This would be useful — fun, too. Might get more people engaged in local politics.

It’s the first time that “scoring” made sense for me in a vivid sort of way. I can really see the point of a built-in score card functionality now, though.

And like I said, I could see how a scoring functionality could grab voter attention, especially the attention of younger / alienated voters.  Apply some gaming strategies to the process, get those brain juices revved up.  All in a smart, awesome, and kick-ass way, of course… 😉

DV2020 nails candidate questions

October 26, 2008 at 12:37 pm | In leadership, politics, victoria | 1 Comment

In my October 25 post, What’s wrong with Victoria’s business community?, I blew up at the business community here, particularly the Chamber, for charging terribly high admission prices to the mayoral candidates meetings they’re sponsoring, and for not doing enough to use their networks, their ecosystems, to engage the community at large in a dialogue on Victoria’s economy.

(And I blew up at the Chamber in particular for being locked down by Microsoft: you can’t register for their events online if you use either Firefox or a Mac — that’s just retarded, as far as I can tell.)

I also castigated additional groups that I usually strongly support, Downtown Victoria 2020 (DV2020) and UDI Victoria, because their upcoming event (11/3) has a $30 price tag, too.  It’s another loss of the Commons, as far as I can tell, when you have to shell out that kind of money to listen to your city’s mayoral candidates explain what they would do to govern the city.

However, to DV2020‘s huge credit, they’ve come up with the most complex and challenging set of questions to candidates.  The set is called 2008 Election Questions for a Better Downtown Victoria, and if DV2020 posts the answers that candidates submit, we’ll be better able to make informed voting decisions.

The questions are organized as statements-cum-questions under four headings:

  • Working with the Province
  • The Social Health of Downtown
  • Making Plans into Realities
  • Stewardship of Downtown

These are super-smart, intelligent categories fleshed out by appropriate and probing questions.  There’s not a hint of bullshit about them: straight, clear, urgent, and necessary.  No matter if you’re a candidate or a voter, take a look at DV2020’s 2008 Election Questions for a Better Downtown Victoria and inform yourself.

And next time you’re at a free all-candidates meeting, go up to the mic and ask these questions.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

October 26, 2008 at 2:30 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

What’s wrong with Victoria’s business community?

October 25, 2008 at 12:27 am | In community_associations, leadership, politics, victoria | 12 Comments

I take it as a given that cities need healthy economies if they are to thrive as vibrant, creative places. And I wonder what’s wrong with the established business interests in Victoria, whether in traditional commerce, or in our growing high tech sector, or even in tourism.

Here’s the problem: we have a municipal election coming up on November 15.  With the sh*tstorm of issues facing us (homelessness on a big scale, drug abuse and addiction, financial turmoil,  credit crunches, possible stagnation, crumbling infrastructure, and provincially mandated sewage treatment to the tune of $1.2b), you’d think that everyone must have their eyes on the candidates — because whoever gets in for this next round is going to have a hard row to hoe, and we want to make sure we don’t elect NOOPs.

And guess what?  Many people are paying attention.  Witness the all-candidates meetings held around the city at various venues.

But here’s the rub: these events are almost all hosted by various community associations and community groups, and none of these have the broader economic health of the whole city on their agenda.  Instead, these are issue-driven venues with issue-driven agendas that cater to important, but nonetheless specialized, interests: whether it’s a community association (often with a NIMBY agenda) that wants to grill candidates on their stance around development and affordable housing, or poverty activists that want to grill candidates on what they propose to do about the growing problem of homelessness, none of these sponsors of all-candidates meetings have a balanced, holistic view of the entire city or its economic well-being.

Let’s face it: if you get enough people together in a room and agitate them with issues that are already in their faces, it won’t take much to have normally intelligent people reduce issues of great complexity to black-and-white caricature, and you’ll find that people readily sort themselves into rigid interest groups that brook little dialogue.  One of first complexities to go by the board is economics.  Whether or not our government is doing anything (beyond raising or lowering our property or business tax rates) to facilitate a climate of economic health is uninteresting in those contexts, because their focus is on what’s perceived as the immediate crisis to hand.

The typically agenda-driven community-organized meeting is about focusing on all the problems that bedevil us, and often on demanding our “rights” to better services.  Take affordable housing, a truly complex issue.  At your typical community association-sponsored all-candidates meeting, the issue invariably devolves to this: someone from the audience asks the candidates whether they will “stand up to” the developers of new buildings and “make them” include “affordable” housing.  And if they’re not able to “stand up to” those evil rich bloodsuckers, will they shut down development so that “our” city won’t be “given over” to the rich and the poor won’t be squeezed out?  That’s how easy many people think it should be. If we can’t get what we want, shut the whole damn thing down.  Stop everything.

Complexity?  Com-schmexity.  Rhetoric and posturing is all that matters.  The candidates are forced to respond and react within this framework, and the result is ridiculous.

Further, we have 7 people running for mayor, of which at most 2 are actually qualified in any real sense of the word.  And we have 35 people running for 8 council seats, and here again there’s a majority that’s simply unelectable because they have a single agenda or fringe idee fixe that speaks volumes about their inability to govern anything as complex as a city.

Yet the community-sponsored all-candidates meetings bring out the “best” (i.e., the worst) in these candidates, because inevitably the more fringe-y ones can turn things into a circus with help from the audience.  Of the 3 meetings so far, 2 degenerated quickly into out-and-out gong shows.  The venue and the audience / question period encourages this: insofar as audiences here typically already feel aggrieved, rational candidates cannot, in the 2 minutes allotted to them, convey a nuanced sense of what their platform is, and instead the decidedly more manic candidates act out and use the stage to perform what can only be described as a spectacle of narcissistic self-display that serves to whip up audience fervor.

Gong show.  Truly.

I am not suggesting that we get rid of the community association or community agenda-sponsored meetings.  But here’s my question: why are they the only ones who host open, free-to-all meetings?

Where, for example, is the business community and why isn’t it sponsoring all-candidates meetings?  In a private exchange I asked:

Where is the “business community,” anyway? UDI Victoria is hosting a mayoral candidates event at the Ambrosia Centre on 11/3 (which will probably involve charging admission), but where are the all-candidates meetings that aren’t being driven by the agendas of the poverty-industry advocates and/ or community associations?

Those groups look only at the negative stuff — they don’t talk about what’s positive, what’s worth continuing.

Where are the groups that could and should host meetings that don’t devolve down to 150% negativity? The business groups? VIATEC/ the technology community? Higher learning?

They seem to be allowing Victoria to flounder, flail, and drown.

Giant fail.

Well, it turns out the Chamber of Commerce is hosting a mayoral candidates meeting (albeit not an all-candidates meeting), but what a dog’s-breakfast they’ve made of it.

In a nutshell, it exemplifies what’s wrong with our municipal democracy: on the one hand, community-agenda driven meetings that seem blind to business issues, and on the other a Chamber of Commerce, which, by hosting a meeting that for all intents and purposes may as well take place in a different galaxy for all the relevance it’ll have, thumbs its nose at the larger community.

Here’s the format for the Chamber’s meeting:

City of Victoria Mayoral Candidate Forum

Join the Chamber and hear what your candidates have to say about issues that affect your business.
The Mayoral Candidate Forum will be moderated by Bruce Carter and questions will be encouraged from the audience.

Candidates participating in this forum are:

Dean Fortin
Rob Reid
Steve Filipovic

November 12th, 2008

Delta Victoria – Ocean Pointe Resort & Spa
7:15 a.m. – Registration
7:30 a.m. – Event Start
Continental Buffet Breakfast Provided

The page continues, but a note first.  There are 7 mayoral candidates, and by excluding 4, the Chamber is engaging in some heavy-duty editing.  But most interesting is that they chose to include Steve Filipovic, who doesn’t stand a chance to be elected.  He’s the token candidate; the Chamber would have been better off to directly state that Dean Fortin and Rob Reid are the only two viable candidates, with Fortin an incumbent councilor with lots of experience, and Reid the newcomer who wants to shake things up a bit.  (Although I’m not impressed by Reid’s strategy of aligning himself with several NIMBYist community association leaders, who will surely bring the city to a halt if elected.  My impression now is that Reid doesn’t know what he’s doing.)

Ok, here’s my point as to why the Chamber’s efforts are a dog’s breakfast.  First, the venue is the Ocean Pointe, which just screams “exclusive” and “riff-raff keep out.”  Second, here’s the price of admission:

Nov 12, 2008
07:30 am – 09:00 am
Members: $30.00 +GST
Future Members: $45.00 +GST

The cute “Future Members” notwithstanding, I found that $45 price tag maddening.

So we have a “no riff-raff” venue and an admission price that seals the deal that this meeting is for the “let them eat cake” crowd.

But these are stupid cake eaters, to boot.  For here’s the final straw.  After exhorting us (in bold) to Register Today!, we read:

Note: Our online registration system is not compatible with Mozilla Firefox or Mac computers and only accepts Visa & MasterCard. [emphasis added]

That really takes the cake — alas, it doesn’t take the cake away, but it takes it.

If that’s our representative business chamber, obviously reliant on proprietary Microsoft software and unable to deal with either Macs or Firefox (because they use Internet Exploder), then how can we expect any innovation or creative thinking from this sector?

And how can the voters in this city expect innovation or creativity from potential leaders who are forced to flail about between the horrible Scylla and Charybdis of crisis-focused community groups on the one hand and fossilized business thinking on the other?

What a mess.

(Additional blog post on this topic from 10/26 here.)

Mapping my bio background

October 23, 2008 at 11:26 pm | In just_so | 3 Comments

I’ve been asked to participate as a panelist tomorrow night at the Vancouver Island School of Art (VISA) Slide Room Gallery, which opened an exhibition today called “Victoria: Site Unscene.”  The exhibition showcases “over 100 photographs that reveal an interesting and unusual side of Victoria – views not portrayed in tourist brochures or other municipal promotional material,” and I’m honoured to be asked to participate.

In preparation, the organizer asked for some biographical material to help him formulate an introduction.  I wrote something that provides way too much information for his purposes, but in the process came away with an interesting arc that’s interesting to me.  It culminated with me committing in writing to my new “identity” as a Founder (of a company).  Now, there’s no pretending it’s not a real thing.

No “biography” is ever complete, and no sketch is ever just a sketch.  It’s a story.  You tell a story.  I told a story.  But in the process, I learned something about myself.  I might eventually start to figure out how I can own my story, how it can stop being a foreign thing to me.

Given the theme of “Site Unscene,” place-specificity, and my own history as an immigrant (several times over), this particular biographical note — which ended up being focused on place — gave me a better map of where I’ve been, along with some indications of where I might yet go.

Here’s what I wrote:

Ok, starting at the (Victoria) beginning: I’m an immigrant, came to Canada from Germany as a child, lived first in Winnipeg, but grew up in Victoria in the late 60s and early 70s.  (In fact, I lived right at Quadra & Bay, then on Prior St., bought licorice at the Dutch Shoe, went to S.J. Willis for Junior High — which makes me a “Quadra Village” native!  Then attended Victoria High, and graduated from Oak Bay High.)

Wanted to become a designer, but ended up at the Munich Art Academy, studying sculpture.  That (praxis) lasted for a while, until I started reading (theory!) (Benjamin, Frankfurt School).

Returned to the West Coast, eventually ended up at UBC, where I took a BA Hons in Art History (’83), and subsequently an MA in Art History (’86).  Advisor: Serge Guilbaut (who wrote about the NY School).

For personal reasons, moved to Boston in 1985; applied to Harvard, studied with T.J. Clark (who had been Guilbaut’s advisor at UCLA).  T.J. Clark was famous for writing about Courbet and the 1830 revolution in France, and subsequently writing about Manet and Haussmann’s Paris.  I also taught for Clark at Harvard, as well as for several other professors (Henri Zerner, Anna Chave).

Took my PhD in Art & Architectural History at Harvard, 1991.

Taught at MIT, Brown University, and Harvard Extension School.

My book, Reconstructing the Subject; Modernist Painting in Western Germany, 1945-1950, was published by Princeton University Press, 1995.

Had various articles published in peer-reviewed journals; was an invited speaker at symposia, etc.; and was a co-author of German Marks; Postwar Drawings and Prints Donated to the Busch-Reisinger Museum, a book about Harvard Art Museums’ collection of German art (published by Harvard University Press, 1998).

Left academia in Jan. 1999 (almost 10 years ago!), because (1) that world is too restrictive (“how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”); and (2) I began homeschooling my kids (in 2000).

Moved back to Victoria in 2002, was by then no longer an academic.  (But wasn’t quite sure what I was instead.  Still not sure; such is the hold of “professional” identity.)

Kids began taking courses through South Island Distance Education School (in Saanich).  I began to serve on that organization’s Parent Advisory Council and its School Planning Council (starting in 2003).  Did that for 4 years, during which I worked closely with the principals (there were 2) and the vice-principals, as well as some of the senior teachers, to shape South Island Distance Education School (SIDES) as a 21st century advanced distributed education provider.

I think there were some successes!

In April 2003 I became part of the blogging network started at Harvard’s Berkman Center by Dave Winer (technologist, media hacker).  Initially, I blogged about all the lefty issues that had agitated me when I left the US and moved back to Canada.  (Of course, living in Canada makes one take a more critical look at some of those beliefs, but that’s another story.)  I soon became involved with an international group of bloggers (none of them from Harvard/ Berkman, but rather from the loopy world of the Cluetrain Manifesto and Web 2.0).  Blogging has been life-changing: I wasn’t “born digital,” but as a two-time immigrant, I feel I have become a three-time immigrant who’s nearly completely naturalized online.

In early 2005, I became involved with my neighbourhood association: that year I served on the Rockland Neighbourhood Association (RNA) executive board, in Land Use and on the Newsletter.

Left RNA in Jan. 2006 and joined the CRD’s Arts Advisory Council (AAC).  The AAC is a volunteer board that adjudicates project grant and operating grant applications to the CRD’s Arts Development Office.  I still serve on the AAC  and consider what I do there really important.

For the past two years I’ve been a non-voting member of the Downtown Residents Association (DRA), and I do my best to keep up with everything that DRA deals with.

In Oct. 2006 I began writing a monthly column for FOCUS Magazine (ongoing). My articles are about urban development and urban form in Victoria.

In March 2008, I organized together with technologist Mark Lise Victoria’s first DemoCamp, where Victoria’s creative technologists came together in a downtown setting to demonstrate (“demo”) their entrepreneurial ideas. We’re holding a second DemoCamp on Oct. 30, and it’s my intention to expand DemoCamp to include creatives from other sectors.

Earlier this year, I incorporated a company called MetroCascade with my husband and another partner: we are developing a web-based local-news aggregator.  (I’ll be “demo-ing” MetroCascade at DemoCamp on Oct. 30 by the way!)  MetroCascade is a hyper-local news aggregator that lets users find out what’s going on in their locality/ their city (and we’re starting specifically with Victoria).

We think Victoria is an excellent place to launch because there are so many creatives in our city, and we think that connecting people up with other people will make everyone more awesome, more informed, and better able to kick ass.

We want you to kick ass: that’s our goal.

(Yes, I was channeling Kathy Sierra in that last bit, but I really mean it, too.  She’s one of my heroes.)

In previous biographies (told mainly to myself), I wondered how I, as the first person in my family to go to university, ended up with advanced degrees, and how I could have “failed” so badly, having opted out of an academic career.  I’ve been wrestling with that failure, not least because I never was able to make sense of the prior “success.”  Putting the story on a map like this makes both issues (failure and success) less relevant.  The places (real and virtual) and what you do there matter more.

Comment on BC Supreme Court Ruling re. Camping in Parks

October 19, 2008 at 9:43 pm | In cities, comments, homelessness, victoria | 2 Comments

Tim Ayres is a realtor in Sooke, BC, who blogs about real estate and Victoria issues.  I’ve seen his Twitter updates in the Twitter Local Net, but haven’t been following his blog.  The other day, however, I saw that someone I follow on Twitter twittered that he had left a comment to Tim’s video post, Get Ready For The Homeless in Beacon Hill Park [Video], which asked readers what we all think about the “camping in parks” ruling.

For anyone in BC, the recent BC Supreme Court ruling is …uh, significant.  (And for the best local coverage on this question so far, see the Vibrant Victoria forum thread, Homeless win right to camp in city parks.)

I clicked through to Tim’s video blog and posted a lengthy comment.  However, as it appears to be held up in a moderation queue I’m re-posting it on my blog, too (minus some pre- and post-amble…):

The ruling by (BC Supreme Court Justice Carol) Ross is not helpful if it does nothing to bring the various levels of government together to address the problem of homelessness, and I have to voice my disagreement with comments here that the city should be able to fix the problem.

Far from defending our current municipal leadership — because it has been wishy-washy — I would argue, however, that the cumulative effects of off- or downloading by *all* parties at the senior (Provincial and Federal) levels of government has created the mess we’re in now.

By all parties I’m referring to how Paul Martin’s Federal Liberal government really accelerated the downloading of federal responsibilities to the provinces; how our current Conservative federal government, when approached for help with infrastructure in cities — which includes *so* many aspects — reduced the issue to banalities by replying that “the Federal government isn’t in the business of fixing potholes”; how at the Provincial level, we’ve lost mental hospitals to cut-backs, are failing to provide detox.

Most importantly, I’m also referring to how, we, in urban centres, are subservient to rules laid out in a British North America Act that gave Provinces all power over municipalities because cities were considered unimportant, mere entrepots for raw resource export (which is manifestly no longer the case), and how our Canadian Constitution also fails to take into consideration the fundamental importance of cities to 21st century economies.

And yet the problems of homelessness as well as untreated mental health problems and often attendant drug- and alcohol-abuse as well as the criminality associated with procuring drugs (and paying for them, that’s based on crime often enough) aggregate in our cities. These are problems dumped on municipalities, which in turn can’t seem to deal with them. Yes, people are poor and even homeless in rural areas, people become addicts in rural areas, people lose their minds in rural areas. But when they come for help, chances are they’ll migrate to the cities to seek it, expecting services that those cities are increasingly unable to provide because they’re being asked to do too much with too little.

In case you’re interested, a number of months ago I wrote a blog post about off- or downloading and how the spectacle of homelessness is the last link in that downloading scheme, Connect the dots: two articles by Miro Cernetig and Bob Ransford that should be read together.
What I argued was that we citizens are the last link in that chain: the municipalities have dumped the problem on us — and just as the downloading of responsibilities from Feds to Provinces to Municipalities was ill-conceived, downloading to Joe and Jane Citizen is equally wrong.

It’s wrong for the same reasons: if you download responsibilities (which entail fiscal responsibility) without ensuring that the entity you’re downloading to has a tool kit with which to approach the responsibilities, you’re asking for trouble down the road. When Canadian cities were asked to take on the responsibility for the hard-to-house, the mentally ill, and the drug-addicted, the scheme collapsed. Why? Because there’s nothing in Canadian cities’ toolkit to allow them to create the fiscal arrangements to pay for that responsibility. Canadian cities depend on property and business taxes, while all income and consumption taxes go to senior levels of government. Municipalities can’t keep jacking up property and business taxes, unless they want to drive out their most successful members.

I’m not excusing poor leadership at any level of government. But Canada is set up in a very weird way, and it’s not as easy as some would believe to deal with these problems. There are way too many silos and too many policy restrictions on how cities can be pro-active.

What I would like to see (and ask municipal politicians) is “how are you going to be an effective lobbyist for us?” I would ask, “how are you going to break down the party mentality that sets up us-and-them dichotomies?” — something we see far too much of in Victoria, which likes to nurture an NDP chip on its shoulder and complain about the “evil” Liberals. I’d want to know how you (municipal leader) are going to seek out contacts on a personal level, make sure you meet the right people at all levels of government, how you’re going to *schmooze* and wheel and deal, assemble teams, and break down the g-d-damn silos, so we can work toward the common good. I would not want a municipal politician who has lofty ideals and refuses to get his/ her hands dirty by working with “the other side.” I would specifically support politicians who are ready to throw the old partisanship out the window. At least we who are housed still have windows to throw things out of. Let’s use that.

PS: I don’t work in government or have any professional affliliation with policy making. I am passionately interested in cities, though, and write often about Victoria in particular.

I’ve written several other entries related to housing, homelessness, affordable housing, and so on, but the specific entry I cite above (Connect the dots…) is probably the one most relevant to the crisis we’re dealing with currently.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

October 19, 2008 at 2:31 am | In links | 1 Comment

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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