Mark Holland to speak in Victoria BC

March 15, 2010 at 8:48 am | In NIMBYism, politics, victoria | 3 Comments

The City of Victoria’s Shape Your Future site notes that Mark Holland will be at the next community forum on March 26:

Mark Holland has been announced as the keynote speaker for the March 26 Community Forum. He will be joined by a panel of Victoria citizens at the Friday evening event from 5:30 p.m. – 8 p.m at Crystal Garden.

The Shape Your Future site is set up like a blog, yet doesn’t allow comments (which bugs me). Since I can’t post comments on the City’s site, I’ll have to do it on my own blog. I’d like to point to some things Holland said in a 2006 Tyee interview with James Glave, which I annotated via Diigo at the time, although I forgot all about it.

In James Glave’s interview, Holland notes that “The market isn’t a clean thing, it is completely invented and it’s constantly maintained and managed and manipulated by regulations.” In other words, as part of a feedback loop, taxation and subsidies act as a kind of information: they literally inform (that is, form or shape) the market. Municipalities in Canada are in a hard place here since they don’t have the autonomy to shape those feedback loops fully. However, they do have some powers, and it’s critical that cities figure out what they can do to move markets in the right direction. And as Holland adds, “…the question is, ‘Do we want to create national and international agreements to create a structure that leads us toward a more sustainable society, or do we want to create market forces that lead us away from it?’ That is one of the biggest questions in play right now.”

It means that at the city level, different departments need to cooperate, work together to figure this part of the puzzle out. (It also implies quite a lot at the regional level, which is a whole other matter when dealing with a municipal puzzle as tricky as ours. More on that, below.)

I also really liked what Holland said about the world-changers. After first noting that “The only sustainable future we can have is a profitable one. If you can’t make money saving the world, you won’t save the world,” he adds a couple of thoughts about partisans:

“But there is a stream that still carries on in the old way — supported by trade unions, and people who have little experience with how government works — largely driven by those who have an ‘outsider’ psychology [guilty as charged, I have my share of ‘outsider psychology’…]. They move the world forward very slowly. That said, they are critical for creating demand for those on the inside to do something. Without them banging on the pots and pans, no one anywhere needs to do anything. So, governments do sometimes need people throwing their bodies against the wall. But we will never change the world by going around the system. We have to change the system from within.”

And, a bit further down:

You can’t presume that the do-gooder, 1970s approach to changing your lifestyle is going to change the world, because it’s not. There is no way that trying to sell starving in the dark and doing without is ever going to make a penetration. In fact, it’s highly irresponsible for activists to argue that. They turn the world against those of us who are trying to change it, we all get branded the same way.

Makes sense to me, but the place we’re talking about is Victoria, where everyone wants to save the world – either by not changing a thing, pulling up the drawbridge, or being politically partisan (which usually involves comparing the BC Liberals to child molesters or worse). And in this city it’s going to be a hard slog to convince certain people to look at markets like they’re you’re friend, vs some kind of “alien” thing you can eliminate.

Consider, for example, one of James Glave’s own recent posts, Density is not the boogieman, which includes a passionate letter to his municipality, Bowen Island. He notes that he’s “advocating …for the best and most responsible way to deal with the growth that is already occurring,” which is exactly what we should be dealing with in Victoria, too (versus thinking we should stop growth by pulling up the drawbridge). Here, too, there’s a typical rejection of density – perhaps because people don’t understand that by not allowing it, they’re encouraging sprawl and the paving over of greenfields.

If you read through Glave’s letter, consider also reading Bernard von Schulmann’s January 12 post, Higher density needed near UVic. One of the comments on that post is particularly telling: Barbara Julian asks, “Why does everybody accept density and overpopulation? Anyone remember ‘small is beautiful’? UVIC has to grow for whose benefit …? Corporate interests did you say ..?” Julian’s questions encapsulate the thinking around here: stop development, density is bad, just don’t let anyone else move here (aka the drawbridge mindset) and we’ll be all set.

It’s a hopeful sign that we also have people like Rob Randall, who posted this response to Julian:

“Why does everybody accept density and overpopulation?”

Because density is good, Barbara.

Because density is good.

But you know, those of us who get that also get awfully beaten down by those who bury their heads in the sand on questions of growth (and growth management).

Once more back to Mark Holland, this time on the question of community gardens, which also illuminates what a hard sell Victorians wanting change will have here. Holland notes, “We need to include serious community gardens in our public parks.”

Let’s see anyone try to move that past the Friends of Beacon Hill Park, who fight tooth and nail against any “infringement” on the museum quality of that public park, whether it’s a temporary advertising banner to support a community festival (Luminara, anyone?) …or community gardening.

So, all this from Glave’s 2006 article, which I annotated the hell out of almost four years ago. In the years preceding 2006 as well as the years following I attended numerous community planning sessions, bashing my head against certain Victorians who always seem to find time to attend these events. Now I can’t muster an appetite for this stuff anymore. It’s up to the people getting paid – city staff – to find out if it’s really the case that everyone here has a BANANA mentality, or if it’s just a very vocal subset. City staff and politicians have, however, nearly bankrupted public trust due to the still-ongoing Johnson Street Bridge debacle. Nobody trusts them anymore, including me.

And I’m also less than hopeful because our municipal employees can’t do what Andrea DiMaio so eloquently suggests in How To Love Government 2.0 and Be A Contrarian at the Same Time:

My main concern, which I have expressed countless times, is that an open government must be a government that both talks more about what it does and how it operates, and listens to what people have to say. But in doing so, it does not pretend it owns or controls the communication channels or the style of interaction.


If governments really want to address the other side of the engagement coin, and figure out where people are, what they care about, what language they use, what makes them tick on a topic and stick to a community, then they need to empower their employees to be market researchers, information brokers, idea transformers.

The attitude needs to shift from “we need to engage people who tell us how to work (because our folks are not good enough)” to “we want our folks to become even better by tapping into the ingenuity and creativity of people”. Now, I’m sure you’ve heard many gov 2.0 leaders and proponents using similar words. But if you read the fine prints, you may have noticed that they say “government must tap into the ingenuity of people” and not “government employees”. This is a fundamental difference, and one that I have been stressing for quite some time now.

What DiMaio, followed up by Candi Harrison in her post, Use Your Best Resources to Engage Citizens – Your Employees, propose is getting government employees to talk to their friends, neighbors, social circles to find out what people are thinking and want for their community. Why is this a problem in Victoria (aside from possible internal communication blocks between management and staff)? Political balkanization – thirteen municipalities, each with their own municipal governments. The City of Victoria’s own highest paid employee – Gail Stephens, City Manager – doesn’t even live in Victoria. What’s the point if she talks to her neighbors? They’re not Victorians. And while I don’t have the statistics, I’m sure a significant percentage of City employees don’t live Victoria.

In other words, the political balkanization contributes to making shared information either difficult or …irrelevant. Neighboring folks in Saanich might aspire to the same things as those in Victoria, but under our crazy system their views must be addressed to Saanich politicians, not Victoria’s. It’s completely ridiculous.

Which is why I wish Mark Holland luck in addressing Victoria. I think he’ll enjoy it and will find lots of enthusiastic world changers. But they just might not be aware of how market-oriented his thinking is. In fact, I wonder how much of a surprise Holland’s approach will be to some of the usual participants at these events, people who are against all development. And I wonder, too, how much bringing Holland here was a staff-driven decision as opposed to one made on the basis of gauging the community. Holland’s views on underlying economic drivers are so progressive that I have a hard time reconciling them with the usual stance of Victorians.

By my lights, it’s now pretty late in the day and Mark Holland should have been here four years ago to talk about shaping Victoria’s Official Community Plan.

At any rate I think I’ll be staying home on March 26. After waiting all these years, I’ve come down with a real bad case of community fatigue.


  1. I have to laugh at those that wring their hands over density while worrying about climate change. A sincere environmentalist applauds density.

    What issue of FOCUS had that Sam Williams article on height and density with the three ways of accommodating x,000 new Victorians?

    Comment by robert randall — March 18, 2010 #

  2. The article you’re thinking of appeared in 2006 (yes, 2006 …incredible, no?), either in August or September. I’m guessing September; my letter in response appeared in the October 2006 issue (I seconded what he wrote, but took him to task for criticizing The Corazon, my favorite condo building in Victoria at the time.)

    Comment by Yule — March 19, 2010 #

  3. People shouldn’t dread the basic idea of density. It all depends on the form it takes. Many of Victoria’s more densely populated neighbourhoods are very nice and very well liked by Victorians and also by tourists.

    Comment by StanThuman — March 25, 2010 #

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