Arresting perspective: Johnson Street Bridge integral to Victoria’s Old Town

July 22, 2010 at 11:28 pm | In architecture, authenticity, heritage, johnson street bridge, victoria | 5 Comments

Victoria British Columbia residents and visitors may have seen the Johnson Street Bridge before from this perspective, looking west down Johnson Street toward the Harbour:


But the arresting perspective seen in Eric Porcher‘s photograph drives home a crucial point. Porcher‘s photo clearly shows that the bridge is absolutely integral to the distinctive fabric of Old Town. Consider how well the industrial structure of the bridge, with its girders, beams, and thousands of rivets, answers the density of architectural detail that Old Town’s street facades offer.

If the Johnson Street Bridge is removed and replaced with a generic new bridge, a significant piece of Victoria’s heritage – what makes it uniquely itself – will be excised and lost forever.

It’s obvious that a destruction of the Johnson Street Bridge equates to a mutilation of Old Town. It’s also obvious that our city council speaks with a forked tongue about heritage and has no shame about hypocrisy.

Serendipitous visual learning: forests and trees

July 21, 2010 at 11:03 pm | In education, nature, resources | Comments Off on Serendipitous visual learning: forests and trees

Amazing things crop up on the internet, sometimes found serendipitously – with nary a memory of how they were stumbled in the first place.

For example, I came across a useful page from British Columbia’s Ministry of Forests and Range, specifically the Forest Practices Branch: check out the Visual Landscape Design – Interactive Multimedia Training Access Page, where (if you give them your name, real or not) you will gain access to 22 online mini-lessons on visual design. It’s an excellent tutorial on how to design forest harvesting practices that leave the landscape looking good, rather than bad.

IOW, it’s about how to cut trees without making the landscape look like a cat’s breakfast. And while some tree-preservationists might blanch at the suggestion of making clear-cuts look pretty, it’s a heck of a better strategy than leaving them ugly. (That said, I’m not endorsing destructive clear-cutting, and I want to see old-growth forests protected absolutely, but this government-produced tutorial is gold – and its lessons are transferable to many design questions.)

Here’s what you get on the Visual Landscape Design – Interactive Multimedia Training Access Page. The following lessons (each just a couple of minutes long) make up the “interactive multimedia” section:

Section 1 Introduction
1.01 Landscape Design and Why it is important

Section 2 Design Concepts and Principles
2.01 Basic Elements
2.02 Variable Elements
2.03 Organizing Principles
2.04 Spatial Cues
2.05 Challenge Questions

Section 3 Landscape Character Analysis
3.01 Landform Analysis
3.01b Marvinas Bay Landform Analysis
3.02 Feature Analysis
3.02b Midway Feature Analysis

Section 4 Design Applications
4.01 Design of Harvest Units
4.01b Nootka Island Harvest Unit
4.02 Design of Edges
4.03 Silvicultural Systems
4.04 Complete Pattern of Shapes
4.05 Challenge Questions
4.06 Design of Foreground Areas
4.07 Special Design Considerations
4.08a Visual Rehabilitation Harvesting
4.08b Visual Rehabilitation Reclamation
4.09 Challenge Questions

Section 5 Integrated Visual Design
5.01 Integrated Visual Design
Closing Remarks

In addition, the page lets you access a PDF library for downloading; it includes the following titles:

Visual Landscape Design Training Manual (170 pages)
Bear Lake Integrated Visual Design Plan (42 pages)
Economic Benefits of Managing Forestry and Tourism at Nimmo Bay (A Public Perception Study and Economic Analysis) (67 pages)
Visually Effective Greenup in British Columbia (A Public Perception Study) (61 pages)
Clearcutting and Visual Quality (A Public Perception Study) (37 pages)
Visual Impacts of Partial Cutting (Summary Report) (62 pages)
Predicting the Visual Impacts of Retention Cutting (3 pages)

Some of the documents are dated (mid- to late-90s). Since I haven’t read them, I can’t guarantee that they’re untainted by industry bull and/or greenwash, but I appreciate that the docs are available: they provide insight into how Forestry is being handled in BC. As for the design tutorial: it’s definitely worth studying – I’m viewing the 3rd Section now, and what it has to teach looks very transferable.

Right picture

July 20, 2010 at 10:29 pm | In just_so, writing | 2 Comments

The right picture would, I knew, put things in perspective. It has been “one of those days” and I’m not coping too well with the assorted slings and arrows, feeling put out by incessant bearing and wanting instead to take arms, …but not knowing how. Not a clue.

So I googled images for “dark sky black cloud” and found this perfect picture. It’s perfect because it makes me think and takes me outside of my immediate mirror/mental space(s):


Does anyone remember L’il Abner? That comic strip famously had a character I always swore I would not become: Joe Btfsplk, aka The World’s Worst Jinx.

It’s nothing short of nuts to think of Cai Guo-Qiang and Joe Btfsplk in the same context, and maybe Adorno would have something to say about my state of Halbbildung. Yet there they both are, rubbing elbows. At the end of the day, however, when I’m trying to salvage my dignity, the snob in me turns her back on The World’s Worst Jinx and instead identifies with all the nicely-dressed people on the Met’s roof, as they contemplate what looks for all the world like Joe’s defining insignia …the black cloud that follows wherever he goes.

…And then she gathers her accouterments and concocts a half-theory about why her depression is more artsy (see Cai Guo-Qiang) than common (see Joe Btfsplk). (Or maybe a sip of Kickapoo Joy Juice would suffice…)

Victorian? Johnson Street Bridge dot ORG has the survey you need

July 19, 2010 at 11:08 pm | In johnson street bridge, victoria | Comments Off on Victorian? Johnson Street Bridge dot ORG has the survey you need

The City of Victoria has sent surveys to residents, asking for feedback on what we think should be done regarding the Johnson Street Bridge.

My post today is aimed at Victoria British Columbia residents – voters who live in the City of Victoria: Victorians. I’m asking you to visit the latest post on our website, JohnsonStreetBridge.ORG, to read Give Your Feedback to City Hall on the Johnson Street Bridge. Download the additional survey (PDF) that JohnsonStreetBridge.ORG has developed and send it in to City Hall, together with the official survey.

I also recommend that Victoria residents (or other interested folks) take a look at this summary, Johnson Street Bridge project retrospective, part 1 of 2, on Vibrant Victoria. (Full disclosure: it was written by my son, Adam Bahlke, who is working for Skyscraper Source Media this summer; the article is entirely based on the public “Johnson Street Bridge” threads on the Vibrant Victoria forum and reflects the information and sentiments expressed therein. Irrespective of my personal interest in the topic, the article is a sober reflection of what in essence has been a very fraught topic.)

To recap: if you’re a City of Victoria resident, please surf over to the JohnsonStreetBridge.ORG article, Give Your Feedback to City Hall on the Johnson Street Bridge, and carefully read the strategy we’re proposing. Download the PDF and include it with your official City of Victoria survey.


Please tell your fellow Victoria voters, too.

Clapperclaw, the verb

July 18, 2010 at 8:44 pm | In johnson street bridge, just_so, victoria | Comments Off on Clapperclaw, the verb

Here’s a great old word: clapperclaw. We should all start using it again.

Clapperclaw, vb., trans.: To claw or scratch with the open hand or nails; to beat, thrash, drub.

Clapperclaw, as in: While I chopped the vegetables, my dog clapperclawed my leg to demand a piece of zucchini.

It also means “to revile, abuse”…

Clapperclaw, as in: The citizens, ready to clapperclaw the councilors for their lousy decisions, voted them out at election time.

(Sing it, sister!)


The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

July 18, 2010 at 2:31 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

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

Random Paint-In related post

July 17, 2010 at 11:33 pm | In victoria | 4 Comments

Today was the Moss Street Paint-In (oh, I forgot: it has a corporate identity: The Toronto Dominion Paint In…). As usual, the organizers managed to arrange some deal with the weather gods and it was sunny – except for a very surreal influx of menacingly dense fog, which descended out of nowhere and just as mysteriously disappeared.

The Paint-In attracts people – lots of people. It’s kind of difficult to winnow out the few good artists in the generous display of so-so talent – and because my appetite for getting bite-back is diminished, I’ll refrain from further comment on the overall quality of the event.

Suffice it to say, the crowds are “it” on this occasion.



There was this incident of fog, which had its strange way across the municipalities bordering the ocean. When I took my dog out later in the afternoon to Cattle Point in the Uplands, the fog obliterated distinctions between shore and sea. Compared to populated Moss Street, Cattle Point was an alien landscape:


As it happened, a chap parked a car that sort of summed it all up for me today:


Polka-dotted camouflage – how appropriate… But weirdness aside, I’d like access to a car like this in the event of a mega-quake: it has an axe attached to the passenger door (recommended as an earthquake kit necessity) and in general, its appearance suggests it could survive anything you throw at it.


Drive on, Jeeves…

Staring at the mystery

July 16, 2010 at 11:11 pm | In victoria, writing | Comments Off on Staring at the mystery

This afternoon, a brilliantly clear sunny day, my dog Jigger and I walked up to Moss Rock Park, right up the “summit,” to survey our surroundings. Well, ok: I surveyed; he sniffed about.

Moss Rock is one of our local treasures: you can climb up here to savor the multimillion dollar views, gorging yourself silly on the beauty that stuns the senses in ways familiar to Odysseus – who had himself strapped to the mast of his ship to resist siren songs. Odysseus, who was also fair canny about lotus leaves.

As I sat surveying, I wondered about the gorgeous ocean view on three sides and its literally spell-binding effect. Then I turned my back on the sea and looked at the city instead.

I haven’t worked this out, but it struck me that imagination can get blinded by this place: beautiful ocean vistas and incomparable topography – steep, stony eruptions of land, chthonic reminders of how this place was shaped – and irrepressible vegetation.

There’s no doubt that people spend a lot of time marveling at, weeping over, and basking in the natural beauty that’s simply given to every single person here. I would argue that, collectively, we spend a lot of time staring at it.

I want to say this simply, but I’m having a hard time with it. What struck me was this: our gaze is turned to the immutable too much, at the expense of what can and must be mutable: the city. We’re not building our city. We’re all trying to find our place in this beauty, perhaps trying to secure our little piece of it – as if it were ours to secure – but we’re not giving much back. We’re kind of indifferent about building a beautiful city – we suffer sprawl, but don’t want to compete with nature when it comes to building up our downtown. We stare at the majesty of nature – do we “honor” it by keeping our city abject and unambitious? We stare at nature, enthralled, but we’re not staring at the city. We should be staring at the city, too. We’re not building a city that rivals the (natural) beauty we’re given. We sit on summits to survey what’s out there – the ocean, the sunset, the rocks – and if we’re feeling frisky, we bike along the scenic route to survey our bounty from sea level. But doing so, we’ve turned our backs (literally) on the city.

In Dream City: Vancouver and the Global Imagination, Lance Berelowitz described how Vancouver’s setting shaped its brand of urbanism. In the years since reading his book, I’ve wondered about Victoria. Today, it struck me that our island setting persuades us to look out – at the sea that surrounds us on all sides, for example – and that this looking out blinds us to looking in constructively, with a builder’s eye, looking back in on the city, on the downtown that we’ve learned to ignore. Sure, we keep the tourist areas on life support, but as for the rest?

Photo of Victoria by Stewart Butterfield

Note: photo above is by Stewart Butterfield, on Flickr here, captioned as follows: “Mt. Baker over Victoria / Some fortunate and some unfortunate habits of building in a young city on the Canadian coast, about 125 years in. Reminds me of photos of Chile.” Another Flickr user, Roominant, commented: “Victoria was incorporated in 1862, so it’s actually closer to 150 years old than 125. Then again, the newest building in that photo is probably 25 years old if not older, so it depends how you measure it.” Many of the buildings in the photo are from the 1970s and 1980s; in the 2000s some good new buildings went up downtown, but we’re still dealing with a legacy of neglect and blindness.

What prompts a municipal CAO’s expenses?

July 15, 2010 at 7:39 pm | In johnson street bridge, local_not_global, politics, victoria | Comments Off on What prompts a municipal CAO’s expenses?

Victoria British Columbia hired a new City Manager one year ago (July 2009). Recently, the city released its 2009 Public Bodies Report (PDF), which itemizes the city’s expenditures. On p.8, we read that the City Manager’s 2009 salary was $186,418.09 – and that her expenses were a staggering $168,443.94.

What prompts expenses that come to ~90% of annual salary? No one else comes even remotely close.

Knowing the cost of buying a house around here, I have some guesses. But if I’m right, it’s a shame that property tax paid won’t go back to the City of Victoria – its manager, according to what she told me in conversation, lives outside the municipality.

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