The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

December 25, 2011 at 1:30 am | In links | 2 Comments
    • Fantastic article by Kay Hymowitz on Brooklyn, NY: history, economics, gentrification, and the importance of land use zoning. Must-read.
      Walentas’s prescience—and patience—put him in an unusual position. Like many successful developers, he was able to make a lot of money: space in the buildings he bought for $6 per square foot now sometimes sells for $1,000 per square foot. But unlike other developers, Walentas owned so much of a neighborhood that he could play God. Also, since he was making so much money from the properties overall, he could give rent breaks to commercial tenants that he viewed as desirable—for instance, upscale retailers like West Elm, the modern-furniture outlet, and Jacques Torres, a high-end chocolatier—while refusing chains like Duane Reade, which, he felt, set the wrong, down-market tone.

      Wikipedia image

      tags: city_journal kay_hymowitz brooklyn nyc urbanism urban_renewal entrepeneurialism

Tolerating complexity

…After you’ve read Hymowitz’s article, which includes an analysis of Dumbo, consider Stephen Smith’s piece, next, which argues against certain zoning restrictions (including height). If I’m reading Smith (aka @marketurbanism) correctly, he in effect proposes a kind of trickle-down urbanism: if you have more space available, it becomes cheaper to have/ rent/ own (which in turn would help spur economic development, including entrepreneurial startups, in NYC). But after reading Hymowitz’s take on the numbers of people employed (both historically by manufacturing plants, which employed thousands, and startups, which employ minuscule numbers in comparison), the argument might need tweaking. While I agree with much of what Smith writes, Hymowitz’s analysis is perhaps more cognizant of the complexities involved.

Smith’s piece:

  • @MarketUrbanism makes the case for a variant of trickle-down benefits of market forces.
    When Ryan Avent’s ebook The Gated City came out, I summed up his thesis as being that if you allow more growth in Silicon Valley, you get more tech companies and tech wages. The same principle is worth a try around Union Square and Dumbo. They’re both urban neighborhoods, but are relatively squat compared to other commercial neighborhoods in the city. They may not be completely “zoned out” for new development, but the amount of developable space is a small fraction of what’s already built, and it’s certainly not enough to keep prices from rising faster than the rate of inflation. In Dumbo, for example, new buildings are barely allowed to rise above the height of a elevator-less walk-up, when they’re allowed at all. In Union Square, the hottest new building isn’t even new, but rather an expensive rehab of an old structure with barely any new square footage. Entrepreneurs, especially in lucrative industries like technology, are willing to shell out more money to be in a talent hub like New York or Silicon Valley, but their ability to pay is not limitless.

    tags: forbes stephen_smith marketurbanism cities nyc urban_development

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

Close to quitting (or noticeably downsizing) Facebook

December 23, 2011 at 11:55 am | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Close to quitting (or noticeably downsizing) Facebook

I knew there were good reasons to dislike Facebook’s new redesign known as Timeline – nor does it appear that I’m alone in thinking it’s a visual mess, too. Or that it’s a bunch of new work for digital hamsters.

Lately, in my current vagabonding stage, I’ve been thinking hard about work. Working in someone else’s hamster wheel by running around to provide streams of content that makes corporate advertising wheels go ’round and ’round is looking less and less appealing. In fact, it’s looking more and more like something I was doing because I didn’t have better work to do, …or maybe I was unable to reach better work. Now that Timeline wants to prompt Facebook users into some kind of scrapbooking exercise of self-presentation, this feeling is becoming even more salient, …while at the same time my vagabondage has rekindled a sense of being able to reach better work.

(^ This dialectic perhaps helps explain why, in this relatively shitty economy where so many are stuck, people are spending a lot of time working on corporate-owned social media hamster wheels… Just sayin’… Dave Winer‘s repeated critiques of the hamster wheel economy are sinking in, I guess.)

With Timeline, the hamsters (we) are “incentivized” to work harder (provide more interesting self-branding content – which of course is sold as data, or rather, to use Johanna Drucker‘s term, capta), because who wants to have a pathetic “Brand ‘Me’!” timeline profile when much more energetic hamsters are pimping out “their” hamster wheels with bling?

This is looking less and less appealing.

A link to how to delete your Facebook account

Where’s our “I, Claudius” when we need it?

December 22, 2011 at 8:14 pm | In arts, authenticity, justice, philanthropy, politics | 1 Comment

When I read about art events like this, I can’t help but think of I, Claudius and its relentless chronicle of Rome in decline…

…performance art legend Marina Abramović created a stir when she was accused of exploiting other artists during L.A.’s MOCA gala. Guests at the posh event paid up to $10,000 dollars so they could be seated at one of her tables decorated with centerpieces that included rotating human heads and naked bodies pseudo-copulating with skeletons. Gala guests were allowed to touch the performers and feed them, because the live tabletop pieces signed a non-disclosure agreement and were paid off with a whopping $150 bucks that allowed them to be manhandled as desired. (source)

Who are these $10K-per-plate patrons of the arts who shock and amuse themselves by feeding or otherwise stimulating human centerpieces?

(See also this article about an artist who protested.)

On the erosion of the middle class, see also Rich Shopper, Poor Shopper (PBS Newshour, Making Sen$e) – high end and low end are “doing alright,” but the middle is absent.

The poor artists are renting themselves out for $150 at events where the rich pay $10,000 to support the arts. This is one f-upped world.

City of villages

December 19, 2011 at 7:08 pm | In cities, jane_jacobs, land_use, Portland | 1 Comment

A city of villages: that’s what they call Portland, and it’s true. Clustered along most major corridors, it seems, nodes of vibrant market activity suddenly appear – and if the shops are indies, they look to be thriving and attracting lots of customers.

I wrote previously (here and here) that the city strikes me as a predominantly yin sort of place, with not too much yang energy. But following up on the whole yin-yang analogy, I should add that it’s all about balance, right?

Portland has its edgier, more yang-energy infused places, and they’re exactly where you’d expect to find them: downtown, in a busier commercial district that includes industrial areas in transition; plenty of tall buildings, old and new; and great stores, including department stores that actually have a good selection of merchandise (full disclosure: I love department stores).

Downtown is a contained area, though, with the Willamette River on the one side and the West Hills on the other. If you leave the downtown core to head east to cross over the river (perhaps passing a couple of freeways and railroad tracks), you will quickly find yourself in one of the many “villages”: in the Northeast where I’m staying right now, there’s Mississippi Ave., N. Williams, Martin Luther King Jr. (aka MLK), Alberta, NE Fremont, and NE Killingsworth for starters. In the Southeast, there are more and larger clusters, particularly along Hawthorne and SE Division (haven’t yet explored Broadway, Steele or some of the others yet).

The economic range of these nodes is interesting. You could argue that N. Williams in the 3700-3900 blocks was …well, what’s the right word? gentrified?, yuppified? But those words suggest that people were displaced, although I’m not sure that was the case. (The 3-story condo-plus-retail building I’m living in right now was built in 2009 on a vacant lot. The surrounding streets look like a pretty mixed bag in every respect.) Instead of displacement via gentrification, commercial clusters like the newest one on N. Williams, or more established ones like Mississippi or Alberta (not to mention really established ones like SE Hawthorne) provide entertainment (pubs, cafes, restaurants) and recreation (need I say yoga?) and services (lots of bike repair shops!) and goods (locally-sourced fashions, books, and food) for both its nearby residents as well as for people who come from outside the immediate neighborhood to sample the vibe.


A focus on lifestyle can get a bad rap. I remember watching a video of a tech event in Seattle where Mike Arrington railed against the (in his opinion) lazy Seattle bastards and their fixation on lifestyle. He excoriated the lot of them (in what I gather is the Arrington way), and his criticism suggested that you can’t eat your cake (lifestyle) and have it (be economically ahead), too.

It’s a valid critique – up to a point. But if all you’re doing is having your cake, while you never get to eat it, what’s your quality of life, anyway?

Hungry and hungrier

Looking at the economic activity generated by Portland’s neighborhood clusters, it struck me that the more “indie” a node was, the better that cluster seemed to be doing. And it massively attracts people from outside the neighborhood – precisely because it embodies lifestyle.

I’ll voice an observation: in neighborhoods that appear to be less economically resilient and less vibrant, commercial activity reflects a more mass market retail bent: from relatively upscale-ish Starbucks (I have nothing against Starbucks, but the chain doesn’t deliver the way a really stellar indie cafe can: Ristretto on N. Williams beats the pants off anything from a chain) to 711-type corner stores, the retail is more generic and depersonalized – the sort of thing you can find Anywheresville. It serves the residents of that neighborhood well enough, but it’s not interesting enough to draw outsiders to the street.

Does that mean that the cake is more nourishing and better for you (and your neighborhood, your community) if it’s a lifestyle cake, versus an economically more fast-food-mass-produced-all-work/no-play-bottom-line kind of cake?

The indie businesses seem to be doing a better job at feeding the people, and the people seem to be willing to pay more for that particular kind of nourishment. I don’t know how else to explain to myself what I see here: cafe upon cafe upon restaurant upon bistro upon brewpub upon hand-made-local-vegan-shoes-and-screenprinted-t-shirts-artisan-letterpress-learn-collage-classes shop full of people actually paying for what looks like a pretty interesting lifestyle.

I’d love to hear from people in the Boston area – especially on the North Shore (Cape Ann, Gloucester, Beverly, Salem), which seems to be less resilient/ more economically depressed than some other Greater Boston areas – whether that sort of return on investment in lifestyle is happening there. I don’t remember seeing it when I lived there, and I don’t see it when I use Google maps to “travel” virtually along those streets. What makes the difference, what creates the tipping point in favor of lifestyle? Is it temperament? Age? Weather? A municipality’s support for non-car infrastructure (i.e., biking and public transit)?

As long as Portlanders have it figured out, though – and they keep supporting indie businesses – they might just be able to eat their cake while actually having the bulk of it, too.

Some photos I took today on Alberta Street, in the blocks around 16th to 18th: an indie commercial node, no chain or outlet in sight, but even on a grey Monday afternoon, cafes and shops were doing alright. Go there or to any of the other clusters on a weekend, and the streets are clotted with people.


There are a few other photos – I’ve created a public album on Picasa for them. Will try to keep adding to it (always difficult to take photos with a dog leash in the other hand…). Picasa adds geographical data, so you can see a Google street map location of each shot, too.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

December 18, 2011 at 4:30 pm | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • Super interesting. Must-read article.
    What works best on the Web, short or long-form journalism? The monthly audience statistics for two accomplished FORBES reporters prove that online news consumers crave both. They devour brief and timely information and seek out the in-depth coverage that news stalwarts feared would disappear in the digital age.

    tags: journalism forbes lewis_dvorkin eric_savitz matt_herper shortform longform

  • For reference (great resource on urban planning history/ codes):
    This website is an anthology of the codes, laws and related documents that have created, or sought to create, particular urban forms. It is a searchable archive drawn from a broad array of historical documents. We have selected documents from around the world, and from all time periods.

    We include both legally-binding codes as well as customary rules that may not have involved a governing authority. These documents provide a rich cultural resource for urban planners, architects, and all others involved in the construction of place.

    tags: building_codes urbanplanning reference

  • Heartbreaking. Talk about trashing a city – bombs couldn’t be more thorough.
    This section of downtown is dominated by elevated roadways and surface lots but was once a vibrant cluster of rail and canal-based transit.

    tags: atlantic_cities buffalo_ny urban_renewal surface_parking_lots

  • There’s a city on an island in BC that could use this proposal…
    A city proposal before the Office de consultation publique de Montréal would modify Montreal’s urban master plan to allow the possibility of greater building height and density in certain sectors of downtown. It is designed as an incentive for owners of vacant properties or outdoor parking lots to bite the bullet and develop their properties, through offering them the possibility of erecting a taller building.

    Exterior parking lots are holes in the urban tissue that disfigure the downtown core of a city. All efforts must be deployed to encourage property owners to redevelop these outdoor spaces and at least bring the parking indoors.

    tags: montreal surface_parking_lots urban_development

  • Ed Glaeser and Michael Mehaffy debating over high-density living.
    “Building up is an option to avoid building out,” Glaeser says.

    Not everyone agrees. Architect and urban designer Michael Mehaffy says encouraging high-density living doesn’t always improve a society’s quality of life.

    tags: edward_glaeser michael_mehaffy cities density urbanism

  • Read on …or, dance on!
    To dance is a radical act. To think about dance, to study dance, or to practice dance in this 21st century is a radical act.


    Because if dancing matters—if dancing makes a difference to how we humans think and feel and act-then dancing challenges the values that fund modern western cultures.

    How so?

    tags: psychology_today kimerer_lamothe dance embodiment

  • Great survey by G. Roger Denson.
    Today we look back at the incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki almost as if they were isolated events. But in the course of 1945, it was one more devastation piled atop the accumulated shock still reverberating psychically throughout the world at hearing of the atrocities at Nanjing, the firebombing of Europe, the Holocaust and death camps, the forced labor and genocide of the Gulags, and the virtual devastation of the once revered laws, guiding institutions, and moral authorities that now are seen as leading the world so far astray.

    We who have been born since 1945 think we can compare the events of the Second World War to 9/11. But not really. Any cognizant adult alive between 1937 and 1945 who didn’t live in a jungle or in a mountain cave was informed of some battle or massacre or collapse comparable to 9/11 each month, week–and in 1945, seemingly, each day. We might better understand the conservative 1950s when we think of the survivors of 1945 willingly living for a decade and more in retreat, or in some haze of bewilderment. It is a bewilderment that understandably compelled many survivors to disassociate themselves with the ideologies and institutions of the new, especially those proposed, now erstwhile, utopian political ideologies advocated by both the Left and the Right–the same ideologies that either left them bereft of a defense against fascism, or delivered them into its hands.

    tags: g_roger_denson huffington_post arthistory

  • Fascinating imagery. I can’t help but hope that the ability to see / map / visualize what we’re doing will help inform better choices.
    Las Vegas’s built environment is full of absurdities. The city’s development patterns showcase a tension between the natural (desert) and the built (the planned communities that litter the landscape).

    They also serve as visual symbols of America’s 2008 housing bubble. Anticipating rapid growth, developments fail to connect to each other, confidently (or, perhaps thoughtlessly) leaving the future to fill the spaces between.

    Below is a collection of satellite imagery via Google Maps that showcase some of these bizarre building patterns.

    tags: atlantic_cities las_vegas google_earth sprawl suburban_style landscape urban_development

  • It had to happen, of course…
    So it is with particular angst that many of these same planners [who learned from Jane Jacobs that they need to listen to the people] now are forced to reckon with the modern-day Jane Jacobs, at least in terms of tactics and a libertarian streak: the Tea Party.

    Across the country, Tea Party activists have been storming planning meetings of all kinds, opposing various plans by local and regional government having anything to do with density, smart growth, sustainability or urbanism.
    What’s driving the rebellion is a view that government should have no role in planning or shaping the built environment that in any way interferes with private property rights.

    tags: jjacobs tea_party grassroots planning density smartgrowth atlantic_cities

  • Lots of good stuff in here. Liked this one by Erin Kissane a lot:
    Respect complexity

    If a single idea has followed me around this year, from politics to art and work to friendships, it’s been this one: “it’s more complicated than that.”

    It’s centrally important to seek simplicity, and especially to avoid making things hard to use or understand. But if we want to make things that are usefully simple without being truncated or simplistic, we have to recognize and respect complexity—both in the design problems we address, and in the way we do our work.

    –Erin Kissane, Editor of Contents magazine, Content Strategist at Brain Traffic
    and this:
    Talkin’ bout my inspiration

    My standout lesson this year has been the importance of working with others (and putting complete faith in talented people). The brilliance that comes from the people around me is a constant source of inspiration. It drives me even more to surround myself with as many fantastic creative people as possible.

    –Dan Rubin, Founder / Creative Director, webgraph, Creative Director, MOO

    tags: erin_kissane web a_list_apart inspiration 2011 dan_rubin moo

  • Hoping there’s a good follow-up online about Head’s research findings; the topic is intriguing:
    Our findings indicate that nearly all students intentionally use a small compass for navigating the ever-widening and complex information landscape they inhabit. These and other findings of Project Information Literacy have profound implications for teaching, learning, work, and play in the 21st century.

    tags: education research berkman alison_head socialtheory

  • Useful.
    The MetroTrends team has graded the nation’s 100 biggest metros on how much economic security they offer families in these tough times. The rankings reflect erosion in house values, current unemployment, purchasing power of a low-wage job, and the rate of serious mortgage delinquencies. The best? Oklahoma City. The worst? Las Vegas. Mouse over your metro for more info.

    tags: maps interactive_map economy cities

  • It’s interesting that these units (even without plumbing/ sewer hook-ups) are so incredibly expensive…
    One approach to combating the problem [of human waste on public streets/ parks/ stoops/ etc.] is to build the restroom equivalent of the city’s innovative “parklets,” which are small public spaces built to fit within a few street parking spaces. “Pooplets” could provide publicly accessible toilet facilities. And through advances in composting toilet technology, these public toilets wouldn’t need to have expensive plumbing or sewage system hookups, keeping the cost at an estimated $40,000 to $50,000.

    tags: san_francisco public_health public_infrastructure toilets atlantic_cities

  • Brilliant! 🙂
    …the urban emoticon accurately communicates its host city’s gefühlszustand according to “mood data” obtained using integrated software which analyzes photos of the faces of passing pedestrians and processes emotions out of them. Mechanical armatures modulate the face’s expression in real-time, making it appear by turns happy, sad, or apathetic with corresponding gestures (smiley, frown, and blank).

    tags: happiness cities atlantic_cities emoticon art public_art

  • Intriguing:
    Cowbird is a simple tool for telling stories
    and a public library of human experience.

    We are a small community of storytellers, interested in telling deeper, longer-lasting, more nourishing stories than you’re likely to find anywhere else on the Web.

    Cowbird allows you to keep a beautiful audio-visual diary of your life, and to collaborate in documenting the overarching “sagas” that shape our world today. Sagas are things like the Japanese earthquake, the war in Iraq, and the Occupy Wall Street movement — things that touch millions of lives and define the human story.

    Our short-term goal is to pioneer a new form of participatory journalism, grounded in the simple human stories behind major news events and universal themes. Our long-term goal is to build a public library of human experience, so the knowledge and wisdom we accumulate as individuals may live on as part of the commons, available for this and future generations to look to for guidance.

    tags: cowbird journalism story_telling online_publishing

  • In the “12 days of Christmas” tradition, a series of ideas for affordable housing and good density.

    tags: vancouver affordable_housing michael_geller urbanization

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


December 13, 2011 at 10:58 am | In innovation, justice, politics | Comments Off on Stop SOPA

I’ve censored the following, in protest of a bill that gives any corporation and the US government the power to censor the internet–a bill that could pass THIS WEEK. To see the uncensored text, and to stop internet censorship, visit:

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Uncensor This

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

December 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • So true.
    Streets and parking can take up as much as a third of a community’s land, and designing them solely for the comfort of people in cars, and then only for the most congested hour of the day, has significant ramifications for the livability and economics of a community. Under the planning and engineering principles of the past 70 years, people have for all intents and purposes given up their rights to this public property. Streets were once a place where we stopped for conversation and children played, but now they are the exclusive domain of cars. Even when sidewalks are present along high-speed streets, they feel inhospitable and out of place.

    tags: street_usage urbanplanning cities public_space

  • Sounds like a no-brainer. Plant the trees anyway, but paint all th roofs white, please.
    In a study just published online in the journal Building and Environment, researchers out of Yale University show that the cooling effect of tree cover and other vegetated areas is far outpaced by the cooling achieved through reflective roofing. By analyzing satellite imagery of the city of Chicago from around 1995 and 2009, the researchers found that parts of the city that had increased their reflectivity show greater reductions in temperature than areas that increased their vegetation.

    tags: cities heat_island_effect atlantic_cities roofs

  • Another book I need to read (and so should you):
    Lawrence Lessig has an answer. In his new book, Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress — and a Plan to Stop It, he spends 20 pages reviewing the the 30 years of deregulation that led up to the financial crisis and outlining our present circumstances. In fact, this book, published just before Occupy Wall Street began, is perfectly positioned to become the movement’s handbook. While few protesters will need convincing that the government is corrupted by money, the book lays out the case in a such a comprehensive and persuasive manner — and proposes such specific and radical solutions — that it seems tailor-made for the Occupy movement. And it’s ambitious proposal for state-based activism on behalf of a Constitutional Convention could provide the movement with a next organizing step as it nears its two-month anniversary Thursday — and faces such questions as how to ride out the winter and how to respond to police crackdowns.
    So how do we begin a popular movement that might end with states petitioning for a convention? Lessig calls for mock conventions to happen all across the land: assemblies of regular people to think of these, and other, problems, and come up with solutions that might work. Not only would these conventions come up with a spectrum of solutions which could be evaluated and selected from, but they’d build national support for the idea that a convention like this could work.

    It sounds unlikely to happen. But this is where Occupy Wall Street comes in. Properly leveraging its support, it could generate enough energy to do what Lessig, while writing this book, couldn’t quite picture. In fact, the original call for Occupy Wall Street, from Adbusters, called on president Obama to “ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.” Already, “The 99 Percent Declaration” is calling for “a NATIONAL GENERAL ASSEMBLY beginning on July 4, 2012 in the City Of Philadelphia” to address the influence of money in politics and other issues.

    Properly presented, the strategies and aims of Lessig’s book could make it the handbook the protesters have been looking for — and provide a pathway for them to ride out the winter ahead.

    tags: occupy_wall_street lawrence_lessig socialtheory politics

  • I need to read this book (loved Natural Capitalism).
    Lovins believes that most people in business are just waiting for Washington to tell them what to do, but that’s not necessarily where the answers are. Business leaders might alternatively look to state and local government, which can implement the policies needed to speed the transition to efficiency and renewables. As we have seen, military leadership can also accelerate change in the civilian sector.

    tags: amory_lovins energy environment

  • It may be winter, but summer’s on its way. This is great:
    A cooling method used by the ancient Romans—circulation of cold water—has found a modern home at Harvard University. The hydronic air-conditioning system used at Harvard’s operational services facility at 46 Blackstone Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is one of the energy-efficiency innovations that has helped win the building the U.S. Green Building Council’s top-ranked Platinum LEED status.

    tags: air_conditioner environment

  • This is really interesting (and not good). Religious people are less mobile. Poor people are less mobile. Poverty and religiosity is making the US stuck?
    If mobility was once considered to be a quintessentially American attribute, it is now one that only an elite sliver of the population can lay claim to. It is both a significant shift and a sobering one.

    tags: richard_florida atlantic_cities mobility socialtheory

  • QUOTE It doesn’t solve the problem to buy a hybrid and retrofit your house if all of that takes place 20 miles from your job. You’d still consume more energy (“suburban single family green”) than an urban household without the latest green tech (“urban single family”). And that has as much to do with associated transportation emissions as the size and efficiency of your home.

    The implication is that if more suburbanites opted to move out of their low-density detached homes and into walkable, mixed-use urban communities (or if we retrofitted suburbia to better resemble such places), right there we’d be on our way to taking a real whack at carbon emissions. UNQUOTE

    tags: cities suburbia housing atlantic_cities energy ecological_urbanism

  • Makes me laugh. Wall as nostalgist or NIMBY? Sad.
    The two celebrity contributors to the book, photo-artist Jeff Wall and novelist Douglas Coupland, have each produced short and somewhat quirky essays. Wall writes that the character of Herzog’s 1950s and ’60s photographs would be impossible to achieve today, for the obvious reason that many of the buildings they document no longer exist. He declares that Vancouver is now dominated by architecture that is “vulgar, cheap, ugly and even ridiculous,” and extols the beauty and “gracious air of appropriateness” of buildings now lost, especially an old clapboard house in Herzog’s 1957 image, New Pontiac. Contrarily, Coupland writes about the ways Herzog’s photographs reveal how “utterly filthy” Vancouver was five decades ago. “Vancouver was ghastly back then,” he declares. “What was society thinking?”
    Vancouver definitely was ghastly (even in the late 70s/ early 80s), present faults notwithstanding.

    tags: fred_herzog vancouver photography books jeff_wall

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

What’s up with Vancouver real estate prices?

December 9, 2011 at 8:26 pm | In affordable_housing, vancouver | 2 Comments

In a kind of  yang-ish counterpoint to my last post about yin-ish Portland (and Victoria), here’s a pointer to a BC Business article, Housing has become Vancouver’s toxic asset, by Tony Wanless, that makes me think Vancouver’s yang is just a tad out of control. Wanless points to a blog post by Vancouver independent city council candidate Sandy Garossini, Unaffordable (That’s What You Are), which presents the truly jaw-dropping insights she gleaned during her recent campaigning in Vancouver.

What really jumped out for me was an eery parallel between suburban developments blighted by the sub-prime mortgage crisis and what’s happening in Vancouver. In the former, you have those underwater developments that have been turned into virtual ghost towns, with perhaps one family holding down the fort on a block of otherwise empty houses.  In the latter (according to the articles), you have west-side Vancouver neighborhoods where there are blocks of houses kept empty by their off-shore investor owners, while a single family remains on the street as an actual resident.

You’ve got to read Garossini’s post.

And check out what Gregory Henriquez has to say about Vancouver’s real estate market:

Many see Vancouver in a housing bubble, and it may well be. Others however, such as celebrated architect Gregory Henriquez, think our prices still have far to go to reach that point. Amazingly, Henriquez says that Vancouver is still under-priced. He is not looking at local economic conditions, however, but at the international forces in play. Viewed globally, Henriquez says that our market has become the “safety-deposit box for the world.” (source)

Interesting, how Victoria (across the Strait) remains relatively immune.

Must be the yin.


Hey, only $2.5million for about 2800 square feet – what a deal.


Satire speaks the truth

December 8, 2011 at 9:15 am | In just_so, Portland | 2 Comments

So now I’ve been in Portland for about one-and-a-half weeks, and it’s time to ask myself whether I’d want to stay.

Is it pleasant? Yes.

Funky? Ditto.

Something I want to embrace? …Not so sure yet. (Not to mention vice versa: would Portland want me? Where do I fit in??)

Portland reminds me of Victoria BC – which is pretty funny, because everyone I told in Victoria that I would go to Portland for a spell squealed about how wonderful Portland is.

Both cities seem mellow, generally speaking. But they also strike me as low in energy: the general vibe is set to yin. Pleasant enough, but what I learned in Victoria is that all yin all the time is a velvet rut.

Just to put a counterpoint to that: Vancouver is brashly all yang, its tall and pointy and sharply glassy highrises a fitting built form mirroring the mountains that reach to the heavens.

Not so Victoria. And not so much Portland, either. Like I said: yin. That’s my impression, anyway. Sue me if I change my mind next week or discover that I’m totally mistaken because the sun might come out, forcing the city to get its yang on.

My impressions so far are based on Portland’s east sides – its Northeast and Southeast neighborhoods, not the downtown business district. I get a “yin” feel from the streets, in the way people dress. I used to joke that in Victoria everyone ends up looking like a schlump because there exists a peculiar kind of fashion entropy: no matter where you moved from, you eventually drift into a variant of the Birkenstock-and-socks mode. In the PNW (Pacific Northwest), which in winter is wet and dank, schlumpy-ness often looks a bit …well, mossy. Think temperate rain forest, spring fiddleheads, and endless vegetative growth with near-zero die-back in winter. It fits with the environment.

Looking sharp just doesn’t rank that high.

In contrast, consider Joni Mitchell’s The Boho Dance, where she sings about the cleaner’s press that was always in her jeans – you see, LA-based Joni was born a Prairie girl. The Prairies have real seasons, and naturally hard winters with blinding sunshine. The kind of weather that makes you keep your nose clean… or take out your ironing board. But when it’s overcast and drizzling, sharp creases disappear.

What is it about places like Victoria and Portland, I wonder?

Well, imagine my delight when I came across this article in Atlantic Cities, Why I Love My City: Carrie Brownstein on Portland. Who hasn’t seen Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen in Portlandia, and laughed along? Her observations about Portland resonated with what I’ve often thought about Victoria.

On the landscape / creativity interchange, Brownstein notes, “It’s really about what the Pacific Northwest is. There’s a relationship between the internal and external landscape that inform the creativity.” Check.

On city rivalry (and here the interviewer is asking about Portland’s relationship to Seattle, but if you know about the Victoria-Vancouver rivalry, this will really register): “One trait people in Portland [insert Victoria] have is that we feel very special. I think both cities [Portland + Seattle / Victoria + Vancouver] have a strong sense of entitlement and uniqueness. Portland [Victoria] has perhaps more sensitivity.” …Oh, …yeah. Big yeah.

On newcomers and NIMBYs (well, that’s not what Brownstein calls them, but, you know: people who come to a place, changing it the way anthropological observers change their objects of study, but then insisting that the place has to stay as it was in perpetuity now that they’ve arrived and that it cannot bear additional change): “People discover Portland in a certain way and resent what it becomes later. Everyone has this insecurity about Portland like, ‘when does it arrive?’ and that comes with growing pains …”

On Portland’s work ethic: “There are a lot of people who are here to do less work. [laughs] You can stall out quickly in Portland if you’re using a coffee shop as an office. If you’re trying to get something done, you have to be careful not to hold a meeting at a bar or making a point of seeing three movies a day. The city really enjoys its downtime.”

Yin. Very very yin.

Downtown Portland with Mt. Hood in the background (image from Wikipedia)

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