Guess what? Park Avenue used to be …a park

March 6, 2010 at 7:55 am | In cities, guerilla_politics, jane_jacobs, land_use, real_estate, social_critique, street_life, urbanism | 3 Comments

A gazillion years ago when I was 17 I traveled solo to Paris, as part of a 3-month sojourn in Europe where I took trains and hitchhiked (molto pericoloso!) if the trains didn’t run to where I needed to go. The fashion of the day was halter-tops, bell-bottoms, and platform shoes …which gives an indication of the era I’m talking about.

When I got to Paris, I was frankly disappointed. It was summer, therefore hot, and the city was choked to the gills with cars. Lots of cars. The automobile had absolute priority over everything else: no sidewalk cafe seemed safe from an intrusive bumper or stinking car exhaust, drivers “parked” on sidewalks, and basically the whole show was a mess.

At one point, I thought, “The car has killed this city.”

Paris, for pete’s sake. How could you not love Paris?

Well, cars are pretty intrusive. It takes training to tune them out, and I wanted to let the city in, not have cars run me over.

It’s so damn obvious that cars destroy a city’s street life, yet we’re only now getting policy-wise and serious about stopping urban death-by-car.

So, props to Streetfilms for this video, Fixing the Great Mistake: Autocentric Development. From the description:

“Fixing the Great Mistake” is a new Streetfilms series that examines what went wrong in the early part of the 20th Century, when our cities began catering to the automobile, and how those decisions continue to affect our lives today.

In this episode, Transportation Alternatives director Paul Steely White shows how planning for cars drastically altered Park Avenue. Watch and see what Park Avenue used to look like, how we ceded it to the automobile, and what we need to do to reclaim the street as a space where people take precedence over traffic.

Oddly, Manhattan traffic struck me as electrifying when I experienced it a couple of years after Paris: a kind of visceral thrum that drove energy into your bones. (Of course that might just have been NYC itself at work, its automobile traffic a white noise to the energy of its people.) But New York City with fewer cars is obviously a great idea.

When you watch this video and see Paul Steely White sitting on a tiny little strip of grass, the vestige that remains of the “park” in Manhattan’s Park Avenue, you really get an idea of what was …and what could be.

Added bonus in the video: a reference to Robert Moses, exporter of super-highways as well as mostly gracious Westchester parkways, but too often a destroyer of the urban street fabric, aka the man Jane Jacobs beat. (See Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City by Anthony Flint.)

Mr Softie is still missing, as is Democracy

February 11, 2010 at 9:20 pm | In advertising, guerilla_politics, ideas, local_not_global, politics, scenes_victoria, victoria | 1 Comment

I got a huge kick out of a funny poster that playfully references the ubiquitous “missing cat” notices in my Fairfield neighborhood. (For an earlier note, see Darren Barefoot, who wrote about Mr. Softie, a “heavier set” cat gone missing last year in our ‘hood.)

Today’s poster is truly brilliant. Check it out…

Democracy: lost!

Democracy: lost!


Just for the record, I’m taking no political sides myself (and yeah, go ahead and hate me for that) – just sayin’ that (aside from the misplaced semi-colon) this is a damn good place-specific political poster that hits all the right notes for this particular neighborhood.

Low voter turnout

November 18, 2008 at 3:02 pm | In guerilla_politics, ideas, innovation, leadership, local_not_global, politics, victoria | 8 Comments

Last Saturday, British Columbia held municipal elections.  Here in Victoria and the other 12 surrounding municipalities that together comprise the CRD (Capital Regional District), we too voted.

There’s a problem, though: the turnout is low, low, low.

The City of Victoria managed to get just under 22% of eligible voters to cast a ballot; Saanich: 21%; Oak Bay (slightly higher): just under 36%; Esquimalt: just under 27%.  Those are the four “core” municipalities; I won’t go into the slightly more distant suburbs/ municipalities (tricky to define, anyway: the Western Communities are a hub of their own, with Langford as their center).

I tried getting people engaged, and thought in particular about younger voters.  It’s a cliche that in Victoria, you have to get the seniors vote, because they’re the ones who actually bother.  (I wonder if Oak Bay’s much higher turnout had something to do with its demographics: many people retire to that community, although I have to add it’s also home to many younger families — if they can afford to get into Oak Bay’s housing market.)  Younger people, so goes the cliche (which looks to be true), don’t vote.

And yet there were a couple of outstanding young campaigners in Victoria’s election (who didn’t get that many votes, though).  What’s going on?  By a wide margin, the incumbents got back in, and the newbies that were elected are the folks endorsed by the (in my opinion pro-status quo) labour union (long story on that, see my entry from Nov.11).

How do we get progressive people to vote, and how do we move beyond the binary partisanship of “left” and “right” (the status quo)?

Well, according to this letter to the editor in today’s Times-Colonist, we really don’t need to worry or bother:

Low turnout no problem
Times Colonist
Published: Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The concern about poor voter turnout is unnecessary.

For many different reasons, not all of the population is always able to vote responsibly.

It seems best to leave these important decisions to the percentage of the population that does have the time, the interest and the ability to keep informed about the candidates and the issues.

Democracy works well if those who can vote responsibly do so, and those who know that they are not sufficiently informed to vote responsibly (for whatever reason) leave the decisions to others.
Mary Douthwaite

This letter really pissed me off.

I wish it would piss off all the younger disengaged puppies who didn’t bother to vote.  The letter writer is basically telling you that you’re too stupid to vote, which is why you don’t, and that we who do vote shouldn’t worry that you don’t vote.  Why?  Because we are informed and we know what’s right, and you don’t.

Wow, with a defense of democracy like that, who needs detractors?

Ok, young people of Victoria, Saanich, Esquimalt, and Oak Bay (and beyond): are you too stupid to be informed?  Do you need us (who vote) to do it for you?

Or do we just not have your attention?

What gives?  Let’s devise a campaign that gets your attention, then.  Make some suggestions, for god’s sake.

I propose viral campaigning, at least one full year before the election takes place.  Like, the kids love pizza, right?  How about re-branding pizza boxes in a stealth “raise-awareness-campaign,” like The Economist did in the Philadelphia area?

As part of their “Get a World View” campaign, The Economist distributed branded pizza boxes through 20 pizzerias in the Greater Philadelphia area. Each box displays one of a handful of pie charts that show a statistic related to world food distribution, with an emphasis on those used in pizza production. They list things like global wheat consumption, world cheese imports and arable crop land. (SOURCE)

How about getting people to notice — at whatever level of consciousness, whether pizza boxes or pub coasters — that municipal governance is a huge issue?

Maybe get them to notice cool innovative stuff that mobilizes their interest in social media?  How about a wiki where users can go in and tweak government?  (It would have to have constraints that tell users when they’re in contravention of the BC Municipal Act and other provincial legislation, but basically it would allow some “blue sky” thinking while showing what the actual constraints are).

Those are just a couple of ideas.  There are many more.  Even lying in bed with sinusitis (again!) I can come up with better ideas than the worn-out old paternalism expressed in that letter.

Social networking, version 2.0?

July 31, 2007 at 10:58 pm | In guerilla_politics, links, resources, social_networking, virtually | 2 Comments

Something to explore in greater depth over the coming days: via Cool Hunting, a post by Tim Yu about Social Networking for a Cause. Yu writes:

From corporate-sponsored “Cool Apps” to niche spin-offs like Bakespace, Virb and I’m In Like With You, online communities are still largely about socializing and/or wasting time. Their potential as powerful tools for the greater good—beyond finding out where the party’s at—has been largely untapped, but we managed to find a few. The following are some of the latest and best sites where social networking meets social change.

Yikes, I’ve never even heard of Bakespace, Virb, or I’m In Like With You. After these references to “communities” that are “still largely about socializing and/or wasting time” (um, that sounds familiar…), Yu goes on to list additional sites I’ve also never heard of, but which have a “networking for a cause” spin:

  • Friction TV, described as “a YouTube for social activists, it features largely uncensored content aiming to exercise freedom of speech and catalyze online debate in a social forum”…
  • Nabuur, which “connect(s) experts to people seeking advice from all over the world. From construction workers to math teachers and MBAs, online volunteers from different continents help individuals develop business ideas and finish projects. Projects like building schools and health clinics get a boost from direct assistance via the internet.”
  • HumaniNet: helps solve humanitarian & social problems by sharing GIS “to better map rural locations in need of relief. By sharing GIS developments online, experts and users can implement the latest technologies, which makes getting around uncharted territories to reach people in need a whole lot easier.”
  • Get Miro, an “open-source software for online video. Like Firefox, Miro is developed by a nonprofit organization and driven by the social mission to make it easy for anyone to subscribe and view free internet video on any topic.”
  • H.E.L.P., stands for “Humanitarian Emergency Logistics & Preparedness”; this is “a telemedicine-based online community of physicians and financial donors bringing advanced medical assistance to disaster zones and areas of humanitarian need around the world.”
  • Kiva, which builds on “Muhammad Yunus’ Nobel prize-winning efforts at pioneering a new category of banking known as micro-loans”; Kiva “connects the world’s poorer populations looking to develop unique business ideas to people with disposable incomes while providing a transparent lending platform. Donate as little as $25 dollars to help start a business or simply buy a goat and get repaid.”
  • MAPLight: “highlight(s) the connection between money and politics as a way to promote reform”; by linking campaign contributions and votes, it creates transparency “so that journalists and citizens can hold legislators accountable, customized widgets further enhance functions and research on any issue.”
  • and of course Freecycle (the last one — and only one I had actually heard of before): a “cyber curbside” where you can recycle your stuff and create an online gift economy.

Lots to explore here… My cynical/overly-critical side wonders whether the flip side of obsessive narcissism (exemplified by the old style “social networking” sites) might be the guilt trip (“Do good! Now!”).

Of course, at the end of the day does it matter, if something good did indeed come out of it all?

Yann Martel, bearing great gifts — Is Stephen Harper reading?

July 23, 2007 at 9:24 pm | In arts, canada, guerilla_politics, ideas, literature | Comments Off on Yann Martel, bearing great gifts — Is Stephen Harper reading?

Arts News Canada carried an article from Halifax’s Daily News today: Author plays professor to prime minister, one book at a time:

One of Canada’s most popular authors is taking a decidedly novel approach in his efforts to encourage appreciation of the arts – he’s started a website to help expand Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s literary horizons.

Yann Martel, the author of the award-winning 2002 novel Life of Pi, is behind the website “What Is Stephen Harper Reading,” a project aimed giving the prime minister a little taste of culture.

Since April, Martel has been mailing Harper a different inscribed book every two weeks, along with a personal letter praising the book’s virtues. The letters are posted online at www.whatis

Martel admits he’s taking a few jabs at Harper, but insists he isn’t preaching.

“There’s no point in writing to someone if you’re going to insult them. I certainly don’t agree with the prime minister – I’d never vote for him – but that doesn’t mean one becomes petty and petulant,” he says.

“I really do believe that if the prime minister reads any of these books that I’ve sent him, he will be a different person. It’s a completely sincere conviction. Otherwise, why would I bother being a writer?” [click on the link above for the rest of the article]

I then visited the website Yann Martel has dedicated to this project: What is Stephen Harper reading?. Please take a look — the letters that accompany Martel’s bibliographic offerings are literary works in themselves. They’re funny, full of insight into literature and life, and deeply philosophical, too. Stephen Harper is lucky to have such a “professor,” and amazingly for us, we get to read over their shoulders.

Harper isn’t saying much back, alas…

Rough draft for a Black Friday Rag

November 25, 2005 at 1:07 pm | In guerilla_politics, homelessness, ideas, justice, local_not_global, offspring, politics, scandal, scenes_victoria, social_critique, street_life, victoria, writing, yulelogStories | Comments Off on Rough draft for a Black Friday Rag

This morning I read an interesting article about a singing iceberg, but more importantly, I heard the iceberg (link follows, to audiofile). Combined with the general level of continuing insanity, I was inspired to get the following rough draft onto paper (and now, inter-textually, onto the blog). Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not exactly Howl, I’m not a poet, but that don’t mean I don’t feel like howling along with singing icebergs, either….

The Sound of An Iceberg Singing

I heard the trash-trawler’s purloined shopping cart
Rattling past my house at eight.
The man pushing by, one of
A thousand in Victoria, drug-addicted,
Mentally ill, or simply
“Hard to house,”
One of the thousand
Homeless, he collects refundables
To trade for cash at the Bottle Depot recycling place.

Workers with earplugs, protection
Against the constant crash of breaking
Glass shattering, the empty wine bottles,
The softer thud
Of extruded plastic, now empty, once fruitjuice-full,
Tossed by earplugged workers into appropriately sorted bins.
But mostly it’s the hard, hard sound
Of glass — bottles of beer, bottles of beer,
Rivetting noise
Recycled into new bottles.

My son has been listening to the radio,
A Seattle station —
He comes to my room to spread the fantastical news
Police were called when earlybird “Black Friday” shoppers,
Mobbing a Renton, WA-Walmart’s electronic section,
Caused major damage to the aisles,
Crashing shelves, fragmenting TVs stereos computers,
Assembled in China
Where city centres relocate
To newly-paved-over farmland
The ageing infrastructure of the old centres
Abandoned to further decay.

Assembled in China where a factory explosion
(Would the trash-trawlers on the Pacific Rim have heard it?)
Pumped benzene into the Songhua River.
Harbin the city and its 4 million residents have
No clean water now rushing by.
The loud injection of chemicals into the river
Silently kills anyone who drinks from it.

In other news (still incredulous),
He tells me that a one-hundred pound woman
The twelve-minute, ten-pound turkey eating competition
By gorging four pounds three-plus ounces of flesh.
This was news-worthy — previous winners
(As well as this year’s runners-up)
Were invariably heavy-weighted, veritable behemoths
Embodying the outsized rapaciousness
Of The Very Large.

A one-hundred pound woman seems anomalous,
A shifting centre, perhaps
A blurring line between the very fat
And those more slim.
AP News leads the news like this:
“It’s a question just begging to be asked: How much turkey can a person gobble down in 12 minutes?
But two hundred people die in twelve minutes
Of starvation. Every twelve minutes of everyday
(Did you think that was a question just begging to be asked?
Victoria, too, is full of beggars…)
…Even when Black Friday shoppers cause
Walmart shelves to crash and
Chinese manufacturers relocate entire cities
Poisoned by water, or not,
To paved-over farmlands where
Food no longer grows,
Even when the International Federation of Competitive Eating
Registers yet another Thanksgiving Day Triumph,
Even when the actually slim are able to join
The ranks of the utterly unbalanced,
Even when it all comes crashing down,
Unbalanced as it is.

A bit of fast-flowing water,
Perhaps the Songhua River’s,
Adds its sound to all the world’s sounds,
And that hell freezes over in Antarctica,
Although it will all thaw out soon enough,
And that’s what the iceberg’s singing.

(If you made it to here, that last link is to the audiofile of the singing iceberg. Make sure you listen to the whole thing, it’s interesting.)

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