Authenticity, sweet confection

September 29, 2010 at 11:23 pm | In authenticity, heritage, land_use, politics, victoria | 1 Comment

Another passage from Erve Chambers’s Native Tours (which I mentioned in Monday’s post) struck me today. I agree with Chambers’s thinking, and want to relate it to the City of Victoria’s maneuverings around heritage and tourism. But first, Chambers (I’ve added several emphases in bold):

We need to ask at this point whether there are any criteria by which we can usefully differentiate the authentic from the inauthentic. From my perspective, any such criteria would have to support the idea that authenticity is possible under the conditions of modernity. I remain unconvinced that the real is a thing of the past, or that the past was at any time more real than the present. Accordingly, my sense of the authentic is that it occurs under conditions in which people have significant control over their affairs, to the extent that they are able to play an active role in determining how changes occur in their actual settings. In this view, all cultures are dynamic by their very nature. Resistance to change is as much an act of deliberateness as is the will to adopt new customs and practices. Authentic cultures might not be able to predict their futures or to act in a wholly independent manner, but they have the wherewithal to play a significant role in participating in these processes that will shape their lives. In this respect, a community that has the ability to decide to tear down all its historic buildings in order to construct a golf course for tourists is more authentic than is another community that has been prohibited by higher authorities from doing the same thing in order to preserve the integrity of its past. This might seem like an extreme example, and its outcomes might not be to our liking. All the same, it reflects upon my suggestion that without significant degrees of autonomy, any notion of authenticity is meaningless. (pp.98-99)

There is always discussion in Victoria about whether or not our tourist image is “authentic.” One way for the city’s politicians and heritage advocates to make the case for authenticity in general (although it’s linked to tourism-authenticity specifically as well) is by promoting the city’s architectural heritage. Since a lot was ripped out in the heady days of “urban renewal” (which lasted well into the 1970s here) we don’t have that much of it left, but we have a few blocks in Old Town and Chinatown where some fine, small old buildings managed to survive. (The fine, large old buildings got the chop and stand no more: they were replaced by not-so-fine, small new buildings. Weird, but true.)

Part of our tourist image is that we’re quaint and 19th century – read: white 19th century, which is further refined to mean British. After all, the city is named for Queen Victoria, who in turn represents an era and a place and an empire. So that’s our tourist image.

Is it authentic? Hardly. The Olde England mythos was fabricated out of whole cloth during the city’s various economic slumps, when some people realized that tourism could save the city, now that sealing and whaling and various other get-yer-hands-dirty industries had dried up.

But our built heritage is supposed to be authentic.

What happens, though, when politicians and planners repress the citizens’ autonomy? As Chambers put it so convincingly: no autonomy, no authenticity

Case in point: the City of Victoria prevented Rogers’ Chocolates from altering its store interior. The Rogers family, owners and generations-long stewards of the heritage building on Government Street, were losing business (mostly from tourists) because their store interior is tiny. They wanted to push one wall back by 6 feet or so, annexing a storage space that lay behind the wall. The interior would have been fully preserved, the moved wall would simply have been moved and the space slightly enlarged.

The heritage advocate politicians went crazy, as did the heritage planners, and the city undertook the unprecedented step of slapping some kind of heritage designation on the building’s interior (this was a first), effectively preventing the owner from making the planned change. The owners in turn took the city to court and won their suit – if I recall correctly, something on the order of $650,000 in damages.

I suppose one could argue that taking the city (us, the taxpayers) to court and getting damages is evidence of lingering autonomy on the part of the heritage business owner. But I’d argue that the city (“higher authority”) effectively denied autonomy (“ability to decide”) to Rogers’ Chocolates, and thereby in one fell swoop ensured that “any notion of authenticity is meaningless” when it comes to the heritage of this building. Because the people who are the stakeholders and who should be able to decide were denied autonomy, the city has made that heritage inauthentic.

Some “higher authorities” seem to like it like that, even though it yields inauthenticity. Personally, I think it’s too high a price to pay.

Philippe Lucas on Victoria’s Public Market: oh the irony

August 13, 2010 at 10:59 pm | In heritage, johnson street bridge, urbanism, victoria | 2 Comments

Last night I attended PechaKucha Night Victoria (Volume 3), where City of Victoria Councillor Philippe Lucas was supposed to give a presentation about efforts underway to get a permanent covered farmers’ market set up in the city.

Lucas’s perky presentation featured a number of holiday snaps taken in exotic locales where people still eat local food. Those photos were augmented by snaps of his child eating …well, local food. The point, presumably, was to show the importance and significance of local food consumption. Perhaps the inference thereby was also on the importance of local food production, although aside from a shot of a vegetable bed recently planted outside City Hall, I don’t recall that Lucas elaborated.

Admittedly, my attention drifted elsewhere, but then – toward the very end – Lucas at last came around to the topic at hand: a local farmers’ market for Victoria.

And that’s when he did it: he showed a photo of the covered public market we used to have.

Oh, the irony

Why irony? Earlier that day (Aug.12) Councillor Lucas voted to tear down the unique Johnson Street Bridge – because it’s too decrepit and we need something new and shiny to take its place.

But that’s exactly what this city did with its existing Public Market building in the 1960s – and the result was the disaster known as Centennial Square. The city tore down the public market for some of the same reasons it’s now tearing down the Johnson Street Bridge: it was said the building wasn’t up to standards and that it wasn’t being used properly anyway, and that economically it was a failure. But the city had also spectacularly mismanaged the enterprise, and failed to maintain the structure, which fell into disrepair. Its offerings were apparently sub-par if not skanky, with vendors mired in red-tape, to boot. (See Ross Crockford’s excellent June 18, 2008 post, Market Forces, which details the very troubled history of Victoria’s Public Market.)

And then the building itself became an eyesore (now there’s a loaded word, one applied by the haters to the Johnson Street Bridge), and everyone knows that once something becomes “ugly,” it’s easier to argue for its destruction. The word “blight” was freely applied to a structure designed by the same architect who built Victoria’s still-standing City Hall. As Ross Crockford’s article shows, the building was once extremely grand, but the City’s very poor management helped bring it down:

John Teague, the architect who created the 1878-built City Hall, also designed the market. It was a grand, two-storey structure of brick and granite, with a 70-metre-long facade of arches facing onto Cormorant Street (today’s Pandora Avenue). Inside, the main hall had room for 60 stalls and a bandstand, and was surrounded by a second-level gallery, all illuminated by a peaked glass roof. With a gala Christmas party, the Victoria Public Market officially opened its doors in December of 1891.

It was a disaster. As historian Jean Estes noted in a detailed 1975 Daily Colonist article, many farmers were already selling their wares directly to retailers, and avoided the bureaucracy of the city-run market, which was governed by a 67-item bylaw. The city ended up renting stalls to a strange assortment of tenants. One visitor in the late 1890s reported that she saw “a portrait painter’s studio, a real estate agent, the Sanitary Inspector, and the most ghastly of all things – the public morgue was an annex of the market.” (source)

The idea took hold that replacing the old Public Market Building with something new and shiny (a “square” built in accordance with the latest – frankly, bad – ideas of urban renewal emanating from 1960s Great Britain) would somehow be the magic wand to cure downtown’s ills. (See in particular my March 2008 FOCUS Magazine article, Victorian Fables; Does Victoria have an urban planning blind spot? [on].)

Well, razing the “blight” didn’t cure downtown. Centennial Square is awful, …and the Public Market Building is gone forever.

Will the Johnson Street Bridge decision be Act II in the drama called “The Destruction of Victoria’s Urban Character”?

And how can Philippe Lucas not see the irony in the juxtaposition of his morning vote to destroy the Johnson Street Bridge, and his evening bromides about local food consumption and farmers’ markets in Victoria…?

Victoria Public Market, front elevation view

In the picture below, you can see the high arch of the Victoria Public Market’s entry, next to the Fire Department engine bays in front.

1920: The Victoria Fire Department arrayed outside the Fire Hall (Public Market is next door)

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.

In Boston, where jail is “Liberty”

June 17, 2010 at 7:48 pm | In architecture, heritage, johnson street bridge | 2 Comments

Tonight I saw a most impressive example of adaptive re-use in built form: the former Charles Street Jail, next to MGH (Massachusetts General Hospital) on the banks of the River Charles, turned into a stunning luxury hotel (the Liberty) that looks for all the world like a Jeunesse dorée hotspot.

Here’s a link to the hotel’s website that details the jail’s history and rehabilitation.

Here are a couple of photos:

former panopticon interior, now a lobby


exterior, sunlight-painted


exterior with new hotel wing in background


former cell turned luxe restroom


guest bikes for a quick getaway



What really gets me about a project like this: we can see what imagination and money can do in tandem to preserve heritage, engage adaptive re-use, and promote economic development. When you see what is possible in heritage restoration and then realize that none of those aspects are in evidence in the City of Victoria’s treatment of its historic Johnson Street Bridge, you realize just how unimaginative and benighted some political leadership really is.

Gertrude Stein might agree: -ectomy is an ectomy is an ectomy

May 26, 2010 at 11:07 pm | In architecture, cities, heritage, land_use, real_estate, scandal | 5 Comments

File this one under “why not?”

It’s not a new item, but it made me go wow…

A while back, I read that Vornado Realty Trust left a big hole in Boston’s Downtown Crossing …after demolishing Filene’s Basement.

That was “wow” #1 (not a good wow): Gertrude Stein smelled a rat when she wrote, “there is no there there,” which I’m freely marrying to her “rose is a rose is a rose” to say that “-ectomy” is an ectomy …is an ectomy …is an ectomy.

In another context, we might easily just call it a hatchet job.


Realize, dear reader, that Filene’s Basement was surmounted by a venerable piece of architecture, … namely Filene’s. (… ^Illustrated above)

Alright, I admit to an attachment to traditional (old) department store architecture: it’s a built form that has tons of embedded intelligence, and yep, it’s one of those built forms that, once you tear it down, it’s gone. And it takes a huge chunk of civic and urban history with it.

But alright, let’s move on: since it is already torn down – and the new project is not being built – at least (for the love of it all) put something interesting and striking (and bloody useful!) in its place (even temporarily).

Like this:


Arthur Dent, faced by a Vogon destroyer, might wonder, “what the hell is that?” – but you, dear reader, can rest easy knowing that it’s made-by-humans it could be made by humans (if, that is, it weren’t left unbuilt, and if, that is, humans could overcome their imagination-deficit). What is it? Bio-Fuel Growing Eco Pods [to] Rejuvenate Stalled Boston Project (Sept. 2009).

One can dream. In the waking interim (knowing it’s not gonna happen), some juicy links to the doings of Vornado (and its CEO Steven Roth):

Mayor Battles Vornado in Boston

Downtown Crossing’s money pit

Menino threatens to oust Filene’s site developer

Boston Mayor Blasts Vornado’s Roth Over ‘Blight’ Speech

Is City Truly Wise to Vornado’s Roth Deliberately Stalling Filene’s?

Curbed New York’s articles tagged “Vornado”

All in all, if you read through those links you’ll see that Steven Roth and Vornado have done a heck of a job – the company has given development a very very bad name. That by itself should get them a black eye. That this company has taken out department stores (like Filene’s and Alexander’s) and the social history they embody makes it even worse.

PS: I was going to write a “part 2” to last night’s post about Salim Jiwa’s talk at Social Media Club Victoria. It will have to wait until a later date – I want to gather my thoughts about this, and have had no time to do so today.

Change vs Development: Is there a difference?

April 15, 2010 at 11:41 pm | In authenticity, heritage, jane_jacobs, land_use, urbanism, victoria | 3 Comments

Some remarkably outrageous statements by one of Victoria, BC’s leading heritage preservationists once again made it into the local paper, and it got me thinking about change and development.

Everyone seems to agree that Victoria is famously resistant to change. One old light-bulb joke, told by Joe Average back in the day when we were in high school together, goes like this: “Q: How many Victorians does it take to change a light bulb? A: None. They like the old one.”

This, in other words, is an old-old trope.

But the guff retailed by the heritage preservationist suggests to me a different way of thinking about change. The newspaper article, Heritage lost on the street by Vivian Moreau, begins as follows:

One heritage  home a week is being lost in Greater Victoria, says the head of the Hallmark Society.

Developers are snapping up large properties with small houses on them, demolishing the houses and putting up new structures that don’t fit with the neighbourhoods, said Nick Russell, president of the group dedicated to preserving heritage in Greater Victoria. (source, front page of Vic News, Oak Bay News, and Saanich News print versions)

When I read this, I wondered what, exactly, Mr. Russell is protesting. Is it change? Or development? I’ll explain in a sec why I think there may be a difference, but first consider the (to my mind) outrageous conflation produced by Mr. Russell in the article’s conclusion:

“The sense (in Victoria) was ‘there’s a lot of old houses here, let’s put up some nice new things and increase the density,'” he said. “They were whacking things all over James Bay [a neighborhood in the City of Victoria] and putting up 20-storey towers.”

That came to a halt when Victoria mayor Peter Pollen put a stop to it, Russell recalled.

“Oak Bay [a separate municipality to the east of the City of Victoria] hasn’t come to that point. There is a sense there that the supply of houses is endless.” (source)

Peter Pollen was Victoria mayor from 1971 to 1975, and again from 1981 to 1985: he’s hardly a recent memory. The strategy of building high-rises in James Bay died in the 1970s when Victorians decided that they didn’t want a Vancouver-style West End (meaning: a true urban peninsula) in that core neighborhood. And any heritage houses (actual or so-called) that are “whacked” in the mostly upscale Municipality of Oak Bay are meeting that fate because wealthy property owners want to upgrade their standard of living, not because of moves to increase density.

In other words, the outrageous conflation is Russell’s suggestion that Oak Bay is on the verge of high-rise development, which is complete BS. It’s even BS to suggest that Oak Bay is trying to densify, except perhaps around its village nodes (for example, Estevan Village) – and even then, it’s a tooth-and-claw battle with the anti-change crowd.

Or is it the anti-change crowd?

Maybe it’s the anti-development crowd.

What’s the difference, you ask?

Well, I’ve noticed that despite all the hand-wringing over change, change does come – even to Victoria. It’s inevitable.

What’s resisted is development, which is actually a much slower process that occurs over time.

In nature, we don’t flip a switch to “change” from winter to spring: the latter develops over time. A tree isn’t bare one day and fully leafed out the next: that happens over time. Development is what we undergo or experience over time. An exception is when what Jane Jacobs called “catastrophic money” comes flooding in (say, in the form of “urban renewal,” “slum” clearance, or the building of single-purpose street-block-sized “centers,” whether sports or entertainment or civic / government centers). Catastrophic money sweeps in like a tsunami and creates flip-a-switch change – but nowhere is Victoria in danger of that happening.

Unlike development, which happens over time, change is change: that is, sudden. And sometimes it’s a change into the opposite of what was intended. You can ignore all the factors leading to that flipping of the switch until suddenly you notice, “Oh, the light went on (or out).” Then you react to change, which means you’re in a position of weakness. Development is different: it happens in such a way as to allow you to participate in its changes (plural). Every gardener knows that you can direct development, and decent urbanists know this, too.

By pitting themselves resolutely against development, however, the status quo crowd (and I include Victoria’s Hallmark Foundation) are actually facilitating change. Instead of allowing us (and themselves) to undergo and experience development, they resist it until something happens anyway (change), except there was no way to undergo it, and it comes not as something planned, but as a surprise.

Change can mean a building that should have been taller and more splendidly finished ends up under-built, with the developer skimping on materials. Change can mean the economy tanking because all we ever do is resist development. Change can mean a good thing (as when, for example, a surface parking lot is developed and we get a great new building in our downtown core).

Change happens. That’s a variant of “shit happens.” It just does. There’s no stopping it, good or bad.

The way to make sure absolutely that all you ever get is utter crap change is to resist development at every turn: that’s almost guaranteed to deliver nasty surprises.

Instead of talking about change, try instead to work positively with development – like a good gardener, a good stakeholder, a good urbanist. Imagine a garden that’s not allowed to develop, an ecosystem that’s suppressed; a city whose economy is kept artificially restricted; an urban fabric that’s deliberately kept mono-cultural and thin. Then imagine the negative change that befalls that garden, that ecosystem, that city, that urban fabric.

Development is good, especially when it allows for planned change that’s beneficial; development is also much more encompassing, touching all the little and sometimes unseen changes that affect the ecosystem as a whole.

Victoria’s anti-change crowd really is a joke, just like that old light bulb pun. They might think they’re preserving something, but their relentless opposition to development just facilitates bad change.

Remember: shit happens. (And it always flows downhill.)

Preservation is inherently sustainable

March 16, 2010 at 11:47 pm | In heritage, johnson street bridge, victoria | 1 Comment

Last week I had the pleasure of hearing Barbara Campagna speak at Victoria City Hall. Her presentation was part of a Transformational Lecture Series sponsored by the Cascadia Region Green Building Council.

Barbara Campagna is the Chief Architect of the National Trust, which administers a Sustainability Program to ensure that the “29 historic sites of the National Trust are integrating historic preservation values with green building practices – from green housekeeping techniques to sustainability master plans to LEED certification for historic rehabilitations.” (source) As the lecture description also noted:

The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Sustainability Program is demonstrating that conservation and improvement of our existing built resources, including re-use of historic and older buildings, greening the existing building stock, and reinvestment in older and historic communities, is crucial to combating climate change.  The construction and operation of buildings accounts for more than 40% of the United State’s carbon dioxide emissions. But reusing and retrofitting our existing buildings can reduce these emissions dramatically. In fact, our existing buildings are one of our greatest renewable resources.

Campagna’s informative presentation made the case eloquently that preservation is inherently sustainable. Preservation means that you:

  • reuse existing buildings
  • reinvest in communities (making existing communities and the city core attractive and amenity-rich counters sprawl)
  • retrofit older buildings
  • respect historic integrity

It turns out that buildings built before 1920 and after 2000 are the greenest in terms of low energy use: they have venting windows, and they’re adaptable (office to condo and vice versa). The worst buildings are those built in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s: difficult to adapt to any kind of reuse, inflexible HVAC systems (no individual control over venting, for example), high-energy usage. Quality of materials also comes into play: buildings from before 1920 and after 2000 are better quality. All of this suggests that in the post-World War II decades we went on a bender – of building cheap (not to last) and also of building mono-culture buildings. (For example, Robert Stern points out that modern office buildings can only be good for being office buildings: their huge floor plates mean that the distance from exterior wall – where there are [non-venting] windows that let natural light in – to the core [center] of the building is too far to allow carving the space into discrete rooms. The only thing these buildings are good for is an open plan cubicle farm – and even then, you need electricity to bring light to most areas. To retrofit a building like that so as to allow reshaping it into either smaller offices or even living spaces would involve carving a light-well into its center – a huge and costly retrofit, as we’re seeing here in Victoria with the retrofitting of the old Hudson’s Bay Department store into condominiums.)

Campagna also spoke about life-cycle assessment, which (if I understood her correctly) is a significantly better metric than embodied energy for assessing eco- or “green” questions when dealing with preservation. If I understood her point, much of what’s applied to preservation comes from a 1981 study on embodied energy – and it turns out the data is suspect.

The City of Victoria likes to congratulate itself on its work with historic preservation, and one of Victoria Council’s most outspoken defenders of built heritage, Councilor Pamela Madoff, was at Campagna’s presentation.

However, sadly Councilor Madoff also voted in favor of tearing down Victoria’s storied Johnson Street Bridge and replacing it with a new structure. One wonders whether Campagna’s illustrations of preservation and sustainability provoked any kind of reconsideration of Victoria’s unique historic bridge, or whether Industrial Archeology is simply too far a stretch for just a building preservationist.

Another thing to note: one of the arguments that the City of Victoria’s Engineers made – an argument subsequently embraced by some of the councilors who profess Green allegiances, notably Councilor Sonya Chandler – is that building a new bridge represents less embodied energy than refurbishing (preserving) the old one. Yet as Campagna’s lecture suggested, the embodied energy argument has to be pondered carefully. Surely, manufacturing new steel in China (after burning bunker oil to transport the raw materials from South America, say, to China’s factories), then burning more bunker oil to transport that steel to Victoria, is not the greener option. And let’s not even get started on how much fresh concrete a new bridge will require.

There was an irony in seeing a councilor who’s a heritage advocate listen attentively to an expert historic preservationist make the argument that the embodied energy argument should be viewed with skepticism, that preservation and reuse are always the greener options, and that retrofitting old buildings – can we say old structures? – is the environmentally responsible thing to do, given her readiness to trash the Johnson Street Bridge.

The question is: will Campagna’s message reach Victoria on the issue of the Johnson Street Bridge, or will Victoria remain comfortable in believing that it’s doing its best with regard to preservation …and sustainability?

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

January 24, 2010 at 1:31 am | In arts, free_press, heritage, johnson street bridge, links, newspapers | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • Surprised to see that Victoria’s Johnson Street Bridge made it into the “Journal of Commerce – Western Canada’s Construction Newspaper” (Jan.25/10) …for its heritage value (not its potential as a mega-replacement construction project)! Right on. (Would love to know the story behind JSB’s entry into the the Journal of Commerce…)

    From the article:

    “The main opening span is 148 feet in length and when in the open position is balanced over a 45-foot fixed span. The Strauss Bascule Company Ltd. prepared the design for the bascule spans and the operating machinery.

    The superstructure of the bridge was fabricated in Walkerville, Ontario and contains 100 tons of steel. “


    tags: johnson_street_bridge, victoria, journal_of_commerce, heritage, preservation

  • Would really like to view this film. The paintings by Nicolas Poussin and by Jacques Louis David are both such powerhouses, one can’t help but think that only film-video artists of overarching ambitions would tackle this subject. This interpretation by Eve Sussman sounds very intriguing:


    “The Rape of the Sabine Women is a reinterpretation of the Roman myth, updated and set in the idealistic 1960’s. Filmed on location in Athens and Hydra, Greece, and in Berlin, Germany, the 80 minute video was directed by Eve Sussman with an original score by Jonathan Bepler, choreography by Claudie De Serpa Soares, and costumes by Karen Young.\n\nThe Rape Of The Sabine Women was conceived as allegory based loosely on the ancient myth that follows Romulus’ founding of Rome. Re-envisioning the myth as a 1960’s period piece with the Romans cast as G-men, the Sabines as butchers’ daughters, and the heyday of Rome allegorically implied in an affluent international style summer house, this version is a riff on the original story of abduction and intervention, in which Romulus devises a plan to ensure the future of the empire. While the Roman myth traces the birth of a society, this telling suggests the destruction of a utopia. The intervention of the women is fraught, and the chaos that ensues transforms the designed perfection into nothingness.\n\nThe Rape… is a video-musical conceived in an operatic five act structure that opens in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum, moves to the S-Bahn and Tempelhof Airport, Athens’ Agora meat market, a classic modern 60’s dream house overlooking the Aegean, and finally, Athens’ Herodion Theatre. Forgoing the compromise of the original, the Rufus Corporation’s re-imagining pits mid-twentieth century ideals against the eternal themes of power, longing, and desire. A modern process piece created in improvisation-a product of 180 hours of video footage and 6000 photographs-the video with 7.1 sound installation features compositions by Jonathan Bepler, recorded live on site , incorporating a bouzouki ensemble, a Pergamon coughing choir, and a chorus of 800 voices.

  • tags: video, films, rape_sabine_women, eve_sussman, rufus_corporation

    • Beautiful video of Aakash Nihalani creating his “tape art” interventions in New York City’s public spaces. By taking us with him (through his tape interventions) I think Nihalani is really re-imagining and re-seeing space, and that’s an amazing gift to the rest of us.
      “When artist Aakash Nihalani moved from the suburbs to NYC he was compelled by its symmetry. As an organic response he started laying down tape on the streets and on buildings, creating brightly colored sticker tape boxes framing aspects of the city he wanted to show people, creating tableaus from real life. Both uncomfortable at potentially defacing property by using permanent materials, and enraged at the continued treatment of public artists as vandals, we join him as he brings 3D to his work for the first time, via use of mirrors and passers-by, and discuss why impermanence is important to the acceptance of street art.”

      tags: art, aakash_nihalani, street_art, video

    • A rather amusing look at history according to Victoria’s mainstream media (in this case by Times-Colonist reporter Bill Cleverley). Wow, this is quite the ellipsis…

      If there’s one thing I’m learning from the whole Johnson Street Bridge issue and process is that one apparently can’t trust our media to get the stories right.

      tags: johnson_street_bridge, media, newspapers, times_colonist, bill_cleverley

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

    Work and city planning

    July 1, 2009 at 11:57 pm | In heritage, ideas, land_use, victoria | Comments Off on Work and city planning

    There’s a new exhibition at Victoria’s LegacyGallery, a UVic-affiliated downtown art venue. It’s called From a Modern Time: the architectural photography of Hubert Norbury, Victoria in the 1950s and 60s (the link goes to the Legacy Gallery’s “Upcoming” page – no specific web info otherwise).

    On Vibrant Victoria, a forumer posted a pointer to the exhibition, with the following info:

    A retro Victoria comes alive through the work of architectural photographer Hubert Norbury, on display at the Legacy Art Gallery and Café this summer.

    Norbury succeeded in documenting a building boom that transformed Victoria from a sleepy retreat to a vibrant city, rejuvenated by progressive town planning, a new university campus, and an international airport. His photographs serve as a rich and detailed record of a unique era in Victoria’s architectural history when modern ideas and new building technologies were embraced by its architects and increasingly accepted by the general public. (link)

    Curators need to write texts that accompany exhibitions, but I have a problem with the way they (or he or she) framed this one.

    First a caveat lector: What follows is by no means a completely baked post. It’s in the category of “thinking out loud” and “place-holder for more.”

    Here are some problems I have with the blurb that presents the exhibition…

    It claims that Victoria was transformed in the 50s and 60s from a “sleepy retreat” to a vibrant city? Hm… Through building projects? Double hm and “really?” Just take a look at Centennial Square

    I’m not sure why UVic’s curators would insist that the fifties and sixties were some Golden Age of city planning in Victoria. If anything, lots of built heritage was destroyed, the urban fabric torn asunder by so-called renewal (things like getting rid of “old junk” and making the city more car-friendly). The idea that the renewal undertaken at that time was beneficial really needs to be challenged. UVic certainly isn’t challenging it. It’s reinforcing it.

    Furthermore… I really don’t believe anymore that if you build it, they will come. Something else has to happen first – or at least concurrently… Otherwise you do that “rejuvenation” thing through “progressive town planning” and end up with not that much.

    At some level, some parts of our planning department seem still to subscribe to the “build it and they will come” agenda. And some of our councilors are “aesthetes,” idealists who think it’s possible to conjure up some kind of City Beautiful by fiat.

    But what would a materialist say, someone who pays attention to work, to production, to economics?

    I don’t think that buildings by themselves can change a city (Bilbao notwithstanding). There has to be a readiness for a new way of seeing and experiencing the city, otherwise buildings mean nothing. A starchitect edifice might help nudge new ways of seeing and experiencing, but those new ways can’t take hold if there isn’t some larger material fact underpinning that process already.

    In most cases that larger, material underpinning is work, labor: how people make a living and sustain themselves. Do they work (and yes, consume) as factory workers, or in head offices and corporations, or as government bureaucrats, small business people, farmers, or entrepreneurs, or in the service industries, as retirees, or in the cloud? Are they experiencing disruption – at all levels – or are they staid and cut off from what’s going on in the global economy? Do they matter at all, are they producing matters of significance, or are they punching the clock …or already retired?

    Victoria has had a varied history when it comes to work. Most of it centered on resource exploitation – from seals and whales to tourists, and every other resource in between. Some people think it’ll be IT – get-rich-quick and then blow off work to enjoy the island Lotus Land with its plentiful access to nature: hiking, golfing, kayaking, and so on. (Victoria must be one of the few places I’ve ever lived where it’s cool for 20-somethings to play the old man’s game of golf …and they can do it all year ’round here.)

    The curatorial blurb I referenced at the beginning of this post says that Victoria was a “sleepy retreat” before the urban renewal schemes of the fifties and sixites. Yet that leaves out a whole swathe of prior history, including a prior of history of vibrancy and non-sleepiness.

    Victoria may have been dead as a doornail in 1950, but it was a vibrant city in the late 19th and early 20th century – why?, because back then the city still mattered as a point of reference. Once the railroad linked Canada and terminated in Vancouver, however, Victoria began to die off because we weren’t that important anymore in the global world of work. Vancouver became the new reference point. The nature and value of how work was done here changed, and so did people’s perceptions of the place. No longer proud, and proudly the capital, more likely the slighted lesser city, where government only stayed by virtue of the infrastructure …which, admittedly, was and is a building. If the impressive Legislature building hadn’t already been here, I bet we would have stopped serving as the provincial capital long ago.

    But the decision to make Victoria the capital was made first, and acted on first, and then the Legislature got built. The decision was acted on because of the way things were going: back then it seemed that Victoria could work.

    Today, it’s like we haven’t figured out how to make this city work in ways other than boom-and-bust. You can build all the fancy new buildings and plazas and what-nots you want, but unless there’s a concomitant change in how people perceive the city (a perception that’s influenced at both ends, by the material stuff and by ideals) and in how they can work here and get ahead, public plazas and buildings alone won’t be able to generate the change(s) for the better.

    Next Page »

    Theme: Pool by Borja Fernandez.
    Entries and comments feeds.