Time, from A to Z (Zimbardo, that is)

May 22, 2010 at 11:31 pm | In creativity, education, health, ideas, leadership, social_critique | Comments Off on Time, from A to Z (Zimbardo, that is)

If you haven’t seen Philip Zimbardo‘s 2008 presentation, The Time Paradox, at California’s Commonwealth Club, do yourself a favor and take the time to watch it now. If you do, you’ll understand why it’s a good idea to stop waiting for your ship to come in…

Zimbardo‘s analysis of how we parse time (how we value it, how we picture it to ourselves, what we tell ourselves about time) obviously provides insights for individuals. But he also has a lot to say about its ability to shape social groups and even economic trends.

Regarding the latter, check out this screen shot, nearly 50 minutes into his talk:

.

It says:

Current Financial Meltdown on Wall Street and Elsewhere

Is caused by motivated collective GREED that

interferes with wise, future-oriented decisions of

need for reserves and cautious loans and

mortgages

for short-term present-focused quick gains,

failure to discount future costs against immediate

taste of the $$Marshmallow$$

IT IS A CASE OF THE COMMONS DILEMMA IN MASS ACTION

Zimbardo is talking about present-oriented perceptions of time (centered on immediate gratification), which dominated the time leading to our current economic crisis. For example, in 2002, one in fifty loans were sub-prime; by 2008, it was one in three: that pervasive culture of risk-taking hadn’t been socially acceptable in earlier generations. $$Marshmallow$$ refers to an experiment with children, testing their ability to delay gratification (those who could delay correlated with more socio-economic success as adults while those who couldn’t correlated with riskier behaviors, including drug use, and socio-economic drawbacks). And by “the commons dilemma,” Zimbardo refers to despoliation of a common good (the commons) for individual short-term competitive gain (he specifically refers to the Monterey sardine fishery, now defunct because of over-fishing).

There’s lots more in Zimbardo’s talk (see also The Time Paradox website). From insights regarding how different members within my family perceive time (and what that does to inter-personal dynamics, or to issues relating to attitude, depression, and even energy), to how the place I live in has a different (and often habitually crippling) perception of time and therefore also toward change (which has immense political implications, especially here), Zimbardo’s insights are remarkably rewarding.


David Eaves on Open Government

May 5, 2010 at 3:40 pm | In canada, innovation, leadership, politics, silo_think, web | 1 Comment

David Eaves is one of Canada’s strongest proponents for a cultural sea-change in government, from closed bureaucracy to open government. In this video he’s interviewed by Steve Paikin of TVO. (See the accompanying blog post, too, and click through to Steve’s channel “The Agenda” for other shows.

Eaves hit on many terrific arguments in favor of open government – here are my two favorites. The first comes toward the end of the segment, where he’s talking about the public-facing side of government. Below, a rough transcript of what he said:

So, let’s look at the public-facing side. So, open data – I don’t want to claim by any stretch that it’s the be-all and end-all of open government but I do think it’s an incredibly important piece.

I mean, if you look at what the privacy commissioner wrote yesterday – the access to information, how it’s broken …I think there were ten ministries that had failing grades! People today live in an era where the average Google search is something like point three [0.3] seconds – thats how quickly they expect to get information. And now suddenly you have a government where if you want to know about something it takes six, seven, eight, nine months?

There’s this wonderful phrase on the internet that the internet treats censorship like a failure and it routes around it. And I have a real concern that people, especially young people, look at government and at the pace that it moves, and they see it either as censorship or just simply as broken …and they’re gonna route around it.

Exactly. This is what government needs to wrap its collective head around (and change) if it wants public engagement. In Victoria, my city is spending tens upon tens of thousands of dollars to craft “public engagement” strategies, but for the most part, voter turnout continues to suck, especially with younger or web-savvy people. Why? Because we see municipal government here as broken, and we either have the enthusiasm (idealism?) to “route around it,” or we say, “to hell with you” and go windsurfing instead.

Fair or not, we feel this way about the people who work in government at the staffing level, and we feel this way about the politicians. If citizens aren’t engaged, it’s not because they don’t care at a fundamental level about the things that government is supposed to address. It’s just that they can’t get no satisfaction – and certainly no transparent action.  (I’m referring in particular to the City of Victoria, which has an atrocious, opaque, hard-to-navigate website and which continues to post documents in non-machine-readable format [PDF] – if it puts them out at all [meeting agendas or minutes are a total hit-and-miss affair, it seems].)

The other piece of the conversation that really struck me was nearer the beginning, when Eaves spoke to the culture within bureaucracies, and how it needs to change at least as much as bureaucracy’s public-facing side. A significant potential of such a sea-change would be cost-savings and greater efficiency.

Eaves began by using the Facebook example – how, if you list your interests or favorite movies, each item becomes a hyper-link that shows who else has the same interests, etc. With an internal Facebook-like system, bureaucracies can do the same thing and thereby tap the expertise within their own organization (Federal government, Provincial government, Municipal government, etc.). This would allow government workers to find other expert government workers, and leverage their collective expertise. Right now, instead, our governments spend money to hire consultants:

The government is huge, an enormous organization, and people hire consultants all of the time because that consultant has some sort of expertise that you need. If you could suddenly find that expertise within government, you could do more with less.

Well, I suppose that illustrates another roadblock to open government: it’s against the vested interests of the consultants industry. I live in a government town, which means the city is filled with people who have some connection to consulting “for the government.” It’s a big chunk of the local economy.

Perhaps that economic gravy train (or revolving door, since many consultants are ex-government workers) explains why it’s so difficult to shift the culture here in Victoria: it works well enough for a well-connected, entrenched minority who don’t want it to change. Similar drivers are likely at work in other government towns across the world.

I had a wicked idea for an illustration: picture an archipelago of government silos, with knowledgeable government workers trapped inside, peering out but unable to communicate with one another. The silos are, however, connected at the top by a looping, circular, endless rail line on which rides a train pulling a wagon filled with consultants. Hm, what do we call that train….? 😉

It’s another reason to bridge the silos in every way possible, to create open government internally, within the organizations.

If you’re a Canadian government worker, check out Eaves’s side project, datadotgc.ca, and see about contributing your data sets.

Wishing local government had an opposable mind

April 19, 2010 at 8:51 pm | In ideas, innovation, johnson street bridge, leadership, social_critique, urbanism, victoria | Comments Off on Wishing local government had an opposable mind

I’m reading Roger Martin‘s book, The Opposable Mind, and came across the following paragraph this morning. It stopped me in my tracks because it made clear what’s wrong with the way thinking typically goes in government (and I’m referring both to the politicians and the bureaucrats / managers).

The paragraph describes the differences between conventional thinking and what Martin calls integrative thinking:

The two types of thinking [integrative versus conventional thinking] are diametrically opposed, and so are the outcomes they generate. Integrative thinking produces possibilities, solutions, and new ideas. It creates a sense of limitless possibility. Conventional thinking hides potential solutions in places they can’t be found and fosters the illusion that no creative solution is possible. With integrative thinking, aspirations rise over time. Conventional thinking is a self-reinforcing lesson that life is about accepting unattractive and unpleasant trade-offs. It erodes aspiration. Fundamentally, the conventional thinker prefers to accept the world as it is. The integrative thinker welcomes the challenge of shaping the world for the better. (p.48, emphases added)

That description of conventional thinking absolutely nails what you can see happening in municipal government.

In Victoria BC, conventional thinking shows itself in the city’s approach to development as well as the Johnson Street Bridge.

I’ve said from the very beginning that the city’s plans to demolish the historic Johnson Street Bridge and replace it with a new structure showed a colossal failure of imagination. It’s also a blatant manifestation of conventional thinking.

There are far too many examples of conventional approaches in government. Because of market pressures, businesses have to reform themselves – or go under. By the same token, it’s crazy to allow conventional thinking to continue unchallenged in government. Cities (and municipal governments) need to show imagination, and integrative thinking. If they don’t, they will stagnate. Surely the lessons of integrative thinking can be deployed in public service, if nurtured by civic leaders. They can, that is, if there is civic leadership that steps up to the job.

Bamberton, Public Participation, Design Thinking

February 20, 2010 at 11:59 pm | In ideas, innovation, land_use, leadership, local_not_global, politics, real_estate, vancouver_island | Comments Off on Bamberton, Public Participation, Design Thinking

This afternoon I attended a forum on land use and public participation, Competing Values: Land Use and Public Consultation. The forum was sparked by an installation, Bamberton: Contested Landscape by Cedric and Nathan Bomford, at Open Space. That installation is itself informed by the redevelopment of Bamberton.

Situated to the north of Victoria, Bamberton lies on the shores of Saanich Inlet, across from Butchart Gardens. It used to be a cement manufacturing plant, founded in 1912. Operations ceased in 1980, and in 1982 the property was sold. Various redevelopment plans have come (and gone); the most recent is described here. Oh, and here.

This afternoon’s forum dealt with development and land use issues outside Victoria, many of which I’m not familiar with, especially as they relate to forest lands (including Crown lands – I confess that I have a lot of difficulty wrapping my head around the idea of “Crown” land) and greenfield development / sprawl. (Bamberton is a brownfield development)

I came away with the sense that development outside the city of Victoria tilts heavily toward benefiting developers, who don’t appear to be legally obligated to consult with the community before crafting proposals that are generally not publicly presented until it’s time for a public hearing (which only happens if the project requires rezoning or variances).

The question, then, is how do you get public participation that’s timely, and how do you structure a collaborative process – versus a stand-off (which is what seems to happen too often presently).

Guy Dauncey was one of the participants this afternoon and as usual his comments struck me as the most incisive and progressive. While most of the other participants and audience members seemed willing not only to embrace but also to propagate an adversarial narrative (that it’s impossible to work with the current BC government, that developers are all just greedy SOBs out to make a killing, that all developers are liars who can’t be trusted, that the human footprint is in all instances bad, that development must stop, that we already have “too many people” on Vancouver Island, and so on and so forth), Dauncey chose to think about how development can actually be beneficial and – by extension – how the process for public participation might actually be made to work.

Which brings me to design thinking. In The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking Is The Next Competitive Advantage, Roger Martin distinguishes two approaches or mind-sets to solving problems: one favors validity, the other reliability. Today’s forum allowed me to think about how Martin’s concepts apply to real life situations, such as NIMBYism and public participation, which too often seem downright intractable.

Martin posits “design thinking” (based on abductive reasoning) as the basis for moving forward productively when caught between the contradictions of validity and reliability. At the risk of bowdlerizing Martin’s concepts, here’s some what I took away from his book and how it might apply to public participation around community planning and land use issues.

People who operate from the principle of reliability use the past to predict what the future will bring. This means that they will reject “vision”-based and “unproven” value-based ideas (unproven because they can’t “prove” their validity through past successes). Obviously, a truly new vision (for the future) isn’t based on a past success (otherwise it wouldn’t be a vision, it would be hindsight). Reliability-oriented thinkers want quantifiable values, they want good odds, they want to meet budgets and face bean-counters with confidence.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who want valid outcomes. Reliability doesn’t figure too strongly because what’s most important is that a project or an outcome is valid. That means it has to feel right, it has to ring true, and it has to meet needs that might not even be fully identified yet. While reliability predicts the future based on the past and has a strong quantitative bias, validity can’t base itself on the past and has a strong qualitative bias.

In a corporate business that’s traditionally reliability-based, it’s very difficult to let validity get anything resembling an equal footing. In land use decisions and development, there’s clearly a very strong bias toward reliability, which makes all attempts at introducing validity seem airy-fairy and touchy-feely.

This is where the community-based activists and others who are striving to create a climate of positive public participation face an uphill battle. The people who live in a given community want validity – they want validation of their way of life, of the place where they live, of the dreams they have for the future. Their vision can seem creepily backward to reliability-driven business people, while the business people’s focus on reliability appears short-sighted and at best unimaginative, at worst greedy (hence the notion that developers have horns, a tail, and cloven hooves) to “the community,” however it’s defined.

The “reliable” model of development for the most part has assumed that the past is the best guarantor of future successes, and if in the past we developed land in a certain way, then in the present we must do the same. After all, there are bottom lines to be met and accountants and shareholders to face.

What communities in the path of reliability-driven development are instead saying is “our concerns are valid, we have needs and visions of our own, and we want to be heard.” This is not to say that the community is always right. As Guy Dauncey pointed out, every single railroad in Great Britain was opposed by community members who wanted no part of a railroad, and preferred the horse and buggy instead. Today, we (rightly) laugh at the backwardness of opposing rail, given that cars not only swept the railway aside, but contributed to bad land use and sprawl. (We should be so lucky as to have a great rail system…) So, while the community wants validation, it cannot expect to be validated in all aspects …because, frankly, it might be wrong on some points. (This is important to point out, because “community” has become a sacred cow in many ways, and it’s almost sacrilegious to suggest that community might actually be wrong. But indeed it can be.)

When reliability and validity go head to head, we too often seem to get either a stalemate (a protracted fight that gets progressively nastier), or nothing happens (the developer gives up, which can leave the community with a Pyrrhic victory if the result is loss of economic growth), or “reliability” wins (cookie-cutter / sprawl development, lost farmland/ greenfield, etc.).

In turn, public participation itself becomes more self-selective: seeing validity thinking trumped or sharpened into an anti-development sword, people who actually want good development or who prefer to avoid confrontation opt out of public participation entirely. Why bother, they reason, if it’s only for extremists?

That’s where design thinking can help – to bridge the gap between reliability and validity, and to design a process for public participation. It seemed to me that this was the point Dauncey was making in one of his comments. While many of the other speakers suggested that it’s already too late to parlay with developers, Dauncey’s idea of involving the reliability-driven developer much earlier in a conversation with the validity-driven community made a lot more sense (unfortunately, he was in a distinct minority at the forum, and his idea was not pursued by any of the other speakers). But as Roger Martin noted in his book, design thinkers need to understand and speak the language of reliability and validity if there’s to be any hope of having a positive conversation to resolve the problems we face.

Judging by today’s discussion, it’s a challenge that clearly applies to land use, development, and public participation. I’d prefer any day to work with Dauncey and those like him who can meet the challenge of design thinking than to limit myself to a validity that remains only a vision …or devolves into a stalemate.

Keeping the Johnson Street Bridge

June 27, 2009 at 12:25 am | In heritage, leadership, local_not_global, politics, scandal, victoria | 20 Comments

Reading and watching the Vibrant Victoria forum thread on Victoria’s famous Johnson Street Bridge – also known as The Blue Bridge – is keeping me up at night.

It wrenches my heart (and my head) to know that our city leaders, “incentivized” by engineers and the possibility of getting some Federal infrastructure grants, are benighted enough to plan tearing down a bridge that people around the world recognize as a heritage-worthy and unique signifier in Victoria’s urban landscape.

Take a look at these photos, and marvel at the “ugly” bridge that’s supposed to be replaced by a slab of concrete:
Johnson Street Bridge, taken by

Vibrant Victoria forumer “gumgum” took this photo while approaching the bridge in his canoe.

Here are two more:
Johnson Street Bridge by VV forumer

and

Johnson Street Bridge, in

(See the rest here.)

I wrote about the bridge in the current June issue of Focus (read the article, Blue Bridge Blues) and I’ve blogged about the impending disaster of tearing the bridge down (here, here, and here). And now I just joined two Facebook groups, formed to Save and Keep the Blue Bridge.

The whole issue is complicated by the fact that the usual spokespeople for heritage preservation (often enough a NIMBY and anti-development crowd to boot) are NDP stalwarts (even at the Federal level – ex-Victoria City Councilor), and since plans to tear this bridge down were proposed by our reigning NDP mayor, who has an NDP majority on council (including the alleged heritage advocate, Councilor Pam Madoff), the partisans have all closed ranks and decided to just not say anything at all …which is very curious indeed.

The only explanation that comes to my mind is that it’s all about partisanship, which infects and clouds local politics in the worst way. I would like to say to the partisans: for once, forget about party affiliation and just do the right thing already. If the BC Liberals had proposed tearing the bridge down – no matter how good the reasons – the heritage preservation crowd and every NDP-inflected City Councilor would be on the barricades.

Instead, we get this:

Victoria City Councilors (allegorically)
But this (the image ^ above) shouldn’t be a civic leader’s inspiration.

It also creeps me out that our leaders are listening quite hard to the City’s engineering department, which (from what I gleaned at an April committee of the whole meeting) seems intent on building a new bridge (boys will be boys, and these boys want to build something new). City engineering furthermore hired a consultant (to assess the condition of the old bridge), but this consultancy is in the business of building only new bridges, so why wouldn’t they furnish the City with a report that recommends building a new bridge?

Add to all this the galling fact that most Victorians are blissfully unaware that the bridge is even in danger – and that worst of all, they have no idea what they, what we, stand to lose here.

Here’s where Vibrant Victoria’s forumers are keeping me up at night… Forumer “aastra” has diligently compiled the numerous examples of other North American cities – some much smaller and poorer than allegedly “quainte” and oh-so-cash-strapped Victoria – that not only celebrate the value of trunnion or bascule bridges from this era, but that actually spend significant piles of dough in refurbishing them and then in addition have the audacity to express civic pride in their preservation.

Incroyable, you say? Well, it’s not unbelievable. Take a gander at these, courtesy of “aastra”:
3rd Street Bridge, San Francisco
This is a photo of an almost identical Strauss-built bridge in San Francisco – restored and preserved. (See source.)

Next, there’s this image, of the same bridge:Third Street/ Lefty O'Doul Bridge, San Francisco

Same bridge, different photographer (source).

Toronto also has a Joseph Strauss designed trunnion bridge, and they restored theirs and are keeping it, while we plan to nuke ours. aastra wrote:

So did we all know about the Cherry Street Trunnion Bridge in Toronto? Built in 1931 by some bozo named Strauss.

Quote:
…designated under the Ontario Heritage Act by the City of Toronto in 1992 as Architectural Historical.

That’s the problem with Toronto. It’s such an impersonal big city that’s lost all connection with its past.


(The bridge is green. Good call by Torontonians. If it were another colour it would probably be gone by now.)

The sarcasm and his last sentence expresses frustration over earlier banter about whether our bridge was always blue and whether it was always famous, or famously blue. His point was that the color hardly matters. It’s like saying it matters whether ivy or roses clamber up the Empress Hotel on Victoria’s Inner Harbour.

aastra finds another bascule bridge – preserved, not torn down (and it’s even blue!):

Quote:
The Ashtabula lift bridge (also known as the West Fifth Street bridge) is a Strauss bascule bridge that spans the Ashtabula River in the harbor of Ashtabula, Ohio. Built in 1925, it is one of only two of its type that remain in service in the state of Ohio. In 1985 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was restored in 1986, and was also closed from March to December 2008 for repairs and repainting.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashtabula_lift_bridge

In Ohio it’s history. Something to be proud of. In Victoria it’s junk. Hallmark Society, where are you?


http://www.flickr.com/photos/83132978@N00/1364138744/

The really amazing thing is that it’s blue and yet they still decided not to replace it.

And there’s more… Chattanooga, Tennessee has one (slightly different design):

Market Street Bridge in Chattanooga, TN:

Quote:
The Market Street Bridge construction began in 1914. It is a bascular-type draw span bridge and is owned by the State of Tennessee. Because of its current condition, the bridge is currently undergoing a major structural renovation which will cost $13,060,428.85.
Quote:
Once construction is complete, travelers will enjoy sidewalks measuring three feet wider on either side of the thoroughfare making walking safe and easy. The bridge design will also provide architectural attributes and lighting in keeping with the historical significance of the Market Street Bridge. The renovated bridge will look much like the original – only stronger, safer, and ready to be put into use for another 90 years!

http://www.marketstbridge.com/facts.html

…As does Mystic, Connecticut:

Mystic, Connecticut:

Quote:
River Road – Running beside the Mystic River, this scenic road offers terrific water views of the ships of Mystic Seaport and Mystic’s famous Bascule Bridge.

http://www.mystic.org/landmark-trail.asp

Quote:
Not to be confused with Olde Mystic Village, this is the “real” downtown of Mystic – it includes the Mystic River Bascule Bridge, one of few operational bascule bridges in the country. For those of us who are unfamiliar with bascule bridges, this is a fancy drawbridge. Feel free to gawk either at the bridge itself or at the tourists gawking at the bridge.

http://www.starrmurphy.com/shopping.php

Quote:
Historic 1922 marvel delights bridge fans — its mechanical parts are all out in the open.

http://www.mystic.org/p/highlights-tour.asp

Mystic River Bascule Bridge (1922)

Meanwhile, Rob Randall, Chair of the Downtown Residents Association, added this comment:

I want to mention the importance of the bridge in relation to the time in which it was built–the 1920s–and the fact that this time coincided with the dawn of what some call “the Precisionist Movement” in American painting.

Some of America’s most famous artists like Georgia O’Keefe and Charles Sheeler tackled the subject of the industrial landscape, painting stunningly detailed pictures of factories, skyscrapers and yes, bridges–even ones designed by none other than JSB designer Joseph Strauss.

It would be fair to say they have influenced modern artists as well.

Our bridge is a real link to this vanishing historical age of engineering and artistic genius.


Elsie Driggs (1898 – 1992) Queensborough Bridge, 1927
Oil on Canvas, 401/2 x 30 ¼ inches
MAM Purchase: Lang Acquisition Fund 1969.4

So there you go, city leaders. But are they listening? According to forumer CharlieFoxtrot, they’re not and it’s already too late:

Word on the street is that various contracts have been awarded within the past few days – the replacement moves forward. Expect grunts in high-vis vests to be hanging around the JSB and starting the preliminary work soon, most likely ASAP.

Sadly, looming federal infrastructure funding dependant on fixed deadlines for completion (and these other things called “fish windows” with regards to construction) are Serious Things that wait for no one, or (apparently) little or no opposition…

I could go on to disparage Ken Kelly of the Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA), which apparently supports replacing the bridge because replacement will be less disruptive to traffic. Yes, you read that right. But I won’t right now, because this post is already too long and it’s getting quite lugubrious.

Just one last thing: if you’re a heritage/ history/ bridge/ industrial design buff, consider writing a letter to The Honourable James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, House of Commons Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6. There are Federal funds to preserve heritage like this bridge – the city should have applied for this, and applied for infrastructure grants to replace the Bay Street Bridge, not the Johnson Street Bridge.

Better gold through green

May 20, 2009 at 11:20 pm | In architecture, cities, green, innovation, land_use, leadership, real_estate, resources, urbanism, victoria | 4 Comments

It seems everyone is going green, or will be. Today I went to Victoria’s UDI (Urban Development Institute) luncheon to hear Terasen Energy Services‘ Gareth Jones present “All About Geo-Thermal: Learning from Local Projects.”

Some basic take-away points: unless I severely misheard, British Columbia prices for energy (or electricity) will rise 80% in the next 10 years; the best place to make inroads in meeting the very ambitious greenhouse gas reductions (which are nearly as ambitious as Europe’s) set by the BC Liberal Party is in communities/ municipalities; and the best places to get the best bang for the buck in alternative energy is in dense settlements, whether multi-family complexes (including highrises and townhouse developments) or densely settled neighborhoods.

Other points: we in BC often think that we get most of our energy/ electricity “from hydro” (i.e., from hydroelectric power projects, therefore from “clean” water-driven sources), but we actually import 15% of our electricity from out-of-province, and those imports are “dirty” (typically derived from coal-fired plants). In addition to that little wrinkle, only 21% of our total energy needs in BC are met by electricity in the first place (and of that 21%, remember that 15% aren’t “clean”). The remaining 79% are met by natural gas (another 21%), other fossil fuels (can’t remember the exact number – I think it was around 20%?), wood (another 16%), and other sources. Alternate sources are at present but a small, very small piece of the pie.

There was more, and it all deserves a longer blog post or article, for which I’ll have to dig out my notes and do some research. What struck me today was the sense of urgency that came across in Jones’s presentation: that we really don’t have a lot of time to sit on our hands in pursuing alternative energy – not least because an 80% rise in costs will really do a number on the economy. It would probably make the current recession look like a walk in the park.
Energy System plant

Jones encouraged all the developers, builders, and planners and politicians at the luncheon to explore the myriad ways that the provincial government and Terasen Energy Services are trying to make alternative energy production (and consumption) more commonplace.

Meanwhile, there’s more to research and think about: Living buildings and how they’re cost-effective, for example.
Living Building diagram
Next week, there are two events scheduled in Victoria – first, at the University of Victoria on June 3, Jason McLennan, CEO, Cascadia Region Green Building Council will speak on The True Costs of Living Buildings, and the next evening (June 4), a less formal event showcasing some examples will take place at the Burnside-Gorge Community Centre. (I have to admit that after hearing Gareth Jones explain the benefits of density when it comes to installing alternative energy both for new and retrofitted buildings, Jason McLennan’s homepage photo disturbs me. It’s of an isolated single home – a converted church even? – in the middle of nowhere, which is probably the most large-footprint lifestyle, in environmental terms, that privileged westerners can choose. Perhaps his home is environmentally sustainable, but it’s still not a great model in the sense that it’s not anything we should strive for. Ok, end of sour aside.)  (Update, 5/27: If readers click through to the comments on this post, they’ll see Eden’s comment, which corrects my assumption about the photo. It’s actually not a private home, but the barn of a sheep farm. That’s really good to know, because the myth of the self-sufficient yet large single-family family home on a large property – a “green” variant of the suburban lifestyle – exerts a strong and unsustainable pull, which I prefer not to see strengthened. Thanks, Eden, for the additional info!)

And since it pours when it rains, there’s an out-of-town event I’d love to be able to go to: The Seattle Architecture Foundation will lead a tour through South Lake Union, called LEED: It’s Not Just for Buildings Anymore:

SLU’s close proximity to donwtown’s and existing transportation lines are the foundation for a successful sustainable neighborhood. Community design focusing on adaptive building re-use, alternative transportation, storm water management and other sustainability techniques is revitalizing the neighborhood adjacent to Seattle’s urban core.

SLU was accepted into the USGBC’s LEED-ND Pilot (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – Neighborhood Development) program, and is one of the first existing neighborhoods anticipated to receive LEED certification.

Catherine Benotto and Ginger Garff from Weber Thompson and Katherine Cornwell and Jim Holmes from the City of Seattle will explain how great neighborhoods are created. Highlights of the tour include the Terry Thomas Building, the redesign of Cascade Park, the street car maintenance facility and an exploration of the master plan for Terry Avenue.

Seems to me that the South Lake Union walking tour would be a perfect complement to Gareth Jones’s presentation, but then again, Jason McLennan’s presentation is a lot closer to home…

Front-line/Downtown – Community Solutions

April 2, 2009 at 1:25 pm | In addiction, community_associations, crime, health, homelessness, housing, justice, leadership, local_not_global, victoria | 1 Comment

On Monday March 30, the Downtown Residents Association (DRA) hosted a public meeting, On The Front Lines: Community Solutions for Homelessness and Social Issues, at City Hall. Moderated by DRA chair Rob Randall, we heard from Victoria City Councilor Charlayne Thornton-Joe, the Coalition to End Homelessness‘s Jill Clements, the Downtown Victoria Business Association’s Ken Kelley, and Victoria Police Department Chief Jamie Graham.

Rob wrote a follow-up report on his blog – go check it out (especially the comments). Davin Greenwell also posted a great summary, and included photo documentation, so do take a look at it here.

I haven’t commented on Rob’s post, but just left a long comment on Davin’s entry. Click through to read my (partial) response to the session.

One of the categories I’m filing my post under is “leadership,” a quality that Jill Clements of the Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness seems to have, and it’s something we expect from Jamie Graham. We also see it in Charlayne Thornton-Joe.

As I was checking off categories, I also checked “justice,” as I was reminded of Graham’s discussion of implementing Restorative Justice (see Saanich’s program), which we hope to see used more frequently in Victoria. Incidentally, Restorative Justice is modeled on First Nations approaches to crime and social disorder, and reminded me that the American Congress (and Senate?) is modeled on a New World/ First Nations approach (vs. the British Parliamentarianism we still practice in Canada, where everyone shouts at the same time and heckles the opposition). Sorry, can’t provide a link right now, but just think of the concept of the talking stick. Works for me – bring it on.

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
Victoria

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.

DV2020 nails candidate questions

October 26, 2008 at 12:37 pm | In leadership, politics, victoria | 1 Comment

In my October 25 post, What’s wrong with Victoria’s business community?, I blew up at the business community here, particularly the Chamber, for charging terribly high admission prices to the mayoral candidates meetings they’re sponsoring, and for not doing enough to use their networks, their ecosystems, to engage the community at large in a dialogue on Victoria’s economy.

(And I blew up at the Chamber in particular for being locked down by Microsoft: you can’t register for their events online if you use either Firefox or a Mac — that’s just retarded, as far as I can tell.)

I also castigated additional groups that I usually strongly support, Downtown Victoria 2020 (DV2020) and UDI Victoria, because their upcoming event (11/3) has a $30 price tag, too.  It’s another loss of the Commons, as far as I can tell, when you have to shell out that kind of money to listen to your city’s mayoral candidates explain what they would do to govern the city.

However, to DV2020‘s huge credit, they’ve come up with the most complex and challenging set of questions to candidates.  The set is called 2008 Election Questions for a Better Downtown Victoria, and if DV2020 posts the answers that candidates submit, we’ll be better able to make informed voting decisions.

The questions are organized as statements-cum-questions under four headings:

  • Working with the Province
  • The Social Health of Downtown
  • Making Plans into Realities
  • Stewardship of Downtown

These are super-smart, intelligent categories fleshed out by appropriate and probing questions.  There’s not a hint of bullshit about them: straight, clear, urgent, and necessary.  No matter if you’re a candidate or a voter, take a look at DV2020’s 2008 Election Questions for a Better Downtown Victoria and inform yourself.

And next time you’re at a free all-candidates meeting, go up to the mic and ask these questions.

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