Plans for Salem’s Harbor Power Station: Realpolitik or Missed Opportunity?

July 9, 2012 at 7:54 pm | In cities, green, health, innovation, jane_jacobs, land_use, leadership, NIMBYism, politics, power_grid, real_estate, resources, silo_think | Comments Off on Plans for Salem’s Harbor Power Station: Realpolitik or Missed Opportunity?

Last year, when I was still in Victoria BC but considering a move back to Boston’s North Shore, I read about the impending closure of the Salem Harbor Power Station and immediately thought,”Wow, what a fantastic redevelopment opportunity!” Suffice to say that my optimism may have been premature.

Bedeviled by a Dirtball

The Salem Harbor Power Station is one of the region’s dirtiest coal- and oil-burning power generators. For six decades, the plant has occupied sixty-two acres of prime waterfront real estate, cutting residents off from all other historically and economically significant maritime uses on shore. Its hulking facility, topped by two smokestacks that pierce the skyline, has visually dominated the coastline not only for its Salem neighbors, but also for folks in Beverly and Marblehead.

(Photo, above, from Dominion’s website)

Zombie Infrastructure

And it has spewed tons of pollutants into the air. As the Denver Post put it in an article about these many long-in-the-tooth dirty power plants, “Utilities dragged feet”:

These plants have been allowed to run for decades without modern pollution controls because it was thought that they were on the verge of being shuttered by the utilities that own them. But that didn’t happen.

Indeed. The Salem station was one of those zombie economy necessities that refused to die: a lot of people shrugged and accepted it as an unavoidable evil that had to be borne. After all, the region is famous for being bedeviled, right? The struggle to force either a clean-up or a closure of the Salem station was epic – but now it’s finally happening.

Or is it?

There’s a dearth of information about how the situation went from “the plant is closing” = “really new opportunities” to “the plant is dead” = “long live the plant,” but some weeks ago, the latter option grew in strength when the station’s current owner, Dominion, began negotiations to sell the property as-is to New Jersey-based startup Footprint Power. The latter wants to operate a natural gas-burning power plant at the site. Admittedly, natural gas burns cleaner than coal or oil – but wait! There have been hints that the backup fuel could be …diesel oil. Because, you know, depending on the markets, natural gas might become too expensive and we’d have to go back to something a little dirtier.

It seems zombies are hard to kill dead.

Why has there been no recent public input on the plans?

On June 26, Andrea Fox of Green Drinks of Greater Salem moderated a discussion of current plans for the station. The three presenters – Healthlink‘s Jane Bright, State Rep. Lori Ehrlich, and attorney Jan Schlichtmann (whose work has often focused on environmental issues) – questioned the plans now on offer. Schlichtmann in particular pointed out that, while there was a surge of interest initially in what would happen to the site, the recent negotiations between Dominion, Footprint, and Massachusetts politicians have effectively put a kibosh on any further public input. The Green Drinks discussion was essentially meant to breathe some life into the conversation. It seems that as soon as the corporation(s) decided on a course of action, the people rolled over and went quiet.

The lone voice speaking in favor of Footprint Power’s plan was Shelley Alpern, a Salem resident and member of SAFE – the Salem Alliance for the Environment (but she made it clear that she wasn’t speaking on SAFE’s behalf). Alpern’s cred as an environmentalist goes way back, so it was surprising to hear her question the vision for a sustainable redeveloped waterfront site and instead pleading Footprint’s case.

The arguments at Green Drinks revolved around the following:

  • how much will it really cost to clean up the brownfield site? Some put the price tag at $75m, others argue that this number is inflated and meant to scare people into accepting Footprint’s option, lest the alternative be “the padlock” (meaning the site just gets shuttered and turns into a decaying eyesore versus a toxic waste spewing eyesore). See also Speaking alternatives to power
  • is the lifecycle of natural gas really that much better than coal or oil? Sure, it’s cleaner (somewhat) and currently cheaper (somewhat), but no one knows how the markets are going to shape prices in the future, near or far. And what about the externalities and costs consumer don’t directly see when the natural gas is extracted, such as the enormous environmental cost of fracking? What about the dangers of putting pipelines, which will inevitably break down and leak, through watershed areas? There are already pipelines running from Nova Scotia in Canada, through Beverly, and into Salem. What’s their “lifecycle”?
  • will Footprint Power keep its promises? Some stakeholders have been told by Footprint that a natural gas-burning plant might need to use diesel fuel as a back-up; some were told that the existing plant might have to stay on for some time (vs being dismantled). Other stakeholders have heard no such thing when they sat down with Footprint – but we’re dealing with corporations, and with energy corporations, to boot …not exactly always the white-hat guys.
  • what of the missed opportunities to develop something truly amazing?

That last point – missing opportunities because vision is lacking – strikes me as the most compelling. Rep. Ehrlich made the case in a Marblehead Reporter op-ed on May 14, 2012, Vision still lacking at Salem power-plant site (also available on her website, here). The column sparked a flaming letter-to-the-editor in response, Get over the aesthetics; think clean energy, whose author compared opposition to off-shore (and backyard) wind turbines to a kind of la-la-land NIMBYism that wants a “pretty” picture without facing the inescapable reality of our energy needs. His point was that Ehrlich and those who think like her are in la-la-land because we pussy-foot around the fact that we still need to get our energy from somewhere, while he is a realist who understands that Footprint’s proposal is the region’s best bet.

I think it’s a false choice.

Macro / Micro

Consider for a moment perspective. What the critics, especially Ehrlich and Schlichtmann, have is a fine-grained, close-view perspective. It reminds me of Jane Jacobs‘s analysis of neighborhoods at the street level. She looked at the details and decoded what she termed a street ballet, understanding that how people use a thing (a street) – and how they are able to use it – determines the whole, irrespective of how much planning-from-above tries to predict outcomes. This was pretty much in opposition (at the time) to the thinking of professional planners, who believed that streets must be rationally planned (preferably according to the needs of the automobile) and that buildings, placed according to mostly “ideal” reasons, would determine uses. If Jacobs had a micro view, the planners of the day had the macro view.

It strikes me as ironic that the micro-view is actually the Big Picture “vision” view, and that the macro approach, which tries to account for a larger perspective, has a blind spot about the “users” or people on the ground. The Realpolitik view defaults to the macro – and I count Alpern’s approach here. Expert knowledge about hydro-fracking regulations in Bulgaria and Pennsylvania is good to have, but it’s not enough to impel local people to act differently. Local inertia is a strong force, and if you build another power plant, you will have another power plant. For another sixty years. But if you give the people who actually want change the power to control their destinies, they can move the rest of us out of our inertia. That’s the claim mocked by the letter writer who thinks a power plant alternative is la-la-land thinking – but what is the alternative? Another planned-from-above mega-project that repeats many of the same patterns established by the old project?

Deep waters, old uses

Schlichtmann made the truly relevant point that Salem’s history was built on maritime industry. The current site of the Salem Harbor Power Station is Salem’s only deep-water port – what passes for the city’s tourist harbor is a shallow pond, incapable of harboring bigger vessels. The original coal-burning plant was built on that prime spot because of the deep harbor, which allowed ships to offload coal. It’s an incredibly shortsighted move willfully to dismiss an opportunity to reclaim that harbor for what it represents (Salem’s fantastic seafaring history). All around the industrialized world, cities are reclaiming waterfront that was savaged by mono-uses (waterfront freeways, power plants, factories, etc.), and reintegrating them into a more sustainable urban fabric. Why should Salem shut itself out from that renaissance?

Well, because we need energy. But consider this: ISO New England has said that there’s no longer any need for a power plant in Salem. As Ehrlich noted in her column, “The old plant is barely running, and ISO, the region’s reliability-cautious grid operator, said that power production on that site is no longer needed. Why such an enormous plant?”

More references

For more images of the Salem Harbor Power Station, see Healthlink‘s photostream, here.

For an informative PDF, see Repurposed Coal Plant Sites Empower and Revive Communities.

Sierra Club, Victory! Salem Coal Plant Announces Closing.

ArchBOSTON forum discussion (brief) here.

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,, and see about contributing your data sets.

Closed routine or open innovation?

January 22, 2009 at 3:16 pm | In green, innovation, silo_think, victoria | 5 Comments

While there’s much to be said for routine and regular habits, there are other times that require smashing the status quo.

I went to City Hall this morning, expecting to participate in a workshop/ presentation by city staff on the implications of BC’s Bill 27 on revenue earned by the city through DCCs (Development Cost Charges). DCCs are levied on developers to pay for infrastructure maintenance and upgrades, and Bill 27 allows municipalities to waive DCCs under certain conditions, specifically for projects that are “green” or socially relevant (affordable housing, for example). Bill 27 sets out to reward municipalities financially (with additional funding for infrastructure) if they achieve green or social goals.

Since council was running overtime because of lengthier-than-expected discussion of prior agenda items, the 11:00 a.m. workshop was delayed and delayed, …until I finally left shortly after noon because it seemed that all the key personnel that should be involved had somehow disappeared after calling an “in camera” meeting. I did come away with a ~60-page consultants’ report, “Development Cost Charges: Implications of Bill 27; Discussion Paper,” by Urban Systems (a Richmond BC firm). Skimming through their report, I gathered that the bottom line – which must have been derived at least in part from interviewing city staff – was: no impact, negligible impact, unimportant impact, do nothing, do the same old thing you were doing already.

I’d be understating if I said that I find those conclusions disappointing. I had an opportunity to leaf through the report with two friends who also came for the workshop (but left, as I did). As one of them put it, the report confirms the present modus operandus of staff, rooted in traditional approaches. For example, it might be the case that traditionally a city – any city – plans for X-amount of waste-water infrastructure based on projected population growth, and that it then budgets DCC revenue to meet those growth expectations. In that scenario, any reduction of DCCs is negative.

We could say that in the current climate (literally) of having to think differently and more flexibly, that’s the wrong approach. We could instead say that we need to meet a certain infrastructure target (determined on the basis of best environmental practices in waste-water management, on-site sewage treatment, and so forth – all of which, combined, actually take a load off the existing infrastructure, versus adding to it, even with additional population growth factored in), and then ask: “How do we best get there?” By waiving DCCs for those developments? Sure, and some of that is already in the existing laws. But additionally you want to create incentives for developers to go that route – so perhaps you have to create tax structures that pave your path to said goal.

The reason this is so crucial at this point is because British Columbia’s Bill 27 (followed up by Bill 44, “Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act”) is designed to reward those municipalities that achieve green targets by giving them more infrastructure funds, which in turn give cities the resources to enhance livability.

In other words, the province has created a state where municipalities can compete for infrastructure funding, receiving more if they show that they’re more green and socially responsible. While some municipalities might take this new incentive and run, run, run with it, Victoria is standing at the starting gate wondering what all the fuss is about. I almost get the impression we’re deciding to sit this one out.

It’s easy enough to understand the attitude, I suppose. After yesterday’s UDI luncheon and my “d’oh!” insight into the reactive nature of codes – building codes, but also all the codes related to infrastructure, too – I’m not surprised at how difficult it is to get an innovative spirit into any of this. As one of my friends put it, if you want to allow composting toilets, for example, you will generate many many many pages of changes to The Code, because at each micro-stage of implementation, there’s some kind of repercussion that has to be dealt with on yet another page of the Code Book.

And cities with constrained budgets will (justifiably) point out that they don’t have the resources – people and money – to look into all those changes.

So what’s the answer? The only thing I can think of is to crowdsource and open-source government. Imagine, if you will, if you put something like the building code or the codes around waste-water management online, like a wiki, and got people to run with it. There are experts – builders, plumbers, etc. – everywhere who, because of years of experience of working in the field, have micro-solutions to just about every problem, if you allow their disparate bits of expertise to aggregate. There are immigrants from countries where green building practices or green infrastructure solutions are further along than here, who could contribute. There is a huge pool of ideas and intelligence out there, distributed across the population. We need to tap into that.

But at present, city governments work from the premise of absence: no money, no staff, no resources. Meanwhile, there’s an abundance right outside the door, but it’s not captured or allowed in. And so we keep doing the same old things in the same old way, budgeting for the same old approaches, disregarding the slow-moving train wreck that our economy and city is shaping up to be.

Another Victoria newspaper scandal, being ignored by …newspapers

August 21, 2007 at 10:07 pm | In black_press, business, canada, free_press, innovation, scandal, silo_think, times_colonist, victoria | 5 Comments

(Updated Aug.28/07, see below…)

Some readers might remember the Vivian Smith scandal from early July last summer: I blogged about it here, on July 20/06 after reading about it on Sean Holman’s Public Eye Online. (Note: re. my July 20/06 entry: pardon the opening two paragraphs — I was coming out of a period of blog hibernation, which, as any reluctant blogger will attest, can discombobulate one’s train of thought. Just skip that bit and go straight to the paragraph that starts, “On July 7, Sean Holman…”)

Well, history might not repeat itself exactly, but aside from the details, we have a repeat performance at another Victoria newspaper. Last year, we witnessed the Times-Colonist firing Vivian Smith, who dared to write an article that suggested that tourists need not get fleeced by established tourist industry ventures and that they can find plenty of things to do for free in Victoria. It seems that these established tourist ventures (The Empress Hotel, Butchart Gardens, etc.), which spend many dollars advertising in the Times-Colonist, felt aggrieved, and so Smith was fired. (See my blog entry, toward the end, for a list of all the relevant Public Eye Online posts on this saga. Smith was sort-of/ kind-of reinstated eventually, although one hardly sees her well-written, informative articles anymore.)

This year we see the Victoria News (a thrice-weekly publication owned by local press baron David Black) revealed as fully in bondage to car dealers. The paper’s editor (Keith Norbury) was fired and one of its senior reporters (Brennan Clarke) resigned in the wake of an article Clarke wrote, detailing the savings Canadians can expect if they go to the US to buy a car.

Sean Holman broke the story in his August 17/07 entry, Car trouble:

Victoria News editor Keith Norbury was fired today, Public Eye has exclusively learned, two days after one of his senior reporters – Brennan Clarke – resigned. The firing follows an advertiser complaint about an article published earlier this month by the newspaper. In an interview, Vancouver Island News Group president Mark Warner confirmed Mr. Norbury’s forced departure was, in part, connected to the complaint. “There were a number of issues,” he said. “But that was certainly one of them.” Mr. Warner declined to say what those other issues may have been. Nor would he elaborate on how the complaint was connected to the firing.

The article, authored by Mr. Clarke, discussed the case of a Broadmead resident who saved $13,000 by purchasing a Mercedes ML350 in Portland rather than from a local dealer. The woman, Rebecca Schevenius, and her friend are “planning to publish an 18-page how-to pamphlet entitled ‘How to Import a Car into Canada’ for others interested in testing the cross-border used car market.”

In a interview with Public Eye earlier this afternoon, Dave Wheaton Pontiac Buick GMC Ltd. dealer principal Dave Wheaton said, “I was upset with the paper for doing it because it was one person’s opinion” – referring to Ms. Schevenius. “And they are by no stretch of the imagination an expert at it. And why that was news I don’t know.”

Note that this is Dave Wheaton’s opinion, but it seems opinions are weighed differently, depending on how big your advertising budget is. For since the firing and resignation, writers on Public Eye Online’s comments board have revealed more information on the Wheatons:

According to the Wheaton website, Wheaton owns 17 dealerships in the Western Provinces. Obviously any sort of criticism from Dave Wheaton would carry a lot more weight than a single dealership in a single Black Press market. (from this Aug.20/07 entry)


I see that the Wheatons now own a bank and insurance company as well. General Bank of Canada, located in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, is owned by the Wheaton Group of Companies, the largest General Motors franchised dealer network in Canada. The incorporation of a bank further expands the financial services of the Group which currently owns a regulated life company, First Canadian Insurance Corporation, and a property and casualty company, Millennium Insurance Corporation. General Bank of Canada is the first privately held chartered bank in Canada. (from another Aug.20 entry)

It’s worth reading all related entries, plus comments, by date:
Aug. 17: Car trouble (which includes a full reprint of the alleged offending article by Brennan Clarke)
Four entries on Aug. 20, in order:
So long and thanks for all the fish (8:27 AM)
A question of credibility (9:10 AM)
Klausphiles (4:00 PM)
Another brick in the wall (4:33 PM)
Aug. 21: Meanwhile, among the ranks of the fallen

Lots of good comments on the boards, too. I especially agree with the most recent one in the Aug.21 post, which points out what a good job Keith Norbury had done as editor. The VicNews shot itself in the head by firing him. As the story unfolds further, Sean Holman will no doubt keep up the reports, so check back on Public Eye Online in the coming days.

Even though Victoria’s economy seems to be maturing in some areas, what I wrote at the end of my blog entry of July 20/06 on the Vivian Smith firing still rings true: there is an entrenched paternalism and a petty immaturity at work here that should just be canned. Full stop. The paternalistic mindset is particularly offensive to me. It represents not modern capitalism at all, but a weird sort of colonial capitalism: a throwback to an economy where men “expect to be sheltered from criticism, whether the kind emanating from a free press or the kind coming from the market,” as I wrote last year. It’s an economy where the “natives” better not get uppity, where women and punky reporters toe the line and know their place, where a man’s silo is his castle, and you better know where the service entry is, ’cause the front door of the keep is not for you.

And we wonder why Canada ranks at the bottom for innovation (14th place out of 17 among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries). That will never change as long as newspapers like the Times-Colonist or the Victoria News act as enablers to uninnovative businesses with bloated advertising budgets. They certainly don’t want anybody rocking their status quo by forcing them to innovate in a free market, and our “free press,” it seems, guards their interests.

Update, Aug.28/07: Sean Holman reports today that Dave Wheaton emailed him over the weekend to say that his comments were not the reason for Brennan Clarke’s resignation or Keith Norbury’s firing. The newspaper (whose publisher Mark Warner had earlier explicitly stated that the resignation & firing were connected to Dave Wheaton’s complaint) now backs the car dealer up:

Asked for comment, news group vice-president Kirk Freeman said Mr. Norbury’s firing “is an internal personnel issue. And what has transpired had nothing to do with Dave Wheaton.”

Somehow, I find that rather incredible. It sounds more like the rearguard trying to douse a fire.

Why I think the newspaper is a (waste paper)basket case

August 18, 2007 at 5:35 pm | In fastcompany, local_not_global, media, silo_think, times_colonist, victoria, women | 6 Comments

I updated my Facebook status yesterday with a note about being very angry at our local newspaper, The Times-Colonist, for essentially stealing a story and then not reporting it properly anyway, and for exemplifying the ugliest, but I mean the ugliest, aspects of an “old boys network” mentality. That prompted some of my Facebook friends to write on my wall or leave messages, asking what was up.

Even though I know that this local paper is a total waste paper basket case and that nothing will change it, I had better muster the energy and interest to write my reply. First, some background:

  • around the middle of last month I submitted a paragraph-long write up to FastCompany, nominating Victoria for “fast city” status; you can read about the whole process here: So “fast,” I’m nearly invisible, my blog entry from July 18, 2007
  • if you read through to the update and follow the comments on the comments board, you’ll see that Dan Gunn from VIATec commented on July 19; I communicated all the information he needed to visit, rank, and comment since, as I learned also that very day, Victoria had been accepted by FastCompany’s editorial team: see Victoria’s page
  • on July 20, I emailed Bruce Carter of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce about my submission, explaining the nomination and asking him to rank / comment on Victoria (I never heard back from him: no response)
  • I emailed as many people I could think of, but heard back from none — a disappointing process I wrote about on my blog on July 29, in a post called Benchmarks; I ended this entry with these remarks: “And so the response / lack of response has become another benchmark for me. Climates of trust are built on response and responsiveness.”
  • in the middle of July, I wrote a brief article about Victoria, which dealt with the “fast city” submission and also addressed the findings of Geoffrey West, featured in the July/Aug.2007 edition of SEED Magazine (“The Living City” by Jonah Lehrer)
  • on July 17, I submitted this article to another local paper, The Business Examiner, and while I received an email back from the publisher (Simon Lindley), I never heard once from the editor (Steve Weatherbe), who was on vacation initially but ignored all subsequent emails from me, including the last one on I sent on Aug.2; in that email, I wrote that since I hadn’t heard from him since his return from vacation on July 23, I assumed it was ok if I placed my article elsewhere
  • on Aug. 13, Vibrant Victoria published my article (called The Race That Should be On: Victoria as “Fast City?”), linking to it from its front page as well as from the forum; I noted its appearance on my blog that same day with this entry: My “fast” appearance on Vibrant Victoria

I would argue that all of this establishes my role in this story — in fact, without me, there wouldn’t have been a story. And without Vibrant Victoria, whose focus is primarily on urbanism — not technology — my article would not have been published locally. Certainly The Business Examiner showed zero interest, aside from the friendly and courteous reply I received from its publisher. The editor, however, left unanswered what were at least 3 emails from me.

But now look what a cat’s breakfast our local daily paper, The Times-Colonist, and its allegedly professional reporter, Mr. Andrew A. Duffy, make of it. On Aug.17, co-incidentally (or not?) a mere 4 days after my piece appeared on VV’s page, he produced a front page — yes, a front page — article called Does Victoria make the cut? Its teaser intro states, “‘Booming’ Victoria should get quick trip to fast-city status, say tech workers”… Suddenly, this is solely an issue centred on technology, not urbanism; and suddenly, it’s also something that just sort of happened, and that was created — without Duffy ever writing who was behind it (me!) — by the technology sector. Who happen to be all men, too. Most galling is the fact that Duffy clearly interviewed Dan Gunn and Bruce Carter, and that even though they were in the picture from July 19/20 onward, they fail to mention my pivotal role.

And yes, I emailed both “gentlemen,” but have heard nothing back from either one.

Here’s what Duffy wrote in his fluff piece of distortion — it’s the full article, but I shall interrupt for clarity:

Does Victoria make the cut?
‘Booming’ Victoria should get quick trip to fast-city status, say tech workers
Andrew A. Duffy, Times Colonist staff
Published: Friday, August 17, 2007

‘Fast cities” are billed as creative, innovative places of the future, and a group of Victoria high-tech workers believes it’s high time B.C.’s capital joined their number.

That’s called fudging the facts. Duffy makes it sound as if these “high-tech workers” nominated Victoria. They didn’t — they’re not that fast.

Fast Company, a magazine that sells itself as a playbook for and chronicler of the “new economy,” recently released its Fast Cities issue, listing the 30 fastest cities — those deemed ideal for you and your business — in the world.

Victoria did not make the list, but Toronto and Vancouver did — the only Canadian cities to do so.

Ah, again: wrong. Duffy can’t get anything right, can he? Calgary also made the cut. Moral of this part of the story? Whatever you do, don’t believe everything that so-called professional journalists tell you.

But some capital region tech workers think Victoria should make the cut the next time round.

Already, 27 people, most tech workers, have gone to bat for Victoria on the Fast Company website (

Poor Mr. Duffy is decidedly un-web-savvy, otherwise he would have linked to the page for Victoria, for it’s not exactly easy to find us otherwise. There’s the user map, but even that takes a number of zoom-in clicks to the Pacific Northwest.

“Victoria is booming! There are cranes everywhere. Jobs are plentiful and we were a host city for the FIFA U-20. We just need the rest of the country to recognize it,” wrote Thomas Guerrero.

I would guess Duffy was being very lazy here. That’s the first comment up, and it indicates to me that he didn’t bother scrolling down the page to read some of the other remarks.

According to Dan Gunn, executive director of the Vancouver Island Advanced Technology Centre, it’s about time people starting talking about Victoria in glowing terms.

“It’s very important to us if we are going to maintain our largest private-sector industry,” said Gunn of getting Victoria onto the world’s radar screen. “We can’t be a quiet industry anymore and that involves pumping up our chests once in a while.”

Gunn said that while Victoria’s high-tech industry has grown to a $1.7-billion sector and is going head-to-head with cities around the world for talent and investment, it sometimes gets forgotten.

“We’re not on the tip of everyone’s tongue like Silicon Valley,” he said. “Can we honestly expect to be put in the same category? No, but we can be considered one of the up-and-coming, most innovative and best places to live.”

Yes, it’s about time people started talking the place up, but you know what? It wasn’t your technologists at VIATec who did it, Dan. And it’s not about “pumping up” in some manly macho manner, either.

Bruce Carter, CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, applauded the talk-up-Victoria campaign, saying Victoria has been too modest for too long.

Lovely, Bruce, glad to know that you applauded. But guess what? I didn’t hear you!

“It’s our job to do that, our job as associations, and as a municipality and citizens to say, ‘hey we’re not newlywed and nearly dead. There is lots of stuff going on here,’ ” he said. And, he said, the city can sell itself as a place for large companies to set down head offices by playing up the lifestyle for workers.

Vancouver made the fast cities list as a green leader alongside Chicago, Stockholm and Portland, Ore., while Toronto made the list as a global village alongside Johannesburg and Berlin. Other cities on the 30-fastest list include usual suspects like New York, San Francisco, Raleigh-Durham, N.C., London, Shanghai and Sydney.

The magazine also put out a list of five slow cities: Budapest, Havana, New Orleans, Detroit and St. Louis, Mo.; five too-fast cities: Cairo; Almaty, Kazakhstan; Greenwich, Conn.; Las Vegas; and Shenzhen, China; and 20 cities on the verge, which included Seattle, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Beijing.


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