Web discipline: instructed skid marks

June 30, 2008 at 12:11 pm | In housekeeping, web, writing | Comments Off on Web discipline: instructed skid marks

It’s a day shy of July, and I had hoped that by now there would be a “finish” to some still-open “action items.”  But things are not quite yet falling into place.  It’s not entirely my “fault,” but I confess that I’m skidding into inefficiency myself.

At the same time, I’m reluctant to beat myself up in public (on this blog), so I won’t try, just now, to analyze why I have come to feel like such a drudge.

On a different note (but also, curiously, part and parcel of what contributes to my present discombobulation), here are a couple of items — trails, if you will — that I came across online and that I’ve scattered randoms thoughts into.

First, last night I read David Weinberger’s Government by these people, a brief pointer to an article by Matthew Burton.  Burton’s piece (Why I Help “The Man”, and Why You Should Too) inspired me to leave a long-ish comment on David’s blog.  It’s about government, especially local government.

But what was then more intriguing from my perspective was that I came across an article by the Toronto Star‘s Christopher Hume this morning, For fire trucks, bigger isn’t better, which I subsequently twittered (“Can’t you just see the burning babies already?”) and commented on in my Friendfeed:

The job of service providers (such as firefighters), says Hume, “is to serve Toronto, not alter the very fabric of the city to serve your needs.” The key clause is “not alter the very fabric of the city to serve your needs.”

That’s the key in the relationship between infrastructure (including services) and urban fabric (historical & living thing built up over time): too often, the service gets an “improvement” that destroys what was built over time — as though time, during which the embodied energy of past users accrued, doesn’t matter (is immaterial).

It’s not immaterial: in cities you can see time as matter.

Infrastructure as “embodied” money, cities as embodied time.

To see embodied money in totally new infrastructure, to the point of seeing capitalism’s astral body, go to Las Vegas (which provides a fabulous experience). (Comment to self: Q: why am I making blog/ book/ article notes to myself on Friendfeed? A: Because it’s there?…)

That comment in turn somehow connected with what I had written on David’s Hyperorg blog, as well as with something I’ve been thinking about ever since my first visit to Las Vegas last October.  The thought (then) was that Las Vegas makes capitalism’s astral body visible.  Somehow, in the triangulation between (1) Burton/my comment on Hyperorg and (2) Hume/my comment on Friendfeed and (3) my remnant impression of Vegas, a more firmly defined thought clicked into place.

I’m just a bit depressed by how distractedly it clicks, though.  I’m also worried that the distributed nature of its clicking will mean that it stays dispersed instead of being pulled into a reasoned, written article.

And so we (I?) am back to where I started at the outset of this blogpost: the nature of skidding into inefficiency, as embodied by my undisciplined ways.

Diigo Bookmarks 06/28/2008 (p.m.)

June 28, 2008 at 5:30 am | In links | Comments Off on Diigo Bookmarks 06/28/2008 (p.m.)
  • More like this, please:

    I so WANT this for Victoria: an online feedback tool to rate your city’s councilors. So far available only for Toronto and Vancouver, but, one hopes, soon to expand to other Canadian cities.

    PS: of course you can rate your mayor, too.
    via Spacing.ca

    tags: local_government, polls, councillors, web_2.0, democracy

  • Ping Magazine interview with Berlin-based Kristin and Lukas Feireiss on their book, _Architecture of Change – sustainability and humanity in the built environment_, regarding the “conscious contradiction in the title — changing and sustaining. But how can I change and sustain at the same time? This challenge is what we try to put across.”

    There’s more to architecture than its simple purpose of shelter or protection, a cast to architecture. However they are creating social environments, urban spaces and the public spaces where people actually interact. So they are the catalyst for social interaction, for society to work in. This is a big topic and we can go from dictatorial architecture to that of social engagement.
    This book gives a broad overview of what’s possible in sustainable building practices or social practices in architecture. So it ranges from economically speaking very simple, modernistic architecture to very free-flowing, avant-garde forms; from small, private houses to school buildings to skyscrapers, to federal buildings. It’s not restricted at all to one certain section. And secondly it comprises all these ideas that are in a state of research or initiative.
    Bonus: gorgeous pictures/ illustrations.

    Wouldn’t mind having a copy of this book!

    tags: pingmag, ping_mag, architecture, sustainability, design

Dear Bill: not the same old John anymore

June 22, 2008 at 10:20 pm | In housekeeping | 2 Comments

This week will continue in “blogging lite” mode as kids race to finish certain commitments that involve some help from me in the transportation department, while I take a stab at housekeeping on a couple of real and virtual fronts.

My brain is on fire with a wild idea, sparked by last week’s UDI luncheon where Alan Osborne from the Ministry of Community Services presented the Provincial Government’s reasoning behind Bill 27. (Green perspective here.) (A PDF describing Osborne’s recent presentation to a CRD panel here and a UVic presentation here.)

The big idea I’m having is that this Bill could provide a way (if the leadership were in place, if people with smarts were running things) for municipalities to assert real power, as opposed to letting the status quo languish under the guise of “municipalities in BC (and Canada) are but creatures of the Province(s), and therefore have no power to act.”

Incredibly, the Province of BC has handed municipalities a powerful, very very powerful tool with Bill 27: one that allows us (cities) to act with autonomy and strategy aforethought (vs being reactive and then blaming everyone else for our troubles).

I need to get this “brainstorm” into plus/minus 800-900 words by the end of this month, in time for my August FOCUS Magazine article. I’d like to get an additonal piece on Vibrant Victoria, too — it’ll be online and easily accessible there. So far, I haven’t seen much of anything remotely intelligent in the press on Bill 27. There’s the (NDP-friendly, fashionably lefty) Georgia Straight‘s somewhat partisan take, Bill 27: lowering B.C. housing prices or bankrupting municipalities?, but otherwise, not much. And sorry, guys at The Straight, but if you don’t see the power that this bill can give munis, you’re just blind. It will take real municipal leadership and clear thinking to seize the opportunity, however, so of course I’m not too optimistic….

First (and second) prize? Philadelphia (car) freedom

June 21, 2008 at 2:19 pm | In cities, urbanism | 2 Comments

Inga Saffron’s Philadelphia Inquirer column about a recent speech by Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter includes this great sound bite from the mayor:

“We are a walkable city, increasingly home to bicycles,” Nutter declared. “We want to preserve our urban form. We do not want the automobile and its design requirements to dominate the landscape.” [emphasis added] See: Nutter speech inspires city planners.

Bingo. Do it in Philadelphia and in all cities.

Video of Mayor Nutter addressing Philadelphia’s Planning Commission, June 18/08.

Still here, take two

June 19, 2008 at 3:21 pm | In housekeeping | 2 Comments

Edit/update (see end of post)

It’s called “take two” because I started an earlier post with the “Still here” title. Somehow, that never made it past the “draft” phase…

This is just a quickie to let whoever still reads here know that I haven’t spontaneously combusted or anything.

It’s busy around me, which is a huge distraction.

My 17-year old is scrambling to finish two courses (one of which is quite grueling) by June 27, so that he is officially done with Grade 12 and can take up his studies at the University of Victoria in September (he was accepted into Year 1 of the B.Com program). Because of the number of tests and the number of hand-in assignments involved, there are constant deadlines.

There’s also a lot of paper flying around, books strewn all over the place, calculus scribbled all over the white board, and so on. And between you and me and the wall, I am going to be very glad when this is over and distance ed./ homeschooling is finished.

Yep, homeschooling and distance education will officially end sometime this summer, since my 14-year old has decided to finish her Gr.12 year at the high school I graduated from oh-so-many years ago.

And since that’s hardly enough, I’m also involved in starting a company. Can’t say much about that — all in production and stealth mode, as it were (actually, nothing to show yet), and my role, aside from muse, inspiration, and resident dragon-ette, is slight (since I couldn’t program my way out of a paper bag), but it’s energy/time-consuming all the same.

Aside from that, I spend my days in general busy-body-ness, sticking my nose into everything local. (Of course the start-up idea is infused by that proclivity, hence my pivotal role — in both worlds.)

Current mood: piqued. By what? Bill 27. I see it as a way for municipalities to assert independence and power, overcome their “creatures of the Province” po’h me attitude, and show some real leadership. All in the name of going green and reducing GHG.

More on that later.

Re. Edit/update: I should add that some of my need to post online what I write gets fulfilled via Twitter and Facebook, which lend themselves to microblogging in spurts (Twitter) and posting “oh wow” sort of links (Facebook).  I have a very small footprint on those sites, though, since I don’t attract a large following (sort of like this blog!), which keeps things easy to manage for me.

And speaking of easy to manage, to date I have not found my way to Jaiku or Pownce or Plurk or even FriendFeed.  Sometimes less is just a bit …less.  Stressful!

Diigo Bookmarks 06/03/2008 (p.m.)

June 3, 2008 at 5:30 am | In links | 1 Comment

Hugeasscity has me thinking about Victoria’s Centennial Square (again)

June 1, 2008 at 1:18 pm | In heritage, land_use, street_life, victoria | 3 Comments

(Note: might add some links/ photos later, but no time now — written on the fly…)

Dan Bertolet of Hugeasscity hits all the right points in his discussion of what makes a good urban plaza.  He includes a “wow!” photo of Seattle’s Garden of Remembrance, which, with its relatively steep grade, allows for steps oriented in such a way that they provide “natural” seating for people who want to “watch the action on 2nd Ave.”

This got me thinking about Victoria’s own piece of urban misery, Centennial Square: it’s very rarely used, and it’s really badly designed.  There’s no reason to be in Centennial Square, which was built by deleting a street, but didn’t replace the street with any reasons for people actually to cross the square.

What follows are my ruminations on Centennial Square, which won’t be of much interest to anyone not familiar with Victoria or the Square, but here goes.

If you’ve ever put on an event at the Square, you’ll know that a big chunk of it lies in the shadow of the old 3-story City Hall, a protected heritage building.  This is the “south-east” part of the Square.  Shadowing from City Hall makes being in that section of the square really uncomfortable, particularly since dank shade isn’t especially welcome anyway in a climate which never gets very hot, even in summer.  What this suggests to me is that this particular plot would be ideal for another building — although I can hear the howls of outrage should any section of City Hall’s north facade be covered up by a new building.  But there might be ways to work that problem, perhaps by incorporating the facade into the interior of an open-to-the-public glassy building.  At any rate, my hypothetical structure would have to be really low-rise, so that the sun could penetrate to the north of it.  A structure built on the edge of Douglas Street would, however, be able to draw more pedestrian traffic, and therefore bring people into the Square itself.

The Square’s north-east section gets full sun (when it’s out), but that section is taken up by one privately-owned lot, plus a string of ugly (and mostly empty) “arcaded” venues (offices, dead shops, dead restaurants) facing into the Square, which are also part of an increasingly decrepit city-owned parkade from the sixties.  The parkade is on the list of structures slated for removal/ replacement.  Douglas Street to the Square’s east is for the most part a thoroughfare, with lots of bus stops, but few reasons for pedestrians to linger on that strip of the block.  To the west, there’s the Royal McPherson Theatre, and the north-west has the new CRD Headquarters building, which isn’t set snug to the north-west corner, but unfortunately is set back quite a ways, with yet another large-ish and hugely underused “plaza” at the corner of Fisgard and Government Streets.

Thinking of Bertolet’s observation, that the Garden of Remembrance provides a vantage point for people- and action-watching, I started to wonder where you could sit in Centennial Square to do anything similar.  The answer?  You can’t.

The Square is resolutely and stubbornly inward-turning: it presents a slightly walled and therefore slightly elevated patch of truly useless lawn with one big tree in the middle on the east edge (Douglas Street).  (For a great aerial shot, see this flickr photo by thebugs.  South is at the top of the photo, north at bottom, east on the left, west on the right. The pink building near the center is City Hall; to the right you can make out the Square’s fountain; directly to the north of City Hall, you can recognize the grassy patch with its lone tree.)

There’s nothing to see from the open grass patch, as it opens up on a part of the block that people hurry along since there’s absolutely nothing to stop for except the bus stop.  And I don’t know about you, but watching people wait for the bus is really seriously depressing.  Vistas to every other street are blocked off, with only two small “enticements” to glimpse some street action on the south-west and the north-west sections.  They’re not bad, but neither are they enough.
Consider, however, that the parkade on the north edge is supposed to come down (in the bottom part of thebugs’s photo), and that perhaps the city could acquire the privately-owned lot on the north-east corner.  There has been talk of replacing those buildings with some kind of new central library and civic auditorium, but let’s think about how that corner might also be worked to create a view cone on to the Hudson project now under renovation (not visible in thebugs’s photo; it would be in the lower left hand portion: part of the roof is visible).  Once it’s fully built out (a conversion of the Hudson Bay department store into condos, plus 2 high-rise towers also for condos and shops), this project, which is a truly large undertaking, should inject a tremendous amount of life into this northern edge of downtown.

It’s just a thought, but:

  • if a glassy “civic” structure were built next to City Hall on its north (because no one wants to be in that dank spot anyway, so you may as well put a building there instead),
  • and the parkade on the Square’s north were replaced with something much better (a library, a civic auditorium),
  • and the private lot on its north-east were acquired, too, then:

It might be an opportunity to reconfigure the Square so that the Douglas Street frontage finally gets some “built interest,” while a clever view cone is opened toward the north-east, which opens onto the Hudson.  The Hudson is in itself a magnificent structure from The Bay’s grand old department store days that literally deserves a view point.  And furthermore, the Hudson will be a potential river of interest-producing activity worth watching once it’s finished and its ground-floor shops are open.  Plus, seen from Centennial Square, the new view would be of a corner, not of a stretch of interest-bereft Douglas Street.  Where things come together (corners) one  usually finds more interesting to see.

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