Done deal all done

August 12, 2010 at 11:19 pm | In johnson street bridge, politics, victoria | 4 Comments

Spent the morning at City Hall, where mayor and council – all but one, namely Councillor Geoff Young – voted in favor of replacing the Johnson Street Bridge. Thank-you, Geoff Young, for throwing some well-placed questions out there, not that it made any difference to your colleagues.

Anyway, a few notes:

  • Less than 30 minutes into the meeting (at 10:36am), Counc. John Luton put the motion on the table to replace the bridge.
  • Mayor Dean Fortin made ominious noises about how if we don’t get to borrow the money that’s needed to replace the bridge, we might have to raise taxes or raid the capital fund. The “raise” and “raid” homonym caught my ear.
  • Councillor Lynn Hunter’s voice nearly cracked with emotion when she rose (figuratively speaking) to defend “our professional staff” who have “been models of public service”; she said that she’s “disturbed” that they’ve been “verbally abused and have their professional ethics questioned” because these poor public servants cannot “fight back” (their hands are tied). She emphasized how astonished she was by criticism of public service staff in “a public service town” – a reference to government’s role as major employer in Victoria. (Editorial note: Yes, well, maybe that’s part of what’s wrong with Victoria: no criticism allowed…)
  • Councillor Geoff Young said he’s not surprised by the poll results (see also my post from yesterday about opinion poll games…) and that the results were obvious, given the information presented by council. Even the Chamber of Commerce fell into the trap of voting for the “cheaper” option (which council presented as the replacement option, because the refurbishment option was presented as the more expensive one), but what people really want is the cheapest option (which means “no” to the Cadillac refurbish option – an option that was never given as an option on the survey). This means people (including the Chamber) say “cheaper” by default (again, talk about gaming the survey…).
  • Counc. Geoff Young continued to question all the repair conditions given, including the 100-year-life-span; the luxury multi-modal addition; and the bullet-proof 8.5 seismic upgrade.
  • Counc. Geoff Young also referenced the Aug.11 op-ed by Ross Crockford (Councillors need to ask tough questions), where the latter points out that the replacement design – an oversized version of the Canary Wharf rolling bascule bridge – is untested and we have no idea how this bridge will wear, or what it will actually cost. The “cost uncertainties” with this design, Young noted, “are bigger than we might think.”
  • Counc. Geoff Young also noted that council has told the public that the $21million Federal infrastructure stimulus fund contribution is certain with the replace option, but not with repair; this isn’t quite true since the replace option has changed since the $21million was granted (council is proposing eliminating the rail portion, something that the Federal grant assumed was included), and therefore we do NOT have certainty about getting the grant for the replace option.
  • Counc. Geoff Young also again pointed out that the Johnson Street Bridge is actually two independently operating bridges, not one, and that this opens the door to creative refurbishment (where one bridge is closed for rehab while the other remains open, with a reverse switch when the first span is finished).
  • Counc. Geoff Young also pointed out that council has said that the bridge faces closure in 2012, but that it will take four years (till 2014) to build a new bridge – so what happens in the two year gap? Or does the bridge not need to close in 2012 after all?
  • Councillor Sonya Chandler spoke at length about “the community” and seemed to channel “the community” repeatedly, for example when she said that she doesn’t believe that “this community” wants “the cheapest option.” (Editorial aside: really? This community – me – does. I don’t think we can afford a bridge that’s going to end up costing $150million to $200million at the end of the day…)
  • Counc. Sonya Chandler also said that she thinks “we’re making urban history” (she meant the decision process at today’s meeting, with its result of voting to replace the Johnson Street Bridge). (Not sure how she arrived at “making urban history” since this whole replacement scheme will simply suburbanize downtown, but, oh well…)
  • Councillor John Luton said that we’re not just dealing with heritage, but with an “essential piece of transportation infrastructure”; he then noted that “form must follow function” and that “this piece of transportation infrastructure has hit the wall.” (Huh?) He added that he “supports a new bridge as the most supportable option.”
  • Councillor Pamela Madoff spoke lengthily about her experience with heritage and how she traveled to sites that have experienced earthquakes. She told us that earthquake damage can be quite unpredictable because the waves travel through the ground in ways that can’t be foretold. Even though the Johnson Street Bridge is heritage-worthy, “seismic performance” is at the top of her list of priorities, followed by multi-modal performance, which is a guarantor, she said, of a democratic approach. No one should feel like a second-class citizen on the bridge – whether they’re a wheelchair or scooter user, pedestrian, cyclist, etc. (she pointedly omitted drivers of cars, and therefore also riders of public transit – including trains).
  • Counc. Pamela Madoff pointed to a 2008 Vic News article by Keith Vass, which noted that the city (Engineering Dept) had requested a condition assessment report on the bridge sometime in 2007, and that the bridge would be on the new (post-2008 election) council’s agenda. She suggested this vindicated council in the face of criticism that the bridge was not on the agenda during the election. (Editorial note: it wasn’t on the agenda during the election, and if incumbent councillors knew that it would be, pre-election, perhaps they should have spoken to the issue during the election. Live and learn.)
  • The other councillors really didn’t add anything of interest. Several (including some of the ones cited above, with the exception of Young and Madoff) spoke at far too great a length about themselves, as if we cared.
  • Mayor Fortin concluded the comments by repeating the poll results (that 80% of respondents said they would find the replacement option acceptable – but again, see Young’s comments about how the questions leading to that result were formulated and presented).
  • The vote, as noted above: everyone except Geoff Young in favor of replacement.

Quelle malheur, as they say in France…

Photo by Eric Porcher

Opinion Polls: Getting the results you want

August 11, 2010 at 11:26 pm | In johnson street bridge, politics, victoria | 3 Comments

Opinion Polls: Getting the results you want is the title of a Yes Minister sketch (click here to view).

From Wikipedia:

Set principally in the private office of a British government cabinet minister in the (fictional) Department for Administrative Affairs in Whitehall (the sequel was set in the Prime Minister’s offices at 10 Downing Street), the series follows the senior ministerial career of The Rt Hon Jim Hacker MP, played by Paul Eddington. His various struggles to formulate and enact legislation or effect departmental changes are opposed by the will of the British Home Civil Service, in particular his Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, played by Nigel Hawthorne. His Principal Private Secretary Bernard Woolley, played by Derek Fowlds, is usually caught between the two. Almost every episode ends with the line “Yes, Minister” (or “Yes, Prime Minister”), uttered (usually) by Sir Humphrey as he relishes his victory over his “political master” or acknowledges defeat—and, more rarely, to acknowledge a joint victory.

Not until I returned to Canada after living in the States for nearly two decades did I realize just how veddy veddy similar the system here is to England’s, right down through every level, it seems, of government, from senior (Federal) to middle-senior (Provincial) to local (municipal). It strikes me that the people who run the show are the staff (the unelected bureaucrats), not the politicians. Call me naive, but I have a bit of a problem with that.

I mean, we can’t vote them out, can we?

I’m betting that tomorrow City of Victoria council (the politicians) will follow recommendations from staff (the bureaucrats) to go forward with replacing the historic Johnson Street Bridge. From where I’m sitting, as a very interested observer, it looks like this: the politicians, like well-played puppets, will fulfill the plan set in motion by staff some time ago (probably about 18 months, maybe 2 years ago). I don’t know whether they (the politicians) really have any idea what sort of shit-storm of public anger is going to hit them, …but, frighteningly, I can’t see that staff give a hoot – and therein lies the problem. After all, when the next election rolls around in 2011, staff will still have their well-paid jobs and glorious benefits, while the politicians will be out on their asses – and we the public will be left holding the bill.

From day one, it was clear that Engineering was hell-bent on getting a new bridge (to the point of presenting the Delcan Report in an extremely biased and one-sided way to council in April 2009), even if expenditures for a new bridge mean that this city has to go into massive debt and forgo every other sort of infrastructure project along with many opportunities for civic improvement. Their single-mindedness – and what it has cost in resources (human and financial) – is astonishing. The political capital, as well as the social capital, squandered on this gold-plated Cadillac project (whose true dollar cost is still unknown) could have been spent so much better on far worthier endeavors.

Talk about playing the public – and the politicians. On the one side, bureaucrats with benefits, on the other …chumps.

Postscript: I picked this particular Yes Minister segment because opinion polls will figure in a big way in tomorrow’s meeting.

PechaKucha Night Victoria: Volume 3 coming up

August 10, 2010 at 10:40 pm | In ideas, victoria | Comments Off on PechaKucha Night Victoria: Volume 3 coming up

For those who missed the first two PechaKucha Night Victoria events, here’s your chance to catch volume 3 this Thursday, August 12, 7:30pm at the Victoria Event Ctr., 1415 Broad St (doors open at 7pm).

Eliza Yon (who, together with Aleya Samji of Anonymous Advertising and Amanda Smith of the Victoria Events Centre, has been organizing Victoria’s PechaKucha events) provides more details here about Volume 3’s theme: Food.

What’s not to like? There will be actual food for sampling at the event, too.

While Deb Morse of the Organic Islands Festival had to cancel, there’s still a fascinating list of presenters.

They are:

  • Cindy and Kane Ryan – on traveling and making curries

Victoria got Binged

August 9, 2010 at 9:50 pm | In victoria | 3 Comments

A couple of days ago I came across a link for Bing Travel‘s Walking Tours in Great Cities, which features 15 great world cities. The series starts with Chicago, and for some reason I didn’t (still don’t) see a list of all the cities (nor can I find a starter page). So it wasn’t until this evening, while I clicked through every single city, that I saw my very own Victoria BC listed as Nr. 7, wedged between New York (Nr.6) and Rome (Nr.8).

That’s quite the feather in the city’s tourism industry cap!

Word of caution, though: don’t take the blurb literally, it’s full of predictable cliches as well as outright bloopers (apparently, you can visit the site of “fur-trade-era Fort Vancouver [sic]” right here, in Victoria, oops…):

The old world and the new meet in Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, which has a decidedly English air while celebrating its own local history. Start at the Fairmont Empress hotel — especially known for its afternoon tea — and the Parliament Buildings on Victoria’s scenic Inner Harbour. Head east on Belleville to the Royal British Columbia Museum and the totem-pole-filled Thunderbird Park, then cut back west on Humboldt to Government Street, where you’ll find the site of fur-trade-era Fort Vancouver. Head left at View Street to visit Bastion Square, then north to Pandora Avenue and Fisgard Street, where you’ll find one of the oldest Chinatowns on the continent.

The route laid out on the map (slightly different than what the blurb describes) is conventional – from the general vicinity of the Inner Harbour’s Causeway and Empress Hotel to Fan Tan Alley in Chinatown – but it’s picturesque enough. An added bonus: the mapped route includes a jog (geographically-speaking) around St. Ann’s Academy and through the Humboldt Valley area.

List of Bing cities, in order:

1. Chicago

2. Paris

3. San Francisco

4. Washington DC

5. Prague

6. New York City

7. Victoria

8. Rome

9. Charleston, SC

10. Hong Kong

11. Boston

12. Buenos Aires

13. London

14. Montreal

15. New Orleans

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

August 8, 2010 at 2:30 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • David Harvey derides the NYC for being suburbanized:
    “New York? The whole damn place has been turned into a suburb,” sneered David Harvey, startling a roomful of New Yorkers who prided themselves on the same things he derided: the makeover of the city’s parks; the new network of bike lanes; the pedestrian malls along Broadway. “The feel of the city is losing its urbanity and being made okay for suburbanites to enjoy Times Square,” he continued, going on to condemn New York’s gentrification not on aesthetic or nostalgic grounds, but for being at the root of the financial crisis.

    This is definitely a very familiar argument straight out of Deleuze, the Situationists, TJ Clark, et al. (Heck, I used to teach this wrt Haussmann’s Paris and Impressionist painting…):
    Cities like New York “are increasing being constructed around spectacle,” Harvey argued Tuesday night. “One aspect of capital is that it wants to move faster and faster; capital cannot abide a long period without change.” In cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Mumbai, this change is being brought about by land grabs and slum clearance. In New York and other financial capitals, it’s gentrification “making cities a spectacle that is instantly consumed.” In other words, we’re blinded by the lights to our Matrix-like existence. “We’re all suburbanites now, without knowing it,” he said. “We’re all neoliberals now, without knowing it.”

    tags: fast_company david_harvey cities economics neomarxism suburbs

  • Suburban decline (urban rise)?
    To put it simply, the suburbs have lost their sheen: Both young workers and retiring Boomers are actively seeking to live in densely packed, mixed-use communities that don’t require cars—that is, cities or revitalized outskirts in which residences, shops, schools, parks, and other amenities exist close together. “In the 1950s, suburbs were the future,” says University of Michigan architecture and urban-planning professor Robert Fishman, commenting on the striking cultural shift. “The city was then seen as a dingy environment. But today it’s these urban neighborhoods that are exciting and diverse and exploding with growth.”
    And meanwhile, in other (more recent?) articles, critics argue that the city is being suburbanized, presumably by all the boomer ex-suburbanites who transfer their values (and economic clout) to the core.

    tags: suburbs cities harvard_business

  • Retrofitting older cities/ existing communities to green-ness?
    We are studying different business models (and their pilot projects) for creating better urban environments (aka “smart cities” or “eco-cities”). Living PlanIT is the first business model we have examined in depth. On June 28 one of us (Bob) attended an event in Paredes where an important deal between Living PlanIT and Cisco was announced. It’s important because the imprimatur of Cisco, a leader in networking technology, means that Living PlanIT can now shift into execution mode and try to demonstrate that its co-founders’ vision for creating a sustainable smart city can work.

    tags: urbanism green_technologies green_strategies retrofit harvard_business sustainability

  • How curious – never occurred to me (since I don’t live in a very hot climate) that getting a drink of water from a store would be a prime amenity for seniors.
    What people say they want most of all is to live in a neighborly place where it is safe to cross the street and where the corner drugstore will give them a drink of water and let them use the bathroom. They ask for personal shoppers at Fairway to help them find the good deals on groceries. They want better street drainage, because it is hard to jump over puddles with walkers and wheelchairs.

    tags: seniors elderly senior_friendly cities urbanism urban_design

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

On re-reading Biophilic Design: Taking Love to the Street

August 7, 2010 at 11:49 pm | In cities, FOCUS_Magazine, green, johnson street bridge, land_use, leadership, local_not_global, nature, victoria | Comments Off on On re-reading Biophilic Design: Taking Love to the Street

Since I’m fuming in a conversation over on Facebook about the City of Victoria’s Department of Engineering (which seems to me benighted), I was reminded of my 2007 article, Biophilic Design: Taking Love to the Street (the link goes to the Scribd version).

Not to sound too much like I’m tooting my own horn, but that was such a good article, and such a great idea – and it was instantly shot down in a committee meeting of council without so much as a second thought by then-Director of Engineering Peter Sparanese, who told Councilor Pamela Madoff that the scheme floated by me in the above-linked article would be too expensive: as far as anyone could tell, he quoted a $12million price tag seemingly on the spot – amazing, how quickly that particular variation of a Class-C estimate materialized…

In the Director of Engineering’s mind, it was seemingly more expedient to build yet another paved road, …and that’s exactly what happened. And how did the Director get his way? By conjuring a figure that was 3 times more expensive ($12million) than what his conventional fix would cost ($4million). No one ever questioned him on how he came up with his numbers, and from what I’ve seen he has been given free rein ever since: “…Coun. Helen Hughes pointed out the last time the council looked at the project [to fix the View and Vancouver Street intersection] the cost was estimated at $1.55 million, less than half the $4,080,000 of the latest estimate.” (source) and let’s not forget how mercurial the Department of Engineering’s financial estimates regarding the Johnson Street Bridge refurbishment and/or replacement have been…

That this city has no imagination is something I’ve suspected ever since, and my suspicions have been proven again and again in every twist and turn regarding the Johnson Street Bridge fracas – where the only imagination shown is in quoting increasingly bizarre budgets for either option.

For the record, here’s my August 2007 article in full:

“Biophilic Design: Taking Love to the Street”

We know that regular exposure to nature is good for us, and yet we perfect designs that keep nature out, sometimes even erase our awareness of it. Protected from nature, we control and limit our exposure – we stay warm in winter, cool in summer, which affords us greater productivity and increases our comfort. Like most people, I’m happy to enjoy central heating and storm windows. But an over-armored life isn’t ideal, either. Think of dinosaurs or giant turtles next time your car has you imprisoned in a traffic jam or your office window won’t open because that would disturb the air-conditioning.

Today’s eco-conscious designers point out that excessive barriers to nature produce lowered quality of life as well as boring, mediocre built environments. But designing with nature, they argue, contributes to health, creates excitement, and even fosters love. Love of nature, termed biophilia by E.O. Wilson, refers to a deep-rooted need “to experience natural habitats and species.” Wilson’s colleague Stephen Kellert writes of biophilic design: a conscious bent to design access to nature into what we build in cities. It’s a mandate that can shape buildings, parks, …and streets.

Earlier this spring, the City asked for the public’s input at several Parks Masterplan workshops. Planners wanted to know how we use parks, and where we might create new ones. During one workshop, there was an electric moment when a participant suggested turning part of View Street into a linear park. She noted that traffic volume on Fort and Yates (both one-way arterials) is heavy, while it’s relatively light on View. While still allowing cars, the city could nonetheless create a linear park – which would function as a badly needed beautification project, too – and, she added, let’s incorporate exercise stations for seniors.

View crosses Vancouver Street, already blessed with an unparalleled canopy bestowed by majestic chestnut trees whose massive trunks suggest outdoor sculpture. Under the trees, wide grassy boulevards suggest to the many pedestrian commuters that here, indeed, is an urban park – or should be. The intersection of View and Vancouver is sinking, however, and presents a major engineering conundrum. But this problem could become an opportunity.

As we know from Jennifer Sutherst’s research (“Lost Streams of Victoria,” map, 2003), that intersection is built on what was a wetland fed by seasonal streams and rainwater run-off. The wetland in turn fed a stream that coursed along Pandora (accounting for Pandora’s odd bend, between Douglas and Government): the stream marked the boundary between Chinatown and “white” Victoria. It was treated badly even in the 19th-century (apparently turned into an open sewer), was soon contained, put underground, paved over. Its remnants still drain into the Inner Harbour.

Sutherst’s map shows the wetland directly at View and Vancouver. Today, its asphalted surface is impermeable, while drainage codes mandate that run-off from roads and neighbouring buildings diverts to storm sewers, versus flowing back into the marsh. Consequently, the now-hidden wetland is drying up, and as it dries, its layers of peat shrink and compress, causing the roadbed to sinks. To “fix” that problem, we’ve in-filled additional layers of asphalt, making the surface even heavier – and contributing to increased compression of the underlying stratum.

It’s in many ways a classic vicious circle, and a lesson in living peaceably with micro-ecosystems. In effect, by building yet another protective barrier between nature (the wetland) and us, we have also paralyzed the wetland’s hydrological functioning. If the land were a body, what would the wetland be? Perhaps kidneys, absorbing fluid, treating it, discharging it. By putting impermeable asphalt over that natural organ, we’ve desiccated it, and now it’ll cost a pretty penny in engineering surgery.

Since we have to throw money at it anyway, what if we did something truly innovative to that diseased organ? What if we practiced biophilic design to restore its ecological function – and gained a unique urban focal point in what could be a fabulous linear park project? Imagine, for example, an intersection with a permeable steel-grid “road-bed” suspended slightly over a daylighted wetland, the latter slowly restored to full hydrologic function. In the restoration field, daylighting typically refers to excavating and restoring a stream channel from an underground culvert, covering, or pipe. In the case of the View/Vancouver wetland, it would more appropriately refer to removing an impermeable surface, and planting appropriate vegetation that allows the wetland to resume its normal function as a water filter. Restored urban ecology also provides both an educational tool for stewardship and an aesthetic community amenity.

The art-technology-engineering challenge lies in marrying restoration with normal urban functioning: traffic (automotive and pedestrian) has to flow. But consider the value that could accrue for Victoria with a project like this. If Dockside Green, locally the symbolic heart for sustainable development, attracts worldwide attention, perhaps a brilliantly restored kidney could turn a few heads, too.

Potted economy

August 6, 2010 at 10:22 pm | In addiction, crime, politics, social_critique | 2 Comments

Everybody is talking /writing) about pot, including pot in Canada, it seems. Nothing new, really: every Canadian (especially every British Columbian) knows it’s a resource and a big economic contributor.

Now a recent Guardian article by Douglas Haddow, Marijuana may cause Canada’s economic comedown, prompted even our local press conglomerate to publish a pretty good piece, Could legal California pot send Canadian profits up in smoke?, that takes a closer look at what’s surely a most interesting ecosystem of resource and distribution.

It’s not news to read that marijuana production is a big piece of British Columbia’s economy. And it’s not inspiring to read that we could kneecap the criminal element with the stroke of a pen (by legalizing marijuana production and distribution, and controlling it, the way we control and tax alcohol and cigarettes). I don’t care for pot myself – haven’t smoked it in decades, mainly because it’s not like wine, which goes with food (and I like my pleasures well-rounded!). That said, wine isn’t entirely harmless either, is it?

But wine is legal, and we have a culture of wine – whatever culture of pot actually exists doesn’t yank my chain, but that, too, speaks to the importance of cultures, which are created and nurtured, never given in a vacuum or created ex nihilo.

Right now, we’re creating a culture of pot that’s not exactly desirable.

I’d like to see a rational approach to “soft” drugs like marijuana especially, which would knock the legs out from under organized crime and gangs. And then, by all means, let’s go after the a-holes that produce and spread crack and meth (which imo is total poisonous garbage).

See, my take is this: Lumping all the qualities – the various drugs – together as a similar quantity is a huge, huge mistake. Instead, differentiate and sort the qualities: there are differences between pot versus crack or meth or IV drugs. When the legal system makes these very different qualities into the same thing, no one wins. I don’t want to get into discussions around legalizing hard drugs and garbage drugs – it seems to me (and this may sound cruel) that they affect such a small percentage of the population as to warrant a different approach that excludes accommodation. Marijuana, on the other hand, is total mainstream – has been since I was a kid, and I’m all grown up. Wasn’t a gateway back then for most of us, and isn’t a gateway now – the dastardly bastard organized crime element, however, is: they’re a vector for evil. They’re a gateway, no doubt about it, but it’s one that’s easy enough to close …through legalization.

My two cents.

Cryogenics? try the basement

August 5, 2010 at 8:21 pm | In housekeeping, just_so | 2 Comments

It’s a mystery. Something that wasn’t, started working again.

Sometime in the early months of 2006, my iBook finally completely and utterly fritzed on me: the hard drive died. It wouldn’t, nay: it couldn’t boot up. Nothing but odd click-click-click sounds emanated from the machine. I had already had lots and lots of problems with this computer – it needed a new motherboard, and from thence it developed several other disgusting issues. Totally and utterly infuriating.

In early 2006, then, the iBook finally went for burial in the basement. I switched to a Windows laptop – after first using a Windows-based desktop (aka “hell”). Then, at the end of last December (2009), I got a MacBook Pro for my birthday. Meanwhile, the iBook remained in the basement, useless and a bad feng shui drain on the general clutter that is our electronics graveyard.

And yeah, we’re trying to fix that, so the spouse called around to ask about electronics recycling depots – because of course we never ever just throw anything away. Our goddamn green consciences prevent such easy solutions. We decided on one in Esquimalt, and dragged the old printer, speakers, stereo, keyboard, and what-nots from the basement to the car. Before consigning the iBook, I thought, “hey, plug it in and see if it boots up,” and fuck me, it did.

It makes a funny smell, it won’t load the latest Skype update, the battery seems worth shit-all, but heck, it runs.


On our way to the recycling depot with the rest of the stuff, we drove by Rob Randall who was working on something outside his condo. His iMac “died” recently and he was advised to put the hard drive in the freezer – apparently, cold can work wonders (he hasn’t tested the theory yet – perhaps our tale of rejuvenation-by-cold-basement will inspire him to try it). It seems all those years in that freezing basement knocked some sense into my iBook.

Now consider this: The son recently visited The Hackery, from whence he learned that hard drives have a gel coating (which keeps them cool or something). The gel eventually breaks down or deteriorates, the hard drive gets too hot, the computer dies. According to what the offspring remembers, The Hackery fixes stuff like that – and preferably without years of consignment to a cold basement?

Anyway, my iBook smells funny. I guess if I plan to use it again, I’ll have to make sure it gets refrigerated on a regular basis. Rotting motherboard has quite the whiff.

A glance across the threshold

August 4, 2010 at 10:43 pm | In architecture, land_use, real_estate | 2 Comments

A while back, I read A. Alfred Taubman’s Threshold Resistance: The Extraordinary Career of a Luxury Retailing Pioneer. As I noted on my LinkedIn Reading List Update,

An unusual book by an unusual individual: A. Alfred Taubman is a real estate developer (who has been accused of “malling” America); an art collector; former part-owner of Sotheby’s; a family guy; philanthropist; major booster of Detroit (Detroit!); …the list goes on. At times I wondered whether I’d like Taubman if I met him; other times I was sure I would. He writes like an Everyman – he is, however, anything but an Everyman. It makes for an interesting tension in reading the book: Taubman makes you understand his world (sort of), even if its self-made-man tycoon-ishness remains outside your grasp. There’s a lot to learn here, about how developers think, what makes them tick, and why-and-how urban and suburban development issues are definitely two-edged swords.

What that means – in a nutshell – is that I learned a lot from reading Threshold Resistance and recommend it.

Today I had to look up the book online and thus came across Alfred Taubman’s site and blog. Tremendous energy – he doesn’t stop. For example, this fall he’s teaching a course at Lawrence Technological University on architecture and real estate (ARC 5732, “Land Economics/The Architecture of Development”). His post lists the guest talent he lined up: Rafael Vinoly, Eugene Kohn, Michael Graves and Kenneth Walker.

Agree or disagree, it’s hard not to be awed by Taubman’s energy and drive. And whatever position you take regarding development – urban, suburban – you need to understand how key individuals who are unique and visionary (even if you don’t agree with their vision) approach the matter.

If ARC 5732 were available online, I’d audit it.

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