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

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.

Cracking cement: Industry and municipalities could work together

November 8, 2008 at 5:05 pm | In business, green, innovation, times_colonist | 3 Comments

Les Leyne had an interesting article in today’s local paper, Cement industry fears carbon tax squeeze, which prompted me to write a letter to the editor in response. It seems to me that this problem offers an opportunity for some disruptive creative thinking, which could create a win-win situation for municipalities and industry.

Some key excerpts from Leyne’s article:

When Premier Gordon Campbell whipped together a carbon tax exemption for municipalities just in time for their September convention, the lineup formed quickly for similar breaks.

Assorted sectors of the economy have ideas on why they should get some help in coping with the carbon tax. The municipalities won their case because they have no one to pass the costs on to, other than taxpayers, who are already paying it in their own lives. So the municipalities’ carbon tax bill will be picked up by the province — if they promise to get carbon-neutral by 2012.

Leyne notes that one of the first industry groups to come forward was the cement producers, who claim that the carbon tax will chew up to 107% of their profits (quite the claim…).  The cement industry produces a huge amount of CO2, has to find a way to reduce its carbon footprint, and is crying about how the carbon tax is going to put them out of business.  Leyne notes, however, that European manufacturers have lived with a carbon tax regime for years, and are still doing ok.  So it’s really more about changing the industry’s mindset — maybe to something more like “yes we can,” as opposed to “no can do.”

Leyne writes that some of the greenhouse gases produced by the cement industry are “unavoidable”:

Cement is the powdery glue that holds concrete together when water is added. Making the stuff involves emissions. More than half of the emissions are unavoidable — breaking down limestone releases carbon dioxide. The rest of the emissions come from generating the heat used in the process, which is mostly done by burning coal. The industry is already paying the carbon tax on that fuel and claims a bill of $6 million since it took effect July 1.

I was reminded, however, of the MIT Technology Review article, A concrete Fix to Global Warming, which focused on how CO2, released during the production of cement, could be sequestered in cement products.  That means that instead of focusing on buying offsets and so forth, a better approach to reducing the carbon footprint for real would be to focus instead on incorporating CO2 sequestering methods into the manufacturing process.

The industry is worried it’s being driven out of business:

“Surely to God you weren’t trying to put us out of business when you came up with the carbon tax,” McSweeney told politicians.

Liberal MLAs had no response. But privately, the government doubts the claims of peril.

The presentation was almost identical to one the industry made in Europe several years ago. But carbon taxes were imposed widely there, and the impact was minimal.

Government also discounts worries about competitors outside the province. With just a handful of big companies in the world, it’s not a competitive industry. And cement has to be produced close to where it’s used. (pg.2 of article)

So what’s in that MIT Technology Review article to help with this problem?  Well, part of the problem from my point of view is that, as per Leyne’s remarks, most of the emissions are unavoidable and that you’re upping the ante by burning coal to create the needed heat for processing.  The implication is that there’s nothing in the manufacturing process that let’s you shift the equation, yet the Technology Review article (see particularly page 2) suggests there are plenty of people working on different ways of sequestering the CO2 that’s released.

Which means that this is an industrial process ripe for new thinking and disruption, and the municipalities could jump into the breach to kick-start the process.

Which brings me to my letter, written out of frustration over the slowness of adaptive and innovative strategies by municipalities here, even when our provincial government is kicking them (as per Bill 27).  Here is the letter I wrote:

Kudos to the BC Liberals for putting industry under pressure — not to destroy it, but to force it to innovate, because it really is time for more creative thinking when it comes to environmental issues.  Municipalities and industries need to step up, perhaps to collaborate.

It’s known that finding ways to sequester the C02 produced by cement production continues to be a contested holy grail for the industry.  The “squeeze” of a carbon tax might actually be the opportunity to make sequestration a more realistic goal.

A Nova Scotia company (Carbon Sense Solutions) recently claimed that it has a process that sequesters all emissions from cement production by storing them in precast concrete products. Our cement factories typically don’t also produce precast concrete products, but consider a scenario where there is more creative cooperation between industry and municipalities.  In such a world it might make sense to add facilities that produce precast concrete products, if municipalities (which also need to meet carbon-neutral goals) found ways to use precast concrete (vs concrete mix) for public works (roads, sidewalks, etc.) projects.

There will have to be a lot more innovative thinking, literally to disrupt traditional supply-chain set-ups.  If the carbon tax “squeezes” industries and municipalities to embrace that disruption creatively and constructively, it’ll be a win-win for us all.

(For more on the still-contested methods of carbon sequestering in the cement-making process, see http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/2…)

No idea if the paper will publish it, but here’s hoping for creative innovation from industry and municipalities.

DemoCamp Victoria 02 this Thursday

October 28, 2008 at 9:56 pm | In DemoCampVictoria, democampvictoria02, innovation, social_networking, victoria | 2 Comments

I can’t believe that DemoCampVictoria02 is just two “sleeps” away…!

For me, time has been flying at warp speed.  Keeping my attention in tatters are 1. new work projects, 2. a municipal election, 3. community volunteer adjudicating responsibilities, and 4. another article due (which admittedly is nothing, compared to the fact that some people have a new baby due…).

But here we go: in two more days it’s Thursday Oct. 30, which means that if you’re in Victoria and interested in technology, innovation, and creativity, you must check out our second DemoCamp (Facebook page here).

DemoCamp Victoria 02 is happening in the same location as DemoCamp Victoria01:

834 Johnson St. (David Chard’s “Juliet” Presentation Centre).  MAP

Set-up and mingling to start at 5pm, presentations to start at 6pm, sharp.

Yours truly will be demo-ing, too.  (OMFG…)

Don’t miss it!

Diigo Bookmarks 08/05/2008 (p.m.)

August 5, 2008 at 5:30 am | In cities, copywrong, creativity, innovation, links | Comments Off on Diigo Bookmarks 08/05/2008 (p.m.)

Douglas Magazine in Victoria: letter to the editor

July 21, 2008 at 10:34 am | In business, creativity, DemoCampVictoria, innovation, urbanism, victoria | 3 Comments

I bought a copy of Douglas Magazine yesterday — it’s a slim publication, but full of interesting articles relating to Victoria’s economy.  Too bad it’s not online, but maybe one day?

The current July/August issue includes a useful article by Dan Gunn, “Growing the tech talent pool,” which made me want to write a letter to the editor in response.  I wrote:

I enjoyed Dan Gunn‘s article, “Growing the tech talent pool,” (July/August ’08), and found it a good complement to Ken Stratford‘s “Owning your own business,” which deftly busted some Victoria economy myths.

Gunn observed that our technology sector has to grow and expand, and suggested several ways we can plan for its future growth.  He also noted that “Greater Victoria has a very tight-knit technology community.”  Let’s not forget that “tight-knit” often also means “insular” or “locked in silos,” a condition that’s anathema to innovation.

Hence I feel prompted to suggest another way to plan for tech’s future growth: encourage synergistic cross-pollination between the various industries.  Propagate the knowledge that technology is part of the “creative cities industry,” which includes not just artists, marketers, or creative urbanists, but also technologists, coders, entrepreneurs — in a word: innovators.  Spread the word that innovation and entrepreneurship add value to a city’s economy, and good ideas emerge when folks rub up against one another rather than staying within a tightly-knit tribe.

Douglas Magazine helps get those ideas out there, as do specific events.

For an additional example of how events play a role in connecting people and ideas, recall last April’s first-ever DemoCamp Victoria (and we’re planning a second one for Autumn), or take a look at events like Pecha Kucha (started in Japan, now world-wide, including Vancouver).

We have so much potential here — and if we can work to break down the silos and get more interactive (literally, with one another), we’ll be hopping.  Everyone I talk to in the arts and in tech wants to see this happen, and wants additional platforms for connecting with other people.  Geographically, we might be an island, but with technology and talented people, we don’t have to be on islands creatively.

Diigo Bookmarks 05/27/2008 (a.m.)

May 26, 2008 at 5:32 pm | In architecture, arts, green, housing, innovation, links | Comments Off on Diigo Bookmarks 05/27/2008 (a.m.)
  • Brief article by Andrew Blum about Oxley Woods, a development of “90 eco-friendly homes, with 55 more planned to fill its seven acres.” The key aspect? They’re all pre-fab, relatively cheap to build, can be built quickly, and have in-built green features.

    If Canada had a federal housing plan/ strategy, this would be something the Feds (and the Province) could take a closer look at. It sounds like it could be a reasonable (if partial) solution to our affordable housing crisis.

    tags: andrew_blum, wired_magazine, prefab, green_buildings, green_technologies, oxley_woods, affordable_housing

  • File this under “life imitates art”? There’s a fascinating battle happening in LA over whether or not Sonny Astani, businessman and developer, should be permitted to install a new kind of LED-generated image, 12 stories above the street and 14 stories tall, on the side of his 33-story condo building currently under construction in downtown LA.

    The inspiration? Opening scenes in Blade Runner of downtown LA, showing “a skyscraper-sized advertisement portraying a Japanese woman smiling before popping a snack into her mouth. Astani says an image, such as that of a flying sea gull, could now even travel from one building to the next.”

    I have to admit this sounds really cool, but I can see why many factions in LA would oppose this, too. We’re all familiar with the really bright illuminated advertisements — even Victoria has a small version of one, installed outside the arena on Blanshard at Caledonia. It’s bright, too bright. But Astani proposes a much more modulated, artistic, and dimmed level of lighting. If the images could look as subtle — yet powerful — as Blade Runner’s, it could work, but there’s no garantee, that if permitted, subsequent developers would follow in that “artistic” style.

    Another aspect is this: the proposal, if it’s art, also calls into question just how intrusive public art should be in public space. Does it have a right to be so intrusive as to be impossible to ignore? Can I, as a citizen, be obliged to register public art — and admittedly, it would be impossible not to register this project?

    Is part of what captures my attention/ imagination regarding this project its uncanny fusion of subtlety and assault, packaged as visual stimulus?

    Another question: is this an art form that expresses a corporate and anti-pedestrian city (“…neighborhood anchored by Staples Center and L.A. Live, the hotel and entertainment complex that includes the recently opened Nokia Theatre”), fitting for LA where people don’t walk anyway (but just wait: it’ll show up soon enough on the very very pedestrian-friendly Las Vegas Strip)? I’m thinking of this in terms of Christopher Hume’s writings on Toronto, and the Leslie big box/ corporate redevelopment plans, which he has characterized (rightly, imo) as being anti-pedestrian and therefore anti-urban, too. But could anyone argue that LA is in any way anti-urban? No. So is this visual art / visual stimulus for a different kind of urbanity?

    tags: astani, advertising, billboards, outdoor_installations, public_art, public_space, los_angeles

  • Michiel de Lange reports on the CHI conference “The Web and Beyond: Mobility” in Amsterdam on 5/22/08, featuring Adam Greenfield (Everyware); Jyri Engeström (Jaiku); Ben Cerveny (Playground foundation, Flickr); Christian Lindholm (Fjord, Nokia). In this post, he focuses on Greenfield’s presentation. A key aspect that struck me was this observation by Greenfield: that ubicom / ubiquitous computing creates a new level of “ambient informatics,” and “information processing dissolves into behavior.” Greenfield’s example is the seemingly choreographed swish of a public transit user who swings her purse in front of the transit card reader, never skipping a beat, but shaped indelibly by the technology into certain movements.

    tags: adam_greenfield, mobile_city, ubiquitous, ubicom, technology

Diigo Bookmarks 05/24/2008 (a.m.)

May 23, 2008 at 5:32 pm | In architecture, futurismo, green, innovation, links | Comments Off on Diigo Bookmarks 05/24/2008 (a.m.)

Reading Fred Wilson on the hyperlocal

April 19, 2008 at 11:57 pm | In innovation, local_not_global, ubiquity, urbanism, victoria, virtually, web | Comments Off on Reading Fred Wilson on the hyperlocal

I started reading Fred Wilson back in January when one of outside.in’s blog posts referenced Wilson’s entry, Rethinking The Local Paper. Wilson is a NYC-based venture capitalist/ investor who funds start-ups related to new media, social networking, online technologies, …that sort of thing. He’s also quite brilliant, blogs (A VC – Musings of a VC in NYC) regularly, and has all the relevant “social media” accounts (and uses them to learn things).

In his January post on Rethinking The Local Paper, he wrote about his passion for the hyperlocal, which immediately hooked me. My interests in urbanism, architecture, mobile media, locative media, social media — all that stuff — collide at the local level. I love how these things are creating whole ecosystems, webs of interrelated dependencies: economies. In that entry he wrote:

In fact, the first thing we all need to understand about “hyperlocal” is that this is going to be a long slog. It’s simple enough to put up a search field and ask for a neighborhood name or zip code and return a result. outside.in has been doing that for over a year now. (…) …the results are not that compelling. YET.

The thing that has to happen and will happen, I just don’t know when, is that we are going to program our community newspapers ourselves. (…)

But there just aren’t that many people producing hyperlocal content in a form that is organizable into a new version of a community newspaper. Sure there are many people posting photos and more and more of them will get a geotag as we get gps cameras and better web/camera integration. (…) [but:] Where is the relevance?

The people who need to produce the content are the ones who care about the content (the local events), but how do you make that production compelling to them? As Wilson wrote, “there isn’t enough of an incentive to produce hyperlocal content.”

What could help push an incentive along is …well, money. He gets into some detail in the rest of that entry (so click through to read). It could happen, basically, if the local producer could make some revenue from producing (tall order), but the way he describes it, it’s not impossible. His bet is on the local papers, provided they embrace the idea that they can be platforms for local content:

…this is a collaborative effort. We need everyone and everything we can throw at this problem to make this happen. We need every newspaper in the country to embrace platforms like outside.in and everyblock and showcase their content on the newspaper’s pages. We need to find these local voices and amplify them. And we need to attract more of them. And we need to monetize them for their efforts.

I’m not holding my breath on the local papers here, and would like to pursue some other ideas myself. But that’s all cool, because as Wilson says, it’s going to be a multi-pronged and collaborative effort and “we need everyone and everything we can throw at this problem to make this happen.”

The other day he posted another fascinating idea I’d like to see explored here in a hyperlocal way.  This one involves Twitter. Like about a bazillion other people, I have a Twitter account (I actually opened it just a couple of days before “discovering” Fred Wilson back in January) — but then I let it sit there, “following” no one and being “followed” by none and tweeting nary a note. Frankly, having a Twitter account felt like having some weird virtual Tamagotchi pest, er, I mean pet, that required my ministrations. And I was unwilling to give them. Twittering seemed like a really stupid idea, so I let the account sit idle.

However, after DemoCamp Victoria01, I saw that “tweets” could be interesting from a local perspective, in terms of strengthening connections (and conversations) with other people here. So I tentatively began “following” some Victoria-based folks, which soon expanded to some regional friends, and then naturally had to include a few far-flung geniuses I can’t resist.

But note: for now I’m still keeping my “following” list really really tiny — trying to resist the lure of reading an endless stream of conversation between and with people I feel I have something in common with.  Naturally [sic!], this pristine state won’t last. Promiscuity, linky love, and webbiness is all part and parcel of development online, including of course the development of co-developments, characterized by connections, and things differentiating out from previous …well, differentiations.

Which brings me back to Fred Wilson, who twitters here. (And no, I’m not following him yet, but who am I kidding? The seduction has already started anyway: He’s in my feed reader, so I may as well follow his tweets.) The other day he wrote an entry about Meetups:

I’ve gotten a bit tired of going to events populated by all the usual suspects. I am meeting lots of new people through this blog, tumblr, twitter, etc but I have not been able to say the same thing about the real world events I’ve been attending.

So I’ve decided to do something about that.

One of the things he did (and you’ll just have to click through to read about the other thing, because my blog entry is already too long) is to open a Twitter account for a place, which anyone can “follow” and to which anyone can tweet to say, “hey, I’m going there right now, meet up with me if you’re available.” The place in question is the Shake Shack, and it already has over 100 followers, all of whom will see updates to ShakeShack’s tweets in their Twitter accounts. So, if I were in NYC tomorrow, I could “follow” ShakeShack, send it an @ message that I’m going there for lunch, and then see if any of the other 100+ ShakeShack followers show up — maybe Fred Wilson himself would come!

Of course my question is, what could be the Shake Shack for Victoria? If we ever, ever see nice weather again, I suppose we could create a Twitter account for Red Fish Blue Fish? (Flash mob on the dock!)  Or Sticky Wicket? Or Cook Street Village? (One could easily detail in the @ message which of the 6 coffee shops you’re going to.)

In actual fact, it’s possible to create many places — not even necessarily attached to a specific venue. One could create a “Fort+Douglas” Twitter account, and then specify any favourite watering hole or coffee shop within a 2-3 block radius of that intersection. Or create “CookStreetVillage”; “Old Town”; “Harbour”; “VicWest” (that’d be a good one, with Abebooks and other tech-related companies clustering in the new developments there).

In other words, it’s quite easy to use “frivolous” platforms (which aren’t frivolous at all, really) to knit together actual places and actual people. For my money, that’s a fascinating and valuable thing.

On a related note, read The new oases; Nomadism changes buildings, cities and traffic, in the April 10, 2008 online edition of The Economist.

Information: the new “tea” (so many flavours!)

April 2, 2008 at 2:46 pm | In innovation, local_not_global, web | Comments Off on Information: the new “tea” (so many flavours!)

Mark Lise posted a pointer on his blog today, and then spun out some thoughts:

This morning I read a post from David Crow on “Community Platforms“. It got me thinking about our local community, that being Victoria and Vancouver. I have always been a supporter of community platforms and open source, but I’d like to see that go further into the real world.

Mark’s post prompted me to leave a comment, since I’ve been mulling something over along these lines for a while now. Click through to the entry to read — turns out this is also an interest of Boris Mann‘s, and he’s going to be at DemoCampVictoria tomorrow evening. Sounds like there’s a conversation brewing!

Now I really feel compelled to write the blasted “concept overview” at last — although the elevator pitch still eludes me. I can see it, but describing it is a lot harder!

Mark’s World » Blog Archive » Community Platforms & Community Harmonization

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