More Focus Magazine articles up on Scribd

December 6, 2008 at 11:56 am | In FOCUS_Magazine, housekeeping, urbanism, victoria, writing | Comments Off on More Focus Magazine articles up on Scribd

I managed to scan & upload a few more articles, this time starting with October 2006, and managing to get through half of 2007.  See my Scribd page here for details – there are now 3 folders (2006, 2007, 2008), to make it easier to find articles chronologically.

Next up, finish 2007, and then do the beginning months of 2008 (currently uploaded to the Berkman server in over-large PDFs). The Scribd format is much user-friendlier – very easy to zoom instantly to read clearly, etc. At least I think it’s user-friendly. Let me know / give feedback if there are problems – or kudos.

Scribd updated with recent Focus Magazine articles

December 5, 2008 at 2:04 pm | In FOCUS_Magazine, housekeeping, urbanism, victoria, writing | Comments Off on Scribd updated with recent Focus Magazine articles

I finally updated my page with the past five months worth of my articles for Victoria’s Focus Magazine! That’s August, September, October, November, and December 2008.

I’ll post an update with details (titles, etc.) later, and I also need to update my “Articles published in FOCUS Magazine” page here.

In addition, I need to uplodad to (which means re-scanning and creating PDFs first) all my articles prior to the first upload to Scribd (which is the March 2008 article).  That’s October 2006 through to February 2008.  Why? Because I currently saved them as PDFs that are basically not down-loadable (files too big, etc.).

Before I do all that, other work beckons, however.  So enjoy (I hope!) the current up-to-date 2008 crop.  More later.

Fantasy, failure, and faux: that’s Victoria!

November 20, 2008 at 8:28 pm | In authenticity, heritage, local_not_global, NIMBYism, urbanism, victoria | 2 Comments

There are plenty of important things to write about (like Canada’s miserable inability to defend net neutrality), but I just realized something important about fantasy, failure, and the city of Victoria’s self-deceiving love affair with faux heritage. It’s a mind-set espoused by way too many people, and likely to contribute to our upcoming stagnation.

A man I know quite well wrote a letter to our weekly “alt” <kof> paper, Monday Magazine, and it was published in the current edition, here. He tries to construct some sort of metaphor based on Tolkien’s Middle Earth, with urban development functioning as the evil towers of bad ol’ Saruman/ Sauron. In a misplaced effort to invest himself with authority, he references the fact that his great-grandfather was the Bishop of BC, as if that contributed anything to the issue at hand.  (And incidentally: In his letter, he writes that his grandfather was Bishop, yet that’s completely untrue. Fantasy worlds do tend to warp the time-space continuum a bit, I suppose…)

He then mentions me by name, and references an article I wrote last April for Focus magazine (and which is available online via Scribd, here).  He writes: “Yule Heibel in Focus magazine talks about having View Towers declared a heritage site. Has Ms. Heibel actually been in View Towers?”

Well, let me answer that last question first: yes, I have. Admittedly, it was a long time ago (the early 70s), but one of my good friends from high school lived in View Towers with her family. There were nice people living in the building, believe it or not, despite the fact that today many (myself included) think it looks like typical “commie block” architecture.

As to the letter writer’s first assertion, I didn’t talk about “having View Towers declared a heritage site.” I was writing about our attitude toward blight, and how we too easily get caught up in aesthetics, instead of focusing on real human needs and usages.  View Towers, importantly, continues to fulfill a crucial role in Victoria by providing much-needed affordable housing to many people.

Here’s what I actually wrote:

Centennial Square replaced an area labeled “blight” by 60s-era planners.  Its decrepit buildings looked awful.  The area was economically depressed, aspersion cast on its social networks and human uses associated with them.  Because they looked “slummy” and undesirable, the assumption was that anyone associated with those spaces was probably undesirable, too.  Whatever embodied energy those spaces contained was deemed less meaningful than a clean slate.

I’m reminded again of the BC Historical Federation symposium last May, “Heritage & Tourism – Compatibility or Conflict?”  A woman in the audience spoke up to say that defining heritage only as “valuable” architecture is far too limiting, since this elides what buildings actually embody.  Stripped of embodied heritage energy, buildings are just containers; but if we consider how they’re used, another real dimension snaps into focus.

The woman’s husband had grown up in Eastern Europe, in a building we’d probably dismiss as a “Commie block” tower.  Yet for him, that “ugly” building was his history and personal heritage.   He’s hardly alone.  In Berlin, there’s a nostalgic and carefully cultivated revival of  “Commie block” style, indulged by middle-aged people for whom those buildings represent their pre-1989 youth: the bars and eateries, the apartments, the cheap concrete — all of it literally embodies their coming of age, before the Wall came down.

And so, consider View Towers.  I’d argue it has a richer history of use than Centennial Square: its embodied energy is tremendous, particularly compared to the square’s suburban one-dimensionality.

Would we endorse knocking View Towers down just because we don’t like its looks?  Or because we (mistakenly) believe it might house dodgy people?  I wouldn’t.  If anything, I’d encourage increasing the density around View Towers with equally imposing (if differently styled) multi-use buildings, to balance its sometimes oppressive and lonely formal energy.

What might this perspective mean for “real” (read: historically and aesthetically more significant) urban heritage?  It again comes back to uses, and the energies embodied in them.  Heritage buildings need to live, which means they need to be used.

In cities, buildings can’t afford to be museum pieces unless they actually are museums – in which case they need to be paid for and maintained by some foundation with really deep pockets.  Otherwise, they have to earn their keep.  This means that buildings have to be adaptable to other uses over time.

In other words, I don’t say anywhere that this building should be declared a “heritage site.”

The author of the letter gives kudos to one of Monday‘s writers whose hobby-horse is development-bashing. This staff writer likes to cloak himself in a green and socially-conscious mantle, all the while espousing the “values” of suburban sprawl: the single-family home with a lawn out front and a nice picket fence, set in low-density zoning.

Folks, that’s not a city.

And it’s not environmentally responsible, either.

But here’s the crux. This letter-writer, who has already given himself a false lineage to claim an authority that escapes him, exposes himself further as a lover of fakery:

My grandfather [sic, see above] was Bishop of B.C. and oversaw the construction of Christ Church Cathedral and I never fail to marvel at those sere towers and magnificent flying buttresses. I suggest City Council are flying, that this mania is akin to the worst of manic highs and that we are going to regret this period of growth when the distinct seven villages in town are no more. One only has to view the gaping hole where the Oak Bay Beach Hotel was to experience an ineffable sense of loss and now I hear that Anne Hathaway’s cottage is slated for demolition. (more)

Note the bolded part: after castigating View Towers, which at least and to its credit is an honest building, built in an age when concrete slab apartment towers were all the rage in Soviet lands as well as their meteorological kin (i.e., the colder parts of Canada), expressing nothing but their own truth (utility and the belief that you could safely warehouse people – which of course you can’t), he exalts two structures that embody all the fakery of “olde Englande” heritage, often known as mock Tudorbethan.

Admittedly, after enough time has passed even Tudorbethan might become “authentic,” providing it can be maintained (which requires deep pockets and a sense of economics).

But authenticity will forever elude people who live only in the past, rely on false authority, create fantasy worlds that don’t even function as thoughtful prototypes for imaginative action – in short,  people who really should move out of the city.

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

August 4, 2008 at 5:32 pm | In business, cities, links, urbanism | Comments Off on Diigo Bookmarks 08/05/2008 (a.m.)
  • “The world is flat” or “the world is spiky” or …”the world is complex,” maybe? At any rate, this article questions the idea that outsourcing will continue to continue, spreading outward in some sort of new and flattened topography (akin to a downward spiral insofar as the search for ever cheaper labor and laxer labor laws continues, but not wholly downward because economically, there’s an upward trend associated with it, too – hence perhaps the “flat” topography). And it presents some interesting data as well as suppposition for why this might be so. It’s not just the huge up-tick in transportation costs (although that’s a key factor), it’s also the logistics — including “reverse logistics.” For example, consumers *want* to do better, and are becoming more aware of the “carbon footprint” of the products they buy.

    tags: globalization, trends, economic_development, manufacturing, transportation, factories, shipping

  • Interesting article (which incidentally puts Vancouver front & centre), blogged by Richard Florida at Creative Class: the subtitle is “the demographic inversion of the American city.” It’s about how the “inner city” and its “inner city suburbs” are now desirable (and expensive) places to live, creating a 24/7 downtown (desired & theorized early on by Jane Jacobs, eg.), while the less affluent (ok, the poor!) are forced to live on the outskirts (suburbs). This used to be called “gentrification,” but Ehrenhalt points out that it’s a much more complex process than just that.

    Haven’t read all the comments to this article, but it starts with some excellent ones — intelligent observations by readers.

    tags: cities, downtown, creative_cities, suburbs, gentrification, trends, urbanization, urban_renewal, demographics

  • Everything is more intense in NYC, including the geek or nerd “party” scene (meet ups, tweet ups, “ignite” events, etc.). More people = more capital, in terms of creative energy and innovation. (And perhaps headaches… but that’s another story…!)

    Of course I’d love to figure out how to sustain a mini-version of this right here (Victoria). Vancouver works very hard at it — but even in Vancouver (I’m told), it’s the same people reappearing at the different events (i.e., nowhere near the critical mass of larger US metros). Part of the problem is enticing people to come out — it’s so easy to stay home, after all…

    tags: nyt, creative_class, geek, socialtheory, ignite, meet_ups

Diigo Bookmarks 07/28/2008 (p.m.)

July 28, 2008 at 5:30 am | In comments, land_use, links, urbanism | Comments Off on Diigo Bookmarks 07/28/2008 (p.m.)
  • Dan Bertolet of Seattle-based blog “Huge ass city” spent some time visiting Medfield, Massachusetts (where I gather he was raised). He temporarily renamed his blog “Wee ass suburb.”

    This particular entry looks at two houses — one, the Dwight-Derby house from 1621, the other a 2005 “Extreme Makeover” McMansion. Throughout, I’ve found Dan’s entries really intriguing, but didn’t comment. Today, however, someone commented with “Who gives a flying f*ck about Medfield,” which prompted me to post a comment. Click through to read. I do give a flying f*ck, I guess.

    tags: dan_bertolet, hugeasscity, weeasssuburb, medfield, beverly, massachusetts, comments, history, urban_development

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 07/20/2008 (a.m.)

July 19, 2008 at 5:32 pm | In cities, links, urbanism | Comments Off on Diigo Bookmarks 07/20/2008 (a.m.)
  • For future reference: Berger’s article about a report by architectural firm RMJM, which identifies America’s top 10 best-designed cities. His article focuses on the aspect of heritage preservation, which factors into RMJM’s weighting and criteria, and he notes that Portland seems to beat out Seattle.

    From there, Berger segues into whether or not (or to what extent) citizens are “pleased with their urban architecture,” and observes that only LA residents are “less happy with their city” than Seattlites. (I’m not sure how he manages the leap from heritage preservation to ‘being pleased” by contemporary/new architecture, but there you have it.)

    Anyway, the really useful thing about this article is that Berger lists the 7 categories RMJM used to answer the question, “what makes a design-savvy city?”, and also summarizes each aspect (with commentary of his own, in italics). All in all, the list makes a great framework for thinking about urban design.

    tags: urban_design, urbanplanning, seattle, crosscut, knute_berger, heritage, preservation, designsavvy

Diigo Bookmarks 07/19/2008 (p.m.)

July 19, 2008 at 5:30 am | In links, urbanism | Comments Off on Diigo Bookmarks 07/19/2008 (p.m.)
  • Ryan Avent of “The Bellows” critiques Ed Glaeser’s piece for the New York Sun, which, according to The Bellows, is riddled with errors and is undermined by Glaeser’s own research. Glaeser’s neo-con thesis in the NY Sun article is that Houston is middle-class-friendlier and somehow more affordable due to its libertarian anti-regulationist stance, and that NYC is unaffordable because it’s regulated to the nines. It’s a very familiar argument in some circles, and it’s interesting to see Ryan take it apart quite deftly.

    tags: nyc, edward_glaeser, ryan_avent, urban_development, regulation, affordability

Diigo Bookmarks 07/16/2008 (p.m.)

July 16, 2008 at 5:30 am | In canada, cities, links, urbanism | Comments Off on Diigo Bookmarks 07/16/2008 (p.m.)
  • Well, don’t say I didn’t tell you so:
    “Politically,” Miller continues, “cities in Canada don’t exist, especially at the federal level. As far as I know, this is virtually unique in the world. Throughout the world, federal and national governments invest in cities, but we don’t see that here. All cities in Canada are suffering from lack of federal spending.”
    This is so distressing, from where I’m sitting — because Victoria has the additional burden of being one of 13 municipalities in an urban conglomeration (the CRD), and has the additional burden of being a “lefty” NDP hold-out in BC Liberal Party-land. It shouldn’t BE this partisan, and yet it seems to be…

    tags: christopher_hume, thestar, cities, municipal_funding

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