Wake for Dan Small

September 29, 2013

The celtic institution of the wake is a marvelous way to sweep away the dread and gloom of death with music and booze and camaraderie.  We were lucky enough to enjoy all three last Thursday at the Wise Hall at the celebration of the life of Dan Small who left us this summer.

Dan's PartyDan had been a fixture in the home-brewing business here on Commercial Drive and then Strathcona for decades.  He became an incon in the home- and craft-brewing business.  As CAMRA BC said:

“The impact of his homebrew shop can be tasted in every beer made by a brewer from the lower mainland. Both homebrewers and professional brewers, many of whom started as homebrewers, owe Dan a debt of gratitude. And so does CAMRA BC, without the interest in craft-beer spurred on by Dan’s Homebrew I doubt we would have anywhere near the growth in quality and quantity of local craft-beer that we enjoy today.”

It was a particular joy at the wake to drink Parallel 49’s Strathcona Pale Ale in Dan’s honour.

Dan’s brothers, Bill and Tom, form Vancouver’s Tall Brothers weed-rock-fusion band, and the picture above shows them singing their own tribute to Dan on Thursday night.

Walkable City

September 29, 2013

I’ve been catching up on Jeff Speck’s 2012 book “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step At A Time,” one of the key texts of ultra-modern urbanism. The subtitle gives it away that this is a kind of extended “Newsweek”-style essay, breathlessly written and littered with facts and figures, overwhelmingly pushy and sure of itself.  That’s not to say I didn’t like it or find it of interest, though. It is a valuable read, even when it is occasionally annoying.

There are some issues I have with it:

Speck makes some mention of maintaining affordability in neighbourhoods (p.109-111) but he mentions more often the fact that walkable districts increase in value and attract more affluent citizens. For example, he praises the High Line development in New York (“perhaps the most delightful piece of civic art to have been created since mid-century … these public amenities are a real boon to the livability of their neighborhoods” p.98) without understanding (or at least mentioning) that the poorer residents of the blocks around the High Line have been displaced by price inflation as a direct result of that piece of “civic art.”   Neither “Affordability” nor “Displacement” can be found in the large index that accompanies the book.

He seems to have fallen in love with Brent Toderian’s Vancouver which he describes as “elegant point towers sitting atop lower sidewalk-hugging bases” and “another great city to move to.” (p.215) He fails to say these are only valuable in certain areas of town and suggests a more general usability.

On a very small matter he makes an observation that is counter to my own experience. He is talking about making buses a fun and pleasurable thing to do. He suggests this can be accomplished, in part, by having seats that face inward rather than forward (p.156). Since reading that the other day, I have been looking carefully and have noticed that on the #20 at least, the forward-facing seats fill up in advance of the inward-facing ones. That would seem to suggest they are the more favoured seats.

As I said, this is a worthwhile read; but needs to be part of a wider urbanist diet.

The Politics of the Jackson Hearings

September 28, 2013

On the GWAC blog, I have written a narrative of the public hearings on the Jackson Report about the four current Community Plans.  Here I am going to talk more about the politics of it all, and the different ways in which Councilors and staff used these hearings.

It was clear from the very beginning of the presentations by the public that the opposition Councilors (Affleck, Ball and Carr) were going to ask questions to elicit more information from each speaker, and that Andrea Reimer would be the Vision pitbull trying to discredit the citizen speakers and whatever organizations they represented. The balance of the Vision Council majority seemed bored most of the time, just putting in the time they were obliged to, hoping it would be over soon.

Whenever criticism of the Planning Department became too sharp, whoever was in the Chair would try to suggest that we didn’t have the right under City rules to be so critical. They forgot, I am sure, that we are Canadian citizens with the right of free speech under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Apparently the Vision Council believes that their petty rules supersede the Charter.

The staff were equally abusive of the citizenry.  Brian Jackson had a section in his original presentation called “Myths” which was, in itself, a misrepresentation of much information.  In his second-chance wrap-up, he had the gall to suggest that the citizens of this City were too stupid to understand what had been going on.  Luckily we are not too stupid to call him on this.  Jackson also had the lack of shame to suggest that the very concerned citizens of Marpole had been sowing false fears and panic in their neighbourhood when he must know that the “fear and panic” was a direct result of his own department’s failure to engage.

This entire hearing became a damning indictment of Planning’s handling of the Community Plans.  In the end, under pressure from neighbourhoods across the City, the Mayor agreed that there had been significant failures by planners in Marpole and GW at least. We can only hope that Jackson and his team take to heart the extra time and extra consultation message incorporated in the Council’s amendments to his Report.

In his wrap up, Mr. Jackson specifically mentioned that I would be included in the discussions to re-set the GW process. I await his call.

Back To The Rally For A Moment

September 27, 2013

Thanks to CityHallWatch, there is evidence that a short, pudgy bald guy was playing the rabble-rouser at City Hall last Tuesday.

You can watch a number of the other speeches at CHW.

Did You Know We Have Opera In Grandview?

September 27, 2013

Culture Days 2013 copy

Speaking at City Hall

September 26, 2013

Spent all day yesterday (from about 11am until gone 10pm) at the City Hall hearings on the four Community Plans, including ours here in Grandview.

With their typical efficiency, City Hall booked speakers to start about 1:30pm but we didn’t get to it until about 5pm.  There are more than 70 on the list and by the end of the evening we had heard from about 30.  We will be back for the next session at 2pm this afternoon.  I’m guessing it will be an equally late night.

We got some good early coverage from the Province and the Georgia Straight. There will be more as the day goes on.

I was the second speaker and this is what I said (more or less):

“I am the President of the Grandview-Woodland Area Council, which represents the residents of one of the four neighbourhoods covered by Mr. Jackson’s Report.  I am here to tell you that we are deeply disappointed by this Report – disappointed but not surprised because we have become accustomed to being misheard and misunderstood throughout this exercise.

This Report is an indictment of failure in Grandview-Woodland, a failure acknowledged several times publicly by Mr. Jackson himself. This Report trumpets a highly inflated number of 7,500 participants and yet never once acknowledges that in all of the meetings prior to the publication of the Emerging Directions document at the beginning of June, not a single moment was given to the discussion of important land use and rezoning decisions .Not a single moment.

This was not consultation with the community. This was disrespect for the community.

I do have to give the planners credit for one thing – they didn’t even try to pretend to be surprised at the outrage leveled at the Emerging Directions plan. They were well aware that all of the important changes in zoning and land-use would be completely new to its readers.

And now, a full three months later, this Report still offers us nothing in the way of concrete improvements. It talks about an extension of time, but gives no end-date, thus leaving the residents and the developers of Grandview-Woodland up in the air.

This Report offers us nothing in the way of details of a better process, just vague promises of a Citizens’ Assembly – whatever that may be – and for the details we have to wait yet another two months. And this Report says nothing about how that Assembly and the new processes that might accompany it are to be achieved. There is no reference at all to discussions about its role and responsibilities with the community, nor its relationship to the stakeholders, the citizens who are supposed to assemble.

Yet again it seems we are to be treated not as active agents of change but simply as passive consumers of someone else’s product.  This is very disappointing.

Our position is that any extension of time without a fully rebuilt process will be a waste of energy for the planners and for the residents, and a waste of money for the taxpayers.

From the acknowledgment of the failure of Emerging Directions to the apparent disclosure of the new details in December, a period of five full months will have elapsed; five full months in which the Planning Department could have been talking to GWAC and other representatives of the community in an effort to clear up this mess.  If we are to wait until December for the new details, GWAC begs Council to order the planners to spend the intervening period in close consultation with us and others to determine what those details should be. We note that GWAC has already submitted a detailed 12-point set of recommendations that could be used as the basis for such discussions.

We are also disappointed that this Report continues to suggest that the major problems in Emerging Directions are about the Commercial & Broadway area. While it is true that the towers suggested for that area were both provocative and completely inappropriate, any alternative to them will not distract from the significant problems of the land-use and zoning proposals throughout Grandview-Woodland. We urge Council to instruct the planners to treat all areas of our neighbourhood with equal respect and care.

Further, in order to bring clarity and completion to this exercise, we implore Council to instruct the Planners to set an end date of twelve months from today for the completion of what will then have been a thirty-month process.

Finally, I repeat that this Report is an indictment of abject failure in Grandview-Woodland and, because the process and the Terms of Reference were the same in Marpole and the West End, then this must indicate failures in those areas too. GWAC supports consistency of treatment across all neighbourhoods. If Grandview-Woodland needs a process re-set and more time, then we strongly encourage Council to grant the same to the other neighbourhoods affected by this failed process.

These are our communities and these should be our Plans.”

Famous Empty Sky Show!

September 26, 2013

Commercial Drive’s favourite artist, Famous Empty Sky, has a new selection of her wonderful steam-punk works showing at the Havana Gallery from tonight under the name “Beyond et Cetera”.  We saw one or two of these at her fabulous Clockwork Orange show back in April, but this is the full meal deal, with a whole passel of new works.

FES show

The official opening is on Sunday from 4pm to 6pm, and the artist encourages everyone to wear their best steam-punk outfits for the event!

The Third Way In Vancouver

September 24, 2013

Tony Blair became Prime Minister of Great Britain by being a Thatcherite hiding behind a socialist mask.  As time went on, he needed more and more spin doctors just to keep the facade in place.

I recalled this as I read George Affleck’s worthy complaints about the ever-increasing numbers of “communications” staff being paid for by Vancouver taxpayers in order to protect the Mayor and his Vision majority from the wrath of Vancouverites.


In a truly transparent administration, communications staff open windows for people to see in.  In this case, they are door-keepers slamming wood in the face of anyone courageous enough to ask a question.

Is this really what we expected from a Vision Council?

Even More Talk …

September 24, 2013

This morning, Steve Bohus from Mount Pleasant and I did an interview for Co-op Radio, which you can hear here starting at 34:57.

In addition, CBC’s Early Edition had their Civic Affairs Panel on (Allen Garr and Frances Bula) during which they discussed the Rally and the reasons behind it.

We are certainly getting the coverage!

Talking About The Rally!

September 24, 2013

My interview with CKNW about tonight’s Rally begins at 18:00 minutes in…

Do come and join us at 5:45pm at City Hall!


September 23, 2013

Today our new refrigerator arrived.  That’s a good thing, but it sure took a lot of work,

The deliverers said they would be here between 8:30 and 12:30 which meant that the old fridge with the broken seal had to be emptied very early.  We had a couple of coolers to take the stuff from the freezer, but you might be amazed what you’ll find in a well-used fridge.  I now know that we have cornered the market in frozen scallops and Jimmy Dean sausage meat and — we could open a stall or something.

And it is truly bizarre how many jars of jams and marmalades and chutney and dressings and sauces and mustards and exotic oils find a home at the back of the bottom shelf when you need to empty it.  But only one container of “creepy” stuff; that’s not bad.

Then of course there is the back and the under of the fridge to deal with. That was much more than creepy.

The new fridge is now happily plugged in and humming sweetly.  It is about three inches deeper than the old one which completely changes the choreography of the kitchen.  I’ve smacked into it a few times already and it may take a few days to get used to the additional bulk of it.

But I like it.


Four More Years? Hell No!

September 21, 2013

POSTER-finalWhile the Feds look after foreign affairs, communications, taxes, and pensions, and the Province takes care of healthcare, highways, resource extraction, and mega-projects, it is the municipal government that deals with our daily needs.  Sewers, water, garbage collection, transit, business licenses, and building permits are all under the control of City Hall and Metro: they are in our lives every day. They need to be carefully watched and controlled by the community because of that closeness to each of us.

For much of Vancouver’s history we had annual elections for our  Mayor and Aldermen. Everyone knew it was important to keep this group under close control, with the yearly election as both carrot and stick.  Then we changed to two-year terms and, about a generation ago, to three-year terms.  With each change the ruling elite created a greater distance between themselves and the citizens, allowing them to put in place policies that favoured their supporters and financiers without any comeback for years ahead.

Now, this week, the Union of BC Municipalities’ voted to ask the Provincial Government to extend municipal elections from every three years to every four.  This is another extraordinary power grab by the large urban centres and their governing elites. They want to move themselves even farther away from the control of the electorate than they are already.  There is no justification for this expanded degree of control over our daily lives and the shape and feel of our city.

If this goes through, each Council will have four whole years to mess with our skyline, our services, and our neighbourhoods with no hope of stopping them for years into the future.  Goodbye any hope of community-led politics, this will be the triumph of the parties over the people.  All we can hope for now is that the BC Liberals will fail to deal with the demand, leave it in limbo, or perhaps call for a referendum.

Sad times for local democracy.

Posting Posters

September 21, 2013

I sure needed the energy from my cara cara oranges today as I walked forever it seems. I postered Commercial Drive about the big Rally on City Hall on Tuesday Other GWAC Directors also postered their areas so I am happy the word is getting out.

CityHallWatch has an excellent piece today on the Rally, and Eye on Norquay puts the Rally into historical context.  At the GWAC blog we have been posting daily reminders of what it is we want to achieve.

Come out and join us!  This will be an historic mass demonstration of civic disapproval, and you would hate to miss it!

Morning Delight

September 21, 2013

caracaraIn the last couple of years we have become huge fans of cara cara oranges.  Have you tried them?  You really should.  They have a darker fruit than other navel oranges; fruit that is not sweet (to my taste at least) but without the slightest acidity.  It has a deep flavour that is so satisfying. I read that its flavour evokes “cherry, rose petal, orange, and blackberry”.  I don’t know about that, but I really love the almost exotic taste.

They are imported oranges of course — at this time of year they are probably from South Africa or Venezuela — and so don’t meet any criteria for local produce.  But you have to spoil yourself once in a while, and cara cara oranges are worth it.

Let’s Not Talk, Vancouver

September 19, 2013

The City of Vancouver (or City of Vision Vancouver as it is better known) has launched a new “community engagement” tool called TalkVancouver which claims to offer a way for Vancouverites to talk to City Hall and express their opinions on various subjects of interest.  It is, however, a scam that will operate purely for the benefit of the incumbents.

We all know that this City administration hasn’t a clue how to manage “community engagement” — the disasters of the major planning debacles, the non-engagement of the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability and the Regional Context Statement, the invisibility of the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Engagement are proof of this.  Perhaps TalkVancouver will be better — don’t hold your breath!

TalkVancouver is another “bread and circuses” exercise where Vision tries to show it is open to all views, but which actually serves only to allow them to brag about the numbers taking part.

This is a system where a great deal of demographic data is collected in order to allow the participant to respond to City-designed questions, questions that will, of course be skewed to produce the result they want.  There is no attempt to allow participants to speak their mind on what they want to talk about. Their responses will be carefully steered to meet previously determined outcomes.  You and I both know that trained experts can submit skewed questions far more subtly than a straightforward ask from a common sense citizen.

An employee of Vision Critical agrees that skewed questions and skewed interpretation “[w]ithout the appropriate oversight … can indeed be dangerous” but suggests we give them the benefit of the doubt.  Why, they haven’t earned it.  As another correspondent noted: “It is going to be impossible to create a statistically valid result from this kind of polling-of-volunteer-subjects. By definition, the sample is self-referencing rather than objective. However, prepare to hear a lot of “X% of Talk Vancouver Engaged City participants approve of __________”.

The very first survey (other than a throwaway about use of 311) is just another collection device for personal demographic data.  One sophisticated user went through the entire survey many times, giving different answers to each question in order to follow the flows each response directs the user through. He also notes that anyone over 100 or under 15 will get kicked out of the system (“This survey was designed by a robot who disrespects older and younger people.”)

And what of the privacy attached to this data?  The same employee of Vision Critical mentioned above notes that the “community is being run by the city – not Vision Vancouver – so data can not be transferred to the party.”  What guarantees are there for this assertion, given that Vision controls the City machinery at every level?  Is there a privacy contract? Can we see it?

Moreover, is there any chance Vision Critical collected data could fall under the Patriot Act? It is a Canadian company, but the issue is WHERE is the data stored. The company has offices everywhere.  Is there any guarantee about the data remaining only in Canada?
Finally, we have to question the company behind this and the choice that Vision Vancouver made in choosing them.   Just a few weeks before the Talk Vancouver deal with Vision Vancouver was made public, Vision Critical (no jokes about the name, please) announced that Ryan Merkeley had been appointed managing director of the company.  This is the same Ryan Merkeley who worked for the City pitching us Gregor Robertson’s Greenest City etc.  No conflict there, I’m sure.
But why did the City not move ahead with PlaceSpeak, a locally-based company that had already engaged with the City for similar activities?  I’m no pitchman for PS, and I haven’t even joined it, but I understand that (a) users can create their own surveys, i.e. surveys not controlled by the City; and (b) they have a strong privacy policy that would exclude demographic data being used by the client — the City of Vision Vancouver.  From what I am told, the PS technology is at least as good as Vision Critical’s.  Two-way surveys, deep privacy, local control, and equal technology — what was the problem?

Anyway, I would certainly not recommend anyone join TalkVancouver which, in my mind, is nothing more than a pre-election data-mining scheme for Vision Vancouver — and one that you and I are paying for!

Another Ad That Reaches Art

September 19, 2013

As I have mentioned before, some ads are simply genius. This is the latest I have found that meets that level:

Stormy Mountain Sunset

September 18, 2013

Stormy mountain_sunset_small

The Best of the Drive

September 18, 2013

It’s that time of the year again when the Georgia Straight’s readers vote for “The Best of…” in Vancouver.  As usual I am happy to single out the winners from the Drive (far fewer than deserved) and heap praise on them.

First in Their Class:

  • Barefoot Contessa, 1928 Commercial — Best Independent Women’s Clothing
  • Memphis Blues (var. locations) — Best Restaurant for Meat
  • JJ Bean (var. locations) — Best Local Chain Coffee Shop
  • Womyns’ Ware, 896 Commercial — Best Sex Toys

Second in Their Class:

  • Liberty Wines (var. locations) — Best Private Wine Store
  • Spank (var.locations) — Best Independent Women’s Clothing
  • Spartacus Gym, 1522 Commercial — Best Independent Gym
  • Attic Treasures, 944 Commercial — Best Vintage Furniture
  • Fratelli’s, 1795 Commercial — Best Pastry Bakery
  • Daily Catch, 1418 Commercial — Best Fresh Seafood

Third in Their Class:

  • Mintage, 1714 Commercial — Best Vintage/Consignment Clothing
  • Open Door Yoga (var.locations) — Best Yoga Studio
  • Bikram (var. locations)  — Best Yoga Studio
  • Little Nest, 1716 Charles — Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant
  • St. Augustine’s, 2360 Commercial — Best Pub
  • Uprising Bakery, 1697 Venables — Best Bread Bakery
  • Donald’s (var. locations) — Best Produce AND Best Organic Produce
  • La Grotta, 1791 Commercial — Best Cheese Store
  • Dream Designs, 956 Commercial — Best Sustainable Gift Store

Congratulations to all of them!  (I still can’t figure out how I was overlooked for best local blog!)

Busy, busy, busy

September 17, 2013

This is an apology to my regular readers for the lack of posts here in the last few days.  Much of my writing has gone to the GWAC blog, to the GHG blog, and in letters to governments and friends.

I have been particularly busy organizing on behalf of GWAC (and then following up) an intensely productive meeting of 19+ neighbourhood associations from across the City which took place on Sunday afternoon. I am using the shorthand of Coalition of Neighbourhoods.  The Coalition will officially announce itself in the near future. In the meanwhile, we discussed the commonalities tha unite us against the current processes that comprise the disastrous relationship between the City and the neighbourhoods.  This will be the first of a series of meetings that will try to fix that relationship.

We also discussed detailed plans for the Rally at City Hall on 24th September (make sure you come and join us!) and the organization for that (along with the media interviews relating to it) has taken up a lot more time that might otherwise have been spent communicating with you here.

Now, the Jackson Report on Community Plans was released last night, so there’s all the blowback on that to deal with.

All that, a thousand emails, and a billion twitter tweets … what can I say?

Nosmo King the Seventeenth

September 15, 2013

I can still remember with great clarity a time when, if I was awake, there would be a cigarette in my hand.  From the age of about thirteeen, I spent more than thirty years smoking two packs a day and being happy to tell the world in a large voice  that, if necessary, I would be the very last person on earth still smoking.


When I moved to Canada in the late 1970s, one of the major decisions I had to make was what brand of cigarette to take up.  On the flight over from Europe, I happened to read that Tallulah Bankhead — a great favourite of mine — died with a Craven A between her lips.  On my arrival at YVR I noticed they were selling Craven A in the store and I immediately began smoking that brand and never changed.

On the 15th of September 1996, a doctor I admired and respected, a doctor who was then treating my newly diagnosed diabetes, told me that he couldn’t treat me any more unless I quit smoking. I put down the telephone after that conversation and have never smoked a cigarette again. I quit cold turkey and barely gave it another thought.

Looking back to that day seventeen years ago, it was probably the best decision I ever made in my life.