Night Music: Talking About A Revolution

January 20, 2023

Learning From The Best

January 19, 2023

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Scot Hein was one of the most respected planners at Vancouver City Hall. For the last few years, he has been using his skills to train other planners. He has now announced a new short course that will be of value to neighbourhood activists and all those interested in dealing with the City’s zoning and planning departments. As Scot describes it:

“Essentially I will be sharing my best tools, methods, case studies/precedents and engagement practices for all stakeholders towards positive shared results. We’ll also practice how to start a productive design oriented conversation in the neighbourhood.”

It is a four-week course in April and May that includes a walking tour of Kitsilano. Full details are here: https://www.sfu.ca/continuing-studies/courses/city/introduction-to-neighbourhood-design.html


Death In Paradise — Why?

January 11, 2023

For those not aware, Death In Paradise is a British TV crime series. From what I understand it is one of the top three shows, by audience, on British TV and has managed to last for nine seasons, now being broadcast in most countries of the world.

Set on a fictional island, a British possession in the Caribbean, each episode of the series sets up a murder mystery — often a variation of the locked room genre — that needs to be solved by the police led by a visiting British detective inspector. It is often comedic in a lighthearted way, and highly formulaic.  The setting is beautiful (filmed on Guadeloupe) and, for what it is, the acting is fine.  Nearly every episode has one or more guest stars who are well-known personalities on British TV.

It is, however, racist to the core and a paean to colonialism.

It is racist because, although most of the local — black — police characters are shown to be both interesting and good at their jobs, in no case is the murder ever solved by anyone other than the white detective. In the formula used to close every episode, he — always a he — gathers all the potential suspects together and explains in detail how he has brilliantly worked out the mystery.  Applause all around while the British detective takes his bows.

As for the colonialism, there is no attempt to have a local officer work their way up to the inspector level. The inspector is always seconded from London. And always white. It is as if black British actors such as Idris Elba, David Ajala, or Lenny Henry don’t exist.

I am probably making too much of this; after all, I am sure the production gives lots of work to local actors and crew. But it does piss me off.


GWAC and the Future of the Drive

January 10, 2023

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Further to the meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) last night, I believe it will be vitally important that GWAC take the lead in organizing a community-based response to the concept of a “pedestrian first” Commercial Drive.

Clearly, the Drive will continue to change over time, as it should, but that change should be at the discretion of, and with the approval of, a majority of residents for whom the Drive is not a travel-to destination for dinner, but an integral part of our daily lives. The current ideas — too amorphous as yet to call a concept — are being driven solely by the BIA and City Hall. It was telling that the 30,000 residents of Grandview were not included in the list of primary stakeholders the BIA suggested they needed to speak with.

Many of the ideas being floated are worthy of support but would, no doubt, be made even better with a genuine community engagement process. Therefore, I would call on GWAC to develop a strategy to advance that engagement process, as quickly as possible, and to ensure that City Hall (both staff and Councillors) are aware that this community has ideas of its own for the future of our Drive.


Commercial Drive as a “Pedestrian High Street”

January 9, 2023

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This evening’s Grandview Woodland Area Council meeting concerned a Motion approved by City Council last year (https://council.vancouver.ca/20210519/documents/pspc20210519min.pdf, page 18) to “develop a vision for Commercial Drive as a complete street”, with a focus on walking.

We were supposed to have both Paul Storer, Transportation Director, and Lon LaClaire, general manager engineering, from the City to share their thoughts, but LaClaire could not attend, and Storer was only available for 45 minutes. However, between statements by Nick Pogor of the BIA and Storer, a very good turnout of local residents asked a significant number of relevant questions.

Paul Storer made clear that the initiative for this development came from the BIA. He noted that there was no grand plan or capital budget to change the Drive, but they were looking at “practical interventions” that could be accomplished in the next few years. These include experimenting with bus bulges on the Drive south of First, eventually losing one lane of traffic in each direction which would be replaced with a wider sidewalk, and improving parking on the Drive.

Nick Pogor of the BIA noted that several changes being contemplated (Britannia, Safeway, traffic calming) are in fact parts of other City initiatives rather than the Pedestrian First motion. He noted that new bike locks will be available in July and praised the new garbage cans that were part of “branding” the Drive. He also mentioned there are dreams of bringing light rail to the Drive at some point in the future.

Several residents were concerned that changes in traffic patterns on the Drive would inevitably result in larger traffic flows through the smaller neighbourhood streets. One suggestion from a resident was to block 3rd Avenue west of the Drive to reduce short cutting. Storer agreed that short cutting was taking place and was something they were concerned about. This is a problem in a number of districts, and they are currently trying to look at traffic calming initiatives in one or two neighbourhoods each year.

Another resident complained about the lack of way-finding signs in the neighbourhood, and she sought more animation to encourage more visitors.

A number of residents complained that the current Britannia Renewal process planned to have Brit’s entrance on Venables rather than the Drive. There was also some surprise to discover that the City’s senior Transportation Director had little or no connection with such a major re-development as Britannia. This led a couple of residents to wax lyrical about the lack of connection between the multitude of conflicting City plans.

As it became clear that a reduction in traffic (both flow and speed) was a consideration in this “pedestrian first” concept, one resident stated that she needed her car to shop on the Drive and she thought the sidewalks were plenty wide enough. Storer noted a City survey that showed almost 80% of shoppers on the Drive walked or took transit.

Several residents discussed improvements that are needed in the provision of bike lanes around the Drive, including the provision of more bike parking between parking meters. Others mentioned better rain awnings.

One interesting idea put forward by a resident was for a “mobility lane.” I assume that is part of the sidewalk and I certainly support it. On the same tack, several residents (including me) called for there to be sitting benches on each block.

Steve Bohus of GWAC and CityHallWatch requested that future design discussions take advantage of technology and be more open and transparent, and thus accessible to residents.

A number of us pointed out that the BIA had not approached what we consider the main stakeholder — the 30,000 residents — before presenting their ideas to City Council. Whether they will bother in the future we will see, though history does not suggest a positive outcome.


Commercial Drive as a Pedestrian-First Street?

January 9, 2023

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The next meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council — tonight — should be of great interest to everyone:

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This will be an important debate on the future of our favourite street — the very heart of our neighbourhood. Join us on ZOOM to add your voice to this vital discussion.


Snacks Tonight #55

January 6, 2023

The Everloving’s glorious blueberry muffins!


Happy Birthday Khalil Gibran

January 6, 2023

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I am not a particularly spiritual person, but I have always appreciated the philosophy espoused by Gibran’s “The Prophet“. I have been particularly attracted to his views on Love …

“When love beckons to you follow him,

Though his ways are hard and steep.

And when his wings enfold you yield to him,

Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.

And when he speaks to you believe in him,

Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.

Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,

So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.”

and Children:

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”

Gibran was born 140 years ago today in Lebanon.


Commercial Drive as a Pedestrian-First Street?

January 3, 2023

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The next meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council should be of great interest to everyone:

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This will be an important debate on the future of our favourite street — the very heart of our neighbourhood. Join us on ZOOM to add your voice to this vital discussion.


Changes On The Drive #128

January 2, 2023

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Many thanks once again to Penny and Steve for undertaking the walk this month and for the images.

With the closing of Pacific Ink & Toner last month, it seems that National Massage Chairs at 2135 Commercial has expanded into their space at 2115.

The former Cafe Deux Soleils space at 2096 Commercial will be occupied this spring by Chancho Tortilleria. (h/t to KL for the heads up). See also.

The former laundromat at 2058 Commercial is still closed, but the For Lease sign has been removed, and the windows are now papered over. Perhaps a good sign?

Carthage Restaurant at 1851 Commercial appears to have re-opened, though its signs are somewhat confusing (do they mean “Main Course” and “Mussels” perhaps?)

The storefront at 1832 Commercial has now reverted to being an office for Expedia Cruises (which it was before February last year) after being a housing developer’s sales office for most of 2022.

The Osita Restaurant at 1728 Commercial has an application in its window for a liquor license.

The latest news I have on the much-loved Santa Barbara Market at 1322 Commercial is that they will be closing at the end of this month. I haven’t seen official confirmation of that (though it came from a store employee) and so there is still hope, I guess, that it will remain with us into the future.

Fet’s at 1230 Commercial has closed after 35 years in business. My small tribute to them is here.

That same block will be very quiet this month as Havana Restaurant and Theatre at 1212 Commercial will be closed for the month of January for renovations.

The new building at 928 Commercial seems close to completion. We should be adding new storefronts anytime now,

Vacancies on the Drive this month: 

2245 Commercial, 2111 Commercial, 2096 Commercial, 2058 Commercial, 1858 Commercial, 1861 Commercial, 1733 Commercial, 1670 Commercial, 1428 Commercial, 1340 Commercial, 1230 Commercial, 1124 Commercial, 1020 Commercial, 935 Commercial

Previous editions of Changes on the Drive


Farewell to Fet’s

December 30, 2022

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As the year closes, so too does one of the longest-established businesses on the Drive — Fet’s Whiskey Kitchen at 1230 Commercial is no more.

Eric and Allura Fergie opened Fettucini’s Cafe at 1179 Commercial in 1987. It changed its name to Fettucini’s Espresso & Pasta Bar in 1994. In February 1996, it moved across the street to 1230 Commercial and dropped “Espresso” from its name.

One of its features were large murals on the wall, many of which featured the Fergie’s love of the Rolling Stones. (I still have a marvelous portrait of Mike Jagger which I bought from their artist).

In the 2010s, the restaurant underwent a complete renovation, emerging as Fets Whisky Kitchen showcasing one of Eric’s other obsessions — a huge range of whiskeys. A few years ago, the government raided Fets and took away a large quantity of their whiskey. But the Fergie’s fought back and just a few weeks ago they successfully won the whiskey war with the BC government.

Both the Everloving and I really enjoyed spending time at Fets. The food was great, the service was excellent, and the Fergie’s were excellent hosts. It was always my go-to place if I had lunch meetings on the Drive. Unfortunately, their lease is expiring and they decided the time was right to end their 35 year-old business.

They will be sorely missed, but we hope that Eric and Allura enjoy their retirement.


An End To Tipping

December 23, 2022

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These days, it seems to me, that generally speaking only three types of people received (and/or demand) gratuities: restaurant staff (including delivery people), taxi drivers, and hairdressers. Why are they treated differently from others who give us service?

When I was a lad, we also used to give a Christmas “bonus” to the postman, the milkman, and the newspaper delivery boy: I don’t know that anyone does that anymore.

Once there may have been a good reason to give cash tips to those who gave service over and above what one might expect. However, in my seventy-plus years, I have noticed three glaring issues with that generous policy.

  • One: tips are generally limited to restaurant servers, taxi drivers, and hairdressers, whereas the best service I ever get is from my pharmacy and from my supermarket, employees at which never expect or get tips.
  • Second: servers, taxi drivers, and barbers now expect a tip even if their level of service is nothing special, and some get quite belligerent if they don’t get one.
  • Three: their employers treat the fact their employees get gratuities as a way to pay them less as a regular wage.

It is also worth mentioning that the amount to tip a server, say, after a group meal often becomes the subject of heated and sometimes acrimonious debate.

I propose that gratuities (as a standard way of doing business) be prohibited, and I make the case that this will be better for the employees, can save customers money, and still cost the employer nothing.

Let us suggest that a nice meal out for two or three people carries a charge of $100. Under the current arrangement, most customers will then add a tip, say 20%, and the actual cost becomes $120. However, if under a no-tip policy, the servers are given a 15% wage increase and the business adds, say, 12.5% to its menu prices to cover the increase, then the customer will pay $112.50.

The employee benefits because their regular wage goes up. The customer benefits because their costs go down. The employer comes out even.

A win-win-win solution.


What’s With Weeks?

December 9, 2022

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In a wide-ranging and fascinating essay in Aeon, historian David Henkin takes apart the whole idea of weeks which, as he explains:

“serve as powerful mnemonic anchors because they are fundamentally artificial. Unlike days, months and years, all of which track, approximate, mimic or at least allude to some natural process (with hours, minutes and seconds representing neat fractions of those larger units), the week finds its foundation entirely in history. To say ‘today is Tuesday’ is to make a claim about the past rather than about the stars or the tides or the weather. We are asserting that a certain number of days, reckoned by uninterrupted counts of seven, separate today from some earlier moment … Weekly counts are reinforced by the habits and rituals of other people. When those habits and rituals were radically obscured or altered in 2020, the week itself seemed to unravel.”

Henkin traces the origin of the seven-day week to the Romans about 2,000 years ago:

“As the scholars Ilaria Bultrighini and Sacha Stern have recently documented, it was in the context of the Roman Empire that a standardised weekly calendar emerged out of a combination and conflation of Jewish Sabbath counts and Roman planetary cycles … But the crucial formation of our modern experience of weekly time took place around the first half of the 1800s, with the rising prominence of … the differentiated weekly schedule.”

Puritanism — with their weekly stocktaking rituals — and industrialization accelerated the process.

“With the rise of wage labour in the northern and western US, for example, Saturday night became more than just the end of the working week; it was also payday, generating patterns of consumption, commercial leisure and material security that shaped the distinctive feel of each of the intervening days of the cycle …

“The link between diary-keeping and weekly stocktaking also grew more conspicuous during the first half of the 19th century, following the spread of mass-market, preformatted diary books, which typically arrayed periods of approximately a week, as opposed to the monthly spreads that had been featured in earlier almanacs. The new calendar formats reinforced the habit of assessing one’s obligations, accomplishments and shortcomings in weekly increments.”

But, as he points out, these habits were reinforced outside the workplace:

“During the first half of the 19th century, masses of Americans in the northern and western US flocked to theatres, joined fraternal lodges and reform organisations, attended lectures and concerts, and subscribed to newspapers. Increasingly, many also patronised banks (which typically redeemed notes only on certain weekdays) and sent and received letters (which in less populous areas arrived on weekly schedules). All of these practices required participants to attend to what day of the week it was. Whether the activity took place once a week, twice a week or even once a month, so long as meetings, commercial offerings, publications and mail deliveries were consistently attached to particular days of the week, the weekly calendar became indispensable …

“For those who lived in small towns and on farms … they would anticipate the arrival of the weekly mail, apportion the reading of the newspaper they received every seven days, or follow the schedules of a train or stagecoach that passed through regularly on specific weekdays.”

The essay is full of interesting detail and I thoroughly recommend it.


The Whisky War Is Over — and Fet’s Won!

December 8, 2022

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Long-time readers will perhaps remember the great Whisky Raid of 2018 when the forces of law and order raided Fet’s Whisky Bar on Commercial Drive and absconded with 242 bottles of the really good stuff.

Now — as Eric reports it — “after five years, two enforcement hearings, a Judicial Review and a hundred thousand dollars in legal fees later, a couple of tenacious restaurant owners won their case against an out-of-control provincial liquor regime and two hundred and forty-two bottles of some of the world’s rarest whiskies are being returned to them.

Good for them, and a shame that it took so much and so long to straighten out.

My question: what is happening to all the bottles once the restaurant closes at the end of this month?


The Ephemeral News Cycle

December 8, 2022

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Here is a fascinating look at social history from Visual Capitalist: a timeline of Google searches across every state, it shows what the different things people were thinking about during 2021. It shows, I think, the extraordinary power of instantly distributed “news” in framing opinion and setting moods.


Writers’ Earnings 2022

December 6, 2022

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The occupation of “writer” continues to produce poverty-level earnings for most, which raises “serious questions about the sustainability of the writing profession in the UK.”

The median earnings for a professional author in the UK is just £7,000, down 33% since 2018. Some writers’ organizations are concerned that writing could become “the preserve of the privileged”. Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the Society of Authors, said

“Almost all of the people whose creativity and passion make the industry’s existence possible can only realistically be part of it with other jobs, or when they are supported by others, or through personal wealth,” which “paints a picture of a writing profession that is inaccessible and unsustainable for too many.”

The report also found a gender pay gap of 41.4% between men and women, with women experiencing a 21% drop in income in real terms between 2017 and 2020, against 10% for men.


Young Blue Eyes

December 4, 2022

Did you know that before 6,000 to 10,000 years ago all human beings had brown eyes?  A single gene mutation in a single individual created the change, and so those of us with blue eyes all have that individual as our ancestor, according to a major study by the University of Copenhagen:

“Variation in the colour of the eyes from brown to green can all be explained by the amount of melanin in the iris, but blue-eyed individuals only have a small degree of variation in the amount of melanin in their eyes. “From this we can conclude that all blue-eyed individuals are linked to the same ancestor,” says Professor Eiberg. “They have all inherited the same switch at exactly the same spot in their DNA.” Brown-eyed individuals, by contrast, have considerable individual variation in the area of their DNA that controls melanin production.”

They also note:

“The mutation of brown eyes to blue represents neither a positive nor a negative mutation. It is one of several mutations such as hair colour, baldness, freckles and beauty spots, which neither increases nor reduces a human’s chance of survival. As Professor Eiberg says, “it simply shows that nature is constantly shuffling the human genome, creating a genetic cocktail of human chromosomes and trying out different changes as it does so.”


RIP, Fidel Castro. A Hero For Our Times

November 25, 2022

fidel-castro

Fidel Castro died 6 years ago today and the world is so much emptier for that fact.

I didn’t support Castro’s politics (though much of it tended to be better than most — look at Cuba’s health care system, for example, a success against every barrier the US could throw against it), but I supported the bravery of standing up for fifty years to an imperialist Superpower that had missiles and a huge army less than a 100 miles away.

More than the military threat, the US for two whole generations attempted to destroy the Cuban economy and people by sheer economic terrorism. Luckily, the world would not stand for that, and even Canada never flinched from business and tourism with Cuba.

Whenever self-righteous Americans point to the wreckage of Cuba’s economy and the poverty of the people (compared, say, to most parts of the US), remind them that this was caused directly and deliberately by American leaders.


I’m A Luddite

November 23, 2022

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I would guess that many people who know me would — absent my computer use — consider me a Luddite: I own no car, no mobile phone, no microwave, I’ve never been on Facebook, I don’t watch much TV, and I have very little time for the things out there.

I might have argued that the term should NOT apply to me because I don’t agree with mindless destruction. But an excellent article in The Conversation has straightened me out on the history of Luddism and I now gleefully accept the designation.

“Our circumstances today are more similar to theirs than it might seem, as new technologies are being used to transform our own working and social conditions — think increases in employee surveillance during lockdowns, or exploitation by gig labour platforms. It’s time we reconsider the lessons of Luddism …

“The contemporary usage of Luddite has the machine-smashing part correct — but that’s about all it gets right. First, the Luddites were not indiscriminate. They were intentional and purposeful about which machines they smashed. They targeted those owned by manufacturers who were known to pay low wages, disregard workers’ safety, and/or speed up the pace of work. Even within a single factory — which would contain machines owned by different capitalists — some machines were destroyed and others pardoned depending on the business practices of their owners …

“Luddism was a working-class movement opposed to the political consequences of industrial capitalism. The Luddites wanted technology to be deployed in ways that made work more humane and gave workers more autonomy. The bosses, on the other hand, wanted to drive down costs and increase productivity …

“It wasn’t the invention of these machines that provoked the Luddites to action. They only banded together once factory owners began using these machines to displace and disempower workers …

Sounds so much like today.

“Today, new technologies are being used to alter our lives, societies and working conditions no less profoundly than mechanical looms were used to transform those of the original Luddites. The excesses of big tech companies – Amazon’s inhumane exploitation of workers in warehouses driven by automation and machine vision, Uber’s gig-economy lobbying and disregard for labour law, Facebook’s unchecked extraction of unprecedented amounts of user data – are driving a public backlash that may contain the seeds of a neo-Luddite movement …

A neo-Luddite movement would understand no technology is sacred in itself, but is only worthwhile insofar as it benefits society. It would confront the harms done by digital capitalism and seek to address them by giving people more power over the technological systems that structure their lives.”

Well-worth taking the time to read the article.


Happy Fibonacci Day!

November 23, 2022

1123 — the first numbers in the Fibonacci sequence — allows us to celebrate November 23rd as Fibonacci Day. This is in honour of Italian Leonardo Bonacci of Pisa who discussed the sequence in 1202.

The Fibonacci sequence goes as follows: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 and on to infinity. Each number is the sum of the previous two. They were known in India well before Fibonacci and were called Virahanka numbers.

It might seem just like a simple mathematician’s trick, but the Fibonacci sequence is found throughout nature. For example, the petals on flowers follow the sequence — most flowers have three (like lilies and irises), five (parnassia, rose hips) or eight (cosmea), 13 (some daisies), 21 (chicory), 34, 55 or 89 (asteraceae). Spirals, such as in pine cones or conch shells, are also built up in Fibonacci sequences.

One could spend an entire Fibonacci Day finding more examples, from spiral galaxies to DNA sequences to fractal diagrams.