Monday, April 21, 2008

Living in a transport corridor

I have been reading some Jane Jacobs, "Death and Life of Great American Cities"; Carle Honore, "In Praise of Slow"; and recently viewed "Radiant City", a film about the problems created by suburban life.

These works focus on the themes of planning and community... what creates a community and what causes it to never materialize.  

Radiant City talked about the in-turning of life from public to private.  Homes are being built larger, cars are used as the primary (in some cases, exclusive) mode of transportation, and public life, and hence community is essentially lost.  Community is now formed through groups of people going through similar experiences (kids going to school, people going to church, etc.).  This has also led to an intellectual in-turning because people don't have to confront different ideas or different people or the "other".  This situation has led to "suburban life" meaning more than a mode of organizing a neighbourhood, it means homogeneous.

Jacobs discusses the need for "eyes on the street" and for that to happen there has to be something interesting and/or aesthetically pleasing to look at, and as people interact with their street more, they will meet neighbours.  The difficulty is that this all occurs in a very organic, unplanned way, with gradual growth.  Jacobs went on to discuss how street life is essentially important to the socialization of children.  As children play in these public places with a sense of community the cliche "it takes a village to raise a child" comes to life.  When a child oversteps his or her bounds there is a public person - external to the family of the child to correct the error.  This knowledge that everyone is watching and a certain standard of decorum is expected goes a long way in keeping people courteous and well behaved when away from parents.  Jacobs goes one step further to say that this type of socialization or discipline can only be learned from an outside source, and parents will never be able to provide this lesson.

Writing this, I can see how these "eyes on the street" keeps all age groups, not just children,  well behaved.

All of this also gets me thinking of my own neighbourhood.  I live in Calgary Alberta on 64th avenue NW.  This is the main street of the community, but it is designed as a traffic corridor.  On the north side of the street there is a complex of three schools, a library, and leisure centre, a residential block, another school, then a large strip mall complex.  On the south side of the street is only residential space, with a new gas station and coffee shop going in.  There is also four grocery stores within a few blocks of this main street.

This street could be a main street, but instead is a traffic corridor.  There are four lanes of traffic, a pedestrian overpass, chain link fence separates the traffic and acts as a pedestrian barrier.  Cars routinely travel 60 + km/h on this short stretch of road and acts as a major traffic artery between deerfoot, and the NE business park and 14th street.  People often take this road because the major road (McKnight Blvd.) is so busy that it pays to travel twenty or thirty blocks out of the way to detour this road.

My guess as to the traffic? the NW is mainly residential and the deerfoot corridor has a lot of industrial and office buildings, so people have to get from the NW communities along Mcknight Blvd to their work in the NE.  Further, having McKnight Blvd makes it feasible to work in the NE and live in the NW, exacerbating the problem.

The net result is that I live in a community whose main street is there to ferry people from their suburban communities to their work, and results in a main street that is because of noise, high speeds and generally ugly.

I don't think it is the only reason I don't know my neighbours, but it is one reason. 

Another interesting side note - I live in a condominium and the AGM was a couple weeks ago, I didn't go because of a prenatal class, and there were only five people from the building that showed up out of twenty one, and there was a note mentioning the lack of participation.

This may be because we live in a transient neighbourhood, - much like the function of our main street, people come here to leave, which makes building community seem pointless.

But often in transient neighbourhoods one year turns into five quite easily, and maybe the need to move would dissipate if that community was built?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hitting Close to Home - Pitt River

I was listening to the news this morning and I heard that there are plans to put power generation plants on all of the tributaries of the Pitt River.  This is a river that I have canoed on and crossed countless times.  It separates Maple Ridge, where I grew up, from Vancouver. 

The first thing I thought of was the cliche of Hitler's Germany where they come for your neighbour and you don't say anything, then they come for you and there is no one else to say something for you.  We hear of so many resource development projects and environmental disasters but it is different when it comes to our homes.  It is like any other issue, poverty, disaster, sickness, etc.  Experiencing it at home is a lot different than seeing it on TV or hearing about it.  

When I hear about the Pitt River I think of playing there as a child, camping with a bunch of friends... This is one of the scenes on which the stage of my childhood was played out and even though I haven't been there in years, and probably won't go back for a lot more years.  I have a connection to the land there.  I have stories there.  In aboriginal thought, I am beginning to create a claim to the land.

The other half of the story is quite interesting as well.  This project is part of a larger effort by the BC government to become electrically self sufficient in fifteen years.  The plot thickens with the fact that this project is being done by a private company.  So sales and profit should be read into the self description of the project as "low impact and green."  I like what Rafe Mair had to say... "I have lived a long life and have never heard so much bull shit"

But the fact still remains, Pitt Meadows is a fairly large city and Pitt River is a beautiful place, why should the impact of the city be exported to a rural area? ... so often land currently occupied by aboriginal people.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Action Profiles

This is the link to the fruit of my labour over the summer. They are articles outlining the work that different agencies are doing in downtown Calgary that support the Centre City goals.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

John Kenneth Galbraith - the new industrial society

I finally got around to reading his excerpt from "the new industrial state." There were two ideas that stuck out.

The industrial society that is characterized by high technology is dependent on demand for increased production. Organizing society in a way that allows a person to work until they have enough for the week would paralyze production. Hence, the need for advertisement and creating desire is integral to the health of our system of social organization.

I was watching the CBC show "Dragon's Den" where innovations are pitched to investors. The product was a gun scope. Two of the investors said that they would not invest because of ethical reasons. The next investor responded saying "the only ethics is profit"

This scares me. What kind of society do we live in that allows a debate about whether the only ethic that matters is greed. Since when has greed become a virtue?

I suppose it is a virtue given Galbraith's description of the industrial state that is predicated on endless accumulation and ever increasing production. To make this an ethical discussion, those terms are just fancy ways of saying greed - unsustainable greed that values turning living ecosystems into inanimate, dead consumer goods.

The second idea deals with freedom and society. The point he made was that the people that are bastions for individual freedom in society are those who often have the least. CEOs, politicians and military figures are chosen and ascend to the rank they achieve most often because of submission to discipline and conform their thinking. They are expected to live up to the highest standards.

This line of thought leads me to the link between business and social conservatives. They seem odd bedfellows to me. I think this distinction articulates the schizophrenic nature of current business-religious conservative parties. And perhaps one which is often reflective of conservatives individuals ability to compartmentalize their actions - hierarchical thinking instead of systems thinking.

A conservative has a vision of what the perfect system is and tries to remove the distortions and thus achieve utopia. For business conservatives this means free market, small government. For social conservatives, this means bringing laws in line with the moral code in the bible.

Morality in this case largely means working hard and social controls in private life. Both factions can agree on this. The blind spot is morality from 9 to 5 and indirect impacts of actions.

I think this is more reflective of American Republicanism, and I am not sure where our brand of Canadian progressive conservativism fits in. Though many of the policies enacted by the minority government have been in line with traditional conservative ideology (tax cuts, program funding constitutional challenges, getting tough on crime...marijuana). But there are a lot of disillusioned liberals that went conservative in the last election. So what does a right of centre liberal look like?

Anyway... liberal thinks about what are the impacts of my action - looking for implications/ cause and effect. - pragmatically progressing toward "the best we can do" as opposed to a utopia (which often gets people killed in the name of ideology). I think that is what it can be at its best anyway. It probably isn't that reflective of the party.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Defining Emergent

What is the emerging church?

I think it comes down to a single element. How is the concept of certainty defined?

About four years ago I went through a struggle with defining certainty. I grew up believing that certainty was knowing the right answer and providing that answer when in dialogue (Paul: always be prepared to give an answer). This conception was based on maintaining a systematic theology that explained everything. Learning was directed at filling in the gaps. The gaps are not examples taken from reality and experience but from the Bible. My world view had to account for and not be contradicted by any verse in the Bible. Experience and reality were seen through the lens of biblical verses. If there were gaps between experience and the Bible, then it was explained as something that we could not know. ie. ultimate authority was through scripture.

Well after a while the experiences that had unsatisfactory answers and were pushed to the back burner began to leave a nagging feeling. Things didn't add up. This was also the time that I changed my definition of certainty. It went from being able to provide an answer and having faith in the link from my certain world view (theology) to reality to exposing my faith and world view to question and the test of reality. The argument goes that if I am certain about my theology then it doesn't need me to shield it from the test of reality and exposure to legitimate questions that reality and experience expose it to.

As John Douglas Hall points out in The Cross in Our Context, this is the difference between theology and ideology. Ideology is not only found in religion, but also in politics and many other ways of seeing the world.

Does the paradigm or world view shelter thinking from reality or does it offer the opportunity to think through the implications of experience to world view.

This is the test to determine an emergent church from repackaged church.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


This is my attempt at trying to figure out how to put a picture on my blogger profile, something I should have done a year ago

This is from a week ago, we visited Vancouver for a friend's weddin and took a picture at Kits beach, looking accross Burard Inlet (which has been in the news this week for a big oil spill) at West Vancouver.
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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Conservatives caught in a lie

Yesterday City Council debated secondary suites. The two sides of the debate are: 1. affordable housing; 2. property rights (buyers buy in a neighbourhood on the basis that it will stay the same - ie. noise and traffic levels, but secondary suites increase density - read noise and traffic).

I sat in on a Council meeting a couple weeks ago and there was a discussion about converting rental stock to condominiums. Council was seeking the power from the province to be able to regulate this practice. Basically, someone buys a rental building, kicks all of the people out, then sells the apartments individually and makes a huge profit.

Ald. Ric McIver (very conservative) opposed the motion saying that he would not interfere with people's right to dispose of their property as they see fit.

This is the same argument against rent control.

So my argument is that if they aren't going to use rent control, or stop condo conversions on the argument that government should not interfere with my right to dispose of my property as I see fit (which is a bull shit in the first place - see what happens when I have a horse stabled in my apartment). Then they should apply the same argument to secondary suites.

What this hypocrisy tells me is that Conservatives hate lower middle class people. They use whatever argument is available and convenient to protect property value and my ability to make money off poor people.