My mother gave her children the magic of Christmas. I’m proud she had the courage

Published: Guardian (Australia)
December 24, 2019
815 words

Christmas Tree
Photograph: Holly Anissa Photography/Getty Images

Excerpt from the article:

The most amazing thing about our Christmas was that it even happened, and that it was a wonderful day year after year. My mother claimed that Christmas was “for the kids, not the adults” but the truth was that this was the one day of the year that she protected from my father’s interference. It is only years later that I realise just how hard that must have been.

My parents were married in 1952. They were both just 24 years of age, and my father had been widowed only six months earlier. His first wife had killed herself by walking in front of a train, leaving behind her husband and her infant child, my half-brother.

I do not know whether that trauma was the cause of my father’s psychosis, or whether her suicide was the result of something that had been with him throughout his life, but I do know that he was a desperately unhappy man. I grew up never knowing affection or approval, and my mother’s life was even bleaker.

Read the full article.

Creating Online Environments That Work Well For Older Users

Published: Smashing Magazine
November 4, 2019
2150 words

With the single exception of my 94-year-old mother, I don’t know a single person over the age of 65 who doesn’t have a smartphone, computer, or tablet, and usually all three.

I’m well past sixty, and have worked my way through punch cards, a C-64, many versions of Windows, Apple and Linux. I know at least a few people over seventy who have a programming background or who have spent a lot of time doing graphic design and computer music composition on various machines.

That’s why I’m always amazed to read comments like these:

“Amazon Echo has been particularly popular with the older generations, as it allows them to interact with technology and the Internet in a natural, personal way, rather than via a computer.”

Read the full article.

Postscript: an edited version of this article was re-published at Considerable.com.

The Chinese media prepared me for the Canadian election

Published: Friends of Canadian Broadcasting (En français aussi)
October 15, 2019
1277 words

The Chinese media prepared me for the Canadian election

Donald Trump’s trade war with China was in full swing when we left for China. Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou had been arrested at a Canadian airport, and two Canadians had been detained in China. By the time we left it was July and the Canadian government was warning us to “Exercise a high degree of caution in China due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.”

The trip was wonderful, and we came away with a much greater understanding of China and the Chinese people, and with an appreciation for how little we knew about the history, culture and government of the country.

The most striking thing about living in what is undeniably a police state was the iron grip that government has on the news media. Since the average person in China isn’t likely to use a VPN to access foreign media, most people see and read only what the Communist party wants them to see and read.

… When we returned home, I was truly looking forward to returning to my regular media diet of Twitter, Facebook and our local newspapers. Instead, I was shocked to realize that the Canadian news landscape was far too much like the Chinese one we had just left behind. The only difference was that the control was by corporate interests instead of the government.

Full article here.

 

Why some British Columbians won’t buy legal weed

Published: TheGrowthOp (PostMedia)
January 16, 2020
700 words

“At 5:30 p.m. on a rainy Tuesday night, The Dispensary — one of Vancouver’s oldest grey market cannabis stores — is doing booming business. Dozens of people stop in to pick up cannabis flower, edibles, and other cannabis products. Not one of their customers seem concerned that the store isn’t licensed by the provincial government.”

Read More.

DNV Council – For The Birds?

Pigeon

This week the municipal council of the District of North Vancouver voted to prohibit the keeping of pigeons in the District.  Or, more specifically, they voted to prohibit the keeping of pigeons by one resident.

Even that wouldn’t have particularly bothered me, except that the homeowner in question, Kulwant Dulay, happens to live next to the sole person complaining to the District about his pigeons – District council member Betty Forbes.

CBC reports that Dulay says he’s lived in the District of North Vancouver for 25 years and, for most of them, he’s kept homing pigeons on his property in a coop in the backyard, without ruffling any feathers.  Only when he moved in next to Forbes three years ago did this become a problem.

The biggest concern with this story has to be the way that the District and Forbes very explicitly didn’t name her as the complainant, or discuss why a new bylaw was needed to deal with her complaint.  It seems that only when CBC filed an FOI request did the truth emerge. There’s now a suggestion that Forbes was in clear conflict of interest.

Perhaps ironically, the previous council actually brought in rules that allow people to keep chickens in their back yards.

 

Postscript: Justin McElroy has a great Twitter thread recounting this saga. Including this gem in the comments:

Betty Forbes Tweet

Show Me The Way To Go Home

Published: PriceTags.ca
October 6, 2019
300 words

Un-named Skytrain StationWhat is this — a café? A library? A corner store?

Unless you regularly travel by transit to Langara College or the Alliance  Française, you’re forgiven for not recognising this as the 49th and Langara Skytrain station. This photo was taken from the west side of Cambie Street looking east on 49th Avenue.

And unless you’re standing in front and looking directly at the entrance, there’s no way to identify this as an essential part of urban infrastructure.

Read more here.

Transportation in China

This month we were invited to visit friends living in China.  We spent three weeks in Chengdu and Beijing, and honestly had a wonderful trip.

On our return I wrote a series of three articles for Vancouver’s Price Tags blog about what I experienced while travelling in those cities.

Why We Should Look More Closely at Beijing Subways
August 14, 2019
755 Words

Surveillance and the police state excepted, the Chinese subway systems are in most ways superior to the Skytrain. This was demonstrated when I returned home and found a Chengdu mother and child at the YVR Skytrain station struggling to figure out how to get to Surrey and how much it would cost. Once I helped her get her tickets she rode with me to the Waterfront station, out one set of turnstiles, up an elevator and around a newspaper kiosk, into another set of turnstiles, then was pointed to the Expo line. After a fifteen hour flight that was far more complex than any traveller should have to deal with.

Read More

How China Reduces Automobile Usage
August 21, 2019
500 words

The Chinese government is still building and maintaining an impressive network of multi-lane freeways, highways, and flyovers — with regular toll plazas — to move large volumes of automobiles relatively efficiently, but the Chinese government has also tried to move the country (or at least the major cities) away from internal combustion engines.

As well as making lots of safe space for transit users, bikes, electric motorbikes, and pedestrians, the Chinese have done one other thing to improve the traffic mix in Chengdu and Beijing: they’ve made it really hard to own a car. Much like the licences and charges in London and Singapore, rules in China pretty much limit car use in the city to the very wealthy.

Read More

China: Bike Share, Electric Motorbikes and Pedestrians
August 22, 2019
875 Words

Admittedly, lots of things are easier in a one-party police state, but by the same token, that doesn’t necessarily make them bad ideas.

On many arterials in Chengdu, you’ll find a full traffic lane on each side of the road dedicated to bicycles and electric motorbikes. These lanes are protected by low barriers – good looking metal railings, not concrete Jersey barriers – that keep slower vehicles safe from automobile traffic.

Outside of the bike lanes are sidewalks that are wider still, encouraging pedestrian traffic, although they’re also used by bikes and e-motorbikes. Despite these interlopers (I don’t actually know what the local rules are) the sidewalks feel spacious and safe. Tactile paving is widely used as well.

Read More

Where’s local news in the Facebook age?

Published: Friends of Canadian Broadcasting (En français aussi)
August 6, 2019
1233 words

EThe Liberal government’s newspaper bailout will undoubtedly help big media players like Postmedia or The Toronto Star, but it will likely have little to offer the hundreds of smaller local newspapers in Canada. As many of these community newspapers shrink in size or get closed down entirely, a lot of Canadians are finding that the only remaining place to find out what’s happening in their hometown is Facebook.

Read more

Notes from a Podcast: The North Shore’s Grand Bargain

Published: PriceTags.ca
July 9, 2019
658 words

(many thanks to the Price Tags crew for allowing space for this essay.)

During the Q&A that followed the Price Tags taping at the North Vancouver District Public Library moderator Gordon Price asked Holly Back, a member of the City of North Vancouver council, how she felt about the “bargain” that had been struck between the City and the District.

The bargain is straightforward: the City will build lots of new housing, more than a thousand new rental units, and low income and supportive housing, while the District will do nothing, in order to preserve a suburban community of single family detached homes.

As the City grows, the District will remain unwelcoming—to both outsiders and population growth.

The current District council is smug in its determination to block all new development, and openly hostile to developers, but I suspect they’re fooling themselves if they think this is a triumph. By refusing to approve any development, and asking staff for help in shaming council members who accepted developer contributions, the District is trying to preserve the type of community that was popular a half-century ago; one with suburban houses, big shopping malls, and a complete dependence on cars for transportation.

Meanwhile, the City is densifying, diversifying, and creating a twenty-first century municipality that acknowledges these changing demographics, as well as the looming threat of climate change.

While the District is chasing away projects that would offer services and housing to seniors, the disabled, and the low income workers that drive the retail sector, the City is welcoming them with open arms.

Already you can see and feel the difference. The lower half of Lonsdale Street—especially near the Shipyards and Seabus terminal—is alive with new development. A new Whole Foods store has opened, and a flurry of new businesses, restaurants, and services have appeared that are supported by the rising population. Equally noteworthy is the sense that it’s a young population moving in, with different priorities and different spending patterns. Compared to Lynn Valley where we live, it’s a community—alive and vibrant. There are even people on the streets after nine o-clock on a weeknight.

The feeling that the City is younger is in fact supported by the 2016 census; the City’s population is growing at a rate several times faster than the District, and much of that growth is in people in their prime earning years. That working age population represents a bigger percentage of the City’s residents, than the District, and it skews younger too. While the District’s population currently has more children and teens, by adulthood they’ll join the “missing middle” — younger working adults who can no longer afford to live in the District. Meanwhile, the District is left with a surplus of people at or approaching retirement age.

What hasn’t been discussed by the new District council is what all of this holds for the future. As the City adds housing, and population, and density, it will also grow its tax base and its economic activity.

Building housing will allow the City to grab the lion’s share of Federal and Provincial funding that has become available. More people will mean more spending, more jobs, and more vitality and resilience. A population that is younger and more diverse will create a city that can see new opportunities, and find new solutions to the problems faced by any municipality in the Lower Mainland. And of course, more density will encourage TransLink to improve transit services.

And the District? As the population ages into retirement ,the incomes that support local businesses will decline. As council insists that they only want two million dollar single family homes, they’ll see young people and young families choosing to live in the City. Those people will be looking south, towards the galleries, and shopping, and excitement of Lower Lonsdale and Vancouver, and eventually won’t even think about the District as a place to live or visit.

While the City thrives, the District will just fade away, becoming less relevant with every year.

North Vancouver’s Mountain Bikers Strive to Shred Sustainably

Published: Asparagus (PDF)
Summer/Fall 2019
July 8, 2019
1040 words

On a Saturday in early March — when sunny weather drew hundreds of people to the mountains in suburban North Vancouver — I made a contribution to the trails I hike every week. I joined seven volunteers from the North Shore Mountain Bike Association (NSMBA) to spend a day rebuilding a forest trail on Mount Seymour. We shouldered shovels, pickaxes, and plastic buckets as we hiked to the snowline partway up Bridle Path, a popular local trail.

Our leader, Penny Deck, wore sturdy work pants and steel-toed boots. Once we’d unloaded our tools, she knelt down and knocked aside hard-packed snow to uncover a cedar ladder bridge. The bridge once kept riders out of rain and stream water flowing around the trail, but years of erosion had left it nearly buried under black mud. Now, hikers and riders splashed through muck in wet weather.
By the day’s end, the bridge was gone. We replaced it with an elevated trail, stone retaining walls, and drainage ditches to carry water away from the path. The day’s work represented a small section of the 226 kilometres of trails in North Vancouver, most of which are maintained by hikers, runners, and mountain bikers who volunteer with NSMBA. Their handiwork has produced some of the world’s highest-ranked mountain bike trails, all while emphasizing social responsibility and environmental sustainability.

(Read the entire article here)