Mom and Pop Shops anyone?

In many of my visits to community consultations, I heard the desire for mom and pop shops. This, in light of the impossible hikes in rent, seemed to me like one of those paradoxes that lie in the platform of community consultations. City staff are honestly interested in hearing what residents want. Residents honestly share their interests.

Then property owners, especially owners of ones in desirable areas, raise the rent.

Terasen invested in transforming some crosswalks along Commercial Drive into Italian themed artwork.

Can mom and pop shops survive the scale of development and gentrification of a city? Typically, such venues are more expensive than your 5-minutes-drive-away Safeway or even cross-the-street “Medium Scale Neighborhood Market”. These chains have much more variety and the convenience of… anonymity. Yeah, some of us still yearn for mom and pop shops.

I’ve been shopping along Commercial drive for roughly 15 years now. What was called The First Ravioli Store is now Easy Shop. With the significant change of ownership and inventory, we still find our fresh pasta and favorite cheese there. Many mom and pop shops are really a sad and tired corner in retail streets. Typically their operators/owners struggle to make ends meet. After First Ravioli changed hands some years ago, I was impressed to see the efforts the new owner took to revitalize the space. And still, in a quickly changing street like Commercial drive, this corner store always seems to be at least one step behind. Jawid, the friendly owner of Easy Shop removed the sliced meats we occasionally got at First Ravioli. We still find our fresh pasta and favorite cheese there.

Another component in the Terasen street touch ups.

If you had to grade my enthusiasm with mom and pop shops, I’m probably on the lower side of the scale. But the community consultations I went to, made me curious to see what it really means for me to support this strange little beast.

At one point, early in his time there, I shared with Jawid a personal thought. That, to my surprise, made him grateful for my insight and generosity.

A few months later I shared with him my concern with finding the same cheese we were buying from him, significantly cheaper somewhere else. Before doing that I was struggling whether to bother talking with Jawid about the issue or not. He thanked me profusely and the next week – lo and behold – informed me that he talked with his supplier. We could continue buying our favorite cheese at Easy Shop.

Now, as part of my experiment in fundraising, I am handing my notes in places I visit. I casually approach people I know and share with them my call for support. Without expecting much, what drives me in this is a simple thought: If I don’t ask, how will people know?

The canopy, the cash register at Easy Shop and the link to my fundraising page: http://bit.ly/2VGfwBX

Jawid, is the first shop owner I shared my fundraising run with. On my visit there today, my note was proudly posted on the cash machine. That was so heartwarming. I asked him if I could take some photos and promised to post them on my social platforms.

Mom and Pop Shops anyone?


This is the fourth in a series of posts I’ve shared prior to the event on June 23. If you are interested in  stories like this, click “Follow by Clicking Here”, on the right side bar.

Advertisements

The Alphabet you never thought of. Until now

Alphabet Trivia is a line of stories that captures insights. They make sense at the moment they are born but are always in danger of evaporating. You might think of it as fishing within the stream of consciousness. My own stream always feels alive with action. Ideas feel like currents of reality, passing by harmlessly in my mind.

And I’m just waiting for them. Waiting for the right moment to turn them into thought, then words, then action. The purpose is always there. But that too has to be defined. So I take the time to make sense of my own interests. And questions keep bubbling up.

As soon as I say a word, whoever hears me is already reacting to it. My intention might be aligned with my listener’s understanding and might not. Let’s say ‘Alphabet’. A mental image of what is already known to you is formed in your mind:

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z.

But I’m bilingual. You might be too. What this means in this case is that words in English have less of a cultural baggage attached to them for me. In Hebrew, my source language, I am more aware of the cultural context of words. But even with Hebrew, I still explore. Whatever insights I find interesting, I try to promote.

I think A L P H A B E T

My exploration involves process, engagement, triggers and outcome. Alphabet starts with A, yes. And it’s a word as much as it is a representation. We need it to efficiently communicate the letters in use in our language. Language is a tool-set. The word Alphabet as a tool within our language, can be seen as the mental container for letters – the building blocks. None of us is born with this awareness. I grow up into an existing family and society. How I navigate my own journey is influenced by endless inputs. Then I start talking. Then I start reading and writing and who knows what.

Now, what A L P H A B E T has in it will always surprise you, and even me.

A shirt with the design above can be purchased in a variety of platforms:

Etsy, Threadless, Søciety6, Zazzle, RedBubble

Treadmill + Video = Comedy

Watching a 110 Meter Hurdles race where one of the athletes sprains his ankle, throws me back to one of comedian Orny Adams’ sketches. In my head I paraphrase his punch line from that sketch into: “Are you interested in an exciting career of tearing ligaments, breaking bones and risking high blood pressure? Become a world class athlete. Side effects include: toned body.” The original sketch deals with a hair loss prevention treatment. The way Adams turns ideas into absurd ones is fascinating. I have a similar tendency that produces amusement for me and my family and friends. Occasionally I enjoy putting the results of my humor in words. Here is this day’s result. So in August of last year I sprained my ankle. After a few months of healing, I returned to jogging gradually, each time adding distance to my treadmill sessions. A while ago, I realized the option to watch sports events on the treadmill screen. This is very useful in overcoming the creeping boredom a treadmill session entails. I am amazed, in light of my reasonable fitness, with how fast those athletes run. Today for example, I turned the speed up occasionally to 13.5 KM/H. In a marathon (42.2 K) they run on average 20! After about one (1) Kilometer I need to dial the speed down to 10 KM/H. That speed keeps me honestly satisfied. I’m not racing anyone; just admiring other athletes. Then I watch that guy who, at almost school-zone speed-limit, sprains his ankle on tripping the first hurdle (https://bit.ly/2SGd018). But then, Orny Adams washes up my memory (https://bit.ly/2UUAXiT).

The transcript? Here you are:
I was gonna take Propecia.
Yeah, everyone’s like, wo, why don’t you take Propecia!?
So I look into it and one of its side effects is erectile dysfunction.
You lose your erections!
That’s more than a side effect.
That’s more like WHAT THE PILL DOES!!
It’s more like… a, you,… loose your erections,… oh, you might grow hair.
The commercial should be like,
“Are you sick and tired of all those unwanted erections?
Try Propecia.
Side effects include hair.”
etc.


If you are interested in stories like this, click “Follow by Clicking Here”, on the right side bar. Thank you for your visit.

Unintended Consequences

I was intrigued to hear on the radio one day a report about the soon to be unveiled 108 Steps, a work of art by Khan Lee. I live a few minutes’ walking distance from it. I saw the preparations for its installation before I was aware of its future purpose.

And the talk about the glass cladding to protect the work from climbing is what caught my attention most. It’s one of public art’s troubling challenges these days. Democratization of our institutions has brought a lot of progress to our lives. However, a creeping, unintended side of this process can be noticed in the occasional behavior of normal people. One that can be called “lack of respect or appreciation”. I see it as a basically natural behavior. If you can climb something, you will always find someone willing to do that.

But in urban public space this simple human trait invokes a counter reaction. On the one hand that reaction is just as natural as the urge to climb, yet on the other, just as occasionally – misguided, authoritarian or plain stupid. Let’s protect the public (in this case) from climbing.

Nothing of what I have said so far and about to say is in any way intended to dismiss the value of 108 steps as a piece of art. I like it a lot. I’d love to climb it yet I have no intention of doing so.

For the first five meters up the rungs of the sculpture, a tempered glass shield has been elegantly attached. You can hardly notice the glass. But it’s there. I walk along Kingsway admiring the piece. And my thoughts wander in amusement over the concepts of art. The questions that it raises. The debates it evokes. Isn’t the glass part of this art? 

“Glass Ceiling” I think. They brought the glass ceiling to the ground. The term originally symbolized that invisible barrier in the upper echelons of society. Women on their journey through institutional hierarchy, immigrants, minorities etc. This sculpture says no!

The glass ceiling is more democratic than that. The glass ceiling has reached street level. It is now for everyone. It is hard to notice but it’s there.

No one shall climb anymore.

Was that the intent of the artist? I’m sure it wasn’t. But this is Art


If you are interested in stories like this, click “Follow by Clicking Here”, on the right side bar. Thank you for your visit.

Small Matters Matter

Taken with Nokia Lumia 520

At home, 65 centimeters exist between my eyes and the surface in front of me when I stand to pee. In most public washrooms, urinals are attached to a blank, boringly surfaced wall. That wall is typically spaced about 35 cm away. Sometimes there is a framed picture, many times an ad, hung up to attract us, the pee-standing population. If there is some depth in the image, a slight sense of relief accompanies the process of relieving my bladder. In rare occasions there is a ledge at chest height that adds a welcome sense of space. In even rarer installations, there is a small window.

Taken with iPhone 4

I’ve been enjoying the freedom of pee-standing forever, really. However, at times I simply get tired of the small accidents or even the occasional harmless splatter. As clean as I have always been, the stray drops that escape me accumulate in hidden gaps and get on my nerves. For a few years I managed to stick to pee-sitting. A seemingly small sacrifice for the sake of bathroom wellbeing. But temptations are not restricted to erotic avenues. One of my fantasies is to install a urinal at home.

Taken with Moto G5

However, the one I really want is just way too expensive, at least for the time being. So I stick my stick through the zipper and enjoy my musings in front of the blinded window in our humble bathroom. This morning for instance, I was wondering about the pattern of light that formed on one of the slats facing me. Light waves generate intriguing projections thanks to a variety of phenomena. When I thought of taking a picture of the light pattern, it occurred to me that until I set up the tripod and attach my camera on to it, the sun will move and the pattern might vanish with it. Still, which of the four cell-phones at our disposal would be best for the task? Why not try all? So yes. By the time I got to the fourth device, the projection changed. Thankfully, none of the phones dropped into the toilet.

Taken with LG X Power

If you are interested in stories like this, click “Follow by Clicking Here”, on the right side bar.Thank you for your visit.

Stories from the NIMBY, Stories from the BING

What are we talking about when we remember the dead? I’ve recently helped my family in Israel produce a book in memory of my father. He passed away a year ago, roughly at the same age as Bing Thom. Both were dreamers. One of them, a city dweller. The other, a city builder. Thom was on a trip to Hong Kong when he passed away, October 4, 2016. I saw Bing talk a few years ago, at a Lulu Series lecture in Richmond. My impression of his achievements was that they amount to much more than just drawing nice buildings. He had a profound understanding of politics, social benefit, marketing and business making. He knew how to connect. Remembering the dead can inspire our own engagement with life.

bingthom-projectsIn late November, I receive an email from Westbank: “Bing Thom & the Future of our City ” December 6th, 2016. Knowing it would generate high demand, I sign up immediately. A few days later, I stand in line outside the Rio Theatre, roughly fifteen minutes before ‘open doors’. For Westbank’s marketing machine, this venue is an easy choice in promoting their development agenda. The planning process in recent years for Grandview Woodland has raised enough resistance and suspicion in the neighbourhood. The Rio is physically and symbolically in spitting distance from the intersection of Commercial Drive and Broadway. Bing Thom Architects (BTA) is involved with Westbank in the proposal for the Safeway site precinct at Broadway and Commercial Drive.

The snow from the day before hasn’t melted away yet, but it wasn’t too cold outside. As I work on preparing my phone to show my ticket, the guy ahead of me realizes he doesn’t have one. I try to help him solve his issue. I later see him successfully enter. I talk briefly with a downtown resident who worked in a kibbutz in the seventies and then the doors open. My screen is scanned and I find a seat in the middle of an advanced row: good view of the stage; broad connection to the audience.

It’s too dark to read through the program I was handed. Within the rows of seats of the theatre I find myself wondering how long we have until something meaningful starts. Maybe fifteen minutes to 7 pm, I stand up. If we are going to continue sitting until nine o’clock, I better stretch a bit. From the motion surrounding Ian Gillespie’s arrival, a few minutes before 7 pm, it looks like everyone was waiting for him. Is it him? The band on stage seems to be enjoying themselves. Later I see in the program, that the hour between ‘open doors’ until the event starts was planned into the agenda. This is not the right venue for spending an hour waiting.

I kind of learned to appreciate Ian’s performance on stage from previous events. He’s personal, visionary and charming. His vision is obviously “limited” to massive scale business opportunities. Is there anything there for me or you, the small-scale Vancouverite? Is he the developer that will save The City? Are any of us? Who WILL determine the future of our city?

In his closing remarks, Ian mentions Leslie Van Duzer and her great work at the University of British Columbia’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, but when he exits the stage, Hellen Ritts—Director of Marketing and Communications at Bing Thom Architects—replaces him. Hellen’s introduction to working with and for Bing provides a heartwarming transition to the rest of the evening. It’s interesting to hear from her about Bing’s way of promoting his staff by challenging them to stretch their own limits. He seems to have been a father-figure to many who had encountered him. The loss of a leader can be our opportunity to be empowered.

Then it’s Michael Heeney, one of BTA’s principals. He surveys the professional impact of Bing Thom on the global “industry” of architecture. He weaves into his story the wider context of urban and political development. My two highlights from Michael’s presentation are Bing the connector and Thom the developer.

When Leslie Van Duzer appears onstage, she is accompanied by the panelists. They occupy the sofas waiting for them: Charles Montgomery, author of Happy City; Bruce Haden, who is establishing his own practice following a partnership at DIALOG Architecture and ; Sonja Trauss, founder of SF BARF, the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation, as well as Michael Heeney.

Van Duzer’s moderation is somewhat dry, academic, a few anecdotes worthy of branching into comedy, engagement and questioning, but at times slow paced. Montgomery’s edgy discomfort is a promising spark of light in an otherwise stifled discussion. Sonja’s inclusion in the panel is an intriguing piece of casting. A Grandview-Woodland Citizen’s Assembly member might have been a more inspired or insightful contributor to the exchange. Who knows.

When finally the audience has a chance to participate, quite a few members have already left. Some trivial, yet worthy questions start to flow and then a white-haired fellow a few rows ahead of me states: “Build cities for people somewhere else. I like my detached, single family home residence. I was here first.” he expresses his typical NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) view in admirable honesty.

Montgomery’s sharing of his controlled rage with the NIMBY’s words is, on the one hand a welcome comic relief. On the other, it is a moment in the discussion that illustrates our weakness as a democratic urban society. Dealing with the development pressures of a growing city has always been a matter of massive experimentation. NIMBYs Hate Change. Change eventually comes.

No single person has the power to resist Big Money. Democratic urban societies are a random collection of individuals trying to advance individual dreams. Their degree of education is hardly a tool in use for the benefit of urban well-being. The panelists on stage sound intelligent and educated. The NIMBY in the audience baffles them. If they are so dumb-struck by a single audience member, what chance do we have with our professionals in dealing with City Hall? Some of us need to become Bing the connector and Thom the developer.

Earlier in the discussion, Sonja’s remarks reflected nicely on the reality of people’s views in light of a person’s position in life. If you own property and are not in any significant pressure to earn your living, your interest in densification might be low. This easily translates into resistance to change. The current illustrations of disconnect, between interest groups in the world come to my mind. Vancouver’s own planning mess at City Hall is one; Brexit is another example; the election of Donald Trump to president; Sonja’s own call for less planning illustrates a conflict on a personal scale; the 2015 Transit Referendum anyone?

For me, these are research worthy topics, showing our own failure to engage with those who ascribe to a NIMBY attitude. Find out where they are right and work with them on solving the challenge; on dissolving their fears.

We are all born with at least a thread of NIMBY in our vocal fold. By understanding the NIMBY we can advance beneficial urban development. We can make progress either by working with our neighbours or building new connections. Instead, we trench ourselves in holy knowledge of what’s good for society. “Why can’t they understand how stupid their own ideas are?” Why should they?

The existing balance between democracy and indoors discretion doesn’t always benefit social good. This balance seems to me to be the struggle we will always face in promoting well-being in our community. Whoever has control over resources, be it land, knowledge or anything with a price tag, will not surrender it willingly. I’m left with a sense that a crucial point in this evening’s opportunity was missed.

I walk out to the chilly sidewalk outside the Rio Theatre strangely inspired. In his anonymity, my father touched the lives of the many people he knew. With his wealth of awards and the societies he’s touched, Bing Thom is still relatively anonymous outside of professional circles. The loss of people, which for some leaves a void, can transform into a space for action. All of us have an opportunity to work with that space for the benefit of generations. Leadership is not a role exclusive to the elected few; Bing Thom’s model of development is a significant take away from the evening.

Anarchy is not always a threat; our challenge is to harness the power of change into a positive driving force. Let’s Make Vancouver Ugly Again; this paraphrase on Trump’s election slogan doesn’t have to be taken literally. There is promise in the changes Vancouver is going through. Whatever threat we can think of, can become a source of growth. By embracing our inner NIMBY we can benefit from its strength.

The evening in memory of Bing Thom ended in Bruce Haden’s reminder that Bing left us with a legacy of pushing boundaries and boldly exploring possibilities. I can live with that.

bingthom-gw


Many thanks to Erick Villagomez for his editing of my article, that appeared first on Spacing.ca. The title above is a paraphrase on an album by PJ Harvey.

Interfacing Our Literacy

check-outPeople have no idea what a library is. Two separate librarians uttered this phrase to me without hesitation. It was expressed with joy and a big smile. The joy comes from the sense of opportunity to enrich people’s lives. The smile is that of hope and enthusiasm.

“INTERFACE IS WHERE THE EXCHANGE

EITHER EXISTS OR IS LOST”.

Libraries existed as early as ancient times. Today’s library around the world is in a quick transition from what most of us are familiar with. What do you know about the library near you? I thought I was a reasonably educated patron of libraries until I set out to write this composition.

I was curious what people actually know about libraries

It was interesting to consider what they should know.

And then, how do we make people care about libraries?

In Roald Dahl’s Matilda, a librarian at the beginning of the story provides the book’s subject the means to escape a reality, of growing up in an extremely dysfunctional, corrupt family. As fantastical as the details of the story might seem, the power of literacy is one that most of us regard as unquestionable. It is evident in our lives each day. Starting from your alarm clock to fixing your own breakfast, the ability to read makes every step of the way that much more accessible. As you go further in life, literacy connects us to become the society we are.

“Knowledge is Power” is a well-known phrase, coined by Sir Francis Bacon back in 1597. Access to knowledge is key to that power. Literacy was never cheap and a strong society is a literate one. The technology that brought us the book has come a long way. From being the property of the elite and the wealthy, the book is now a widely available product in a variety of prices. The evolution of the public library dates back some centuries ago. Together with the book, it has reached a point where questions over what the library should be are shaping it into its future.

People still come to read and acquire knowledge in a library. In order to facilitate the focus required for effective learning, we need to be considerate with each other’s space. I grew up appreciating the need to be quiet in a library. However, it is a public space. So the tension between socializing and privacy is always there. The librarian of my youth was usually the person in charge of policing readers’ experience.

library

I’ve had an interesting conversation a few years ago with a librarian. One of the things she mentioned caught my attention: they are working hard on finding ways to gain public interest because otherwise they will lose their job. For me it was disturbing. I understand that it is difficult for anyone worried about their livelihood to separate themselves from the justification for their work. As a member of society who supports libraries wholeheartedly, I am interested to find ways to discuss this support without bias.

When my daughter was a toddler, a friend of ours re-introduced me to the library. It had been a few years since the previous time I visited one. I always found them useful if a bit stuffy and restricted spaces. But in my search to occupy my child in more than one way, the library seemed like an excellent variation. It turned out to be one of our favorite venues.

I’ve been borrowing books, including eBooks and videos for quite a few years now. This is great and usually painless. At times there is a book in high demand so it might be frustrating to wait for a copy. We live close to a few jurisdictions so sometimes I benefit from a wider selection. While in the library, staff have always been very friendly and absolutely helpful. However, interaction with them is usually restricted to what I need from them within the scope of services they provide.

Naturally, books are still an extremely valuable asset of libraries. In her younger years, our daughter could attach to a single book. She could listen to us reading it for her over and over again. On a lighter note, borrowing a book was a fantastic way of posing a restriction over how long we can stay with it. When she started reading on her own, the excitement of going to the library became even bigger. And of course we already knew that we could borrow more than just books.

Eventually, there are other functions this space needs to address. As information technology advanced throughout the years, the needs of the public from the library have shifted. It is less of a reference hub and more of almost anything else.

Activities of the library exist, that are not directly related to books. You can’t miss the notice boards going in and out of the library. This is how my wife and I joined a discussion in one of the reading clubs. It was a great way to gain exposure to interesting information. This time it was a highly recommended book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. Interacting with other readers of the same book was a bonus.

Librarians experience the shift in services they are required to provide at the front desk. Their interaction with the public provides valuable information as to how well the services provided are accepted or even acknowledged. The library is a complex system. What it offers and how it can be accessed is a layer of information that needs to be communicated. How to provide this information to a person without overwhelming them, is a daily challenge.

A friend of ours is a storyteller. She might have filled this composition with praise for librarians and the library more quickly than I could press the enter key to start the next paragraph. In storytelling events you truly experience the friendliness of librarians. Our friend is deeply grateful for their helpfulness and dedication to literature and literacy.

For a few years now, our library has been operating a digital lab. The public can come and compose music and edit it for free. Along with that, one can sign in to various online services, all for free, as part of the membership to the public library. The world around us is developing in such a pace, that not only the library is facing challenges of what services it can and should provide.

In spite of the access to many cheap and free services, life is becoming more and more expensive. As a publicly funded organization, the library is forced to forge alliances. Solutions might sometimes come up as compromising necessities. However, collaborations provide the opportunities to reach economies of scale, better outreach and circulation.

Urban development is one of current days’ realities. It is both an opportunity as it is a challenge for libraries. Funding resources are always at a shortage. When politics are involved, libraries are not immune to becoming victims. The story of the Troy Library is a cautionary tale of how things can get wrong. Creative thinking and quick action have worked out in this one. Not every story has a happy ending. When libraries are designated as amenities, it is all too easy to sacrifice them for the sake of a balanced bottom line. Fortunately, many see it as a crucial organization, to a degree that is almost unquestionable.

But what does urban development mean to us? Our cities are becoming more populated. The needs for public libraries are growing with our cities. The services required are constantly expanding. Cities grow naturally in some cases. In most cases, immigrants are a significant source of urban growth. These residents face many pressures that a good library system can effectively respond to. It is worth noting that many talks relating to this topic exist and you can reach them easily on the web. Here is a talk that covers some of the achievements libraries have with their public.

One of the gratifying sides of being a librarian seems to be the endless gratitude of immigrants for the help they get. Programs are available for resume writing, language skills and more. The position of the library within the network of social agencies is crucial for the success of both resettlement and the society into which immigrants move.

As both librarians I spoke with have said, people have no idea what a library is. With all the great intentions, the interface between institutions and the individual is where the exchange either exists or is lost. We have a fantastic infrastructure of support systems. And still, the people who can benefit the most from them, many times don’t. Language barriers for immigrants, time challenges caused by work load and family pressures are simple realities we need to acknowledge.

“PEOPLE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT A LIBRARY IS.”

The challenge is real. How to connect users with the services they look for and need, may seem simple and straightforward. However, institutions sometimes become burdened with too many tasks for their own workforce to handle.

My conclusion for this  article is open to investigation. The dynamic nature of life allows us to explore many options each day. Libraries need our help in forging the way to stay relevant. For each community, the balance between needs and aspirations is different. Asking questions is a good way to inspire responses and solutions.

Here are some to start with:

  • What are the main types of audiences a library has?
  • What are the characteristics of these groups?
  • Which are the best places to reach these audiences?
  • Who can do the job?

But the best insight to date I can offer is LAST: Listen, Ask, Suggest and Take action.