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.

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Mental Core

There is a mental effort whether running on a treadmill or outdoors. The difference between the two is noticeable. But in both cases, whenever I run, the mental challenge exists. Here’s a useful mantra for myself: “There’s always a good reason; there’s never a good excuse.”

Some gravel, some paved, the Champlain Heights trail is one in many options.

The course of the Scotia Bank Vancouver race has a combination of paving and gravel. To practice for the race I wanted to do some of my runs in similar conditions in my neighborhood. The pathways beside Champlain Heights Community Center provide a good match. In recent months we’ve been going to the Champlain Heights gym almost exclusively. It was really nice to do a combined outdoors-indoors training recently.

Another good training venue is Trout Lake Park (John Hendry). One of its paths is about 1300 M long. Last year I ran there a few times. Then Killarney Park has a 400 M track that is great for working on my pacing. I’ve already done more than 5 KM outdoor runs. It wasn’t easy. I need to be ready for more.

In the highly visited course around Trout Lake, I can practice some chasing of other runners.

My inspiration comes in many forms. Watching Mo Farah win both the 10,000 M and 5,000 M races in two successive Olympics is good for boredom reduction on the treadmill. However, along the trails in a park I need something else to keep me going. The fresh air is one of the best incentives to run outside. The actual movement on real ground is another best. But my head, alas, is working against me occasionally. “OK, just one more round. I can’t do more than that today.” So easy to fall for that…

Boring yet useful, the 400 m track is great for pacing.

In the doc festival of last year I watched ‘Free Solo‘. This film follows Alex Honnold through his process of preparing for and eventually climbing the El Capitan rock without ropes. Just like I will never run as fast as any of the competitive runners, I will never climb anything the way a professional climber will. The act of climbing in itself is breathtaking. But, something else completely, was for me the core take away from watching the movie.

In order to make his climb, Alex had to prepare for every single move. Gradually, a mental image of the whole climb formed in his mind. What connects me so successfully to ‘Free Solo’ is my own attention to detail and perseverance. I came out of watching ‘Free Solo’ with a renewed sense of purpose. The phrase I’ve been using for quite a while now, keeps rolling: “Whatever you achieve is perfect. From there you can only improve.”

Alex Honnold writes down the day’s climbing event in his climbing journal. (National Geographic/Jimmy Chin)

In preparing for my 5 KM run, I am taking my mental core with me and putting it to the test. It’s not a huge task. My aim is to challenge myself to be my own best. Getting closer every day.


Expect a weekly post until the event on June 23. If you are interested in stories like this, click “Follow by Clicking Here”, on the right side bar.

Making Connections

Does running at 10 Km/h make you breathless? For the longest time I never really worried about the numeric value of my speed. I’m reasonably quick, to be honest.

Then I started watching athletes chase each other at more than 20 Km/h. These antelope-like human beings, keep this pace until my eyeballs can handle it no longer. Eventually I get to watch the same videos more than once. I memorize names. I become inspired. There’s no way I will ever manage the speeds these athletes reach. However, I’m happy with my own progress even if my results stay the same.

London 2012 Olympics. (Daily Mail)

I’ve always tried to be active. Then a slight injury kept me back a bit, the weather was crappy and other excuses made me a little less active. Then I returned to walking or jogging. I am active. I always want to do more.

In recent years I had some uplifting experiences that are unrelated to each other. I guess my thought process allows me to make the connections work for me. Walking out with Anat, my wife for an hour each day, became a habit of ours. The dry summer of 2017 extended deep into winter. Then finally, by the end of November, the rain returned to Vancouver. The evening chill and increasing darkness were also factors in our decision to consider the gym. “Just for walking” I thought initially.

A month passed and the half hour increased to 45 minutes. Then one hour. A few minutes jogging here and there… Some months later and I was surprised to realize I can do a full hour of running. The videos I watched managed to relieve some of the inevitable boredom that creeps in while trying to keep in shape.

Then the weather improved and I took the opportunity to walk and run outside again. It’s much harder to run on a static surface than on the belt of a treadmill. There is a mental difference apart from the physical one.

But the race in June is outdoors (thankfully). On April of this year I got an email from Mount Pleasant Neighborhood House (MPNH). In it were a few lines talking about their team for the Scotia Bank Half Marathon and 5 Km Run. MPNH is among the various agencies I try to support. My preference is in contributing some time and insights. Donating money is a lesser priority for me.

So tying my ongoing physical training to a fundraising event, seemed like an interesting opportunity. Exploring new connections.

About half of the 5 Km long course is taken around Lost Lagoon

I’ve already walked the course of the race twice to get to know it. Soon I will make the trip to check the run. In the meantime I am running in my neighborhood, on the east side of Vancouver and nearby.


Expect a weekly post until the event on June 23. If you are interested in stories like this, click “Follow by Clicking Here”, on the right side bar.

The Money and The Run

It’s interesting to fund raise.

Money is everywhere, but maybe not always where I might want it to be.

I have always admired people who engage in fundraising. My admiration comes from the impression that the act of convincing people to part with their money is a steep uphill battle. There are events you can see where the organizers managed to attract unbelievable sums. Then others stay in the realms of covering expenses at best. Most fundraising, as far as I can tell, is done as a volunteering act. Successful fundraising seems like a full time engagement.

Another part of my admiration stems from my own un-ease with trying to be in their position myself.

So when I decided to participate in the Scotia Bank Half Marathon and 5 Km Vancouver Run, I relieved myself from the stress of how much money I will manage to raise. It’s going to be a trial and error process. I will sweep through my mailing list and try to send as many calls to action as possible. There are people I know better than others in my mailing list.

However, I am in this for a cause that requires a very simple decision: donate or not. On the part of my prospect donors, the decision might be complicated by many considerations: one might have just sent money to a different cause; another might object to participating in fundraising; someone else could very well be excited to join!

So in my communications, I want to reflect the excited side of the decision. Reflecting back on people I’ve seen fundraising in the past I find connections in me to their traits: relentlessness; positivity; commitment. 

The section just north of the cycling tunnel that is the halfway of the 5 Km course.

When sending a call for donation to dozens of people, it’s my choice – not anyone else’s. I’m approaching it as an engagement similar to platonic love. All who receive my call are participating in this event whether you donate or not. For this I am grateful. I am inspired to move on.


Expect a weekly post until the event on June 23. If you are interested in stories like this, click “Follow by Clicking Here”, on the right side bar.

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.

To Assembly And Beyond

A city in change can be fascinating and inspiring, as much as it can be sad and depressing. This is true, I suspect, for its residents and its governors, its business owners and developers. The city is a tool, a mechanism, a product. It is just as well an environment, a living space, an organism.

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The last session of three roundtables has been an interim conclusion to a promising process. Its promise, in light of the above, is plagued with question marks and challenges. The seven sub-areas of Grandview Woodland have each a set of unique characteristics. Together they form a whole that has the quality and charm of a metropolitan village.

Is this charm reason enough to leave things as they are? How can we productively articulate a set of directions that facilitate a healthy change?
150507-MechanismsAssembly-14It is evident that members of the Assembly have invested a considerable effort in this engagement. They have generated a list of recommendations that will be presented to City Hall later this year. The last roundtable was dedicated to fine tuning the various points for each sub-area.

Cedar Cove – The Edgy Residential Land
Hastings – The Industrial High Street
Britannia Woodland – The Rental & Affordable Stock
Grandview – The Residential Heritage Enclave
Nanaimo – The Truck Route & Historic City Boundary
Commercial Dr. – The Heartbeat of The Neighborhood
Broadway & Commercial – The Regional Transit Hub

For each sub area a table or two were assigned for discussion. From the two tables I participated in, the buzz of emotions was tangible yet somewhat subdued. There was urgency in the air mixed with despair; confusion alternated with decisiveness.
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Around the first table residents who want things to stay as they are sat beside a developer who is expecting zoning to allow more than four stories. More people than probably anticipated arrived at the Croatian Community Centre. As this was the last event where residents could participate in consultation, some frustration trickled into the discussion.

At the second table our facilitator was looking for specific feedback over points in the recommendations document. To me  they all seemed reasonably comprehensive. It looks obvious to me that the recommendations will never be perfect. What we need now is a look into the next stage of engagement. The Assembly members have gone through an admirable process of learning and contribution.
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One of the fascinating outcomes of the work of the Citizens’ Assembly in my view is the increase in connections. Neighbors got to know more about each other, more about their common interests as much as their differences. Residents experienced in a tangible way the tools in use for urban planning. Connections are what makes a city work. We need to make sure connections remain a priority in the management and governance of Vancouver. Wherever they are weak, our job is to strengthen them.

It is worth paying attention to the layers of connection. The following points are quick notes I’ve taken as discussions around the table evolved:

  • Within sub areas – enhance and improve the flow of pedestrians between streets and blocks.
  • Between sub areas – minimize or eliminate the separation between sub areas.
  • To adjacent areas/neighborhoods – Grandview Woodland is defined by thoughts and definitions. It also influences and is influenced by what people in and out of it are doing.

The wealth of ideas and insights from the work of the Assembly is dynamic. It can continue to nurture the productive connections created while the Assembly existed. As the Assembly is about to disassemble, established channels can facilitate the continued connections. New ones could surely emerge.

Possible channels could be the City website (Vancouver), the Commercial Drive Business Association (CDBS), Vancouver Public Library (VPL), Kettle Friendship Society (Kettle), The Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society (VAFCS) and other agencies. Each could have an interface established so that the engagement expands instead of being wrapped up.
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We need to support the achievements of the Citizens’ Assembly in making sure the discussion continues. Values & recommendation, zoning & policies are all open to interpretation. The documents we will see are generated in response to a commendable process. To fully benefit from the investment in this process, mechanisms of exchange need to be enhanced and maintained.

A city in change uses tools and mechanisms that become a product. That product is the environment we all live in and make into our life. It’s not about whether any of us wants change or not. The city is an organism that constantly changes. Participation in the process is the life of a city. We need to make sure that the tools for participation evolve with the changing city. This city is essentially who we are.

At the corner of Victoria and Ferndale

Playing music at the corner of Victoria and Ferndale: Brandon, Nao & Yuka

What culture expects us in the future?

As I lock my bike to the railing beside the Croatian Community Center, another guy has just about finished locking his own. He grumbles something about the lack of racks to accommodate the mass of bikers who came to the planning workshop. “Pretty impressive” I share in irony. “We seem to have parking challenges” I smile and continue my unpacking. “Assholes”, he scoffs and walks inside.

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The last of seven planning workshops for Grandview Woodland concluded on Saturday, March 7, 2015. The series of workshops has generated an intriguing process of interaction. The neighborhood is made up of people from a variety of cultures. Can their various interests and intentions then constitute a Grandview Woodland Culture?

Doug Saunders, a Globe and Mail columnist and author of Arrival City, spoke at Surrey City Hall in November of 2014. His opening remark relates nicely with the process Vancouver is going through these days. “We have just finished five decades in which we got lucky… and, we are now at the beginning of five decades in which we will have to be skilled”. Saunders’ discussion focuses on “the urban districts that form the bottom rung on the ladder”. (The full talk by Doug Saunders can be watched here). However, his observation is valid for any planning process a city goes through.

In mid-2013 the planning process for Grandview Woodland ran into what can be seen as a clash of cultures. To the best of my knowledge, the people at City Hall, responsible for that process in Grandview Woodland, are all skilled.

Has the City of Vancouver missed on being smart? What qualities do we need to successfully head into the coming half century?

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Good will? Or in Y2K speak, Transparency? In 2012, the Commercial Drive Business Society (CDBS) commissioned a consultation process that resulted in a document: Vision and Design Guidelines. The Grandview Woodland Citizens’ Assembly (GWCA) has approached the CDBS in a request to share that document. I’ve been among those who signed an open letter that had urged the CDBS to allow circulation of the document in the community. However, I had a feeling that the two groups were heading into an unnecessary power struggle. I was very quickly happy to realize I had been wrong. On March 7 Nick Pogor, CDBS executive director participated in the workshop. Copies of the Visioning document were circulated in the hall. Not bad, eh?

The Citizens’ Assembly are in the final stages of working out their recommendations to The City. The learning process that they’ve gone through is sure to yield many benefits for the neighborhood as well as the individuals involved. The play between scales is at the core of planning, designing and caring for our city: the interests of an individual and the needs of the community; the livability of a street and accessibility within the region. A bench on the sidewalk is a result of a layered process that is more than just screwing it in place.

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It was a beautiful day on the Saturday of the last workshop. My daughter wanted to get there in the car. My wife and I wanted to take our bikes. “It’s all downhill from our place to the Croatian Center” I told her, “We can take the Skytrain on the way back”. On our way back we cycled halfway and crashed at Inbal’s classmate’s home. They were very happy to see us and without delay opened a box of cookies. Both kids and parents had another hour of socializing. The rest of the way to our place was a piece of cake.

We can only plan some of our moves. The gatherings in Grandview Woodland exposed a multitude of interests and needs. What then is the culture of a neighborhood? How do you facilitate its success for the future?