Could Europe’s Velo-mania Come to Vancouver?

James D. Schwartz / Flickr

Over the past week I’ve visited Paris and Vienna and become enraptured by their bike sharing programs. Both cities boast cheap memberships for out-of-towners, which charge you by the half hour (Paris) and hour (Vienna) to ride. The first little while is always free encouraging members to quickly pick up bikes for short jaunts (rather than long scenic hauls). Here are a few general observations about both systems and the cycling communities that use them:

1. The bike share and it’s community (unsurprisingly) reflect the temperament of the host city. In Paris I felt myself transported back to 2000, shortly after I graduated from high school when I had no consideration of rules of the road aside from how to most quickly get from point A to B. The traffic insanity provoked by cyclists, moto-scooters, cars, trucks and pedestrian all flooding the cramped (buggy/horse and wagon designed) streets is impossible to exaggerate. Meanwhile in Germany, everyone, cyclists and bike share folks alike obeyed the little green man on the light like their life depended on it. The effective difference on traffic (and safety) is hard to over-exaggerate.

2. Hills make a big difference. During our time in Paris, we were staying in Montmartre, at the top of one of Paris’ highest points. When we tried to pick up bikes we had to go to 5 bike depots before we could find a pair of free bikes. The simple reason? The number of people going down far outranked the number of Parisian bike guys charged with hauling bikes back up the hill.

3. Don’t expect many gears. Most bikes might have 2-3 gears. No problem of flat European cities – but a very different situation if you’re talking about a hilly city.

4. The more stations the better. The more dense, the more stations. Unsurprisingly, Paris’ system was far larger and more intricate than Vienna’s. However both cities are Euro-standard dense. My feeling is in order to make these things worthwhile, you need to put them in an area where there are a lot of people (metro stations, popular parks, historical monuments) and a fair amount of short “hop” movement of those people.

5.  Celebrate the system. This is yet another layer of sustainable transportation that thanks to telecommunications, just adds to a city’s transportation and people moving infrastructure.

6. Cycling in the rain (if you don’t have the proper clothes) isn’t so romantic. Nope, we didn’t see many jolie girls in summer dresses happily peddling through puddles and a downpour. We did see business attired professionals using the bike share in Paris, but only when it was nice out. If you have a sketchy climate, consider factoring that into usage.

In Vancouver, there’s quite the discussion about whether we North Americans can transplant the bike share concept. The biggest hurdle we face right now is our helmet laws. But I think the other question we need to ask is if we have the transportation density and culture to make this addition to transit (cause in the end it needs to be about transit not just tourism) work.

The Age of Impatience

Editor’s note: so, earlier this week I sent Kurt this infographic about impatience and asked him to comment on the two ideas below; hilariously, he wrote about 300 words for the first portion and left the second section completely blank (I did some editing to make it work). This kind of poetic irony is a beautiful thing. Enjoy!

Kurt and John identify with the infographic below for these hilarious/semi-problematic reasons:

Kurt Heinrich on waiting in line: The 2010 Olympics were lauded by many as a fantastic opportunity to take in dozens of unique exhibits, attractions, bands and other performances. But with Sochi House and the Dutch/Heineken pavilion came ridiculously long lines approaching Disneyland lengths. Each day, as I walked to work, the line to take one 15 second zip-line across Robson plaza grew by about 25 minutes until by the end of the Olympics, it took a 6 hour wait for the 15 second experience. Really, you have nothing better to do than cue-up for half-a-day? And this was only the most egregious example.

Across Metro Vancouver, long snaking lines sprung up like weeds; chock full of tourists, locals and angry looking Russian athletes. After hours of waiting (often in the pouring rain) line-goers were frequently rewarded by a half-baked hyper-commercialized “exhibit” crammed with bright oil company billboards or (in at least one case) an absolutely empty room. So much for the myths of wonder associated with Expo and propagated by my parents since birth.

John Horn on doing six things at once: it’s not a big problem, but it’s not not a big problem, either. When I’m working – at work or at home on this amazing publication – I like to be watching/looking at things on at least three screens. Within these three screens are a variety of open windows and tabs that yield exciting opportunities, ideas and projects on which I work and by which I am, at times, distracted (curse you, mobile-Scrabble!). Oh, and while all the spreadsheets and cloud-based-docs and mind-maps and timelines and mobile games are benefiting from my spectacular ability to multitask, I listen to music or podcasts or have some sort of sport or movie I’ve already watched playing in the background. Basically, if something doesn’t load quickly I flash to another screen and lose interest or – hey, do you guys wanna go ride bikes?!

This affects Kurt and john’s interactions with communities because…

Kurt: The longer I wait in lines, the more disappointed I am in the end result and the whole process. Maybe this means that I don’t have an patience. Or maybe it means I do not possess the psychological means to view a long wait as a worthwhile experience in itself (packed with good conversation with fellow line-goes) like Editor-in-Chief, John Horn. While my attention span is likely not as bad as that illustrated below by the infographic, when it comes to lines, I’m not to far off.

John: Multitasking doesn’t work and instead of doing one good thing really, really well I often do six things well or, on bad days, with unfortunate mediocrity. I don’t believe in mediocre community-making, so my habits need to change!

Instant America
Created by:

So, how do you identify with this infographic? And what does this say about our community?

Masthead photo courtesy of Ed Yourdon’s photostream on Flickr

The Next Generation of Sustainability

Koerner Library (NOT CIRS) at UBC / Spicks & Specks on Flickr

Sustainability: the Next Generation. That’s what will be on the agenda at UBC’s Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) on Saturday, May 26. If you are passionate about building and maintaining sustainable communities then I highly recommend you check out this opportunity for provocative dialogue within North America’s greenest building.

Here’s the pitch:

What if there was a new way of approaching sustainability? What if the old environmental agenda of doing things “less bad”—using less energy, taking shorter showers, sacrificing our Western lifestyle—wasn’t the best way forward? What if instead we built buildings and neighbourhoods that actually contributed to the wellbeing of the planet and those that live on it?

Explore these provocative ideas with a leading UBC researcher, staff and strategic partner at the May 26th panel discussion “Next Generation Sustainability,” to be held at CIRS at 10:45 a.m.  This free event is an opportunity for the public to learn about how UBC is integrating operations, research and learning to accelerate sustainability, and what this means for our communities.

The panel discussion features Professor John Robinson, Executive Director of the UBC Sustainability Initiative, Kera McArthur, Director of Public Engagement for Campus and Community Planning and Robbie Zhang, Managing Director of Modern Green Development (Canada).

The panel discussion takes place in the Modern Green Development Auditorium within CIRS, a world-class showcase of green construction that celebrates its location and setting, has minimal impact on the environment and maximizes every inch of interior space to create functional and inspiring spaces for teaching, learning, research and community building. “CIRS is a place for big ideas that have global impacts,” says Prof. Robinson. “It serves as a living laboratory to test, learn, teach, apply and share the outcomes of sustainability focused inquiries.”

Sustainability defines UBC as a global university. In 1997, UBC was the first university in Canada to adopt a sustainability development policy opening a campus sustainability office the next year. In 2010, UBC established the UBC Sustainability Initiative integrating UBC’s academic and operational efforts on sustainability.  Campus and Community Planning ensures choices about UBC lands, buildings, infrastructure and transportation meet the goals of UBC’s strategic plan, Place and Promise, including sustainability. Modern Green Development Co. Ltd., one of China’s largest property developers, together with UBC has entered into its first North American strategic partnership to advance green building research and development.

The panel discussion will be held on May 26th from 10:45-11:45 in the Modern Green Development Auditorium at the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (2260 West Mall, UBC Vancouver Campus).

No Fun Couver Revisited

Thanks to Rena Warren at Capricornucopia Artworks for sharing!

We had what I call a Tipping Point party in Kelowna the other night: a party where groups of people got together who normally wouldn’t associate simply because they work and play in different social worlds – accountants, employment counsellors, computer programmers, urban planners, landscapers, sales managers and teachers – and I told a story I read through John Horn’s post about Joel Plaskett. Apparently Joel Plaskett refuses to come back to Kelowna because the crowds here are dead.

Here are some important disclosures about me: 1) I’m not from Kelowna, I’m from Vancouver, so I bring an outsider’s perspective and ask lots of annoying questions; 2) I meet exceptional people everyday in Kelowna, but on the whole often agree with Joel. A friend once asked me whether someday I will ever tell people I’m from Kelowna (I always say, “I live in Kelowna, but I’m from Vancouver”). My answer was “Not yet”. But someday I hope I feel differently.

Several years ago, I went to a groundbreaking show at a downtown Kelowna pub where local hero Shane Koyczan opened for Danny Michel.  I’d never heard Danny Michel before and I was stunned when he walked on stage, just him and an electric guitar, and provided the most sonically cool and rip-rockin’ show that one man could make.  Absolutely unbelievable. I’ve been a Danny Michel fan ever since.

Unfortunately I was also very drunk on the occasion – I had chosen to drink stout beer all evening which results in heavy lips and heavy feet – and my most vivid memory of the concert was of me falling on my face on the way to the bathroom. Unfortunately, it was also the loudest noise from the crowd that evening. No cheers, no catcalls, no song requests. And yet, the music that Danny Michel performed that night would’ve started a riot in Montreal, it was that good.

Thanks to Rena Warren at Capricornucopia Artworks for sharing!

So I shared Joel Plaskett’s comments at our party, and instead of angry responses, I got sheepish ones.   Apparently it’s a well-known fact around here that Kelowna has reserved crowds. If you want to go to a great concert, you make plans to leave Kelowna, you go to Vancouver or Washington. Even at hockey games, no one cheers very hard until the playoffs.

A friend of mine who moved to Revelstoke told me an interesting story about the Junior B hockey team there which regularly scored low attendances.  A funny cultural shift happened when Revelstoke became a destination of choice for sports-obsessed Australians looking to work abroad at a ski hill. Australians quickly learn that junior hockey is hard, fast and violent – all the things that Aussies love in their sports – and they’re permitted to drink lots of beer at games. The Aussies started buying up all the tickets along the boards and would stack their beer cups against the glass. They would cheer hysterically when a body check would send cups flying into the crowd in all directions. People around the entire rink would cheer (it’s possible that some betting was involved) and even the players and local fans were getting caught up in the excitement. Attendance at games has never been better.

I now realize that culture has a tipping point. Cities change, sometimes very quickly. When I lived in Vancouver, I remember locals complaining that the city was too boring (this was pre-Olympics) and the media had dubbed it “No-Fun-Couver”. (Even as recently as last spring, I read that UBC was making changes to admissions procedures to accommodate cultural as well as academic variables to make for a more diverse student body.) But I don’t hear as many complaints these days about Vancouver – every time I visit I have a blast – so things must be turning around. For Kelowna’s sake, both economically and culturally, I hope that shift is headed this way or tough times lie ahead.

For discussion, I’m throwing out a licentious thought: that the key driver of well-being in any city lies within your population of 25-35 years old, single, college or university graduates. If you lose more of these people than you attract, bad things are ahead. Because these are your future entrepreneurs, movers & rump shakers. It’s also what keeps your town from becoming a boring place. Kelowna has been failing on this metric and it’s something that desperately needs to turn around. In fact, it’s a key variable that every city should watch.

Masthead image courtesy of Adam Jones, PhD

Canvassing the Country

A cool story came to me across our virtual editor’s-desk that couldn’t be more fitting for a feature on the ‘boot.

It’s a community, using ideas from across Canada, coming together for a cause.

The bonus – it’s a community of artists, as a recovering painter and printmaker myself it’s exciting to get to talk to inspiring people working on a really cool project.

Here’s the skinny:

The MFPA (That’s the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists) have selected artists across Canada to work together on a canvas. It’ll travel the country as each artist paints a portion that is representative of their region. It’s like the Voyageur guitar, but less like a guitar and more like a tapestry of Canadian inspiration all in the name of supporting disabled artists and showcasing what can be achieved in the face of adversity.

That a group of artists are coordinating a collaboration across Canada is noteworthy enough. That the group of artists are all facing significant challenges, have found drive and inspiration through art, and are using that to inspire others is fantastic.

I got to talk with the painter Cody Tresierra, he’s got the canvas first and is painting a scene of the Stanley Park totem poles and coastal mountains as a representation of the West Coast. He says most of what he paints for the public is representative of the West Coast, and that lots of it is kind of a diary of where he goes. For himself and friends he does portrait work and experiments with really pushing colour.

Learning, seeing others progress and the ability to meet people from all over the world through the MFPA have been key for Cody. He was inspired to take up painting himself when one night, about two years into rehab at Pearson after a motor vehicle accident left him paralyzed from the neck down, he saw a lady painting with her mouth. The ability to produce something real you could look at and share had him hooked.

Cody’s perseverance in the face of adversity is inspiring – and his work is fantastic. Take a moment to connect with the group making this happen and use their dedication as inspiration to get something creative and constructive done yourself.

Go check out the MFPA – The association supports artists through selling cards, calendars, books and more, and  bookmark the Canvassing the Country page – each artists is also recording their work and you’ll be able to follow it as it develops and travels across Canada.

Canucks Fans: relax, everything will be okay

Matthew Grapengieser / flickr

At approximately 8:22pm (PST) last night, Jordan Stoll ended what can only be described as a strangely unimpressive playoff run by the Vancouver Canucks. Around British Columbia (and nowhere else because, well, everybody hates the Canucks and their fans) folks are waking up, again, to hockey disappointment – albeit of a different variety than last year’s riotous exit from the playoffs.

And everything is going to be okay. After all, Vancouver is one of the best places on Earth to spend your summer. So, with your time freed up thanks to our city’s under-performing hockey team, here are three ideas for you to consider as you strive to fill the void in your calendar (and possibly your soul) between now next season.

1. Go play outside. Whether you want to make your balcony more sustainable, community-garden, play some delightful disc golf, go camping, ride your bike, occupy a public space, or, for the semi-non-creative, drink on a patio instead of next to a giant screen, there are more than a million fun things to do outside on the West Coast.

2. Volunteer your time. Watching (approximately) three hockey games per week from now until the middle of June (when the Stanley Cup Finals take place) could’ve taken up almost 20-hours of your life per week. [Editor's note: the math is pretty simple - one hour for preparation/travel for/to the game, three hours to watch the actual game, 30-45 minutes to reflect on the experience and possibly cry for joy/sorrow, one or two hours of lost productivity the next day because of post-game stress and consequential fatigue]. Think about spending your 20 free hours providing some service to your community – after all, giving back feels great.

3. Watch Game of Thrones. Not into the whole “being active” or “being helpful” thing? Well, I’ve got strategies for that, too. The HBO series Game of Thrones is a beautiful fusion of The Sopranos and Lord of the Rings. And, like hockey, Game of Thrones involves dynasties competing for dominance in a “game” that is underscored by the philosophy that the “players” either win or die. Needless to say, this option will keep you out of the Sun, creatively engaged and, well, it will utilize your superawesome entertainment unit to most of its potential.

So there it is (or “there they are”). Three foolproof ideas that will help you move-on from the Canucks’ early exit while simultaneously building community in a positive way.

Have fun with it.

A look at hockey from South America

artbrom / flickr

I have been living in Buenos Aires for 4 years now. Usually people do not know much about Canada. Sometimes I get weird face when I say I’m from Canada even if I clearly speak with a french accent. First thing Argentineans mention is how cold it must be. Some think we don’t even have a summer. The second element most associated with my home country is ice hockey (“ice” is necessary since grass hockey is quite popular in Argentina).  The other day, I was working in a café when a saw NHL images on TV, I was very surprised since argentinean media do not even cover the Stanley cup finals –except its riots of course. Unfortunately, the TV show was presenting images from the Rangers/Devils game that started with a few fights, with the title “Ice hockey or boxing?” As too often, I felt a little bit of shame, as a hockey fan, but also as Canadian/Quebecois. It is somewhat difficult to explain to Argentineans that I enjoy watching hockey, it is a sport of speed and beauty and hockey is part of my culture. Hockey’s image here is limited to fights, violence and dirty hits, closer to Ultimate Fighting than anything else.

Fighting has been part of hockey for so long that it seems almost natural to canadian eyes. However, when you see it from the outside, it seems ridiculous, even idiotic. Try to explain to someone not familiar with north american hockey that fighting is allowed but not really because it is punished; referees let players fight, if they previously  agreed to it; and that it does not have anything to do with the object of the game (scoring goals), except maybe “change the momentum”… Believe me, it is impossible to make any sense out of it. Take any other sport, even very physical ones such as rugby or football, and insert fighting in it… it just looks silly and pathetic. I always thought fighting was not a very important part of hockey and that we could easily do away with it, but its absurdity really hit me a few years ago. I was in my hometown with my uruguayan girlfriend. She was getting familiar with our culture and asked to see a hockey game. Since I was bringing here to a small town, semi-pro game, I warned her that it could get violent. She thought I was talking about physical plays, much like rugby… she was horrified when came the staged fights, she could not believe it. There was not much I could say, it is true that if one has not been desensitized to it from a young age, it does seem barbaric.

As for anything else, change can be tough to come about. If you are old enough, you might remember the old days when car belts were not mandatory or when people could smoke in bars, restaurant and hospitals… Although it seems ridiculous now, many resisted when we collectively decided to modify these situations. I believe we came to a point fighting has to be completely eliminated from our national sport. We could not accept this kind of health risk in any other profession. We do know now that hitting someone’s head repeatedly damages his brain permanently… shocking that it took us so long to figure this one out. Still, how can we accept to see young adults hurting each other like this, for something not even directly related to the game itself, as last year’s death of a few “enforcers” forced us to see. With rare exceptions in the russian KHL, fighting does not exist in international and european hockey, nor does it in the NCAA, and canadian junior is seriously talking about banning it as well. Hopefully, the NHL will follow this trend. It might be difficult to get there, considering that the Bruins just gooned their way to the Stanley Cup. Even the Canucks have recently travelled back to the 80s by adding muscles and “enforcers” to their lineup… The biggest problem remains that some important NHL market keep selling hockey using violence. Added to the NHL extremely conservative management, fighting might very well keep making me ashamed of our national sport in front of my argentinean friends. I might have to start pretending I like baseball…

Dispatches from Silverstar (Part II)

Photo courtesy of nonanet

Sitting 20 meters above a steep black diamond run on the back side of Silverstar, I watched in wonder as a tiny soul slowly but surely trooped up the hill (not down it as per usual) with skis slung on her shoulder. She was accompanied by a ski-patrol guy clad brightly in red. As the Powder Gultch chair lift rotated me closer and closer I recognized with a shock, that the little figure carrying her skis up the mountain was indeed my lovely red-headed wife. As I soon learned, after skiing for an entire day and a half on a green run called Far Out, she’d decided to diversify her “easy run experience” by trying out a new run – this one on the other-side of the mountain. This wouldn’t be a bad idea, but unfortunately, my wife’s sense of direction leaves something to be desired. After following the markers for Aunt Gladys (a long meandering easy run that tracked across most of the mountain), my wife had “missed the turnoff” and ended up on Calipher – a steep black diamond populated by massive moguls. There was no easy way down.

Worry turned to panic as she stared down a steep black diamond run under the chairlift and contemplated snow-plow turning down the hill, all the while under the steady eyes of gawkers in the chairlift above. Several skiers came by and asked if they could help. One kindly gentleman from Salmon Arm named Pat (an older retiree who frequented the mountain every week) offered to coach her through the descent and take each mogul together. Even this was too scary a thought to contemplate.

Pretty soon, my wife made up her mind. Unstrapping her skis, she began a long march up the hill, tearing up under little goggles as she went. That’s when Matthew, the ski-patrol savior arrived. With constant reassurances that “this sort of thing happens a few times every year – don’t worry about it!” she trekked with Matthew to the top of the hill where Sarah, another ski-patroller waited patiently with a snowmobile to complete the extraction. It was an embarrassing journey that was made significantly less embarrassing by the considerate nature of all those around who were lending a helping hand.

After she’d been zipped back up the hill and rendezvoused with me, my wife was still regailed by the generosity and helping nature of all those on the mountain who lent a hand to help during her little personal skiing crisis.

Everyone at the mountain was incredibly nice and thoughtful and it showed how many good kind-hearted people are out there. Maybe you’d find that on every mountain, but part of me wonders if its something peculiar to the smaller and more rural ski areas.

Header courtesy of Paul Jerry

Vancouver’s Very Own Viking Ship

For several years now, ever since I’ve lived near English Bay, I’ve been noticing this odd sight out on the water.  Once in a while, there’s this Viking ship out there. That’s right, with that characteristic striped orange sail, oars and what even what look like shields lining the gunnels. On really windy days it never appears, but periodically, when there’s a ruffle of a breeze you can see it bobbing about amongst modern yachts and freighters. The sail seems to hang limp most of the time, but the oars are busy enough.

Turns out that the ship, named the Murin, was launched over a decade ago as part of the BC Viking Ship project. Basically a group of gung-ho folks got together to create a 40 foot replica of the Norwegian Viking Ship Gokstad, which was built around 890 A.D. and unearthed in 1880 near Oslo. The “Gokstad Ship” was amazingly well preserved in an old Viking grave. It is currently on display at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. Pretty hardcore! No maritime city is complete with a couple of full scale replicas bobbing about, I say, and this one does us proud.

But what I really like about the Murin - and I just found this out – is that it’s open to the public. With a donation, anyone is welcome to experience working a real Viking longship. Although this isn’t like doing the Gondola thing in Venice. Apparently one’s expected to show up ready to row! Organizers estimate that up to 5,000 people have the chance to try their hand at sailing the Murin every year.

According to the Viking Project website: “This 40 foot boat can accommodate 12 people and the 2 hour rides are by donation. As a passenger you will be rowing (when there isn’t wind to propel the boat) so be sure to bring gloves to protect your hands…”

Amazing. What a great way to build on our nautical community!

Details on how to embark on the Murin. 

  • Departure Point: Heritage Harbour dock in Vanier Park, Vancouver (map)
  • Cost: By donation (please give generously)
  • How to Book: Email to reserve

Header photo courtesy of stevecadman

Prince Rupert – BC’s ‘Little Port that Could’

It’s been a while since I waxed poetic about ports. Last year I went on at some length about Port Metro Vancouver, how it’s this engine of Canadian economic growth, moving monumental quantities of trade in an understated, almost hum drum way.   An even more unsuspecting area of port activity is, of all places, up in Prince Rupert. In recent years, this ‘little port that could’ has become an engine for growth in Northern BC, posting record cargo volumes and attracting considerable investment from all levels of government. And no wonder – with the shortest sailing time to Asia and uninterrupted CN lines servicing far flung hubs such as Winnipeg, and Chicago, Rupert Port is making everyone sit up and take notice, as North America’s fastest growing container faciilty. Not bad for such a remote community.

Prince Rupert's Container Terminal

There is no signs of a slow down either with 2011 marking yet another record breaking year for the port. A few killer numbers:

  • 19.3 million tonnes of cargo moved through the port altogether, an increase of 18 per cent over 2010.
  • Total coal tonnage shipped from Ridley Terminals Inc. (RTI) to Korea, China and Japan was up 16 per cent over 2010. (9.64 million tonnes of product compared to 8.30 million tones).
  • The number of loaded containers shipped out through Prince Rupert was up 59 per cent from 2010, with much of the growth attributed to strong exports of B.C. forest products to the expanding Chinese market.
  • Grain exports, principally to China, increased 17 per cent, from 4.29 million tonnes in 2010 to five million tonnes in 2011.

This brings me to a question to which I don’t know the answer: Is all this growth even good? After all, we’re selling millions of tonnes of dirty coal to China, aren’t we? Heck, the rail lines to Prince Rupert are so good, even major coal mines in Washington don’t think twice about carting their product up to Prince Rupert to benefit from quick transit times to China. People in Northern BC would stare when asked if they support the Prince Rupert boom. Trade demand from China will completely transform the economy and labour market of BC’s North in the coming years – standards of living, incomes, education opportunities and services will all benefit as a result.

As long as we have the goods and China wants them the ‘good times’ will keep on rolling. In my opinion Endbridge is not a question of ‘if’, but really just a question of ‘when’…