Cleaning the environmental and social conditions of the 2012 Olympic Park

The clock is counting down to the start of the 2012 Olympics in London. The main Olympic Park [map] is located in East London in heart of the Lower Lea Valley, which happens to be the same place I studied in my recently completed PhD. My research demonstrated the close correlation between the degraded environmental conditions and the disadvantaged social conditions in the sections of West Ham built on the wetlands. I ended my dissertation wondering whether the current multi-billion dollar project to clean up the environment for the Olympics might result in a comparable effort to clean out the socially undesirable people from this landscape.

An article in the Guardian, “Houseboaters being ‘socially cleansed’ from Olympics area,” suggests this process might be underway. House boaters are concerned that British Waterways are going to increase the mooring costs along canals in the Lower Lea:

British Waterways, which manages 2,200 miles of canals and rivers, has put forward changes to the mooring rules on the river Lea, in east London, that could increase the cost of living on the waterway from about £600 to £7,000 a year. Residents see the move as a deliberate attempt to drive them away. A draft note from British Waterways on 6 December 2010, seen by the Guardian, says: “The urgency … relates to the objective of reducing unauthorized mooring on the Lea navigation and adjacent waterways in time for the Olympics.” Continue reading

Tom Peace – The Active Historian

Who are you?

I have an identity in formation; seeking to understand how people communicate and learn from each other.  I have grown through my experiences teaching teenagers canoeing and sailing at the Haliburton Scout Reserve (http://www.gtc.scouts.ca/haliburton/gtc_hsr.asp), living in a multicultural environment at L’Arche Homefires (http://www.larchehomefires.org/), and over the past decade, exchanging ideas with university students.  These experiences, and the people with whom I have shared them, have deeply shaped who I am.

I am, however, on the cusp of two major life changes: I am in the process of wrapping up a PhD in history and looking forward to whatever is around the next corner.  More importantly, I am very excited about becoming a father in early-July.  (It is possible that this could be my fate (http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=574)).  2011 is going to be an exciting year!

What do you do for fun?

Who has time for fun!  A wise man once told me that life is work!  So I make sure that I spend a good deal of time working on my sailboat and canoes, working through great works of fiction, and working on my cross-country skiing.  I am at my most productive when I am at the bar with my friends working to solve the world’s problems (you can’t imagine just how thirsty this makes you!).  When I am not too busy with these other things, I usually spend a couple hours a day working on my PhD dissertation on the experiences of Aboriginal people during and after the fall of Acadia and Quebec.

What is your favourite community? Why?

I love L’Arche communities.  L’Arche is an international organization built around creating community and home with men and women with intellectual disabilities.  L’Arche communities welcome people from around the world to share life together.  L’Arche is a dynamic community where people share their knowledge and experience, while working together to overcome the daily challenges of living life together.  The best part about life in L’Arche is that you never really know what’s coming around the next corner.  Just when you think that everything is perfect and going to plan, something will change unexpectedly.  Perhaps it’s a new mess to clean up, but it’s equally likely to be a spontaneous dance party or unexpected visit from friends!  Life in L’Arche keeps you on your toes, and reminds me of the importance of flexibility and the ever-changing nature of life.

What is your superpower? 

Saying yes!  Yes, I am a yes man!  I try to see the potential in every opportunity.   Although I have been known to say ‘no’ upon occasion, I usually try to make situations work and build positive and constructive relationships with the people who I meet.  Part of this superpower involves listening to what others are trying to communicate and developing an understanding of their perspective.  Another part involves sharing my own ideas with others and together shaping a path forward.  And finally, when I am able to overcome my fear of heights, I can leap tall buildings in a single bound.

How do you use it to build community?

Although communities need to have a set of core values, community is created through sharing, negotiation and compromise.  Saying yes to others helps create and strengthen relationships and demonstrates an openness to other people’s ideas and perspective.  It is amazing what splendid things people keep to themselves, that a simple ‘yes’ draws forth!  In a nutshell, focusing on the positive helps to bring people together and knit together a diversity of perspectives.

My Three Favourite Things About Tom are…

1. Yes, baby! YES!!! “Anyways, let me know if this works for you.  Sorry to take so long with this stuff.” That’s how Tom signed off his email that contained the answers to our five GTKYC questions. He’s a gentleman. He’s a scholar. And, even though he’s busy as hell, he apologizes to us! Like I said, he’s a gentleman. We’re lucky to have him as part of our digital footprint and thank him generously for his time.

2. This Article. One of the things I like most about Activehistory.ca is that it’s on the Internets. This simple fact makes Activehistory.ca more powerful, relevant and awesome than every print academic journal put together…on steroids. And Tom is at the epicenter of the  project. In spite of my seething jealousy that more people like his blog than this one (seriously, friends of the Daily Gumboot, we’re being beaten by nerds!), I am a huge fan of this initiative. You should be too. Tom’s recent article about local digitized history outlines how a variety of cool projects help people get a sense of their neighbourhoods and, consequently, come together as communities. “This project aims to tell the story of my neighbourhood through its people and resources. By giving voice to the everyday stories from this community this history-based website helps to demonstrate why thousands of people have chosen to call Jane-Finch/York University home and reinforces the sense of community in this neighbourhood.” Exactly. And this is just the beginning…

3. Fun Work Ethic. A motto of mine is for people to “have fun with it.” Whatever you do, enjoy doing it. A motto of this blog’s Managing Editor, Kurt Heinrich, is “work life hustle.” Whatever you do, work hard. And I think Tom strikes a balance of the two. Clearly, the guy has fun. And clearly a lot of his fun involves working. My bastardized Aristotalian logic tells me that Tom lives life in his Element, as he’s found ways to surround himself with things that truly reveal his talent and his passion. And that’s a beautiful thing.

As told by John Horn

Strengthening Community Through Digitized Local History

[Editor's Note: the following article was stolen hijacked copied shared-in-complicity by the good people at ActiveHistory.ca. When it comes to creating powerfully connective communities History not only matters, but it is a channel through which neighbourhoods, cities and nations can search for meaning and purpose. The article below was written yesterday - December 13, 2010 - by Tom Peace. We hope you enjoy it! Here is the link to the original article: just click here and get historical!]

The most common question I get when people ask where I live is: “Why are you still living there?” I live near Jane-Finch and York University in Toronto, a neighbourhood better known for its crime and distance from key services than its rich cultural and community life. Over the past five-and-a-half years, however, I have learned that my neighbourhood’s bark is worse than its bite. I like where I live and a recent Toronto Public Library history project does a really great job at demonstrating some of the reasons why.

Over this past summer and fall the York Woods branch of the Toronto Public Library has been engaging with seniors and high school students to create the Black Creek Living History project. This project aims to tell the story of my neighbourhood through its people and resources. By giving voice to the everyday stories from this community this history-based website helps to demonstrate why thousands of people have chosen to call Jane-Finch/York University home and reinforces the sense of community in this neighbourhood.

At the heart of this project are interviews with local seniors conducted by high school students. The interviews tell the story of the community’s transformation from a small agricultural community to one of the most culturally diverse neighbourhoods in Toronto. The people being interviewed describe migrating to the community from elsewhere in Canada and around the world, the growth of suburban Toronto and public housing, the important role that green space played in drawing people to the community, and the impact of the growth of York University (one of Canada’s largest universities) in their backyard.

In addition to the oral histories, the library ran three guest lectures and a bus tour on the history of northwest Toronto. In the videos available on the website Wendy Rowney, the interpretive co-ordinator at Black Creek Pioneer Village, discusses the 19th century history of the area. Jay Todd, director of Park Management at Downsview Park, discusses the development of Downsview, Ontario which grew in the 20th century due to the creation of a military base and airplane factory in the neighbourhood. Finally, Barbara Myrvold, a specialist on local history at the library, shares some of the library’s resources and practices of the local historian.

Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of this online resource is the collection of photographs detailing the rapid transformation of this neighbourhood. Within a decade and a half the area was transformed from an agricultural space to a suburban space with a growing university nearby. Although perhaps more dramatic and significant than in many other areas, the photos tell the story of suburban growth; its themes played out similarly throughout urban North America.

But where suburbs tend to disrupt the connections to the past through the landscape, the Black Creek Living History project does an excellent job at demonstrating the deep and continuous history of this neighbourhood. The project reminds us that today’s borders and boundaries, often determined by urban planners in the 1960s and 1970s, were once seen as important points of connection. It serves as a good reminder that the way in which we engage with everyday places changes over time based on community and planning decisions.

The Black Creek Living History project is a great example of how community history can be told over the internet. Projects like this provide the opportunity to engage community members in creating the site’s content, the flexibility to present information in a variety of formats, and present your community’s past to a broad audience. Perhaps most importantly though, they creates a resource that can challenge us to think more deeply about where we live and the way past decisions have shaped how we go about our daily tasks and our sense of community.

Reviewing Activehistory.ca

So, I just reviewed this book (Booze) for a very innovative organization full of world-changing leaders of tomorrow. Here’s the punchline: these world-changers are historians.

Led by these historians, Activehistory.ca is the coolest and most important website in the Twitterverse. Sure, as Editor-in-Chief of the second coolest site in the Twittervese, it pains me a little to say such things, but it’s totally true. The Daily Gumboot is, however, lucky enough to share the mind of Active Historian, Jim Clifford, who moves seamlessly between the two blogs online magazine online journals websites like a nineteenth-century farmer from the Lower Lea River Valley who spends his days tilling the fields and his evenings sabotaging the industrial workshops that will soon overwhelm and consume his pristine lands. Interpret this outstanding metaphor as you like.

Moving on…

So, what is this relevantly historical website? Activehistory.ca “is a website to help connect historians with the public, policy makers and the media.” Basically, it explores and celebrates history that makes a difference in the world and (this is my favourite part) “is transformative” to communities.

The website uses podcasts, blogging, photos, maps, videos, and other social media widgets to engage communities and make the issues and ideas of today relevant from a historical perspective – as it turns out, a lot of our mistakes and successes have happened before. History? Social media? Blogs? Videos? Interactive maps? What?! Hmmm…imagine such a thing actually being developed and, eventually, transforming the entire discipline. All you dusty tenured professors out there, well, it might be a good idea to be a little nervous and, hopefully, get a lot relevant.

In time, Activehistory.ca will be one of the most powerful twitblogs on the Interscape, too. Because, in addition to putting topical events of our contemporary world into important, relevant, meaningful, and interesting historical contexts, they also know how to build community. For you see, good readers, the Twitterverse’s two coolest sites recently joined forces in an innovative new way that involved someone other than Jim Clifford. Today, you can click over to Activehistory.ca and read my superawesome review of Booze: A Distilled History by Craig Heron. Disclaimer: “superawesomeness” may subjectively vary depending on tolerance of semi-colons, nerdiness and appreciation of unique approaches to historical study.

Here is an excerpt of the my recent review of Booze: A Distilled History:

So, a wild buffalo, four twelve year old boys and Jenny the Alcoholic Bear walk into Joe Beef’s tavern in Montreal.

Seriously. That really happened…in 1859. Regardless of when it was, I bet that the mechanical bull you rode last week doesn’t seem too cool anymore, does it?

And this is why Canadian history doesn’t get much better than Booze: A Distilled History. Craig Heron’s thoroughly enjoyable – and enjoyably thorough – romp through Canada’s boozey past is as approachably prose-worthy as it is an interconnected analysis of the social, economic, political, sexual, medical, racial, and cultural impact of alcohol on this country.

It gets better from here, too. And I can tell you’re already hooked! Booze analyzes and storytells all the things we love and hate about alcohol and community – drunks and drunkards, social agency, politics, business, sexuality, and, of course, drunken bears (see Alex Grant’s and my commentary about March Madness to confirm this fact). It’s a tour de force of Canadiana and I encourage you to visit Activehistory.ca to check it out in full.

To the editorial team at Activehistory.ca, I thank you for the link love, the collaboration and, most importantly, for the opportunity to be a part of your meaningful online experience. As a self-professed history nerd – albeit not an academic one – it was an honour that meant a lot.

- JCH

Jim Clifford

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to an ongoing segment here at The Daily Gumboot. It’s called “Get to Know Your Community” and, basically, it goes like this: each and every Sunday we will profile someone from a community somewhere. Each person is asked the same five questions (see below as well as in the “Ideas from Everywhere” page). At the end of the profile, the Gumbooteer (member of this blog’s Editorial Board) who found the person will list their three favourite things about the highlighted community member. Savvy?

Here are some ideas from everywhere. Here is one way that we try to build community. Have fun with it!

Jim Clifford: a man of History and Food

Jim Clifford: a man of History and Food

1. Who are you?

Jim Clifford, eternal student, historian and teacher. I’m working to finish writing a dissertation on the environmental history of a suburb, West Ham, and river, the Lea, on the eastern edge of London, England from about 1855-1935. Most people will hear a lot more about this area in a little under three years, as it’s the location of the 2012 Summer Olympics. I study and teach at York University in Toronto.

2. What do you do for fun?

Most of my life is pretty fun. I’m at that great age where I have a lot more money and comfort than when I was an undergraduate student and still don’t have the life changing young children that the majority of our friends have started creating. I like to run and
bike; eat, cook and drink; make beer, canned goods and pork products; talk about politics, food, music or just about anything else with friends; and go to concerts and take it easy with my wife Katie.

3. What is your favourite community and why?

This is a touch question, as I’ve moved a lot in the past ten or eleven years and I’ve got a very dispersed community of friends and family spread around Canada. So instead of focusing on a community of people, I think I’ll talk about the place I live. I really like Toronto. We’ve been here for over four years now and its the first place where I’ve really put down roots since leaving South Surrey in 1998. Despite the reputation for “coldness,” Toronto’s a pretty amazing city. Its a lot more complex than the world of bankers, media elite and Leaf fans seen by the rest of Canada. There are millions of
people here and a lot of them are pretty great. We don’t have the natural beauty that Vancouver has, and the city’s forefathers even managed to ruin much of the natural wonders we do have, but we do have great neighbourhoods that give many of the different areas of Toronto great character. Getting to know many of these neighbourhoods draws newcomers like Katie and I into the city and makes us feel at home.

4. What is your super power?

Does painstaking analysis of past events and communities count? How about writing and talking about this analysis? Sounds exhilarating eh?

5. How do you use it to build community?

I’ve joined together with a group of fellow historians in Canada to promote more active engagement with the communities we study and with the major problems of our time. We have a website, ActiveHistory.ca, and we are currently working with historians to publish a series of essays written for the public and posted on the website so they are accessible for anyone to read. We are continuing to think of other ways to connect historians with both the public and policy makers – op-eds. blogs, walking tours, public talks, comic books, policy papers, guerrilla-museum exhibitions and alternative historic plaques. While ActiveHistory.ca is mostly focused on Canada, I plan to use a variety of these approaches to bring the environmental history of West Ham into the growing conversation about the massive changes brought by the Olympics, connecting my active history with my dissertation research.

I think history matters, but I’m tried of the standard yearly news story about young Canadians failing a history pop quiz. We’ve got to find better ways to build a wider consciousness of the past that goes beyond remembering dates and facts from high school: who was the third prime minister, what date did the battle of Vimy Ridge take place. Knowing the answers to those questions while help you win trivia games, but they will contribute little to building a sustainable future where the economy, environment and our society can coexist for generations to come. I’m not sure if we’ve got the super powers to change and expand the historical consciousness of our culture, but we are going to try.

My three favourite things about Jim Clifford are…

1. He’s really, really interesting. The stuff above gives you an idea of how much the painstaking analysisof his academic life makes him an amazing conversationalist and ideas man. And the best thing about Jim being interesting and knowledgeable is that he’s very, very good at consistently striving to engage anyone from anywhere on an intellectual level. An ambitious pursuit to say the least. Activehistory.ca is what the kids out there are calling a “game changer” – it’s very cool, so check it out. And, remember, graduate students are not terrible people, Tina Fey!

2. He is a man of food. Not only does Jim understand the politics of food, he is also a damn fine cook who possesses a passion for local food, especially tomatoes. I am lucky enough to be visiting Toronto, Jim’s community, in about a month – what’s on the menu, my friend?

3. We have shared adventures. Jim is a guy you want in your corner when the chips are down, and I know this because we have been on road trips, midnight hikes and graduate seminars. You can trust on Jim to stand up for what he believes in and always doing what’s right. He’s a rugby player, too, so cultivating shenanigans is never a problem when out on the town with Jim.