Thursday, 20 March 2008


to the visitor

Please pass through door # 5. Beyond is a stairwell. Descending you will end up in a city. A city small, a city smog, a city provincial, a city deep in a tradition of rioting, when the mood is ugly and a sports team wins (or loses). Be careful of the streets below. Water refugees have come to purchase expensive taps. The taps are presently open but on their way to being privatized, along with the rivers, the trees, the seeds. The genetic code of impulsive consumerism is amply visible - large bags block the sidewalks . Civilization here is two meals away from dissatisfaction. The side show Olympic circus is coming to town. Beware of copyright infringements. leave all rings behind. Enter door number five at your own risk.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

chained on main

Gunter's chain has been used as the standard dimension to determine survey markings for the parceling of acreage throughout the United States and Canada. The chain is equal to 4 rods, 22 yards, 66 feet, 1/80 of a mile or 20.1168 metres. The standard lot size in Vancouver is 33 feet wide and 122 feet long- in other words, half a chain wide on the street side and two chains in length. The still film consists of 805 still pictures taken in 33 foot intervals along the eastern side of Main St from the Fraser River to Burrard Inlet.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

caesarean architecture

Donald luxton, a local heritage preservationist, has referred to the facadist gutting of historical buildings as "taxidermy" while art historian John Stuart warns that if we destroy everything but the exterior not only is there a disconnection between it and the new interior, we also lose any link to or further insight into the past. While a case can be made for the value of authenticity and the need for prudence when guiding the financial whimsy of profiteering developers and bland revitalization schemes there is a need to explore what exactly is meant by "the past". Vancouver, it would seem, has always had a soft spot for facadism and it's moral twin, deception. From it's nascent years as a frontier outpost the city has embraced the dream of perpetuated prosperity while striving to establish a sense of permanence, to have an identity that reaches beyond the picaresque mill town to civilized respectability. And so, not unlike any other city asserting itself in the colonial shadow of the western empire we have banks dressed as Greek temples flanked by Corinthian columns, hip roofed houses kneeling behind false storefronts and an endless array of apartments tarted up as artist's lofts. The preservation of the facade, which in the case of historic temple style banks represents the nexus of classicism and financial power, is equally suited to enclosing galleries, cafes, social housing and safe injection sites as it is to reinforcing the illusion that banks are invulnerable shrines. By extension the street is not merely a space that is inhabited but a deeply saturated site of theatrical potential. As I walked past city hall the other day I imagined rooms filled with industrious puppets and circus animals. The politicians, you see, had been moved to the PNE where they were holding office at Playland; and the snakeoil salesmen and roller coaster mechanics were now living in top floor of the Shangri-La where they were planning a new attraction and native chiefs had moved back to the west-end, each clan residing in a totem faced hi-rise. And what impressed me most was how perfectly the gleaming glass reflected the whites of the creatures eyes as they looked skyward above the mid-day traffic jam below. It was apparent that these were not merely stuffed heads, but playful reminders that the real face of urban revitalization embraces overlapping and often contradictory narratives. (rb)

Thursday, 21 February 2008

ecosity- the laneways of vancouver

The laneway, intrinsic to any city, is semi rural Vancouver. The back alley, haunt of skunks, thieves, weekend putzers, racoons, coyotes, rats, cats, bottle recyclers, dog piss, pot smoking kids. Historically known as city owned right'oways, the original Vancouver laneways were deliberately configured in the famous "Jocose Style" imitating the arts and crafts hodgepodge emerging from a devastated logging site, which reminded early city planners of the London streetcars and sewer grates. Today these utility pole infested shambles have aged perfectly. A close inspection shows that their original design and purpose withstand scrutiny, especially considering the notion of Vancouver being a cluster of thirty odd "micro villages" , a bogus conception nonetheless, a tip of the hat honouring a First Nations notion of settlement within a harmonious natural environment. The bald truth, and it is rather bald by now, is the reality of a bygone real estate landgrab morphing into ongoing development schemes, where each generation of developer and consumer can feed off the simple basic need of a home.
But are the laneways home? Indeed. Note the typical garbage bins provided by the city, the lone car in front of a garage begging for a parking infraction. In summer the odourous stench of rotting trash and wormy compost is wafted into the local air, providing a tonic against the manfume of an aftershave overdouser, or the middle aged woman misting the block with her giant bottle of Chanel No. 5, or the sun uber UVing a patch of moldy artificial turf, unleashing a scorched rubber scent. And finally who can not be attracted to the caveman odour of the gas barbeque burning meat on the grill.
It is interesting to note that these neglected spaces are now being coveted and touted as the new in-fill option to East Vancouver's housing crisis. The lane way is now a sought after location to plunk in granny cottage, the combo garage/coach house, the duplex, maybe, heaven forbid, a triplex or more if it happens to be a corner lot. The zoning and planning people are confronted by neighbourhood garden forks. Not in my backyard! No to the © copyrighted ECODENSITY, a term coveted by our wheelchair bound ex-welfare recipient mayor now turned extra developer freindly SAMMY "the electoral fraudster" SULLIVAN. ( shame on his wee Irish blood). "To avoid the loaded political sense that ECODENISTY has become, let's call it ECO-CITY", suggested former British Columbia premier Mike Harcourt at a recent citizen's forum. Replace the "C" with and "S" and you've got ECOSITY, pretty darn close to viscosity. Yes sir ee folks add a little money to grease the palms of city hall and you have a well lubricated ECOSITY . And in the background you can hear the demonstrators chanting : "Up with laneways - down with anal lawns!" Up with student accommodation, down with basement suites paying an overleveraged mortgage!" Up with the no permits! Down with developers demanding thirty per cent on their money!"

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

place names among the ghost trees

Blim gallery offered a history tour of Mount Pleasant this past week. Bruce Macdonald, unofficial regional authority, guided us through his passion - the former beaver pond, swamps, and meandering flow of Brewery Creek as is was before being paved over along the Main Street and Broadway corridor. MacDonald's main beef is that people do not know where they are in our fair city. Sure there are distinct neighbourhoods: Yaletown, Sunrise, Burnaby Heights and so on, but others tend to elongate on larger thoroughfares and get lost without a distinct tag. How do you peg smaller commercial sections of Fraser Street or Victoria Drive, or South Main Street? He has approached city hall with a naming scheme but they are luke warm to his idea of a master map defining each micro neighbourhood in Vancouver with a historically appropriate label.
MacDonald himself started his tour with the fact that only 12,000 years ago there was a kilometer of glacial ice on top of Vancouver. After a rapid warming trend the trees took hold and grew with the same intensity as our rapidly changing urban landscape. Where does the desire to historically name and preserve begin. Does is start with the colonial entrepreneur - the brewery owner, the logging baron, or should it start with the glacial ice? Or indeed the beaver pond. I nominate the beaver, on whose peaty, swampy soil sits this magnificent example of Italo-Canadian Vancouver special sub tropical kitsch. Mount Pleasant was home to some of the largest trees growing in Canada. If only the city planners would allow height restrictions based on former tree heights, then our housing crisis would be solved.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

the lost streams of mt pleasant

Tracing the shadows of fallen giants we follow the buried trickle of Brewery Creek- a stream bound and diverted under a litany of condos, cafes, asphalt and concrete. Once a spring nourishing a food source for flora, fauna and a thriving native culture, the Creek was briefly renowned as a site for a host of breweries, distilleries and god-fearing confidence tricksters. Adorning the bottles of one such brewery was the image of a red hand held up as both a warning and an offering. We are told of a race between two lovedumbstruck lads rowing their punts towards a rocky shore. The first hand to touch the shore would win the prize, an ashen faced lass who simply could not choose between her courters and so put them to the test. In a fit of desperation and using what must have been a power saw, the trailing oarsman severed his paw and threw it ahead of his rival, claiming victory and supreme idiocy in equal measure. For whatever reason the red hand made it's way into the imagination of Mt. Pleasant's early entrepreneurs (and perhaps inspiring the severing of three right feet that have recently washed ashore in Georgia Strait) as an apt symbol of a long and storied tradition of hops, hooligans and methodist hucksters. (rb)

Thursday, 7 February 2008

heads or tails

The coin toss circumvented any aspect of chance by miraculously directing us into non-random random territory. This was no miracle but the will to self lubricate while taking in both the filth swirling in the stairwells and the unavoidable skyline. The city in a dualist nutshell: Scruffy/ yuppie, scrappy/ clueless, heartless/ caring. From every angle, almost every vista, stump town Vancouver is riddled with speculative cranes- their steel beaks feeding off re- bar and concrete. A wild condo hype bubble all aglow in buyer impulse and owner dissatisfaction. The current downturn perpetrated by Wall street thieves on our Stateside friends avoided here by water refugees, foreign buyers, mobsters, kid-less professionals, granite countertop and stainless steel seduced suckers. And behind and underneath all this a strip logged restless rain forest with ghosts of giant trees and creosote pools oozing up into flower beds topped with pet manure. Being a resident but still a visitor not rooted in nostalgia for what was, it would only be fair to supplant the entire evolving urban matrix of our fair city with an un- direction template not urged on by the inane froth of a coming Olympics but a population boom of Aboriginals reclaiming the leaky towers in a near future world in environmental crisis. Or just in plain words, the rain will knock down these buildings with constancy and devotion, water being the ultimate solvent. The memory canvas psyche map was painted by eggs in a greasy spoon, coffee in a known evangelical's bistro, pub fare in an Irish pub reeking of sailor's brawls, while outside impoverished angels flapped their broken wings. (gs)

Sunday, 3 February 2008


grey led to clear with the following prescription for ambling: walk 5 blocks and turn right, walk 3 blocks and turn left, walk 1 block and turn right; repeat

the first cycle led us into the parking lot of the police station which we decided to walk around taking us onto the Cambie St. Bridge which counted for one continuous block

revising our strategy we flipped a coin: heads turn left, tails turn right; the number of blocks walked is decided by the last digit of the year the coin is minted: 2007= 7 blocks

flipping four tails terminated with a pint at salt (rb)