Nature & Public Spaces
January 28, 2007

Good Advice from a Bench

At the corner of Barclay and Denman Streets in the West End, on a small rectangular lot next to King George High School, there are four benches.  Rusty red, flaked and nicked, they look as uncomfortable as the stone walls they butt up against and as worn as the ground they stand on.   But there’s something bright and new on every one: a big brass plaque with an official-looking crest, and some words.
The crest, it turns out, is of King George High School, and my assumption is that these are gifts from the grads.
The advice:
“Take time to meander in your quest.”

“Slow down.  You move too fast.”
So if you actually stop to read the two plaques, then in the first case, you have, and in the second, you don’t.

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December 16, 2006

I think we just had a Katrina Moment.
Weather so sudden, so severe, it scares you.  
The TV News called it the ‘wicked wind’ – a haunting scream at 3 am in the morning. 
The damage wasn’t just physical – though the losses will be deeply felt.  I just saw a downed catalpa, majestic and aged, ripped up by the roots in Stanley Park. 
Maybe the wind storm exposed more than the usual fear, that our technological web is vulnerable.  There’s also the fear of retribution, that nature’s roaring back as a consequence of our actions during the last two and a half centuries.  What’s next?  Because it sure seems likely, as we personally experience what is happening to our planet, that something else is in the works. 
More and more people wonder: How are our leaders going to respond to our anxiety.  One or two Katrina Moments and the agenda changes.  It already has, if Marc Jaccard’s op-ed in the Sun today is any indication.  The author of “Sustainable Fossil Fuels,” an SFU prof in resource management, confronts our provincial politicians: “What did you do for the Atmosphere, Daddy?”

 … my bet is that B.C.’s cabinet ministers will avoid telling their children about the difference they could have made.

That’s a pretty tough charge.  ‘You don’t care about your own kids?  About our future?’
Jaccard is looking at their decision to allow coal-burning power plants with no carbon capture.  He argues that the technologies exist, so is the Provincial Government really going to allow two coal-burning power plants without requiring carbon capture and storage?  That’s like saying, ‘I’m not taking climate change seriously, even in this new climate of anxiety.’
“Climate of anxiety” were the words used to headline Pete McMartin’s column, also in the Sun today.  He too got the spooky implications of our Katrina Moment; he even connected it to that “End of the World” headline a few weeks ago – with a McMartin twist.  Mother Nature is more a ‘vengeful bitch.’
It really isn’t surprising that politicians would prefer to avoid addressing climate change, given that they have to balance all the issues, find a way to respond credibly to the science, craft policy, approve legislation and allocate dollars for a danger that is distant.  But Katrina Moments require that our leaders respond, that they find the right words, and lead us at a time when we don’t know what the wind will bring.

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What’s wrong with this picture:

Calgary has been recognized as a green machine after receiving a World Leadership Award yesterday for its sustainable development policies. Calgary Mayor David Bronconnier and the city were nominated for the award in the environmental category f0r the city’s cutting edge green policies promoting public transportation and environmental design.

That’s Calgary, folks, the Houston of Canada. Politicians in places you’d least expect – Chicago immediately comes to mind – are finding rewards in branding themselves as leaders in sustainability. Vancouver – literally green – lags behind.
Provincially, few expect Alberta to sincerely embrace sustainability. But in B.C., our Premier doesn’t even seem inclined to try. How can coal-fired power plants be planned without taking carbon emissions into account, how can offshore oil-and-gas be promoted, the Gateway highway expansions be pushed through without climate change even being acknowledged?
Rumour has it that we may get a change in rhetoric with the announcement of a new energy policy early in January. Perhaps even appropriate policies. We’ll see. In the meantime, we should at least try to catch up to…. (this is so hard to say) … Calgary.

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October 23, 2006

When I moved to Vancouver in 1978, the English Bay Seawall ended at the Aquatic Centre. The path itself was only about eight feet wide; pedestrians and cyclists shared the route – and the roller blade hadn’t even been invented. Most people circumnavigated Stanley Park and called it a day. This would not have been the typical view of the seawall along the beach:

I wonder what percentage of Vancouver is out stolling the seawall – any part of its 26 connected miles – at any one time? How do people get to the seawall, how far do they walk or cycle, how often do they use it? While no doubt it has made a great contribution to our health, both physical and emotional – even spiritual – I believe the seawall provides one other great service for Vancouver: it allows us to see ourselves. This common sharing of space, on which we pass each other with a casual intimacy, gives us a regular opportunity, citizen and visitor alike, to at least know who we are, to look each other in the eye if we wish, and to build that critical commodity called civility.

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