Thursday, February 25, 2010

When the Lights go down in the City

Journey made this song a hit a number of years ago:
When the lights go down in the city,
and the sun shines on the bay,
do i want to be there,
in my city,
ohoh ohohoh ohoh

So you said your lonely
well my friend i'm lonely too
i want to get back, to my city
by the rain, ohoh ohohoh ohoh

its sad ohh,
theres been morings
out of the world without you,
without your charm
ohohoh nah nah nah ohoh

when the lights go down in the city
and the sun shines on the bay
do i want to be there, in my city oh oh
ohoh ohohoh ohoh

Now it appears to be the theme for the south side of Colborne Street. Not only is the blue fence of death up, but the lights along the south are coming down. City crews have been busy taking them down, after all, no one is going to be walking on that side for quite a while.

As well, the buildings are starting to look even more run down, if that's possible:

On the other hand, as the song contains words of encouragement, of returning to the City, let's hope life does return to downtown Brantford.

To quote Josh Bean of the Brantford Arts Block:
"I've always been a huge advocate of downtown development, whether we have (refurbished) heritage buildings or new buildings," Bean said.

Now that the demolition is imminent, he said he sees his role as doing whatever he can to hold the city accountable for its decision to build anew.

"Whatever we have (coming in) there had better be heritage 50 years from now. If you're going to sacrifice these (old) buildings -which I still disagree with -you had better make it good."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Look to the Earth! International Year of Biodiversity

I'm going to take some time off from the south side of Colborne Street, after all, I've said my peace it's now up to all who are concerned about the future of the city of Brantford to decide. Who knows, the demolition and rebuilding of the Street may be what the City needs, in the short term it will create a number of construction jobs, which has to be a good thing.

With that, its time to concentrate on the Environment. It's been awhile since I've done anything with this subject. There was Copenhagen, which has to be a disappointment if not a total disaster. If you go to December, you can read some of my blogs, so I will say nothing more.

I have now discovered that 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. This year is to celebrate and to protect biodiversity on the planet, since it is very important for this to happen. Nature exists best when it is diverse and not in monoculture. Monoculture is a risk, and its something we cannot afford to continue to develop.

The goals of this year are:
Enhance public awareness of the importance of
conserving biodiversity and of the underlying threats to
Raise awareness of accomplishments to save
biodiversity realized by communities and governments
Promote innovative solutions to reduce the threats to
Encourage individuals, organizations and governments
to take immediate steps to halt biodiversity loss
Encourage dialogue between stakeholders for the
steps to be taken in post-2010

The target for the year is:
To achieve, by 2010, a
signi cant reduction of
the current rate of
biodiversity loss at the
global, regional and
national level, as a
contribution to poverty
alleviation and to the
bene t of all life
on Earth”

It's to make a difference and to protect the rich heritage of life that we all enjoy on this world. All have been created to fulfil a specific role and that means all life is important and essential. We must do what we can to protect the environment. This does mean, among other things, to end the extinction of life. For too long species have been driven to extinction, not by human greed, but often because of neglect, usually through the destruction of habitat.

So now, as we start a cycle which includes Earth Hour and Earth Day. It time to celebrate true diversity, the diversity of life.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Famous Stilt House

With a sunny weekend, it was time to go downtown and find some places to take photographs. After all, with the potential demolition of the southside Colborne Street now only a matter of time, might as well get some photographs as mementos of the place.

As I took pictures, there were other people out with their cameras, obviously the same sentiment is being felt by the others as well. From what I could tell, there was some quite good photographers, with some quite impressive equipment.

I decided to take the camcorder out and find some good shots. I'm not sure about the good part, but here are some photographs from this past Sunday:

There were a few people checking out the buildings as well.

There was also a Chilli tasting festival going on and this brought me to Harmony Square:

Saturday, February 20, 2010

And so it is Scheduled

The local paper stated it clearing in the opening paragraph:
Say goodbye to the south side.

Even though it seemed a great deal of interest was beginning to coalesce towards saving if not all, then some of the buildings along the South Side of Colborne, it now appears the Council has decided that such interest is not in the interest of the City.

I suppose it can be said, as a number of councillors have opined, that all this opposition, or perhaps in the positive, suggestions and ideas should have been placed before them at least a year ago when the process was in the early stages.

Perhaps they have a point. I wonder if part of the situation was no one believed it was possible. After all, there was a few road blocks, such as not all the money coming forward from the Province or the Federal governments. Also, the idea that since Brantford Laurier had issues with funding, plus the Y, it may have been seen that this was simply another pipe dream that had no possible way of taking place. If that was the case, then part of the problem can stem from the fact that there was a wide acceptance, or an unwillingness to see beyond the status quo. That is, people were now used to seeing the south side as the collection of dilapidated old buildings that kept people and rats housed.

It was only when the talk of it's demolition began to heat up that people decided to look again at the south side and realize there were some potential architectural gems in those roughs.

Although with the fact that people are coming forward, as well as the fact publicity is now being generated to save at least something of the south side, there still might be time.

Ah article in The Record, the paper of the Waterloo Region, lists groups that are interested in working with the City to halt the total demolition of the area. One professor is quoted as saying:
Rick Haldenby, the director of the University of Waterloo school of architecture, said the old buildings should be carefully assessed and studied to see what they could be used for.

“I was going to send an email to the mayor and council saying, ‘We have a lot of experience in dealing with these kinds of situations here and would be happy to look at it.'

“There needs to be some serious consideration given to this and some serious study done on the options that are available at this point,” Haldenby said. “We should not be demolishing the largest stretch of pre-Confederation architecture in the country.”

The issue can also be brought forward all this publicity seems to be having a bit of a negative effect on the leadership at Brantford Laurier:
The university is trying to distance itself from the controversial move by the City of Brantford.

Leslie Cooper, the vice-president/principal at Laurier Brantford, said the university has “no firm plans.”

“We are not out there pushing the council to demolish south Colborne Street,” Cooper said.

The university is taking no position in the increasingly heated debate.

“They have political processes that they go through in terms of the acquisition of buildings, demolition of buildings, consultation around buildings. They have a democratic process,” Cooper said. “Laurier Brantford respects that process.”

So the question has to be asked, is it all over? Or will this continue to drag for a few more weeks, or months until someone, somewhere comes up with a concrete proposal.

If you go to Colborne, you will notice the blue fence up around the buildings, I guess now it's just a matter of time before the equipment comes along. Apparently the hope is to have everything down and grass planted by July.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The World is Flat: a Review

During my recent trip down to the sun and sand of Cuba, I brought a book to read. Nothing unique about that, since most of the people who were lying by the ocean were reading books. In fact I thinking reading may have been more popular then going into the Ocean, the only thing more popular was the art of lying on the beach.

The book I read was entitled "The World is Flat" by Thomas Friedman. It is subtitled 'A Brief History of the 21st Century'. First of all, let me say at over 600 pages, it is anything but brief, but this is not to say the book is a struggle to read or tedious, in fact with his position as a journalist, Thomas Friedman has garnered his opinions from an interesting worldview, based upon his years of talking to some amazing people from quite a large number of nations.

The book begins with his coming to understand that the world has changed, it has become flat, or as some might describe it, as the playing field being leveled. I should point out that Friedman's thesis has brought about a number of critics who disagree with his points, but that's for another blog, perhaps. Friedman believes the world is flat and it has been the incredible transformation of technology which has brought this about, to him, the flatness can be found in the fact that companies are now being established to read x-rays, tax returns and do customer service, in places such as India, and later on you will read the same services are also expanding into Latin America, for example, to deal with the demand and the downtime on the other side of the world. The flatness is found in the interconnectivity of the world through technology.

The irony is that all this was brought about by the collapse of the tech bubble in the late 20th century. All of a sudden, all the digital infrastructure that had been put in place, such as the fibre optic cable was cheap and because it connected places such as India to North America, it now became possible to establish technology companies in India. Couple this with the fact that India decided to give up it's almost 50 year experiment with a socialist economy and build a more trade friendly one, brought about this massive explosion. It became good to be an entrepreneur, and with the fact that the post secondary education system was filled with some brilliant engineers and computer technologists, the country found itself in a place to take full advantage of the opening created.

At the same time, Friedman warns that the same technology that brought about some incredible change is also being used by groups that are not as benign. The tools are being used by groups such as Al-Quada to flatten the world in a way that is not so positive.

Thomas Friedman believes in globalization. While at times, this world has elicit scorn and anger from many quarters, to him it is the way in which people throughout the planet can raise themselves from the poverty level. He sees globalization as the expansion of jobs into places where such work doesn't exist and lifts people up. His criticism towards those who are anti-globalization is that they have no plan and the fact they tend to centre upon multinationals and not the people and nations that benefit from the jobs.

He discusses the various iterations of globalization; to him it all starts in 1492 when Columbus decided to sail west, rather then east and 'discovered' the new world. To him this is Globalization 1.0, in which nations were the main source of influence, wealth and power. It was during this period the world became round. This period lasted until about 1800, when we entered the stage of Globalization 2.0, this period was marked by the rise of corporations that quickly became multinationals. It was the time of robber barons and colossus, who ruled the world. It was also marked by the rise in both transportation and communication, so the world became small. The period we are in now is Globalization 3.0, and this is marked by the individual using the tools at his or her availability to make a difference in the world. The world is no longer round or small, it is flat.

An important part of the book is the ten forces that flattened the world. To him the great levellers are:

1. Fall of the Berlin Wall
The events of November 9, 1989, tilted the worldwide balance of power toward democracies and free markets.
2. Netscape IPO
The August 9, 1995, offering sparked massive investment in fiber-optic cables.
3. Work flow software
The rise of apps from PayPal to VPNs enabled faster, closer coordination among far-flung employees.
4. Open-sourcing
Self-organizing communities, � la Linux, launched a collaborative revolution.
5. Outsourcing
Migrating business functions to India saved money and a third world economy.
6. Offshoring
Contract manufacturing elevated China to economic prominence.
7. Supply-chaining
Robust networks of suppliers, retailers, and customers increased business efficiency. See Wal-Mart.
8. Insourcing
Logistics giants took control of customer supply chains, helping mom-and-pop shops go global. See UPS and FedEx.
9. In-forming
Power searching allowed everyone to use the Internet as a "personal supply chain of knowledge." See Google.
10. Wireless
Like "steroids," wireless technologies pumped up collaboration, making it mobile and personal

The above list was taken from the interview Wired Magazine did with Thomas Friedman.

The point he does try to get across is China and India are not interested in racing the West to the bottom, they want to race us to the top. They want to experience the comfortable life we now have in the West. They have had enough poverty, it's time for their moments in the sun and they have the resources, because we all do, the drive, desire and brainpower to do just that. If the West is to stay on top, it won't take place through protectionism and isolationism, but rather by educating ourselves with the skills to live in this new century. We need to develop greater strength in mathematics, science and the liberal arts. We need to add innovation and extras to stay on top. He also believes one place the West can stay on top is through the development of green technology. He wants to end dependency on oil, since oil has been a bane not a boon to those nations which possess it. This point is further developed in his latest book "Hot Flat and Crowded", which I did a review of a few months back.

While he is a supporter, he acknowledges the problems of globalization, for example there are still a lot of people who have not been able to enjoy the benefits of the change. These people are on the fringe and there is still a lot of them. They are there because of situations and circumstances- for example the wrong caste or the fact they are sick to give a few examples. They have been shut out because of their poverty. He does say the poor are not angry at the rich, they are angry because the way for their own wealth is block by circumstance probably not of their making. An important reason is also too humiliated. He looks at this point which has led to the rise of radical Islamism and groups such as Al-Qaida. They look at their history and their circumstance and realize they are not where they should be. Whereas at one time they were the dominant world power, they have lost a lot of strength. While much of the Islamic world is wealthy,due to oil, this wealth has not really brought about much innovation. So they seek to blame or return to that period of time when the Muslim world was the world power. Plus when they come west, they are often on the outside still, looking in, taking low end jobs and facing discrimination. This is where the suicide bombers are recruited, because humiliation leads to anger and anger to lashing out against those perceived source of the humiliation.

The book is fascinating. As I said few can have Thomas Friedman's perspective on global issues, since he's the one that talks to the people. He encounters billionaires, on one hand, and grandmothers in Utah taking his Jet Blue reservation in the next. He presents his case, not as either a cheerleader, although he admits as much, nor as someone who hates globalization, he is a realists, giving us the full portrait.

The size may frighten, but it is interesting enough to keep you going throughout the 600 plus pages.

Available through Amazon and other online retailers as well as local bookstores.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Tale of Two Downtowns

This weekend, the downtown celebrated Frosty Fest, Brantford's Winter Festival. It was celebrated in Harmony Square with some action taking place along Dalhousie Street. By the article in the local paper, it was a success, and as I can attest, there was a lot of people in the Square. The ice rink was filled, the various carnival rides had long line ups, and I have to believe the Coffee Culture store must have been doing an incredible business.

So there it was great, then you look south and see the signs of impending destruction for the south side of Colborne;

It seems the sad legacy of south Colborne will soon be a memory, and while there are many who will be glad to see it all down and gone, there are still other voices lamenting its soon destruction. There are those who will make very good arguments, that the downtown has looked bad for years, or that right now, it is a open sore on the city, something that makes people apologize to outsiders for the horrible way it looks. Or the perception is this must be an area of high crime, because things look so run-down. I don't have the statistics in front of me, I have to say that any time I make a quick perusal of the police blotter in the local paper, its often the north end where are the crime takes place, such as break and entry and other types of robberies.

Other voices are now joining the fray, the noted columnist from the Toronto Star, Christopher Hume, an urban architect has now began to make mention of Brantford's soon to be act of 'urban renewal'. He has written two articles so far this month, the first was entitled: "Brantford aims wrecking ball at its future". This article gives people a quick history of Brantford's downtown and what the plans are for its future restoration, although that may not be the right word for what is planned. He talks about the introduction of the University to the core and how there has been effort to revitalize heritage structures within the core, rather then building new structures. Even right now, the former CIBC is being restored for classrooms, and it's located at the corner of Market and Dalhousie, right across from Market Square, which must be on everybody's list of uglies. I've already got photographs of the place, so I will save you from seeing them again.

His most recent article is more his opinion of the plan and its not nice. He is very critical of Brantford's plan for south side Colborne. He writes in the article "Brantford will live to regret the tragedy of edifice wrecks". It's a pity one can sit down with him and ask the question, now Christopher, tell us how you really feel. To him it is a tragedy that needs to be stopped and stopped now. As you read more of the plans, the scarier it sounds. He quotes from the Mayor of Brantford:
And the notion of heritage, of valuing a building because of its age, holds little sway in these parts. Listen to what Brantford Mayor Mike Hancock told a local newspaper last week: "I think the worst mistake we could make is to have a solid plan. Let's just take it down and look at what we have got. Then we can start deciding together what should go there."

Wreck now, think later. Now that's faith.

The strategy of Council is to get everybody out, tear down four blocks of building and then hope some sort of plan is developed to replace the torn down structures. This makes a person wonder if the strategy of building new structures for the University and the Y is just a pipe dream. So what will that mean for those who live and work downtown, instead of old building we get to stare at plywood sheets and some sort of framing. Will there be blocks of poster covered plywood which will make things even less appealing?

I recall reading that quote and shaking my head. What do they want to do with the downtown then?

I understand there will be time taken for environmental studies and to consider the entire grade of the slope to discover what can and cannot be built. One concern has to be regarding the structures, the problem with institutional construction is that it tends to be ugly and devoid of life. Just consider the average city hall, if there is any building that sucks the life and creativity for a city, it is the municipal structure, its no wonder most cities function in a dysfunctional manner, just look at where they work! They work in a place where life and creativity is destroyed.

Mr. Hume gives this opinion:
As that phase of our evolution now draws to a close, it will be interesting to see what's next for Brantford. Though it's not mainstream yet, the back-to-the-core movement is well underway. The results are transformative. And in fact, Brantford is an attractive, compact city well poised for its next incarnation.

On the other hand, this is also a city that has made every postwar planning mistake in the book and then some. The gospel of growth at any cost turned out to be another lie, and a lot more expensive and destructive than anyone expected.

What is impressive is people do want to come to the downtown. If there's something that is fun and appeals to all ages, people will come and have fun. They can bring money to the core, the renewal can be the reality. Just needs the right vision and plan.