Letters

Letters: April 2008

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Creative Differences
Mark Kingwell offers up a compelling diagnosis for the declining state of social justice in Toronto (“Justice Denied,” January/February), and it could not be more timely. Recently, my colleague J. David Hulchanski of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Urban and Community Studies released a landmark report on the splintering of Toronto into three separate cities, defined by increasing economic polarization.

But if Kingwell gets Toronto right, he gets me wrong. Perhaps it is because he has been too heavily influenced by certain critical reactions to my ideas. I do not think that cities should be made into playgrounds for what one neo-conservative critic called “homosexuals, sophistos, and trendoids.” My work is based on the premise that every single human being is creative. I note that in advanced countries like the US, roughly 30 percent of the workforce is currently engaged in creative occupations (playing a role more or less equivalent to that of the working class during the heyday of industrial capitalism). But I take great pains to point out that this arrangement is untenable in the long run, in that it neglects the creative talent and energy of the remaining 70 percent.

I share Kingwell’s concern about unchecked economies. Global market forces, left to their own devices, are leading to greater economic disparity between countries, regions, and cities, including Toronto. As our city becomes bigger, wealthier, more productive, more innovative, and more of a global player, it also becomes more stratified. Kingwell rightly points out that this offends our notion of social justice. But I am interested in identifying not just the problem but the solution, which has led me to look at the laws of motion that power societies. And this, believe it or not, is why I am hopeful. Quite possibly for the first time in human history, the growth of the economy requires further development of human creative capabilities.

I bet on Toronto (moving my family and academic work here) for a reason. While our city is far from perfect, I believe it is the city in the world that is best prepared to engage in this shift, building a society that honours and integrates the creativity of all its people.

Richard Florida
Toronto, ON

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Pretty Purty
Don Gillmor’s tour of Calgary’s buildings past, present, and future (“The Events Leading Up to Sir Norman Foster,” January/February) started me thinking about my city in a very personal way.

Elveden House, 1971. I arrived at the glass and steel tower with my legal steno pad in hand. From there, I moved to an office midtown, followed by a short stint on the twenty-first floor of a building in the downtown core. By 1983, I had decided that I liked the view better from the ground. (Yes, I became a born-again “grounder.”)

A week or so ago, I took a walk a short distance away from the city core to Arts on Atlantic Gallery. The expression “We may not be big, but we’re small” came to mind as I walked up to its narrow shop window. Something very authentic is happening there; the independent spirit is keeping the “book arts” alive. This is beauty.

Then I started to think about all the other indies that are part of my daily life. A small bookstore called Pages, which fills my shelves and my mind with ideas and poetry. There’s Reid’s, the pen and paper people, and Rubaiyat, purveyor of handcrafted art pieces and jewellery. Furniture dealers and clothiers and boot makers . . . the list goes on.

Over the years, I have seen my fair share of boom, bust, and back again. Companies merge and purge, buildings rise and fall. But the independents march along in spite of it all. Very rarely are they considered in the poker game that is the City on the Plain, but they are really what makes my city tick. And I am betting they will continue to do so for a very long time.

EnCana’s plans for the Bow, on the other hand, bring to mind the photograph of Dubai’s gleaming towers published in your September 2007 issue. “Isn’t that something!” I thought. I may someday look up at the Bow poking into the prairie sky and think for a moment, “Isn’t that something!” But beautiful? Meanwhile, I keep hearing that old poker chestnut “Take the money and run.”

Perhaps I am one of the leftovers — a grounder in love with her boots — that Gillmor refers to, but I think there’s been beauty in Calgary for years, in the spirit of all the independents peeking out beyond the shadow of the centre. It’s not big, but it’s small.

Carolynn Hoy
Calgary, AB

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Montreality
I’m kind of fond of my adopted city of Montreal. So when I saw that The Walrus was doing a whole issue on cities, including Montreal (“Montréal,” Julie Doucet, January/February), I was pleased as punch. Finally, someone from outside the angst-ridden community of anglophones here in Quebec was going to take a hard look at the city and expose it, warts and all, for the literati of English Canada.

What we got instead were four pages of graphic art more centred on the central character’s navel than on the city, which is represented by the usual touristy spots: the Grande Bibliothèque, Mont-Royal and Saint-Laurent streets, the Jean Talon market. No embedded assignment in Mile End (along the lines of Peter Valing’s in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver); no panoramic examination of the city’s storied history (as is done for Calgary by Don Gillmor); no rumination on the concept of the idea city (as in Mark Kingwell’s take on Toronto), even though Montreal has more students per capita than any other city in North America except Boston.

The Walrus missed an opportunity to bridge the gap between what people outside Quebec think they know about the province and what it’s actually like. Having straddled both environments, I can tell you the gap is large. Maybe next time.

Leonard D. Eichel
Montreal, QC

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Ploys in the ‘Hood
Peter Valing’s account of life in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (“Not So Down,” January/February) brought back memories of when I worked the district as a young wire service reporter. My wife and daughter used to join me for lunch on paydays, shopping afterwards at Woodward’s and other stores on Hastings. We got our first television — a twenty-one-inch black and white Crosley — from Wosk’s.

Valing correctly identifies the plethora of inquiries, studies, and social initiatives that have largely failed to eradicate the crime, drug dealing, prostitution, and other social ills that have plagued the community these past thirty years. Responsibility for this shameful situation rests in part on the political power structure of the city; by refusing to adopt a ward system of voting, Vancouverites have denied the dtes direct representation on city council. Many, it seems, are quite content to have the ills of drug addiction ghettoized in that area. Equal responsibility, however, rests with the Canadian government’s refusal to recognize that as long as drug addiction is treated as a crime rather than as a medical problem, there will continue to be immense profits in dealing, ensuring the racket persists.

Ironically, the Olympics may bring a solution of a kind, as Valing suggests, in the belated push by developers to gentrify the dtes in the interests of real estate profits.

Ray Argyle
Toronto, ON

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Habitat Evaluation

“For Everyone a Garden” (Adele Weder, January/February) is a relevant reminder that civilization is more about cultivation than accumulation. Years ahead of its time, Habitat 67 — “Canada’s first truly ideological government-sponsored architecture” — sought to do what has been accomplished in other arenas of social amenity and economic equity: improve quality of life through the intelligent application of technology.

It is lamentable that Moshe Safdie’s idea has not taken hold in the current frenzy of condominium and subdivision housing projects, which will only expand our ecological footprint. The washing machines we purchase today require less water and energy, but they end up in houses that do not embrace renewable energy and resource conservation. Canadians pay more money for their housing than ever before and sit in their oversized, under-occupied particleboard palaces, watching news on television about rising greenhouse gas emissions. Surely it would be better for everyone if ailing North American automotive companies were converted into manufacturers of housing and renewable energy technologies.

It’s not too late to reconsider Habitat’s proposition in light of computers and robotics that can affordably deliver mass customization in housing, and “for everyone a garden.”

Dr. Ted Kesik
Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design
University of Toronto
Toronto, ON

Moshe Safdie’s concept for Habitat 67 was not as visionary as people think. Rather, as an architecture student he innocently reinterpreted the theories of the era’s avant-garde, e.g., the Metabolists, who attempted to rethink the ways in which we build and occupy our cities. Habitat’s true value lies in the fact that financiers and builders supported its concept. Leading up to Expo 67, ambition, time constraints, and a general sense of excitement meant that project managers were willing to accept risk. And it wasn’t just Safdie who had an opportunity to build experimental designs. Other young architects, such as Joseph Baker and Macy DuBois (who passed away suddenly in November 2007), were permitted to experiment in a significant way at Expo 67.

In the forty years since, value engineering, alternative finance procurement methods, construction management, and the design-build approach (when the contractor guarantees the price prior to building) have leached into the creative well from which architectural excellence is supposed to emerge in this country. Despite this, Canada is still developing new generations of architectural innovators. Weder mentions Vancouver architect Gregory Henriquez, whose practice is facilitating the development of affordable housing in Vancouver while enabling contemporary Canadian society to think positively about its communities, regardless of socioeconomic conditions. Architects like Henriquez engage the community with a transparent design process considerably more complex than what Safdie was able to accomplish at Habitat. Every Canadian can still have a garden, although the vision and process have evolved since 1967.

Ian Chodikoff
Canadian Architect magazine
Toronto, ON

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Cash ‘n’ Caring
John Lorinc overlooked one crucial point in his important article “The Aging City” (January/February). Of course, the aging of the population worldwide requires infrastructure changes and additional services. However, there is also an urgent need to redistribute financial resources to seniors’ unpaid caregivers. When seniors express an overwhelming preference to “age in place,” they are not just talking about location. They want to be cared for by family and trusted friends.

In the United States, the aging demographic has given rise to scores of social service organizations — many effective but some, I fear, not — looking for windfalls of new money for their programs. Meanwhile, the government’s aversion to putting cash into the pockets of family caregivers, whose economic value is estimated at $350 billion (US) annually (keeping the American health care system from caving in) puts them in the position of having to spend their savings and even mortgage assets their parents worked for years to secure. And those are the lucky ones. Unpaid caregivers — mostly women — who are already poor become ever more desperately poor, as do their children. When they seek help through welfare, they might be offered a job, but neither income nor recognition for the job they’re already doing. Ironically, they often end up with employment that involves caring for seniors or children they don’t know.

Social Agenda, Inc., the advocacy ngo I work for, has estimated that expanding the federal child tax credit to include 25 million caregivers of adults — just over half the total number in the US — and making it fully refundable would create 354,942 new jobs and generate $47.9 billion (US). It would do this without creating additional bureaucracy, since the funds would be distributed directly to citizens and administered by the Internal Revenue Service. Just as important, it would facilitate “aging in place.” The bottom line is that no new social service will help seniors remain in the community if loved ones can’t afford to miss out on paid market income.

Diane Pagen
Social Agenda, Inc.
New York, NY

Ploys in the Hood II (freeform)
The city’s plan’s been to reduce low income housing across Vancouver and force the poor into a skid row radical decades of activism have made a traditional community dependent on a geographical area besieged by gentrification-violence and 2010 olympics’ doomsday countdown with cops an ethnic cleansing army the residents assaulted with depraved indifference HIV infection rate one of the highest in the world and life expectancy lower than the rest of vancouver & money / power preparing for 2010 olympics with “broken windows theory” scapegoating dope not prohibition & homeless mentally ill robbed of millions of dollars allocated years ago & junkies’ resource centre given by federal health minister but the money and building’s hard-fought years of effort & even the front door keys vanished in midst of vancouver’s first public health emergency a motion I made on the health board when I was then a member raising a cry of pandemic suffering until engineered off the board never again a white trash junkie poet from the gutter in real political power position but residents torn by traumatic histories of suffering beyond physicians’ & psychiatrists’ prescriptions while we planted thousands of crosses for thousands of executions with sirens the street symphonic scream of relentless emergency & several organized criminal gangs & corporations mutilating the poorest people in canada who are ravenously hungry for just food these forces of annihilation stalled by decades-long resistance & creative cornucopias withstanding vacant hearts of greed that are even eliminating binners even locking up bins themselves it required demonstrations occupations illegal injection sites pressuring for unique Insite & previously unheard-of organizations of addicts (VANDU) humans becoming courageous before disbelieving prejudicial eyes of media & rcmp with brutal enforcement & bankrupt D.A.R.E. prevention schemes while harm reduction misrepresented & shrunken without education, housing, health-care, employment, concrete compassion, instead a neutron bomb across from my co-op 9 floors of $300,000 suites hyped insanity: “luxury without limits / leisure without borders / water without end” and noise electrocuting nervous systems the DTES is a spiritual gift to the city of vancouver with possibility out of impossibility new life & extraordinary tolerance out of seeming death the DTES the only home I’ve ever known where I didn’t feel to quote raymond chandler like “a tarantula on a slice of angel food” & unlike the towers rising catastrophically the first nations’ totem pole in oppenheimer park stands tall, strong, silent – transcendent & so I truly thank you, peter valing, for your kindness & understanding of a very complex area & urgent situation which your article helps enlighten others.

Bud Osborn
Vancouver, BC

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