Back to blogging

I keep telling myself I should write more, that I need to actually do blog posts. Something something daily goals.

I've had allergies that are kicking my ass and my knee hurts but honestly that feels like progress. Neither of those two things have anything to do with the injuries I've been recovering from. If I am more concerned by them then that feels like a good sign.

I am mostly back to normal, not at full working out again but mostly. So I aspire to blog. More. A lot more. I aspire to share stuff and to use this thing that I once really loved and think I still do.

I have stories to tell and I want to actually bother to tell them. I want to turn to-dos and ideas into things.

So I am going to blog more. I swear.

Hill walking

After various trials and tribulations — the book disappeared under my bed for a while and is suitably water damaged — I have finally finished Beyond Belfast by Will Ferguson. I read it because he's good at travel writing, which is something I'd like to be good at and enjoy reading, and because he's from Calgary and we all need some yyccon in our lives.

He's great at descriptions and does lots of things I need to work on. His adventures never feel like a laundry list. They just move. My manuscript doesn't always do that very well.

The last bit of the book brought me back to Scotland and why I'd been drawn there. It made me want to wander over hills and get lost in the rain. It reminded me of the endless draw of long-distance hiking, something I'd like to do but am not sure I am well-suited to — something something bad knees, ankles and back. I now feel like hoping on a plane and going to explore for a while, something that feels more natural to me than slogging through trying to find work even though I'm both underqualified or overqualified for basically every job I could do.

It ties into that what am I doing here? How am I going to pay rent? Where do I belong? Nowhere and everywhere voice.

I want to find my place. I thought it was here but it doesn't feel like it is. So then where? The hills, the trees, somewhere else.

Then there's the end. A bittersweet end as he searches for his origins, how his Irish grandfather came to Canada and he ended up here. The same sentiment led me to Scotland where I lived a couple of blocks from a street that bears the name of one of my family lines, a place where I felt very much at home, a place that I felt so very connected to. A story so many Canadians have.

Her or me

A while back I was hanging out at Parallel 49 on Main before heading to an event. I noticed a girl who was on Indeed and applying for basically the exact same social media gigs as me. It was weird looking over and wondering whether they'd hire her over me if our resumes ended up in the same pile.

Licking things to claim them as my own

A few years ago I was going through some of my old stuff at my parents house. Downstairs in a spare room sits a desk and shelves where I'd kept all my art supplies in junior high and high school. For a few years as a teenager I filled sketchbook after sketchbook. My mother while telling me over and over again that art was not a future and that my grandmother had been miserable in art school was also happy to buy me supplies.

I'd collected a nice range of Faber Castell markers, the kind that I now spend several hundred dollars a year on, as well as assorted other supplies that many didn't get access to.

In grade 12 I stopped drawing. I had a thumb injury from fencing that was bugging me. I was busy. I'd been told over and over again in different ways that I just wasn't very good at this art thing and that I had no future in it. Between teachers and my mother I said okay to the pressures of a world that somehow thought I had a brighter future as a writer with a poli degree than as a graphic design student.

Then I was going through those drawers of supplies. My mother is a hoarder. As a result of this it's very important to me that stuff be useful, that it have a purpose and a place, that you either use something or get rid of it. So I debated whether I should give the old art supplies away, throw them out or use them up. I ended up going with use them up.

The plan was to draw until all the markers were gone, do some pastels until all those were gone, paint until the box of acrylics and pile of paper disappeared. Then close the door on it all and say that's taken care of.

Instead, I rediscovered how much I'd enjoyed drawing and that I was actually pretty good at it. With Pinterest I had access to all the inspiration in the world. By looking at drawings I liked I taught myself to draw. I copied at first, then I took bits and pieces from different places. Want to figure out how to draw a toque on a fox or how a head would tilt when doing a certain thing? There's lots of sources out there.

At the beginning I didn't think about what was mine and not because I just cared about using up the art supplies. Then I started buying more and kept going. I never kept track of the changes or where things came from. It was only once I'd stopped doing as much of it that felt serious about my art, that maybe there was something here, that maybe that kid who always wanted to go to art school was about to get a second chance at a creative life.

So I wonder what's mine? Where can I take inspiration from? What belongs to who?

I have no plans to out and out steal or copy someone and pass it off as my own. There is no value in that. I just wonder if any of what I'm doing is mine enough to be mine. Does any of it really belong to me? Can I take credit for it? Can I do anything with it?

I've been reading Austin Kleon, who talks marvellously about inspiration and creative work. He wrote Steal Like An Artist and Share Your Work. It's really nice hearing about inspiration and learning. I am still just a beginner figuring out what it means to draw things in my sketchbook and put them out into the world, what it means to do creative work.

I also found this fine site about a book called Consumers, which talks about inspiration, sources and how all any of us are doing is mashing some different stuff we find together with our experiences and perspectives and personality to create something slightly new.

This is what I do in writing, on Twitter. I surf around finding ideas, comments, perspectives and I pull them together without thinking about it. I'm happy to give credit for where I heard this or that if I can remember. I don't feel like I have to own those ideas or even say more than I was at an event the other night and somebody said this and I thought it was great so now I'm going to use it. A joke I tell over and over again was literally taken from an architect I saw at a talk a year ago. I credit him — sadly often as that guy from the talk whose name I forget — but have no qualms using this joke.

I was an excellent student, and if I go back to school I anticipate that I will once again be an excellent student. I am competitive, hardworking, intense and obsessive. All traits that can be both good and bad but that are mine. What I learned as an undergrad was how to do a bunch of research, take the best arguments from different positions and research and make an argument based off of that. By the time I finished fourth-year I could pump out A papers no problem. Yes, I had to do the work but the method was tried and true. It just made sense. I literally just read a bunch of stuff, took what I liked and mashed it together.

If that was my process for writing papers and essays, one that worked really well, why am I so self-conscious about art? I am great at absorbing things, being curious, and mashing my varied interests together. Why do I put so much pressure on myself to have everything I draw be unique and truly mine? It often feels like none of this stuff really belongs to me. There's a way to draw a fox or an otter. You can change the bits and pieces but fundamentally it's something that's in our culture and you can learn. Who owns that? Who does that belong to? Do I get to be a part of it? How many variations of it are possible? Is my version unique enough? Has it all been done before?

I'm trying to take Austin's advice and share my work. So far no one seems to think that my fox is terrible or that I don't get to keep doing him. I think there's something there. I'd like to have it go somewhere.

Speaking of mixing things up: I call my fox Frederick, after Frederick Law Olmsted, one of the designers of Central Park in New York and the godfather of landscape architecture. That's a mix that only I can do.

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Google Maps on Google phone

Yesterday I was meeting up with a friend at SFU. I'd never been before and want to see if it was as horrible as I'd expect. We joked that the visit would be about burritos and brutalism. I missed my bus stop because I was on Twitter. I can't read on buses or I get in the zone and look up and am like where am I and what's happening. It's a problem. And one reason I got into podcasts. You can stare out the window and get information and stories at the same time.

I was running late and needed to text her. But her number hadn't saved in my contacts — even though I distinctly remember saving it before my last factory reset. So I downloaded Messenger, which usually works for about five seconds after a factory reset. After that the memory uses kills my phone and I delete it.

I also emailed her and that got through so all was well.

The burrito was delicious and messy. The brutalism was foggy and I don't understand how anyone manages to get to their classes at SFU. I would just walk in circles endlessly. For all #brutalmondays and This Brutal World has done the biggest problem with brutalism is that people actually have to live and work in some of these spaces. And some of them are just awful. So so awful. Why did people think this was a good idea at one point in time? Were they just high on inventing concrete and feeling infallible? Why is brutalism kind of making a comeback.

One of my other friends messaged me welcoming me to Messenger saying, "Finally joined messenger I see. How exciting..."

I was like yeah about that, "My phone is not very with it. It won't last. At this point my phone has trouble running Google Maps. And it's a Google phone."

And the whole Google Maps not working thing is a bummer. It would be more of a bummer if I didn't spend most of the time it did work swearing at it and telling it it was lying or saying but how, how do I do that? While I was figuring out how to get to the bus stop I'd originally wanted to go to but went past Google Maps kept crashing on me. I was like you are a basic app on a Google phone. Just load already.

Alas.

If all else fails I can just do another factory reset. It'll work great for a couple of days before the cycle of slowing down and crashing begins anew.

Delete damn it

One of the really big frustrations I have with my phone is that the delete function doesn't seem to work. Eventually the photos I take fill up the space I have on them so I need to move them off. Usually that should be pretty straightforward. For me it's a time consuming nightmare.

I have no idea why but the erase function just doesn't work. The only option is usually to do a factory reset.

I have spent the last ten minutes trying to erase two photos. It just won't work.

Top up

Yep. It happened again.

I did not top up my phone on time. That's basically how this goes right?

I got the text a few days ago. Did nothing about it and then got the whole you can't top up text.

I have been hanging around at home today getting some stuff done — actually getting lots done, it's been great. I had been thinking about going out and doing some stuff but home is nice and cosy. Roommates aren't around so it's quiet.

It's more annoying when I forget to top up and I'm out doing stuff and can't get on wifi.

As far as the phone dysfunction front goes this is pretty boring but I am trying to blog more.

The phone itself is only borderline functional. I need to get a bunch of photos off it and then do another factory reset. On the bright side Spotify has been consistently working so that's been fun. I don't have Instagram on it right now so that's a bit inconvenient. I had all those projects on the go but I can't really continue them if Instagram doesn't work on my phone.

One day I'll get a new job and then I'll have money. Then I'll buy a phone and it will work and it will be magical.

Getting back out there

Since I've been out here my wrist has been bothering me. A lot.

The injury was dormant then it was creeping. Then it was throbbing. Then it felt better. Then it wasn't.

My plan was to get a retail job if I needed extra money but that hasn't panned out on account of me worrying about lifting things and having issues with pain when cleaning. It's a bummer.

So I decided to go to physio at long last. Physio isn't really a part of our healthcare system the way it should be so it's not something I usually do. Usually I just think about how little money I have and do without. The pain in my wrist felt different. Probably because everything that I do involves my right hand and it freaks me out when it hurts.

The original injury involved photography and twisting knobs and holding a camera this summer made it worse so I decided to take a break from photography.

There were other reasons to take a break, other things that were bugging me about photography. The gear thing is stressful. It's expensive and that shit is bulky. I want to live a simple easy life, not one where I need a car just to drive my gear around. I can't afford that shit either and I don't even know if I want it.

Then there's the file management. That is still a mess and I am still doing a terrible job of it but maybe one day I'll figure it out. When I have money maybe then the whole hard drive mound thing won't bug me as much.

I stopped posting and dealing with my photos in Scotland and never got back to it. I want to get back into it. I want them to be organized and tagged and saved as the right names. I just have to sit down and chip away at it.

I don't want to be an event photographer. I don't really even know if I want to be a professional photographer. I don't really know.

I do know the last few months have been weird and hard. I've been thinking about how I relate to the world and how photography plays into that. Until I took my break I didn't leave my house without my camera. Usually if I left my house it was to take pictures. Photography has been my reason for joining things, making friends, going to events and exploring places. For the past few years photography has been my reason to go outside. It's also been the way I experience the world.

It's a bit different from the people who experience the world through a phone but it's still something where I was never just in a place. I always had my camera out. Always. Without photography why bother. Except the last few months I have bothered. I have gone to the beach just to go to the beach. I have gone to events just to check them out. Life is different when you leave the camera at home.

So I am back trying to take pictures. I think it'll be more chill going forward, which isn't a bad thing. I want it to be fun and rewarding not just something that stresses me out and that I don't know how to deal with. As Elizabeth Gilbert says if you love something you love it enough to plow through the stuff that sucks about it. I love photography but I don't love dealing with photos. I love photography but I don't love my memory cards or my mound of disorganized hard drives and files that may or may not be saved somewhere.

I don't know what the answer is to that question. That's okay. I don't have to know.

I am watching Dirk Gently on Netflix and while Dirk can be wildly incompetent — how is he not dead — I love how chill he is. Sometimes you just have to ride the log and end up where you end up. You end up in a secret passageway with a magic lightbulb? Explore it and see what happens. You'll probably end up somewhere that is kind of like where you expected to be.

I've never really had any clue what I was doing when it came to dealing with my photos. I still don't. I'm just going to keep swimming and see how it turns out.

Immigrants vs. global capital flows and inclusiveness in Canada's big cities

When it comes to Vancouver's housing crisis we can all agree that there is a problem but it's harder to think of a solution. One of the problems that we all seem to be able to identify is the influence of global capital and real estate speculation on housing prices.

Some have called to ban foreign ownership. Today, BC Premier John Horgan ruled this option out saying, "British Columbia is the gateway to Canada and I don't believe we should be curbing people coming here. I'm the child of an immigrant, virtually everyone I see here is the child of an immigrant."

I'm a bit confused by this argument because global capital flows are not immigration. The problems with people from far away places buying properties they don't live in isn't the same as immigration. If I were to design a policy regulating foreign ownership I would make it so that residents, which includes immigrants would be able to buy property.

The difference between immigrants and global real estate speculation is that immigrants actually live here. They migrate to Canada. What they probably find is that Canada's two largest cities are rampantly unaffordable and that the routes to success taken by previous generations of immigrants are closed off to them.

The problem isn't immigrants, people who come and live in Canada, buying housing. It's people who don't live in Canada buying housing. It's those who wish to treat our housing markets as places to park capital and make money making it so that people who do live here can't survive.

So why are we equating immigrants and being an inclusive place with welcoming an endless free-flow of speculative global investment?

If we really want to be an inclusive place where immigrants and the children of immigrants can make it then we have to be a place where people can afford to live. Immigrants are as much a victim of the housing crisis as anyone else. Imagine how hard it is for new immigrants and refugees to build lives in Canada when the cost of housing is so out of reach. For us to be an inclusive place we need to be a place with housing people can actually afford.

So why is regulating foreign capital flows somehow pegged to being an inclusive society? It beats me. It's not possible for an airline to be majority foreign owned in Canada but our housing market is up for grabs? That doesn't make any sense.

Now, back to the children of immigrants. I know quite a few first-generation Canadians. Their parents came here for freedom or opportunity or because of the idea of this place that we project into the world. Parents dream of giving their kids a better life. Sadly, for most of my friends that life doesn't include being able to own or afford housing. I don't know a single first generation Canadian who can afford a one-bedroom condo in Vancouver. Not one. So what was Horgan saying about the children of immigrants and the promise of opportunity in Canada?

There are many models for how we can regulate foreign investment in Canada's real estate. Switzerland offers a compelling model.

Global capital flows are not immigrants. They are very different. Immigrants are people, people who actually live in Canada, people who are being crushed by the housing crisis just like the rest of us. Global capital flows are money. Until we decide that people matter more than money we will not be an inclusive place for anyone, immigrants and children of immigrants included.

Repost: An urban strategies and design approach to Highland Park redevelopment

I posted this on my Wordpress back when this was before yyccc. I found the draft and am reposting here in case anyone finds it useful.

I've been following the Highland Park redevelopment proposal, mostly from social media, and I'm not very impressed by what I see. The process has been highly dysfunctional and it makes me wonder about the state of planning in Calgary. By applying the basics I learned in my program last year I could easily come up with a better development proposal.

The opposition to the Highland Park proposal hasn't been classic NIMBYish. It's been a community opposed to a development that fails to respond to its needs and that fails to apply the most basic urban design principles. The community isn't upset about density. They are angry about green spaces, drainage and watersheds. They are angry about TOD that is in no way TOD.

Two really easy things have been missed: context and putting the public realm first.

Context and assets

The first place I'd start when planning a development like this is context.

I'd study the history of the area and the site. How has it evolved over time? What previous uses have been in place there?

I'd look at the community it's in and those around it. What is the character of that community? What is good about it? What can be improved? What do residents want from a new development?

Here there are some concerns that I'd ignore. Generally people opposed to mid-rise development in single-family home communities need to be told that density is not up for discussion. The way it happens is but the concept itself is not. In this situation the community isn't opposed to density, at least not from the objections I'm hearing. They're opposed to badly done density. That is fair. Badly done density serves the needs of no one.

Then because this is an old golf course on a sloped site I'd look at the ecology and geography of the site. I'd look at waterways. I'd wait for the watersheds study to come out. I'd look at the sad buried stream that can be brought back to life. I'd look at flooding and seasonal rain. Given how prone to flooding the stream in Confederation Park is this should be a serious concern for any development here.

At the charette the community favoured a park in the middle with housing around the edges. Instead the proposal is clumsy with housing shoved in the middle of the valley and poorly thought out green spaces dispersed between. This type of green space will be neglected and used by no one.

Context tells you what a development should be like. You take the history, community character, and the ecology and geography of the site and you build something around that. The public realm, in this case the park, should be designed first. Then you plan the buildings.

The proposal before council fails to do these basic things. They have not listened to the community association. They started with buildings instead of the public realm.

The proposal also commits the horrible blunder of running a road through a green space. Why in 2017 we would even consider this is beyond me. Buildings around the edges would mean that existing roads can link to new buildings. Instead of daylighting the stream they want to pave it over.

An urban design approach would see the stream as an asset to be cherished. If Jane Jacobs taught us anything it's that development should enhance what is already good about a place, a community, a site. It should be used to make it better, not worse.

Why not create a sustainable urban drainage system centered on a stream and floodway? There is a great opportunity here and we are missing it.

Precedence and examples

It's always a good idea to look at similar developments in Calgary that have been done well and what can be learned from them. Confederation Park has a similar geography and housing around the edge of a park. Bridgeland can be an example of how to introduce new built form around a park and public space considerations. What are other examples in the city that we can learn from?

Just say no

No development is better than bad development. If you say yes to anything you get bad development. That is a bad development and it doesn't have to happen. Once it does it's too late. The opportunity is gone for at least 100 years and probably forever. The City of Calgary needs to start saying no and expecting development of a high quality. If it's not good enough it's just a waste of opportunity and resources. Quality should be the rule, not the exception.

An urban design approach is about looking at how buildings fit into the communities and spaces around them. It means taking a wholistic approach to them and demanding quality.

Council has the power to demand more and set higher standards. They have the ability to change guidelines.

Calgarians have the obligation to insist on better like we are with this awful proposal. We can do better than this.

Relationship to broader policies

This proposal is impacted by a lot of broader policies in the city including the Green Line, the densification of the Centre Street corridor, the watershed study, other parks and the pathway network.

Intensification of use in the area will mean more people using the same amount of green space. Taking away a green space instead of creating one means they have even less park space. Again density is only good if you do it well. Has the city considered how parks and potential green spaces fit in with the plan for the Green Line? Why not use this as one of those spaces?

If you are aiming for TOD why put a road through a green space? Why widen McKnight? It's 2017. Other places figured this stuff out decades ago and we're still doing it wrong.

How does this space fit in with the pathway network and linear parks in north Calgary? Can it not be an extension of those? We are known for our pathway network and green spaces that enhance quality of life. Why not use that strength here? Again Jane Jacobs would say that we need to enhance what is good rather than destroying it.

How does this space fit in with cycling networks and active living strategies?

How does it relate to parks right next to it like Confederation Park? What impact does a change here have on Confederation Park?

Form and existing areas

The sad thing about this whole debacle is that I really like the buildings, urban design failings aside. They are the type of development I'd like to see in Calgary. If done on an existing paved block this wouldn't be an issue, it would be great. Unfortunately it's really hard to do blocks and buildings of this type in existing communities. We are so stuck with single-family homes and big setbacks that we make it nearly impossible to do good development in existing communities.

Lack of area plan

This is the second development in a very short period of time where a lack of area plan has created difficulties in assessing a proposal. The city needs to commit to area plans. They need to define what sort of development should take place in every community in Calgary. They need to be engaging with community groups to create long-term visions. Starting with an area plan and then having developments that fit in with it will prevent this sort of development that completely ignores the needs of the community and is very badly done. The golf course site could be clearly defined as a park with development around the edges.

In Edinburgh planning is done differently. They don't have strict land use rules. Instead they have suggestions for what type of development they'd like to see proposed in an area or street as well as what areas are being targeted for what types of development.

We need to start defining what the characters of communities are and what we want to see happening in them. The city needs to commit to hiring staff to do long-term area plans and to engage communities in this process. It's not that hard to do we just have to decide that it matters.

The city also needs to take an urban design perspective to proposals. Vancouver has adopted this approach and it has paid off. We can do it too but it means hiring someone with a background like mine to look at developments and have a say early on. A lot of the issues with the proposal are painfully obvious to me. The solutions are simple as well. You could do something really great on this site. Will we?

No answer

Long time readers of my assorted blogs will know that I have issues with my phone. My father believes that I am cursed. I believe that my phone hates me and actively wants to make me unhappy. Who really knows.

I really just need a new phone but I need money first so that's not happening for a while.

Until then I have old Clunky McClunkface.

Clunky's latest move is to not let me answer calls. Some of the calls Clunky will deal with. Some of them Clunky is like nah I'll show you the call but I won't actually let you do anything about it.

The joys.

Order + chaos

This week a needed information from a document that's at my parents house. I called my mom and told her that if I knew where it was — if — it would be in a particular drawer in a particular filling cabinet in a particular room. She opened the drawer and there it was. Like magic. If it hand't been there I have no idea what I would've done. She never would've found it.

In life I believe there is order and there is chaos. Or at least in Rhi there is order and there is chaos. I keep mentioning that my documents are in an advanced state of chaos and that it's making me crazy. I think sometimes people don't get why it bugs me so much.

As readers of this blog know I just finished typing up the first draft of a book I wrote the last time I lived while I was out here. I wrote it out by hand in several notebooks and kept not quite finding the time to finish typing it up. Well, I'm done now.

Since my documents are all on a hard drive that makes me feel like crying and giving up on life I finished typing it up in a separate file. Today I went out into the wilderness to find the document where hours of work and the contents of notebooks that are in another province should reside. It took me twenty minutes to find the right file.

Twenty very stressful minutes.

It's not named what it should be, it's named something else because my old broken computer tends to crash and then I have multiple recovered versions of a document — the joys of being poor. So it's saved as the wrong name. Once I figured that out I found it. It amounts to 101 pages and 44,153 words that I carelessly put somewhere maybe to be found again, maybe not. I need to deal with this mess.

For now I am glad that I get to have those glorious words and that they can meet their final friends. Then I can work on how to edit something so big. I think I'll do it in sections.

That is the end and there is so much more

I just achieved something, something big, something exciting, something I've been working on for a long time.

I finished typing up the first draft of a book about doing the TransSib with my dad and sister that I wrote in several notebooks when I was living in Vancouver before. I had trouble typing it out so I wrote it by hand.

My goal was to finish the written draft before leaving for Scotland and I did.

I left it to sit and age. To give it time and because I figured I'd be too busy what with a one year masters program.

Then I did bits and pieces since getting back.

It's easy to find reasons not to deal with it. But I want to do this, it's at the top of my list of projects.

I'm at a turning point in my life and I've been thinking about what it's important to me to do over the next few months. This is a big one.

So I sat down and I did it. Now I have to sit down and edit it until it's something worth reading.

This is how it ends right now:

We ate dinner at a chain restaurant outside the station. Our food was cold and the service was bad. We returned home and packed out stuff one last time.



We got up around 5:30 am to get ready and finish packing. We made the 7:00 am Aeroexpress. It leaves every half hour and we got there five minutes before the next departure. We ran and made it but there were no seats left. We got to stand amongst the luggage.

It did give us more time at the airport, not that it really mattered. My flight left after theirs. I got to look forward to connecting in Stockholm before visiting a friend in Paris.

We had some time before their flight so we got coffee.

Then I went and bought food with my remaining roubles and waited.

I should write a better conclusion but I just don’t know what to say.



It was weird to be without my father and sister after all these weeks. It was also nice to be alone.

We’d travelled # kilometres together. I hadn’t come out of crisis or anything more than because my sister wanted to do it.

I’d miss the peaceful rustling of rails and unfolding of the scenery outside the window.

Paris awaited. Then life. My real life. I would need to find a job and to try to aswer that nagging question of what exactly I was doing with my life.

Over the next year as I started writing this and then typed it up I realized I didn’t really know the answers to those questions. The important thing was to do things even if the only good reason was that you wanted to and to learn to live in the moment and just be. I certainly don’t remember any Russian so that’s not what I got out of it.

It's funny typing those words and thinking of all the things I've done since I wrote but how I still feel exactly the same. Looking for a job, uncertain about the future. Not really sure how to answer the dreaded question. "so what do you do?" I still feel like I'm drifting and seeking. Older, wiser, still not really sure what I'm doing.

Anyways, I might go out for a walk and see if any convenience stores are selling ice cream. It seems like a fitting way to celebrate this moment.

I love this place but this place doesn't love me

The day before I moved back to Vancouver Jessica Barrett's why I left Vancouver piece appeared in the Tyee. One of my good friends intentionally didn't send it to me because he was worried it would upset me. I saw it on Twitter and my Father told me about it. I read it and began to question my plans for the future yet again.

I'd wanted to come back to Vancouver ever since I'd left for school in Scotland. I remembered cheaper West End apartments and my affordable but dodgy place in East Van. Finding housing was one of the big things stopping me from coming back. I was worried about getting scammed or not being able to find something.

I got lucky. A friend of a friend who I had talked to at a wedding over the summer knew someone looking for a tenant. I emailed and arrived in Vancouver with a place to live that I could almost afford. It's way more than the thirty per cent of my income that I'm supposed to be paying for housing but not so much that I can't make it each month. It'll do.

I go between being grateful for having this housing and being angry that I pay so much to live in it. I am sick of roommates. I am sick of taking what I can get. I am sick of not mattering in a system designed to screw me over.

I don't want much. I want to be comfortable. I want to pick out my own sofa and have a space where I feel comfortable and happy. I don't want to sleep in later so that I don't have to make small talk over breakfast — I have a general don't speak to me in the morning policy. I feel worn out and drained by the prospect that it will never get better than this.

The plan was to move to Vancouver and stay here, build a life in this city that I love and am drawn back to. Now I look at it as though I get four years here — I'm applying to study landscape architecture at UBC — and then I need to work out my next move. I think about moving to Halifax or Montreal. I think about how nice it would be to live somewhere where people don't have to struggle so hard to survive.

When I left Scotland I was excited to return back to Canada. It's easy being here. People understand what I say, they get my references. I can work here and I get healthcare here. It's not as good as the healthcare in Scotland but I can get it. Justin Trudeau has been elected. It was the period between Brexit and him breaking all of his promises. Things looked good.

When I leave I end up wanting to come home. When I'm home I want to leave.

I want to stay in Canada but there's also this voice telling me to go back to Northern Europe. I could move to Sweden or Norway or Amsterdam or Glasgow. I could move somewhere where I fit in better. For all the language and culture I always feel like the odd one out in Canada. I feel like my preferences and values are a much better fit in the Nordic countries than here. Things I took for granted as shared assumptions in Scotland I have to justify here. I feel like a crazy person for holding beliefs most Europeans don't think about.

All this moving has worn me out. I want to just live somewhere. I want a boring happy life. I want to buy some dishes and a couch and a table. I want to settle in. I want to do it here but I just don't feel like I can. Dying in the earthquake we're all woefully unprepared for aside Vancouver is a spectacular place to live. It's also one that doesn't seem to care whether or not people can in fact live in it, it's one that doesn't care about people living in poverty or people who are struggling.

Canada students loans offers $1500 a month. That's just about enough to cover rent near UBC in Vancouver (if you get lucky). Nothing for tuition or food or replacing things that wear out or God forbid having a life and being somewhat happy and not worrying about every last purchase you make during your youthful years.

Students inhabit this weird brand of poverty that for some reason Canadians don't consider to matter. We have no income and we have enormous expenses but yet we're not poor. We're just borrowing from the future, a future it is harder and harder to imagine having.

There are parts of Barrett's piece and her response that I take issue with. Some of her policy solutions are self-serving like her belief that if only landlords couldn't charge more for a dog that will totally damage their place then she'd be fine or that simply moving to another city solves the problem or that because we're a country of immigrants it would be wrong to stop people who will never live here from owning property here. Her solution of moving to Calgary and buying a property there simply gets her in the game before the same forces that made Vancouver and Toronto unmanageable hit. Once Calgary is unaffordable where do we run? She is not a policy wonk. She's just done.

My dad's response to my thoughts on Barrett's piece was that I am a macro policy type person and it can be cold and logical. That is true but it's also not. Policies aren't these cold and neutral things. They decide winners and losers. They decide whether or not people are homeless. They decide whether renters or rich foreign investors matter more. Those policies have huge impacts on our lives.

A great example of this was during Calgary's recent budget deliberations. Proposed cuts to transit began as a number. Then the Calgary Herald translated them into impacts.

"On Tuesday, the second day of budget deliberations, the public got its first glimpse at what bus routes will be affected if council approves a 46,800 service-hour reduction at Calgary Transit that’s estimated to affect 56,000 riders a week."

This paragraph tells us how many people's lives will be worse because of the proposed cuts.

"The proposed cuts to the 27 bus routes will affect riders in different ways, depending on the route — they include doubling wait times, changing mid-day frequency by five minutes, and cutting weekend and late-night service on some routes.

The affected routes are: 2, 7, 10, 15, 24, 25, 27, 28, 31, 34, 78, 83, 86, 89, 93, 105, 113, 114, 120, 134, 146, 174, 199, 300, 420, 453, and 456."

That might seem like a random list of numbers to you but two stand out to me: the 2 and 10. I take those buses. I know people who take those buses. Those cuts would mess up my life. I was thinking about taking the 10 to Market Mall to buy a new phone over the holidays. It's meaningful to me.

Policies are about choices. We decide who matters and who doesn't. Most of the time in Canada I feel like I don't matter. I can run away but that doesn't really solve the problem.

Lest we forget

Remembrance Day is tomorrow and I've been thinking about making a poppy. I've gotten lazy about doing the design skills I learned at SAIT and I need to practice more. One of the cool things we learned was how to look at things and break them into shapes so you can build them. Like a graphic of a house in an add, I now see it as a box with windows and a door. You can build it if you look at it that way.

So here's a poppy and I thought that a cursive would be fitting. On Remembrance Day I usually think about my great uncle who died fighting in France when his plane was shot down. My mother has his journal and she says it is pretty horrible to read. Maybe one day I'll try and brave it. We live in unstable and dark times. We have a lot to think about during our moment of silence.

 

2017.11.10 Lest we forget.png

Tedious tasks

I am going through and saving all the photos I have in Smugmug so that I can close up my account. The renewal date looms so I need to get it done. I think I have it all off, it's just a matter of checking they worked. Then I have to check those downloads against files on my hard drives when I one day get to that. It is so much easier to just dump them random places and never do anything with the duplicates, at least in the short term.

But I am thinking long run. I want order damn it. I want systems that work. I want my files to be a gleaming wonder that people will come from miles around to gawk at. I just want to be able to find old projects and make sense of my photos.

These tasks, this going through things, waiting for files to download then double checking them, it's a bit tedious. My days aren't exciting. It's one task followed by another followed by another. So it goes.

Words words words words

I've been writing things down in different places for ages. I like to write things down. That's how I learn, how I remember. I go through notebooks like crazy.

I cannibalize them, destroy them. Rip out the pages and sort them into piles. The piles are filled with pieces of paper that are different shapes and sizes. The pieces of paper with various things jotted in my handwriting — which is somewhat illegible but in my opinion beautiful — contain potential like a 21-year-old who has just finished undergrad. They are unformed and may become something.

I have been sorting, going through the bins that I have pilled quotes, thoughts, inspiration and a nice turn of phrase. I have typed up a large pile of thoughts for a project that I want to start, a project that I got the idea for from the way I write certain things down. It is about words. I am scared to start. I want to not be scared but I am. I am hesitating. Waiting to be ready.

Things happen in their own time and when you are ready but sometimes you just have to leap. I have this image in my head that occurs at times like these of me standing there on the edge of a cliff above some water. The water is dark blue with swirls of white, deep, deep enough that it is safe to dive into. I imagine myself jumping in feet first and the water rushing up beside me. I trust water, I like water. It's about taking that step, leaping as it were. Sometimes you just have to go for it.

Now that I am through that first pile, the one filed with potential, the one that is an idea, an intuition, a thought, made real here now through admitting it, I am moving onto the next one.

The next one is quotes. I have been collecting quotes for years in various ways. One notebook was drenched in coffee. I had spent six months recording quotes in it and the ink ran and the pages were ruined. It was a hard loss.

I also collect them in screen shots and on Pinterest. Written on pieces of paper that are different sizes, shoved into bins, sorted. Some of the quotes may become things, some of them just make me happy. I've been typing them up in the morning. It's a nice way to start the day. Sit down with beautiful and inspiring words. That article you read, that book you love, words to live by.

Words. Stories. Ideas. Ways of life.

My first love was otters, water, nature. There was always art, more a tendency and a longing than a love. It seemed forbidden. My mother tried to crush it out of me every chance she got. It still feels a bit that way. Something that's there but that society would rather wasn't.

My second love was writing. I finished reading Politics and the English Language by George Orwell yesterday. It's one of those short beautiful books. At the end they list other books you can buy from the series. One of them is Some Thoughts on the Common Toad. Just reading the name of that essay and knowing it's available on it's own moves me, it reaches back to me in grade nine reading the essay for the first time. It's simple and beautiful and it made me want to be a writer. Not in a vague, abstract way but in a while reading it I decided that I wanted to be a reader way. That essay changed my life.

So these quotes. They keep me going when I desperately need a reason to not lose hope. They remind me of how I want to live. They distract me when I should be doing other things. I look at my photos and I see the life I've lived, the places I've gone. It's the same with these quotes. If you want to know who I am and how I've spent my time on this earth you need go no further than my Excel spreadsheet of quotes.

Yesterday I finished Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby as part of my effort to finish books I've started now that the year is drawing to a close — I have about twenty of them so if I don't start now I'll never get there. It was an overly long book that made me feel like I wasn't getting enough reading done a lot of the time. Once I got near the end I let go of that. Nick Hornby is clever and I picked it off the library shelf for a reason. There was one passage where he was saying something about humans being flawed and imperfect and how we make a mess of life. It wasn't awkward, it wasn't that dark or sad, it just was because it is. It was easy and true. I'd like to be able to say that. Instead of having the lostness and the sadness and the disappointment at the state of things be dark and annoying and unpleasant I'd like it to be clever and easy and obvious the way it only seems to be in the pages of a book.

Whenever I need them books are there for me. They say things I can't say. They say things none of my friends can understand. They have been there for me no matter what, unjudging and steadfast. They remind me of where I've come from and where I want to go. They provide an escape when I desperately need one and a calm place to rest for a few minutes when I have a break.

Words, stories, ideas, quotes. Who knew that spending your mornings entering words from various bits of paper could be so inspiring.

Fall is coming

I am a fan of rain and mild weather. Summer is nice and all but spring and fall, they're what I love.

I can feel fall coming, or more likely I've decided that I'm so over 25+ weather. One day I woke up and felt this intense urge to buy flannel shirts and pants. Fall is coming and I can't wait.

For me summer starts to wrap up after the Calgary Folk Music Festival. Sure there's a bit left but it's on borrowed time after that.

Along with fall comes a time to wrap things up. I had a bunch of library books out, far too many, enough that they were making me stressed. Minimalism can apply to many things including that large stack of library books you know you'll never finish. I am trying to finish up books that I've started. Get everything back to the library and finish what I've started. I like to start January with a clean slate instead of books that I made it a third of the way through and go distracted from. I finished one today that I've been working on for months and it felt good. I have a few more that I just need to focus on and they'll be done.

It's nice to feel like things are getting done. It'll be even nicer when the weather cools off a bit and I can give my new flannel tops a run.

Eclipse watching

The Eclipse that some people have long awaited and I heard about a few weeks ago happened today. It was pretty cool, although probably way cooler down in totality. The partial eclipse was neat but not really the same.

It seemed that the people who were crying and deeply moved all got the full on eclipse experience, and well I felt a little bit bummed out that I didn't. I felt left out from the coolness. I wish I'd hoped in the SUV and headed to Idaho or that I'd been in Oregon. Next time.

Fortunately I get to say next time. Come hell or high water I'm planning on hitting up the totality zone in 2024. It seems like an amazing experience and I want to have it. Just have to stay alive until then. If I do live long enough an eclipse will be headed over Alberta this century so that's something to look forward to — that's 2044. I doubt I'll be around for the one in 2099 but that will hit up Canada.

My mother is a huge nerd so she ordered eclipse glasses early. It was great having that taken care of knowing that they were probably not fakes. She used to take us out to do astronomy things as kids and I'd be tired and bored. She never converted us.

Today I went up to Nose Hill because I wanted a view to the south. It's close and high and it was a great pick. I don't go there enough even though it's so close. It was pretty quiet when I got there. I was worried I wouldn't be able to get a spot in the parking lot but that wasn't an issue. The Internet said things would start around 10:20 so I got there for then. I could see it start bit by bit. It was neat but also left quite a bit of time for reading while I waited for things to move.

By 11:00 more people were showing up and it was getting closer and closer to the maximum eclipse we'd get. It was fun chatting with people. There was a mother with two young daughters. They had a pinhole type setup. I offered my glasses, they took a look and then ran back down the hill. I joked that they weren't patient enough for astronomy. I certainly never was. I still don't think I am.

There were dog walkers and joggers. A mother and daughter who hung around for the peak.

It was nice chatting with people. It would've been fun to go to one of the parties that was happening or to hit the U of C.

After the peak had passed I headed home. I watched a few of the live streams on Twitter. It was then that I started to feel like this really big thing had happened for people and sadly I hadn't been there for it. I'd kind of been there but not in the place where it was really happening. It was cool to see how intensely people responded to it, the clapping, the cheering, the way the NASA commentators talked about it. The young scientists really understanding why what they do is cool.

Social media, as it can be when it's good, was lit up with moving and beautiful posts. People were in awe of the wonder of the world and it's beauty. Science isn't that much different from art after all.

Maybe if we can appreciate how cool it is that we live on this place that keeps us alive and has all these rare combinations happening then we might want to protect that beauty. I get that jobs matter but so does beauty and wonder. If we destroy beauty and wonder what's the point of any of the rest of it? Why bother being alive?

How can we build a world where we maximize beauty and wonder as a precondition for all decisions? How can we remember that we're a part of nature and that we need it?

Later I was reading an article in Monocle where they interviewed a prominent American landscape architect. He talks about connectivity — connecting with each other, with the places we live, with nature and getting where we need to go. It's a great idea. I think a good philosophy for cities is connection and sustainability. That should be at the heart of our world. Connecting with people like the mother and daughter, with this planet, with wonder and beauty. Taking care of this place we live in, having just enough and not more, taking up only the space we need, being a part of nature instead of destroying nature.

Take that sense of wonder and awe. Build a connected and sustainable society. Remember that this world is fantastic and beautiful. It's worth taking care of.

Mansplaining the City: An all male panel again and how housing markets hurt all of us

I came across an article this morning called "Mansplaining the City" on Twitter. I find it frustrating being a part of a field where dudes make a whole lot of the choices. I've been to events where every last person including the emcee was a dude. When this happens I always want to ask whether they've could've gone and found one female city hall employee or stakeholder to just read the names and bios of the dudes. That way at least one woman would be there.

When a friend of mine who works for a feminist organization asked me who I'd recommend for a female built environment panel I told her that I couldn't think of anyone in the city. I could probably come up with a better answer now but that moment was a bit sad.

The article blends these traditional concerns about how male dominated the built environment field is with questions about gentrification. I appreciate the comments on the need for some dudettes in the industry. I feel less comfortable with some of the comments about gentrification. The author has her own perspective but she is also dismissive of groups I think are doing good work and the role for middle class individuals caught in a crazy housing market. Walker calls out lots of people and waxes nostalgic for the neighbourhoods of yore. Some of these concerns are valid but I also think they lack nuance.

Gentrification is complicated. It is also not inherently a good or a bad process. It is a process characterized by changes in class. That can be from super duper poor to less poor. It can also be a process that makes even the worst neighbourhoods unaffordable for people with lots of money. A lot of it depends on other factors and how this process unfolds. As Walker notes it originally described an influx of intellectuals, students and artists. This group, which I am a part of, are often initial gentrifiers. They are drawn to places with cheap rents. As the neighbourhood improves the initial wave of gentrifiers are pushed out, too poor to enjoy the changes they have brought about and seeking the next spot where they can afford to pay rent.

While on the one hand I am a gentrifier I also live in poverty. I will likely spend my entire twenties either in poverty or as a student. I am white, my family is upper middle class and I am well-educated — probably over educated. I have more choices than many but I struggle to figure out how to pay rent. I struggle to see where I can go in my city. I have a friend who charges more for a one bedroom condo in a nice inner city neighbourhood that I love and want to be a part of than I earn in a month. There were moments when I lived in Vancouver when I'd buy groceries on my credit card unsure whether or not I'd have enough money to pay for them.

We are all a part of cities that are increasingly unaffordable. We live in a world where even tech workers struggle to afford housing. This is a sign that something is very wrong. Housing in any major Canadian city is a nightmare no matter what class you belong to. The issues of gentrification are tied up in market forces and development processes that treat housing like a bank and an investment rather than a basic necessity. New attitudes towards housing and different ways of building cities are as important as preserving character.

Managing change is one of the most important parts of planning and urban design. You want to keep what is good while still allowing communities to change. You need to find a way to ensure that nice communities are varied and accessible to all, not just people who earn enough to rent my friend's condo. You also want to find ways to have run down neighbourhoods become better. The biggest problem I see in places like Vancouver and Calgary is the market forces that have overrun our cities turning them into places we can no longer afford to live combined with zoning bylaws that prevent the construction of a diverse range of housing.

We are all coming up with our own responses to cities and how they should change. Groups like the YIMBY movement in San Francisco want wealthy homeowners to allow the construction of more housing. They may come from some privilege but I look around me and I see the same problem. We build mostly one thing, it's low density, unsustainable and really unaffordable. Maybe if we built something else we'd have more affordable housing? Maybe if we relied less on the market to provide housing and more on our government like they do in large parts of Europe then gentrification wouldn't be putting such a squeeze on people and housing wouldn't be so unaffordable?