Monday, October 31, 2011


Think inside the box...
Gallery Müvbox

Friday, October 21, 2011

Guest Comment, Nanaimo Bulletin

I’ve just finished Gabor Maté’s remarkable book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts – Close Encounters With Addiction and thought I’d share some thoughts in regard to the assisted housing initiatives the city and province are undertaking here in Nanaimo.

Our single-family residential neighbourhoods are part of what can be seen from this vantage point (some 50 or 60 years after their post-war beginnings) as an historic social experiment.

Demographics and economics were among the dynamic elements at work in their creation. Add the miracle of the internal combustion engine and it all seemed to spell salvation from the turmoil and smells and poverty of the inner city.

Nothing characterizes today’s suburban single-family neighbourhood more than its demographic uniformity. Which, in truth, was and is still at least part of its appeal.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Submission to Vision Nanaimo

Urban Planning -- and what has become referred to as New Urbanism -- offers a useful viewfinder to examine Nanaimo's challenges and opportunities. Mike Harcourt mentioned in his presentation Jane Jacobs and Richard Florida. There is a great deal of research being done which builds on Jane Jacobs' seminal work which began in the 1950s and 1960s.

As Canadian architect Ken Greenberg (a long time associate of Jacob's when both found themselves American ex-pats in Toronto) writes in his Walking Home -- The Life and Lessons of a City Builder, that the new urbanist imagining of the pedestrian friendly, safe, compact, diverse city is, in fact, exactly what future prosperity and sustainability look like for cities large and small.

It occurred to me later, after absorbing the insights of your 2 excellent presenters at the Vision Nanaimo Rally, the question I would ask both is, "Can the environmental sustainability goals you envision be achieved in a city with such low population densities?" Safe to say the answer would almost certainly be "it would be extremely difficult if not impossible".

City of Vancouver Archives —
W.J. Moore Panorama Photographs

Western Canada Shipyards, Vancouver, Apr 30 1918

From the City of Vancouver Archives blog Authenticity:
Very few Vancouver photographers had revolving panoramic cameras. Here’s a look at the career of the man who produced the panoramic photographs we’ve featured on flickr.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

8th International Public Markets Conference

Read more at Project for Public Places

Reply Received From
Social Planner John Horn

From: John Horn
Subject: RE: In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts
Date: 19 December, 2011 1:50:43 PM PST

Good morning Frank

I know you wrote this email to me a long time ago (60 days L) so please accept my apologies for the tardy reply. There is so much rich material in your email that a quick reply didn’t seem right, and I felt you deserved a comprehensive response but at that point I didn’t have the time available to do that. So thank you for your patience and I hope to do your questions justice.

I read “Hungry Ghosts”, and I have had the chance to meet Dr Mate several times (though mainly in the context of his work on ADHD ) His book and his person reveals a man with considerable insight and compassion.

But that’s my social planner hat, and I’ll take that off and put on my urban planners hat for a moment as you suggest. The historical rise of the suburban neighbourhood parallels my own growing up in Nanaimo; when I was a child Nanaimo essentially ended at Country Club and North Nanaimo was trees and cabins, similar to other parts of Nanaimo that have since beencolonized.

The people who moved into these ‘empty spaces’ were remarkably coherent in their outlook, they wanted space (interior mainly), they wanted the suburban life shown on television, they had the income to realise that idea and they assumed the underlying principles of the age of the auto; mobility anytime anywhere. In planning terms I think also one of the more implicit appeals was the idea that the only land use surrounding a residential property should be other residential uses, and in social planning terms home buyers expected that when they looked out the window they would see people who were essentially a reflection of themselves; their values, income, way of life. Most of the subdivisions built post 1960 in Nanaimo reflect these ideas; no corner stores, even at a time when those were still economically viable, surrounding commercial land use aimed at consumption instead of production, uniformity of product etc.

Our experience with the Wesley street housing, even though it is identical to the other projects, was that there was a relatively high degree of acceptance by the neighbourhood. That may be because city centre resident’s idea of neighbourhood includes a wide variety of income levels and occupations, or that the homeless aren’t an imaginary group but rather people who they see every day, or because they are more confident in the ability of governments/NGO’s to provide services to the poor without detracting from the quality of the neighbourhood experience.

By the way, I agree with your comments on the benefits to having a master plan for Quensnell Square, unfortunately the school board, for various reasons, wasn’t able to engage in such a planning exercise and ultimately we had to proceed without their input.

Should we retrofit diversity into homogenous neighbourhoods? I would take my answer from Merv Wilkinson (the forester) who told me and others “ a healthy forest is multi age, multi height, multi species”. Time has proven Merv absolutely correct (hello pine beetles!) and I believe this holds true for the cluster of humans that make up our city; we need multi age (intergenerational) multi species ( diversity of beliefs and values) and multi height (differing income levels) neighbourhoods to achieve a healthy and robust forest. Some of this will happen naturally and over time (in the last five years more recent immigrants have taken up residence in the north end that any other part of Nanaimo), but land economics is a powerfull barrier to economic diversity in an area like Dover Bay (average household income $78,000 pa). In terms of what detracts from a neighbourhood - In the context of the broader community history would suggest that what detracts from a liveable community is spatial segregation, i.e. neighbourhoods open only to a specific socio economic class whether that be rich or poor. Examples abound, from Rio de janero in Brazil, to Detroit or the Bantustans of South Africa to Beverly Hills, which has been called a ghetto for the rich. Geographic segregation inevitably and always leads to a diminishment of trust and a rise in conflict, which erodes the quality of life for every resident of a city.

What contributes to a neighbourhood is a function of built form – “car-oriented suburbs with traffic a blur, walking a hostile, dangerous activity and instead of stopping by the corner store for smokes and chips and getting to know the let's say Vietnamese shopkeeper by name, and he or she you by name, your only alternative is the glossy alienating artifice of the palace of consumerism that is the shopping mall.” And also a function of the social compact – do we honour equality of opportunity while allowing for the diversity of outcomes achieved by individual merit? Is there a place for those who make different lifestyle choices to live in the same part of town I do? What are the social norms in a neighbourhood and to what extent is deviation from those norms acceptable? A good example of this last is the fact that some subdivisions have a covenant barring commercial vehicles from parking in residential neighbourhoods – so if you’re a self employed plumber with a truck that has your name on the side you can’t park your vehicle in your driveway. The implicit social norm is; “white collar people live here, blue collar entrepreneurs need not apply”. In my mind deviation from this norm is not only appropriate but a matter of principle; lawyers shouldn’t be privileged over plumbers, nor plumbers over lawyers. Imagine a neighbourhood where late model luxury SUV’s were not allowed! A neighbourhood can only prosper in the context of a robust and fair social compact, anything else is illusory, short term and subject to cataclysmic failure (did I mention the pine beetle?)

You’re largely correct in your assessment of the medical nature of the issues being addressed by the social housing projects, housing essentially opens the door to health, lack of housing effectively closes it. But while the goal of this initiative is to improve the health and functionality of individuals the general public reaction (outside of social workers, government & non profits) focused on broader societal issues; particularly addictions. While being addicted is a medical issue, becoming addicted is a societal one. We have created a culture where use of substances is normalised, encouraged, supported at many levels. So the folks under consideration for these housing projects aren’t outliers, they are in fact the logical extension and outcome of our culture.

So perhaps incremental progress looks like embracing the downside of our culture, or at least its victims, as well as celebrating the upsides.

I believe that by the time these buildings are up and running the present animosity will have dissipated, and that the residents will find themselves in a welcoming and supportive neighbourhood. I base this belief on experience with other housing and social services in our city, and also because most Nanaimoites are decent folks with compassion. These ‘true colours” will always show through at the end of the day.

Thanks for your email, if you have more thoughts throw them out and I’ll be happy to dialogue

John Horn
Social Planner
Community Planning Section
City of Nanaimo

Monday, October 17, 2011

Email to Nanaimo Social Planner John Horn

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts
Date: Mon, 17 Oct 2011 15:23:46 -0700
From: Frank Murphy <>

John: I've been thinking. I'm the first to admit that good does not always follow that but anyway... I've just finished Gabor Maté's remarkable In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and thought I'd share some thoughts.

Before I talk about that though, indulge me for a minute: more with your Urban Planner's hat on than your Social Planner's. I want to offer a perspective that will certainly not be news to you and also will unfortunately offer very little help in the daunting immediate problems you face particularly with the assisted housing initiatives the City and Province are currently undertaking here in Nanaimo. At the same time though I'm sure you'll agree that this perspective has a legitimate place in the discourse. And it's basically this: our single family residential neighbourhoods are part of what can be seen from this vantage point (some 50 or 60 years after their post war beginnings) as an historic social experiment. Demographics and economics were among the dynamic elements at work in their creation. Add the miracle of the internal combustion engine and they seemed to spell salvation from the turmoil and smells and poverty of the inner city. It's probably more than anything the eternal law of unintended  consequences that explains the state of the social experiment in the first decades of the 21st century. Nothing characterizes the suburban single family neighbourhood more than its demographic uniformity. Which was in truth at least part of its appeal, wasn't it. I was an exile from North Vancouver almost 20 years ago. We raised our daughter in the wonderful air and civility of North Nanaimo. Though now that she's grown up and moved to Victoria with a VIU BA and BEd tucked under her arm, we've moved downtown to the more dense and diverse Old City...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

3 Keys To Creating Great "Good Places"

The liveliest public spaces share a few core ingredients.

In his book, The Great Good Place, the urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg wrote about the importance of third places--the informal “public places on neutral ground where people can gather and interact.” Unlike home (the “first” place) and work (the “second”), third places allow people to put aside their concerns and simply enjoy the company and conversation around them. These are the places of “regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.”

Read more at Fast Company's Co.Design

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Perfect Day for a Piano in Washington Square Park

Photo: Sarah Goodyear
His name is Colin Huggins, a.k.a. the Crazy Piano Guy. He’s not crazy, unless you think playing a piano in a New York park is crazy, which it isn’t. He’s a classically trained pianist who hauls his baby grand around the city “making people obnoxiously happy,” according to his Kickstarter page, where earlier this year he successfully raised the cash to buy a new set of keys. And one of his regular venues is Washington Square.

More at Project for Public Places

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Nimbys and Bananas —
Email Exchange with Councilor Pattje

----Original Message----- From: Frank Murphy 
 Sent: Thursday, October 06, 2011 12:14 PM
 To: Fred Pattje Cc: Mayor&Council; John Horn 
Subject: nimby's and bananas 

Hi Fred -- a couple of quick thoughts about the "Vision Rally" last night in particular Mike Harcourt's presentation and his comments about the assisted housing projects being introduced into neighbourhoods. I sense your position has hardened on this but let it not be said I didn't offer some perspective. 

Strikes me Nanaimo sure doesn't need another round of "them and us". Neighbourhood concerns about these projects are valid, understandable, and predictable -- not to say they can't be introduced successfully. But for Mike -- an accomplished seasoned and polished politician of the first rank to read that crowd and say essentially "Who's against kicking kittens?" and get a hearty boisterous reaction is pretty cheap stuff. You probably recall the 16th and Dunbar kerfuffle he referred to -- an understatement to say he simplified things in his recounting. 

Downtown is for People —

Jane Jacobs
Fortune Magazine 1958

If the downtown of tomorrow looks like most of the redevelopment projects being planned for it today, it will end up a monumental bore. But downtown could be made lively and exciting -- and it's not too hard to find out how...

Childhood Memories of the
Downtown Eastside