My wiki finally benefitted from a modicum of attention, albeit administered in such sporadic bursts as to go almost unnoticed. As I haphazardly noted on September 9, I added an entry called Addendum to Victoria History in a Nutshell: Victoria’s Future?, which was a response to a prior essay (Victoria History in a nutshell, by one of my extremely rare, and therefore highly valued, co-contributors). In this “response” I attempt to flesh out some thoughts on how Victoria could benefit from web-based economies, but I also reiterate that if you don’t have the people, the man- (and woman-) power, the sheer density to grow the necessary networks and webs, …well, then everything is much trickier. Right now, Victoria has one of Canada’s lowest unemployment rates, and every sector (whether construction, retail, or high tech) is affected by how thinly talent is spread. It disappoints me a bit that this essay has generated no feedback whatsoever, but then again, it is terribly out of character for what most people around here think about, focussed as they are on resource exploitation and tourism (the latest resource being, of course, the tourists themselves: get ‘em into town, get ‘em to spend their money pronto!)…
While it seemingly has little to do with Victoria, I also posted an entry called Caracas, which was triggered by a photo of that city, as seen on one of the webpages for the 10th Architecture Biennale in Venice, currently underway. This picture fascinated me because it shows a sprawling lowrise slum sliced surgically “free” of the upward reach of “capitalist” skyscrapers. Talk about metaphor and social form being cast in actual built form…. In addition, I was surprised to see who/what is representing Canada at this Biennale. Read the Caracas piece (it’s blissfully brief) for more information.
I also decided that my Langham Court Theatre History article needed to go on the wiki — this is a piece I wrote months ago for my neighbourhood association’s newsletter, but which actually missed publication in the newsletter and instead ended up as the May feature article in another local magazine, The Moss Rock Review. I felt that putting the article on the wiki might give greater exposure to one of Victoria’s early artistic entrepreneurs, the Countess Laura de Gozdawa Turczynowicz, who was born Laura Blackwell in St. Catharines, Ontario, in or around 1877, and who was quite a character. Furthermore, I appreciated the comments this piece generated, since it got me thinking about some other aspects of this particular neighbourhood.
Somewhat prior to all this, I started a page that has more or less fizzled, unfortunately: Overheard in Victoria, which was inspired by Overheard in New York. I thought it would be fun if we could have an “overheard in Victoria” page, but you know what? I never seem to be hanging around anywhere long enough actually to overhear anything resembling more than a syllable or so… It disturbed me quite a bit to notice this, let me tell you — and I found it equally disturbing to discover that I don’t have enough friends who hang out and overhear stuff and would be willing to tell me so that I could post it on the wiki page…. To overhear people actually having a conversation means you have to be standing or sitting still somewhere long enough to do so: a cafe, a library even!, a bus or train, or a bookstore. If, however, your outside time consists of travelling (in my case pulling or being pulled by my dog), eavesdropping isn’t much of an option. I also noticed that I spend way more time looking at people than listening to what they’re saying, but obviously “Overseen in Victoria” somehow doesn’t have the same “ring,” pun intended. Currently, there are three entries on Overheard in Victoria — perhaps eventually there’ll be more.
What else? Well, I finally put the Letters to the editor(s) page up properly. It used to be called “Letter(s) to the editor,” and consisted of just one letter, written July 15 and published July 28. But now that letter is a subpage on the main Letters page, along with eleven other letters (some published, some not) that I wrote between Jan.27-Sept.11, 2006. The last one (Sept.11) is unpublished, and I rather hope it will remain so. It might seem paradoxical (or hypocritical) to say so, given that I’ve published it myself on my wiki and am pointing to it here. But it’s simply a fact that whatever I publish on this blog or on my wiki, while totally and absolutely accessible and transparent to one and all, is seen by very few people because I’m not popular/ well known/ widely read online/ an A-lister in any circle. But if this letter gets published by the local magazine I sent it to (namely Focus Magazine), many local people will see it, and they will undoubtedly conclude that I am irredeemably out of line. I verbally assault not just one but two Victoria architectural sacred cows, in particular lobbing an offensive at the Victoria Conference Centre which insults my aesthetic standards every single time I walk past it. It’s a total waste of space, but it seems to be well-liked by the local cognescenti. Go figure.
In a way, I suppose I’m trying to figure out whether I care if people think I’m out of line or whether I don’t. I suspect that I don’t. And anyway, lines are for blurring or jumping over, unless, that is, they’re lines in art or architecture, in which case they’re points of discussion.
I just added a subpage on my wiki that spins out my thoughts on the economic possibilities for Victoria — if only we had more people…
Still haven’t done some of the other “housekeeping,” though! My bad…
I started a private blog recently, which doesn’t exactly account for my absence(s) here, but it means that I now have three virtual spaces that I can neglect: this blog, my new one, and my wiki. Sigh.
“Sigh” — sounds almost like wind, doesn’t it? Well, I did finally get around to putting a new item on my Victoria City Style Council wiki, although it’s an anomaly since it concerns a development outside the boundary of downtown, which circumscribes my usual area of interest. I included this project, however, because it’s in my neighbourhood, Rockland. My commentary (strictly my own opinion) is on the wiki page called Schuhuum — 1322 Rockland Avenue. (“Schuhuum” supposedly means “windy place.”) The piece was sparked after I attended yet another city council meeting during which the project came up, and I started to think about the problem (and the fabulous opportunity) of dealing with what is in my opinion a dreary piece of “heritage” or traditional architecture that desperately needs a modern complement to make it wake up to life again. But I also realise that my opinion is of the “if pigs could fly” variety: i.e., dream on, and …sigh.
Still to do on the wiki: add more “letters to the editor.” Add some photographs, too.
My camera and current computer set-up are speaking to each other again, so this should now be possible. But then again, it’s also the case that my camera just this moment died — I hope it’s only the battery, although the camera usually tells me if that’s running low. Instead, it simply shut itself off. It did this right after I took some shots of an old sheep, which I intended to post to my private blog’s “about” page. Perhaps the old beast (the sheep, not the camera) is so beat-up and destroyed that its sheer decrepitude broke the camera. It’s not every day, after all, that one shoots a nearly 50-year old lamb (no worries, it’s stuffed, but it’s nonetheless quite dilapidated…). It has led a distributed existence quite different from the kind one might now associate with that concept, although its life, too, has been entirely virtual. My anti-vivisectionist stance forbids that I dissect my virtually alive lamb to find out what its stuffing is made of, and (as that famous 19th century anatomist, Rudolf Virchow, already noted apropos of corpses), I might dissect its corpse, but will likely not find its soul. (Virchow is alleged to have said, “I have dissected many corpses, but never yet discovered a soul in any of them,” a comment considered unspeakably “philistine” and materialist by the “soulfully” geist-oriented abstractionist Vassily Kandinsky.)
Well, to each his own. But with my virtually alive sheep I can at least be fairly certain that its stuffing is animated by nothing but my memories, experiences, and emotions. With other distributed experiences (including perhaps myself), I certainly have lost that …certainty. It’s entirely possible that we’re the stuffies now, filled with the “souls” of all the virtual experiences we randomly encounter and even go out of our way deliberately to create ourselves… Technology is my virtual exoskeleton, and the soul of the new machine is us.
A few days ago I finished reading Cosmopolis by Stephen Toulmin. It took me a long time to finish, and I’m still not sure that I’ve entirely comprehended it. The title gives an indication of its vastness, though, and helps explain why I might have difficulties distilling its insights into a mere gloss. I can’t remember when I acquired the book, but it was published in 1990 — not recently, in other words. It has been in my library for a while, but it’s not the case that I read it years ago and simply forgot that I did. No, this was a new read.
This evening I started on another book, a new one which I really did just acquire: Fashion at the Edge by Caroline Evans. It has a deceptive coffee-table book format and heft, but its real weight comes from the theoretical I-beams holding the arguments aloft: take a look at the bibliography, a poured concrete foundation capable of withstanding earthquakes and similar intellectual upheavals. Or its footnote references to Georg Simmel, Walter Benjamin, Joan Riviere, Karl Marx, Donna Haraway, Carolyn Dean, Michel Foucault, and Lisa Tickner — all of whom are referenced in the first 7 pages.
Evans cites another author even I [ahem] haven’t read yet, Gilles Lipovetsky, who wrote The Empire of Fashion: Dressing Modern Democracy. In a particular passage I will cite shortly, Evans is coming to explain how she uses the term “modernity,” as per her book’s subtitle. Before we look at Evans more closely, note that Toulmin’s Cosmopolis was all about modernism and modernity: how we define it, what it means, and what its historical inflections have been.
With that in mind, the ideas in both books suddenly started sparking each other: I was reading Evans’s discussion of late-twentieth century fashion in relation to Toulmin’s analysis of the Platonic v. Aristotelian views of “cosmopolis.” The former (i.e., Platonic) being a static, eternal and unchanging ideal valid for all times and all situations, the latter (i.e., Aristotelian) being contingent and particular, rooted in an openness to case-by-case analysis. At the same time, I thought about a local SkyscraperPage forumer named KeyPlan, who has commented on my wiki a few times. On Sustain and Retain: A Short History of the Upper Harbour (written by my son), he noted (among other things) that Victoria is a “Terminal City,” terminal as in The End. According to KeyPlan, Victorians also express this terminal condition in their utter lack of style. He writes:
It’s the end of style, of grace, of form, including bodily form. Think of a body type and universal “dress code” for the City. I apologize for causing that thought. Is there ever a place where the rule of grump and frump still reigns.
“Grump and frump” (wonderfully onomatopeic) refers, I would guess, to what in Seattle was rebranded as grunge — a style given wings by music — but which here has remained mired in stylelessness. It’s true that many of Victoria’s youth (and most of its non-youth) are …let’s say: grumfy? Not quite cool enough for a musical style, not American enough to get in people’s faces the way Seattle bands did, and certainly not savvy enough economically to, as the New York Times Magazine article The Brand Underground puts it, figure out how to turn one’s lifestyle into a business. (Exempting yoga studio entrepreneurs, and the suppliers of yogawear — even here, they are in a category of their own…)
But wait, let’s get back to the Caroline Evans passage in Fashion at the Edge that ignited my fire. On p.6 Evans writes:
The late twentieth-century articulation of the idea of the self as culturally constructed has important implications for fashion.
Note that this connects with Toulmin, who argues that it was the historical turmoil of the early 17th century (think assassination of France’s Henry IV, who represented the hope that Frenchmen could be defined as loyal Frenchmen, vs. as exclusively Catholic or Protestant; think the 30 Years War; think the Counter-Reformation and its climate of religious intolerance, etc.) that made Descartes’ search for certainty, grounded in absolute rationality and science, so compelling for many people. Sixteenth-century “case ethics” and humanism consequently seemed inexcusably wishy-washy, while certainties based in rational analysis appeared to offer a way out of the mess that was the early 17th century.
Toulmin constantly re-examines the twin beginnings of modernity — in a more particularistic (Aristotelian) 16th century Renaissance humanism that explored individual human potential on the one hand, and in a hard, and hardened, 17th century scientific rationalism born of reaction against the historical horrors of religious excess, armed slaughter, and economic downturn on the other — and traces this birth and subsequent becoming through the historical epochs that followed.
(An aside: I can’t figure out why the First World War figures as a key 20th century watershed for Toulmin, while he more or less completely ignores the Second World War and in particular the Shoa, which was surely representative of an even more comprehensive crisis in Western rationality. Toulmin spends some time analysing the ideological function of “the clean slate,” that wicked idea we have of being able to start over again and again and again, from nothing. The tabula rasa, the uncontingent, clean, fresh start: that was a huge idea in the immediate post-WWII period, and it seems odd that Toulmin ignores it in favour of “clean slate” discussions after World War I.)
Back to Victoria and our question of style: I’m picking on KeyPlan a bit because in other postings on the forum, he had argued against taking seriously the question of style, which (he seemed to suggest) really shouldn’t matter and is a mere distraction. Well, I would make several arguments against this view. Here in Victoria, we’re dealing with a city that may be a tourist destination (and hence preens its quaintness quotient), but it is an urban centre (it is the capital city of British Columbia, it is the core for the region), and it’s undergoing changes, which makes some people rejoice and makes others feel very anxious and unsafe. It’s also a city located on an island, which can elucidate how or why the “feeling safe/ feeling unsafe” factor kicks in: many people seem naturally to think that life on an island should be safe …and mostly unchanging. (This might be a key component of the Terminal City complex, too: change stops here, the thinking goes.)
This mindset persists, despite that fact that living on an island is inherently unsafe, especially on this island: we live in a highly dangerous earthquake zone, and if A Big One hits, we’ll be cut off from everything, including our life line to the mainland. Even something as basic as our water supply pipe, running right under the Johnson Street Bridge, which will undoubtedly collapse and crush the pipeline, will be cut, leaving everything east of Vic West without drinking water. We have enough food to last 4 days, according to a food security study (in the fifties, much more food was locally produced, but since then everything’s been centralised and now comes to us via the ferries and the mainland — in the event of a Big One, the ferries would surely stop running while the collapsed piers get repaired — a couple of months, maybe; as for airport tarmac: think peanut brittle…). Victoria, unchanging and safe? Not in any realistic sense.
All this by way of explaining why change might subconsciously really push people’s buttons here. They come to Victoria thinking that nothing will change (the “Island Ideology” of eternal recurrance of tea at four). Yet now the city is changing (again), and who knows what other existential fears (see Earthquake Anxieties enumerated above) bubble to the surface like so much liquid earth in an 8.0 Richter scale event…
So what does style have to do with all of this? Victoria’s changes are happening in its urban fabric, which is part built environment, part increased population density, part economic activity, and so on. The built environment certainly isn’t the same thing as yet another fashion show by Alexander McQueen — if your budget allows it, you can buy a dress and throw it out when you tire of it. Throwing out a building is possible, but not advisable. So we have to think about the built environment’s style in a different time frame than the one of haute couture‘s season-to-season shelf life. But think about the built environment’s style we should. Continuing directly from Evans’s above-quoted sentence, her passage on p.6 concludes:
Gilles Lipovetsky has argued that fashion is socially reproductive, training us to be flexible and responsive to change in a fast-changing world: “fashion socializes human beings to change and prepares them for perpetual recycling.” [Lipovetsky, p.149] The kinetic, open personality of fashion is the personality which a society in the process of rapid transition most needs. No longer derided as superficial, frivolous or deceitful, fashion thus has an important role to play, not merely in adorning the body but also in fashioning a modern, reflexive self.
The “grump and frump” KeyPlan refered to is an expression of the absence of change in Victoria. With change, however, we’ll see more social reproduction, which means more fashion and awareness of style. “Perpetual recycling” means constant change and rebirth, contingency and particularity vs. timelessness and universality. It’s also the oppposite of deadly stasis. Awareness and encouragement of style “socialize[s] human beings to change,” which (extrapolated to the built environment) suggests that stylish, attractive buildings will ease the transition to a change culture, even here. Ugly or not particularly well-thought-out buildings will only make people dig their heels in even more. What’s attractive and what’s ugly is of course contentious, but it’s important that the debate takes place, and that people’s prejudices get deconstructed, dismantled, and explained. I would argue with anyone whose idea of “stylish” is “traditional heritage,” a perpetuation of the ideology of “unchanging” (not to mention: colonialist) “island” life. I will champion historical buildings and their preservation, however, just as I’d argue for devastatingly attractive new architecture that really knocks your ratty old unstylish grungy socks off.
Like constant whining, grump and frump simply expresses the absence of change. What we, who are in a “process of rapid transition” globally and locally, need now is the confident style of the “kinetic, open personality.” Style really does matter.
Many things have conspired to keep me from composing or posting or composting, whether here at the blog or at my Victoria City Style Council wiki, hence no updates to report on the wiki just now. But the local papers did publish a couple of my letters-to-the-editors, which was “a good thing,” I suppose, although I sometimes imagine that angry peasants with pitchforks (oh, wait, that’d be status quo devils) can’t be far behind.
While I will post an update on my wiki with the letters that saw publication, along with some that haven’t, I can’t resist sharing the following especially idiotic letter-to-the-editor, published on the same day as my endorsement of a new downtown development appeared. The letter writer, whose name, surprisingly enough, was not Gumby, wrote that high-rise development has to be stopped because it … well, because it’s all… well, it’s all sexual, you see, and the politicians should finally DO something about it, because all this SEX, you see, is leading to overpopulation, and well, I mean, well!, more people just means more… well, more sex, doesn’t it? See? Point proven!
Mr. Gumby wrote the following, which the local paper entitled thus:We have too many people:
Re: “Towering dreams for ‘uptown,’” July 15. [This was the name of the newspaper article both I and Mr. Gumby responded to -- Ed.]
The headline makes me shudder. Developers think that expansion can go on indefinitely. No politician ever addresses overpopulation, the world’s biggest problem. Naturally, people like sex, and developers are never satisfied and think that this game can go on forever and ever.
[For the sake of Mr. Gumby's children, I deleted his name.], Victoria.
Well, there you have it. All is explained. (And now you know what the calibre of some of the people who populate this city is.) Canada may be a relatively underpopulated country (and we hope Mr. Gumby is an evolutionary dead-end) and we might not have the population in generations to come to support the boomers coming down the pike now, but since there’s overpopulation in other places like India, China, etc., it’s probably a good idea if we, too, get over all this sex business and stop breeding. Then maybe Mr. Gumby can stop shuddering (I wonder, has he considered shaking instead…?), and all will be as once it was, even here.
But then again, perhaps Mr. Gumby’s worst nightmare will be an influx of ageing, non-child-bearing boomer women, described by Kay Hymowitz as Desperate Grandmas? Wouldn’t that be ironic — all those new residential condos filled with lustful women in their second adulthood, prowling for The. Best. Sex. Ever. Watch out, Gumby, if you’re not careful, they’re gonna getcha!
I have a number of updates on my wiki to report.
In each case, I’m happy to report, I received a friendly email confirming my input, which did put a human face (or name) on the interaction.
I added a subpage in the same “Greens…” category, called Majora Carter – “Green is the new black”. This page points to TedBlog, which in its right-hand sidebar includes links to a number of TED Conference presenters. Majora Carter is a house on fire, and what an example!
From the same TedBlog, I made a page on the wiki called Visionaries, which points to the TedBlog page featuring the architect Joshua Prince-Ramus. I need to re-watch this presentation a couple of times: it’s quite amazing.
Incidentally, there are other videotaped presentations on TedBlog that are “must-sees,” including Ken Robinson (on creativity & education: watch this and think of John Taylor Gatto); and Al Gore (I had no idea he had such comedic skills!).
In addition, I created a Linkiography/ Bibliography: resources page. It’s incredibly higgledy-piggledy and reminds me of Donald Norman’s story in (I believe) Things That Make Us Smart, wherein he describes filing systems, including his and a colleague’s version of what he calls “piling cabinets.” That is, the venerable “pile of papers on the floor,” simply stacked, …er, piled, into an open frame bookcase…
Yes, my “resources” page is more like a pile right now, and may well stay that way. But even so, the items do include annotations, and the annotations made me think, when I watched Prince-Ramus, about: evolutionary psychology and the problem of attention (i.e., what do we give attention to, in our built environment, and why, and how does Prince-Ramus’s “hyper-rational” architectural strategy support or interfere with that? — see R. DeYoung’s article); and “irrational” aesthetic preferences (say, for refuge you don’t actually need, or peril or enticement, or prospect, or complexity — see William Saunders’s article): how do you deal with or account for them?
Also useful, at least for me, was the process of reading Elizabeth MacDonald’s paper, “Street-facing dwelling units and liveability,” very thoroughly and annotating it with an eye toward the implications of its Vancouver-based analyses with regard to Victoria. I have to conclude that for the most part, people in Victoria don’t know what they’re talking about when they worry and fret about supposedly accelerating development here.
I’m planning a “close reading” (sort of) of a particular building here in Victoria called The Corazon, which is probably my favourite new construction in town. I have an email from last weekend lying around in some …(virtual) pile wherein I started to lay out my reading of the building. Will expand later, but it was great to see “KidB” on SkyscraperPage Forum enthusiastically agree that it’s a gorgeous building, and he cites most of the same reasons, too. (No, I’m not a forum member, just a regular reader….)
As I already mentioned on this blog, some time ago I started a wiki about Victoria, BC, called Victoria City Style Council. A small number of people have made a contribution or two, but to date it’s still very much my little project.
The other day it occured to me that I could use this blog, sadly dormant since February (the small awakening during the transfer from Manila to WordPress notwithstanding), to keep track of when I update the wiki and to help me manage the ball of wax I’m creating over there.
Those of you who used to read my blog know that I can jump all over the place — and Victoria City Style Council is becoming similarly rangy. The wiki also has a nested structure, which means that articles appear as sub-pages of main headings, and therefore aren’t visible on the main navigation sidebar. Yes, I’ve tagged them, but I still have a sense of impending doom over a lack of oversight as to how things are organised over there…
Hence, what follows is a list of key pieces thus far, and as I add more, I’ll add links to same on this blog.
Buildings is a useful page, since I added links to all my “BC Archives” research bookmarked on my diigo account. (I still have invitations to diigo to give out, and if anyone wants one, let me know and I’ll send it your way…
Sex in the City (oh yeah!) is one of those typical Yule Heibel™ specials… It is nested under the Opinion/ Essays section, which also includes Natural Capitalism and Cities, Style v. Substance, Sustain and Retain – A Short History of the Upper Harbour (by “Aurelian”), and The Urban Cliff Revolution is happening in our western suburbs.
Most of the above links (except for “Sex in the City” and the BC Archives links on “Buildings”) are older. The following are some other newer links, representative perhaps of how this wiki is starting to get rangy:
Greens promote “denser” communities, call for expansion of public transit via LRT gets into highway expansion issues, and appended as a subpage is the email I wrote on July 15 in support of rail expansion. And speaking of “letters,” I also used the wiki to publish a Letter to the Editor of our local paper, because I’m 100% certain that the paper won’t publish the letter. The “Letter(s) to the editor” subpage set-up will probably change over time since I will need to add additional letters eventually.
As long-time readers of my blog might remember, my iBook broke some months ago and since then my camera and computer communication has been non-existent. It’s a problem I need to fix since I would like to post photos of current buildings/ streetscenes on the wiki. It’s because of this technical glitch that I also didn’t see the point in renewing my flickr account, and I was mortified to see that because of this, all of my older photos (i.e., beyond the 200 allowed on a free account) were deleted. I had many, many photos of construction sites around town — all gone. Thanks (NOT!), flickreenos…
Back to the wiki: I also added an interesting and useful links section that will probably see expansion over time, and there is also a page with Victoria MainStreamMedia links.
Under construction: a bibliography/ resources page that links to great articles, books, etc., some of which I’ll annotate.
All future “Victoria City Style Council” blog entries will be tagged wiki_victoria. Stay tuned for more as it comes online…
I just started a wiki — my first ever. I don’t know whether I will continue it, or whether it will fade away, but it’s focussed on Victoria, BC (where I live), specifically its urban development aspects. Blame WetPaint — couldn’t resist starting this up.
I’m actually trying to write something marginally serious about architecture (specifically here, in Victoria), but I’m afraid that my 3 years of writing online have retarded my abilities: I feel more comfortable writing text that will show up as email or on some webpage — the others feel dead somehow. Oh dear. Is it legit to write drafts of one’s essays or articles on wikis first?
So, my wiki is called Victoria City Style Council, and the “home” or “welcome” page explains some of that. The key piece that got me started was reading Stephen Miller’s Conversation; A History of a Declining Art. The result was the Style v. Substance piece, s.v. “Welcome.”