Originally appeared in Uncle Weed’s Dossier column in Vancouver Observer on Aug. 2nd 2011 under the same title. This spiel compiled a bushel of ideas I’ve wanted to amplify to Vancouver (knowing change comes slow etc. in land of conservative progressive) and banged it out white hot after returning from New Orleans and seeing the remarkable (dearisay) brand they’ve crafted for their city – and dang if they don’t know how to truly let loose and keep it cool. We have our moments in Vancouver but with absurd prices and policies for beer (which is an essay on its way) and neurotic policy shifts, and an abundance of disparity… a few refinements are in order – the question is: are we ready to step up? heh, you tell me.
Go Cups and Pedicabs ~ Are We Ready to be “World Class” Yet?
Like a beautiful but gangly teenager on the first day of high school, in Vancouver we tend towards constant introspection and self-awareness to the point of mental self-abuse when we discuss our city. “Are we are as pretty as Zurich? Are we more fun than Sydney? Do these pants make me look fat?”
We obsess about being “world class” as though that makes us important. World class doesn’t mean “big” – we remain medium-sized (and our topography ensures we will) – as Goldilocks would say, “Just right.” World class means something unique which makes the city stand out. Sure, we have mountains, the ocean and trees. But to go next level, we need to go wide open with new ideas and take some calculated risks.
I’ve just rambled back from New Orleans (podcast) – a city that knows something about its brand and reputation – with a headful of ideas borrowed from working examples to re-fit our city experiment into something truly more livable for the normal folks.
New Orleans: “Go” cups – simple, put your beer in plastic cup and take it from bar or store to wherever (walking not driving), very civilized. Street music. Not lonely, hunkered buskers, but like the 14 man brass bands holding court on French Quarter corners where the crowd ebbs with high-rollers’ cars and tourists with camera phones mix with locals boogying down. Street-level streetcars (ding ding) with a $3 day-pass to roll on wooden seats down the middle of the road. Also, add a brilliant culinary culture but leave the corruption, rats and humidity.
Austin, Texas: Pedi-cabs – move these cycle rickshaws beyond noisy, drunken weekend novelty status and transform the way we take short up/downtown trips. The licensed drivers make decent cash without emissions and save your sneakers on walks which are too short to bother playing the “where might a cab be?” game.
See also: Hosting art, technology festivals as a civic cash cow a la South by Southwest. Need to loosen up on bars, clubs and meeting centres (seriously, try renting a place) and provide an area for patrons to party (no, GranvilleMall doesn’t count) and you’ll attract conventioneers besides the stuffy ties at the dual Canada Places. Remember that conferences are junkets which requires fun times for attendees.
London: Though gloomy and spendy, I’ll take late night double-decker buses and free museums and galleries. Art saves lives and defines who we are. Make it accessible.
New York: Falafel at 3 a.m. like it’s no big deal. There is more, but this is enough.
Amsterdam: You’ll notice the separated bike lanes after you are run down when you don’t note the signs. As you are falling backwards avoiding the canals as scowling locals pedal by on heavy steel bikes, you’ll say to yourself, “I see, these aren’t sidewalks, these are true bike paths winding along like expressways for cycles.”
The reason bike lanes in Van are getting flack is because something was “taken away” – instead, make bike-only routes separate from the car-ways and everyone will be way happier.
Toronto: Live music clubs with residency bands. Example: The Beauties every Sunday in the low ceilings and loud amps of The Dakota.
Barcelona: Hard to describe Las Ramblas but we need something just like it – a true city pedestrian mall, a walkway, a people’s area for mingling, lounging and even lightweight commerce (lay down a blanket, sell your wares). Simply, we shouldn’t have to close a major traffic route to host downtown get-togethers or to observe each other on lazy afternoons.
Logan, Utah: Free transit. I know it sounds absurd… another Dave (Olsen, that is) researched free transit systems but missed one in the culturally conservative, big truck driving, two-bar university city by the Idaho border.The seat of Cache County boasts free, quality transit – hop on to go frombig box stores to the Mormon temple. I’d settle for a “SeaBus only” pass.
Brussels: While dignified Brussels manages to beat Vancouver for most underwhelming tourist photo op (Mannekin Pis vs. Gastown “Steam” Clock), the Belgian capital wins big prizes for character bars tended to by pro beer traditionalists serving on endless patio tables ringing vast squares. While we don’t have the centuries of Trappist ale culture, places like Six Acres show you can craft character and bring it outside on the cobblestones.
Vancouver: Summerlive at Stanley Park was close to perfect. Keep in mind, I’m a veteran of Grateful Dead tours, the legendary WOMAD feasts, and a hundred hippie jam fest weekends and attest this was simply a remarkable three days of music and demonstrative of a renaissance of great bands unseen since the beery 80s days of local hardcore.
Held close to the totempoles where I had my fifth birthday party, it felt like we stopped caring about how the outside looked at us and started living like we want to – we ride bikes, we walk the seawall, we tidy up, we sing along. Thanks to the police for keeping it chill and letting us enjoy picnics, tokes and (possibly) a brown bagged bevvie.
We come from all over. Trying to find someone second generation from Vancouver amidst refugees from the frozen lands is a task. And we are already remixing ourselves, our city and our culture daily. The concrete isn’t wet yet here, we can still define who we want ourselves to be. And it’s a good time to do it since the city’s brand (as I learned in a city which survived a hurricane, flood, looting, police corruption and chaos) is “that city that burns cop cars.” Nowhere to go but up.
We have visible homeless problems, demoralizing property values and waffling by-laws. These need fixing. But to make my beloved city truly world class, I’ll be happy with a couple of the above for starters.
Over the past few months, I’ve traveled to a handful of cities and read multi-disciplinary artist David Byrne’s charming discourse about urban planning and culture from the seat of a bike called “Bicycle Diaries.”
Byrne’s international input sparked me to share and compare observations about the environs of Toronto, Seattle, Pe Ell WA, and AustinTX.
However, instead of expository writing comparing these cities, I ended up under the care and scalpel of UBC hospital emerging with scars on my belly and ideas spinning while convalescing on the couch. While floating in and out of lucidity, I came across a fresh notion to share some thoughts about my personal creative journey.
So, checking my faux-humility at the door, I sought to lay out my thoughts for the attendees of the grass-roots organized personal expression conference Northern Voice in video form.
While i was a little medicated during the filming, this hazy feeling seemed encourage the spirit of a couple of my heroes Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac to come along for the ride.
In short, since I was a wee gaffer, I’ve made stuff – While many others do the same, mine were all made to be shared. As such, they were publications rather than ephemeral arts and crafts.
My creations span technologies from ditto machines (you remember that smell of the fluid) to real estate office Xerox copiers to doing 3 months hardtime at a Kinko’s night shift just to use the new colour copiers after hours to make poetry chapbooks. Here’s proof:
I also owe some of my compulsive documentation-ness to my ole dead Gramps who hit 67 countries, plus an extended roadtrip with a 17 yr old version of me, before packing it in for good.
My notebooks chronicling the trip (at his insistence) list cafe menus, gas stops, Anasazi ruins and Mexican motels is tucked in my files waiting to take form.
By writing any/everything with the express intent to share — including usually more private discourse like college papers and travel journals — I oblige myself to step up and express with vigor.
As I spiel forth in the video, my key words of advice to all creators are to: a) take risks; and b) constantly practice your craft.
Turn off the TV, find your happy place (my reminders live on the walls around me), and — to paraphrase a Hemingway quote i saw on a coffee shop chalkboard in Manazanita, Oregon — “Write for yourself, Write for others”
By doing so, you and your audience (no matter the number) will build a symbiotic relationship to spur your artistic pursuits and spread joy which will impact for years even decades, not just fifteen minutes of fleeting disposability. Channel your anxieties and prepare to share — indeed your painting is done once you put it under glass.
So, pop some corn and come on up to my place and be sure to take of your shoes – I haven’t the time for sweeping.
Note: Both these videos are viewable in full screen HD with stereo sound
Shot and edited by Andrew Lavinge who, along with colleague Jon Onroy, chronicled the impact of the Olympics against a backdrop of social media and social justice in a film project called “With Glowing Hearts.”
Curiosity seekers can view a variety of interviews, prezos, anecdotes and incidents featuring me from conferences, bur rides and boardrooms talking about creativity, literature, revolution and good times on the Spiels and Stories playlist at YouTube.
In a field trip to his home studio in Upper Lynn Valley, North Vancouver, storymaker Dave Olson (AKA UncleWeed) extols keys to creativity and shares creative project examples from childhood to present and explains how each creative endeavour contributed to his stream of mixed media personal expression and shares key influences via shelves full of heroes.
An inspiring group presented at Pecha Kucha 10 last Wednesday night at the Vogue Theatre including Jay Balmer, Isabelle Dunlop, Dave Olson, Dani Vachon, Gair Williamson, Martha Sturdy, Doug Haddow, Bing Thom, Stephanie Corker Irwin, Vanessa Leigh, Marc Baumgartner, and Pamela Masik. If you don’t recognize all the names, you’ll probably be touched by their work nonetheless. They work in businesses and the arts, ranging from snowboarding, skate parks, video games, fashion design, jewelry, art, writing, , social media, curated news, crowd sourcing news.
Pecha Kucha is a global event that has emerged in 299 cities around the world since its inception in Japan in 2003. The format is simple:each presenter speaks on a topic they’re passionate about. They’re allowed 20 images, each shown for 20 seconds. This is six minutes and forty seconds of fame and then the next presenter is up.
I arrived at the Vogue to find a long line of people still waiting to get in. I talked with people about why they had come to Pecha Kucha. The event is about storie and here are theirs:
Here’s where I’ll mostly write about transportation, vancouver secrets and history, public policy conundrums, cascadian diplomacy and creative activism. Here are the first two dossier about trains and seabus:
I’ve started a new column at Vancouver Observer, a web-based, hyper-local news site called “Uncle Weed’s Dossier” where I’ll mostly write about transportation, Vancouver secrets and history, public policy conundrums, Cascadian diplomacy, and creative activism.
1977 was a stellar year for culture. The Ramones, The Clash and Bob Marley with classic albums, Elvis for a half-year, plus Star Wars, Saturday Night Fever and the launch of the SeaBus. Since that banner year, the intrepid lil catamarans have toiled across Burrard Inlet, unheralded and undaunted. Now the two vessels – the Beaver and Otter – are three as the Pacific Breeze set off from Waterfront station Wednesday Dec. 23rd with politicians on-board and me on the roof.
Transit’s Crown Jewel
I’m the guy who did a 4th grade science fair project about transit, rode the long way on buses downtown to punk rock shows and celebrated when the ALRT began (even when it ended in New West). But living in Whalley, the SeaBus was an exotic morsel in the transit offering – i have scant memories outings to the Quay or the free suspension bridge but mostly i remember skipping out of school and riding it just to ride it.
These days, the Seab is my daily ride and my nightly schedule revolves around the run down the gangway into the surreal confines of a hazy crossing in a humming shuttle. Unlike the sway of the bus, the Seab is pod of relaxation and creativity and (the best part) you always get a seat. Indeed, I extol the virtues of the perfect day out in Vancouver on my podcast which includes “the 3 dollar harbour cruise” complete with a falafel and a rainforest stroll – all on one transfer.