Sorry, another post on politics, not design (but see About). And this is one that will annoy my more partisan friends, though perhaps not as much as partisanship is annoying me.
So here’s Joyce Murray‘s idea for how to get Harper—Canada’s Republican/Tea Party equivalent—out of office in the next federal election. And it’s an idea that’s coming from a party I only vote for except when tactically necessary to ensure a defeat of the Conservatives. This candidate is making a call for cooperation among all the non-Conservative parties, parties which, when combined, always receive the vast majority of Canadian votes.
Within the federal Liberal party, Joyce Murray is the only leadership candidate pledging to do this. Nathan Cullen pledged this within the NDP party but did not win the party leadership; Mulcair won and he’s not talking cooperation. Nor is Justin Trudeau, who’s touted to win the Liberal leadership bid. On the other hand Elizabeth May, leader of the Greens, has stated Greens’ willingness to cooperate from the beginning. And now David Suzuki has endorsed Joyce Murray.
What are your thoughts on this suggestion? Whatever they are, please let’s not allow Harper to be elected again through vote-splitting. Please let’s step away from party tribalism for a minute and throw Harper out before the country is plastered in prisons, fighter jets, bitumen and public asset fire sales.
Radiant City is an entertaining 2006 Canadian film written and directed by Calgary filmmaker Gary Burns (Kitchen Party, Suburbanator, Way Downtown) and Jim Brown. The film focus on the Moss family, who introduce us to the brand new suburb they have recently settled in. You can watch the whole NFB film here.
Toronto urban designer Ken Greenberg appears, as well as Mark Kingwell, Beverly Sandalack, James Howard Kunstler (The Geography of Nowhere, Long Emergency), Andrés Duany and other urban experts.
“80% of everything ever built in North America has been built in the last 50 years. And most of it is brutal, depressing, ugly, unhealthy and spiritually degrading. The plastic commuter tract home wastelands, the Potemkin village shopping plazas with their vast parking lagoons, the gourmet mansardic junk food joints, the Orwellian office parks featuring buildings sheathed in the same reflective glass as the sunglasses worn by chain gang guards. The whole agoraphobia-inducing toxic brutal spectacle that politicians like to call “growth” …
“Suburbia disaggregates the elements of everyday life so that you have to drive from one to the other.”
Watch the whole thing. This is a Canada so different from the Canada from the one we’re in now, the Canada that now sits in a deep, dark, chilly trough dug by our illegitimate prime minister, Stephen Harper.
The gender politics in this video may be a bit antediluvian, but I’m going to overlook that.
At about 37:00, Cohen recites his poemThe only tourist in Havana turns his thoughts homeward. I’ve always liked this poem, but the line “let us govern Canada” seems particularly poignant right now, even if he was being fully ironic.
Come, my brothers,
let us govern Canada,
let us find our serious heads,
let us dump asbestos on the White House,
let us make the French talk English,
not only here but everywhere,
let us torture the Senate individually
until they confess,
let us purge the New Party,
let us encourage the dark races
so they’ll be lenient
when they take over,
let us make the CBC talk English,
let us all lean in one direction
and float down
to the coast of Florida,
let us have tourism,
let us flirt with the enemy,
let us smelt pig-iron in our back yards,
let us sell snow
to under-developed nations,
(It is true one of our national leaders
was a Roman Catholic?)
let us terrorize Alaska,
let us unite
Church and State,
let us not take it lying down,
let us have two Governor Generals
at the same time,
let us have another official language,
let us determine what it will be,
let us give a Canada Council Fellowship
to the most original suggestion,
let us teach sex in the home
let us threaten to join the U.S.A.
and pull out at the last moment,
my brothers, come,
our serious heads are waiting for us somewhere
like Gladstone bags abandoned
after a coup d’état,
let us put them on very quickly,
let us maintain a stony silence
on the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Havana April 1961
At university in Montreal, Cohen, always unorthodox, got himself elected as president of the debating union and then refused to call any debates.
“Montreal is still small enough to have one or two late night centres and into this funnel is drawn everyone who happens to be up that night, or at least a representation of the various groups operating in the night, and groups operating in the night always have a certain kind of interest, and a certain kind of ritualistic atmosphere. And into these places, these special places in the city… is drawn this very urgent cross section of people who have somehow committed the first rebellious act [you] can perform…refusing to sleep. That’s the real rebellion against life and the generative process, that’s the real human idea: I refuse to sleep, I’m going to protest the idea of sleep by turning night into day…” (33:00)
“I think there should be a place for unwanted hair in our society. A hair museum… I think there should be hair asylums… college beards abandoned for careers… a man should be able to go into one of these hair asylums and, you know, review his whole life.”
“You only have four or five friends; you’re lucky if you have that many.”
Above, looking like the love child of Dustin Hoffman and Mark Ronson.
I grew up with this psychedelic rocking camel, handmade in the late 60s/early 70s by B.C. artist/novelist Jim Willer. He called these “Bumpity Camels” and ours was one of a series—our cousins had one too. When we were kids it used to have a blue wooden knocker on a wire that hung inside and clip-clopped when you rocked (even though camels are silent), but the noise drove us crazy so we removed it, and so did our cousins. [Update; we found the knocker in April of 2013 and I've re-attached it.] As you can deduce from the small hole in the centre of the eye, Willer used a nail and string to make a simple compass with which he drew the concentric circles (they radiate out from the eye, quite accurately). The flanks, neck, head and rear are plwood, while all the rounded parts of the seat and rear are cedar. The rockers seem to be Douglas fir planks. The Flickr set is here is you want to see how it’s made. It’s forty years old and in amazing condition considering the abuse it suffered. Very well made.
Jim Willer, mainly a painter, also wrote a sci-fi novel titled Paramind which you can still sometimes find on Abebooks or Amazon. See the dust jacket below. From BC Bookworld: “A professional painter, Jim Willer’s anti-Utopian science fiction novel about ‘electric government’, Paramind, was a co-recipient of a $33,000 literary prize offered by the Imperial Tobacco Company for Canada’s centennial. Willer was born in Winnipeg in 1921, toured Western Canada on a painting expedition with Joe Plaskett and studied for two years in Europe under Bohemian conditions. He came to teach at the Vancouver School of Art at the invitation of painter Tak Tanabe in 1964.”
Thanks to my cousin-in-law David for transporting the camel from my mother’s house, where it had been taking up an entire closet for more than a decade. “Do you want Bumpity Camel? It’s going to your place or I’m putting out on the street.” So it’s at my place.
A friend said recently “this camel is the yardstick by which all other cool things must be measured.”
This one belongs to our cousins. It has been outdoors on Saltspring Island for decades. I’m actually surprised it’s in relatively decent condition, considering.
This blog is a long, meandering photo essay on design, both of objects and cities. More on its rationale and bias is below. To read about me, click here.
To read about my book project on Vancouver's UN-Habitat Forum event of 1976 concerning sustainable urban settlements, click here. Few seem to know that Buckminster Fuller, Margaret Mead, Mother Teresa, Paolo Soleri and Maggie & Pierre Trudeau, along with many thousands of others, came to Vancouver in 1976 to talk about better, safer, fairer and more sustainable cities worldwide. In fact it was the founding conference of UN-Habitat, an agency that was subsequently built around a document called The Vancouver Declaration. My book is about what happened that year. It's a snapshot not just of Vancouver but of how cities around the world began to view themselves differently in the wake of the first oil crisis.
This blog is a long, somewhat messy photo essay on design. I started it because I wanted to restore to a sense of history to design, if only for myself. History can be fugitive, particularly in the New World. Everything is so decontextualized in the current stream of commodities; don't even get me started on tumblr and pinterest.
As far as design goes, I prefer the modern and the ancient to the eras that lie in between. I've never really liked cathedrals; I find them garish and oppressive. I prefer the space-age, the futurist and the rustic, the utopian and the anti-utopian, the unstuffy and the unstaid, the green, the possibly-not-entirely-lost promise of the 1960s and 70s, the creative, the practical, the ingenious, the mixed, the unorthodox, and the way people actually live in real spaces. I am interested in bricolage, in making do, and in the way necessity mothers invention.
I like the sheer level of cultural borrowing evident in design, the actual impurity of design traditions long considered pure, and just generally the wild miscegenation of everything.
This is not to say that all mixing is good. I'm definitely not talking about the faux-historification of our cities, the demolition of our actual past followed by its replacement with a faux nineteenth-century 'originality'. That's when you get elements of the past and the future, combining to make something not quite as good as either.
Because design is never divorced from anything else, this long essay is also about urban planning, philosophy, art, political economy, architecture, sociology, geography, neurology, pyschology and anything else that pertains to design, which is everything.
The word "ouno" is a name in both Finnish and Japanese, my two favourite nations for design. Apropos of nothing, the word also contains the symbols for both zero and one, and it's the same right side up as upside down. My dad was a mathematician in love with puzzles, and that is maybe why those things please me so much.
This blog makes no attempt to avoid being nerdy or critical. There are plenty of nicey-nice design blogs out there and if that's what you're looking for, you will find many of those, and I wouldn't blame you for going there. I just think that without critique and complaint, the design of cities and dwellings in North America won't get any better. And it needs to get a lot better than it is—less creatively impoverished, more democratic and a lot more pleasurable. We do after all spend almost all of our lives in buildings and towns and cities and altered landscapes, all of which have a overwhelming impact on our conscious lives, our unconscious lives, our health, intelligence, creativity and our social interactions. These things affect us every moment of our lives whether we're aware of them or not. And not only do we need more humane spaces in which to live, we need—above all—to ensure affordable housing for all. Without this, all our interest in decor is just privileged fiddling while Rome (or insert your city here) burns. Housing is a human right. Public policy and regulation are the only ways to insure people are housed and can afford to live in the cities where they work. The market and private industry are not going to get us there.
We all need to fight the worsening property speculation! Dear Canada and the USA and beyond, quit letting developers run—and ruin—this show.