Archive for December, 2006

New Year’s prognosis: Murky

Sunday, December 31st, 2006

Here in Beijing, somewhat insulated from our usual daily car advertisers like the Blob and Lame or the Toronto Rats, we have to turn to other means of scanning as the old year ends and the new one, um, begins.

Actually we understand there is more of a continuity than is implied by that, a flow of time, an inexorable movement, not unlike the molecule-by-molecule change of state from solid to liquid that takes place in the high arctic as giant ice shelves slowly dissociate themselves from their historic state and move into a different sort of plane.

But nonetheless it is true that at some point the link to 2006 “breaks” and the year snaps free from its mooring, and we have 2007 on our hands.

Ugly, aint it [the answer is yes, if you’re talking about your prose. get on with it. –ed.].

So, divorced from our own normal moorings, we cast about for a check on what may be coming down for us in this brave new year.

And we see coal smoke.

We don’t actually see coal smoke, what we see is a blurry haze over everything. What it is is we smell coal smoke. That peculiar sulferous tang that turns everything, um, yellow [Hold on, thar…jest what are you implying? –ed.].

No, it’s not that. We saw it years ago, in our Prague Autumn. We saw it in a stove in our family homestead, back in New-Found-Land.

Coal is cheap, and plentiful, even by Kunstler standards. Coal is the broken ice shelf we’re standing on, looking bleakly into the future for a bearing.

We hiked the Great Wall yesterday, at a location about one hour north of Beijing called Badaling. Out of the city, slipping and pulling ourselves by the steel pole railing that is (happily) provided for the thousands of tourists who were out there that day, we noticed in our lungs a particular gritty residue from the previous two days in the city begin to loose itself. The ice on the steep steps leading away from the tacky souvenir stands was not just from the previous day’s snows.

The theory is, climbing the Great Wall on new year’s eve is a propitious undertaking, bringing luck and prosperity to those who undertake it.

We weren’t looking for luck or prosperity, but for perspective. We wished to get “above it all” and establish our bearings for the new year.

We climbed for about an hour, reaching the seventh tower.

As for establishing our bearings or gaining perspective, the fact is we were in a snowy fog the whole way. As we climbed, we gradually lost sight of what was below, while what was ahead shifted in and out of view but never revealed itself fully.

At about the fifth tower, after a vertical rise of about 600 meters, we noticed something: we could breathe better. When we stopped climbing at tower seven (or was it the public washrooms just below number seven?) it was not because we were winded, per se (although it was strenuous, and cold and colder). It was to return to the tourbus.

But up there, we could breathe again, and it was good. It made us reflect on the urban reality of a city of 16 (or 19, if you count the “floating people”) million. Coal smoke gets in your eyes, and your lungs. Getting away from the smoke may be as simple as climbing a mountain, but what then?

Back in the city, cracking off into 2007 (and our colleague jan Lundberg notwithstanding), we see coal smoke everywhere for the new year, and the years to follow. It ain’t pretty.

Live from China

Friday, December 29th, 2006

Those of you who pay attention to these things will notice a certain quiver to the typing pattern: our scribe writes from the freezing cold lobby of a “budget hotel” in Beijing China.

Outside there’s a skiff of new-fallen snow on the ground, and the policy of the place is to leave the front door open–with one of those plastic dividers that you know from walk-in freezers as the only barrier to the weather outside…or is it the weather inside, who knows which is colder!

We arrived yesterday, after 18 hours in the air (including three hours in Newark waiting for a flight). Then we had the pleasure of another two hours sitting in a taxi in rush-hour traffic, negotiating the intricacies of car, bus, bicycle and yes, even horse-drawn cart, all mixing and mingling in some fashion or other. We had no idea where we were headed, just a name of the hotel and a phone number. The driver spoke no english (or cantonese) and we spoke nothing he recognized either. He called the hotel as he got closer, missed his turn by a block, and backed up into oncoming bicycle traffic in the “slow” lane to deposit us at our place.

Everywhere is a pall of coal smoke. The city is scrambling to build a transit link to the airport in time for 2008, but it looks like they’re on track. For the sake of the triathlete lungs, it’s a start. Meanwhile Toronto could learn something from them about accommodating bicycles: we saw a wide bike lane paralleling the airport road, with all manner of human-powered vehicles making use of it, all the way back to the city.

We headed out for dinner with our friend, the well-known urban designer Xao Pei: he took us to a 200-year-old restaurant that had a chinese opera house (with an opera playing we could peek at through the crack in the door) adjoining it. Turned out it was spicy sechuan cooking, which set us back in our chair somewhat, but perhaps for the best: we were jet-lagging all over the table, our hairs trailing in the soup, until the spicy stuff came.

Pei is hard at work these days: a kid, really, but with the strength of the U Toronto Urban Design degree behind his name he’s rocketting: right now he has responsibility, he told us, for the design of three new towns at the north of Beijing, to be built this year. His main concern is the idea of a ring-road outside the towns, with the inner core maintained as a pedestrian-friendly sector.

We’ll be joining Pei tonight for Peking duck. We shall see if they know how to make it in Beijing the way we Torontonians like it!

There was karaoke music playing loudly somewhere in the hotel or in the streets outside as we headed to bed, but we didn’t notice it much. The diesel noise of construction equipment working through the night was our lullaby.

breaking news dept.

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

Here at the ALLDERBLOB we try to keep up with the news on a daily, if not hourly basis.

News of the city, nay, the very planet itself, spirals though the seive known as the ALLDERBLOB, and what remains we offer up for the tasseography of our astute readers.

Needless to say, we are proud of what we have accomplished in 2006: the near-total eradication of car advertising in the major papers of the land.

Um, not.

Actually, it’s a little discouraging.

What’s discouraging is the disappearance of interest among our friends. Do they even care? Did they notice our sad, quiet, lack of postings this past month? Did they notice that we haven’t put anything new up since December 3, 2006?


Enough. What about Case Ootes, you’re asking. What happened in Ward 29.

The news came back in the local car advertiser, the Riverdale/East York Mirror, that the ward whose poll reported late, the one that gave Ootes his pathetic “margin of victory” [perhaps of it had been “our” margin of victory it would not have been pathetic but triumphant. Never mind. –ed.] of 20 votes, was the so-called “Governor’s Bridge” section of Toronto. It’s this section, with its plywood mansions overlooking the Don Valley from the edge of Rosedale, a section that is no more a part of the Danforth Peninsula than Case Ootes’s own home in Ward 31 [on a car-free ravine-lot cul-de-sac north of the Taylor Creek Ravine –ed.], that has thrown Mayor David Miller his familiar scapegoat for another four years.

Governor’s Bridge, we understand your frustration. We “get it” that no one in Rosedale accepts you for what you are, people with money that’s just as good as theirs (god damn it). We understand your frustration, having to vote in Ward 29 when really, you should be part of Ward 27, with your true peers in Rosedale, or even ward 26, where the heroic and yellow-hatted efforts of “Jane Pitfield for Mayor” gave David Miller his sole loss among Toronto’s 44 wards.

Governor’s Bridge, we hail thee. You have demonstrated how totally out-of-touch the Danforth Peninsula is with the forces that matter in this city. Ward 29 has what it deserves, thanks to you. It has a councillor who understands the role of East York relative to Toronto proper: a place that’s necessary to drive through in order to get somewhere that matters. And the screw was turned by folks who wouldn’t know Pape Avenue from Donlands Ave, or Cosburn from O’Connor. It’s the folks of Governor’s Bridge, in their “fewer than 200 homes,” for whom the city of Toronto has to thank for another four years of the Odious spectacle.

Governor’s Bridge, as you drive in your Merdredes Benzes through the storied streets of Rosedale on your way home these next four years, know that the laughter you hear from the real stone houses that line your way is not at you, but with you.


As for 2007, big deal. Bring it on. As we reach our 10,000th reader, and a google search of the phrase “no salesman will call” places the ALLDERBLOB at number three in 1.5 million hits, we feel ready for anything.

Post to the ALLDERBLOB! No Salesman Will Call UPDATED

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

We want to hear from you. We really do. [although this will come as a surprise to the odd person who tried to register for a login password. A vigilant reader notified us of the “missing link” and we have fixed it. Anyone, not just the spammers, may now register for a password. Go ahead: try it! –ed.]

Here’s how to see your comments added to the trove that we call “Comments on the ALLDERBLOB:”

1. register and/or log in with your name and email address. Do not worry. No salesman will call.

2. post your comment, preferably in english or some similar language. The use of sentences and recognizable grammar will also help.

3. your comment will be screened by our editor. If room permits [ha! who you kiddin? the only reason we screen comments is to avoid spam –ed.] your comment will appear on the post as appropriate.

Thank you for taking the trouble to contact us with your thoughts. It means a lot to us.

Gil Penalosa: “Ready, Shoot, Aim!”

Sunday, December 3rd, 2006

Readers of the ALLDERBLOB will remember Guillermo Penalosa from our description of the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation launch in the weeks before the recent municipal election.

Gil (as he is known to his friends) stumbled through a doughy Powerpoint presentation on that day, but in his response to questions that followed showed himself to be equal to his more famous brother in the “shoot from the hip” rhetoric department. We were impressed.

We were also impressed with Gil’s response this past fall to a Sept. 30 editorial in the Toronto Star and Car Advertiser. This editorial, itself a response to a study analyzing the elevated highway that moves motorized vehicles past the downtown lakefront, panned the option that would call for tearing down the Gardiner: “Keep the Gardiner until transit better,” it opined.

Now, the Star and Car Advertiser has never been one for subtlety. Its editorial position is always in line with the urgings of its main advertisers, the automobile industry. Bikelanes are bad, Case Ootes is good. That about sums up the “ad”itorial stance of the nation’s largest newspaper and car advertiser.

Not for nothing does the newspaper offer its readers two whole sections devoted to “Wheels” every week [by which it means “motors,” because you’ll never see an ad for anything without one in those pages –ed.]. If the ALLDERBLOB paid for two whole sections every weekend, you can be sure the editorial stance of the paper would fall in line pretty durn quick. You can be sure the current foolishness, the “ASK WHY” exhortations that replace actual thought in the newspaper, would be ditched in a hurry too (not just that the whole campaign was lifted from a crooked U.S. corporation, although that’s bad enough; what’s worse is the hypocrisy of it: the lipservice paid to “the importance of asking questions” against the cynical fact of “same-old, same-old” that replaces real thought at the newspaper) [but we digress –ed.].

Nonetheless, progressive thinking and reporting occasionally slips through the cracks at the Star and Car Advertiser and at the other big “news and car advertisers” that keep us informed.

Such was the case with Gil Penalosa’s letter to the editor that followed the Sept. 30 editorial. He wrote:

A way to create a better city
Oct. 2, 2006. 01:00 AM

“Keep the Gardiner until transit better” Editorial, Sept. 30.

What is “better?” How much “better” does it have to get? Taking down the Gardiner is not just about traffic, it is about developing a great waterfront. It is about eliminating man-made barriers to link the city and, most importantly, it is about making a bold statement that the government and the people of Toronto are willing to take the necessary steps to create a world-class city. It is about the Toronto that we want to have in 50 or 100 years.

As for the traffic, well, congestion is transit’s best friend. The more congestion there is, the more pressure that will be put on governments to invest substantially more resources in improving transit systems. Congestion is also the best “driving force” to get people out of their cars and use other modes of transportation. As an example, in the last 30 years, Vancouver has not allowed any highway to be built through its city and is recognized for having the best
quality of life amongst big Canadian cities. It all goes together.

If we were to wait “until transit is better,” a one-dimensional approach to the issue, nothing will ever happen. It will never be “better enough.” Actually, taking down the Gardiner might be the best pretext to unite forces around the common goal to develop the best possible transit system along with proper facilities for pedestrians and cyclists.

It’s not about the Gardiner; it is about a healthier and happier way of life. It’s not about better transit; it’s about creating a better city.

Gil Penalosa, President,
Walk & Bike for Life, Oakville

As we said, we like Gil Penalosa. What we don’t get is how he manages to reconcile his day job, working in the “Planning the City of the 21st Century” department in the city of Mississauga, with his clear and forceful ideals about cities designed with the happiness of children in mind.

Because from what we can see, Mississauga is designed for the “happiness” of a crotchety old woman first and foremost: Mayor-for-life Hazel McCallion. You say you want bikelanes, Gil? You think taking down a highway is the first step in forcing change in our transportation habits? We wonder what file the boss is going to reserve for your brilliant ideas.

Hazel McCallion, who was just re-elected to mayor in Mississauga by a plurality the envy of any Soviet totalitarian, has made as her first public statement a proclamation against bikelanes: ”When the roads were established in Mississauga, they were not established on the basis of bicycle lanes. The roads were built for cars and trucks,” she is quoted as saying in a National Post and Car Advertiser article.

Cars and trucks, that is, and also dinosaurs like McCallion.

The Mississauga mayor was responding to a 400-name petition asking for new bikelanes on existing streets in the city. According to the article, “Ms. McCallion said the petition to add bicycle lanes will be given its due consideration, but no traffic lanes will be lost to include cycling commuters.

”It’s a pretty expensive thing to do just to find out if it works or not,” she said.

Gil, any thoughts?

Wednesday’s Globe and Mail and Car Advertiser had an article about Penalosa. By Anthony Reinhart, it examines Gil’s background as commissioner of parks, sports and recreation for Bogota Colombia (pop. 7 million) and describes his modus operandi as “Ready, shoot, aim!”

Let’s revisit McCallion’s comment above: describing the replacement of a lane of motorized traffic with two bikelanes on either side of a main road, she says ‘It’s a pretty expensive thing to do just to find out if it works or not.”

Reinhart’s Globe and Car Advertiser story on Penalosa hints at the conflicts faced by anyone not prepared to toe the McCallion line.

It also hints at a threat to the “tiny totalitarian mayor:”

For now, all he can do is advise, but Mr. Penalosa knows what he would do if he were in charge.

“It has to be ready, shoot, aim,” he says. “Too many keep aiming and they never take shots, and you have to be willing to take the shots.”

We expect to hear more of Gil Penalosa. We just don’t expect it to be in the context of a planning job in Mississauga.