Why I moved here

Friends at startupvernon.com have been canvassing for stories about what made people move to the Okanagan. I would like to add mine using their questions (slightly adjusted).

NOTE: On November 30 our friends in Vernon will be hosting this years #megageekbeers which brings together community members from Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton, Kamloops and surrounding areas. I hope to see you there! RSVP here →

Where are you originally from?

We came to Kelowna from Vancouver, where was had lived for just a year after moving back to Canada from Japan.

After having our second baby, we spent a few months in Armstrong where my parents retired. The original intention was to go back to Vancouver, but that changed after just a couple of months.

What were your biggest concerns about moving to Kelowna? What helped you overcome those worries?

When it was first suggested to me to move to Kelowna (by my parents), my first reaction was “I dunno how to drive a tractor!”

But after couple of months attending Digital Okanagan meetups, and learning about the types of technology opportunities here, I decided to quit my job at Apple and start a new path here.

And to echo some of the other responses, Kelowna’s reputation as a retirement community was not exactly attractive. But things are getting more diverse (not just age-wise but also a bit ethnically) and we have a somewhat progressive and young municipal administration which is making things better (eg. increasing density, active transportation, etc) for retirees and non-retirees alike. At the time I moved here I could already see that my impressions of Kelowna was well out of date.

What kind of research did you do before you moved to Kelowna?

It was really being here and meeting people. Having the opportunity to hang around for a couple of months is a real luxury that most people do not have.

What other cities did you consider moving to?

Hmmm… we weren’t really planning on leaving the Lower Mainland. It just kind of happened. Really happy it did though!

What’s kept you in Kelowna?

Family for sure. It is a great place to raise small children, and with extended family here we get lots of support.

The community is great too. As I have written elsewhere:

We have lived for 3 years in Kelowna. Since leaving my hometown at 18, this is the longest I have ever lived in one location. I am involved in a few different community groups including the startup community, Japanese immigrant community, the wider immigrant community, and others. … at this point in my late thirties, with all the connections to the local community that I have been building over the past few years, I am finally achieving a sense of long-term belonging.

Career wise it has been great. I have been exposed to many opportunities that I would not have in a larger centre.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering moving to Kelowna?

I always advise people that we are in the West, and it is kind of frontier land, so we need people that are resilient and willing to help build. For people looking to make a real impact, the Okanagan is a great place.

About running your company

[I am going to skip these questions since I do not run my own company here. But I will say that we are an international company that is based in Kelowna, and we a growing like crazy. Probably the biggest challenge — something I think most other companies here face — is finding talent. Our talent pool is too shallow, so we need more great people to move here!]

What would make Kelowna even better?

Housing affordability, less inequality, immigrant services, protected bike lanes… I have a long list of pet issues 😜 but this might be more of an objective place to start.

Kelowna has been great to us, but there is certainly much room for improvement. The cool thing is that I see many people fighting to make it a better place, which makes it just that much cooler to be here.

Ethnocultural Diversity in Kelowna

It has been 10 years since Canada has had a comprehensive census. This year the results have been trickling out from StatsCan, and today the stats that I have been waiting for all year were finally released: immigration. Some high level findings:

  • 250 ethnic groups
  • 1 in 5 Canadians are foreign-born
  • 2 in 5 kids have an immigrant background

The Globe and Mail also did a breakdown on Aboriginal and Immigrant demography across the country.

My community: Kelowna

I dug into the Kelowna data to find out how my city has changed over the last decade. Kelowna has a reputation for being “old and white,” but the consensus over the past few years has been that this is changing. Now we have the numbers, let’s see if this bears out.

StatCan says that the immigrant population of Kelowna is 13.9%.

Compared to 2006, this is has actually dropped. Back then it was 14.8%.

Let’s take a look at how this compares with other communities (the Kelowna CMA is pretty broad, and includes West Kelowna and Peachland, so I broke it out in the following table):

Community Immigrant pop. Total pop. Percentage
Kelowna CMA 26455 194882 13.6%
Kelowna 17835 127380 14%
West Kelowna 4360 32655 13.3%
Vernon 6785 59720 11.4%
Penticton 5715 43432 13.2%

Interesting to compare the ratio between Kelowna and its neighbours to the North and to the South. Vernon has its Vernon and District Immigrant and Community Services Society, and Penticton has its South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services.

Why does Kelowna have no immigrant services center?

Immigrants can be hard to see

Maybe the reason that people feel like there are more immigrants here is being there are more visible minorities? That certainly is true: in 2006 visible minorities were a mere 5.2%. In 2016 visible minorities have increased by half to 7.8%. Kelowna proper (ie. not the West side or outlying regions) has a 9.5% ratio of visible minorities. Here is a chart showing the ethnic origin of the Kelowna population in 2016:

Pie chart showing ethnic origins of Kelownaites: European = 83%, Aboriginal = 7%, Caribbean = 1%, Latinx = 1%, African = 1%, Asian = 7%, Oceania = 1%

So things are getting a little less white. However, this cannot all be attributed to new immigrants. When looking at a where immigrants are coming from, you can see some interesting trends:

table of kelowna immigrant origin countries. See link for full table.

Normally we get a lot of immigrants from the UK and US, which likely affects the visibility of our immigrant communities. Philippines-based immigration has shot up recently, as has Jamaica(?). South Korea has a really strong showing, as has Mexico. Germany is way down. And for all the furor, Syrian refugees are a tiny minority.

Addendum on Japanese immigrants

I would like to focus on the Japanese immigrants for a moment (for obvious personal reasons). If you break them down by gender you will see something interesting about this community:

Period Male Female
1981 to 1990 0 0
1991 to 2000 15 35
2001 to 2005 10 35
2006 to 2010 10 20
2011 to 2016 0 30

The Japanese immigrant community differs from other Asian communities on a few different variables, but one major one is international marriage. Japanese immigrants here are overwhelmingly female (70%), and from my experience are married to white dudes. Someday I will write more about how this impacts the community and the services it requires.

Event: Community planning workshop

land use map concept for Capri-Landmark area

The City of Kelowna is holding public consultations in an effort to re-imagine what the Capri-Landmark area will look like in the next few decades. This week I was invited to speak at one of the workshops about my perspective on active transportation. Essentially, I gave the same talk that I did at OnPoint last year when I argued that car ownership is merely cultural and that it can and should change (and of course I plugged OGO carshare, as always). But I did give it a little twist, focusing on the relationship between culture and infrastructure, and also tried to inject some urgency into the issue.
Continue reading “Event: Community planning workshop”

Timeline of Japanese in the Okanagan

May is Asian Heritage month in Canada. Here in the Okanagan our local Asian Heritage Month committee has been working for months to ensure that there are a number of events and activities to raise awareness of Asian-Canadian contributions to our communities, and empower immigrants. It all kicks off next week. Asian history month opening gala poster This year, the Japanese community will be hosting the opening gala on Saturday May 6th. I will be there helping out, and I am going to other events such as Family Sundays and getting a tour of the Kelowna Buddhist Temple. The Chinese, Filipino, Korean and Indian communities are all going to be doing different things so check it out.

In preparation for this year’s celebrations I did a little research into the experience of Japanese who began settling in this valley at the turn of the last century. I put together a simple timeline slideshow, to place some of the more important historical people, organizations, and events into the wider context of Japanese-Canadian history. Take a browse by clicking below, and I hope to see you at one of the AHM events this year!

Japanese in the Okanagan timeline

On stage at OnPoint: An argument from culture

Me providing (unpaid) plug of OGO Carshare on stage. Photo credit: Deon Nel Photography

Urban Systems rounded out their series of workshops on housing, the economy, and climate with their fourth and final workshop on Transportation. The evening focused on thinking about how transportation could enable vibrancy in the community.

I shared the panel with autonomous vehicle enthusiast Joseph Hlady and Lisa McIntosh, one of the founders of Urban Harvest Organic Delivery. You can read a bit of a roundup of each of points of view in the Kelowna Capital News.

As you can see, there was a bit of diversity on the stage. Lisa McIntosh was closer to my position of less car usage overall, but Joseph Hlady went a completely different direction. He painted a wondrous if ambiguous future of autonomous vehicles providing last-mile transportation support to the elderly and disabled. His vision had people using automated rideshare, rather than purchasing their own cars. Of course, he neglected to say what international venture-backed behemoth would inevitably own these vehicles.

He argued from the perspective of efficiency, how automated cars would mean less vehicles on the road, and from safety (less auto accidents) and accessibility. To me, this came off as just arguing for a more efficient version of the terrible system we already have, rather than a more radical vision of what we need.

Joseph argued against light rail and other forms mass transit, and actually argued that AVs would allow Kelowna to remain spread out. This floored me and many people in the audience. We just spent the last 3 sessions of OnPoint talking about YIMBYism, and the need to densify.

Me furious writing notes while Joseph talks.
Me furiously writing notes while Joseph talks. Photo credit: Deon Nel Photography

A future of every individual being whizzed around in little tin cans is exactly the opposite of what I argued for on stage. My position is that we need to abandon car culture, the real cause driving our current disastrous environmental, economic and social transportation system.
Continue reading “On stage at OnPoint: An argument from culture”

Thoughts on Citizen Energy

The “right to the city” is described by David Harvey as:

The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.

Although it was a bit of a slog, I enjoyed the ideas presented in his book Rebel Cities, and have continued to think about how I as a citizen can play an active role in the shaping of my city’s development. Thus, I was very excited to welcome Kusunoki Masashi of Citizen Energy Ikoma to come and speak about how his group put solar panels on the rooves of public buildings. see previous post about the talk.

What Japan and Germany have been doing

Japan is particularly vulnerable when it comes to energy disruption since it needs to import more than 80% of its energy requirements (if you want to know more in excruciating detail, see my master’s thesis on the topic). But the 2011 Fukushima disaster was a massive blow. The 9.0 Tōhoku earthquake caused a tsunami which triggered the nuclear meltdown causing nearly 16,000 deaths and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people. Five years later, Japan is still heavily engaged in the cleanup. In the wake of the disaster, all 50 of Japan’s nuclear reactors were shut down. Starting last year, despite much public protest, the Abe Administration has begun restarting nuclear power plants.

In the meantime there have been a number of citizen-led movements for safer, more resilient energy resources similar to Citizen Energy Ikoma. Many are inspired by the experience of Germany. As part of the Energiewende (“Energy Transition”), decentralizing and democratizing energy production has been a key effort. Municipalities and citizens have been taking back energy utilities and in 2012, one in sixty Germans was an energy producer. The number of energy coops has risen to over 1000 in 2015.

german_energy_cooperatives

The Energiewende policy started in 2010, but after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, Germany set policy to shut off all its nuclear reactors by 2022. (The Energiewende is a very complex topic beyond the scope of this post. If you want an overview, check out this dispatch in FP and this National Geographic piece.)

Using our right to our city

Distributed energy supply, disaster-proofing resilient communities, and fighting climate change at the local level… it is all pretty inspiring stuff and makes me think about how this can be applied to my own city.

Kelowna gets about 305 days of sun a year, with 1950 hours of bright sunshine. Plus it gets very little snowfall: only about 5 days a year with more than 5cm, and 1.4 days with more than 10. (data) What this means is that we have a lot of flat rooves. All that flat area and all that sunshine makes for a good argument for putting solar panels everywhere.

Just this summer Kelowna City Hall replaced its roof. What if they had installed solar panels up there? Scratch that: what if we installed solar panels up there? How many other public buildings, schools and open areas could be used towards these ends? If the city does not have the capacity to do this, Ikoma and all the other cities in Japan and Germany prove that we as citizens can. They serve as examples of how to use our right to the city.

“Area CIS white Man applauds diversity”

Me on GlobalTV

I got cornered at the park during lunch today to offer a “Random Area Man” soundbite about our mayor’s attendance at the Sugarplum Ball, a cool little event put on by my pals at the Okanagan Young Professionals. Watch the whole segment:

This is a complete non-controversy. I reverse-interviewed the journalist who said she had a difficult time finding anyone with a negative opinion. Even if I am not the ideal person to be speaking about these issues, I am glad to support our mayor in championing minority communities that make our city a place of vitality. I am sure the ball will be a blast.

Watching the segment afterwards though, makes one think of the classic Charlie Brooker sketch:

“I hate these sound bites. I don’t want some punter’s opinion usually.”

Why NOT Uber?

What do people really want when they say they want Uber to come to their community?

Once they learn about all the scandals, lawsuits, riots and demonstrations, the many lists of reasons not to use Uber, most people come away with a nuanced opinion. But typically, at first blush, many people have a very positive reaction to Uber. Why?

One reason could be the marketing. Uber is a poster child for the “sharing economy” — a feel-good marketing term that is inaccurate and “needs to die.” In his excellent book What’s Yours is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy author Tom Slee digs into the hopes and promises of the new rash of sharing economy companies, and shows how they fail to deliver and can actually damage our society.

A key objective of marketing is generating demand. Recently in Kelowna Uber Canada held two information sessions to “gauge interest”. Uber is really good at this. They turn their users into lobbyists, use social media effectively (see the recent province-wide #bc4uber hashtag campaign), and they get local governments to lobby on their behalf. As of last summer they had 250 lobbyists and 29 lobbying firms registered in capitols around the US. Earlier this year our provincial political leaders jumped on the bandwagon and spent money on their own ad campaign for the sharing economy.

Uber is able to get many people on its side through marketing, but that cannot be the only reason people like (at least the idea) of Uber. There seems to be some deep-seated dissatisfaction with the state of transportation as it is today.1 Let us examine some of these arguments.

Often Uber proponents say 1) taxis are expensive and there is no competition; 2) that they can never get a taxi when they need one; and 3) the Uber experience is better.
Continue reading “Why NOT Uber?”

Will Kelowna make it?

After years describing China to Americans, James Fallows has returned and is now explaining America to Americans. In his most recent feature in The AtlanticHow America Is Putting Itself Back Together” Fallows visits medium-sized cities and finds positive signs that America is not going to hell in a handbasket, despite what you might think looking at the fractious national politics and troubling economic signs. There are signs of success at a smaller, dare I say grassroots, scale.

In a sidebar to the feature, Fallows lists out eleven signs a city will succeed. Kelowna is a mid-tier city in Canada, and right in line with the types of cities Fallows examines in his piece. Let us see how it does on the “Fallows Scale of Municipal Success.”
Continue reading “Will Kelowna make it?”

Sectioned — On tech coverage in local media

Our mayor ran on a platform including tech.

Our premier seems to have shifted her economic policy to tech.

Our downtown is physically changing thanks to tech.

Dozens of new tech companies start here each year. Dozens die, too.

We are told it is a $1 billion industry. (Tourism is $840M by comparison.)

There is a lot of activity, a lot of money, and a lot of influence involved.

ao_infographic.jpg
We have 321 tech companies here.

The above points indicate that local media in Kelowna should consider adding a dedicated tech section to their coverage. Currently, only KelownaNow has a tech section under Lifestyle, and a few months ago Kelowna Capital News ran a “Tech Talk” package.

Kelowna is starting to be considered a “tech” hub and the public deserves well-rounded, informative pieces which examine how technology impacts the local community. I am not talking about a “gadget review” section — that is better left to larger publications. What is more important to locals is investigating and explaining the social, political, and economic impacts of the local technology sector. Here are some examples of what I would like to see:
Continue reading “Sectioned — On tech coverage in local media”