Event: Community planning workshop

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.
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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.
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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:
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New support for refugees in Kelowna — CBC Daybreak South interview

The Okanagan Refugee Coalition for Advocacy (ORCA) is a grassroots organization that aims to support the activities of all the neighbourhood groups in the Okanagan sponsoring individual refugee families. On average, it takes about 12 people to provide all the social and moral support needed by a single refugee family. We call these sponsor groups “support pods”. One key way we can support all the pods is coordinating common needs, for example organizing ESL classes or driving lessons. This way, each pod does not need to be re-inventing the wheel every time.

One of our current projects is managing volunteer coordination. We are building a centralized database of potential volunteers in the city that we can vet and then deploy to groups that need them. Furthermore, we need to recruit people keen on creating additional pods for more incoming families. There is an echo effect as newly landed refugees immediately ask if the sponsor group can also sponsor other family members who have been left behind in the refugee camps of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, etc. There are many more Syrians that need our help.

Privately Sponsored Refugees (PSRs) have a support pod built in by definition. But Government Assisted Refugees (GARs) do not. This creates a two-tier system that doesn’t benefit anybody. So, ORCA and the local sponsor organizations have always discussed a long-term vision of taking the care and support networks that have been prepared to support the PSRs, and extending it to the GARs.

No GARs have arrived in Kelowna yet, but with Vancouver asking to staunch the flow, GARs could theoretically be redirected here. And as with the PSRs, we could get very short notice. We want to be prepared. That is what this CBC interview is about.

If you want to help, sign up as a volunteer →

Are we a “hapa” family?

Family Portrait
Family portrait by MAUD.

In One Big Hapa Family Jeff Chiba Stearns investigates why there is such a high rate of interracial marriage (95%+) amongst Canadians of Japanese ethnic heritage (otherwise known as Nikkei). Through interviews with his family and other Nikkei in British Columbia, Chiba Stearns explores the historical experience of the Nikkei in Canada and issues surrounding multiethnic identity.

The DVD of this film was given to my wife and I at Christmas by a family friend who, with a slight grin on her face, commented simply: “You guys should watch this.”

She was right.

Sitting down to watch this, my wife and I laughed when we saw it was about growing up as a multiethnic kid in Kelowna! This is a constant topic of discussion in our household as we watch our multiethnic kids grow up here in Kelowna. My wife and I don’t identify as Hapa, but I am sure our kids will. Does this make us a Hapa family? Sorta? ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Continue reading “Are we a “hapa” family?”