Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Citizens speak on proposed Vancouver Casino

(Here is a story I just wrote in 30 minutes in a mock webfile for a class at my college. I am going to invest in a smartphone, as I had to race back home from city hall on the bus to meet my professor's deadline!)

Over 200 people showed up to Vancouver City Hall last night to have their say on the proposed expanded casino next to BC Place, and after hearing from the applicants and staff only a handful of union representatives had the opportunity at press time.

Council voted to extend the hearing an hour, yet after hearing from the applicants — Paragon Gaming, PavCo and the B.C. Lottery Corporation — and city hall staff, there was only enough time to hear from a handful of citizens all union representatives who spoke in favour of the casino proposal.

Outside council chambers a rowdy overflow crowd of over 100 people sat and stood watching the proceedings, Mayor Robertson requested respect for the applicants several times.

"This is an important debate, I respect it," said David Podmore, head of PavCo — the government company that owns the land next to BC Place.

Vocal anti-casino protesters outnumbered two-to-one a group of about 50 Edgewater casino employees all wearing yellow T-shirts with the slogan “Save Our Jobs.”

“In 2013 our lease is up at our current location and if this project does not go through approval by the city that means 600-plus employees are out of work,” said CAW 300 spokeswoman and Edgewater PR representative Lesley Harris.

Many protesters rallied out front of city hall before the hearing under the banner “Vancouver Not Vegas.”

Proposal critic and renowned architect Bing Thom said outside city hall, “The government has become addicted to the gambling revenues, [to them] it's easy money."

Councillors were critical of these projected revenues in their questioning of the applicant’s numbers.

Council also critiqued the lack of weight the applicants put on the social problems the expanded casino might bring and BCLC president Michael Graydon admitted the BCLC has no ability to ascertain spending habits of problem gamblers in casinos.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Obvious News: Vancouver will still have hundreds of homeless people in 2015

                                         Chris Huggins (Flickr)/photo

Planning department shows city still has considerable challenges if it wants make good on mayor's promise to end homelessness in the next decade.

A new report from city hall says 450 new housing units are needed to end homelessness in Vancouver by 2015.

City Manager Penny Ballem’s report garnered praise from councillors during a festive Lunar New Year session. Only Coun. Suzanne Anton questioned the projected shortfalls and the secrecy of the report.

“To me, my conclusion [from the report] was that 450 units will solve homelessness in Vancouver. Well… no,” Anton said. “450 units will not solve homelessness."

                 Thomas Quine (Flickr)/photo
The report projects - despite the city’s partnership with BC Housing creating 14 new supportive housing sites by 2012 - the city will still be short hundreds of units by 2015. This shortfall will increase 750 units by 2020 to a total of 1,200 units if additional housing is not provided.
“Elimination of homelessness is quite realistic, it could be rolled back province-wide by an investment equivalent to the new stadium roof — $568 million,” said Coun. Geoff Meggs. “All that's missing is political will.”

Anton, the lone councillor outside of Mayor Gregor Robertson’s ruling coalition, believes these numbers are greatly undervalued.

“There’s about 7,000 built now, so there really needs to be 3,000 more to properly accommodate all the people who are living [downtown],” Anton said. “I think the mayor was looking for a real political solution to his election promise.”

Anton was also disappointed with lack of transparency in the report. “I thought it was a disgrace to democracy that it was brought in that forum so that nobody had any notice of it.

 Coun. Suzanne Anton
“It was a PowerPoint [presentation] and council didn't even have it in front of them. There was no opportunity to properly challenge it or question it or prod it or to see what it actually meant,” Anton said. “This mayor is famous for his disinterest in hearing from people. And presenting it in this way so nobody could address the subject was very odd indeed.”

Coun. Tim Stevenson thinks the report — on which the city will hear from the public and report back to council by the end of April — and its compiling of concrete numbers is another step in a larger process of understanding Vancouver’s homeless began by previous administrations.

“I've been awaiting this report for a number of years and it is excellent in my opinion,” Stevenson said. It will certainly lead us into the future.”

The report focused on mapping the city’s total homeless population, supportive housing and rental units. The report claimed only 10 per cent of Vancouver’s homeless — largely single men — come from other provinces, dispelling a popular myth that many migrate to get away from cold winters further East.

The Community Services department will conduct another count of the city’s homeless population Mar. 16, 2011, as part of its annual report card on the issue.

The report stressed the need for 12 to 15 more supportive housing sites to close the eventual 1,200-unit gap by 2020.

“There's no question that the only way to get adequate housing is for senior levels of government to help with the funding,” Anton said. “The best housing is when there's partnerships with the city — which is usually land and facilitation services — BC Housing non-profit groups and the province.

“That's what puts housing together right now.”

The report can be found here : http://vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20110201/documents/HousingandHomelessnessStrategy.pdf

Monday, January 31, 2011

Theatre Review : Studio 58's "The Comedy of Errors"

Directed by Scott Bellis. A Studio 58 and Langara College production sponsored by the Langara College Theatre Arts Advisory Committee. At Studio 58 on Thursday, Jan. 27. Continues until Feb. 20.

Studio 58’s newest production surprised viewers with its dark update of Shakespeare’s mistaken identity masterpiece.

The play was a manic success in the capable hands of director Scott Bellis, a veteran actor, founding member of Bard on the Beach and grad of the Langara’s vaunted theatre program.

The reimagining of Ephesus as a dark industrial town meshed well with the opening scene’s choreography, which was set to the soundtrack of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes film. The set channeled the look and feel of that movie and Naomi Sider’s macabre costumes were straight out of a Tim Burton film.

The juxtaposition between the script and setting was a little jarring at the outset of the dialogue. However, Shakespearean soliloquys soon found a comfortable home in this parallel universe where policemen tote revolvers and conjurers dole out electroshock therapy. The giant steam clock and the town’s electrical grid repeatedly blacked out as a hunchbacked repair man precipitated scene changes or freeze frames where one character would step out for a monologue.

With a story revolving around two sets of identical twins and their repeatedly mistaken identities, the four actors created palpable characterizations and you often found yourself forgetting that one Dromio had departed the stage and another had come on.

The identical twin brothers named Antipholus, and their twin servants the Dromios, have been estranged for years until Antipholus of Syracuse, played by the capricious Anton Lipovetsky, arrives in his brother’s town and is promptly caught up in controversy over his twin’s supposed adultery.

One of the most memorable scenes has both sets of twins rebuking each other from a revolving doorway as it spins out of control and the characters fall further into madness. Throughout the production characters banter back and forth rapid fire and there were no signs of opening night jitters.

The script is one of the bard’s dirtiest, and demonstrates that filthy jokes told between buddies are still funny even when referencing geography in old English.

The gigantic Joel Ballard plays the portly cook at the butt end of the jokes and his disturbing take on Nell steals the show. Nell is constantly longing for one of the Dromio twins and punctuates each temporary defeat with an unbridled Chewbacca warble. Bellis admitted in the talkback session this was a clear homage to the beloved Star Wars wookie.

The rest of the cast put in strong performances, with notable contributions by Pandora Morgan as a vampy courtesan and Paula Burrows as the altruistic Luciana.

As good as the ensemble was, it could not save viewers from the drawn out denouement where each character’s problems immediately vanish in an unbelievable scene.

Overall this was an ambitious and dark new take on a classic play with a surprisingly malleable script.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Too (East) Asian?

                                                                   photo: insidehighered.com
 In Maclean’s 2010 university rankings issue writers Stephanie Findlay and Nicholas Köhler pushed the boundaries of responsible journalism. 

In the article ‘Too Asian’? Findlay and Köhler explore the demographics of Canadian universities, yet do so with biased racial overtones cloaked in their presentation of a supposedly widely-held viewpoint. 

One of the core tenets of quality journalism is responsibility. Journalists have a responsibility to engage their readers in thoughtful debate and provide necessary context to controversial ideas or events. If the media provides a free marketplace of both good and bad ideas eventually the good ideas will prevail and become common wisdom.

However, fringe or discriminatory ideas need not be given equal weight if they are clearly inaccurate. This is why media outlets like the CBC now refuse to include climate change skeptics as counterweights to scientists in global warming articles. 

Maclean’s had no obligation to focus so heavily on this belief that Canadian universities are suffering from increasing ‘Asian’ enrolment. A specific population of foreign citizens becoming a large presence at many of the nation’s top universities might warrant a news feature. Yet, the insidious thing about this article is that both Canadian (Canadians from an East Asian background) students and foreign ‘Asian’ students are lumped together, blurring the line between the two and bringing into question such Canadians place in the national fabric. 

“‘Too Asian’ is not about racism, say students like Alexandra : many white students simply believe that competing with Asians—both Asian Canadians and international students—requires a sacrifice of time and freedom they’re not willing to make,” stated the article. After attributing this view to white students, the term ‘Asian’ is used to refer to both Canadian citizens and international ‘Asian’ students.

The article tries to create conflict between two vast and poorly delineated groups of students in an attempt to construct news value. Do the reservations some white Canadians have about working hard to get into a prestigious university warrant a news feature detailing the humanity of their struggle? It may, if students come from disadvantaged backgrounds or are overcoming adversity in some way. But to juxtapose the plight of lazy students against hardworking students from different ethnic backgrounds hardly strives for one of journalism’s crucial goals of informing the citizenry. 

The annual university issue is arguably Maclean’s most popular each year, and the editors must have known the ramifications of putting this article in this issue. There are more than two thousand comments in response to the article online and numerous blogs, print and broadcast media have discussed whether or not it crossed the line. Maclean’s was clearly more focused on stirring up controversy – and publicity – than bringing anything constructive to the national conversation on multiculturalism.

The article is premised on the belief that the racist opinions of a select group of students can be extrapolated to represent a larger group of Canadians. Twice the article quotes a professor saying that ‘Asians’ are being treated like Jews were in the early 20th Century. This scary parallel does not prompt the authors to examine this discrimination, but through direct quotes from other sources they give voice to it.

The reporters are uncritical in their use of the term ‘Asian.’ Journalism is supposed to push the public discourse forward through objective and accurate reporting. By using the term Asian prominently, the journalists neglect their duty to provide context and accuracy. 

The Asian continent contains more than half of the earth’s population. An ‘Asian’ could come from countries as diverse as Japan, Kazakhstan or Bangladesh. If one of the purposes of the article was to spark debate, then a more constructive one could be initiated by first casting a critical eye on such a problematic word.

The article cites a study commissioned by the Ontario provincial government and released in October. This study is more thoughtful than the Maclean’s article in using the ‘Asian’ tag and instead refers to students “who immigrated from East Asia.” Even a small distinction like this improves public discourse by deconstructing a monolithic term like ‘Asian.’ If journalists around the world stopped reducing diverse places into singular labels like ‘Africa,’ people might be better informed and able to grasp the complexities of the world outside their borders.

Latent prejudice is peppered throughout the article, where the authors alternately praise the Canadian post-secondary education system and then raise open-ended questions about its current state as “too Asian.” The article stated, “Canadian universities, apart from highly competitive professional programs and faculties… rely entirely on transcripts. Likely that is a good thing. And yet, that meritocratic process results, especially in Canada’s elite university programs, in a concentration of Asian students.” The readers are left to decide whether a concentration of ‘Asian’ students is desirable. 

By following “Likely that is a good thing,” with “And yet,” casts a negative light on the second sentence. Journalists should not tell readers how to think about a topic, they are only there to provide what to think about. Again the article repeats this “dilemma” facing Canadian institutions: act as meritocracies yet receive too many ‘Asian’ students.

Shirley we'll miss him...

                                                                  photo: grarg.net

(Ed. Note: This piece ran in the Langara Voice on Monday, I have been slow to post it but take some time and let me know what you think. I have been incredibly slow posting since the summertime, I'm going to upload a bunch of pieces that I have completed during my certificate program. I was assigned these stories to cover for the newspaper.)

Canada lost its king of deadpan last Sunday as actor Leslie Nielsen passed away at the age of 84.

The utilitarian actor worked for decades in over 100 movies and numerous TV shows before he redefined himself as a funny man after the 1980 hit, Airplane! He died due to complications with pneumonia.

“Even when he was in the early part of his career, doing the serious movies and TV, he was always very down-to-earth, had a quick wit and a great sense of humour,” said Doug Nielsen, Nielsen’s nephew who lives in Richmond.

“I would see that humour in him all the time when we got together and had a glass of wine,” Doug said.

Nielsen perfected the straight-faced delivery of ridiculous lines now the bread and butter of comedians like Stephen Colbert and George Carlin. Yet many of Langara’s younger students might remember Nielsen as Mr. Magoo.

Nielsen worked as a villain in TV and movies for decades before jumping at the chance to move to comedy.

“After he read the script of Airplane! he actually said to his agent that he’d do the movie for free. He just loved the whole idea,” said Doug.

B. J. Summers, manager at the Videomatica movie rental store, thinks Nielsen’s image as a bad guy added to the effectiveness of his comedic roles.

“That’s who he was for the longest time,” Summers said. “And that’s why it was so funny that people recognized his face and he delivered his lines like he always did, so deadpan and so real.”

Videomatica has a memorial shelf for Nielsen including many comedies like the Naked Gun series and also his lesser-known dramas.

Nielsen was born in Regina and moved around the prairies with his family. He said in previous interviews he started developing acting skills when he used to lie to his strict Mountie father. Nielsen’s brother Erik was deputy prime minister in the 1980s and also died at age 84.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

South Korea: Top 5 Ways Seoul's Residents Deal With Population Density

Seoul and its surrounding conurbation is home to over 24 million people who live packed cheek-to-cheek in an area almost eight times more crowded than New York. How do residents living in the developed world's densest city cope with everyday life in this bustling metropolis and its suburbs? How does everyone refrain from killing each other? Here is a countdown of the five most important ways Seoul and its residents try to make it all work.

5. Urban Oases : People here have various opportunities to escape the crushing weight of humanity found within Greater Seoul. Dark dens of clanking keyboards, PC bangs (PC방) are the top destination for many of Seoul’s younger generations. Teens and young adults immerse themselves in virtual worlds where lonely heroes roam the open plains. Others seek out the multi-tiered bathhouse/lounge called the jim-jil-bang (찜질방 or 사우나), which were aptly described by a friend as "adult day-care".  The typical jim-jil-bang contains different saunas, hot and cold tubs, a fitness room, comic book library, sleeping nooks, big screen TVs as well as a cafeteria and their very own PC room. At any hour, people of all ages come and pay the affordable fees in order to relax. The Great Outdoors do exist as most neighbourhoods are close to a mountain where people can get away from the summer heat or omnipresent rumble of traffic. The mountains are covered with trails of varying difficulty, outdoor gyms with interesting machinery (i.e. spinning a big captain's wheel or inverted situps) and picnic areas. Popular ways to kick back away from the masses also include kicking out the jams at private karaoke rooms, hitting the links in virtual golf rooms, and visiting beauty spas or hair salons for a perm beloved by Koreans of all ages.

4. Innovative Space-saving Ideas: Seoul, like many East Asian cities, operates on several vertical planes, and its residents are creative in their use of cramped quarters. Hectares of retail space fill the subterranean walkways that perforate the city like an anthill. With urban fairways few and far between, driving ranges dot the golf-crazed cityscape. These green mesh monsters sit overtop crowded parking lots everywhere. Underneath the nylon netting and booming drivers, Hyundai drivers play an oversize game of Tetris. Cars in packed parking lots are left double-parked in neutral with their owner's phone number in the windshield. One  can push the neutral cars out of the way or call the owner to come and move them.This trust in the benevolence of strangers also comes to fore in the final tactic.

3. Mixed-use Residential and Commercial Space:
Though waning in popularity with developers, Greater Seoul has an abundance of mixed use properties when compared to most North American cities. In and around Seoul you can find restaurants, bars, karaoke rooms, hair salons, grocery stores and boutiques all under stories of single family apartments. You could live your life almost exclusively within a four block radius of your apartment and never have to brave the snaking kilometres of congested highways or teeming subway cars. Judging by certain people's winter footwear, they do just that.

2. Dominating New Space: When existing space is getting too crowded vast tracts of peripheral land are bulldozed to create New Towns out of thin air. Through public-private partnerships the federal government plans to construct 300,000 homes in and around Seoul by 2017. Dominance over nature is a common theme of modern South Korean development and it remains to be seen how the government's recent "green policy paradigm shift" will change things. Still, these New Towns are more livable, vastly safer and less environmentally damaging than North American suburbia's thousands of hectares of single family dwellings. Whether reunification will one day open up prime suburban real estate to the north before spatial limits are reached south of the DMZ is another matter all together.

1. The Acceptance of Zero Personal Space: You are not unique or special, and unless you are very old you do not warrant any extra space. In this homogeneous society friends are referred to as siblings and the physical discomfort caused by compatriots is written off as unintentional. Use the city's public transport and you will witness this unwritten code that excuses even the most vicious of elbows or blatant line-cutting. No need for an "I'm sorry," or "Hey pal, watch it," shake it off and keep going. Yet, the majority of commuters are quiet and conscientious and this translates to the roadways as well. The absence of road rage is incredible considering the snaking kilometers of daily traffic found within Greater Seoul. Drivers wait patiently for long periods. With their hands off their horns, they remain calmly in their lanes and let merging traffic in graciously. This zen-like acceptance is something that can be hard for foreign residents to get used to, but once they adopt this code everyday life here is much less stressful.

Do you have any methods of coping? Feel free to share them below...