Thursday Evening Happy Thoughts

And there are three of them:

1) Reevely gives a shout out to OCTranspo head Alan Mercier’s meeting with the Citizen’s editorial board. I haven’t listened to the audio yet, but will (and so should you), but there is a reason for cautious optimism: ” [H]e wants to make sure everyone knows diesel fuel is neither environmentally sound nor likely to stay cheap.”  See, someone gets it.

2) Further to my post, Watawa Life takes a very detailed look at the Somorset Mural. His is a good photoblog, and his post is a reminder of the detail in the things we walk past every day.

3) OttawaStart publicizes next tuesday’s meeting on the future of Centretown Movies, which sadly announced a couple of months ago that its current core of volunteers is moving on and is in search of new blood. I’m one of the “several people” that has expressed interest in keeping the project going, but am unsure of how much time I will be able to commit, especially since I may not even be in the province for much of August. In any case, the film festival is one of the city’s hidden gems, encouraging people to come out and mingle, reminding them that public spaces have a value beyond to let the dog run, and a chance to see some really great movies.

Thursday Morning Frustrations

Four quick hits of frustration on a Thursday morning:

1) David Reevely asks what happens to transit plan #1137. Now, what David doesn’t know is that there never actually was transit plan #1137, nor was there 1-1136. The current incarnation is the best for Ottawa, and is the result of laborious study on the part of city council. I mean, it would be crazy to toss out a perfectly fine plan and risk having to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits, all while driving the cost of the inevitable light rail project up, wouldn’t it? Perhaps if we keep assuring ourselves, it will be true.

2) Friends of the O-Train points to Transport Canada’s summarry of the O-train pilot project. On time? Inexpensive? Crazy!

3) Strings attached to a Conservative pork barrel promise? Never. I’m not necessarily opposed to a bridge, but it is a bit rich to see how the federal tories “remain committed” to transit funding in Ottawa. But while John Baird threw a wrench into the original plan,  it remains that Council didn’t have the good sense to  re-approve it, nor have they had the subsequent good sense to act on money that  was available to us.  Eventually, other levels of government will decide to spend money earmarked for us, and its nobodies fault but our own when it happens.

4) No Tax Increase. No cuts to libraries or transit. Which is it? (PDF). I swear that the mayor has two speech writers, one who he talks about services with, the other who he talks about taxes with, and never the two shall meet. The surprising thing is that he could get 17 councillors to stand behind him as he further erodes any credibility that he means what he says, but perhaps people just like to see a train wreck. I want to know which 6 weren’t there and why as, at the end of the day, that is a much more interesting question.

Sidelines of the Podcast

(Photo via rockpaperpixels under a Creative Commons by-nc-nd license.)
I’m usually remiss to write about music, if only because McNutt and I(heart)music do such a good job at it, but also because I am much better at categorizing books. But one of the upsides of having a radio show – beyond 2 hours a week of your own personal FM soapbox – is the opportunity to talk with artists who you enjoy.

So, in that vein I spoke with Wayne Petti of Cuff The Duke this morning about their new album Sidelines of the City. I’ll leave much of the discussion to the podcast, but tend to think that his description of this record being a sort of mix of the first two is apt: it’s polished, catchy, and made me want to listen to it over and over again.

They play Barrymore’s on Saturday night, and if the show is anything like past ones, is well worth the cover ($13 advance).

(Trouble with the embedded player? Download the file or try the iTunes feed.)

Radio Topics for November 27th, 2007.

As usual we air on CKCU 93.1fm from 7 to 9:00am. For those outside of Ottawa you can listen live on the web at the CKCU website. This week we will be joined in studio by a former host of this show, Luke Cote and fellow Carleton University Debating Society member Andrew Lawrence.

At 8:10 we will be speaking with Warren Kinsella who has just published his new book The War Room.

At 8:30am we will be speaking with Wayne Petti of Cuff the Duke who will be playing a show this Saturday night at Barrymores.

The NDP makes the whole Karlheinz Schreiber just a little bit more crazy.

Harper pledges more foreign aid from Canada. Apparently 0.035% of GDP isn’t quite 0.07.

And we thought the Carleton anti-choice motion was controversial. Protesters storm Oxford Debating Union building to prevent show debate.

Duke of Somerset to come down…again but this time its planned.

NDP MP is in trouble due to his election financing practices.

Ottawa Light Rail Plan #254.

Dion seeks clemency for man on death row in Montana.

Republicans win election in Australia and now want to get rid of her majesty.

Nothing like a good ol’ fashioned book banning. Halton Catholic School Board is at the centre of this one.

Feed Change

I have switched to feedburner, which means that you will need to update your RSS feeds:

Main feed is here.

The Podcast feed is here. I’ll endeavour to have iTunes corrected to reflect the change in the next day or so, but in the mean time you’ll still see what I post through the main feed.

Spacing visits Ottawa

Shawn Micallef of the excellent Spacing Magazine visited Ottawa a few weeks ago- you can read his thoughts here.

It’s always nice to get an outside perspective on where you live (especially when he literally walks through your neighbourhood)- particularly when it reinforces what you already see. I like Ottawa a lot, and Centretown certainly feels like home, but there are really two Ottawa’s: the one you see on T.V. for national events like Remembrance day, and then everything south of Queen St., which too often trades on the reputation of the former. I tend to think that the former is bland and sterile, and see so much wasted potential in the latter.

Down goes the Duke

So, as it looks more and more like the Duke of Somorset is going to have to come down (though the story gets more and more interesting), I thought I’d take a second to post the following, a mural on the east side of the building.

I’m actually not so concerned about the loss of the building- it’s nice enough, but I really don’t think that it intrinsically adds much to the street , and something new would be a good opportunity to add to the street and neighbourhood. But I will miss the mural which, as it is on the side that is least stable, is almost certain to disappear, and with it make the street a little less interesting.

In other news: I wish that I had heard about the merchants protest earlier, as I totally would have gone to see what is what, though the idea of a business protest seems on the surface kind of counter-intuitive.

Like the image? Check out more at my flickr page.

A mule with a spinning wheel…

As part of my ongoing efforts to post my ever-growing queue of interviews, here is William Marsden in coversation about his book Stupid to the Last Drop (Amazon). This first aired in the early part of October, Maclean’s ran an excerpt at about that time.

That excerpt speaks to a compelling opening anecdote about the troubles of – and desperation to- get the oil out of the tar sands. In the early post war days, the best way that anyone could figure was to plant a nuclear bomb deep into the earth, detonate it, and then pump out the freshly-freed oil. Apparently it was tried a couple of times in the Soviet Union, and oil was successfully extracted from rocks. It also was unusable because of radioactivity, but that was a minor point. Importantly, some in Alberta thought that this was a good idea.

Now obviously nobody is suggesting that we bomb parts of Northern Alberta, and during the early post war period there were more than a few people that thought nuclear bombs might be used commercially. Part of it was people being naive, part of it was people seeing a new technology that they thought would let them do through magic what was difficult and impossible before. But Marsden makes the case that the environmental impact of current oil sands development is not unlike that of a nuclear bomb: we destroy existing forests, drain rivers to make poisoned lakes, with the necessary outcome that eventually there will be an unusable, probably toxic, desert. These are the sorts of things that we usually think of as happening in developing countries, desperate for cash and unable to demand higher environmental standards; here we are willing participants.

But this is not just another tome about the destructive nature of the oil industry, focusing equally on what benefit Alberta is actually drawing from the industry. Hint: it’s not as much as it should be, certainly not for the costs. He looks to the Heritage fund, a fraction the size a similar program in Norway; he looks to how royalties are being used, again contrasting with the efforts of Norway to use this temporary wealth to diversify and grow the economy. Spoiler alert: Alberta isn’t doing much of that. Education and infrastructure are also touched, each again making it look like Alberta is forgetting the rocks on the shore while riding the wave now. I spoke with Marsden a day or two after the first reports on the oil royalties came out, so they aren’t directly reflected in the book, but that Alberta is short changing itself- and that some defended the status quo- is very much in keeping with the image painted.

Now, Marsden is an investigative journalist, and this is very much a piece of investigative journalism. This should not be read as a slag: it is an engaging, well written book that makes a very clear and important case. At times, I wanted footnotes so I could go and find the sources, but I am a geek. I also expect that many will detract and say that he is too apocalyptic, and certainly the book certainly can feel like that. In the end, however, he asks the sorts of questions that we should be asking before pursuing these sorts of projects, and makes it eminently clear that Alberta is not.

Which more or less draws us to the title of the post: in the best episode of the simpsons, Monorail salesman Lyle Lanley remarks that “a town with money is like a mule with a spinning wheel. No one knows how he got it and danged if he knows how to use it!” He then, ofcourse, promptly sells them a second-rate, go no where monorail. I think that Alberta, as described in the book, falls into this trap: they have the oil, but damned if they know how to make it work for them.
(If you have audio issues with the embedded player, download the original file. Alternately, subscribe to the podcast.)

Light Rail Redux Redux Redux Redux

For the – what is it now fifth? sixth? eleventh? I’ve lost count – time in a year, the city seems to have a new transit plan. The mothercorp has a run down here. For those that like to read Council committee minutes, you can find them here.
First, the good:

  1. At least people are talking sense and moving forward with some form of light rail. This will likely change the question I was planning toasking on Monday at the budget consultation meeting at Lansdowne park (“How much of a tax increase will it be when we have to pay Siemens $300 million dollars?”)
  2. There seems to be a bunch of councillors that approve it, as well as the Mayor and the City Manager. It’s nice to know that they can stop the feudin’ and a fightin’, even if just for a little bit.

And the bad:

  1. They still have the tunnel on the proposal, which is absolutely unbelievable. This is a city in the midst of seriously considering shutting down 10 libraries and as much as doubling some user fees, and yet there is still serious consideration that we should all but double the cost of our transit megaplan to build a tunnel under the city. And for what? So that we won’t have to wait for – at maximum – 5 minutes in the cold? So that there won’t be trains dropping people off right in front of storefronts? Please. Let’s also remember that, for the period of construction aside, dedicated light rail corridors certainly couldn’t make congestion on Albert and Slater worse, and also remember that if we make it too easy for people to drive downtown one of the big incentives to actually ride the train is removed. Let me also point out (again) that things have been doing just fine with a principle downtown artery blocked to vehicles for the past month.
  2. I am more than a little reluctant that the new route is one that comes from a developer, and not by way of several years of concerted study as to where the route should be. Maybe it still makes sense, but there are very good reasons why we had the city do this the first time. Perhaps for the next transit plan I’ll propose to the city that they should build a train that runs on magic beans and runs from outside of my office downtown, via my doorstep, to the the Carleton and the Best Buy on Merivale Road. There’s a reason that we have the city do this sort of thing, and a reason why many of the usual suspects go apeshit when “public-private” partnerships are introduced. Sure, we’re gonna build it and operate it, but should we be saying something about who designed it?
  3. The cost. Chiarelli O-train plan: $780 million, including the maintenance contract. This one? $2 billion, which also includes the transitway and cumberland projects. But you can bet that a good chunk of that increase goes to the tunnel. Already in the transit committee minutes we see the hats getting ready to be put out, let’s just hope that the feds and province decide to be even more generous than last time.
  4. Delays. Had we broken ground last December as planned, we’d be that much closer to having the buses removed from downtown. We’d be that much closer to having a mass transit system befitting a city of our size, let alone a National Capital. And we’d have insulated ourselves against at least 2 years of increases in the cost of labour, materials, and fuel, let alone legal and transaction costs.

Now, I do not think that the first plan was perfect: it should have used what rights of way it had to create the first stage of the east-west route, going as far east as Hurdman and possibly pushing west to Tunney’s Pasture. It should also have gone to the Airport. It is also unacceptable that, to this day, we can’t be sure what exactly was in the proposal because so much of it was kept from public eyes, leading to poor publicity and, in turn, people believing what they wanted to believe.

It’s also a testament to the dysfunction of this city that I think many people believed that if they didn’t get their part of the expanded o-train in the first go, they never would. That’s bad, in part because it discourages smart planning to meet growth, but also because it encourages a dangerous sort of IMBYism, where if it doesn’t directly affect your back yard, you are reactionarily opposed to spending money on it.
Previously on the Mike Powell Fan Club: David Gladstone on transit planning; Clive Doucet on another O-train proposal