fear & loathing in Lotusland

Month: March, 2013

Refuge: The Immediate Wild

by Zbigniew

Stepped out the back door and into a confrontation between a murder of crows and an impressively-sized raccoon; the crows took off and I could hear my new friend breathing as we regarded each other.

Walking down the alley, a coyote crossed my path moving at full tilt.

Robins serenaded me on my walk to the bus stop.

At Main & Hastings  a flock of seagulls harassed an eagle making its way south and east, presumably to its nest in Strathcona Park.

Finally, and long overdue, the admonition came to mind: “Remember Vancouver: you are wild.”

Wild in the City by Gordon Fish, National Film Board of Canada

To Tsur, With Doubt

by Zbigniew


I found myself on the East Hastings car lot not out of any personal need but as a favour –to provide moral and tactical support for an encounter with that most voracious of economic beasts: the used car salesman.

At an emotional and financial remove, the event is not without its rewards: the pathological optimism necessary to advance the virtues of an obviously abused fin de siècle Toyota has entertainment value; and I have to admire our interlocutor’s lightning-quick gear changes that accompany our drifting interest.

Still, it’s an unpleasant chore. Wandering the wind-swept lot, surrounded by lacklustre metal/plastic/rubber artifacts, hounded at every step by an ever smiling, barely contained ball of rage.


Tsur Sommerville’s a big guy, with a big, welcoming smile. Throw in a thick head of hair and beard, a tie-less pink dress shirt and the overall impression is of a seriously over-sized teddy bear.

At the podium to discuss Foreign Investment in Vancouver’s Real Estate Market (SFU Woodwards, March 20, 2013), the first order of business is a correction to his introduction: he is not a UBC economics professor specializing in real estate, but a professor at the Sauder School of Business.

(For the record, his official titles are Associate Professor, Real Estate Foundation Professorship in Real Estate Finance & Director, UBC Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate. The Centre was established in 1988, with the financial support of the Real Estate Foundation of BC; its objective to “foster the integration between teaching, research, and the professional real estate community.“)

Following on Andy Yan’s fine-grained analysis of empty condos in Coal Harbour, and Sandy Garossino’s impassioned call for housing that serves people not international capital flows, we get Tsur’s well-honed pitch: it’s a fast-paced drone, a swarm of low-octave bees, peppered with jokes to blunt the unfettered market sting. A limited land supply is the issue, restrictive city zoning the aggravating factor, so blame God and your elected officials. And for a big guy he sure can duck and dodge, admonishing us not to fall prey to “Yellow Peril” fear mongering even as he ignores the real estate industry’s HAM-fisted tactics†.

It’s quite a performance –amusing, even.

But seated next to his fellow panelists, his body language belies the “hail fellow well met” package. As the discussion turns to declining values, hollowed-out neighbourhoods, and other apparent market failures, he sits with elbows on the table, hands clasped, head downcast. He looks put out.

It’s not surprising. It’s a tough job selling an idea that’s looking dented, scratched and betraying the telltale bubbling of rust.


No sale.

† Hot Asian Money

Seen in Passing: Johnston & Old Bridge

by Zbigniew


Tip-o-the-hat to Johnny Drift


by Zbigniew

The weather warms; thoughts turn to the garden, to the spreading of manure and the turning of soil.

Our burghers have caught this strain of spring fever in a big way, evident in their generously apportioning of bullshit all along Broadway, from Commercial Drive to UBC.

A city-commissioned KPMG report is their slender almanac, and a $2.8 billion subway the fix for the standing-room-only busses running down “North America’s busiest bus corridor.”

The only fix: it’s already a given that tram and light rail won’t do the job, while the bolstering of the lackadaisical bus timetables of 4th and 16th avenues isn’t even on the agenda. And the real head scratcher is that the subway proposal comes without a land-use plan.

As soil prep goes, the city’s approach is decidedly unorthodox, like tilling a raised garden bed with a pickaxe, blindfolded. It looks crazy, unless destruction itself is the intended goal.

Busses, trams and street rail would barely ruffle the surface, but a subway is pure disruption, a literal loosening of the soil, an undermining of roots and foundations by giant metal Chaffer beetles. In its wake will come the weeds: increased land value, taxes, and rents, closures, permits, and the inevitable podium/towers. The lack of a land-use plan isn’t an oversight, its intentional. It’ll facilitate the chaos, allowing the growth to find its own opportunistic path.

All the planning that’s necessary is to demarcate the plot:

Broadway Corridor

The UBC-Broadway Corridor: Unlocking the Economic Potential, KPMG, p. 9

Hotel Devonshire II

by Zbigniew

Most Unique

by Zbigniew

“Great buildings that move the spirit have always been rare. In every case they are unique, poetic, products of the heart.”

Arthur Erickson


“Selling a property in The Erickson is unlike anything else – Simply put it is the most unique building in Vancouver which deserves and requires the most unique marketing strategy.”

Will McKita, “False Creek Luxury Marketing Specialist”


There’s a unique form of stress at the conjunction of hard times and judicial matters of the small claims variety: it arises from the prolonged sub-Kafkaesque processes, the endless compilation of forms, the marginal returns –it’s a low grade, low stakes angst.

For the second time that day I took a number. I estimated the likelihood of my being called up in anything less than 45 minutes as remote, and slumped extravagantly into a chunky piece of pre-Expo furniture.

Looking up: sunlight making its way through the glass ceiling and the water flowing above it. Sunny -that’s fucking fantastic.

I sat.

Light was dappling the interior of the big open hall. Vines and leaves draped over the concrete wall of the floor above and I was aware of the sound of rushing water and I was sitting on a rock in Lynn Creek on a warm afternoon.

And I heard my number.



Arthur Erickson’s Graham House was on the Municipality of West Vancouver’s heritage inventory; it was destroyed in December 2007.

A seemingly irrational fate for an artifact produced by the native-son Gordon Smith called the artist architect, who worked in wood and concrete on a canvass of geography; Arthur Erickson O.C., the creative force behind the paper-mache pavilion of the UN Habitat Conference on Human Settlements, the UBC Museum of Anthropology, Roy Thomson Hall -he claimed that the 1963 Graham House launched his career.

Irrational, until you consider that at roughly the same time the unique residence of 6999 Isleview was being pulverized Erickson’s name was being used to shill a new condo development on False Creek.

If I ever care to look back on this period of wholesale destruction, the winter of 2007/2008 might serve to mark the point where our hearts and our wallets parted company.


Arthur Erickson died in 2009.


Erickson’s home is tiny -a runt compared to the popular twin-peaked post-monsterhouse. It’s a lane way on a property devoid of a house, a shack relegated to a corner of a giant, near wild garden, complete with pond and earth mound. A tall wooden fence provided alternately silent sanctuary and privacy for those swinging ’70s antics.

Spared destruction after Erickson’s 1992 bankruptcy and forced sale, the Arthur Erickson Foundation struggles with his home’s renovation and mortgage payments. Because this is Vancouver, danger looms.

“We are caught in a vice between art and the bottom line,” said Erickson of his practice. A place where the poetic products of the heart have no inherent value. A situation that requires and deserves the most unique of strategies.


by Zbigniew

“ … the false front is both synonymous with the artificial display of wealth as well as the rapid boom-and-bust expansions of early mining, railroad and forestry communities.”

Reece Terris, The Western Front Front: Another False Front

An entire economy built on the speculative value of waterlogged cubes of drywall.  Sometimes these are purchased by people who don’t exist. Sometimes the homes themselves don’t exist.

There are fake communities enthusiastically praised under false pretenses, and real neighbourhoods burdened by fake names.

Here’s a philanthropist whose favourite charity is himself. You’ll find him shilling those cubes by the fake island in False Creek.

A patrimony of façade and a politics of apologetic quotes: “consultation”; “affordability”; “Greenest City”.

In this place ugly is altogether too real. It smacks of poverty and that’s just not possible.

Seen in Passing: Hastings & Nanaimo

by Zbigniew


Not Village

Tip of the hat to DJKlueless.