fear & loathing in Lotusland

Month: January, 2014

That’s Entertainment

by Zbigniew

To again quote Colin Marshall: “My own time in LA has, in fact brought me to see many other world cities as theme-park experiences by comparison, made enjoyable yet severely limited by the claims of their images.”

What claims do our images make?

If Vancouver is a theme park, what theme park experience does it offer?

Before there was ever a need for civic self-actualization cum branding, this was in geographic and economic fact the Terminal City –the place where WASP capital ran out of road. That is, the last substantive piece of property left for the taking.

There was just enough space for a really big small town. And so it became: a fog-bound, pulp-scented lowercase wild west, scant of gold but rich in fish, wood and schemes. A decidedly unsophisticated place, where –as Douglas Coupland put it in Polaroids from the Dead– “‘fine dining’ meant a T-bone steak, three double scotches and a pack of Chesterfields.” It was full of loggers and mechanics, and bureaucrats practicing their Received Pronunciation -the apparatchiks of Empire, working the soggy fringe.

And despite, or because of, the lack of sophistication, it was where you went to play.

The provision of entertainments is in our civic DNA. The “aggregation of filth” better known as Gastown owed its existence to a saloon, constructed overnight on the promise of free drink.

It was the last stop for provisions before heading into the bush and the first stop on the return trip. And so, Skid Road and the bawdy houses of Dupont (Pender) Street, the original “entertainment district.” From the 1930’s on Vancouver was a main stop on the West coast “show business railway”, eclipsing “Montreal as Canada’s capital of vaudeville and burlesque in the post-WWII era.”* All this before the ubiquitous strip joints of the 1970s through to the ‘90s.

But entertainment for the genteel, too: neon lit Theatre Row, the “Playground City” of greenery and exotic totems, the PNE, and the ski-in-the-morning-blah-blah-blah-in-the-afternoon, punctuated by  Expo and the occasional riot.

TotemPostCardStanley Park Totem Poles – Vancouver, Dan Propp

The loggers are gone. The wild is in retreat or heavily manicured.

But the playground remains. This inherited characteristic is suddenly ascended, like some kind of sudden onset hirsutism. To these eyes, the place is looking more and more like an unbounded, over-sized amusement park.

There’s Viva Vancouver: “During the summer, the City closes roads to vehicle traffic … and converts them into public spaces for walking, lounging, and lunching.” With puking and brawling thrown in for nothing.

There’s the themed experiences: from olde timey Gastown, Klahowya Village, and  FlyOver Canada, to the intensively controlled and consumption-heavy “nature” of the Aquarium and the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.

One the proposed redesigns of our defacto main public square calls for a multipurpose floating circular ring, supported on masts, and incorporating lighting and sound: party central.

It’ll be the latest addition to the spectacle:

Joel Schat

And of course there’s the casino, the money-sucking carbuncle for the sucking maw that is BC Place. And you can have a casino without an outlet mall grotesquerie.

Pulling all these disparate images together, a pattern forms. I think of it as Temperate Vegas Lite.

* Vancouver Noir, Diane Purvey & John Belshaw, Anvil Press, 2011. Pg. 95.


by Zbigniew

“My own time in LA has, in fact brought me to see many other world cities as theme-park experiences by comparison, made enjoyable yet severely limited by the claims of their images. San Francisco has long strained under the sheer fondness roundly felt for it, or at least for an idea of it, never quite living up to how people imagine or half-remember it in various supposedly prelapsarian states of 20, 40, 60 years ago. New York has similarly struggled with perceptions of it as the ultimate expression of the urban, and even lovers of Paris come back admitting that Paris-as-reality seems hobbled by Paris-as-idea.

“I look around my own neighborhood of Koreatown and wonder what set of ideas could ever accommodate it. In its officially just under three, but in practice over five, of the densest square miles it churns business and culture brought straight from not just South Korea but southern Mexico as well. It all happens in and amid the sometimes incongruously grand structures of what they used to call the Ambassador District, an area swanky enough by the standards of 1930s and 40s America that it hosted Academy Awards ceremonies back then. I have a hard time imagining Koreatown emerging quite so robustly in any city contained by a vision.”

Colin Marshall, “Los Angeles: a city that outgrew it’s masterplan. Thank God.”, Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Demos Yaboy

by Zbigniew

DSCN1132600 Block, Main Street

Hot Air

by Zbigniew

According to The Guardian, “The ten strangest musical instruments” includes wave and wind organs, instruments made of ice and stalactites, a stretch of road near Lancaster California that plays the William Tell Overture, and the Gastown Steam Clock.

Vancouver’s contribution to the list of wonders and oddities is remarkable for “notes created by steam forced through whistles,” and for the steam itself, supplied by “underground pipes that heat downtown buildings.”

Built in 1977 by horologist Roy Saunders, the steam clock “is an oft-cited and popular attraction. There are always people waiting at the Water Street and Cambie location to hear the hourly Westminster chimes or to see the almost-five-metre-high cast bronze clock ‘blow off steam’ every 15 minutes.” (The Greater Vancouver Book)

And gather they do. Day in, day out,  images are captured and superlatives are expressed: “iconic;” “magical.”

And it’s all bullshit: the steam engine is powered by a belt, connected to a hidden electric motor.

Fake, full of hot air, and geared to visitors -an icon in fact.

The Greene$t City

by Zbigniew

“[I]n 2009 we set the bold goal to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. We’re making good progress to date, with a huge engagement of citizens, neighbourhoods and businesses to achieve our targets.”

Mayor Gregor Robertson

“British Columbia has all the characteristics of a first-class mining jurisdiction: access to booming Asian markets, good infrastructure, skilled labor, a pro-mining government and bounteous natural resources. It is also home to Vancouver, the world’s exploration capital. With around 1,000 junior mining companies and 2,500 service companies, the city has grown from a staging post for the Klondike Gold Rush to a global mining hub. Vancouver-based mining companies now operate worldwide from Chile’s Atacama Desert to the jungles of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

Engineering & Mining Journal, December 2013

The Extraction Economy

What does 3,500 companies look like? No idea. For a representative sample of of 600, click here.

Just Down the Road

by Zbigniew

“SNC-Lavalin has worked on coal projects around the world, including the ongoing expansion of one of the largest mining operations in the world. A strong and capable worldwide team of project management and engineering professionals support our clients in the delivery of coal mining projects from the ROM pad to the port, including all mine area related infrastructure and rail.”


SNC-Lavalin former executives are implicated in a number of corruption-related scandals across the globe.


Port Metro Vancouver retains SNC-Lavalin Environment, a division of SNC-Lavalin Inc., to conduct environmental impact assessments of its projects. In its report on the proposed expansion of the Fraser Surrey Docks coal facilities, SNC-Lavalin Environment found that the project would “not likely cause significant adverse effects to the environment or human health.”


The local offices of SNC-Lavalin Environment are at 8648 Commerce Court, Burnaby.

On Saturday, January 11, 2014, at about 11:00 AM, near the junction of Gaglardi Way and Government Street, Burnaby –a four-minute drive from SNC-Environment’s offices- seven coal cars of a westbound Canadian National train left the track; three of the cars tipped and dumped their contents into the coho salmon bearing Stoney Creek.

Shifting Bench Marks

by Zbigniew

Salish Map







Tax Credit Map


Centre of the World


Low Track









And a Happy 2014

by Zbigniew