fear & loathing in Lotusland

Cage Match

by Zbigniew

Game of Homes

The concept –if we can call it that- pits four couples against each other to complete a full home renovation of four aging abodes. Cue the de rigueur stage-managed “reality” tropes: a loud, in-your-face host, tight, stress-inducing timelines, a steady stream of fist-pumping, frenetic editing, etc etc etc. The winner gets to keep the house.

Welcome to Vancouver and Game of Homes. (Get it? Game of HOMES!)

Way back (in late June) the idea was to renovate four Vancouver knockdowns on their lots. Inspired (sic) by the PNE Prize Home (sic), Great Pacific Television producer Blair Reekie billed it as a “new twist on preservation” in Vancouver’s out of control real estate market.

That was yesterday, but the market is all right-fucking-now. So, four houses have instead been liberated of the much more valuable dirt they sit on and moved to a fenced enclosure on Concorde Pacific’s property False Creek. Oh, it’s a mystical place that Northeast corner, where sign and permit by-laws don’t seem to apply, assessed property values shrink even as court actions lengthen, and the demands of local citizen’s for their promised park disappear into a vacuum.

It’s the perfect location for a catered and green tarpaulin-wrapped cage match, where couples gouge, claw and scrape over each other, like crabs in a barrel, for the Terminal sublime, a rare chance to touch the Holy of Holies: a home.

Well, a house, anyways.

Seen in Passing: Commercial & Napier

by Zbigniew


Also: Eulogy for An Affordable Rooming House, by Rev. G. Mullins


by Zbigniew

They arrive weekly, if not more often: emails espousing some unachievable policy aspiration, or an invitation to a highly circumscribed “dialogue”, or plain, run-of-the-mill, propaganda.

What to do when out-of-touch, developer-financed civic officials hand you a sack of lemons? Well, you make make lemonade, of the unsweetened variety.

Ergo, a poem, comprised of Vision Vancouver mass email subject lines.

To wit:


This Earth Day, Vancouver has a lot to be proud of
Homelessness in Vancouver
How can we create affordable homes in Vancouver?
Will I see you at Vision’s Spring Fling?
Will you join us at the Vision Spring Fling?
Tomorrow night, will you join us?
Will I see you at our forum tonight?
Our forum on immigration
Join the Conversation: Kinder Morgan and Vancouver’s economy
Kinder Morgan and a Broadway Subway
The results are in!
The Greenest City Plan is working
A clear choice
VISION:PROUD – we’ve got a lot to celebrate!
VISION:PROUD just got even more fabulous
Walk with us this Sunday
Let’s go
The campaign we’ll run
Taking a stand on oil tankers
Will I see you there?
Support the Subway
Here’s what’s at risk in November
It’s a risk
You’re the first to know

Love Those Kerrisdale Buildings

by Zbigniew

According to a recent article from “” (with thanks to Inge Finge, who has to endure this bumf), Kerrisdale represents the next frontier in the brave new world of ceaseless speculation and development, thanks to C2 zoning. Read on, if you dare:


HQ Real Estate Services principal Mark Goodman tells us the recent sale of two elderly apartment buildings in Vancouver’s affluent Kerrisdale neighborhood has set the stage for redevelopment opportunities in an area with no demolition restrictions. Bel Aire Apartments (pictured below), a three-storey building with 11 suites located at 6356 East Blvd, sold for $5M. Mark, who brokered the deal, says the building, built in 1955, is a “strategic holding property” for an undisclosed buyer who’s “looking to the future.” The allure for investors of properties in this part of Kerrisdale: their C2 zoning doesn’t prohibit demolition, opening the door to larger-site assemblies and redevelopment.


It’s the same situation with Maple Grove Apartments, just down the road at 6344 East Blvd. The three-storey, 10-unit co-op building (built in 1951) last week sold for $5.2M. It also sits on a C2-zoned site, clearing the way for a future redevelopment of the site. Mark says the value per door of buildings like these is “far above and beyond” what typical apartments are selling for in the city—$125k more per unit in some cases—an indication of the latent value in the land. “And that value can be realized without restriction.”

Something Less than Perfect

by Zbigniew

Dissatisfied by the criteria employed by The Economist and its ilk to define the world’s “most liveable” cities (“I imagine them being compiled by a terrified, monogamous young couple dressed head to toe in Uniqlo or Gap“), Paul Mason suggests an alternative approach in “The 10 things a perfect city needs.” (The Guardian, Monday 25 August 2014) Taking his cue from George Orwell’s characteristics for a perfect pub, Mason offers “an antidote to league tables that judge cities against Ikea-like qualities” to describe the city he would like to live in.

I think I might like to live in it, too.

Do I? Below each of Mason’s criteria are reproduced in full, followed by my subjective assessment of our favourite burgh and the associated score.

1. It is near the sea, or another body of water warm enough to swim in.

Aye, near the sea. But for most of us swimming is limited to some four or six weeks -between middish July and the end of August- when the water temperature rises from “testicle decimating” to a balmy “refreshing” (assuming, of course, that fecal-coliform counts are not off the scale); outside of that very narrow window -and the aptly named Polar Bear Swim- only a hardy or demented few avail themselves of the local bathing opportunities.

Score: 3

2. It has entire neighbourhoods designed around hipster economics. Though currently maligned, hipsters are crucial signifiers of a successful city economy. Their presence shows it is possible to live on your wits even as neoliberalism stagnates. Such neighbourhoods (I am thinking of Little Five Points in Atlanta) typically contain: vintage clothes stores, a micro-brewery, a gay club, burger joints, coffee bars not owned by global chains, and a lot of small workshops for creative microbusinesses. In the ideal form, these areas are home both to hipsters and ethnically diverse poor communities, who refrain from fighting each other.

“Hipster economies” are evident -particularly on Commercial Drive and Main Street. However, it’s complicated here, where local economies are a niche phalanx fighting a losing battle against an overwhelming real estate development horde. Enabled by City Hall’s arcane-yet-developer-friendly zoning policy, rising land values fuel rising property tax assessments. At best this results in rising rents –which puts the squeeze on already marginal economic activity. At worst it displaces and encourages further rounds of development and displacement. Because only capital can resist capital, the higher end of Mason’s examples –the craft breweries, backed as they are with some decent cash- manage a toehold, while everybody else –the vintage shops, the used bookstores, the casual eateries- are halfway gone, making way for baby clothes boutique and dog spas.

Small workshops to support microbusinesses? More marginal, still. The land under those hold buildings we’ve relied on to house new ideas is simply too expensive for long term and diffused returns.

And while our hipsters and poor refrain from fighting each other, it’s a no-show: the poor are being forced out.

Score: 4

3. The finance sector has to be big enough to mobilise global capital and local savings, but not so big that it allows the global elite to run things through their usual mixture of aristocratic men’s club and organised crime.

Our primary financial intermediaries are not only enormous, they’re absentee and disinterested in everything but shareholder value. For “aristocratic men’s club” try the Arbutus, Vancouver, Terminal City, and Urban Development Institute varieties, for a start.

While this sorry state of affairs is somewhat mitigated by the presence of some of the world’s largest credit unions, local capital in service of local economies is still in very short supply.

Score: 3

4. This is crucial, it has to have theatres. Not just big ones, such as the Vienna State Opera, where the elite can parade their jewellery and their furs, but tiny theatres, in warehouses or open courtyards (this ideal city is somewhere sunny). The city has to have a recognisable demos: you have to be able to go somewhere and, as in the Paris of Zola’s Nana, point across the stalls to celebrities and statespeople, misbehaving in public.

See the response to 2. The revitalization of the York and “pop-up” spaces are insufficient compensation for the continual loss of theatres and related creative spaces.

“This ideal city is somewhere sunny.” Sure it is -just not for the next nine months or so.

Score: 3

5. Bicycle lanes and trams. The most touching thing about the Chinese city of Tianjin, when I first visited in the mid-2000s, was its bike lanes separated by concrete kerbs from the traffic: on cold nights, young couples would ride home side by side holding hands. Equally important to trams and bike supremacy is a heavily regulated taxi system, as efficient as Uber but under the control of old-style London working-class cabbies, who’ve been persuaded to give women and ethnic minorities equal access to the trade, and who are banned from giving you their opinion.

Putting aside cockamamie ideas like Chip Wilson Boulevard, and substitute quiet, pollution-free trolley buses for trams, and we have a winner.

Cabbies notwithstanding.

Score: 8

6. A massive ecosystem of gay, lesbian, transgender, BDSM and plain old sleazy heterosexual hangouts: clubs, bars, dancehalls, cabarets and all the dim-lit alleyways and grassy knolls inbetween. For it is a truth unacknowledged by those who make the official league tables that Joe Corporate, with his squash racquet and sober suit, and Joanna Corporate, with her nanny and pushchair, really want to live many other secret and parallel lives, and the ideal city is one big, analogue version of Craigslist.

Are such dens of iniquity available? Of course, but a “massive ecosystem”? Once ubiquitous, the sleazy hangout has all but disappeared, summarily replaced by television bedecked sports bars and what I like to call “drinking warehouses” (eg. Craft.) Whither thou, Marine Club? Once I walked the Arbutus corridor for a cheap mug at Frams and the saddest show in town, but no more.

Perhaps Joe & Joanna Corporate don’t need dimly lit dives to do their deeds, as they’re openly fucking over everybody else in broad daylight.

Score: 4 (because I’m feeling generous)

7. Like Orwell’s mythic pub – it must be happy with its Victorian and Edwardian architecture, and with anything salvageable that used to be a factory or warehouse. Harlem in New York, Fitzroy in Melbourne, Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin all derive an intangible positive atmosphere from their combination of brick, ornament, renovation and re-use.

If it hasn’t already been spot-rezoned, demoed, and erased from human memory, somebody is probably closing the deal on it right now.

Score: 1

8. It must be ethnically mixed and tolerant and hospitable to women. Some of the “safest” cities on these world league tables are actually ones where women can’t live an equal or modern life, because whole areas are locked down by religious conservatism, or harsh policing of minorities. The city of Gijon, in northern Spain, has a government that plasters the streets with ever more inventive propaganda against sexual harassment, domestic violence and general sexism. Stuff like that.

Definitely ethnically diverse, but mixed? Are we tolerant? Are we hospitable to women? I honestly don’t know how to answer this.

Score: 5

9. Any slums have to be what UN Habitat calls “slums of hope” – staging posts for upward mobility, self-policing and non-chaotic (ideally you would have no slums at all).

I experience a great difficulty in applying “hope” to “Surrey”, but perhaps that’s unfair.

Historically, Vancouver has been a bi-nodal city. Once the focus of its commerce and creativity lay on the Fraser, at New Westminster, before shifting west to accommodate the CPR’s terminus. But as Vancouver treads firmly down the path of pied a terre and playground for the globally mobile, a sort of temperate Las Vegas, methinks the focus of possibilities is shifting back, to the east and across the Fraser, precisely because it’s gritty and chaotic.

Score: 9

10. Indispensably, is a democratic political culture the inhabitants are proud of, that calls them regularly to the streets, to loud arguments in small squares, keeps their police demilitarised and in check, and allows them to assimilate the migrants that will inevitably flow inwards, and to self-identify as products of the city as they themselves navigate the global labour market.

“[O]nly about a third of the citizen’s of Canada’s third largest metropolis think it’s worthwhile to participate in the selection of their civic government,” wrote Stan Persky in The House That Jack Built -in 1980!

For the current day add in corruption, a well behaved mainstream media that refuses to articulate the word “corruption”, and a significant lack of social capital.

Score: 3.3

TOTAL: 43.3/100

Seen in Passing: Terminal & Station

by Zbigniew

Invasive Species


by Zbigniew

From CP Rail’s Community webpage:

“At CP we know that a railroad may serve as the arteries of a nation, but at its heart is community. That’s why through CP Has Heart, we’re committed to improving the heart health of men, women and children across North America. And along the way, we’re showing heart whenever we can.”


The Worst of Vancouver, 2014 Edition: “Winners”

by Zbigniew

Dear Scamcouverites:

Thank you for completing the second annual Worst of Vancouver Survey. Your wit, wry observations and outright contempt are a ray of light, miraculously shining through a dense forest of construction cranes, glass towers and the persistent fog of obfuscation.

And on to the results …

1. The worst excuse for a public park

Winner, by a nose: Main & 18th Park (with such a name, and that is the official title, how could it be otherwise?)


Also known as: “Poodle-on-a-Stick Park” and “That thing at 18th & Main Street”


  • Stanley Park (“Too many tourists.”)
  • Pigeon Park
  • “Dude Chilling Park”
  • “That one in Yaletown that has NO GRASS.”

Dissenter: “I think our parks are pretty good.”

2. The most annoying branding or re-branding of a neighbourhood

Hands-down winner: “The East Village”

Not Village


  • “Stay outta my fucking neighbourhood assholes! It’s Hastings-Sunrise for Christ’s Sake!!!”
  • “Like, do we think we’re fucking NYC? What a joke.”
  • “Let’s go one further: ‘E-Vil.’”


  • “SoMa”
  • “Railtown”
  • “Little Saigon” (“There is no Saigon. There is Ho Chi Minh City. Revisionism stinks.”)
  • “Strathcona Village”
  • “The Beach District”
  • “LoLo”
  • “NoLo”
  • “RoLo”*

* Just making this shit up.

3. The most egregious example of lost heritage

The Legg Residence: “They saved the fucking trees but not the house?”

Legg Residence

Of the many contenders:

  • Canada Post Main Office
  • Chinatown
  • The Ridge
  • The Waldorf
  • The Pantages Theatre
  • The Hollywood
  • “All the trees. Let’s call it natural heritage.”
  • Vancouver

4. The civic party most likely to split the vote in favour of the development coalition

And because there’s no oppositional consensus, it’s a tie: The Cedar Party & COPE

5. I know things are getting bad because …

  • “Leaky condos are back.”
  • “There are hardly any Vancouverites left in Vancouver.”
  • “Too many people seem to be fine with the fact that vancouver is becoming a playground for non resident super wealthy folks. They seem to think we will all benefit; sadly misguided.”
  • “I moved to New West because I can’t stand it in that yoga obsessed, snotbag, $3,000 a month city.”
  • “I am borrowing change from that homeless guy at Howe and Dunsmuir.”
  • “I shit myself on the bus and it didn’t smell any worse then before.”
  • “NPA sounds half-reasonable at times.”
  • “I read Scamcouver.”

6. If the scam in this town had a face, that face would belong to …

Winner, by a country mile: Mayor Gregor Robertson (specifically: “Gregor wearing one of Rennie’s argyle vests”)



  • “Beggar Robertson”
  • “Hi-Rise Robertson”
  • “Fucko McStooge.”

Personal favourite: “One of the Real Housewives of Vancouver.”

6908224954_83063a3b02_zPhoto: Stephen Hui (

7. “I’d check out ____________________, but there are just too many douchebags or hipsters there.”

“That’s a lousy attitude. The kind of attitude a douchbage or hipster would likely espouse.”

Winner: “Vancouver”


  • Food trucks
  • Any eatery on Main St.
  • “Crapt. I mean Craft.”

8. “The cost of living in Vancouver is so high, and the jobs so shite, that ____________________ is starting to look like a viable option.”

The big winner: “Toronto”

The also rans:

  • Abbotsford
  • “Hope-less”
  • “Drunken Duncan”
  • Courtenay-Comox
  • Sycamoose (sic)
  • Sudbury, Windsor, or Hamilton (“Tried to think of 3 worst cities in worst province of Canada.”)
  • “Living in a van.”
  • “Anywhere but here.”
  • “I don’t know, death?”
  • “Suicide.”

9. The motto on Vancouver’s coat of arms reads “By Sea, Land and Air We Prosper.” This should be updated to “By _______________, _______________ and _______________ We Prosper.”

“Safe to say ‘we’ should be changed to ‘some’ or ‘a few.’”

The purely subjective winner: “By Sea Glimpses, Land Values and Hot Air We Prosper”

Mix & match other contenders, as you please:

Scams              Condos                        Sushi

TED Talks        Real Estate                   Community Gardens

Condos           $500 Rain Jackets       Rudest Fucking Cab Drivers in the World

Heroin             Condos                         Overseas investors

Crane              Concrete                       Condo Pre-sale

Fee                 Development Permit     Fine

Yoga               Consumerism                Political Apathy

Condo            Townhouse                    Slumlord

Tanker            Pipeline                         Condo

Rennie            Pot                                 Bullshit

Condo            Bike Lane                      NIMBY

Developers    Development                Developing

Reductio ad adsurdum: “By Condos, Condos and Condos We Prosper”

10. “The one thing that gives me solace is … “

  • “My family and friends.”
  • “Nice sunny days in the park.”
  • “It’s at least not a frozen tundra.”
  • “Some people are still against the Enbridge pipeline and show up to rallies. Environmentalism is still here, somewhere.”
  • “Booze.”
  • “Money and weed.”
  • “I can still smoke a joint.”
  • “My cheap little basement suite.”
  • “I was born here, and refuse to give up.”
  • “Working on my Vancouver exit strategy.”
  • “It’s all crashing down and sinking when the big one comes”
  • “How little I care.”
  • “One day I’ll die.”
  • “This blog.”

by Zbigniew


The Human Origin

by Zbigniew

In 1960, following visits to the Berlin Aquarium and the British Museum of Natural history, Murray Newman envisioned a bold old idea to reel in the punters for his fledgling Vancouver Aquarium: life sized sculptured replicas of the charismatic orca. In 1964 sculptor Samuel Birch was hired:

“He set up a harpoon gun on Saturna Island …. Two months later, a pod of 13 killer whales approaches the shore. Burich harpoons a young whale, injuring but not killing it. Immediately, two pod members came to the aid of the stunned whale, pushing it to the surface to breathe. Then the whale seemed to come to life and struggled to free itself–jumping and smashing its tail and, according to observers, uttering ‘shrill whistles so intense that they could easily be heard above the surface of the water 300 feet away.’ Burich set off in a small boat to finish the job. He fired several rifle shells at the whale … but the orca did not die.”1

Newman proposed saving the 15 foot, one-ton whale. A line was attached to the harpoon in its back and the whale towed to Vancouver, a journey of 16 hours through rough seas and squalls.

“Moby Doll” –the first killer whale to be studied in captivity- was put on display in a pen at the Burrard Drydocks. He died 87 days later.



“The pressures facing our oceans, and indeed our entire earth, are complex. The Vancouver Aquarium, with its long history of research and conservation work, is committed to generating science and expanded public engagement to promote the long-term solutions. Almost all of the pressures in the ocean realm are of human origin, and it will have to be humans that bring forward the needed changes.”2

Dr. John Nightingale, President & CEO, Vancouver Aquarium