fear & loathing in Lotusland


by Zbigniew

Vancouver Especially

Vancouver Especially - Detail

Ken Lum’s Vancouver Especially includes some very fine details: bricks of many hues, door handles and bedspreads, graying paint and aging stucco. But it’s a representation, a fake, right down to its artificial turf.

Kitty-corner, just a few metres away, is an olde style house I like to think of as a Home Depot Special. It looks unoccupied, a fake house -right down to its artificial turf.

Gore St Artificial Turf

Pre-displacement Map

by Zbigniew



Pre-displacement MapVancouver Especially

Chinatown Sold

Chinatown Cleared

Chinatown Reconfigured

The Foreign Service

by Zbigniew


This graphic -on display at the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan, Hastings Sub-Area Workshop on February 14th- caught my jaundiced eye.

I find the choice of “gears” to represent the relationships between the community, city, senior levels of government, and developers to be an apt metaphor: mechanistic, kinetic but rigid and predetermined. That the community is depicted as having no direct influence on developers is a nice honest touch, however unintentional. Intentional?

Labeling the civic gear as “the city family” also rings true, if I think of the traditional family structure (at least the ones I have suffered): paternalistic, hierarchical, unequal. In this particular scheme, that would leave Cultural Affairs as the runt, without substantive influence. Social Development enjoys a profile, sure, but occupies a rung below Real Estate and -in these spin intensive days- the loud-mouthed and superficial sibling, Communications.

Planning, of course, is in charge -the pater familias, the master of the house.


Circa 1960, Vancouver’s Planning Department was popularly known by city employees as The Foreign Service.

“Foreign,” for it was the last redoubt of the once mighty ex-pat British colonial administration. In lock step with the sun setting on Empire, the local detachment abandoned the command and control of lesser functions. While a few remained behind, like characters out of a Graham Greene novel, to carrying on in wog-held territory and supervise the care of the destitute or the manicure of civic lawns, the smart and smartly dressed ones -right down to the scented kerchiefs stuffed into their shirt sleeves at the wrist- retreated to the safety and influence of the high ground, upstairs. The brave few daring to exit the elevator were greeted accordingly: “we’ve a visitor from the colonies!”*

“Service,” for they served the money. In the 1950s and ‘60s that was public money, federal cash earmarked for highways and “urban renewal.” Building the paper case for the improvement of Strathcona by bulldozer, this Service consisted of “windshield” surveys –the wholesale condemnation of housing stock conducted from the removed comfort of an automobile. (I picture a couple of toffs in an MG, marking tidy rows of Xs on a clipboard, and making pit stops for G & Ts.) And so, the modus operandi: an understanding defined on the Q.T., with legitimacy endowed via process and public farce.


I open with a salvo aimed squarely at the bureaucratic minstrels. I do admire their thick skins. They nod dutifully at my complaints -the last minute distribution of information, the questionable blah blah- and promptly move on.

Certainly, I try to be helpful. I suggest renaming the neighbourhood Treeless-Poorview, and I pounce on the proposal for a plaza at Hastings and Commercial as an ideal location to enjoy the downwind aroma of the waste reduction plant. Alas, my ideas fail to gain purchase.

Sharing my table is Solterra VP Mike Bosa. In his opinion Burnaby is more affordable because they’re building more. (Personally, I think Burnaby is more affordable because it’s Burnaby.)

The corporation owns the entire north side of Hastings, from Clark to McLean. This includes the Waldorf Hotel. Mr. Bosa’s eagerness for a rezone and as much allowable height as possible + additional density for amenity is offset by the mute placards calling for the preservation of local heritage.

Throughout the course of the day Mr. Bosa exchanges involved but sotto voce asides with the ranking planner, Andrew Pask. Scented or otherwise, I assume Mr. Pask left his handkerchief at home -or possibly the office.

* I’m not inventing any of this.

The Spirit of Mr. Peanut

by Zbigniew

On a day reserved for heart-shaped pancakes and/or assignations, I opt for the Grandview-Woodland Hastings Sub Area Community Clusterfuck.

I’ve cogitated much on my approach, my own rules of engagement. And then, I am moved by the spirit of Mr. Peanut.

Modular Structures

by Zbigniew

2015-02-08 13.06.40


Human Structures (64 Figures Connected), Jonathon Borofsky, USA

How do these brightly coloured figures reflect the cultural landscape of Vancouver?

In keeping with the 2014-2016 Vancouver Biennale exhibition theme “Open Borders/Crossroads Vancouver,” Borofsky’s work seeks to convey the feeling that everything is connected. Human Structures (64 Figures Connected), a site-specific installation for the Vancouver Biennale, illustrates this feeling of interconnectivity. The sculpture’s organic, modular structure suggests an ongoing process of building and learning, As Borofsky says, “we are all constantly in a process of connecting together to build our world -we are all learning to be free.


Existential Threat

by Zbigniew

“Researchers at Oregon State University have just concluded there is a one in three chance that a major earthquake will strike the Pacific Northwest coast within the next 50 years. There is a 10 to 15 per cent chance of a mega-earthquake hitting the northern segment of the Cascadia Subduction Zone at some point during the next 50 years. The northern segment of the Cascadia Subduction Zone covers an area from Vancouver Island, B.C. to Seaside, Ore.”

Laura Kupcis, Claims Canada

Hazard ZonesEarthquake Hazard Zones: The relative risk of damage to Canadian buildings,” Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction


Earthquake and wind sound effects courtesy Mike Koenig

Earthquake Preparedness

Clean White Shrines

by Zbigniew

“… I realized that the hamlet was really two hamlets, that it was divided almost precisely into houses with names, and the houses without names, though these two hamlets, like interpenetrating dimensions, were in the same place ….”

Malcolm Lowry, “The Forest Path to the Spring”


A Sunday afternoon drive was an opportunity for my brother and I to shift our on-going wrassingly match to the couch-sized back seat of my father’s ’67 Chevrolet Biscayne.

Half Nelsons and headlocks were applied, slipped, and reapplied against a flowing backdrop of freshly stuccoed Specials, but we called a truce for the panorama of the bridge crossing and the clouds catching on treetops. We forgot the struggle altogether when the highway turned into a narrow strip of road, winding through a forest.

My father called out the points of interest that lay hidden behind the curtain of trees: the squatters -“heepees” in his vernacular- at Maplewood Flats, and the “Burrard Band” reservation, home to the quasi-mythical Chief Dan George. A few minutes from home, and we were someplace far, far away.


The Tsleil-Waututh occupied Whey-ah-Wichen -“Facing the Wind”- for “time out of mind.” European colonization, taking the form of a wood mill, led to their forced removal to a reservation a few hundred metres west and off the water.

Squatters appeared, constructing shacks on the foreshore. Summer cabins for some, housing for most, made affordable by the uncertainty of jurisdictional authority.

Malcolm Lowry took up residence, naming it Eridanus, for the river that waters the Elysian Fields of Earthly Paradise in Virgil’s Aeneid.

Working the final drafts of Under the Volcano, Lowry and wife Margerie Bonner, swam, hiked, bird watched, and picnicked, sometimes at the end of a row running the length of Indian Arm.

“Often all you could see in the whole world of the dawn was a huge sun with two pines silhouetted in it, like a great blaze behind a Gothic cathedral. And at night the same pines would write a Chinese poem on the moon. Wolves howled from the mountains. On the path to the spring the mountains appeared and disappeared through the trees.“

Richard Walton recounts Al Birney’s arrival at the bulldozed remains of the Lowrys’ home, and standing in the mud and the rain, surrounded by Malcolm’s unpublished and soaked work:

“The bright crazy little shack is gone; all the sloppy ramshackle honest pile houses where fishermen lived and kingfishers visited are bulldozed into limbo, along with the wild cherries and ‘the forest path to the spring’. Now there is an empty beach and beside it a park with picnic tables and tarmac access; the sea air stinks with car exhaust. And the city that ignored him plans to cement a bronze plaque in his memory to the brick wall of the new civic craphouse.”

The park was named for a family of tugboat operators.

Lowry Plaque

By the late 1960s a community of hippies, artists and other free spirits arose just west of Cates Park at Maplewood Flats.

“This was authentic uncommodifiable human habitation, the polar opposite of the condo …. Squatting became a utopian model for the self-determined ‘village,’ self-sustaining communities in a city whose neighbourhoods were being razed for condo high-rises. The intertidal location was ruled by diurnal rhythms and lunar cycles, so available for parables of the rightness of living in harmony with nature.”*

A little strip of mud and grasses between the water and mountains, road and oil refinery, and a setting for the exploits of the “transdimensional” visitor in Byron Black’s all-but-unknown celluloid mind fuck The Holy Assassin, the mudflats were popularly known as Shangri-la.

Bruce Stewart: Dollarton Pleasure Faire, 1972

Bruce Stewart: Dollarton Pleasure Faire, 1972

Among the resident artists were Tom Burrows, Al Neil and Neil’s partner Carol Itter, all of whom practiced assemblage, abstract sculptures of organic and inorganic objects found in the intertidal zone -unfixed, ever changing and evolving. “[Their] assemblages on the mudflats at Dollarton were evidence of a concern to get art out of a gallery setting that had become a clean white shrine to modernism, and into the real environment.”**

In December 1971 state-sanctioned arson was employed by the District of North Vancouver to address an apparent challenge to “public health standards” (read: private development). The squats, including Tom Burrows’ home, were torched. Shangri-la was razed and Eridanus was destroyed -again.


Gone, except for Al Neil’ and Carol Itter’s cabin. Inexplicably the little blue wood-stove heated shack has survived the intervening 40 odd years in a quiet corner nestled between the eastern edge of Cates Park and a site previously occupied by Noble Towing (Dollarton Shipyard) and McKenzie Barge & Marineways.

Their assemblages have also continued unabated, with one estimated at 45 feet wide, suspended amongst the cedars.

Pianist, composer, visual artist, and author Neil is 90. In 2014 he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award.

However, this aesthetic-psychic-interdimensional loophole is about to be closed.

Neil and Itter were issued an eviction notice by Port Metro Vancouver, effective January 31, 2015: that’s today. The shack is scheduled for demolition tomorrow, February 1st. They are to make way for townhouses, condos and apartments at the former shipyard site.


An exhibit of Tom Burrows’ work is currently on display at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery at UBC, while Al Neil and Carol Itter’s work is currently on view at the SFU Gallery on Burnaby Mountain and the Audain Gallery at SFU Woodwards.

The Audain Gallery is named for art collector and philanthropist Michael Audain. Mr. Audain is also President and CEO of Polygon Homes, the developer behind the project prompting the eviction notice.

Mr. Audain has expressed his willingness to support the relocation of the cabin. Perhaps it could be put on display in clean white shrine to modernism.


The Shack


Dollarton_Polygon-3* Scott Watson, “Urban Renewal: Ghost Traps, Collage, Condos, and Squats.” Ruins in Progress: Vancouver Art in the Sixties

** Scott Watson, “Terminal City: Place, Culture, and the Regional Inflection” in Vancouver: Art & Artists 1931-1983

Sub-Area Monopoly

by Zbigniew

InfillThe “Grandview-Woodland Community Plan, Nanaimo Sub-Area Workshop.” How it rolls off the tongue and seizes the imagination.

There’s a sizeable crowd at the WISE Hall; to my eye, a good 70 civilians. The Planning Department is in force, too. Estimating a conservative two per table, nine tables, plus graphic interpreters (two), floaters (several), the lieutenant, including volunteer wannabes … circa 25. A platoon!

Name tag affixed (“Concerned Citizen”) I see Matthew waving me over to a seat he’s saved.

“Did you get the email?”

I did. A 30-page backgrounder that arrived in my inbox just the evening before, for those wanting to “get a head start on things.” Oh, and by the by, “we’ll be looking at the specific policies that were proposed for the sub-area.” In other words, back to the soundly rejected 2013 community plan. Just thought you should know.

Sure enough, the hall is surrounded by the very same “emerging directions” propaganda prescribed 14 months earlier, although a few placards now sport an “I Heart GW” sticker. Emerging, like a flower, or a turd.



The 11th hour plan is for Matthew and I to do the initial session together –to get the lay of the land and compare notes- before splitting forces.

It’s a tight agenda.

And we’re off, and there’s no room to consider the destructive forces that hover just beyond the walls or even discuss the problematic math of population projections. “What do you like about the neighbourhood?” “What do you dislike?” We spend a lot of time on built form, and very little on social form, on the possibilities of tenancy -except ownership, of course.


I feel herded directed lured towards more and higher. Wait! There are discrepancies between maps: does the plan stop at the alley behind Nanaimo or go on to Kamloops? I’m thankful for the vocal people at my table, asking pointed questions, repeating apparently misunderstood statements, and expressing frustration with staff’s tone deafness. At his table Matt is calling for votes and, more often than not, finds unanimity.

Over the course of the afternoon I hear a majority opinion calling for a modest approach: two-lot aggregation limits, the amputation of “the fingers,” and height restrictions to respect the current scale of the neighbourhood -to preserve the Grand View.




The bureaucratic forces are diligent. Dissenting opinions –from the invested and/or deluded favouring more and higher- are meticulously reported. It’s just the cover the development troops need for flexibility and interpretational wiggle room. At the development sign up ahead … a Policy Twilight Zone.

And then, out of the blue, a foray: the closure of Templeton Pool because Britannia. So: more density, with fewer amenities? Less for more -is that what you’re saying? The speed of the retreat would impress the Italian Army.


For the last table exercise a set of colour-coded cards are distributed, indicating the planning/development-friendly generic components of a neighbourhood. They evoke the cards signifying ownership in that real estate board game. We’re asked to place these on a map.

StoreThe Monday evening following I’m standing near the corner of Main & Hastings, being passed over by the not full Sorry Bus Full 135.

I opt for the next local heading east. It’s an old school diesel, from the ‘90s, from the era when our transit system won international awards. It’s a rarity, a functional piece of history.

It looks at capacity. But the driver gets on the blower and encourages everyone to move back and remove backpacks, to make room for those still on the street, and we do.

Maybe it’s the mild winter evening, or a collective relief at the conclusion of a Monday, for the crowd is buoyant. I’m surrounded by conversations, some between apparent strangers and others from the chance encounter of friends. I take note of the little kindnesses, the youth giving up seats for the elderly and people gently squeezing by others.

With every stop -starting already at Gore- there’s a steady exchange of fresh passengers for those alighting. I picture a motorized needle making a detailed stitch along East Hastings.

From his seat a pensioner, a little guy, uses his cane to ring the stop. Only when the bus comes to a standstill does he get to his feet. More or less steadily he works his way through the crowd to the exit, deploying a Buddy Hackett/Jerry Lewis shtick to keep the doors open: “Thank you Mrs. Driver! Good Job! Watch out for me! Sometimes I fart and stink! Watch out!” I admire the laughter-inducing effectiveness of his routine. One day, it might come in handy.

By the time things settled down, I’m already at Renfrew and aware that I could’ve missed all this theatre for the dull, if speedy, SFU Express.

I think back to a card dealt out at the workshop, a blank “Wildcard” we were asked to fill in. I had left it unmarked.

What I want -for Nanaimo Street, Grandview-Woodlands, and Hastings Sunrise, for myself, my family and my neighbours- is far too fine, ephemeral, and grand for the confines of a Monopoly title deed.




by Zbigniew


From Tips to Help You Identify Scat:

Droppings, feces, and scat, found in isolation of other sign, can be extremely difficult to identify. Simple changes in an animal’s diet can dramatically change the color, shape and contents of feces making it difficult to determine the source of the droppings without scientific equipment. However, by asking the right questions you can go a long way to reduce the number of available suspects.

  • Determine its size both in length and width.
  • Identify its form: Is it round like a pellet? Is it tubular? Are the ends flat or pointed ….
  • Is there one dropping or multiple?
  • Can you identify any hair or food particles in the droppings? Sometimes corn, berries, seeds, and insect wings aren’t completely digested.
  • What time of day do you find the droppings? Would they have been left at night or during the day?
  • Is it a one-time event or does it occur in the same general spot for several days?
  • What type of habitat is present where you reside? (ie. woods, urban, suburban, agricultural etc.

STOP! Be safe. Avoid handling droppings without proper protection, which includes avoiding inhaling around it. Some diseases may contracted through dust borne particles. Look, more than touch!! If you have to touch, use a tool and/or properly gloved hands!! STAY UP WIND!!


Seen in Passing: Pacific & Granville

by Zbigniew