Crazy, drunk, weird or a marketing ploy?

While blogging continues over at my new site at, another post from the vault here at blog headquarters.

This one came from a trip to Torun in Poland in January of 2009, a short jaunt that was memorable for how bloody cold it was both in the city and in the hostel where we stayed.

There was one other person in the hostel when we showed up at Torun’s only backpacker’s refuge around supper time today. It stayed like that until 11:30. The one person at the far other end of the large 12-bed room, we at the near end.

Then around 11:31 we got another roomie, a fellow who entered the hostel, had a loud chat with the front office staff in Poland and subsequently was led into our room, where he subsequently selected a top bunk near the other person (thankfully).

He seemed weird, despite not speaking to us. Something about the noise he created gave off that vibe. Magda thought three people had entered the room. Then, with midnight passing, he needed  to take a shower. To prepare himself, I guess, he started playing Polish rap on his cell phone. The other person, for what it’s worth, was plugging away on her laptop. The entire rap song passed and another started before roomy took his stereo to the shower to play while noisily showering. Every now and then he would let out an awkward, loud sigh.

Was he mentally ill? Drunk? Just plain weird? Or, more cynically (and admittedly unlikely) was he hired by the hostel to “encourage” us to upgrade to a more expensive private room?!? Okay, probably not. Still, some laughs to be had.


For something completely different

This blog will no longer be regularly updated (surprise!) Since returning to North American I’ve neglected it because I really didn’t have the time, or the impetus, to write regularly on a single topic or theme (which is the only way to build any sort of audience beyond random search engine traffic).

Now I’ve found my calling. Or at least somewhere to put my words. My new blog can be found at It’s ostensibly about issues affecting small cities, which I’ve found to be roundly ignored in the typical urban vs. rural debate.

Hope to see you there.

Sam Roberts concert

Another draft posts that never got published last year, this one of a Sam Roberts concert from last August:

There is no such thing as the perfect music venue but Sam Roberts, Mother Mother and the Arkells played at the closest thing to it on a glorious Monday evening at Deer Lake Park.

From the backdrop of kayakers paddling Deer Lake to the cloudless sky, a laid-back crowd and a rocking sound system, the scene was set for a trio of Canadian indie darlings Monday.

The best-venue-experience-ever started at the entrance, where a helpful (!) security guard informed us that we could fill up bottles inside at free water stations, and continued toward the stage, which we found the stage at the bottom of a magnificently sloped convex hill. The sight lines were the best of any outdoor venue I have attended. The view meant that because concert goers didn’t feel the need to rush the stage to get a good view of the band, those who do like to be close could stand within 30 metres of the stage with plenty of arm room to spare. And with the rising ground, you didn’t have to be seven-feet tall to see the stage.

As for the actual music, it was about what you would expect from two up-and-coming bands and a headliner with an exceptionally strong back catalogue to draw from.

The Arkells put on a tight, energetic show that highlighted the band’s growing indie ubiquity. It played its singles, “Oh, The Boss is Coming,” “John Lennon,” and “The Ballad of Hugo Chavez,” with energy and verve.  The set lagged in parts, as can be the tendency for new bands with a limited repertoire of songs. But if their set is any indication, you can expect the Hamilton quintet to one day push Sam Roberts & Co. for Can-rock supremacy.

Mother Mother followed with their eclectic blend of harmonized vocals. Guitarist/vocalist Ryan Guldemond was joined at the front of the stage by his sister Molly and Jasmin Parker both of whom also played keyboards. The result was a varied indie rock barrage, with influences ranging from Metric to ABBA to Placebo (Ryan’s high-pitched, sometimes feminine, voice sounds cut from the same cloth as that band’s frontman).

Sam Roberts and band took to the stage with the sun beginning to dip beneath the western trees and launched into a set list that split the difference between his newest album Love at the End of the World and older material. Opening with some of the band’s strongest fist-pumpers, including Chemical City‘s The Resistence and Love at the End of the World, Roberts slowed down mid-set for Lions of the Kalahari and Bridge to Nowhere.

Clean-shaven and dwarfed by his bandmates, Roberts grew in size as he bounced around stage. Lacking the physical presence or arrogant swagger of other frontmen, he focused on taking his own advice and showed the kids how to rock n’ roll. And no Fuck Tha Police attitude here: Roberts paid tribute to the policemen and firefighters taking part in the World Police and Fire Games, for which the concert was organized, with a special kudos to those helping fight the local wildfires.


Other venue pluses: a family friendly atmosphere where small kids could safely wander and entertain fellow concertgoers by picking at the hair of relaxing couples; reasonably-priced pizza, ice cream and other festival fare; beautiful weather; a gorgeous backdrop of Deer Lake; evening shade from trees; and plenty of washrooms. Even the restriction on lawn chairs was well thought out, since it prevented those with chairs from sitting directly in front of people sprawled on blankets.

In fact, the largest sin of the organizers was a lack of communication. Finding the exact time of the concert was difficult and obtaining a photo pass was absolutely impossible. But then, when you can relax on a blanket and snack on a pizza while listening to the best music this country has to offer, who wants to be looking through a camera?

Warsaw’s frozen people (photos)

Clearing out the attic here at blog headquarters, I came across this photo from my time in Warsaw that never got posted.


This monument pays tribute to those who died in Warsaw fighting against the Nazis in World War II.war2_1330

Not a suburb, but almost

Chilliwack, the city where I live, is not a suburb of Vancouver. Granted, for most of my life I thought it was. Living in the interior of British Columbia, as soon as we reached Hope (which is 160 kilometres from Vancouver) we considered ourselves “almost there,” never mind that we were still two hours away from our chief destination. Rather, as the Fraser Valley widened and the mountains disappeared (in one narrow direction, at least), you figured that you were in Vancouver already.

Chilliwack, 100 kilometres outside Vancouver, might have well been a suburb for all I knew. I certainly couldn’t remember if Chilliwack or Abbotsford were closer to Vancouver. All the municipalities seemed to abut one another.

So it was something of a novelty to take a job in Chilliwack and learn that it’s not exactly within easy commuting distance from Burnaby, where we were living at the time.

But if Chilliwack is not a suburb of Vancouver, and if it’s not quite a bedroom community to Abbotsford and eastern Metro Vancouver (that fact is debatable), it is hardly a self-contained municipality or hub of activity.

Something like 65 per cent of residents also work in Chilliwack. But that means one-third don’t work in Chilliwack. Coming from Vernon, a city with fewer people but a larger downtown core and more commercial life, the impact that commuters (myself included) has on a small city’s vibrancy becomes apparent.

Indeed, I don’t think there’s much argument that how big a city feels is dependent more on the number of people who both live AND work in it than the sheer number of residents. Hence, Chilliwack feels smaller than Kamloops, despite having the same number of residents. And hence it feeling the same size, or maybe even a little smaller, than Vernon (pop. 50,000 or so). Chilliwack may not be a full-fledged bedroom community, but even sending a portion of residents elsewhere to work clearly has consequences.

That feeling, I think, also trickles down to community institutions, which I hope to touch on later. In short, though, I think that Chilliwack supports the institutions inherent in a self-contained city of 45,000 or so, despite having almost twice as many residents. Even though Chilliwack also takes in commuters from other communities, they do not pick up the slack for all the out-bound commuters, even if the numbers may be similar. Perhaps something is lost when two communities trade residents every day. Certainly, though, the proximity to other nearby communities, chiefly Abbotsford, with more shopping and entertainment amenities certainly has an obvious effect and leeches even those locals who both work and sleep in the same community.

Arrival cities

I have just begun to read Doug Saunders new book Arrival City, which hit stores earlier today (our newsroom received a review copy in the mail).

So far the book is a good read and recommended. In short, it tells, through anecdotes and some statistics, the story of a rapidly urbanizing world in which people are leaving the poverty of rural life for cities. Within, or on the periphery, of those cities migrants often create so-called “arrival cities,” where they find employment and start building a life, all the while sending money back to their home villages, where their children and elder relatives often still live.

I will be interested, however, to see how the book deals with migration, and conditions, in smaller cities that aren’t simply suburbs of huge metropolises like Los Angeles, Mumbai or Chongqinq. According to a recent study, most urban dwellers don’t live in huge megacities, but rather live in smaller urban concentrations.

Small cities with less than 500,000 inhabitants and intermediate cities with between 1 and 5 million inhabitants, not megacities (defined as cities with 10 million or more people), will continue to absorb most of the urban population around the world well into the future. More than 53 per cent of the world’s urban population lives in cities of fewer than 500,000 inhabitants, and another 22 per cent of the global urban population lives in cities of 1 to 5 million inhabitants.

(The figures come from a 2006 UN report, which can be found here.)

When I read that, I think of Abbotsford, a city of 160,000 in British Columbia, 20 minutes away from me. Saunders, clearly, has read the report, which continues:
These cities are significant sites of social and economic activity, often serving as centres of trade and destinations for rural migrants. They are often the first places where the social urban transformation of families and individuals occurs; by
offering economic linkages between rural and urban environments, they can provide a “first step” out of poverty for impoverished rural populations and a gateway to opportunities in larger cities.

Although I hate to get a persecution complex, I don’t like what is implied by that “first step,” as if small cities aren’t quite good enough for the migrants. (That may be true in certain areas, where small cities are more impoverished, but here in B.C., those smaller cities tend to be stable areas of prosperity.)

This blog is pretty much dead

It’s just on indefinite hiatus. I would like to see it orient itself to exploring issues unique to cities smaller than the Vancouvers of the world but larger than those places where a new stoplight is front page news.

But I think a better strategy than rejigging this blog would be to retire it and move on. A link will be posted soon.