Thursday, February 21, 2008

Time to redirect to the NEW Scale Down!

It appears that we are now having some great Scale Down discussions in two separate arenas. I would urge everyone to redirect over to ScaleDown's new website, located conveniently at

Our incredibly successful launch party last night, attended by over 100 of the cities movers-and-shakers, proved to us that we are onto something here. The dialogue the we enter into with our readership is trickling into some of the mainstream media's coverage, and our city councillors are paying attention.

So change the URL of Scale Down in your "favourites" to, as we will not be utilizing our blogger site much any longer, though it will live on in cyberspace as a way of preserving our archives and redirecting our readers over to our new active site.

Thank you all so much for all the support and thought you've given ScaleDown. We are enacting some positive change and we really want to keep this ball rolling.



Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Challenging Windsor's Future

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, through its' Grand Challenges for Engineering project, has identified 14 areas that it views as essential to "secure against both human and natural threats [and] improve the quality of life in our nation and around the world" according to Charles Vest, president of the National Academy of Engineering.

A quick review of the intentionally non-partisan, unranked list, demonstates that the 18 members of the project committee are some of the most forward-thinking, cutting edge intellects of our time. Granted, the members of the committee did not have to actually solve the issues, but simply identify the areas that they felt were criticial to the preservation and advancement of our global society.

The areas, as listed on the project website, are:

  • Make solar energy economical
  • Provide energy from fusion
  • Develop carbon sequestration methods
  • Manage the nitrogen cycle
  • Provide access to clean water
  • Restore and improve urban infrastructure
  • Advance health informatics
  • Engineer better medicines
  • Reverse-engineer the brain
  • Prevent nuclear terror
  • Secure cyberspace
  • Enhance virtual reality
  • Advance personalized learning
  • Engineer the tools of scientific discovery

While I don't agree with the list in it's entirety (Does society really need virtual reality so that we can continue to hide from our actual reality?), I was impressed with the trend toward sustainability, both social and environmental. The list got me thinking -- are there 14 Grand Challenges for Windsor? If I had to compile a list, without the assistance of some of the most forward thinking and brilliant intellects of the modern world, what would they be?

Here are the 14 Challenges for Windsor, according to me:

  • Re-build urban and regional mass transit
  • Develop and adhere to sustainable land-use plans
  • Incubate a knowledge-based economy
  • Create a 'green' manufacturing industry
  • Eat, build, buy and live locally
  • Become a living showcase for academic innovation
  • Reduce government bureaucracy while increasing accountability
  • Implement aggressive environmental sustainability policies and procedures
  • Re-invest in local arts and culture
  • Build walkable neighbourhoods
  • Interconnect neighbourhood districts with non-motorized transit options
  • Transform downtown into a destination for all ages
  • Charge 'true-cost' development fees to encourage intensification
  • Provide sustainable, cost-effective utilities from generation to delivery
Implementing these changes locally and regionally would provide the environmental, economic and civic health we need to succeed. There will be challenges and opposition to the changes we need, but only by making these changes can we guarantee our long-term success. NIMBYs and nay-sayers will try and dissuade us, but we can build a city and a region that meets our wants and needs this, and future, generations.

What do you think of the 14 Challenges for Windsor? What challenges does Windsor face in the next 25, 50 or 100 years?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tonight, Watch Council make a Smart Choice

In the past, countless times I have gone before council with important reports from experts in other jurisdictions about what Windsor should be doing. Tonight marks a turning point where I can refer to reports from experts in our jurisdiction when talking about the future of Windsor-Essex Region.

Tonight, Windsor's planning department makes a presentation to Council with the following Recommendation

I. That Windsor City Council and Administration continue to work cooperatively with our neighboring municipalities and our community partners to adopt and implement planning policies that:
a. responsibly address the regional challenges and opportunities identified in the IMPCC 2007 Annual Report.
b. support the principles that are contained with in the "
Healthy Places, Healthy People, Smart Choices for the Windsor-Essex Region of Ontario" document; and

II. That the IMPCC2007 Annual Report BE FORWARDED to the Windsor Planning Advisory Committee as a resource document for its deliberations on the City Official Plan review.

At Scaledown we believe this report is a significant sign of progress for several reasons

1. Regionalism: The fact that every planning official in Essex county is a party to this report shows that we can work together as a region
2. Urban and Town Centers focus: "Within each community in our region, clearly defined, compact, pedestrian and transit friendly city and town centres
need to be maintained, created and enhanced."
3. Walkability - transforming suburban sprawl into walkable neighborhoods

We believe that scaledown embodies the values of this report. Sure, some might say it is only a statement of principles and policy that has not been acted upon. However this is where it all begins, this report is a turning point for our city.

It is fitting that this happens the day before Chris Turner speaks in Windsor about the Geography of Hope

Monday, February 18, 2008

And the Winners are...

The long anticipated draw for our two copies of Chris Turner's The Geography of Hope is finally over. Utilizing the cheap labour costs and impeccable integrity of my children, I put them to work (after they were done sewing up that last pair of Nikes' that is) drawing the two winners names.

And here we go...

So, you two winners, we will be seeing you at the big SCALEDOWN UNVEILED launch party this Wednesday evening where you can pick your copy up and get Chris Turner to sign it for you Congratulations again and a big Thank You goes out to Random House for providing the giveaway copies of the book!

Kick back and enjoy Family Day.

In light of our new February holiday "Family Day", I am going to suggest that you go out to your friendly neighbourhood video store and rent a movie.

No, not just any movie. Specifically, a Sundance nominee from last year; The King Of California.

In it, you'll find Michael Douglas' character deal with the fact that his childhood home has disappeared under a wash of suburban sprawl while he chases a treasure that leads him through a private golf course to breaking into and excavating under a Costco store.

Sure, that's not the focus of the film, but it could have been. You'll also find a redemption-themed father/daughter tale that should delight other members of your audience, so don't feel too guilty about forcing them to sit through a "moral-of-this-story" tale.

So spend some quality time with the family today and tonight, sit down and watch a film about sprawl swallowing the California countryside :)

Friday, February 15, 2008

What am I doing here?

The lead-up to the website launch on Wednesday has got me asking myself; what is my contribution to I really believe in what we are trying to do here, but sometimes I worry that the task is so big and I worry that I’m not the right person to be out writing about how we should live our lives.

I’m not going to get all philosophical like Chris did the other day but, I just want to take a little bit today to let you know where my part in is heading.

I’ve been researching stories for future posts. My background is in civil engineering and I have knowledge of and access to information on structures and civil-works. So I’m putting stuff together for posts about infrastructure and what needs to be fixed and what the costs might be. Personally, I am very interested in peak oil and its ramifications, I think understanding this issue will be important to how we move forward. Therefore, a couple of posts will talk about Transition Towns and initiatives like the Portland Peak Oil Advisory Group. Then there’s my love of bicycles. There will be posts from me about my bikes and commuting and maybe even a little “bike porn”. “Bike porn” is what my wife calls any website that features pictures of bicycles that I tend to spend long periods of time just staring at, usually followed by longing glances at my bank account. LOL.

Besides my posts I have been working on a public event to help us all learn more about Urban Planning and what is involved in the planning process. This event will feature professional planners and educators with a panel discussion and a question and answer session. Keep Saturday, March 22 open on your calendars.

My hope is for to be a source of ideas and solutions for our community. What I really want is to bring the message that there are better ways to live than sprawl/consumerism. I want to help our community prepare and make changes for a future that could be very rewarding for the people of Windsor/Essex.

Bridge access to downtown

Just some clarifications.

This is not the first time the issue of downtown access from the Bridge has been dealt with. Several years ago the Bridge requested that the access route to downtown by way of Riverside Drive be closed down. That access to downtown be gained by Wyandotte.

The bridge had several valid safety concerns with keeping this route open, mostly to do with car traffic crossing truck traffic

Notwithstanding the valid bridge concerns, the DWBIA and the city asked the Bridge not close this access as Riverside was an obviously far more convenient, scenic and attractive route to downtown.

1. You cannot turn left from Wyandotte to Ouellette
2. If you turn before onto pelissier, most one way streets will lead you west and away from Downtown
3. If you turn after Ouellette One way streets on Park and Pitt will lead you east and away from downtown
4. As much as I like the asian flavor of wyandotte, it will never appeal to tourists as much as our world class waterfront which also has significantly less left turn traffic and traffic lights.

Now these traffic issues are not the fault of the Ambassador Bridge Company. Also, I understand and appreciate that the Ambassador Bridge may very well have perfectly good cause to temporarily close this access. As many have stated at many times, they are concerned with running an efficient operation at their location as they should be.

Many are fearful that in this antagonist climate that the Bridge company may be trying to test the waters to see if it can achieve its previously stated intentions which were to close this exit permanently. Without assigning fault, I personally think it sucks that this type of climate even exists in this day and age.

I think that a simple clarification of the Ambassador Bridge Company regarding the long term use of this downtown access would be appreciated and resolve this once and for all. I for one would be immediately satisfied by a clear statement of this nature by Mr. Stamper as it is the long term strategy for downtown access that is of greater concern. Riverside Drive is how we should want visitors to first experience Windsor rather than a congested and transitional Wyandotte Street. If someone thinks that difference is unimportant, I would suggest that reveals more about them and their motives.

The Casino's downtown road closures are not a comparable situation as the DWBIA was given notice months before the decision was made. In addition to that, Public meetings were held. The DWBIA had the full ability to express its concerns and weigh the pro's and cons. The elected DWBIA board unanimously supported that decision.

The same meetings have also taken place regarding a potential tunnel plaza. Again the situations are not comparable.

Hopefully in the long term, visitors to Windsor will remember their first impression being the Waterfront which we have so heavily invested in as a world Class Showpiece

The Arts: London funding vs. Windsor’s Creativity

london arts budget

Contrasting the way that London contributes to the the arts will ultimately address funding deal with funding. We are currently seeing across the board cuts in the Libraries, Art Gallery, Arts Council. Meanwhile we watch Arts funding in London Ontario increase, not only by the city but also by the Private sector. Further on this post, I’ll show examples of where Windsor’s creativity trumps London

Municipal revenue is $951,000, Windsor’s contribution is 2/3 of that amount

If it gets final approval later this month, council's vote to contribute $160,000 to a recently established public art fund could usher in a new era and reinforce London's future as a creative city. The Mainstreet London Association paid $200,000 for the public art that is the multi colored tree art downtown
In Windsor we see arts funding significantly reduced, even the Capital Theater dispute has funding as its root cause.

I am not one to simply want my tax dollars thrown at the arts, but we have to acknowledge what other cities are doing to find best practices. Secondly, there are ample opportunities to contribute to the arts with little or no cost by the city. One source I found that has not seen a dollar spent on Windsor is

One thing I see advantageous for Windsor over London is the fact that we seem to do things for a fraction of the cost of London. A couple of examples include downtown security camera’s up costing $30,000 per year while London’s program cost $200,000 or London’s Ambassador program spent $51,000 for a promotional video, while the DWBIA was able to make a much better promotional video for far less cost.\

Right Now, Londons’ struggling TAP (The Arts Project) cost hundreds of thousands while local artist Christian Aldo his own version of an arts incubator by creating Galleries displaying the work of local artists on Pelissier simply by working with building owners and artists with no other assets than his colourful and dynamic character. This initiative deserves its own attention and kudo's to Mr. Aldo

Before she left, Judith Veresuk proposed the idea of cladding the stark white new planters downtown with mosaic tile art. Implementing this public arts partnership with business could be a testament to Mrs. Veresuk downtown efforts.
Think of Cartunes, businesses could sponsor the winners from an art competition to decorate the planters like they did with Cartunes, except this time they would get far more than a one year bang for their art donation. We would have a permanent display of their contribution.

Secondly, the DWBIA has already committed $100,000 additional to maiden lane streetscape to turn it into a “European” style road with the plumbing infrastructure for a fountain in the center. No funds have been allocated or raised for the actual fountain. The DWBIA needs to come up with terms of reference and criteria for this fountain design. After that a design competition should also be conducted for this fountain to become another proud piece of public art.

Separately, the best thing Windsor could do for the arts is to coordinate grant writing between the different groups. This position was filled by Ed Agnew before but there needs to be a “311” type program to access this moneys.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The meaning of it all....

It has long eluded me as to the meaning of exactly what we do here at Scale Down. OK, in my heart I know what it is we do; I just have a hard time explaining it sometimes.

I was being interviewed by Windsor Star reporter Ted Whip yesterday, and he asked - simply enough - what Scale Down is all about. I've been asked this so many times before, and have given a different answer each and every time, that I paused for a second before answering him.

If we distilled the essence of Scale Down into a perfume (without adding the 13 virgins - that would just be overwhelming!) what would the scent be like?

I was actually contemplating this very notion as I was performing my household duties yesterday prior to being interviewed. That is the time (aside from showering) that I do my best thinking. The kids aren't bugging me (they're alergic to doing the dishes, didn't you know) and I'm free to let my mind wander.

I know that we are continually backing the local business wo/man and their desire to make an honest living while providing a valued service to the community in which they live. I know we are always talking about our built environment and how "New Urbanism" and traditional neighbourhood development has proven itself superior for getting to know our neighbours as well as slimming our waistlines while we walk the couple of blocks to the store to get milk. We value a quality public transportation system as an efficient way to gain mobility. We espouse the arts and our cultural heritage as a way to reinvigorate the "Main Streets" of Windsor and how lively and exciting a neighbourhood that values its artists can be. We also get into the huge waste of money that communities spend as they duplicate and triplicate their infrastructure trying to service far-flung suburbs and their 3/4 acre raised ranches.

Then it dawned on me. We're all about the pedestrian! The notion of the human being, on foot, signifies progress in all aspects of our daily lives. When we get out of our cars and walk along our streets, we bump into the people who cut our meat at the deli and dispense our prescriptions at the drug store. We interact with each other and become involved in each other's lives. We don't mow each other down in our SUV's as we race to pick the kids up from daycare, because we have cut down our spending as we cut down our car and insurance payments and are able to spend less time at work. We're not working overtime to fuel our hyper-consumer lifestyles, so we're able to spend time with our significant others as we visit the theatre or art gallery. The only peopl less than thrilled with us when we focus on the foot are the big-box stores and the weight loss emporiums.

We're more human when we use our feet.

Whether this has brought me closer to understanding the essence of Scale Down or not, I don't know. We're all these things, and then a little something else thrown in the mix to shake things up a bit. I was hoping to come out of this mental exercise with an apporpriate slogan we could use to describe our actions, but I don't know whether I'm at that point yet or not.

I had come up with "Pedestrian Powered Rejuvenation", and am going to let that sit with me a while to see if it stands the test of time.