Think local, vote federal

Where do cities (and towns) fit into the federal election? Plus: Lethbridge and reconciliation

Why Canada’s federal elections ignore cities

Tim Querengesser has published a piece in the Globe and Mail arguing cities (and towns and urban areas generally) should be/should have been a bigger factor in this election:

Eight in 10 of us now live in an urban area, according to Statistics Canada. The majority of our economic might is clustered in our census-metropolitan areas – a bland term for regions that include multiple towns, suburbs and cities but operate as singular labour, transportation and housing markets. Think not just Toronto, but rather Waterloo to Whitby. Think not just Calgary but Airdrie to Okotoks.

“These cities and municipalities now produce more than 70 per cent of Canada’s GDP and welcome the majority of the more than 280,000 new immigrants to Canada each year. They will be where fights against climate change, affordable housing and opioids are won. But to survive, let alone thrive, these same cities are still forced to beg larger governments for money, as well as navigate their shifting political currents.”

It delves further into why cities may not be getting much play (the suburbs being where all the swing votes are; regional resentments) and is well worth your time.

Municipal Platforms:

And if you are convinced you want to factor in party promises for local governance into your vote, you might want to check out the Federation of Canadian Municipalities election platform wish-list, which includes a permanent doubling of the gas tax fund (used to pay for roads, snow-clearing, etc), broadband internet for rural areas and climate change mitigation strategies. They also have released responses to every major party platform.


The city of Lethbridge seems to be doing some interesting work around reconciliation? In addition to adopting the Blackfoot word “Oki” as its official greeting, the southern Alberta city has announced an official day to honour Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and marks an annual reconciliation week.

I’ve been trying to find a deeper dive into the undercurrents of all these moves and so far the closest I’ve come is a piece in the Oct. 14 print edition of Maclean’s that noted the city had toyed with adopting Blackfoot as an official language but was worried about the cost implications/logistics as well the fact that Lethbridge has the busiest safe injection site in North America? But I can’t link you to it, so maybe go read it in your local library if you’re interested!

Quick note that I am aware I kind of dropped off with these and I make no promises that I’ll return to a regular schedule, but I hope you don’t mind the occasional unannounced newsletter when the mood hits.

See you on the other side,

Andrew | @akurjata

Who pays when cities get hit by climate change?

Also: The Strathcona stands; Saving shoebox homes; Re-thinking amalgamation

It’s edition three of The Local, dated April 5, 2019. Welcome new subscribers! If you have any feedback about the format or content of the newsletter, please let me know — it’s early days yet so we’re still figuring things out here.

Also, I’d like to start a letters section — so if anything in here strikes a response, please reply — or you can email or find me on Twitter.

Issue in brief:
* Cities and climate change * The Strathcona stands * Preserving shoebox homes * Rethinking amalgamation in Sudbury * The commute from hell * Using better data to help homeless * Google reviews of downtown arenas * The power of street signs * And more…

Who pays when cities get hit by climate change?

Flooding in Gatineau, Que., May 2017 (CBC)

On Monday, Saskatoon city council received a report that “paints a picture of a very different Bridge City in the next 80 years if climate change proceeds unchecked”, writes Phil Tank in the Star Phoenix. Among the predictions: more extreme floods, droughts and forest fires, as well as pests attacking city trees.

The same day, a federal climate change report was released predicting much the same for the rest of the country, particularly the Prairies, far North and Northern B.C.

This is very much a civic issue: the cost of dealing with much of the changes from extreme weather events falls into city budgets. In Whitehorse, like many interior B.C. cities, crews are out burning potential kindling as wildfire season becomes earlier and more intense, while coastal communities are considering what to do with the population living below projected sea levels as oceans rise (inland communities aren’t safe: see record-breaking floods along rivers in B.C. and New Brunswick).

"Cities are by far the most vulnerable political jurisdictions in Canada to climate change, but have the least amount of resources to deal with them."

Then there’s the more mundane: intense road dust and increased numbers of potholes in my hometown can be attributed to more rapid fluctuations in temperature, but the money needed for road crews is not likely to come from provincial emergency funds.

"Cities are by far the most vulnerable political jurisdictions in Canada to climate change, but have the least amount of resources to deal with them," said Waterloo’s Jason Thistlewaite on CBC’s The Current. Particularly vulnerable are people in lower-income neighbourhoods, which tend to coincide with older neighbourhoods with infrastructure unprepared for current and future weather patterns.

So what should cities do to deal with this? Some, like Vancouver, Halifax and Hamilton, are declaring a climate emergency. Others, like Quispamsis, New Brunswick, are turning to geothermal heating for cities pools, using grey water on the local ice rink and no water in city urinals. Montreal is purchasing carbon offsets for all city travel. And then there’s the possibility of legal action.

The idea of suing fossil fuel companies is a global one, but it’s made the most Canadian headlines after Coun. Mike Layton put it on the table at the end of March.

“We could be on the hook for an enormous amount of money, into the billions as a city,” he told The Globe and Mail. “I am a firm believer in the notion that polluters should pay.”

Here in B.C., the idea has received the most traction in Victoria, where council has voted to put the idea of a class action lawsuit on the table at the Union of B.C. Municipalities, and a letter from Mayor Lisa Helps has been circulating to other communities in the province asking them to consider the same.

Not everyone is on-board, though: Fort St. John, in the province’s oil-and-gas rich northeast, has endorsed a counter-declaration that it is "not an appropriate direction for B.C. municipalities" to mount such campaigns, in part because they believe cities can work with energy companies to find more efficient forms of power, and in part because they see it as hypocritical to sue the companies that power so much of their growth.

And they may have an unlikely ally: after the federal government’s report was released this week, Victoria mayor Lisa Helps said she is having “second thoughts” about the efficacy of a lawsuit, instead musing it may be more effective to lobby the federal and provincial governments to put more funding towards helping municipalities.

The Strathcona Stands

“The reason people cry when they burn down is that we are emotionally attached.”

On March 29, Edmonton’s 127-year-old Strathcona Hotel was burning, and the city’s residents and expats alike waited to find out if it would survive.

I don't think I've ever been to the Strat (or Strath, as non-millennials call it). But I've been to these run-down, anyone welcome buildings that are inexplicably still there years past anyone expected them to. And living in northern B.C., I've seen a lot of our historic buildings burn due to the same issues.

There’s a certain type of person who loves these places — someone with a sense of history and community and local-ness (maybe the sort of person who would subscribe to this newsletter) — and, from what I can gather, that’s the type of person who currently owns the Strathcona, as well. Ivan Beljan is profiled in this Edmonton Journal piece by (now-senator) Paula Simons with his vision for preserving the hotel for the 21st century:

“Being able to work on a building with a story to tell, with some complexity, for us it’s what we wake up loving to do.”

And so it was with some relief that it seems the hotel will be… if not OK, exactly, still there enough to still be the original Strathcona once the damage is cleaned up. And some great stories were swapped as the building’s friends held virtual vigil.

We are Rosemont Shoebox Home Preservation Society

Meanwhile in Montreal, another type of historic building is being saved not through hashtags, but through a new bylaw adopted by the Rosemont–La Petite Patrie borough, “regulating all demolition or renovation requests for 561 single-family homes in order to preserve the working-class heritage the buildings represent.”

“The shoebox is a bit like a bagel… It’s not grand cuisine, but is it essential to Montreal? Yes."

It seems this regulation stems back to the efforts of David Hanna, a professor of urbanism at Université du Québec à Montréal, who raised the alarm about these single-storey, flat-roofed buildings being put at risk by the nature of an expanding city and rising land values.

Not everyone is happy, arguing they should be allowed to develop the land into more modern, high-density housing, but I kind of adore the counter-point put forward by Dinu Bumbaru in the Montreal Gazette:

“The shoebox is a bit like a bagel… It’s not grand cuisine, but is it essential to Montreal? Yes."

Greater Sudbury decides it’s greater than just Sudbury

20 years ago, the province of Ontario decided it would combine seven towns and one city into a single municipal entity called the City of Greater Sudbury, but not every community within that is going quietly into that dark night.

A group calling itself Our Towns, Our City has been pushing for a review of whether amalgamation is working on a fiscal and service level.

“‘After 20 years of amalgamation, any other corporation in the country would be reviewing what their operating plans are and whether we've accomplished what we set out to,’ [group member Tom] Price said.

“‘That's all we're asking. We'd like to do that formally with the government that brought us into being, so if there are alternatives, we can capitalize on those alternatives and recognize some of the benefits.’

“Price says many feel amalgamation hasn't resulted in better services, including road conditions and snow removal.

“‘You can see a stark difference between provincial roads and city roads,’ he said.”

This isn’t the first time these issues have been raised. A quick search for “Sudbury amalgamation” brings up many stories of people who once lived in their own distinct municipalities who believe they are worse off as a result of amalgamation. Here’s Dick Johnstone, former mayor of the former Town of Walden:

He says he feels amalgamation resulted in the outer lying areas losing control of a number of things. For example, Johnstone says Walden used to handle its own finances and services, and that changed when amalgamation happened.

"We were fully ... sufficient here. We had everything. We had money in the bank. Our recreation was good," he said.

"We had to give all this up to go in and give into the City of Sudbury. So we weren't very happy in that way that everything was going to go up [and] there would be no control out here whatsoever."

Municipal identities

These sorts of discussions are rarely about just better finances. As Shawn Micallef writes, “When names and geographic boundaries are changed, as they do in Ontario from time to time, our sense of place and identity can become scrambled.”

“To be sure, the names of old cities still resonate, with Scarborough being the strongest of the six, but this generally manifests as neighbourhood identity does, a kind of pride of place, rather than a historic affiliation with a municipal entity. Still, there are older folks who continue to even write places such as Don Mills, Willowdale or Rexdale as their mailing addresses, proving people have deep attachments to old place names.

“Outside of Toronto there’s been an even more complicated kind of name and place mix-up. Hamilton was amalgamated in 2001 with neighbouring towns such as Ancaster, Dundas, Stoney Creek and Waterdown, along with quite a bit of rural landscape. You could live on James St. downtown or on a farm in what was Glanbrook Township and still be from the city of Hamilton. It scrambles the very definition of what a city is, not to mention complicate the political tensions at a city hall that has to contend with some fundamental urban vs. rural differences in way of life.”

An aside: I briefly lived in Victoria, where an hour-long walk could take me through multiple municipalities. To my eye, there was no difference between the places — I am of northern B.C., where municipal borders ends and wildlife and farmland, and there’s an hour-long drive minimum to the next city, so the notion of a city block acting as a dividing line is still a strange one to me. But for the people who live in them, it’s clear there’s a sense of identity that goes beyond the physical space you inhabit, although it certainly plays a role.

Anyways, back to Sudbury, where de-amalgamation was put on the table in 2017 by councillor Michael Vagnini:

"We went from 68 councillors, mayors and deputy mayors down to 13. So the voice of the people has diminished in amalgamation and I think we are in a time right now where we have to really look and see what we can do make this a lot more effective."

The most interesting part of that 2017 article is the back and forth between two academics on whether de-amalgamation could even work:

Laurentian University economist David Robinson says amalgamation was pushed on the city and says it hasn't worked. He says de-amalgamation could work, if the citizens and politicians could agree to move forward on it.

"My view is to start rethinking our municipalities as voluntary organizations and let them form, let each small area decide if they want to be part of a larger group and what they want to be part of a larger group for," he said.

"So for instance, if you're running a municipal ice rink and you're willing to pay for it, you can do that. City council shouldn't tell you what to do. But you shouldn't expect people in the other part of the city to pay for your ice rink."

However, Bob Segsworth, a professor emeritus at Laurentian University, says the cost to split the city up would be too high.

"I think it would be a rougher road than it was in some ways to amalgamate because again, once you established costs, particularly human resource costs for the entire community and then you want to say 'well, we can now have variability and so we can pay people who work say in the old Rayside-Balfour less than we pay people who work for the city of Sudbury," he said.

This past week, councillor Vagnini had a motion on the table looking not at de-amalgamation, but decentralization of city services so former municipalities have more control over their own roads and garbage collection, but it was voted down. Somehow, though, I don’t think this is the end of the amalgamation discussion in Sudbury.

The commute from Hell

I came across this 2017 episode of Ideas this week and was just flabbergasted by it. I’ve long been aware that people in larger cities are dealing with long commutes, but I never spent much time thinking about what that means for the lives of people whose place of employment isn’t just a single-location 9-5, but precipitous gig work in multiple locations around Toronto. It’s eye-opening and well-worth a listen and, as it turns out, part of an overall series Ideas did on commuting, work and life in various Canadian locales — and I’m looking forward to listening to the rest (the more academic among you may also want to visit the study website from which the series was drawn).

Data has become a 'game changer' in helping London's homeless

In a project that sounds similar to one profiled in Saint John’s recently, London, Ontario social agencies are working together to better tackle issues of homelessness:

“Last April, the 13 organizations agreed to tear down their individual databases in favour of new one, that would allow all the organizations involved to pool their information in order to help them better understand the people they serve. 

“A year later, Richardson said the agencies involved are already getting a clearer picture of the homeless situation in London than what they saw before they began pooling information.

“‘I will tell you that has been a game changer in how we understand the unique needs of an individual.’

“Among the information captured in the database is each person's history, so that social workers don't risk re-traumatizing a client by having them recall what can sometimes be painful and heartbreaking details of how they got into such a vulnerable situation in the first place.”

What do Google Reviews say about downtown arenas? Let’s find out!

Redditor ltorviksmith says his city is currently considering building a downtown arena, and decided to share some Google reviews of similar projects in Winnipeg, Halifax, London and Guelph.

“Is it scientific? Of course not. But it's better than wild speculation! Let's *really* see what the people have to say.”

The reviews are largely positive, though it’s interesting to go through the Reddit thread on r/urbanplanning to see the counterpoints. I will say, again completely anecdotally, that the arena in my city is not downtown, and while parking isn’t a problem I certainly hear complaints that it would be nice if people could come visit for a concert or hockey game and be a little closer to other attractions.

Where the streets now have names: Young Yellowknifer posts street signs on frozen bay

Sadee Mitchell with her grandfather next to one of her homemade street signs on Yellowknife Bay. (Mike Mitchell via CBC)

Love this: nine-year-old Sadee Mitchell had a hard time telling friends where her house was, so she made her own street names and signs, based on research she did into their specific histories and geographies:

“Willy-Mac Cul-de-Sac is named for William McDonald, a prospector and naturalist who lived in a house on Back Bay and whose house burned down twice, Sadee said.

“Tindee Blvd. is derived from the Tlicho Yattii name for Great Slave Lake, and of course The Kingsway was named for the famed Snowking's Winter Festival and castle.

“And Catskinner's Road isn't as morbid as it sounds. Back in the day, cat trains, or Caterpillar tractors, would pull sleighs full of supplies to Yellowknife, Sadee explained, and the drivers were called skinners — hence the name Cat Skinner's Road.”

Not all heroes wear capes.

Incidentally, street signs are a great example of the municipal identity discussion from earlier in this newsletter: after amalgamation, Toronto started adapting uniform street signs for what used to be distinct municipalities, and the old signs were auctioned off— some for thousands of dollars.

And Mitchell’s street signs, the CBC reports, are already a tourist attraction.

In brief:

Municipal stories from around Canada and the world

That’s it for this week. Thanks again for subscribing, and please share this if you think it’s something other people would enjoy. Next week I’m hoping to dive into the SCOOTER WARS so send me any hot tips you have on that front, and anything else you think might fit in here.


The Burnabarians at the Gate

Plus: Cities win big in budget, Sobey's vs Edmonton and making friends on the bus

Hello! It’s been more than a week since edition two because I’m adjusting to a weekend-ish publish schedule, when maybe you have more time for reading? Let me know. Also, enjoy this amazing video showing the growth of Canada’s biggest cities.

And speaking of cities…

Cities are the billion-dollar winners in Budget 2019

In my last newsletter I shared an interview with an urban consultant who argued municipalities need more direct access to money to spend on whatever they need to manage their communities. It seems this year, at least, the federal government agreed, doubling the amount of money it transfers directly to local governments. Interestingly, though, not a lot of high-level coverage on it that I can see aside from the Maclean’s piece I’ve already linked to and this one from CBC. However, I did get to speak to Federation of Canadian Municipalities President Vicki May-Hamm about it, asking what it says about the relationship between the feds, cities and the provinces they sit in.

How Vancouver is attempting to solve it’s broken citizen participation

Another theme we’re likely to return to regularly here: how do we make city council meetings more accessible to the public? As Gabrielle Plonka writes, Vancouver city council hears from more speakers than any other municipality in North America — averaging 30 a week, but regularly pushing higher. So come April they will be experimenting with giving potential talkers a three-minute window — somewhere between 3 pm and 10 pm.

If there is a better solution, Leckovic wasn’t able to find one in other municipalities. Most Canadian councils don’t allow speakers at all, and those that do — Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Ottawa and Toronto — average 10 speakers or fewer every week.

Dignity down the toilet: Public bathrooms as a human right

My city has a public bathroom problem (as evidenced by the below tweet). Which is why I am eager to read Halifax journalist Lezlie Lowe’s “No Place To Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Public Needs.” But short that you can also listen to her radio documentary on the same subject, which aired on Ideas recently.

Lonely Together: The Plight of Urban Isolation

Another Ideas documentary on urban problems, this one loneliness and how some cities are trying to solve it.

Burnaby city council won't adopt Burnabarian as the city's official demonym

There’s an ongoing (albeit very low level) debate in my city about what we should call ourselves: Prince Georgers? Prince Georgites? (My personal favourite) Prince Georgian? But it never occurred to me to attempt to settle this problem at the city council table, unlike Burnaby’s Ben Coli who presented his pitch to officially dub residents of the Lower Mainland community “Burnabarians”, which just so happens to be the name of a beer he makes.

However, Burnaby council rejected the idea in an exchange I absolutely love recorded in Burnaby Now:

“While we appreciate your gracious offer to officially share your exceptional demonym, already embraced and beloved by thousands, in order to continue to honour all of our Burnabians, Burnaby-ites and Burnabites – as well as our Burnabarians – we must graciously decline this generous offer,” council wrote.

I also like Coli’s response:

“I think the people of Burnaby should know what to call themselves, instead of having to give a qualified response, like ‘Well, some people call us X, but …,’” he wrote in an email to the NOW.

“It's understandable that mayor and council didn't want to wade into this fray, especially when there are people who have been in Burnaby a lot longer than we have, who already have another (incorrect) opinion on what our demonym should be.”

Fear not, though! Coli says he plans to return to council soon. And if they say no again?

“Hopefully, in 20 years, there will be such a consensus that we won't need Council to declare a demonym, because it's obvious that it's Burnabarian.”

Read the replies

Saint John's homeless squad fast-tracks people off the street

An interesting approach from Newfoundland, in which a variety of front-line agencies collaborate on getting people into homes on a rotating, priority basis.

Is Sobeys suffocating this north Edmonton neighbourhood?

Difficult to summarize this one but I’ll try: a developing neighbourhood has a big, ugly, empty lot in it because Sobey’s planned to open a grocery store there, but then bought the Safeway across the street instead. And now instead of letting the neighbourhood develop it’s just keeping the lot empty, and holding on to rules it got with the land that prevent other businesses— butchers, bakers, florists— anywhere nearby.

Meet 'Team 263,' the Stittsville bus riders who became fast friends

CBC Ottawa put together a series on commuting and this is my favourite: a group of people who became a social club after deciding it would be more fun to talk to each other on the ride into work than simply stare into space.

"We actually have a few people that are on the bus ... that could take the one sooner, but opt to wait an extra ten minutes just to hang out with us," said Martin Stein, who's been part of the group for the past three years.

"There's a few people on the bus who tend to eavesdrop a little bit on our conversations [and] eventually become part of our team!"

North Scarborough: 200,000 people, and nowhere to have babies

I’m used to doing reporting on small, rural communities dealing with the lack of maternity wards, but it’s an urban problem, too.

Edmonton’s missing sidewalks

Likely a frustration in many places, Edmonton’s sidewalk network is full of incomplete paths, reducing mobility for walkers, wheelchair users, etc. A crowd-sourced project is attempting to draw more attention to the issue.

The Globe and Mail opens in Thunder Bay

Not much to say on this only to note that while it’s clear Thunder Bay has underreported stories, I’ve also no doubt there are plenty of other communities across the country that could benefit from more journalism.

Should we move government offices out of capitals and into struggling rural economies?

This is happening in the United States, but it’s an idea I’m sure is intriguing to many in Canada: North Carolina is planning to move its Division of Motor Vehicles from its capital of Raleigh to a struggling rural town. The idea is that larger cities do just fine on their own, so maybe the economic benefits of government towns could be spread more widely across the region they serve.

How public transport actually turns a profit in Hong Kong

Another story from elsewhere I think might have lessons for cities here: even in Prince George I’ve noticed apartments along our main bus university/college bus run seem to be getting more desirable. Imagine if cities anticipated this, bought up adjacent properties and then re-invested that money back into improving transit elsewhere.

Thanks for subscribing! Feel free to forward this on to someone you think would enjoy it, and pass along feedback if you have it.

Eliminating pedestrian deaths and why Calgary needs hipsters, too

Also: fixing civic budgets, stray horses and a high-security Mr. Sub

A quick question before we get underway:

If you had a choice, when would you like to receive this newsletter? Both day of week, and time of day. Weekends? Evenings? Yeah, let me know.

OK, here we go!

Cities need more power to balance budgets

Right now my city of Prince George is looking at borrowing about $32 million to do basic maintenance of civic facilites, while my parent’s hometown of Dawson Creek is considering cutting the number of police officers and library staff to keep taxes down. While much of the ire for these sorts of things is directed at municipal politicians, Gaetan Royer argues we should look to how other countries structure municipal taxes (and revenue generation) for an example of how things could run better.

Montreal wants to eliminate pedestrian and cyclist deaths, and is cutting speed limits to do it

Part of the city’s overall Vision Zero campaign.

Calgary's moment of choice: How the city can break its mould but preserve its soul

CBC Calgary is republishing a whole series on how the city is changing, and this particular instalment was interesting to me for the introduction of the term “arriviste city” as deployed by Harry Hiller, an urban sociology professor:

"An arriviste city is a city that has broken out of its old mould and is becoming something new," he wrote, in an analysis of Calgary's identity. "It is still in process and has not arrived at an end state but what is significant is that it challenges the old urban hierarchy to which other Canadians have developed their stereotypes."

How often have you had friends visit from out east and say, "Wow, Calgary isn't what I expected!" That's the mould being broken. That's the mental image of the city morphing from simply "Cowtown" to something more complex.

There’s also a defence of hipsters and their importance to emerging metropolitan areas — something also explored in an Economist piece subtitled “The virtues of Anywheres” which argues if you want to attract young professionals, you need to embrace the existence of craft brewing and industrial-feeling coffee shops that litter the world.

Canada set to lose 9,000 churches (and why that matters even if you aren’t religions)

Churches stopped being just churches quite a while ago. Instead, they are “for Girl Guides and political meetings, weddings and funerals, piano lessons and programs for the homeless.” My parent’s church is used as a meeting place for some of the older people who live in its neighbourhood, and I have gone to numerous punk shows in a downtown church that opens itself up for such events. So even if religious use is down, the role a church plays in a neighbourhood remains vital, and their loss is of concern.

Should city council meetings be held in the morning or at night?

This is an interesting one. I’m going to bring up Dawson Creek again, because in the last election the person challenging the incumbent for the mayor’s position had moving elections from Monday mornings to evenings in his platform, because he argued that the daytime meetings prevented people with jobs from attending. It seems this argument is being made by some in Hamilton in an effort to keep the evening meetings, but Lloyd Fergus, the councillour proposing moving meetings to the morning brings up a fair point: “I just don't think you make good decisions after 10 or 11 o'clock.” 

See also: This Twitter thread from Robin Mazumder on the challenges of participating in civic discussions

Oversized mascot watch: Calgary’s Dinny the Dinosaur to undergo $200K makeover

Something tells me tracking the comings and goings of various civic mascots will be a recurring feature for this newsletter. This week it’s the need to reinforce the neck and left rear leg of a brontosaurus built in 1935 for the Calgary Zoo.

“The 12-metre tall, 36-metre long statue is one of three public art pieces in the Calgary Heritage Authority inventory — the other two being the exterior murals at the Glenbow Museum and the Brotherhood of Mankind statues outside the former Calgary Board of Education building downtown.”

Swatted hives and stray horses in Saskatchewan

A few years ago in Prince George, a swarm of bees caused a partial city block to be evacuated. It turned out there had been a little-publicized hive program happening on the roof of city hall. Anyways, for that reason and many others, there will be no bee hives on the roof of Saskatoon’s city hall.

Also, in a good example of problems that only rural communities have: stray horses.

A single stripmall in Saskatoon has had four armed robberies in a month— but none at this Mr. Sub

Interesting insight into being a business owner in a high-crime area.

No, Drake is not responsible for 5 per cent of Toronto’s tourism economy

This is an older one, but I saw the claim going around Twitter again and this piece for Yahoo Finance does a good job of explaining how we can (and cannot) figure out what’s causing a city’s economy to succeed.


Some community-oriented stories from outside of Canada worth reading:

New York Times Opinion: Go Home to Your ‘Dying’ Hometown

One of the underrated joys of living in a smaller community is the ability to affect change.

The Guardian: How to get more women cycling in cities

“The different decisions men and women make about cycling are not only based on issues of convenience or comfort. People’s perceptions of safety influence how, when, where and why they travel.”

CityLab: A global review of public transit seat cover designs

I recently became fascinated with the design choices that go into the seats found on buses and subways (so many zigs and bright colours!) and I’m glad I’m not alone.

Alright, that’s it for this go-round. If you know someone who you think would like this, feel free to pass this along or share on social media.


Moose truce, food funding, draconian libraries

Welcome to the first edition of 'The Local'

Hello, and thanks for subscribing! There are, like, seven of you now which has exceeded my expectations for a newsletter with no template.

This is my basic idea for how this will go: I will write a couple lines of introduction, and then I will give you links to interesting things happening in Canadian communities that aren’t necessarily at the top of the news run. Short, sweet and simple.

Sound good? Great! And if not, please feel free to let me know— the beauty of being an early subscriber is you help shape what this becomes. Contact info at the bottom.

Here are this week’s stories:

Edmonton food incubation hub gets $600,000 in city funding

The best write-up I found on this initiative comes from Elise Stolte in the Edmonton Journal, who explains the Public’s position as an attempt to re-surface agriculture as an economic driver in Alberta by providing industrial kitchen space to food start-ups— including recent immigrants who may have a background in the food industry in their home countries but find the Canadian system difficult to navigate.

Winnipeg library’s new security approach creates ‘draconian and humiliating barrier’

Earlier this year, Winnipeg’s Millennium Library adapted airport-style security checks: people need to go through metal detectors, guards and bag checks in order to get in.

Officials say the changes are needed to crack down on drug use and violence, but there’s a growing backlash from people who say the checks are antithetical to the library as a public space— or, as the New Yorker had it recently, the last bastion of civil society. Anyways, from Winnipeg we have this essay from a longtime library patron who says she never felt unsafe at Millennium until the security measures took place, as well as an editorial in the Winnipeg Free Press arguing that as it currently stands, the Millennium Public Library does not deserve to have “public” in its name.

'Beggars in our own land': Canada's First Nation housing crisis

“There are a lot of Cat Lakes in the north,” said Mamakwa, a member of the Kingfisher First Nation. “When you see these conditions on a daily basis, you start to accept it as normal. What we see as status quo here would never be accepted in other parts of Canada.”

Civil liberties association threatens legal action to block Sidewalk Labs smart city project

If you’ve yet to read up on this Toronto neighbourhood that’s either at the forefront of a digital utopia or a dystopian surveillance neighbourhood run by an American conglomerate, The Star’s reporting is a good place to start or, if you are an aural learner, this episode of Frontburner.

'Moosarandum of understanding' settles dispute between Canada and Norway

The showdown between Moosejaw, Sask. and the Norwegian town of Stor-Elvdal over who has the bigger moose has come to an amicable end:

“It has been agreed that Mac will reclaim the title as world's tallest moose with alterations that will be paid for with a $25,000 donation from Moosehead Breweries. Meanwhile, the four-year-old statue named Storelgen in Stor-Elvdal, will "forevermore be known as the shiniest and most attractive moose in the world.”

My favourite part of this was the Maclean’s Magazine interview with the man who created Moosejaw’s moose who continuously agreed that Norway’sis much nicer: “They had no aesthetic concerns whatsoever,” he said of the group that commissioned him. “They wanted big and cheap.”

Oh, and— speaking of Canadian communities’ love of big roadside attractions: hundreds of people are putting forward offers to house Vancouver Island’s World Tallest Gnome, who frankly isn’t going to win any aesthetic awards himself.

That’s it for the first edition of the Local, a newsletter from the frontlines of Canada. If you think it was worth reading, please forward it to a friend or share it on social media. And if you have any feedback or tips, feel free to hit reply or hit me up on Twitter.

‘Til next time,


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