Instilling Vigilance or Promoting Paranoia?

“If you see something, say something.” It’s a trademark slogan of the US Department of Homeland Security that we in North America have heard and seen often. You can find it in railway stations and bus terminals all over the USA, often accompanied by a graphic of a large eye or a phone number for reporting suspicious objects or behaviour.  This slogan has even made it into presidential speeches.


This campaign is meant to instill vigilance. Critics, though, claim that it promotes paranoia and fires up irrational fears. Both may be true.


Either way, does it actually work? It’s up to police to investigate reports that come to them. But are ordinary citizens capable of spotting and reporting suspicious items or people so that police can do their jobs?


Leeds in the United Kingdom has among the most effective and realistic approaches in the world.


In researching my book Safer Cities of the Future, I discovered that many urban emergency plans are inadequate and that discussion of suspicious activity is usually vague and insubstantial.  What are we to look for and whom should we tell?


The “See Something, Say Something” campaign offers little direction.  It refers to “a vehicle parked in an unusual location,” unattended packages, or “other out-of-the-ordinary situations.” But none of these things is well defined. How can American cities count on their citizens to report suspicious things with only this level of vague direction?


This is why I was so intrigued by Leeds City Council’s campaign called “If You Suspect It, Report It.” This campaign involves specific and detailed descriptions of suspicious behaviours and items.


What’s a “suspicious package?”  Leeds is taking no chances.  It isn’t relying on diverse citizens guessing at the definition.  There is a detailed description and even pictures of what a suspicious package looks like.  It’s unusually heavy, tied up with string, oddly shaped or lopsided, hand addressed, with too much postage and perhaps even leaking oil.  There are instructions and a checklist for businesses and mailrooms advising processing all in-coming mail at one place only, training and briefing mailroom staff, and ensuring that workers have protective equipment such as latex gloves and face masks.


And what’s a terrorist look like.  What’s a terrorist’s daily routine?  What are we looking for?  A section of Leeds’ plan is called “Reconnaissance and vigilance at work.” This includes warning about persons with large quantities of mobile phones, people who buy large amounts of chemical products for no obvious reason, or who have multiple pieces of identification.  Does how and where they live raise suspicions, or how they use bank machines?


Business are advised to keep proper audit trails for all aspects of business, to check employees’ references carefully, and to keep computer systems secure – in other words clear and specific proactive, as opposed to reactive, measures.


Very few, if any other urban emergency plans studied are this specific.  Only Louisville, Kentucky advises citizens to be extra careful on special anniversaries—the Roe v Wade Supreme Court abortion decision, the anniversary of the storming of the religious compound in Waco Texas, the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, tax freedom day, and such.  These are uniquely American milestones, but there are similar ones in other cultures.


It’s not a bad idea to take emergency preparedness right into our families and homes.  When teenagers start driving, parents aren’t content to hand over the car keys with the advice “drive carefully.”  Most parents get specific—“don’t speed…keep eyes on the road…both hands on the wheel…pull over if tired” and so on.  Cities emergency plans need to be more like thoughtful parents, rather than conduits for advertising slogans.  Leeds proves this is both possible and the safe route to go.  

Fredericton disaster plan gets failing grade


Last year I was interviewed by CBC Fredericton on their surprising lack of emergency planning. The province’s three major cities need to make major improvements in their emergency plans. This is crucial stuff

Allan Bonner, a crisis management consultant, says the province’s three major cities need to make major improvements in their emergency plans. (CBC)
An expert in disaster management gives Fredericton a failing grade when it comes to emergency response plans, and he says Moncton and Saint John aren’t much better.
He says Fredericton’s emergency preparedness website has links to federal and provincial sites, but lacks specifics.
“It’s a failing grade,” said Bonner.
He says he expected more guidance, especially about evacuation plans in the event of a disaster.
For example, “In other cities they have the number of buses, the number of bus drivers, the capacity of the public transit system,” said Bonner.
Fredericton city councillor Bruce Grandy said via email that, speaking for himself, the city could do more.
“I know we have some plans at the city and we connect to the plans the province has, but it never hurts for the city to have a more comprehensive look at the gaps and other areas.”
Moncton, Saint John get a passing grade
Bonner says he would give Moncton a C-plus for personal preparedness. He says the city’s emergency preparedness site includes useful information, such as what to pack in a “Go-bag” in case of the need for a swift evacuation.
However, he points out that Moncton’s municipal emergencies measures plan includes only an executive summary. He said the larger plan should be made public.
“I’d like to see more concrete direction to people in Moncton on where to go, what to do,” said Bonner.
Isabelle LeBlanc, a spokesperson for the City of Moncton, says portions of the plan are not made public for security reasons.
Bonner gave the Saint John emergency management website a grade of C, saying it includes no mention of Point Lepreau. the oil refinery, or climate change.

“I used to live in Saint John and I was expecting some reference to the Point Lepreau nuclear plant,” he said, pointing out that other jurisdictions with nuclear power plants have elaborate evacuation plans.
In fact, the province has a comprehensive EMO website that includes information on nuclear safety and in November completed Operation Intrepid, a nuclear emergency preparedness exercise.
Bonner says that kind of information needs to be on the Saint John city website in detail.
CBC News reached out to the City of Saint John for comment, but has not received a response.


Originally posted here:

A Fine Way To Make Money

I was part of a routine traffic stop a while back.  My old, old car was missing its front license plate. After about an hour with the police officer, I was issued a ticket.  He noted in conversation about four times that many owners of specialty or vintage cars didn’t install their front plate because they felt it didn’t look nice.  How interesting.  I noted the rust on the bumper and speculated it rusted off.  I speculated it got bumped off while parking.  I suggested vandals stole my license plate.

I finally said, “I have no reason not to have a front plate.”  The fine was $80.  I took it to a police station where another officer wondered why the first had bothered to give me a ticket.

Toronto makes up to $100 million dollars in revenue from traffic tickets.  This is fine with me.  In fact I have done my civic duty and told some officers in my neighbourhood about a new revenue stream for them.  In addition to catching people who turn left at the wrong time of day, I suggested that ticketing cars that run the stop signs half a block away would produce as much revenue and result in more safety.  Turning left just slows down traffic. But running stop signs is a real hazard to pedestrians.  Police are training to remain calm and not betray emotion, so I didn’t see the look of exuberant gratitude on their faces.  

What I’d do is put the cops on the trail of the proverbial really bad guys, and replace them with a camera to take a picture of the left-turners and send it to their homes.  This would be just like on the ski hill or cruise, except it would cost more and be a mandatory purchase.  I’d put another camera at the stop signs and send out more pictures.    

I’d buy a camera for the police officer who told me repeatedly of the preference of car collectors, instruct him to take a picture of the front end of offending cars, keep one for his collection and send me one with a fine.  My city would be rolling in money.

Why this fixation with cameras?  Many routine traffic stops have resulted in damages, injuries, and death.  We need a new approach.  The infamous Watts riot of 1965 resulted in about $45 to $100 million in damages—in 1965 dollars.  There were also 32 deaths and 874 injuries.  The Watts riot started when police pulled over a person suspected of driving drunk.  A struggle ensue.  Crowds formed and the rest is history.

On July 23rd 1967, Detroit police raided an unlicensed bar.  Inside were 82 black people celebrating the return of two GIs from Vietnam.  Police decided to arrest everyone.  Somebody threw a bottle at a police officer.  Confrontations resulted in one of the most destructive riots in US history, lasting five days.  Police didn’t have the staff to control the evolving riot because it was a Sunday.  This is the event that became “Black Day in July”-the song by Gordon Lightfoot and MC5’s “Motor City is Burning” from their 1969 proto-punk album Kick Out the Jam.    

In the end 16 people were killed and 493 wounded, including members of the 82nd Airborne, 101st Airborne, the Michigan Army National Guard, a Detroit Police Officer and two members of the Detroit Fire Department.  Damage was $40 to $80 million.

I bet the thought has crossed the minds of some of the victims’ family members about whether 82 people celebrating the return of GIs from Vietnam was so grievous an infraction that it required arresting everyone and this kind of escalation.  There must be other revenue sources.

Less an Architect Than a Visionary Planner of Planetary Ambitions

Long before the TV show Madmen, artist and oddball Salvador Dali noted that the difference between him and a madman, is that he’s not a madman.  Point taken.

Every now and then though, you have to be armed for dinner parties with stories of mad people.  One of the best to bring up is Swiss-born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret.  Adopting France, he became an essayist, painter, architect, and planner.  He also adopted the name Le Corbusier.  Pretty well all books on urbanism, planning, design, and architecture make a few comments on this nut.  I’ve just read James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State and am reminded of just how nutty.    

Scott turns a witty phrase by calling him “less an architect than a visionary planner of planetary ambitions.”  He was mainly a paper architect, meaning that most of his schemes never got built.  But Chandigarh, the capital of the Punjab in India and a big apartment complex in Marseilles (L’Unite d’Habitation) did.  He sampled from revolutionary syndicalism and utopian modernism.  This flexibility allowed him to design in Soviet Russia and in Vichy France for Marshal Petain.  

One must be able to discuss Jeanneret (Corbu) because the Athens Charter of the Congres Internationalaux d’Architecture Moderne (CAIM) reflects his views.  The most powerful architects of the time, organized by Corbu, used a series of meetings between 1929 and 1959 to promote modernism.  When discussing this, it’s good to work in Pierre Jeanneret, Corbu’s cousin who also attended.      

Corbu was the Mr. Big of urban planning, with one example being a housing scheme for about 90,000 residents in Rio de Janeiro.  He didn’t care if anything fit in with anything else—he was content to supplant if not destroy.  “We must refuse to afford even the slightest concession to what is:  to the mess we are in now” said he.  

He liked order and the linear.  Apparently he was also a spokesperson for machines.  “We claim, in the name of the steamship, the airplane, and the automobile, the right to health, logic, daring, harmony, perfection.”  Before him, modes of transport did not have a voice.

As Scott points out, some of Jeanneret’s drawings show he may not have even liked cities.  His plan for Paris is from afar.  Buenos Aires is seen from miles out at sea–five shiny bumps that must be buildings reflected in the water.   Rio is seen as if from miles up in an airplane, and so is Alsace—mainly featuring the striations of ploughing or crop growing.  

If you want to one-up dinner companions in the fashionable suburbs who quote from his 1933 book The Radiant City, just retort, “He would say that, wouldn’t he?”  It doesn’t matter what he said, it’s that he would say it.   

In fairness to Jeanneret, he advocated the “prefabrication of houses and office blocks, whose parts were built at factories and then assembled at the building sites.”  This is a good idea and should be more prevalent.  I refer to these factories machines for making machines for living in.  This will be too clever by half (as the Brits say) for those who know the Jeanneret quote, “a house is a machine for living in.”

Another quote is his “death of the street” because he didn’t like people and cars mixing, or even slow cars and fast cars.  He also advocated segregation of city districts by function.  He liked communal food preparation and laundry to save space, ignoring, as Scott points out that much of food preparation is a private event for families.     

Jeanneret lives on in our cities, getting the last chuckle if not belly laugh in the ‘park-like settings’ and other unused space between huge apartment blocks.

All Bound For Morningtown!

In the children’s songs, Morningtown ride (1957 Malvina Reynolds), girls and boys under their blankets are “All bound for Morningtown/Many miles away.”  This refrain is repeated until near the end when we hear that “Somewhere there is Morningtown/Many miles away.”

I sang this song many times (badly) to my boys.  The technique of indicating there’s a train voyage which will take time and cause the boys to arrive “[m]any miles away” is a nice mix of time and place.  So is the notion that the name of the place is a combination of a time of day (Morning) and a settlement of people (town).  

John Milton in his epic poem Paradise Lost uses a similar combination of precision and vagueness to describe Hell in his quest to “justify the ways of God to men.”

Metaphors are invaluable when soothing children, and when trying to describe and probe the almost unfathomable.

But why would emergency plan writers use this technique?  

Brisbane, Australia advocates “[c]areful planning” in advance of a decision on whether to evacuate.  Fair enough.  In fact the plan suggests ensuring that people “would be significantly safer at another location.”  Readers are also encouraged to determine if the risks of moving to another location are less than the risks of staying put.  

This all makes sense, until you think seriously about what this might mean to a person facing a risk.  Does it make sense to someone who will have to make the life and decision about whether to call for an urban evacuation?  In fact it just might delay information gathering or the decision.  What is careful planning?  Is there a lot of dangerous planning going on that we need to correct?  How much safer is “significantly” safer.  Is this a statistical significance or a qualitative one?  Is “safer” measured in discomfort, injuries, or death?  

Comparing risks is a good idea.  There’s no such thing as no risk.  Some evacuation orders have killed more people than the emergency.  Moving the elderly and hospital patients probably reduces life expectancy in many cases.  But how shall one measure the risk in one location, the risk of moving people, and the risk of locating people elsewhere?  We are none the wiser by reading Brisbane’s plan.

Waterloo advocates developing a list of “reliable” contractors, but doesn’t actually list them.  

In Tampa they’re pretty precise.  Their Emergency Operations Plan stipulates that “every attempt will be made to obtain the assigned driver or drivers who are familiar” with certain types of vehicles.  Good idea.  There are good reasons why heavy equipment operators, school bus drivers, and 18 wheeler drivers need training and special drivers’ licenses.  Putting a cabbie at the wheel of a school bus or highway coach may be more live-threatening than leaving people in the danger zone.  

Another way of creating the impression of precision is through using words with lots of syllables.  “Procuring” seems more precise than “buying” and yet the end result is still the same—obtaining something.  When someone says s/he will “utilize” a technique, the impression given is that more thought has gone into this than from someone who is just going to “use” a technique.  Wrong, but a strong impression.

Tampa will “ascertain” the type and location of “all” available transportation vehicles.  

Houston uses a combination of vague weakness and proscriptive strength in its dictum that “[l]aw enforcement will request wrecker services needed to promptly respond and clear disabled vehicle impediments …”  Leaving aside how a “disabled vehicle” differs from a “disabled vehicle impediment”, Houston will need an order not a “request.”

This mock-precision does not take the place of actually doing the work described.  Make a list.  Check it twice.  Stop nattering about what a good idea a list would be.

Judging a Rusty Book By The Cover

I judged a book by its cover recently—Beyond Rust seemed like it would be a good read.  I’d learn more about Pittsburgh and the phenomenon known as the rust belt, and how some rusty areas came back.  The Pittsburgh Renaissance was aided by the Alleghany Conference and public private partnerships.  Through these efforts, thousands of acres of strip and otherwise mined land became parks.  New roads allowed more mobility and the modernization of tourist areas.

The author is an historian who has well documented the facts.  But facts need defining, ordering, and context.  Is the Pittsburgh Renaissance (capital R) just a name for the comeback of a great city?  Or is it a duly constituted organization with articles of association, letters patent, or incorporation?  The Alleghany Conference (capital C) seems to be a body, the membership in which and its mission is not discussed in any detail.  As for public private partnerships, this may mean nothing as in the current ubiquitous use of “our partners” in government or “we’ll partner up with…”.  Or it may mean some spot on the continuum of design, build, finance, maintain (DBFM).

The book often feels like one of those history books or local access TV documentaries on a small prairie city.  You have to know who and what is being talked about to know what’s being talked about.

But there are some nuggets.  We get the local perspective on the “coal wars” a time of industrial strife that caused more death in America than modern terrorism.  There are snippets on the fight for industrial safety and the use of new technology and mining techniques to generate prosperity, but reduce jobs.  Industrialist Andrew Carnegie’s steal works and mergers, and the emergence of US Steal is covered, and the region’s contribution to the war effort.     

During the daytime, people sometimes had to drive with headlights on and windshield wipers wiping because of industrial smoke.  Some smoky days killed people—reminiscent of the old Soviet East Block.  It was in Pittsburgh that fights for clean air took hold.  

This book deals with more than just a few important subjects.  One is the notion of ‘roads to jobs’ — still a notion applied to transport in cities.  Road improvement in Pittsburgh was supposed to connect areas of high unemployment with expanding suburbs.  Another is the value of sports stadia.  A third is the gigantic shopping centre—often called The Golden Mile or Miracle Mile.  And then there’s that great clean industry–tourism.      

There are a few cautionary tales in these themes which run through urban planning literature.  First, the Cambridge/Boston area high technology companies may be as much a function of being near several great universities as the quality of the paving.  If pavement were the key to riches, New Brunswick would be wealthy as a result of more miles of pavement per capita than most jurisdictions.  As for sports stadia, they do seem to make money for team owners through the rental of boxes, parking, concession sales and such.  But what the average citizen gets out of the deal has not been studied well.  And these days, shopping centres are being repurposed as office space, accommodation, or just being left abandoned.  

The fact is that there are only so many discretionary dollars to go around.  You may get to repurpose a few, but you won’t create much new money with any of these initiatives.

One of the tourism ventures covered in the book was the restoration of Ohiopyle House, a 37 room hotel.  Just after opening arson destroyed it—“mountain justice” said many locals who didn’t like change, being forced to move, sell their homes, or otherwise didn’t see the wisdom in developers and planners efforts.

We’re not entirely beyond rust.  

The Witty Professor

My witty high school teacher used to ask questions in class.  How many here want a particular lesson—raise your hands.  How many here will be attending the event Friday afternoon—raise your hands, and so on.  Then came the wit.  “If anyone is not here, please raise your hand.”

Equally nutty is the use of devices which need power to notify people that they have no power.   

But reputable, big cities do it.  Waterloo, Ontario, in the heart of Canada’s technology triangle does it.  Nova Scotia Power has a website (viewable from plugged in computers) which has a map showing exactly where the power is off.  The fact that if you have no power you can’t see this is perhaps lost on NS Power.   

I have made this point via Tweets and Toronto Hydro has responded. They understood my point, but that many of their stakeholders preferred social media alerts. One assumes this is a preference even if those who prefer it can’t get it.  Get it?

I suspect you think I’m being cranky because hand held devices are everywhere and many users prefer to receive all communication and notifications on them.  More than 50% of all Google searches are now via handheld devices.  And you’re probably thinking that batteries will hold up until the power is back on.  Perhaps, but probably not.  Power outages last longer on average, than the life of smart-phone batteries, according to some studies.  Most young people sleep with their hand-helds on so that the alarm will wake them in the morning. That means they start the day with limited battery life.  

They seem to recognize the danger in Baltimore—sort of.  The power company does provide an “Outage Map” which tells citizens in real time what areas have no power.  But that’s on the power company’s website, so it may be of no use.  It also encourages citizens to report outages.  So, for all those without power who cannot use their computers, please report to us on devices which require power.  

But Baltimore also notes that 25% of power outages last more than four hours—perhaps the battery life left after a hand-held has been on all night, or has been used for music or streaming for a bit.  

“They’ll charge up when the power comes back on,” you say?  Perhaps, but probably not.  The power coming back on will cause a stampede to the few available plugs in shopping centres and the subway system.  But if people can charge up, they may be able to see where the power was off when they had no power to determine exactly where the power was off, but now on.    

Calgary appears to be hoping to use radio to communicate with the public, even though a radio station’s transmitter burned down in Fort McMurray recently.

Emergency response should not be a fad.  The current lingo of “I Tweeted it out…it’s on the web…I blogged it…I sent an Instagram…” does not mean that any communication of any sort occurred.  Communication is two-way.  There must be a sender and a receiver.  A receiver is not a person who doesn’t know s/he should look at a transmission, or can’t because there’s no power.  A receiver is someone who gets a message, understands it, and in the context of emergency response, takes some action.

There are best practices in urban emergency communication.  These include lawn signs, LED signs on trucks, loud speakers, door knob hangers, door-to-door visits, auto-dialing, and, for the disabled, setting off strobe lights and turning on radios powered by batteries.

Good, modern emergency response has to be both low tech, and high tech.  But most of all it has to make sense.  

What to Wear


In 1967 Singer/Songwriter Scott MacKenzie (Philip Wallach Blondheim) gave some advice that may still hold.  “If you’re going to San Francisco/Be sure to wear/Some flowers in your hair.”  I did go, several times.  I dined at the Cliff House, Fisherman’s Wharf, and put a quarter in the human jukebox.  The human jukebox occupied a very tall cardboard box and would raise the cardboard flap and blow a tune on his trumpet when called upon.    

MacKenzie sang his advice after being a member of the Journeymen during the folk era, the group that included his mum’s friend John Phillips.  Phillips wrote and co-produced San Francisco before moving on to The Mamas and the Papas.  MacKenzie wrote for Anne Murray.  Phillips and MacKenzie reunited in the 1980s in a new Mamas and Papas and to write and produce Kokomo for the Beach Boys.   

That was a while ago. But today I’d wear red if I were going to Kansas City, Missouri.  The reason is their START program.  This stands for Simple Triage and Rapid Treatment.  Volunteers will be conducting triage at the scene of an urban emergency using a color-coded system.  From the bottom up, Green stands for a minor injury, Yellow means attention can be delayed, Red requires immediate attention and Black is for Deceased.  

I say volunteers because in an emergency, as in war, everybody gets promoted one rank.  It will no doubt be someone’s intention to have trained medical personnel conduct triage, but they will end up providing actual medical treatment, not assessment.  A range of volunteers, medical students, yoga instructors and others will be doing triage—believe me.

Will they know what a dead person looks like?  Do you?  I am not sure I can distinguish a dead person from someone in extreme shock or a coma.  Years ago I saw people in catatonic trances before medication all but made the condition disappear.  They looked dead, but weren’t.  I don’t want to bet my life that a well-meaning volunteer with no medical training in Kansas City can.  So, I’ll wear red, signalling I need immediate attention and am not dead.  

In Houston they too have a triage guideline that I don’t want to be part of.  Black is also the category you don’t want to be in.  But in Houston there are several levels of dead—cardiac arrest, obviously deceased, and severe multiple blunt trauma non-survivable. That last category is probably more accurately termed ‘almost’ dead to be precise.  By deceased, Houston plan writers also mean “Non-Urgent.”  What an ‘urgent’ death might be is not stated.     

Speaking of the color black, as in the Black Death, San Francisco uses this color to signify the worst kind of emergency needing immediate attention.  So if this city is in the category “black” it’s a clue to send all possible assistance.  If a person in Houston or Kansas City is the category “black” that means give them no assistance—there’s no point.  

Perhaps on second thought I’ll wear a sign that says, “I’m not dead…really.”

Birmingham seems almost alone among urban emergency plans studied in its reference to the need for an emergency mortuary.  But that’s a reality check for urban emergency planners and the people who will have to use the plans they write.

There will be death–death of pets, livestock, and people.  Traumatic as this will be, the public health implications and logistical challenges will be an equal or greater challenge.  Some have talked about pre-arranged agreements with undertakers.  Others think of using hockey and curling rinks to store bodies.  Kansas City’s pet-plan is about the most comprehensive and speaks of incinerators and crematoriums.  

This is not pleasant.  But not planning for the unpleasant is worse.      

The Toronto Tragedy

Canada’s largest city has only two subway lines that bring people into downtown.  Few people get off and more people get on until the cars arrive downtown, jam packed.  Those are north-south lines.  There’s just one east-west line which brings people from both directions to transfer to the north-south lines and continue downtown.  Many a morning, most riders don’t ride — until they stand waiting for a few cars while more potential riders arrive to jam up the stations.

Multiple lines, circle lines, diagonal lines and such are what make subways work so well.  Nobody told Toronto.   

Author Mark Ovenden shows these and other lessons well in his book, Transit Maps of the World.  This is billed as “the World’s First Collection of Every Urban Transit Map on Earth.”  There’s a bit of history and detailed captions, but the big attraction is hundreds of actual maps of subway and other transit systems.  What’s frustrating is that most of those pages show systems that are far superior to what we have in most North American cities.  We don’t have the European Union to help out and perhaps cars had too much affluence.  But that’s reality.

One interesting note is that, just like the map of the world most of us use, transit maps aren’t really to scale or even the right shape.  London’s is a great case in point.  The circle line is just a name, it’s not circular.  The map is a great guide to how to get around underground, but you can’t use it to get anywhere above ground because of the scale and shape issue.  

Ovenden is a Londoner and thus has reason to be a transit fan.  Fellow author and transit geek, Taras Grescoe is a Montrealer.  That city has had trams and busses for more than a hundred years, but only got it’s subway in time for Expo 67—the World’s Fair.  But that subway has rubber tires which make it a quiet trip into grand subway stations.    

Grescoe’s book is called Strap Hanger Saving our Cities and Ourselves From the Automobile.  As the sub-title suggests, Grescoe is on a mission.  On the scenic route to achieving this mission, we learn a lot.  We read of the first victim of an automobile accident, Henry Bliss, hit on September 13, 1899 at West 74th and Central Park West in New York.  A Canadian can take pride in the fact that our subway cars, used in New York, last one hundred times longer before breaking down than did cars from the 1980s.  We also learn that only 5% of daily commuters to Manhattan’s central business district come by car.  The first New York subway was built in secret by inventor Alfred Beach who used a giant fan to bow cars down the tracks on a system appropriately called the Pneumatic.  By 1873 the Pneumatic had failed and it took the blizzard of 1888 to ensure the Big Apple got a subway, which in turn created the skyscraper.  

There was a time you could hop streetcars from Maine to Wisconsin—1000 miles.  Los Angeles once had more than this in its local system, but now the average driver spends 72 hours a year sitting in traffic.  Yet L.A. is second in America in transit trips taken.  

Grescoe discusses what may be a secret line under Moscow, Shinjuku in Tokyo, Bogota’s high capacity surface subways (busses), Portland for transit and bicycles, Vancouver’s Skytrain through the second densest downtown in North America, our lost high-speed Zephyr train, high use in Montreal, and, to return to the opening theme of this column, a chapter called The Toronto Tragedy.

Both books are good looking and good reads.

Yahoo! I’m Out To Dinner

“Kill the bum…” says the quintessential sports fan at a prize fight, football or hockey game.  “Are you blind?” yells another quintessential fan at an umpire or other official.  Fist bumps, loud yips of delight and almost as loud moans of disappointment fill arenas, basements, and living rooms in which TVs are tuned into the tragedy and ecstasy of sports.  Some of my fondest memories are of Les Carabiniers Tavern (The Carb) in Alexis Neon Plaza, near enough to the old Montreal Forum to seen the intermission commentators in for a beer and watching the game just like all the fans–on TV.  

Other good memories involve an Expos game at Jarry Park, the Alouettes at the old Autostadt and the BC Lions at Empire Stadium.  And the crowds did roar.  And did they roar for Ron Lancaster at Taylor field in Regina.  

The other urban experience is of quiet.  The quiet of the lounge in the Admiral Hotel on Lougheed  Highway in Burnaby in which I had some of my first underage alcohol rings in my ears.  So does the River Room and Maverick Room in the Beavebrook Hotel in Fredericton, in which I had some more.  Ditto Golf’s in Regina, but I was of age.  

But somewhere along the way an arms race of sorts began.  I don’t know who started it, but by the time I saw a Vancouver Grizzley’s basketball game, the yelling had mechanized into roving spotlights, strobes, and very loud music pumped into the pumped up crowd.  Then, in a box to see the Edmonton Oilers, the same thing had some to hockey games.  Buffalo and Toronto feature the same migraine inducing noise and light shows.  

Back in restaurants, many seemed to want to compete.  Some feature that noise that is currently popular in place of music—mainly a monotonous base line.  Others feature a type of music I don’t like.  If I’m alone in a restaurant (which I often am for obvious reasons), I tell the servers that since no one is demanding this music, could it please be turned down?  I sometimes pull out my decibel meter app in my smart phone and note that the noise level will cause permanent harm to hearing—especially the servers’.  Sometimes I note that if the restaurant could play Dion and the Belmonts, I’d not complain.  Most don’t get my point—noise is unwanted sound and taste in music is individual.

Even in nice, quiet restaurants, patrons often take the place of unwanted music with unwanted exclamations.  Really, this buffoonery knows no gender or age limitations.  Those who can’t exclaim loudly enough, or guffaw at high enough decibels, augment their failings with serious hand clapping to punctuate a point.

Perhaps these folks are all making a public statement.  They are out having a good time and don’t mind letting the world know it.  This is akin to the documented phenomenon of the mandatory standing ovation at live theatre.  Habitual attendees reserve shouting “Bravo!” or “Brava!” for extraordinary performances.  People who attend just a handful of live performances per year consider vigorous clapping, shouting, and standing as part of their evening’s entertainment, regardless of the quality of the performance.  Fair enough.  It’s a free country.

But your right to shout and clap in a restaurant, should really end at my ear, to paraphrase American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes.  Have a good time.  Enjoy your friends.  Enjoy the food.  But you’re not at a ball game.  Occasionally put some of that good food in your mouth, close it, chew vigorously, and stop making noise.  Thank you.