Darlin’ I’ll Be Home Soon

Good artists borrow and great artists steal they say.  We’ll I’m stealing from Jim Cobb who has written a shelf full of books on emergency preparedness. Start where you like.  I started with Countdown to Preparedness The Prepper’s 52-Week Course to Total Disaster Readiness.  Oddly, there’s more clear and useful information in this little paperback than there is in most urban emergency plans.  

Everybody needs an emergency plan, especially in tornado alley, on all coasts, in Alberta and Saskatchewan during recent forest fires and evacuations, and even people around the bog fire in Delta, and the recent earthquake in Vancouver.  Then there are ice storms, power outages and regular winter weather.

It’s remarkable how poor our urban emergency plans are.  There’s some good advice on personal preparedness.  I like the first aid kit checklists in Guelph, with honourable mention to Birmingham, UK, Jacksonville, and Orlando.  The “Go Bag” concept involves what to take with you and I like the thinking in St. Catharines, with honourable mentions for Windsor, Milwaukee, Long Beach, Washington, and Melbourne and Sydney in Australia.  St. Catharines and Guelph also have advice on a car kit—a little different kettle of fish.  

Author Jim Cobb is not just a guy who wants to be able to reach for a few band aids or have some supplies in the car for a trip out of the danger zone.  He’s getting ready to survive for a long, long time by growing food, using solar power, having no sewage system, getting by without medical care, and on and on.  He’s not kidding.  The fact that he goes deeper and farther than even the good plans I’ve cited is to his credit, and a bit of an embarrassment for urban emergency planners.  

Cobb’s idea is to do a little each week to get really, really prepared.  He suggests saving cash, stocking up on water, what food to buy, and how often to replace supplies.  That’s not a unique idea. Surrey, British Columbia links to a document providing “26 steps” to preparedness.  This gives family members some tasks and breaks down what seems like a daunting job into manageable bites.  Long Beach has a 21 week plan to achieve much the same.  These are all good ideas.

But here are a few things that Cobb may be able to call his own.  First it’s when to use your stored drinking water in the bath—every six months.  It’s also how to rotate food supplies in and out so that you’re not eating something that’s five years old with no nutritional value, just when you need nutrition during an emergency.  He also advocates for “Get Home Bags.”  There was once a reference on Charlotte’s website about how some folks might go home to assemble family members before evacuating, or they all might meet at work, or in the middle.  But I don’t think anyone has done anything about this phenomenon.  Cobb has.  

The simple idea is that when an emergency is declared or an evacuation ordered, many of us, tens of thousands of us in cities, may have to get home safely before going anywhere else.  We’ll need a bag of supplies in case we have to walk, stay warm, keep dry, eat, drink, and so on.  These are different needs than for long stays at home, or car trips to safety.  So, we need supplies at the office, home, and car.  If that Get Home Bag is what you have to take out of town because you can’t get home, you still have something useful that may save your life.  

And you will have me to thank, because I stole the idea from Jim Cobb.     

A Tale of Two Cities

Funny about writing styles.  They either inform, entertain, or put up a barrier.  Some styles make a connection between reader and writer.  Others are bloodless.

Three new and important books about cities may illustrate this point.  Once in a Great City A Detroit Story is by journalist David Maraniss.  Beyond Rust Metropolitan Pittsburgh and the Fate of Industrial America is by historian Allan Dieterich-Ward.  Where We Want to Live Reclaiming Infrastructure for a New Generation of Cities is about Atlanta’s Beltline trail and is by urban planner and architect Ryan Gravel.  

First the issues.  Detroit’s story is America’s story — the rise and fall of the auto industry, and thus Detroit, and thus big manufacturing, and good union jobs in America.  Pittsburgh’s story is also America’s in that the consolidation of the steel industry, coal wars between labour and management, the rise of the power of unions, and environmentalism all played out in Pittsburgh.  A later story is Atlanta’s in which a 22 mile circle of railroad lines morphed as trucking took over the movement of goods, and eventually became a walking, biking, and transport trail.  Industrialization came full circle.  

This beltline story has played out in New York with the high line trail, which, as in Paris is an old elevated industrial railroad morphed into a beautiful trail.  Elsewhere the ‘rails to trails’ movement helped this transition all over North America.  

In Detroit we also hear of the development of the Mustang, the Motown sound, an early version of John Kennedy’s “ask not…” phrasing, Martin Luther King’s first version of his “I Have a Dream” speech, Malcolm X on the Kennedy Assassination, and Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” speech.  Lots of good things happened in Detroit.  Then lots of bad things.   

In the Pittsburgh story, we find that Walter Reuther came from good labour roots via his mother Valentine, and sought higher wages in the auto industry in Detroit.  Walter was a veteran of the battle of the overpass in which management goons roughed up labour activists.  He survived an assassination attempt and his United Auto Workers helped fund the civil rights movement.

Atlanta’s story is deindustrialization and its effect on neighbourhoods, and then a revival via the Beltline trail.

All are important stories and together they cover 150 or so years of settlement and industrialization.  

But back to style.  

The historian Dieterich-Ward is historical.  We learn fascinating facts about industrialists Carnegie, Frick, J. P. Morgan, Mellon, Charles Schwab, and others.  We learn of mammoth industrial equipment and the efforts to restore strip mined land for parks and recreation.  We read about the building of highways to connect people to jobs.  But we don’t obtain much analysis about the ill-effects of highway building.  Nor do we get much of a definition of the Allegheny Conference, the Renaissance partnership, the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, or groups or public private partnerships.  It would be nice to know more.  

Ryan Gravel, being a youngish planner and architect, makes a lot in his book about his own story, not just Atlanta’s.  We read of his graduate studies in Paris, return to Atlanta, real-estate woes, marriage and agitation for the Beltline.  Funny, we hear little about Robert Caro in his book The Power Broker, but we sure learn how to lobby, finance, and finagle.  Those lessons from Pittsburgh and Atlanta would have been welcome.

Odd that the journalist Maraniss appears to provide the greatest depth and understanding of an era, a city, and where all the diverse facts fit in.  Odd because we often malign journalist for their superficiality—especially if we’re academics or professionals.

You might make another judgement, but all three books are worth the read.      

An Unsavory Lot

If only I’d known Michelle Daley and Chris Rissel a few years back, I could have saved them some time and money. They studied whether images of cycling promoted or discouraged cycling.

They must have stopped the presses at the journal “Transport Policy” in which the researchers’ wrote that “[b]icycle couriers were viewed least favourably.” Moreover, considering that only single digits of the population ride regularly to work or on errands, it’s not surprising that biking is considered a “non-mainstream” activity by “‘fringe’ individuals”.

Cyclists were viewed as a “nuisance” when “riding in the middle of the lane holding up traffic” or “gong up a one way street the wrong way”.

The methodology that the researchers used is focus groups. This is the academic way of saying they assembled a few dozen people in a room behind two way mirrors and ate sushi and fruit while a focus group leader asked the chosen few what they think. The chosen few are often students, shut-ins, poor or lonely and attracted by the honorarium, free food or attention. Focus groups were invented by a brilliant scientist, Robert K. Merton–so brilliant that he denounced them a few years after their invention. Merton is also the brains behind the oft-quoted phrases “self-fulfilling prophesy” and “role-model”, but I digress.

Focus groups are a favourite methodology of urbanist Richard Florida, but I digress even more.

This cycling research was conducted in Sydney, Australia and is entirely valid, but obvious. Bike couriers are an unsavory lot with strong correlations with substance abuse. Cyclists whom you see riding towards you on a one-way street with either a maniacal look on the face or no expression at all are indeed a nuisance. So are those who take up a whole land if you’re in the car behind.

The problem is that “contra-flow” or riding the wrong way on a one-way street is encouraged and legal in some jurisdictions. Taking up a whole lane and flowing with traffic is considered the safest approach by some. Bike lanes are on the side or in the middle of the road (for turning) or separated from the road–again depending on the city. We have no uniform or even generally accepted rules or ideas about how to integrate bikes into the transport system.

Here’s a start though. It’s pretty obvious that one rides a 10 speed racing bike differently than a Raleigh Tourist or Peugeot –the kind the young women in the French resistance rode in the movies with the baguette in the basket. Sitting upright with 3 gears encourages courteous, mature riding, as anyone who has been to Amsterdam has seen. Ditto even Beijing with many times the bicyclists.

What you can do in your city is lobby for a by-law to require bike couriers to use European-style “cargo-bikes” with a low platform between the rider and the front wheel. You can’t drive this kind of bike as if you were a pin ball and the bumpers are the crosswalks, cars, sidewalks and pedestrians you encounter. The by-law could state that all commerce done using a bike must be done on a kind of bike described. This could be enforced by the same people who police taxis–the Legislation and Licensing Committee in come cities.

Then we could encourage grocery, drug and convenience stores to use a pool of delivery bikes called upon via smart phones in the same way many urbanites can call up an idle limo through the “Uber” system. The bike arrives, picks up the order and delivers it to its destination.

Combine this with a uniform policy on bike lanes and the increased population of bicyclists who are riding like normal people would encourage others to do so, instead of riding as if they were on their first bike on Christmas morning and being chased out of the hobs of Hell by Lucifer.

Transit blues

“Are you going to cash your welfare check?” asked my dear friends in a western Canadian city when I told them I’d be arriving at their house party by cab. You see cabs are only for the very poor who manage their money and time poorly.

But for me, I don’t want to navigate unfamiliar roads, get stuck in bad weather or drive after drinking. In fact, being driven is a bit of a status symbol, not slumming as my friends thought. I actually use a cab company called “Prestige Cabs” when I’m in a couple of western cities. These are larger cars that are kept very clean by their dedicated drivers.

In cities served by “Uber” I call up an idle limo on my smart phone. It’s about 15% more than a cab, but newer, cleaner and with a more professional driver.

“Do you have to catch a train?” I asked my dinner companion in New York. “No, I use a car service” was the reply. This is a typical well off New Yorker who either didn’t have a drivers license, didn’t own a car, or didn’t care to negotiate traffic. Other New Yorkers just hold out a hand and their destination is usually $12 or so dollars away by yellow cab. It’s faster and cheaper during rush hours on some routes going underground.

My other well-healed New York friends talk of “using the system.” They mean that the busses, subways, Port Authority terminal, ferries and even the cable car to Roosevelt Island are part of Herculean efforts to move people around the small island of Manhattan. Using the system is a kind of civic duty.

When I go back to visit Saint John I wonder why I drove from the corner of Duke and Sydney Streets to work at Crown and Union. One way streets made it a bit of a trip, but I could have walked, cutting through the Loyalist grave yard and made it in less time. But I was a young man with a car and happy to be driving.

Living in Regina cured me of asking directions. Without a car, I stuck out a thumb on Albert Street and was quickly whisked by driver to the University. That worked at least three days a week. But while job hunting downtown, I’d occasionally ask directions. More often than not the person would apologize for not being able to drive me and explain what pressing business prevented them from doing so. A city worker in a truck once apologized for recent insurance changes that prevented him from driving me. People are nice in Regina.

Jogging was transport in Regina–College Avenue to work at 12th and McIntyre–even in the bad weather. But I’ve not used jogging as transport in other cities. But I’ve biked for errands in Toronto and rode from Pape and Danforth to Carleton and Jarvis for work.

Hitch hiking was pretty easy in Vancouver, with Lougheed highway a river of helpful drivers and thumbs. But even the helpful drivers parked at the bottom of Galardi way and thumbed up to Simon Fraser University to save the gas going up Burnaby Mountain.

I never heard of anyone hitch hiking in Montreal or Toronto–perhaps the expressways or transit played a role. In Fredericton I used to thumb up University avenue to the university and usually got a ride. On a recent trip I wasn’t thumbing but offered a ride by a judge who mistook me for Mayor Brad Woodside.

This trip down my persona memory lane is just to say that planners who try to promote a mode of transport, even if it saves money, may be bucking a cultural norm. Worse, because something works or doesn’t in one city might have no bearing on whether that public policy will work in another or with another demographic group.

One size doesn’t fit all, or even many.

Sketch Comedy

There is an unresolved debate about how much of urban planning or architecture is sociology and how

much is science. What’s lost in this debate is that both may contain a little more sketch comedy and

Vaudeville than imagined. In the UK, it’s more Music Hall traditions.

Here’s an example. Edinburgh’s tram is hundreds of millions over budget and three years late. That’s

bad enough. But during construction, it left many roads all but impassible and thousands of drivers in a

rage. Now, to add insult to injury, there will be a judge-led inquiry into what went wrong. To complete

the sketch comedy, the inquiry will probably cost more than the budget for the tram, but that’s getting

ahead of the story. Stay tuned. Mind the gap.

The transport project cost about 1.5 billion dollars, after the scope was cut in half. Interest and loans

could push this total up even farther. The final project runs 8.7 miles from the airport to the centre of

the city with 15 stops. This is about a two hour walk for a healthy person.

The scope of the inquiry seems to exceed the scope of the tram project. The judge will examine 6

million documents. That’s down from an initial 500 million documents, reduced by the judge and his

team.

A journalist covering the mater, Chris Green, notes that the judge won’t determine whether the trams

should have been built or whether anyone is liable. He’ll only try to find out why trams “cost

considerably more than originally budgeted for and delivered significantly less”

Let me try to save the judge some time, and the Scottish people much money. Let me start by putting

this in perspective. I’ve heard a story that Washington has been studying a tram for more than a dozen

years. No tram, but lots of study. At least Edinburgh has a tram. You can build a nuclear plant in 10

years, about the time it took to design, build and then study the Edinburgh tram. A nuclear plant “only”

requires 100,000 drawings and documents, not the 60 times that which the judge will be examining.

Planner Bent Flyvberg has already written a book called Rationality and Power which probably answers

most of the questions the Scottish judge is going to address. He studied a transport terminal in Aalborg,

Denmark. Guess what he found? Various powerful interests affected the design, location and cost.

These powerful interests were not just in the planning department or the city’s political offices.

I did my major planning study on the location of Toronto’s Skydome—the world’s first fully retractable

covered sports stadium. Guess what I found? Various powerful political interests affected the design, location and cost. These powerful interests were not just in the planning department or the city’s political offices.

Skydome was built on a site no one proposed and which was not in the top 3 chosen by a study group.

The cost quadrupled.

Getting to the bottom of these things is often like solving a mystery in the family. Who lost the sizzers?

Where’s the money go? Why’d we buy that couch. Often no one knows.

There might be something for Edinburgh to learn about tram building. That lesson might apply to a

future project. But for now, Edinburgh should just be glad they have a tram of any kind for any price.

The 60’s Then and Now

There were a lot of divides in the 1960s. In fact, the 1960s probably didn’t really begin in 1960. Eisenhower was president until January 20, 1961 and he brought the 50s with him. In Canada Prime Ministers Diefenbaker and Pearson both looked like they were from a bygone era. Dief was a prairie populist, distrusting of big Eastern interests– a throwback to the Progressive Party from which his Progressive Conservatives took half their name. Pearson was a Nobel Prize winner and international diplomat, but spoke as if stating the exact time of day might cause an incident.

The 1960s really began with the British Invasion of February 1964—dividing the decade almost in half. The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan on February 9th and famously toured in the mid 60’s with their last live concert at Shea Stadium on August 15, 1965

This signals another divide–Beatles vs Stones. Here’s a perspective, 50 years on.

Both groups unleashed a sexuality and libertine element. The Beatles had to go through matching suits and “good boy” behaviour after their “bad boy” behaviour in Hamburg, before becoming “odd boys” in India and on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s.

The Stones started out as bad boys and it stuck.

Most people think of the Beatles as making significant social commentary, and the Stones not doing so. Let’s have a closer look.

The Beatles wanted to “hold your hand” in 1964. The Stones suggested “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” They at least got to the point.

John Lennon’s “Revolution” was a remarkably un-revolutionary song in the tumultuous year 1968. There was something in the air in 1968 (to quote Thunderclap Newman) and you’d be forgiven for asking “What’s Going On” as did Marvin Gaye. Paris was at a standstill and standoff with a student’s strike, the Columbia strike was going on in New York, the Tet offensive was launched on January 30th and Peking was awash in the cultural revolution. Lennon didn’t seem to want to play along with the world trend and rightly so. Events in Paris ended when Charles de Gaulle made an ambiguous speech (counter revolutionary), the Right won the 1960s in the US with the election of Richard Nixon, the North Vietnamese lost the Tet offensive on the battlefield, and only won on US domestic TV screens. Peking lost lots of talent.

“Revolution”, the song, was prescient of John, but most people don’t think of the Beatles as counter revolutionary.

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We’re all doing what we can

Take a look at the Stones lyrics and you see two things. There was much more social and political commentary than you thought at the time, and they’re still making prescient comments.

“Men just aren’t the same today”
I hear ev’ry mother say
They just don’t appreciate that you get tired
They’re so hard to satisfy, You can tranquilize your mind
So go running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
And four help you through the night, help to minimize your plight

The social commentary of “Mother’s Little Helper” may be lost today, especially in North America, but in post war England, the over prescription of stimulants to housewives was an epidemic.

Hey! Said my name is called disturbance
I’ll shout and scream, I’ll kill the king, I’ll rail at all his servants
Well, what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock ‘n’ roll band
Cause in sleepy London town
There’s no place for a street fighting man
No

Despite somehow becoming an anthem of violence and destruction. The lyrics to “Street Fighting Man” undeniably identify the singer’s unruly character as unwelcome and unwanted. Originally inspired by Jagger’s visit to Paris in 1968, the student uprising was by all accounts sobering and seems to have left Jagger with something of a bad taste in his mouth for revolution.

When I’m watchin’ my T.V.
And that man comes on to tell me
How white my shirts can be
But he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke
The same cigarettes as me
I can’t get no, oh no, no, no
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say

Ask any person what “(I can’t get no) Satisfaction” is about and most will be pretty sure that the lyrics are meaningless gibberish and the song’s main impact is the hypnotic riff and insistent rhythm. However, a close reading reveals the first two verses to be about advertising and consumerism. Jagger electrified his generation writing about rejecting the button down world of Madison Avenue. The boomers, at least in 1965, didn’t identify themselves as brand ambassadors, or brand slaves. They had little interest in doing what they were told to do by anyone.

And I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse
Singing, “We’re gonna vent our frustration
And if we don’t, we are going to blow a 50-amp fuse”, yeah

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is the jewel in the crown of 60’s social commentary. Jagger and Richards saw through the idealism of the hippies for the violent unfocused destructive movement it was. Looking back, and having seen the boomers trade in their protest banners and long hair for SUV’s and Starbucks, it’s hard to not see the point the Stones were making.

The legacy of the 60’s may be in the hands of the Beatles, but who’s really winning now? The Rolling Stones continue to tour the world breaking into new markets and entertaining audiences worldwide. Paul McCartney still tours but to nowhere near as much as the Stones. When Paul was invited to perform at the Grammys in 2012 The phrase “who is Paul McCartney?” Started trending on twitter. No one was unclear who the subject of Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” or when Kanye West or other rappers reference The Stones’ lead singer. The Beatles’ recordings may have captured the zeitgeist of the 60’s but the Rolling Stones have something more universal than that. Whatever it is, remains in demand around the world to this day. The Stones continue to provide relevant social commentary, even in their 2013 track “Doom and Gloom”:

Lost all that treasure in an overseas war
It just goes to show you don’t get what you paid for
Bowing to the rich and worrying about the poor
Put my feet up on the couch and lock all the doors

Whichever side you’re on there’s lots of great music to enjoy. But here’s one legacy from the 60s—don’t think conventionally or buy the conventional wisdom about the Beatles, Stones, revolution and message songs.

Political Truisms –Still True After the NDP Convention

Political Truisms –Still True After the NDP Convention

1. There is only a tenuous link between federal and provincial parties. There’s no need to get in a knot about Premier Notley’s wanting to ship Canadian bitumen in Canadian built pipelines made out of Canadian steel to Canadian tidewater ports. If a faction of the federal party doesn’t like it, that’s life. I lived in Saskatchewan when the provincial NDP government was presiding over the shipment of Uranium to the world for nuclear purposes when much of the federal wing of the NDP were anti-nuclear power and weapons. Relax.

2. Politics demands different skills. Campaigning for nomination is different than being in opposition or governing. Campaigning for general election is another skill as well. NDP leader Mulcair showed in sharp relief that one can be superb in Question Period and lack luster in a speech. I say speech because his campaign manager bears some responsibility for acting as a front runner and not the social conscience the NDP likes to be. I am referring to his convention speech over the weekend, which was a bland, front runner’s stump speech, not a call to action or a request for support. The NDP should beg Mulcair to stay as deputy leader and ask questions in the house and be a roving gadfly, chairing a committee and barbequing witnesses.

3. Pandering is pandering and manipulation is manipulation. Mulcair’s call to stand up for justice and a variety of things was too thinly veiled manipulation to orchestrate a standing ovation.

4. I digress but remember to last big piece of public spending that benefitted two regions? It involved western Canadian resources and eastern manufacturing. It was the mad monk from Cape Breton, Alan McEachen, long-time Trudeau (P.) cabinet minister, who orchestrated the building of oval (thus oxymoronic) box cars at Sydney Steel in Cape Breton to haul Western Canadian wheat to market. Good plan pleasing at least five provinces if you count shipments from Ontario ports.

5. Even the Richard Hatfield strategy wouldn’t have helped Mulcair with 48%. What the late former NB Premier did, or had Dalton Camp and John Andrews done, was orchestrate a standing ovation at the convention which voted on a leadership review. No one reported a number or percentage of the vote because it wasn’t made public. The media covered how long the standing ovation lasted.

6. No one cares who is leading an opposition party 3 years before an election. The NDP needs to wait two years to launch a new leader and carry the momentum and interest into an election.

7. Canada is not the US, nor the UK and comparisons between Mulcair and Sanders and/or Corbyn are to be taken with a pound of salt. First, Corbyn is far too loose a cannon, having made quite inflammatory statements about matters that don’t pertain to social justice or the economy. Sanders is a better comparison, toiling away in the intellectual salt mines for decades. Sanders has been in our faces with inequity messages very effectively, while Mulcair has been whispering in our ears. Sanders is the compelling guest at a dinner party and Mulcair is the oddball in the corner of the room, speaking softly about conspiracy theories.

8. Mulcair quit his smiling lessons about three weeks too soon.

9. You can’t take your punch with you when you move up a weight class in boxing. You can’t take your political punch with you to a new jurisdiction in politics. Mulcair was once a cabinet minister who negotiated something difficult and quit over a matter of principle. For those in most provinces, that was a long time ago and far, far away.

10. Candidates at a political convention can’t tell delegates whom to vote for when they drop out. Premier Notley can’t tell any voters, even in Alberta, how to vote federally. The federal NDP can’t get a bounce from the Alberta NDP. They can get workers, but that’s about it.

11. We need to hear more French from Canadian politicians to get a sense of how well they can speak to Francophones and Francophiles. But, and I say this cautiously, Mulcair spoke too much French from his convention in Alberta. Why? Not because it was French, but because the simultaneous translation sounded hesitant and disconnected Mulcair from anyone watching on the English networks. We knew he could speak French.

Cereal Cafe

I once had long discussions in Berlin with a Trotskyite who had defected during the Cold War from the west to the old Soviet Union because he thought the USSR wasn’t communist enough. Interesting guy. He’d made a fortune by buying up Soviet era movie posted and selling them.
This is an extreme version of the left splintering and having internal wars. In Brooklyn, ladies wearing clogs, Berkinstocks, Yurts or some other item that isn’t really footwear will admonish you for turning right on a red light, or for other breaches of other laws or social etiquette. This reminds me of the 1960s in Vancouver when a hippie might approach and ask, “Do you know that the meat in your body wouldn’t pass government inspection.” I thought at the time that this would be a problem if we started eating each other.
In the 1960s it cost a lot to look like a poor hippie—boots or sandals, the right kind jeans, tie dyed shirt and buckskin jacket. Today, in my hip neighbourhood of Ossington Street, the epicentre of art in Toronto, the right people wear those politically correct Australian boots and the equally correct Canadian parka for a total cost for the whole outfit of about $2000. I can just feel the ostracism as I stroll in my Johnson and Murphy or Cole Hahn shoes and Brooks Brothers’ pants, jacket and top coat—total cost $500 or so at outlet malls along the east coast of the US. It’s all ironic, and not in the pork-pie hat, post-modernistic way.
This mob mentality of just what is right went out of in London recently. A couple of hipster beard farmers liked the 1990s look of nick knacks and cereal boxes. The twin brothers (not named to protect their lives) opened the Cereal Killer Café on Brick Lane in the East End. A Channel 4 News report questioned the ethics of selling a bowl of cereal for more than five dollars and a pop tart for $2.00 in a neighbourhood with hungry kids. In a media relations lesson, the brothers apparently showed little empathy and abruptly ended the interview–free positive publicity thrown away.
You guessed it, anti-gentrification protesters with the name of Class War, attacked the café, as reported recently in The Times. Also covered in the Financial Times by Erica Wagner, she quotes the founder of Class War, Ian Bone, as noting that the ‘Cereal Riot’ was better covered than the protest against an apartment building where the poor in the social housing units had to enter a separate door.
The brothers have opened a new café in Camden. They rightly wonder why posh beer bars or bankers in the financial district weren’t targeted. They also note one of the Class War folks is well off and owns a home built on a former council flat site.
The story and the ironies are not over. The brothers don’t actually eat their own product much, preferring healthy smoothies and kale to Count Chocula. They rightly ask for a little room in the marketplace for an independent store, not part of a chain. They more feel they’re promoting the 1980s & 90s than cereal. They’ve had business meetings with someone from Vancouver, the city which helped invent protests through Greenpeace. So stay tuned—they and the protests might travel.
One more irony. The headline in The Times read: “Being from Belfast, we are used to mindless violence.” Yes, but not over cereal.