On Line At New York

Outside the Helen Hayes Theatre, waiting for the doors to open, a very agitated male teenager passed on the sidewalk.  He was walking briskly and talking in a loud voice with himself.  He was also gesticulating, and in so-doing was using up all the free airspace in all directions.

“What’s the matter with him?” asked the woman on the line ahead of me.

“’T’s an angry young man.  What can I tell you?” replied her husband, as indulgent as he could sound.

This was my introduction to blasé New Yorkers.

Slowly the line shortened and I was up at the wicket at Lincoln Center.  I was mostly interested in seeing the spectacular setting and inside of the 16 acre site—home of the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Ballet.  I was ready to listen or watch.  As it became my turn at the wicket, I asked:

“What’s playing?”  

Wicket keeper:  “Joo-lee-us Cee-ah.”

I guess I paused for a New York beat too long, so wicket man added:

“’Ts an Apra”

I bought a ticket and achieved all my goals.  

I would regularly walk on near the Ed Sullivan Theatre, home of the old David Letterman Show.  I watched the show on hundreds of occasions, and was in the studio audience several times.  I’d  occasionally stop in to chat with Rupert Gee, the deli-operator who was also a regular guest on Letterman.  Rupert is as he appears on TV—a little startled with the attention, but sincere.

On one occasion there was a big crowd extending down the block.  I thought perhaps Rupert was having a sale of special deli sandwiches.

No, it was a lineup to see someone coming in or leaving the stage door of the theatre.  This is where the guests came and went.  This time I was the talkative New York street performer:

“Who’s all this for?”

“Wa-keen Phoenix” said my fellow street performer.

This was early in Mr Phoenix’s career.  I guess after all my trips to New York I still paused a New York moment too long, because an older woman in the crowd showed some empathy:

“Ever since Frank Sinatra died, I don’t know any of them.

Way out in the Rockaways, I ran out of gas.  My GPS told me there was a gas station close by and so I locked my wife in the car and began walking.  The GPS was wrong and the gas station had closed.  I thought of lining up at a bus stop, but didn’t know how often busses came or where they went.  I lined up at a red light and thought I’d hitch hike.  Up came a convertible Thunderbird.  I could see inside and the driver could see me.  I explained my situation and asked for a ride.

“Sure” he said as he started moving a mountain of stuff off his passenger seat to the small spaces in the back of the car and between the seats.

“Oh, don’t worry, if you see my gun, I’m a cop.”

I pointed to a spot of blood on my shirt, and said:

“Great, and if you notice the blood on my shirt, I’m not an axe murderer, I just reached into my shaving kit this morning and cut my finger on my razor.”

“No problem.  Get in.”

Unlike so many New York stories, this man was a cop, seconded to the Triborough Bridge, and I wasn’t an axe murderer.  Many people go to the Big Apple to reinvent themselves.  Others remain who they actually are.      

Stirred, not Shaken

 

Every now and then the topic of earthquakes comes up in Vancouver.  The most recent event was the 4.8 quake on 29 December, 2015.  I have worked on the topic of earthquakes for federal authorities for some years and continue to follow the issue.

Vancouver’s emergency planning documents put the risk of an earthquake in perspective.  They note that 60% of Vancouver’s building stock was built before seismic building codes.   There’s been no damaging earthquake in modern times and so all these buildings are vulnerable. 

Interestingly, my father was partly responsible for construction of one of the first earthquake resistant buildings in Vancouver — 200 Granville Square.  I remember first hearing about earthquakes when I lived in Burnaby in the late 1960s.  I was a young teenager and my father was General Manager of “Project 200”, an early attempt to revamp the waterfront.  Nobody played nicely, not even consortium members Woodwords, Canadian Pacific, Grosvenor Lang, or Sears.  City planners didn’t react quickly or lead the discussion, and neither the federal nor provincial government seemed interested.  Project 200 is another story—a missed opportunity.  But the earthquake resistant building is highly relevant today.

 

There was a lot made about Granville Square.  It was among the first density transfers of its kind in North America with my father having to help obtain a mortgage for the air above the CP railway tracks.  Usually mortgages are for land and buildings, but this building was built on stilts above the CP railway tracks. 

While this deal was being done and the building designed, my father would regale us at the dinner table about his day at work.  One day it was the promotional copy that told of the “giant pedestrian mall” that would abut Granville Square.  “And where will you find the giant pedestrians?” I asked.  Another night my father toyed with some promotional copy that would tell the story of Granville Square being the only building left standing after a major earthquake.  He thought it would be fun to tell potential tenants that they’d be able to work in peace, quiet, and safety, if only they could climb over the rubble of all the other buildings in the city.

 

In those days, earthquake-proofing a building meant constructing sockets, lined with neoprene on which concrete pillars stood, which in turn held up the building.  My father said he had no idea what neoprene ended up like after he’d put a building weighing many hundreds of tonnes on top of it.  He certainly had no idea how to perform maintenance on the assembly after construction.

 

Now, Vancouver’s plan goes well beyond building materials. Memoranda of Understanding with other Canadian cities are now part of the plan in order to ensure rapid deployment of resources after a disaster.  Similarly, the Vancouverites are recommended to reduce dependency on electricity and natural gas grids and develop back-up power sources. Even if buildings are still standing after an earthquake, supply lines and energy infrastructure might be severely damaged or destroyed.

 

Even the best-designed earthquake-proof building might need to be evacuated in case of fire or other emergency. This is why Vancouver’s plan requires buildings’ structural drawings and fire plans to be copied and stored centrally in order to speed-up assessment of complex and high occupancy dwellings.

There’s more to be done in Vancouver and neighbouring cities.  Some have designated disaster routes (DDRs) and others don’t.  Some link to useful provincial government preparedness documents, and others don’t. We’ve never sure how many individual citizens are well prepared and would rather not find out after an earthquake.   

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.  

Today in History: July 16th

1992: Statistics Canada says inflation dropped to an annual rate of 1.1% in June, which is the lowest in 30 years, since John Diefenbaker was Prime Minister in 1962.

For more on politics: Buy ‘Political Conventions’

1990: More than 1,000 people are killed when a 7.7-magnitude earthquake strikes Luzon Island in the Philippines. Heroic rescue efforts saved many, but some victims who did not die as buildings collapsed were found dead later from dehydration because they were not pulled out in time.

For more on crisis management: Buy ‘An Ounce of Prevention’

1969: Apollo 11, the spaceflight which first landed humans on the Moon, takes off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, crewed by commander Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, and Michael Collins.

See also Canada in Space

Today in History: July 12th

1995:  A heat advisory is issued in Chicago, warning of a record-breaking heat wave. By the time the heat breaks a week later, nearly 1,000 people are killed. Record high use of air conditioning caused some power failures. People opened so many hydrants to cool themselves off that water pressure was lost. The heat warped train rails, causing delays for commuters.

For more on crisis management: Buy ‘An Ounce of Prevention’

1990: Just two days after Mikhail Gorbachev is re-elected head of the Soviet Communist Party, Boris Yeltsin, president of the Republic of Russia, announces his resignation from the Party. Yeltsin’s action was a serious blow to Gorbachev’s efforts to keep the struggling Soviet Union together.

1960: Louis Robichaud is sworn in as Premier of New Brunswick, replacing Hugh John Flemming.

For more on politics: Buy ‘Political Conventions’

Today in History: July 11th

2005: Deh Cho First Nations agree to a deal with the Canadian government to get participation in the environmental assessment and regulatory review of the $5.7 billion Mackenzie Valley Pipeline gas project.

For more on negotiations: Buy ‘Tough Love at the Table: Power, Culture and diversity in Negotiations, Mediation & Conflict Resolution’

1991: Carla Hills, American trade representative, says the North American free-trade deal NAFTA will not endanger auto pact or harm Canadian culture.

For more on politics: Buy ‘Political Conventions’

1955: Seven American teenagers die on Mount Temple, near the Valley of the Ten Peaks near Lake Louise, Alberta. It is Canada’s worst single mountaineering accident.

For more on crisis management: An Ounce of Prevention

Today in History: July 10th

1971: Death of Samuel Bronfman, prominent Canadian businessman.

Tough Love at the Table – Pipe Cleaner

1958: Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and President Dwight Eisenhower sign an agreement to have Canada and the United States set up a Joint Committee to guide North American defences in the event of enemy attack.

For more on politics: Buy ‘Political Conventions’.

1887: A dam breaks in Switzerland, killing 70 people in their homes. The water pressure on the dam slowly eroded the concrete. Rescue boats launched to assist people caught up in the sudden flood were ineffective, as some of those on the boats drowned when they capsized in the roiling waters. For more on Crisis Management: Buy ‘An Ounce of Prevention’.

Today in History: July 9th

2010: Prime Minister Stephen Harper appoints legal scholar David Johnston the next governor general.

1991: In St. Lazare, Manitoba, 400 residents flee their homes when a train carrying highly corrosive acetic anhydride derails. The emergency evacuation ends after six days. For more on Crisis Management:Click Here

1960: President Dwight Eisenhower and and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev trade verbal threats over the future of Cuba. The relationship between the United States and Cuba deteriorated rapidly after this exchange. The Castro regime accelerated its program of expropriating American-owned property. In response, the Eisenhower administration severed diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Today in History: July 7th

1996: Canadian Space Agency astronaut Dr. Bob Thirsk lands with his Shuttle mission crew mates at the Kennedy Space Center, after Columbia completed 272 revolutions of the earth, and a record 16-day, 21-hour, 48-minute and 30-second flight.

1975: Ed Broadbent is chosen leader of New Democratic Party on fourth ballot in Winnipeg, replacing David Lewis. Finishing in second place was Rosemary Brown.

1887: Blyth built a cloth-sailed wind turbine (or “windmill”) in the garden of his holiday cottage in Marykirk and used the electricity it produced to charge accumulators; the stored electricity was used to power the lights in his cottage, which thus became the first house in the world to be powered by wind-generated electricity.

Today in History: July 6th

1998: Two Canadians are among the 167 crew members killed as a gas leak leads to an explosion and fire on the Occidental Petroleum drill rig in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland. For more on Crisis Management: Click Here

1946: On this day in 1946, George Walker Bush, is born in New Haven, Connecticut. When he was two years old, Bush’s parents moved to Texas. George W. Bush was elected president in 1999, and served until 2008. Learn more: Click Here

1944: In Hartford, Connecticut, a fire breaks out under the big top of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, killing 167 people and injuring 682. An investigation revealed that the tent had been treated with flammable paraffin thinned with gasoline to make it waterproof. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus eventually agreed to pay $5 million in compensation. For more on Crisis Management: Click Here