1. Heritage building destroyed
Good morning! We start the day with a trio of municipal news stories from Zane Woodford. First up is his article called “Collapsed Halifax heritage building leaves holes in streetscape and big development plans.”
1452 Carlton St. was part of the Carlton Victorian Streetscape, a strip of 17 mixed Greek Revival, Modified Gothic, and Second Empire-style houses built between 1860 and 1906.
On Friday, the building collapsed while workers tried to lift it with cranes.
Developers Peter and Argyris Rouvalis are planning to build two towers — 29 and 30 storeys — in the neighbourhood. Part of the deal is that they had to preserve a couple of heritage buildings before starting construction on the towers. One of those buildings was 1452 Carlton, now a pile of rubble.
Woodford notes that the development’s website touts the heritage aspect of the project:
Promenade Robie South will respect the Carlton Victorian Streetscape, a nationally registered heritage gem. We will be revitalizing our two heritage properties on Carlton Street and relocating two historic homes around the corner on College Street. This will create the look and feel of a continuous streetscape of historic homes. The relocation of the homes will be carefully planned and executed. It will take time and meticulous attention to detail.
More details in Woodford’s full story. Click here to read “Collapsed Halifax heritage building leaves holes in streetscape and big development plans.“
2. Emera gets new Oval sweetheart deal
Emera got to name the Oval for a paltry million bucks over 10 years, and now Halifax Council has agreed to an even worse deal for the next decade, Zane Woodford reports:
In 2011, HRM sold the naming rights to the building at the oval to Molson Coors Canada. The beer company bailed after paying $400,000 its first five years. Emera’s new deal slaps its logo on the building, too.
Note to my media colleagues: Just because the company has its name on it, doesn’t mean you have to use it. It’s not like there are a whole bunch of other ovals in Halifax.
Finally, Zane Woodford looks at a report saying there has been a 259% increase in long-term absences among Halifax Regional Police officers since 2011.
For some reason, the report was kept secret from the public during the budget process, when it might have been in the public interest to have it out in the open.
The report contains the type of information [Halifax Regional Police chief Dan] Kinsella has tried to suppress over the last two years as he requested increased staffing…
[Report author Melanie] Gibson found long-term absences, defined as 30 days or longer, totalled 114,995 hours in 2022. That’s up from 44,243 hours in 2011, a 259% increase.
“Long-term absences for 2022 equates to approximately 55 FTE’s (full-time equivalents), up from 21 FTE’s in 2011,” Gibson wrote.
Woodford explores some of the reasons that may underlie that increase. He also points to this, from Gibson’s report:
But looking at extra duty employment — that’s officers on their off hours getting paid overtime to guard parades or produce at the grocery store — Gibson found a significant increase in the hours worked.
Officers worked 13,726 hours of extra duty from Jan. 1 to Nov. 19, 2022, compared to 7,521 hours in 2021. And they were paid $1.2 million in fiscal 2022 up to Jan. 11 of this year, compared to $585,201 in all of fiscal 2021.
I usually get a few groceries at a supermarket that now regularly has a police officer by the door. That was the deciding factor in my heading to a rival outlet last weekend.
Last November, a group of citizen scientists asked Premier Tim Houston to freeze logging and the building of logging roads near Goldsmith Lake in Annapolis County — an area home to rare lichens.
Now, Suzanne Rent reports, Citizen Scientists of the Southwest Nova Biosphere say logging in the area has been paused:
Lisa Proulx, one of the citizen scientists, said the news about the hold on the harvesting comes as a “huge relief.” She added the group is also pleased that the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables is not just applying individual buffers to the area, but are reconsidering how to manage the forests at Goldsmith Lake.
“The lichens we’ve been finding have a story to tell. It’s a story about old forests and what makes them special,” Proulx wrote in the release. “The Frosted Glass-whiskers, for example, is a Species at Risk because it needs a very specific habitat which has become quite rare: it needs old hardwood trees in undisturbed forest. Environment Canada describes it as “an indicator of old-growth forest habitats.” So when you find it, it tells you this patch of forest has been allowed to develop without much human interference for a very long time. That’s called “forest continuity” and it’s rare in Nova Scotia. Any logging activity will destroy it. So far we have found 11 Frosted Glass-whiskers at Goldsmith plus another couple that haven’t been confirmed yet.”
I came across another interesting lichen-related story recently, on the Hakai magazine blog. It’s called, “Worried about sea level rise? Look for the lichens.”
Citing a paper by botanists Roger Rosentreter and Ann DeBolt, writer Ian Rose explains that lichens have evolved to live in very specific conditions, and they have various levels of salt tolerance. That can help us understand which areas are most at risk for sea level rise:
[The pair] studied the lichen communities of two state parks near West Palm Beach, Florida. One park, on a barrier island, is subject to frequent salt spray and storm flooding, while the other is inland just 500 meters away. The scientists found two surprisingly different lichen communities at each site. By comparing the two, they started building a list of lichen species that can be useful indicators of the long-term or historical presence of salt water…
Borja G. Reguero, an expert in conserving natural defenses against sea level rise at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who was not involved in the research, sees parallels between how coastal communities and lichens handle environmental change. “It makes a lot of sense to find those indicator [species] where the frequency of spray or flood events are over a threshold where some species are not able to live anymore,” he says. “You could say the same thing about humans and coastal infrastructure. You get to a tipping point where specific neighborhoods get flooded so regularly that they don’t get insurance.”
Lichens are fascinating. Slime molds too, even though much of what I know about them comes from the character Lord Running Clam, a sentient slime mold appearing in Philip K. Dick’s novel Clans of the Alphane Moon.
1. Amazon HQ2 and always wishing for the big thing that will save us
As you may have heard, Amazon has paused construction on part of its second headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. The complex consists of two different developments. The one called PenPlace, described by The Verge as “a complex with three 22-story buildings and a corkscrew-shaped glass tower standing 350 feet tall… the second phase of the project, is the portion affected by the delay.”
The Verge story, by Emma Roth, continues:
Amazon decided to plant its sprawling headquarters in Northern Virginia in 2019 after facing massive pushback from New York residents and local lawmakers on its proposed HQ2 plans in Long Island City, Queens. Virginia offered Amazon up to $750 million in incentives to build its headquarters in the state, with Amazon saying at the time it would invest over $2.5 billion to build its campus, “driving the creation of thousands of indirect jobs in construction, building services, hospitality and other services industries across the region.”
As you may recall, in one of the more embarrassing moments of his tenure, Mayor Mike Savage made it sound as though Halifax might have a shot at HQ2. Back in 2017, Tim Bousquet wrote a piece called “The folly of chasing Amazon.” He wrote:
My guess is that Amazon prez Jeff Bezos already has an exact location in mind for the company’s headquarters and has only issued an RFP to get the city in question to offer further tax concessions in response to offers from other cities. Amazon has long been extremely capable at pitting governments against each other for its warehouse locations; last year, for instance, the city of Fresno, California agreed to rebate 90 per cent of all property tax bills and 100 per cent of the city’s portion of locally collected sales taxes paid by Amazon — for the next 30 years — in return for Amazon locating a warehouse in that city. The average salary for workers at the warehouse is just $26,000, which is low even by Fresno standards.
When our pointless bid failed, Bousquet followed up:
Now come all the justifications for putting the bid together in the first place — it didn’t cost us any money, all staff time was volunteered, it’s great preparation for the next time we want to give our city to a multigazillion dollar corporation… — all of which are either demonstrably false on their face or will soon be shown to be so, once the true story of the bid is told…
Let’s pretend the bid had a realistic shot at getting Amazon to actually set up its second headquarters in Halifax; what would have happened next?
Specifically, what would 50,000 Amazon employees descending upon Halifax in one fell swoop — as opposed to a more orderly population increase in all demographics of two or three per cent annually over many years — have meant for our city? How would it have affected poverty rates and inequality? Crime? What about housing costs for people not working at Amazon? What would the public works demands in terms of both money and construction delays mean for the average person, and what important projects would have to be placed on the back burner because Amazon-supporting projects were fast-tracked?
The Wall Street Journal has an excruciating video on YouTube on how cities wooed Amazon. In addition to the flashy videos and tax breaks, it includes gems like the mayor of Kansas City writing 1,000 product reviews and Stonecrest, Georgia offering to change its name to Amazon.
Look, I understand some of these “bids” are publicity stunts. Would I otherwise have heard of Stonecrest, Georgia? Probably not. But now that I have, what am I going to do, book a ticket? What’s more cringe-inducing is this attitude of deference to the Great Man. How do we woo Amazon? The language in the WSJ video is that of a supplicant: the “great lengths” to which cities went to “prove their devotion.”
I imagine our local grandees never really expected to “win” the Amazon sweepstakes, but at least we put our name on the map by being one of the 238 cities that entered the fray!
This may all be old news, but I think it’s worth revisiting, because we do have a tendency to wish for the big thing that will save us. And even if we get the big thing, there are so many ways it can go sideways.
Or, as Bousquet put it back in 2018:
If we were serious about the eleventy billion dollars from the next big project actually benefitting the average person, we’d be talking about redistributing income and wealth by changing the tax code, redirecting public expenditures, raising minimum wage and imposing living wage requirements, creating much more social housing, improving social supports, and more.
In fact, we could do all that without eleventy billion dollars in new money. We could do it now.
Talk about the new money from megaprojects or Amazon or stadiums or convention centres or the latest start-up benefitting the entire community is just bullshit talk. There’s no real desire to actually change the way our society works to benefit the entire community; the goal is personal enrichment for the players involved, and nothing more.
We are being played, time and again.
Have you tried to buy anything on Amazon lately? Cory Doctorow has a good rant up:
In Bezos’s original plan, the company called “Amazon” was called “Relentless,” due to its ambition to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company.” Today, Amazon is an enshittified endless scroll of paid results, where winning depends on ad budgets, not quality…
Search Amazon for “cat beds” and the entire first screen is ads. One of them is an ad for a dog carrier, which Amazon itself manufactures and sells, competing with the other sellers who bought that placement.
Scroll down one screen and you get some “organic” results – that is, results that represent Amazon’s best guess at the best products for your query. Scroll once more and yup, another entire screen of ads, these ones labeled “Highly rated.” One more scroll, and another screenful of ads, one for a dog product.
Keep scrolling, you’ll keep seeing ads, including ads you’ve already scrolled past. “On these first five screens, more than 50 percent of the space was dedicated to ads and Amazon touting its own products.” Amazon is a cesspit of ads: twice as many as Target, four times as many as Walmart.
How did we get here?
Not surprisingly, Doctorow goes on to outline how we got here. It’s worth a read.
I have never been to Puerto Rico, and I know very little about it. (I do know that Puerto Rican players participating in the World Baseball Classic like to bleach their hair, as do fans.)
However, yesterday Alicia Kennedy’s newsletter landed in my inbox, and it ties in nicely with what Tim Bousquet recently wrote about visiting Puerto Rico.
Kennedy is a food writer originally from Long Island who lives in Puerto Rico. This semester she is teaching at Boston University, and so her newsletters are currently drawn from her lectures. The latest is called On Perception, and it’s about Puerto Rico, how the island sells itself, how outsiders see it, and what Puerto Ricans think about all this
She also writes about Anthony Bourdain’s two visits to the island to film TV episodes and notes the interesting evolution in his approach. “It isn’t perfect, but it gets beyond some stale narratives,” Kennedy writes.
I was particularly struck, by the section on tourism marketing. Any place that markets to tourists (hello, Canada’s Ocean Playground) by its nature oversimplifies. Here’s Kennedy on how this plays out in Puerto Rico:
What’s interesting in terms of Puerto Rico’s status as a colony of the United States (which officially calls it a “territory”) is the way that creates a false sense of camaraderie or comfort that could be termed “ownership” on the part of non–Puerto Ricans from the U.S. This is evident in the recent campaign from Discover Puerto Rico, a taxpayer-funded Destination Marketing Organization (DMO), called “Live Boricua.” Borikén is the indigenous name of the archipelago, and Puerto Ricans refer to themselves as Boricua as a way of distinguishing their identity from colonialism (Puerto Rico, meaning “rich port,” being a name given by the Spanish)…
The idea that anyone can try on the Boricua identity (as well as the paternalistic flattening of Puerto Ricans into a “proud, passionate, and full of life” population that lives to serve abundant tropical fruits) is a strong neocolonialist perspective, especially in contrast to the “Gringo Go Home” movement against gentrification, displacement, and tax breaks that are mainly benefitting non–Puerto Ricans. It is a convenient time to say that to “live Boricua”—while it is an increasingly unlivable place for Puerto Ricans—is open to anyone for the price of a plane ticket.
Oh look, I just saw a news release saying we are getting a new tourism marketing campaign. Out with “Canada’s Ocean Playground” and in with “Your Ocean Playground”!
There are no accidents, Greek train crash edition
Last year, I wrote about Jessie Singer and her book There Are No Accidents. Broadly, the book is about how, when something terrible occurs — a fatal car crash, a pedestrian or cyclist killed by a driver, a workplace death — we tend to blame human error, rather than looking at systemic issues.
Was the pedestrian in the crosswalk? Were they looking at their phone? Were they wearing high-viz gear and waving around crosswalk flags? Was the cyclist wearing a helmet?
We are seeing this play out in the aftermath of the terrible train crash in Greece last week. A train travelling from Athens to Thessaloniki and a freight train going from Thessaloniki to Larissa were on the same track, and crashed into each other at Tempe, north of Larissa. Many of the 57 confirmed dead were students returning home after carnival.
The Larissa station master who failed to notice the trains were headed for each other on the same track is now being held in jail, and, according to the Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini, has been charged with “endangering transport safety and multiple counts of negligent homicide and bodily harm. The transport safety charge, a felony, potentially carries a life sentence.”
This is akin to only blaming truck driver Jaskirat Sidhu for the deaths of 16 people when the truck he was driving collided the the Humboldt Broncos bus. Did he make a mistake? Sure. Does that mean he bears full responsibility? While there is a temptation to blame one person, the reality is, of course, far more complex.
Writing in Kathimerini, journalist Giorgos Lialios outlines some of the many, many failures that led to the Greek tragedy. One key issue is that the country’s automated safety system hasn’t worked for years, despite funding to fix it. Lialios writes:
In 2014, ERGOSE, the construction arm of state-run railway company OSE, signed a contract assigning a private company to make the automatic operation and signaling system operational again. The system had been installed a decade earlier and had fallen into disrepair due to damage and sabotage – mainly cable theft and destruction of the infrastructure…
The contract had an initial budget of 41 million euros and the deadline for its completion was two years – that is, in 2016.
Lialios outlines many further delays, and writes:
All these delays, of course, contributed to the fact that there is still no modern automatic operation and signaling system, nor has ERGOSE installed the European Train Control System (ETCS), which takes control if the permissible speed is exceeded. These are systems that could have prevented Tuesday night’s tragedy.
In a story published yesterday in the same paper, journalist Elvira Krithari notes that the delays left “the network unprotected from human error,” and cites an ERGOSE source, who says:
If the ETCS [European Train Control Systems] signaling was working, a hypothetical terrorist stationmaster, even if he wanted to crash two trains, could not.
Human error will occur. We are humans, and we make mistakes. Machines make mistakes, too. Ideally, we develop safety systems that prevent our mistakes from consequences like two trains hurtling towards each other on the same tracks.
Writing for the website MacroPolis, former Kathimerini editor Nick Malkoutzis is scathing on how Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis rushed to blame human error. Not coincidentally, parliamentary elections are coming up.
After noting that Greece already had the worst rail safety record in the EU, Malkoutzis outlines the problems with the rail service when it was state-run, and the issues created by the privatization of rail operations. He then writes:
In this environment, where responsibility can be easily shifted from one entity to another, it seems little was done to address train safety. The lack of appropriate telecommunications and signalling equipment and an automatic protection system connected to the European Train Control System (ETCS) were highlighted repeatedly over the past few years by independent media and unions. There appear to be many reasons for this failure, including political inertia, bureaucratic delays, competing interests and a mishmash of competencies and public tenders. Ultimately, though, the dereliction of such a basic duty reeks of indifference.
Mitsotakis travelled to the crash site, Malkoutzis writes,
…where he promised to investigate the causes of the crash and ensure nothing like this happens again.
A few hours later, the PM, and leader of the governing centre-right New Democracy party, made a televised address to confirm the resignation of the transport minister and two railway officials, but said that the accident was mainly due to human error. The blame is being placed on the station master at Larissa, the last station the intercity passenger train passed through before colliding head-on with the freight train.
One might ask why Mitsotakis would pre-judge the outcome of the cross-party investigation he announced in the same speech. Perhaps the fact that national elections are coming up in the next few weeks means it is politically expedient to provide a simple answer to the terrible question hanging over us. However, it is clear to anyone who doesn’t want a neat, guilt-free explanation that the failings which caused this crash go much deeper than whether the station master turned a key so the two trains would not be on the same track. He had reportedly only taken up the position recently after a few weeks’ training, perhaps an indication of the impact that cost-cutting and staff shortages have had. In any case, such heavy responsibility cannot rest in the hands of one employee. And, after all, this is why safety systems are necessary and deployed on railway networks around the world.
Thousands of Greeks have attended protests in the aftermath of the crash, and Wednesday will see more demonstrations and widespread strikes, with teachers, railway workers, civil servants, transit drives, and sailors walking off the job.
They are not buying the explanation that one station master is entirely to blame.
I suspect there are some here who will look at this and think, well, Greece is a mess anyway, of course these things happen there. Lest we forget, a decade ago 47 people in Lac-Mégantic died as a result of a train “accident” that should not have happened — and which resulted in part, yes, from human action, but also from broader systemic failures, albeit of a very different kind than those in Greece.
And the recent deadly crash in Ohio isn’t just some natural disaster/act of God event that nobody could have foreseen or prevented.
Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 10am, City Hall, and online) — agenda
Budget Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am, City Hall, and online) — agenda
Special Meeting – North West Community Council (Wednesday, St. Margaret’s Centre, Upper Tantallon) — agenda
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, One Government Place, and online) — 2023 Report of the Auditor General – Effectiveness of the Green Fund Over First Two Years; with a representative from the Department of Environment and Climate Change
Recording Production Workshop with Erin Costelo (Tuesday, 10am, Strug Concert Hall) — singer-songwriter students from Dalhousie’s Fountain School of Performing Arts and Nova Scotia Community College will present their work to artist, songwriter, and producer Erin Costelo
2023 Women in STEM Networking And Panel Event (Wednesday, 6pm, Canvas, Cambridge Suites Hotel Halifax) — with Anya Waite, Sophia Stone, Sreejata Chatterjee, and Zana Choueiri; more info and registration here
Fostering Whole Person Care Using the Humanities (Wednesday, 7pm, online) — Dalhousie Mini Medical School
Empire and Emancipation: Scottish and Irish Catholics at the Atlantic Fringe, 1780–1850 (Tuesday, 12pm, Patrick Power Library Classroom) — Karly Kehoe will discuss her book; info and RSVP here
Women’s Bodily Autonomy and the Right to Bare Arms (Wednesday, 4:30pm, Burke Theatre B) — Meredith Ralston will talk about her latest book
In the harbour
06:15: MOL Charisma, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Norfolk, Virginia
11:00: Acadian, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
15:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, moves from Bedford Basin anchorage to Gold Bond
16:30: MOL Charisma sails for Dubai
16:30: Hyundai Courage, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
21:00: AlgoTitan, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Corner Brook
21:30: Tropic Hope, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Palm Beach, Florida
05:30: Shelia Ann, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for Savannah, Georgia
05:30: CSL Kajika, bulker, moves from Chedabucto anchorage to Aulds Cove quarry
13:30: Phoenix Admiral, oil tanker, sails from EverWind for sea
21:00: Alpine Liberty, oil tanker, sails from EverWind for sea
Making my way through the Lord of the Rings books for the first time since I was 14 or so.