News

1. What caused the fire at the Barho family’s home?

The Barho family. Photo: Ummah Masjid And Community Center/ Facebook

On February 19, 2019, a fire killed the seven children of the Barho family, who had come to Canada as refugees from Syria. The fire department has yet to release any information on what caused the fire or what could have been done to prevent it.

In the Chronicle Herald, Andrew Rankin quotes a retired fire chief from BC, who says that’s unusual:

“After this length of time you would think there would be at least a reason provided by (Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency) for why the investigation has taken this long,” said Len Garis, who retired as Surrey fire chief in July. “Perhaps it’s that they need to interview someone or that they’re waiting on a lab result. Remaining silent just leads to more speculation.”

Halifax’s deputy fire chief, Dave Meldrum, tells Rankin:

“We recognize that it’s been six months and the community interest in this file is very, very high,” said Meldrum. “We will bring the information forward for the communities. When we do we hope the communities will understand that we are taking the time that we are taking to do a thorough and complete investigation.”

The cause of the fire is a vital matter of community interest, and I hope the investigators will be able to provide at least some information soon.

While we don’t know what caused the fire, the story does say that various levels of governments are working on improving education on fire safety for new Canadians.

This reminds me that I should take our fire extinguishers to be recharged before heating season hits.

2. E-Scooters hit Halifax

Nobody is complaining about these scooters. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

Both the Chronicle Herald (the busy Andrew Rankin) and CBC have stories on the arrival of e-scooters in Halifax.

These are electric scooters that you can rent using a smartphone app. Scooters can be either docked (as with bike-share schemes in many cities, you have to return them to a specific location) or undocked — meaning you can just leave them wherever, until the next person comes along and unlocks them through the app.

A Globe and Mail story by Oliver Moore earlier this summer describes them as “essentially two-wheeled, narrow skateboards with a set of handlebars and a small motor, typically able to travel at 20 to 30 kilometres an hour.”

In many cities, the scooters have caused a backlash, with complaints that riders go too fast, dockless scooters are left to pile up and block sidewalks, in addition to being an eyesore, and that they lead to injuries. I’ve watched with interest online as people vehemently express their hatred of these things. (In many cases the injuries to scooter-riders come from being hit by cars or trucks, in which case banning the scooters seems like a bit of victim-blaming. I know, I know, some will argue that the way they ride these victims deserve to be blamed, etc.)

Search news sources for the term e-scooters and you’ll find lots of this kind of language:

Cities are pushing back and trying to get organized, banding together to form a new coalition to figure out what the hell to do with all these electric doohickeys littered across their streets. (The Verge)

It was fun when a few weeks ago three electric scooter-share companies descended onto San Francisco streets (and in other Bay Area cities)… Since, the fun for pedestrians has faded. Maybe because they don’t get to enjoy moving around at 15 mph, but instead are tripping over the casually discarded vehicles. Even for riders the scooter-share concept is falling apart with broken, over-used scooters in what was recently described as a “nightmare” situation. (Mashable)

Max Rastelli (the Segway guy) is the person who’s brought the scooters to Halifax. In the Herald, Rankin says the scooters “could very well trigger a micro-mobility revolution in the city.”

“This product promises to help solve the first mile/last mile problem,” said Rastelli. “Someone needs to get somewhere quick, say a bus stop. How do they get there? When they get off the bus, how do they get to their final destination?

“Unless that first mile and last mile is convenient and cheap, what do people do? They get in their cars. If you put these vehicles where they are convenient for people it’s a great solution to help solve that first mile/last mile problem.”

The scooters cost 25 cents a minute. The unbylined CBC story says a ride from the waterfront to the Public Gardens would cost about $3. (My first thought on seeing this was that this is a route well-served by buses, and a bus ride is cheaper.)

Right now, the scooters are only available at three locations downtown. But Rastelli is hoping to eventually make them dockless, Rankin writes:

Then there’s the problem of scooter littering. In some places renters are permitted to leave their scooter rental wherever they like, for the next person to grab. That’s shown to be a problem in some places, resulting in a pileup of scooters on sidewalks, for example.

It’s an issue Rastelli and regulators need to confront because eventually he wants customers to simply leave their rental wherever convenient for them. For now, they must return the scooters where they found them. He’s also hoping to expand the service to the Dalhousie University campus this fall.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, regulations the city and province come up with to deal with these vehicles.

3. Mi’kmaw language lessons at the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources

The Mi’kmaq Grand Council Flag. Photo: Wikipedia

Kaitlyn Swan reports for CBC on mandatory Mi’kmaw lessons at the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources, which describes itself as ” Cape Breton’s Mi’kmaw voice on natural resources and environmental concerns.”

Along with an environmental focus, the Unama’ki Institute has made language revitalization a priority in its work, and has released children’s books in both English and Mi’kmaq.

But for the first time, it’s making monthly language training mandatory for its 21 employees…

It was the “mandatory” aspect that worried [Annie] Johnson. She said she was concerned people might try to book meetings so they didn’t have to go to the class, or fluent Mi’kmaw speakers would think it’s a waste of their time.

But after the first class, she was pleasantly surprised.

“It was actually lots of fun. We were kind of shocked.”

I learned from Daniel Paul’s website that the flag pictured above was first raised in Halifax in 1901.

4. Daycare kids can’t get to the bus

Not a very inviting place to cross. Photo: Google Street View

Alexa MacLean has a story for Global on the frustration staff at a North End daycare feel about how hard it is to cross the street with the kids in their charge.

The daycare is at Young and Barrington. This stretch of road is a classic case of design trumping speed limits. It looks and feels like a highway, so almost nobody goes 50, the posted speed limit.

When the staff want to take kids on day trips, they have to cross the street, but with no marked crosswalk, that’s not easy, daycare director Sarah Brown tells MacLean. And when she advocates with the city for a marked crosswalk, she finds herself in a classic Catch-22:

Brown says the childcare centre has been advocating for a marked crosswalk to be installed by the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) but have been told there simply isn’t enough volume of pedestrians crossing there to proceed.

“A marked crosswalk is not recommended at this location due to the low pedestrian crossing volumes as well as the lack of connected pedestrian infrastructure because essentially there’s no sidewalk on the east side of Barrington Street,” said Brynn Langille, a senior communications advisor with HRM.

It’s hard to cross there, and the sidewalks are crappy, so people don’t cross. And because people don’t cross, we don’t need a marked crosswalk.

5. Totalitarianism or free market?

This fucking guy.

Maxime Bernier blamed a “totalitarian leftist mob” for Pattison advertising’s decision to paper over the “Say no to mass immigration” billboard on the Bedford Highway. But now, weirdly, the organization that placed the ad says it wanted no part of it either, writes Joanna Smith for The Canadian Press.

The third-party advertising group behind billboards promoting Maxime Bernier and his stance on immigration is now distancing itself from the message, saying it never signed off on the controversial campaign.

“We completely disavow any sympathy with or support for the views expressed by donors who paid for and selected the content of their advertising, which we were mistakenly not afforded an opportunity to first approve,” Frank Smeenk, the head of True North Strong & Free Advertising Corp., wrote in an email to The Canadian Press on Monday.

The billboards, which feature pre-election advertising with Bernier’s face, the logo of his People’s Party of Canada and a slogan advocating against “mass immigration,” started appearing in different spots across the country late last week.

Time to maybe review some processes?


Views

1. Elite projection

Image from Who’s On Board 2016 published by Transit Center

Yesterday, I read a 2017 blog post by public transit consultant Jarrett Walker, called The Dangers of Elite Projection. I assume for readers immersed in the world of planning, this is nothing new, but I found it interesting.

Walker linked to the post on Twitter, as part of a thread on why he doesn’t believe Uber will ever be profitable, and that the embrace of the company is a classic example of elite projection — the belief by privileged people that what is good for them is good for everyone.

Long ago, when I was presenting a proposed transit plan to the Board of Directors of a suburban transit agency in California, one board member — representing the wealthiest city in the area — leaned forward, cleared his throat, and said:

Now, Mister Walker. If we adopt this plan of yours, will that make me leave my BMW in the driveway?

The answer, of course, is no. But to suggest that this question is a valid test of a transit plan is an extreme example of elite projection. As a multi-millionaire, this man belongs to a tiny minority, so it makes no sense to design a transit system around his personal tastes. Successful transit is mass transit, and there is no mass to be achieved by pursuing him as a customer. Perhaps he could be attracted by a service to his door featuring on-board wine bar and massage service, but few other people would consider that good value for their more limited dollars. Let the for-profit sector give him that luxury, and ensure he pays for its impacts.

Walker continues:

Elite projection is perhaps the primary barrier to the efficient, just, and liberating city. The city has this special feature: It functions for anyone only if it functions for almost everyone. You can say this about society in general, but only in the city is this fact so brutally obvious as to be unavoidable.

Traffic congestion, to take the obvious example, is the result of everyone’s choices in response to everyone’s situation. Even the elites are mostly stuck in it. No satisfying solution has been found to protect elites from this problem, and it’s not for want of trying. The only real solution to congestion is to solve it for everyone, and to do that you have to look at it from everyone’s perspective, not just from the fortunate perspective.

I came across this type of elite projection regularly when I was on the board of the Halifax Public Library. There are people who never use the library and, as a result, can’t understand why anyone else would.

Walker points out that he is not bashing elites — we all tend to think that what we want contributes to the general good — but he asks us to examine those biases and assumptions. I would love to have bus service to Tantallon from where I live on St. Margaret’s Bay. A lot of us around here would. We could ride to the Metro X stop and get into the city easily. I would love it if the Metro X ran more buses in the middle of the day, because not everyone who wants to go to the city is a commuter. But the reality is that those buses would probably ride mostly empty.

After reading Walker, I got to thinking about the ongoing conflicts over parking and bike lanes. It seems to me this is a case where each side sees the other as an elite. In very broad terms, for the suburban commuters, cyclists are an urban elite who can afford the luxury of living in condos and riding to work. For cyclists, drivers are a privileged group who have the entire road system designed for them. Each side thinks more of what is better for its group will be better for the city as a whole.


Noticed

Your tree will have to look nicer than this one, which we got out of the woods behind our house in 2011. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

Yesterday, I noticed the municipality asking people to donate Christmas trees for display on Grand Parade and at Sullivan’s Pond.

I was curious about this, so I followed the link to learn more:

Do you have a big, beautiful spruce or balsam tree on your property you’d be willing to donate to help spread holiday cheer and merriment?

If you’ve got a beauty of a green giant who’s aspiring to be a star, we’ve got just the thing! Halifax is launching its first annual public search for Christmas trees for both Grand Parade Square and Sullivan’s Pond.

The city is looking for trees that meet the following criteria:

  • The tree must be on your property, and easily accessible from the street.
  • Be 6 – 10 metres tall (~20 – 30 feet) for the Sullivan’s Pond location, or 9 – 16 metres tall (~30 – 50 feet) for the Grand Parade location.
  • Be symmetrical with a single trunk, and little to no browning needles.

The city first put out this call several months ago, but I had not seen it before.

This is the first year Halifax has asked publicly for Christmas tree donations. They are also not offering any payment for the trees, but will “remove the tree at no cost, grind the stump to approximately 2 inches below ground level, and clean up any remaining debris.”

My first thought when I saw the tweet was, “Why isn’t the city paying for the trees?” Then I wondered why they were running this contest now, and how they chose trees in the past. And what happens if nobody offers up a tree they like?

To get answers, I spoke with Mike Holinsky. He’s a project controller in transportation and public works for the city, and he works closely with the forestry department. (He’s got a degree in environmental science.) The conversation was a lot more interesting than I expected. I thought I wanted to know why the city was not paying for these trees, and instead we wound up talking about issues including climate change.

Holinsky says it’s getting increasingly hard to find the kinds of big, beautiful spruce and balsam fir trees that you’d want to put on display in a public square over the holidays. So the contest is something of a hedge (sorry). “This is the first time we’ve reached out to the public in search of donations, and it’s more of a backup plan than anything else,” he told me over the phone.

Over the last several years, the city hired a contractor in New Germany to look for trees that fit their criteria, and he would come up with a short list. The municipality would pick one, and he’d cut and ship it. But Holinsky says there aren’t that many trees left that are in good enough shape.

In the past, Halifax received a donated tree from a property owner in New Glasgow. The city just had to pay to transport it to Halifax.

Last year, the city wound up with a tree that did not make the cut (sorry again) to be chosen to go to Boston. I asked Holinsky if that meant the city’s tree was not as attractive, but he says it’s not that simple.

The province does tree selection for Boston and they are willing to share with us. That’s how we ended up with ours last year. It was on their list. They have a bunch of first-place selections and they just go with the one that’s easiest for them to remove. In this case [the tree the city ended up with] was not a native species. It was a Colorado blue spruce — and they like to send a native tree to Boston.

So why are there fewer of these trees available? Holinsky says:

There are many factors: development, changing forest ecosystems… There is speculation about the changing climate. [Spruce] don’t love hot summer days. They’re more of a cool coastal species.

The pattern emerging over the last several years has been hard on them: little to no rainfall for months, followed by “an increase in focused rainfall” — in other words, huge amounts of rain in a short period of time. “This summer is a prime example. We haven’t had significant rainfall and the trees have been suffering.”

Given that there aren’t that many of these trees, why would you want to give up a picture-perfect large spruce? Holinsky says sometimes it’s because the trees acidify the soil, which is bad for the lawn. Some homeowners don’t like that. In the case of the folks in New Glasgow, the tree was close to their house and they worried a hurricane might knock it down onto the building. “A lot of times we’ll cut into these trees and they have a column of rot,” he says.


Government

City

Tuesday

No public meetings.

Wednesday

Special Regional Council meeting (Wednesday, 2pm, City Hall) — Here’s the agenda.

Province

Tuesday

Human Resources (Tuesday, 10am, One Government Place) — a per-diem meeting.

Wednesday

No public meetings for the rest of the week.


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

Thesis Defence, Electrical and Computer Engineering (Tuesday, 1:30pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Javad Hoseyni will defend “Smart Antenna Pattern Beamforming in the Design of Modulation, Coding and Multiple Access Techniques.”

Wednesday

Urban Nature Walk (Wednesday, 12:15pm, outside Henry Hicks Building, Studley Quad) — look for intertidal organisms on the small beach at the bottom of South Street with Lara Gibson. Sneakers, rubber boots or water shoes recommended. Register here.


In the harbour

05:00: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
05:30: Hoegh Tracer, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Jacksonville, Florida
07:30: Elka Delos, oil tanker, moves from Irving Oil to anchorage
08:30: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John
11:30: Hoegh Tracer sails for sea
14:00: Okeanos Explorer, research/survey vessel, sails from Dartmouth Cove for sea
15:30: Atlantic Sky sails for New York
21:00: Elka Delos moves back to Irving Oil
21:30: Acadian sails for sea


Footnotes

Because of my interest in umpiring baseball, Tim suggested I listen to the Against the Rules podcast, hosted by Michael Lewis. I’m most of the way through (it’s only got 9 episodes) and it is excellent. The premise:

Journalist and bestselling author Michael Lewis (Liar’s Poker, Moneyball) takes a searing look at what’s happened to fairness — in financial markets, newsrooms, basketball games, courts of law, and much more. And he asks what’s happening to a world where everyone loves to hate the referee.

This sounds like it could be predictable, but it’s not. Lewis has a great feel for a story and a sense of curiosity. He works just enough about himself into each episode to keep you intrigued without being self-indulgent. A lot of the credit for the quality of the podcast goes to editor extraordinaire Julia Barton.

Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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  1. The response from the City’s spokesperson to the Barrington crosswalk is frustrating for two reason: The stated reason is not entirely accurate. There is pedestrian infrastructure. The point she raises about there not being pedestrian use to warrant it is beyond ludicrous. Of course if there is no crosswalk it wont get used. Secondly and more fundamentally is that the City’s canned response reveals the core issue with HRM’s “cars first” priority which is patently wrong from the get go. There needs to be increased emphasis on pedestrian infrastructure and not this obsession with precious “traffic flow”.

  2. The daycare people don’t want to cross to the east side of Barrington, they want to cross the intersection in a SE direction and remain on the sidewalk on the western side of Barrington.
    Apparently that is too hard to understand for the PR spokesthingy Brynn Langille; he needs to look at a map.
    And it isn’t too hard for an HRM staffer to visit the daycare and walk with the kids to understand the simple request.

      1. Hard to tell these days, but thanks for the correction.
        Bryn Terfel is male and a great singer – because he is from Wales.

  3. There’s no bus that travels between the waterfront and the Public Gardens (despite both being major downtown destinations). There are five buses serving the ferry terminal, but none of them go to the Public Gardens. The 90, closest to the waterfront, skirts around the Gardens, a few blocks away (and does not cover the entire waterfront). Between Scotia Square and Spring Garden, there are many buses on Barrington that go by the Public Gardens, so you can walk a few blocks (with significant hill climbing towards the Spring Garden end). For much of the waterfront, you’re looking at multiple buses and/or walking up to halfway, to get to the Gardens. However, the solution to this last mile problem is not e-scooters – it’s better bus routes.

    Speaking of better bus routes, if those Metro X buses ran all day, 7 days a week, in both directions, they would be mostly empty at first, because people who need to get to the city at times other than the limited times the buses run have cars (and the buses are useless for city folks who’d like to come out for a visit). The empty bus argument is similar to the claim that a crosswalk is not needed because few people cross at a given location. People are not going to sell their cars the day bus service starts. But if the service was reliable and consistent, ridership would grow. Expanding transit requires vision and takes time. Adding a route, with infrequent service, then scrapping it a year later because ridership is low, just reinforces the notion that you need a car.

    1. I didn’t notice my own contradictions re bus routes and crosswalks. Thank you.

    2. The other thing that would improve the Metro X bus (at least the one from Tantallon) is to add a single stop in the city before heading downtown, to transfer to other routes. I work on Bayers Road but to use the Metro X I need to go all the way downtown then take another bus back – which roughly triples the length of the commute compared to getting off when it passes near my building. I’ve asked drivers but they’re not allowed to stop when not scheduled, and the city has ignored my requests so far. I’m not suggesting a route change, just an added stop on the current route (such as Main Street or Windsor exchange).

      This may be more “elite projection” — assuming that everyone works downtown — or maybe I’m the elite? But I suspect there are many people who commute from Tantallon area to west end, Mumford, Spryfield, Bayers Lake or even Bedford who could take advantage of the ability to transfer before getting downtown. (In many cases people live in that direction because they work on that side of the city, or vice versa). It seems like narrow thinking not to allow for transfers at the earliest point when you intersect with the main transit network.

      1. Halifax Transit assumes everyone works downtown, Monday to Friday, 8 to 4. Presumably all the residents of the new high rises downtown will also work downtown, because busing from downtown to the outer areas in the morning, and back in the afternoon, is a slow process, made more frustrating by watching all the deadheading buses go by.

  4. Not surprised it’s getting hard to find big trees. Perhaps they have almost all been cut down! Solution is surely NOT to cut them! Most civilised cities issue tree PROTECTION orders against such desecration and certainly do not encourage it!

  5. I’m not the least bit surprised we haven’t heard word from from any officials regarding any details related to the Barho family fire. The provincial and municipal governments in NS are horrific failures when it comes to communication and transparency. They fail to even practice expectation management until they are relentlessly prodded by the media (as is the case with this matter). Another case of say nothing and the issue itself, or at least public interest in it, will go away. Shameful.

  6. I’ve seen the electric scooters zipping along the boardwalk and at the risk of sounding like an old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn, those things are going far faster than anything should when sharing space with pedestrians!

    1. The electric scooters are obnoxious and need to be restricted to far lower speeds or banned from sidewalks. They are also environmental disasters – there is nothing green about lithium ion batteries.