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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Concerns about the future of farming

Farms are more than businesses; they are vital to Canada's economic strength.


Today I noticed a posting on my brokerage site reporting a Bank of Montreal survey that tracked the concerns of Quebecors about rural Francophone youth turning their backs on farming and moving to the city.


 60 per cent of Quebec residents surveyed believed the migration of young people from rural to urban centers was having a harmful impact on the family farm. On this both urban dwellers and rural residents were in agreement.


 The age of Quebec farm operators has climbed to an average age of 51.4 years (up from 49.3 years in only five years), and operators under age 35 have declined eight percent in the same time period. In light of this, the BMO survey asked a range of questions on the impact of youth migration from farms to urban centres.

In addition to the negative impact on the family farm, Quebecers also said that the youth migration from the farm to the city was having  significant negative consequences on the: 

  • Supply of labour (66 percent) 
  • Transfer of knowledge to next generation (58 percent) 
  • Rural economy (58 percent) 
  • Agriculture sector (56 percent)

"It is easy enough to take agriculture for granted when you have a grocery store full of food, but to sustain this, we need young people in agriculture," said CFA President Ron Bonnett. "BMO's study shows ALL Canadians are sharing similar concerns and recognize the importance of the sector, and this is encouraging. Broad public support is what's needed to secure the future of our farms and food."

"A farm is more than a business; it's vital to Quebec and Canada's economic strength, and this survey highlights the value Canadians place on family farms being able to survive and prosper," said David Rinneard, National Manager, Agriculture, BMO Bank of Montreal.

The family farm is under assault. It is not just the draw of the city that is sucking the youth from the land. Giant corporations are taking over more and more control of food production. It is a tough, competitive world out there on the farm. London, Ontario, must not be too complacent about its position in the middle of Ontario's farm belt. So much has slipped by, and out of, the city over the past few years. Let's not let agriculture take the hit that our industrial base has.

Monday, June 25, 2012

ReThinking abandoned orchards

Abandoned fruit trees in southwest London.

I often drive by the abandoned Cornell Orchard on Southdale Road just west of Colonel Talbot Road. The take-out where I buy a shawarma with fries is located where the old Cornell store once stood. It burned some years ago. There were rumors about the abandoned orchards, about the burning of the retail store, gossipy stories filled with murky facts swirling in a fog of local myth.

Recently, The London Free Press ran a story on the abandoned operation with a picture of the "tapped-out orchard" where "weeds grow between what were once rows of fruit trees." The story made me think about those abandoned trees and wonder why no one was interested in harvesting the apples. 

It could be there are legal issues preventing these particular trees from being cared for. But what about other orchards? Why is it not uncommon to see abandoned orchards in southwestern Ontario? Or to read stories about orchards being bulldozed? (Today, the fall of 2016, the former Cornell Orchard has been uprooted and the dead trees sit in large, piles in the cleared field.)

Apple growing in abandoned orchard.
With a little research I learned one should not be too quick to tear out orchards. Old fruit trees can be renovated and transformed both aesthetically and in terms of productivity. With some luck, a mature orchard can be encouraged to again produce fruit. 

But this gets harder and harder if the orchard is left untouched too long. Diseases will get firmly established, destructive insects will flourish and time will take its inevitable toll. So, why are our older orchards not being cared for and replanted when necessary? Read on.

I learned that apple trees originated in the Tien Shan mountains in southern Kazakhstan. The last surviving wild apple forests are to be found in those mountains in Central Asia. Those forests are now threatened by urbanization and modern agricultural methods. Many wild apple species are facing extinction.

If one wants to breed an apple for resistance to disease and to drought, the malus sieversii is a good apple to investigate. Thought to be the source species for many of today's farm grown varieties, the malus sieversii is on the list of endangered apple species, along with 44 other apple tree species found in Central Asia.

Over-exploitation and human encroachment are among the main threats to the forests of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. These forests are home to more than 300 wild fruit and nut species including apple, plum, cherry, apricot and walnut. These valuable, unique, heritage trees are under threat.

Wild genes carry resistance to diseases such as apple scab, a fungus that can devastate crops. A lot of our domestic fruit supply comes from a very narrow genetic base, it is imperative that scientists are able to return to heritage fruit tree species for inclusion in breeding programmes. In the future, this may not be possible. The heritage trees are disappearing.

Sadly, the BBC reports these countries lack the resources to conserve their valuable trees. But there is nothing unique here. We don't seem to be able to protect our North American fruit tree species from the threat of extinction. The Gravenstein, a very old variety of apple first recorded in Denmark in 1607 and brought to the U.S. around 1826 was praised by Luther Burbank as one of the best apple varieties is facing extinction today.

Luther Burbank, the man who developed the Russet potato, once said, "The secret of improved plant breeding, apart from scientific knowledge, is love." As twenty-first century folk have moved from the land to the city, maybe we are losing our love for plants, for farming, for the world that produces the foods that keeps us healthy.

London, Ontario, sits in the middle of some of the richest farmland in the world. And yet, London is somewhat divorced from food production --- traditional food production. In fact, some food production today may be somewhat divorced from food. The Casco plant in London takes corn and after some fancy processing pumps out high fructose corn syrup. There are those who would argue that this sweet concoction from the lab is not food -- at least not a good use of food: corn.

Fruit is shipped to Canada from around the globe.
We no longer need Ontario fruit trees for fruit. Fresh pears can come from South America, and canned peaches from Greece. Apples come from lots of places except that in the future they may not come from Kazakhstan. Or from southwest London.

Read: The Toronto Star article, Ontario fruit growers losing ground

Many believe fruit growing operations are threatened in Southwest Ontario.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

ReThink London: ReThink Suburbia

The next day I saw a young woman with two children using the new, little park.

I realized something this evening while playing with my granddaughter in a new playground in a new subdivision on the edge of Byron in southwest London. I like suburbia. I mean I really like living in suburban Byron.

Returning in the family car from the restaurant, Fiona spotted the new playground and immediately wanted me to stop so she could do some serious playing. I stopped. My wife relaxed on a park bench while I watched over the kid. At 33 months, she needs supervision.

The playground is on a hill overlooking the shopping area going up at the corner of Colonel Talbot Road and Southdale Road West. I looked at the stores, banks and restaurant, all bright, new and spiffy. I listened to the sound of the constant traffic passing just metres to the south of the park. I watched my granddaughter playing, I noticed suburbanite couples strolling along Southdale and I felt the cool, evening breeze swirling about the park.

I thought to myself. This is pleasant. This is good. Despite all the recent talk about downtown, I realized I don't care as much about the state of downtown London as I do about my suburban Byron neigbourhood.

Soho homes with a large apartment building looming behind.
I found myself thinking about Mayor Joe Fontana. Old Joe talks a good line about downtown London and how important it is to him. But old Joe doesn't live in downtown London. Old Joe doesn't even live in London. He lives in Arva immediately north of the city. Joe, some might argue, lives in exurbia: a residential area outside the city, beyond its suburbs, that is often inhabited chiefly by well-to-do families. 

And I thought, I bet Joe loves his neighbourhood. I bet Joe, as much as he is concerned about the city core, would never give up his home in Arva to live in a downtown apartment in SoHo.

The Storybook Gardens ice skating pad needs more skaters.
Maybe ReThink London should be rethinking all of London. Oh, they give lip service to thinking about the city as a whole but it is the beach at The Forks of the Thames that gets the publicity --- a beach that isn't even there yet. The huge ice skating loop in Storybook Gardens gets no mention. The skating loop is there and it is begging for attention. Something must be done to increase public interest or this wonderful rink may close.

London has a ski hill. I think this is really cool. London kids need to go no further than the southwest end of the city to find a rather decent hill complete with high speed lifts. The recent warm, short winters are threatening the survival of the hill.

A not-for-profit operation, run with the benefit of numerous volunteers, the Boler Mountain ski hill is a big plus for the city and not a huge drain on the taxpayers. It has given so much to the community during its many decades of operation. Maybe it is time for the community to give a little back. Maybe the city could find a way to cut the ski hill's water consumption bills. Making all that snow is tough, and expensive.

I don't want to be too tough on downtown. When I first moved to London, I lived within almost a stone's throw of The Forks of the Thames. If, living in Bryon, I must support a beach on the edge of the Thames in the core of the city, then I would like to see the folk living in the former Petersville (my old neighbourhood downtown) supporting my Storybook Gardens skating pad and my Boler Mountain ski hill.

I wrote this post before attending the ReThink London event today. I'm beginning to have some good feelings for our city planners. I'm realizing my beef is more with folk like the mayor or reporters like Randy Richmond at The London Free Press. Richmond's reports are very poetic and read very well. He's a good writer. But, it is style over substance when it comes to Richmond's reports.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

ReThink London: ReThinking Car Ownership

Getting people out of cars may take putting them into, uh, a car, a shared car.

My grandfather never owned a car. It simply wasn't something he needed. He walked a lot. He was a pharmacist and owned his own business. He walked from home to work everyday of his working life and he worked until he was about 85.

Even in his 90s he still liked to walk. Sometimes he walked as far as three kilometres to take in a movie. For longer distances he used buses, taxis and trains. He said a nice perk of never owning a care was all the money he saved.

My grandfather died in the late '60s. If he was alive today, he might own a car. Transit today is not what it was in my grandfather's day. For instance, the taxis that my grandfather used were Mercedes. They were very nice cars unlike some of the dirty cabs I've taken here in London.

My nephew, who has lived most of his life in New York City and Chicago, got by without a car until he moved to Hamilton. Living in Hamilton he needed a car. He bought a little Ford Fiesta. When he moved back to Chicago he took the little car with him.

My nephew is very lucky, he had free parking available to him in Chicago. This made keeping his car a reasonable decision. Now that he owns a car, he drives. He drives a lot. He no longer takes public transit all the time, as he once did. You see, there are certain fixed costs associated with car ownership. These costs --- for example, insurance and depreciation --- do not change all that much whether you drive your car or not. Day to day, the costs that concern my nephew are the immediate ones, like the cost of gasoline. This makes driving seem less costly than taking public transit. Often, it isn't, but it is a great illusion.

I know driving my Volkswagen Jetta TDI has cost me about 84-cents per km. That includes all out-of-pocket expenses. If I keep my Jetta long enough, like something approaching a decade, I may get the cost per km down to about 35-cents. On a day to day basis, I only think about the cost of diesel fuel. My Jetta only costs 8.3 cents to cover a km.

In other words, when I drive downtown today, it actually costs me $8.00. If I keep my Jetta long enough, the cost drops to $3.30. But the cost today feels more like 78-cents; The cost of the diesel fuel.

There's a lesson here. If public transit is to work, we must keep people from even owning cars. This sounds tough and I'm sure it is but it is possible. Sometimes it is even possible to get a car owner to use public transit, if it must be truly competitive with the car.

I know this because I lived in Toronto for awhile and I almost always took the subway, the streetcar or the bus. The traffic in T.O. was hellish and pull out of the traffic mess and one quickly discovers that parking is yet another horror story.

And here is the next lesson: If you want to get folk out of their cars, don't invest too heavily road improvements. And let the car owners worry about parking. If finding parking is tough, well tough.

And the last lesson flows from the first two. If public transit is competitive with the car, if driving a car is slow, expensive and irritating compared to public transit, folk will gladly take the bus, or whatever is offered.

And, this is the funny part. It is possible that one of the best things that can be offered folk to get them out of their cars --- is a car. Think autolib', the electric-car sharing scheme being tested in Paris, France. And here is a link to an article from this past April: 100,000 rentals!

Autolib' in Paris, France, was in the testing stage when last I checked.

If this has got you interested, here is a short video looking at both the bike and the car sharing programs in Paris.

ReThink London: Biogas fueled buses

Click on the link and read how buses in Stockholm, Sweden, are running on biogas. One of the bus depots has a biogas filling station with a direct gas line from a sewage treatment plant producing the biogas fuel.

This is worth investigating.
Swedish Environmental Protection Agency: Biogas used in buses

Digesters in Ulsan, South Korea

As the Swedes learn more and more about making and using biogas, they are taking advantage of their unique knowledge and exporting what they have learned, for a fee, around the world. Scandinavian Biogas worked with the city of Ulsan, South Korea to improve its biogas production and increase its treatment of food waste at a city wastewater treatment plant.

Another new source of power for buses plying urban routes is the fuel cell. Sau Paulo, Brazil, is getting 25 Ballard fuel cell powered buses. There are 21 more going to Europe.
A Ballard fuel cell powered fleet of 20 buses in British Columbia is said to be the largest hydrogen fuel cell-powered bus fleet in operation anywhere since it went into service approximately 2-years ago. It is the first such fleet to hit (and surpass) one million miles (1.6 million kilometers) of revenue service.

The buses went into service in January, 2010 prior to the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

Read more here: Fuel cell bus fleets.

London experimented with natural gas powered buses but rushed into the purchase of the vehicles and then rushed out of the natural gas experiment just as quickly. They didn't do their homework and it showed. (I know as I covered the story for The London Free Press. Well, I shot the pictures.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Are noise curfews really that rare?

The tweet by The Free Press reporter read: You know how you could make downtown #ldnont really great? Ban young people. And fun. This is a great first step:

And just what promised to kill all fun in downtown London and chase young people from the core? I followed the link and learned a civic committee responding to complaints from downtown residents voted to keep London's 11 p.m noise curfew for downtown festivals.

Now, there were some minor modifications. The committee agreed to allow the existing 90-decibel volume limit to be exceeded by 3 decibels for up to 10 seconds at a time to allow for musical crescendos. And there is now a 15 minutes grace period after the 11 p.m. curfew is passed. (This is actually rather generous.)

This will keep young people from going downtown? Have young people changed that much since I was young. Heck, I recall noise curfews and they were not game killers in the '60s. That said, I do have a great memory of the Amboy Dukes, with Ted Nugent leading the assault, loudly breaking the sound barrier while playing at a teen night club in Windsor, Ontario.

The Motor City Madman played well past curfew, the police were called but The Nuge wasn't intimidated. The music didn't stop until the wildman put his guitar through the wall at the back of the stage. Even that violent move didn't stop the music. Nugent continued loudly grinding his broken guitar against the jagged edges of the smashed drywall until he had broken every amplified string. Then, he strutted off the stage.

So, do any other cities or towns have noise curfews? I decided to do a Google search.

  • The first hit told me in Vancouver, B.C., the PNE (Pacific National Exposition) will no longer book electronica concerts into the Forum. No concerts. No noise. No time period exempt.
  • Next, I learned that Rock the Garden 2012 at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN, was restricted by a 10PM noise curfew. The last group obeyed the curfew by not playing an encore. They played right up to 10PM and wound up their set.
  • In Houston, TX, the city is considering revisions to its noise ordinance. Presently they bylaw allows up to 65 decibels during the day and 58 at night in residential areas. Non-residential areas are allowed 68 decibels at all times. Businesses or individuals with a permit are allowed 75 decibels from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday – and Friday till 11 p.m. Under the proposed revisions, critics warn someone could potentially end the music and dancing at the annual Greek Festival with a single phone call. A downtown resident could stop a world-touring music artist at International Festival despite the fact that they have a sound permit issued by the City. Historic venues that have hosted many touring musical acts could be a thing of the past. Local musicians would be left with few if any places to perform.
  • Even Seattle, WA, the home of grunge, limits outdoor concerts to a decibel level of 95 dB, lasting up to one minute as measured fifty feet from the source. Seattle, a creative city, according to Richard Florida, a city to be emulated according to The London Free Press, seems almost in sync with London.

An interesting thing about the Houston ordinance is that no initial complaint or evidence (decibel meter reading) is required before a ticket may be written. It is a judgment call left to an officer's discretion.

With over 53 million hits, I read a few more, and came to the conclusion that the London noise restrictions are not all that unusual.

What I don't understand is the hostility shown to those who have lived in the core area for years and are complaining about the noise pollution. The core is their home. They have a right to complain about a real threat to their enjoyment of their home. And rock music played at a level to rattle one's windows at midnight, many would agree, is a problem. These people spend 365 days, and nights, living in the core.

When I lived on Wilson Avenue, right across the river from Harris Park, my attitude would have been, "Hey, I live here. You don't. You, Mr. Drummer, are a guest in my neighbourhood. If you don't like the rules, take your music and go. Maybe you can find a park in your neighbourhood. Go and hold the concert there. Say, isn't Weldon Park in Arva?"

Please, allow me to answer Joe Fontana's EMD questions

I checked out Mayor Joe Fontana's website today. I discovered a post titled: Statement regarding EMD – February 3, 2012.

Screen grab from Mayor Joe Fontana's website.

In his post Mayor Fontana tells us:

  • I cannot understand why Caterpillar has chosen to announce the permanent closure of the EDM facility . . .
  • I cannot understand why Caterpillar would not return to the table and negotiate . . .
  • I cannot understand why Caterpillar has not stepped up and acted in good faith and demonstrated respect for its employees.

Please don't take this wrong, Mr. Fontana, but the answers are as close as the Internet. Since you and your staff seem to have a problem using Google, let me be so bold as to supply you with the answers and some links.

When Caterpillar bought EMD the closure of the London assembly plant was already well into the planning stage.

Electro-Motive Diesel president and chief executive officer John S. Hamilton appeared before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Hearing, on April 20, 2010. At that time, he bragged a great deal but he never got around to mentioning London. [Note: Caterpillar and Progress Rail signed the agreement to purchase EMD on June 1, 2010. This is months after CEO Hamilton made his appearance.]

Concerning high speed rail, Hamilton said if given the chance EMD "would make most all of the critical technologies [in La Grange, Indiana]. We have the equipment. We have 1,600 American workers ready to do this work and we would recall workers currently on lay-off to meet the additional workload. In accordance with Buy America, we announced last week a search for a facility in which to perform final assembly. [This would be the Muncie plant that is now in limited operation.]

With these words the death knell was sounded for the London operation.

Caterpillar did not return to the table because there was nothing to negotiate. Keeping the London plant open while the U.S. operation was being brought up to speed was appealing ---  but only if it could be done at a bargain basement price.

When the London workers didn't go along with the hefty cuts proposed by Caterpillar, the plant closed. No one should feign surprise or claim to not understand what just happened and why. It wasn't hard to fathom. I blogged on the eventual shut-down almost a full month before the closure was officially announced.

If you'd like to have links to my relevant EMD posts, here are a couple:

You wonder why Caterpillar acted as it did. You ask, why didn't it "demonstrate respect for its employees?"

Mayor Fonatana claims ignorance.
Companies like Progress Rail and its parent, Caterpillar, are bringing third world employment to North America. David Olive, of The Toronto Star, looked at this development in an article: America, the world's sweatshop. Why would you expect London workers to be treated any differently than their American counterparts?

As I suggested in early January, the locked out workers in London were given a Hobson's choice. No matter what decision they made, in the end they were going to find themselves out of jobs.

I believe it is important that you understand what went down at EMD. Your ability to turn around the economy in London may well depend on it. I do hope I have been able to help and that you no longer are puzzled by the EMD closure.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

ReThink London: BRT is so last century

BRT, bus rapid transit, goes back, I believe, all the way to the early '70s. It has been around a long time. It was good then and over the years it has proven itself in many communities. It is still good today and I am sure it will have its place in the transit mix of the future. But, if one wants to rethink public transit, BRT may not be the whole answer.

Yet, London is preparing to spend about $340 million according to Harold Usher as quoted in today's Free Press. This does not seem out of line but it is interesting that there is no mention of any other approach to solving our public transit challenges. And it could take up to eight years to implement the BRT approach the paper tells us.

Allow me to suggest something that seems to be on the, as they say, cutting edge: Avego Real-time Ridesharing. Watch the video to get an idea what Avego is all about.

Avego had a pilot project underway in Seattle late last summer. You know Seattle, if you don't The London Free Press reporter Randy Richmond can fill you in. Seattle, in northwest Washington state, is number five on Richard Florida's list of the the top creative cities.

But Avego was busy in other places as well. They had RTD pilots in Cork, Ireland; Bergen, Norway; Houston, TX; Arlington, VA; along with the Seattle, WA one mentioned.

It's hot but there's no reason to panic.

It's hot! The Middlesex-London Health Unit has issued the region’s second Extreme Heat Alert for the year. More at

The health unit is telling people to drink plenty of water. Consume the stuff throughout the day. Do it even "if you don't feel very thirsty."

Huh? Why guzzle water if you're not thirsty? Studies have shown consuming water, and other liquids, when you are not thirsty is poor advice. For a few people such a suggestion actually puts them at additional health risk.

"The vast majority of healthy people adequately meet their daily hydration needs by letting thirst be their guide."

The health unit is also warning people to lay off the "coffee and cola." Why? Studies have shown that "cola and coffee drinks hydrate you as well as water does." This is, of course, contrary to popular mythology; a mythology now promoted by the health unit.

In truth, coffee and cola consumed during a heat wave keep dehydration at bay. Don't believe me? Here is a link: Caffeine: Is it dehydrating or not? And another: European Hydration Institute.

A lot of the health unit's suggestions are good. Why does the unit weaken our confidence in its advice by repeating old myths?
This is an add from July 2016. The New York Times is reporting:

"Surprisingly, drinks containing moderate amounts of caffeine and alcohol or high levels of sugar had hydration indexes no different from water. In other words, coffee and beer are not dehydrating, despite common beliefs to the contrary, and regular soda can hydrate you just as well as water."

It's funny but when I tried to interest The London Free Press in my take on the hydration story, I got a lot of resistance. It was me who was spreading myths, I was told. One person at the paper, a runner, was downright angry that I would tell people not to be concerned if they drank a coffee or enjoyed a cold beer on a hot day. I don't believe anyone at the paper checked my sources. They knew the truth. They did not have to check anything. I was left shaking my head.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pickles: Not made in Ontario

Ontario made pickles under attack.
I'm angry. I don't always think coherently when I am angry and this morning I am angry.

Some time ago I wrote a piece on made in India pickles. It is my third most popular post the number of hits slowly closing in on 10,000. I have learned people all over North America have noticed the changes occurring in the pickle business.

Small producers have been swallowed by food industry giants. This may be the main theme running through this story. The outsourcing to India may, in the end, be but a small aside to the bigger story.

If you are a 60 or older and living in Ontario, let me ask you: "What was your favorite pickle?" Ontario made Bick's? If it was, it isn't anymore. At least, it won't be a made in Ontario Bick's pickle. All of Bick's pickle production in Ontario was halted by its American owner, J.W. Smucker, and moved to the States. For more info on this see: Locomotives, pickles and coffee: all share one story.

Maybe you answered Strubs. I did. I've been a Strubs fan since I was a young boy. When I moved out of the home and got my first job at a newspaper in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, my friend Jim and I stocked Strubs in our bachelor pad. We may have been poor but we had standards.

Today I heard from one of my blog readers. I was sent a link to an article in The Toronto Star. Strubs is on the ropes and may be about to hit the mat for the full count. Read: Strubs Food insolvency could mean end of locally made dill pickle.

Generally, I don't swear. Not out loud. But, internally I can curse a blue streak at times. As I read the article by reporter Jennifer Wells, I could not stop myself from cursing quietly, internally, in great anger:

The family-run Strubs company was sold to the newly named Strubs Food Corp. in late 2008. The owners of Strubs Food were not the Strubs clan, but rather the principals behind Foodfest International 2000 Inc., a food processor. . . . The Strubs pickle line, including the inimitable pickled eggs, became part of the Foodfest product offering, with a buffet of non-pickled items — smoked salmon, hummus — now bearing the Strubs name.

Smoked salmon did not just bear the Strubs name, it tarnished it. Last fall, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Foodfest International 2000 Inc. warned the public not to consume Strubs ready-to-eat Danish Style Smoked Grav-Lox Atlantic Salmon because the product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

I thought the Strub Brothers brand might be in trouble when I spotted a fancy gift package of Strub's pickles labeled 'Product of India.'

Monday the whole problem goes to court in Toronto. Will a solution be found? Will the Strubs name be saved? Maybe. Whyte’s Food Corp., a Quebec-based family firm, is the preferred acquirer.
The Whyte’s and Mrs. Whyte’s labels are largely unknown in Ontario, even though the firm has roots going back to 1892. The fermented, fresh-packed kosher dill is at the heart of the family-owned operation. Whyte's and Strubs appear be a perfect match.

The Strubs name may live on. The non-Strubs processed products — the hummus, the salmon — will disappear. (Yesterday, February 6th, 2013, I saw some Strubs pickles on the grocery shelf; They were made by Whyte's out of Quebec.)

ReThink London: ReThinking our almost unlimited water supply from The Great Lakes

I saw this posted by another blogger but it was unclear what the largest drop of water actually represented. Many believed the large drop represented all of the world's fresh water, and no more. They were wrong.

The largest blue marble, the one over the American West, represents all the world's water: Period! Fresh water, salt water, water trapped in ice.

Here is the image that so grabbed my attention and the accompanying info from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

If the big bubble burst: If you put a (big) pin to the larger bubble showing total water, the resulting flow would cover the contiguous United States (lower 48 states) to a depth of about 107 miles.

The drawings below show various blue spheres representing relative amounts of Earth's water in comparison to the size of the Earth. Are you surprised that these water spheres look so small? They are only small in relation to the size of the Earth. These images attempt to show three dimensions, so each sphere represents "volume." Overall, it shows that in comparison to the volume of the globe the amount of water on the planet is very small - and the oceans are only a "thin film" of water on the surface.

Spheres representing all of Earth's water, Earth's liquid fresh water, and water in lakes and rivers

The largest sphere represents all of Earth's water, and its diameter is about 860 miles (the distance from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Topeka, Kansas). It would have a volume of about 332,500,000 cubic miles (mi3) (1,386,000,000 cubic kilometers (km3)). The sphere includes all the water in the oceans, ice caps, lakes, and rivers, as well as groundwater, atmospheric water, and even the water in you, your dog, and your tomato plant.

Liquid fresh water

How much of the total water is fresh water, which people and many other life forms need to survive? The blue sphere over Kentucky represents the world's liquid fresh water (groundwater, lakes, swamp water, and rivers). The volume comes to about 2,551,100 mi3 (10,633,450 km3), of which 99 percent is groundwater, much of which is not accessible to humans. The diameter of this sphere is about 169.5 miles (272.8 kilometers).

Water in lakes and rivers

Do you notice that "tiny" bubble over Atlanta, Georgia? That one represents fresh water in all the lakes and rivers on the planet, and most of the water people and life of earth need every day comes from these surface-water sources. The volume of this sphere is about 22,339 mi3 (93,113 km3). The diameter of this sphere is about 34.9 miles (56.2 kilometers). Yes, Lake Michigan looks way bigger than this sphere, but you have to try to imagine a bubble almost 35 miles high—whereas the average depth of Lake Michigan is less than 300 feet (91 meters).
The data used on this page comes from Igor Shiklomanov's estimate of global water distribution, shown in a table below.

Credit: Howard Perlman, USGS; globe illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (©); Adam Nieman.

Data source: Igor Shiklomanov's chapter "World fresh water resources" in Peter H. Gleick (editor), 1993, Water in Crisis: A Guide to the World's Fresh Water Resources (Oxford University Press, New York).

Saturday, June 16, 2012

ReThink London: World leading ideas needed

This is going to be a busy day. No time for blogging. But, I want to leave you with a thought or two.

London wants to be a world leading, well run community. According to what I understand from attending ReThink London events, the city want to be known for its innovative approach to urban living.

O.K. Here are the little bits of sand, the irritants if you will, now to fashion the comforting pearls.

1. Mass transit is a challenge almost everywhere for a number of clear reasons. One being that, if given a choice, people like cars.

2. Google has spend a bundle perfecting robotic cars. I believe they have logged more than a million miles without an accident (while under robot control. One car had an accident caused by a human driver and another was rear-ended in traffic.)

3. Some places in the world have, or are, experimenting with community cars. These are cars that are available to those who have paid a fee to be able to access the service. Pick up a car and drive it from one community lot to another close to where you were wanting to go.

4. There are cars being built in the world, but not offered for sale in North America, that are very interesting when it comes to urban transportation. e.g. The Volkswagen Up. Read about the Up here;

- Reviewing the Volkswagen Up (New York Times)
- Just passing through impressively (New York Times)

5. There is an unused automobile assembly plant on the south edge of London, the closed Ford St. Thomas Assembly Plant.

6. Some communities have, or are, experimenting with computer controlled bus routes which can deviate from established routes to pick up and drop off riders. An older, failed, non computer managed system was the Dial-a-Ride Service in the '70s in Santa Clara, CA or the Dial-a-Bus run by GO Transit briefly in Toronto in the early '70s. I lived in T.O. at the time and recall the pluses and minuses of the GO Transit plant. Adding today's computer power to the Santa Clara or the Toronto systems would change the dynamics of the experimental operations.

7. Ultra small cars could be run on narrower-than-normal lanes dedicated to the ultra small vehicles.

8. Somewhere in the above there is a creative, imaginative, not being done anywhere else in the world, idea on rapid transit and if a company like Google and/or a car company making a suitable, ultra small, urban car (an automatic would be, I believe, a requirement and this puts the UP out of the running), could be convinced to conduct a community-wide experiment using London as the test bed something could be achieved that was unique and not break the bank costly.

I apologize for any typos but I've got to get going.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

ReThink London could take inspiration from Savannah, GA

Savannah, Georgia, is one of my favourite places when it comes to a successful street grid. Check out all the parks or squares that dot the heritage section of this Southern city.

Notice all the squares dotting the heritage neighbourhood in Savannah, GA.
At the ReThink London meeting I was told that urban planning is a new concept. I'm not so sure. I think urban planning is as old as urban living. Humans like planning stuff. It's in our make-up.

From Savannah Squares:

As originally laid out, each of the Savannah squares was at the center of a basic organizational unit called a ward. Each ward contained a square. All communal activities of a ward took place in the square which was at its center. As the wards and squares were planned, the east and west sides of each square contained two large lots, known as “trust lots”. These lots were reserved for public buildings, such as churches, schools and institutions. On the north and south sides of the squares, the land was divided into 20 “tithing lots”, with a lane down the middle for passage. These lanes form the streets of Savannah’s historic district today.

When I was in Savannah, I loved the walkable nature of the heritage area. It was laid out before the car but it was as easy to drive around as to walk around. Savannah is famous for good reason. The old town is a wonderful place.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

ReThink London: See what others have done

On Saturday, June 23, 2012, ReThink London is holding its next event. Those attending are being asked to craft a vision for London. Participants will discuss community goals and city priorities in five different areas and then they will discuss the policies and strategies necessary for success.

I love cities. All my life I've had strong feeling about cities. But being opinionated doesn't make me an urban planner. The Saturday meeting will not be all that long: Three hours. Being prepared will be very important if anything of substance is to be accomplished.

I wondered what the twenty-year plans of other cities were like and I recalled I had noticed Birmingham, Michigan, had posted their plan from 2006. Birmingham is a cool city. In fact, the idea for London's downtown pocket patios was inspired by the platform patios in Birmingham.

Click the link and check out the proposals. The famous new urbanist firm of Duany Plater-Zyberk is behind the work. It shows.

Check out the two pictures from the Birmingham Report on the right. The top one shows how the location looked in the recent past; The second image shows the new building that has been erected.

Now, think of the boring brick residential apartment complex recently built where the former Hudson's department store was in East London. It would be a dull building anywhere but being just down from the heritage Lilley's Corners means it is a clear blight on the streetscape.

Let's be clear, Birmingham isn't the only city putting up new buildings that enhance their city. Markham, Ontario, has plans to achieve something very similar on their main drag. In fact, our very London has pulled this off: Think Capitol Theatre and the Bowles Building beside it.

In the London core, the Bowles Building on the right is new.
The Bowles lunch building is a completely new facade made to look  like the original facade that unfortunately had deteriorated over time. The facade could not be saved and so was replaced. Some fancy, curved stuff disappeared but few notice the missing details.

There's a lesson here. If you can demolish a heritage building and then rebuild it with almost no one the wiser --- as was done with the Bowles Building --- you can erect new buildings with a heritage feel anywhere such a structure is needed. Done right, the result looks good without being too costly. Achieve the look with design and not expensive materials.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review: 2011 VW Jetta TDI

The new VW Jetta sports a classic look overlaid with gentle curves.

It has been two years eight months and almost 63,000 km since my wife and I last went car shopping. I had a short list of cars I liked and my wife had a short list of cars she didn't. Although the VW Jetta TDI didn't appear on either list, in the end that was the car that caught our eye. (Link to U.S.A. VW Jetta site.)

The TDI in the name signifies the car is powered by Volkswagen's Turbo Direct Injection diesel engine, an engine that has been given some serious updating with the arrival of the 2015 model. Having now driven thousands of kilometres in a TDI, I am prepared to answer a number of the most common questions concerning diesel car ownership.

First, how much more expensive is it to buy diesel fuel rather than gasoline? Many car reviewers argue that the savings gained by driving a fuel thrifty diesel is consumed by the extra cost of the diesel fuel in comparison to regular grade gasoline. Is this true? Not in my experience. I drive in London, Ontario, in Canada.

When last I checked, if I had burned gasoline rather than diesel I would have saved all of $32.20 burning gas. That's pennies. But, take the high mileage of the diesel into account and the diesel becomes the star of the fuel cost story.

At one point, my TDI was returning 40.2 mpg (Imp.) or 33.5 mpg (U.S.). That's far better than a comparable gasoline powered car. For instance, a 2011 Toyota Corolla with a 2.4 L, 4 cylinder and a five speed automatic may deliver 25 mpg (U.S.) in mixed city/country driving.

Taking both cost of diesel and fuel consumption into account, I calculate I have saved something in the neighbourhood of $2000 in fuel costs so far. Very nice. Does that cover the extra cost of the diesel over the gasoline engined Jetta? No it doesn't but it is closing the gap. I can see the break even point on the horizon.

Remember, these figures are mine. Your numbers may differ. If you drive a lot of highway miles, the difference may well be in your favour. For the longest time I was making a monthly trip to Burlington and my mileage was noticeably better. Now that I am driving almost exclusively in the city, my TDI fuel economy has suffered.

One last word on fuel economy: I'm often asked, what is the best fuel economy achieved by my diesel thus far? The answer is a little better than 60 mpg (Imp.). To achieve this, I stayed off the freeway on a drive to the Kitchener/Waterloo area. By taking older, slower highways I kept my cruising speed between 80 and 90 km/h. An ideal speed for the achieving the lowest possible fuel consumption figures.

VW Clean Diesel Distance Calculator
What is the farthest I've driven between fill-ups? That one is easy. Twice I have driven from London, Ontario, all the way to Montreal, Quebec, without needing to stop for fuel. You gotta love it.

VW Canada has posted a Clean Diesel Distance Calculator. Type in your postal code or address and discover how far from home you can travel on one tank of fuel. VW figures I could drive all the way Mont Ste. Anne's for a skiing holiday in Quebec without making a fuel stop. I believe them

The base VW Jetta TDI has a stick shift but my wife and I opted for the DSG (dual-shift gearbox) automatic transmission. This added $1400 (Cdn.) to the price of our car but we are glad we did it. You see, the manual shifter has collected some complaints. Reportedly, the 2011 Jetta TDI has a relatively stiff clutch pedal. Some drivers encounter stalling problems when pulling away from a stop. Others have complained their cars stall when shifted too early into second gear. Holding the car in first gear longer, some say, eliminates these stalls.

The stalling complaints are not new. According to Consumer Reports (CR) in an August 2010 article:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched an investigation into stalling problems with 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI diesel cars. . . . CR went on to report their manual transmission-equipped 2010 Jetta and Golf TDI were both overly easy to stall in some low-speed situations, such as second-gear stop-and-go traffic. That said, Consumer Reports did not experience stalling as described in the NHTSA report.

My second car is a Morgan I bought new in 1968.
I have drove a stick shift for 45 years, a Morgan Plus 4 with no syncro in first. I think I understand the present VW problem. I found my Morgan ornery at first. And when others, not familiar with the little roadster, tried to drive her, she balked. Some cars insist on being understood.

After 43 years shifting an old moss box, I opted for the DSG tranny. This sophisticated double-clutch transmission can be thought of as two transmissions in one, each fitted with its own clutch. This is how Autos.ca. describes the set-up:

"One clutch manages the odd gears (1,3,5), the other clutch manages the even gears (2,4,6). When you’re in an “odd” gear, the transmission pre-selects or pre-engages the upcoming 'even' gear, so that changes are almost instant" — some claim the DSG system can shift in as little as 8 milliseconds.

Both my wife and I have found our DSG tranny well matched to our TDI's torque-rich power curve. The turbo diesel pumps out 236 ft-lbs of torque at 1,750 rpm. (The new engine in the 2015 delivers very similar numbers.) This big hit of torque in the low end of the power band gives the  illusion of the car being incredibly powerful for a four — it is — but if you think it is far faster than other cars in its class, well, it isn't.

It must be noted that some owners have complained that their DSG transmission shifts harshly. It can be tricky programming a computer controlled transmission to please everyone. When I wrote this, Volkswagen was still trying. A few months after buying our Jetta, the dealer upgraded the firmware in our DSG transmission to fix a problem we didn't know we had.

The transmission firmware, found in the Electronic Control Unit or ECU, uses "fuzzy logic" to quickly adapt the shift response to the driving style of the driver. The DSG tranny, controlled by the onboard computer, doesn't exactly learn as some claim but it does custom tailor its shift points during use. The December software upgrade apparently modified the "fuzzy logic" algorithm used by our ECU.

The Jetta TDI transmission can be operated as either a six speed automatic, this save fuel, or as a sporty five speed. In the D or six speed position both my wife and I have believed the engine felt like it was lugging a little at low rpm's — especially in the city.

It is not actually lugging I've been assured. Diesels don't lug like gasoline powered cars. Yet, some folk find this annoying and their complaints forced VW to modify the computer code to rectify a non-problem.

A quicker cure for the lugging problem is simply using the sport setting. This allows the revs to climb higher before the shift. In the city, I like the extra bounce this puts in the Jetta's step. But, as much as I like the sport setting, I keep returning to D. It keeps my fuel bills low. One month I didn't spend $40 on fuel. You've gotta love it.

Lastly, the driver can shift the DSG transmission manually by sliding the shifter all the way to the right. In Tiptronic mode, push the gear shift forward to up shift and pull the lever back to down shift. In this mode, the DSG transmission is operated primarily by the driver, but there are some built-in overrides to protect the transmission from driver error. Of course, there is no clutch pedal.

As you have probably already gathered, the VW diesel is not a thumping, clunking iron beast pumping out sound, fury and blue smoke. They don't call it a clean diesel for nothing. A modern direct injection diesel engine burning today's Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) fuel cuts exhaust emissions and eliminates diesel odors at the tail pipe.
Is it hard to find ULSD fuel? No. All diesel fuel sold at stations across Canada and the United States is now ULSD fuel. It's the law. The only problem I have run into is pulling up to a pump only to discover that the nozzle is too big a diametre for our car. Apparently, large diesel trucks are filled with fuel using an oversized nozzle to save precious time by pumping more fuel quickly. Recently, on a trip to Montreal, we encountered this problem.

All that said, I must admit that there have been times when our Jetta didn't hide its diesel heritage. For instance, on cold winter mornings, before the engine has warmed, the engine can be louder than usual. But, these times have been only momentary distractions. Generally our TDI has been very well mannered, keeping its unique diesel voice politely muffled.

One nice feature of our Jetta are the heated front seats. Both the seats and the seat backs quickly get warm and toasty. With three levels of heat intensity, you can wean yourself off the luxury of the smile-inducing heat in stages. No need to suffer heated-seat-withdrawal.

Diesels, by the way, take a little longer than a gas engine on fiercely cold winter mornings to pump out cabin-warming air. On those mornings, all too common this winter, the heated seats are a godsend.

During the cold months, I fill the tank more frequently with the goal of minimizes the chance of  water condensation contaminating my fuel. I understand this can occur in an almost empty fuel tank. And, speaking of contamination, I always try to say I am fueling the car and not gassing it up.

I do this to remind myself I am driving a diesel. I understand keeping gas out of the tank has been a problem for some diesel drivers. The nozzle on a diesel pump is usually a larger diameter than the one on an unleaded gas pump. This difference makes it difficult to put diesel in a gasoline powered vehicle but it does not protect the diesel driver from gasoline contamination.

I know one Jetta TDI owner who pumped gas instead of diesel. That resulted in a big, unexpected bill. Then he lent his car to a friend who topped it up with gas before returning it. Another big bill. Then he had an attendant at a full service station, or should I say fool service, pump the wrong fuel. Aauuggh, again! Another tow to the VW dealer and another big bill.

Many diesel pumps and/or nozzles are colour coded. But the colour coding is not consistent. In and around London, Ontario, bright yellow indicates diesel. In the States pump nozzles may have a green, black or even red plastic cover, depending on the station and the location.

Look for the word diesel; Keep the brain in gear; Keep gasoline out of the tank.

I also stay away from biodiesel. Another driver I know had serious problems after the biodiesel congealed in the cold Canadian winter. The result was a costly repair consuming a lot of the accumulated fuel consumption savings.

My "no biodiesel rule" is stricter than the recommendation from Volkswagen. The German car maker allows a 5 percent blend of biodiesel. I might play with biodiesel in the middle of the hot Canadian summer but otherwise I say no thanks. For more about the Jetta TDI and its green creds, follow this link to a Hybrid Cars article.

I guess I can't put off addressing the styling of the new Jetta. Obviously, I like the look but lots of early reviewers didn't. On its release, the automotive press recoiled at its conservative styling and at the choice of cabin interior materials. "Too much hard plastic," the critics said. Some went so far as to call the look "cheap."

Note the wicker seats in the Renault 4CV Ghia Jolly from '62.
My response? I say, "They don't know cheap." I'm old. I'm in my 60s. I can recall when cars really had cheap interiors. I believe it was a Renault 4 my friend Kathy drove in the '60s that had front seats made of canvas suspended from steel-tube frames. Now, that was cheap! (But that car was also cool, as was Kathy.)

That said, the Jetta interior is on the simple side and to me that's good. The Honda Civic was on my list of potential cars, as was the Ford Fiesta and Ford Focus.

Ford Fiesta interior
All got bounced for a number of reasons. One reason common to all was the look of the interiors and the complex stack of controls rising from the centre console. Lots of buttons and often lots of faux matte aluminum-looking surfaces. And lots of confusion for an old geezer.

One note: My nephew, an architect, bought a Fiesta. He loves it. He finds it a wonderful subcompact hitting well above its weight class. Clearly, one man's confusion is another's delight. Don't write off any car because of a reviewer's opinion. Go to the dealership and take a look for yourself. Go for a test drive.

VW dash layout is simple and executed in hard, black plastic.
We also considered the Prius and the Lexus hybrid. I liked the look of the Prius but my wife didn't. The Lexus hybrid was out too, out of stock, with no new cars expected for 60 to 90 days. All the problems in Japan at the time slowed deliveries of the fuel sipping luxury car.

Plus, both my wife and I were leery of the batteries in those hybrid cars. I have had bad luck with rechargeable batteries in cameras, computer notebooks and toys. Rechargeable batteries are not a selling point with me. Time may prove me wrong. We'll see.

The Jetta TDI Comfortline instrumentation could have been more complete. I miss a temperature gauge and an oil pressure gauge, for instance. It would be nice to have the cruise control placed in a handy spot on the top of the wheel spokes instead of being found on a control stalk which is somewhat hidden.

On the other hand, when driving in the States I can program the digital dash display to show my speed in mph: Handy. Also, there is an outside temperature display that flashes and beeps a warning if the temperature falls close to freezing. Disc brakes on all four wheels are another bragging point but personally I have never been disappointed by cars with drum brakes on the rear, and I think they are cheaper to buy and to maintain.

I have tested my Jetta's accident avoidance abilities; It passed. A fellow pulled out from a driveway into my lane. I made a quick dodge around the careless dude. The Jetta handled beautifully. My wife tells me that she too has had to take quick, evasive action. She found the car responsive while in-control. She gave our Jetta two thumbs up and she's a tough critic.

Our car has lots of pluses but so do many of its competitors in the compact car market. I'm thinking of the stuff that came standard on my Jetta Comfortline: traction control, stability control, ABS brakes, air conditioning, cruise control, adjustable steering wheel, heated seats, anti-theft system, alloy wheels . . . . Lot's of cars can match that list feature for feature.

When it comes to features, there is one car that easily beats my 2011 Jetta — and that's a new Jetta. Stuff that was optional is now standard and some of mechanical components have been upgraded. A new Jetta may look the same as mine but in reality it is a better car.

One last confession: I can't really afford my Jetta. I'm retired and money is tight. When I was working, I drove the least expensive cars I could find. When I left the newspaper, I was driving a Saturn Ion. I hang my head in shame. My Morgan never had to share garage space with the Ion.

So, how did I afford a car that's worth almost twice that of my old Saturn? I didn't pay for it, at least not all of it. Volkswagen has a program where you pay back only a portion of the cost of your new car. There will be a balance owing at the end of the payback period. After 60 months, I will be stuck with a balloon payment for just under $8000.

When the five year loan is repaid, I must make the balloon payment. I will probably get a 30 month bank loan. If the car is worth more as a trade than the balance owing, I may just trade-in my Jetta and buy a new one.

Kelley Blue Book in the U.S. figures 48-cents/mi over 6 yrs.
My hope is my Jetta will be a fine car to own, with reasonable maintenance costs. It's already saving me cash on fuel, lots of cash. (I'm spending about 9 cents a km on fuel. This climbed from about 7.7 cents as fuel prices rose over the past few months.)

VW recommends an oil change every 15,000 km or 9300 miles. That's good; A TDI oil change is more money than I'm used to paying — the cost at the dealership is just less than $100. That's not surprising as the VW branded oil is more than $10 a litre. Still, all costs considered, this is fractionally less for oil than I had been paying. Another small savings.

At 60,000 km I am required to have the oil and filter changed in my DSG transmission. The dealer charges $425 for this service. I have heard some whining over this maintenance cost but if you look at the big picture, this oil/filter change does not amount to even a penny per kilometre. This is not a "break the bank" cost.

I can see a brake job in my future. Brakes wear, that's life. I can live with this. It's my engine and my tranny I'm praying will only require normal servicing. To me, both seem like sophisticated pieces of machinery and sophisticated can translate into expensive when repairs are needed.

Let's admit it. Some things can be compared easily and some things can't. If you want to compare gas mileage of various cars, I advise using the EPA site out of the States. The EPA numbers are far more accurate than the numbers released by the Canadians.

Important stuff, like the DSG transmission and the turbo charged diesel, are far harder to evaluate for others, especially when the competition in the car market is so fierce. This is why it is so important that you take a VW Jetta TDI for a long demo drive. Talk to the dealer and do more than circle the block. Get a feel for the car, and let the car get a feel for you.

I did and the car sold itself.

Photo: PR Volkwagen

Two sour notes: With less than 65,000 kms on the car, the front coil spring on the passenger side exploded. My wife and I were at a service centre on 401 when the spring, part of the front suspension, broke with a loud bang. Luckily, the car was not moving at the time. Witnesses said they saw a burst of dust coming from the front of the car and then the front passenger side corner fell an inch.

We had the car towed to the nearest VW dealer where is remained for five days. We were forced to rent a replacement automobile in order to complete our trip. VW is picking up the cost of the tow and the repairs as the car is still under warranty but it appears they may only reimburse us for $300 of our out-of-pocket expenses related to the incident: hotel room, unanticipated restaurant meals and rental car. We spent more than $400 and are annoyed that a major component failed while under warranty and yet we are out money.

But that is not the end of this story. When I brought my Jetta in for its 105,000 km oil change and inspection, it was discovered that the front coil spring on the driver's side was broken. My believes she heard it 'explode' one night while parked in our garage at home. She thought the loud bang might have been a very large bird flying into our garage door. She was puzzled when she found nothing in the morning.

Now, both front coils have had to be replaced. This simply shouldn't be. My bill for what should have been a simple oil change and inspection came to just more than $800. Wow!

Did VW get install a batch of defective coil springs? Something is certainly amiss. I am beginning to believe that having these coils fail is not a rare occurrence. One theory holds that automobile manufacturers, like VW, in striving to cut the weight of their vehicles have cut too much. They have trimmed so much from the front suspension coils that these important items are now prone to failure from metal fatigue caused by thousands of miles of constant flexing.

ReThink London: The answer is "fused grid"

The woman was at the ReThink London event because she cared about her city. After the presentation, she had one simple question for the speaker: When it comes to urban land use, is the traditional grid pattern the best approach for conserving land? The speaker didn't have an answer.

I did. I had my notebook computer open on my lap, connected to the Internet. The London Convention Centre is a public hotspot. I googled 'CMHC' and 'fused'. Voila! (If you don't understand voila, google it.)

Visit the CMHC site and you will learn that the grid pattern of streets often encountered in older neighbourhoods provides connectivity at the expense of tranquility and safety. These are but two of the good reasons people stopped building neighbourhoods with long, straight, intersecting streets going it seemed to infinity.

Read reporter Randy Richmond's piece, They call it placemaking, in The London Free Press and posted online by the city planning department. Read it carefully, read it critically, ask questions and use google to search for answers.

If you think critically, you may come to the same conclusions as the CMHC-sponsored research.

[The traditional] grid pattern ushered in the era of traffic calming through use of speed bumps, traffic circles and stop signs which together impede traffic flow, increase automobile emissions and noise, reduce air quality and often lead to driver frustration. These grid street patterns are the most land consuming and consequently the least environmentally sustainable.

The research showed that neither the grid street pattern nor the looping suburban street pattern were the optimum solution. A new hybrid of the two approaches, called the fused grid, was suggested. It got this name because it is a synthesis of two well known and extensively used street patterns: the grid, in use since about 2000BC, and the Radburn, a recent approach to street planning.

The claim is made that "the fused grid balances the needs of the pedestrian and the motorist. It responds to the quest for economic efficiency and the need for environmental stewardship. It promotes active transportation which improves health and reduces vehicular travel and green house gas (GHG) emissions."

If you are attending ReThink London meetings, I would highly recommend reading the CMHC post on the fused grid: A neighbourhood and district layout model. Stratford, Ontario, studied three options for a new residential neighbourhood, and selected the fused grid model. Download a free copy of the CMHC report, Applying Fused-Grid Planning in Stratford, Ontario.

Wikipedia also has a good article on the fused grid.

Monday, June 11, 2012

ReThinking ReThink London

Voting is time consuming, especially when voting for multiple images.



Don't get me wrong; I like the ReThink London concept. The problems I have encountered are in the details.

Take the ReThink London website. I would rate it only fair. Each time I visit the site, I come away with another thought for improvement. I've sent off an e-mail to the ReThink folk and we'll see what they say, if anything.

Show and Tell

So, what has bothered me? Let me tell you. Visitors are encouraged to submit photos to a Show and Tell page. All the images are displayed as part of one big mosaic. To see a small image large, click on it. It will grow a little and a coloured transparent overlay at the bottom of the image will appear. In the bottom right is the word 'view.' Click on 'view.' Finally, the image enlarges.

At this point, you can vote on the image or add a comment. This is a nice feature but it does not seem to be being used. My guess is burying this panel stops visitors from voting and/or commenting.

The only way I've found to return to the mosaic display is to use your browser's back button and start again. Voting and commenting is tedious and time consuming. I would suggest, at the very least, that the ReThink London team eliminate the in-between step. Let the images enlarge to the max with the first click.

Join the Conversation

ReThink London is trying to encourage dialogue. To that end the RT team has posted a Join the Conversation page encouraging visitors to comment on a couple of questions:

  • What do you like about London?
  • What would you change about London?

A quick glance at the numbers indicates pretty fair level of visitor involvement --- or do they? The first question has attracted 414 comments and the second one has attracted 622 comments. But click the comment link and you will discover that it may be only one person posting the bulk of the comments.

Does this verge on spam?

Five one line comments submitted by participant in a time spanning less than two minutes. Suspicious? I thought so, but I was wrong. This occurs over and over again with the longest run of one line comments posted in a brief length of time being 65. But there is an explanation.

Londoners are submitting comments on suggestion cards. Often these comments are only one line long. The ReThink London team take these cards, read them and input the comments. They do not have the right to attach the writer's name and that is why these long lines of suggestions are all signed 'participant.'

I suggest supplying a short explanation and then typing all the one line comments into the system one line after another. The way it is done now the first comments that are input are buried. Very few people will see them. It is difficult to see all the comments as they are spread over a number of pages.

Surely, it cannot be that hard to allow replying to a comment in a bullet-formatted list. Following is an example of what I am describing.

What I like about London:
  • Historic buildings downtown
  • Emerging artist community
  • River Valley Corridor Parkway
  • The older neighbourhoods - Woodfield, Wortley Village, Old East, Blackfriars
  • Lots for seniors to do
  • Easy commute to work
  • UWO
  • Meadowlily
  • Western Fair; London Nationals

This, of course, still does not encourage dialogue. Now, we need an easy way for people to converse, to discuss a suggestion. To work together to fine-tune an idea.


My idea here would be to have a couple of voting fields: One a thumbs up and the other a thumbs down. This encourages good ideas, ones that have a lot of support, to rise to the top. This also helps to drive bad ideas to the bottom. Ah, if all this was done we'd be enjoying something approaching a conversation.

That's it for now. I will bring my notebook to the meeting tonight. Possibly I will be able to show this post to someone at the Convention Centre.