JANUARY 2006 - Recent Posts
Check out the archives for last month's posts.

Intercultural Vancouver :: 27.01.05
Noteworth events, duly noted :: 27.01.06
Roadsworth freed :: 27.01.06
Go vote! :: 23.01.06
Scenes from Stephen Harper Country :: 23.01.06
On the train :: 18.01.06
Temple of Heaven :: 17.01.06
Skyline :: 16.01.06
Wait :: 15.01.06
Walk :: 14.01.06
Three unrelated photos :: 06.01.06

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Urbanphoto was established in 1999 as a venue for people to  explore the urban environment through photography. It is edited by Christopher DeWolf, a student, writer and amateur photographer from Montreal.



Intercultural Vancouver
Friday, January 27, 2006 - Christopher DeWolf

Dried fish in Chinatown.
Vancouver, August 2004. Christopher DeWolf

My latest column in Maisonneuve deals with Chinese New Year in Vancouver and how that celebration is a symbol of intercultural exchange in Canada’s Western metropolis. For more on exactly what that means, go read the article. Come back when you’re doing, though, because I’ve decided to share a passage that was cut from the final version.

Gung Haggis Fat Choy has launched Wong into local prominence. He’s been featured in just about every media outlet in Vancouver and the CBC even created a Gung Haggis Fat Choy television special that showcased artists and musicians in the spirit of the event. Using his Gung Haggis Fat Choy blog as a home base, Wong has set out to explore intercultural Vancouver in all its guises. Wong, a fifth-generation Canadian whose grandfather immigrated to British Columbia in 1891, has joined the fight for an official apology and compensation for Chinese head-tax payers. The issue has become a major point of contention in Vancouver, where it could help decide the outcome of the federal election on January 23. What is most remarkable is how the issue has been taken up not just by head-tax payers and their descendants, but by recent immigrants and non-Chinese Vancouverites as well. “With this election campaign on head tax issues, I think it’s helped the Chinese community learn about itself,” muses Wong. “The new immigrants now are learning about the head-tax paying pioneers and the multigenerational descendants like myself are learning that the Chinese-language media here is really big and important. For the first time I find myself listening to Chinese-language radio!” He chuckles, adding: “In Vancouver, we’re really seeing the rise of a Chinese Canada, a really strong Chinese-language culture.”

It’s hard to say just how much the head-tax issue affected the outcome of the election last Monday (Wong seems to think it had an impact, judging by a recent post on his blog), but what I find most interesting is how a matter that directly affects only a small portion of Canada’s Chinese community has become a rallying point for such a broad and diverse group of people. The Chinese-language media, which is targeted mostly towards foreign-born transplants from Hong Kong, was instrumental in making the head tax a hot political item, seeming to bridge the divide between recent immigrants and native-born Chinese-Canadians.

You barely have to scratch Vancouver’s surface to find even more examples of intercultural exchange. Today I came across three great examples. The current issue of Canadian Geographic contains a great story on the bhangra-inspired Punjabi hip hop scene that is currently exploding in Vancouver. Meanwhile, this week’s edition of the Georgia Straight features an article on what Chinese New Year means to multi-generational (and often mixed-race) Chinese-Canadians and another on Julia Kwan’s new movie Eve and the Fire Horse, a whimsical look at a young Chinese-Canadian girl growing up in 1970s Vancouver. It all adds up to exciting times in a city that is often derided as anything but exciting.

Head to the archives for last month's posts.

Noteworthy events, duly noted
Friday, January 27, 2006 - Christopher DeWolf

Streetcar on Spadina. Photo by Sam Javanrouh

Torontonians, take note! Spacing has mounted In Transit, a new exhibition at the Toronto Free Gallery (660 Queen East) that takes a close look at public transit in Canada’s largest city. Combining the audio, video, photo and painted work of twenty-five artists, In Transit looks at the relationship of transit with the city and with ourselves. You have until February 28 to catch it.

In Montreal, meanwhile, the Canadian Centre for Architecture is presenting Blind Spot, a film series on ordinary-yet-overlooked life in the city that will compliment its ongoing Senses of the City exhibition. Every Thursday at 6pm, from now until March 2, you can catch a wide range of free documentaries such as Zhang’s Diner (February 2), about two villagers in northern China who move to Beijing and open a restaurant in a seedy neighbourhood; Dark Days (February 23), about a community of homeless who live in a subway tunnel underneath Manhattan; or the widely-acclaimed Born into Brothels (March 2), a lively look at the lives of several children who live in the red light district of Calcutta.

Head to the archives for last month's posts.

Roadsworth freed
Friday, January 27, 2006 - Christopher DeWolf

Roadsworth's work. Photo
s by Peter Gibson

“Free Roadsworth!” I cried just over a year ago, after one the creator of some of Montreal’s most fascinating street art was arrested and charged with fifty-three counts of mischief. I wasn’t alone: a campaign to free Roadsworth, led by Zeke’s Gallery, attracted an abundance of media attention and a flood of letters to Montreal city councillors and the mayor’s office. Those letters helped: as the Montreal Mirror reported yesterday, Roadsworth, also known as Peter Gibson, has been let off lightly after a year of legal hell: no criminal record, a manageable $250 fine (about a thousand times less than what the police threatened he could get) and forty hours of community service in – get this – arts-related activities on the Plateau. In other words, the city has managed to both uphold the law and endorse Roadsworth’s art at the same time.

It’s all very indicative of the city’s hypocritical stance toward street art. On one hand, it sponsors exhibitions on the subject and commissions work by well-known street artists such as Roadsworth, who was hired to put his talents to work on a bike path in the Old Port as well as near the Darling Foundry art space in Griffintown. On the other, it cracks down arbitrarily on those same artists, forcing them to pay fines and do work elsewhere. And as Laura Boudreau points out in her article on Roadsworth in the new issue of Spacing, government crackdown on unsanctioned street art is a way to preserve the hegemony of advertising in the public realm. The end result is unsettling: plastering ads on everything from bike racks to newsstands to buildings is a-okay, but creating a piece of art on a brick wall is not.

One of the conditions of Roadsworth’s probation is that he avoid the use of stencils and spraycans without city approval, so he won’t be getting back to his old work anytime soon. Most of it is gone anyway, faded by salt, snow and summer heat. But his work can still be seen on canvas this week at Blizzarts (3956A St. Laurent) along with art by Francisco Garcia, whose poster portraits of friends, family and familiar neighbourhood faces have been popping up around Mile End since the fall.

Head to the archives for last month's posts.

Go vote!
Monday, January 23, 2006 - Christopher DeWolf

NDP sign in Trinity-Spadina. Photo by Shawn Micallef

Canadians head to the polls today. Well, okay, about two-thirds of those registered to vote. And maybe not even that. It's a shame, really, because despite the cynicism that is in vogue at the moment, the federal government really can accomplish a lot and your vote really can make a difference. There are plenty of things to consider when you vote but one of them is too often ignored: cities. It shouldn't be necessary to stress how important cities are to Canadians. We live in them, we walk on their sidewalks and pass by their homeless. We ride public transit and drive on city streets, we breath city air. We participate in urban arts and culture. We make our money in cities. Without healthy urban areas, Canada cannot properly function: it's as simple as that.

So what are Canada's political parties promising for cities? Not as much as they could. This isn't so much about money as it is about attitude. No party has taken a truly holistic approach to cities, one that understands how so many important and seemingly disparate issues, ranging from crime to infrastructure to immigration, have an intimate relationship with cities. Part of the problem has to do with Canada's constitutional arrangement. Cities are completely controlled by the provinces, so establishing a a cohesive national strategy for dealing with urban issues -- say, a Department of Urban Affairs -- would be a complicated and divisive endeavour. One solution might be to emulate Ontario and its remarkably progressive Toronto Act, which makes Canada's largest city the most autonomous municipality in the country, with unprecedented new powers to raise money and regulate its own affairs.

That said, each party offers a number of things that are of interest to urbanites. You can read about them in my latest Maisonneuve column, "New Ballot, New Deal." Right now, though, I'll cut to the chase: who's getting my vote? Drum roll, please... it's the NDP. There are plenty of reasons why Canadians might not want to vote for the NDP, but its urban platform shouldn't be among them. Jack Layton's party offers by far the most progressive approach to urban issues, pledging to fight for a larger share of the gas tax for cities, more money for affordable housing and more money for urban infrastructure. The NDP's environmental program is even better than that of the Green Party -- just ask the Sierra Club. And, of course, the NDP has a generally progressive approach to a wide range of issues that have a direct and indirect impact on cities, such as culture and immigration.

It seems clear that the next government will be a Conservative one, unless there is a sudden and highly unlikely shift of opinion this afternoon. But that government will probably hold a minority of seats in Parliament. I might risk sounding like Jack Layton's pet parrot when I say this, but a strong NDP will help to check the Conservatives' power -- and they will help keep the urban agenda alive.

Of course, it's unlikely that I'm going to change your mind today, even if you read this before voting. What's important, though, is that you actually do vote. Despite the limitations of Canada's democratic system, your vote is important. There are many tight races across Canada and plenty of ridings that are still too close to call. Even for those in ridings where the outcome is virtually predetermined -- hello, Calgarians -- your vote can translate into money for the political party of your choice. So get out and vote!

Head to the archives for last month's posts.

Scenes from Stephen Harper Country
Monday, January 23, 2006 - Christopher DeWolf

Posters on 17th Avenue.
Calgary, December 2005. Christopher DeWolf

Confusion, happiness and annoyance.
Calgary, December 2005. Christopher DeWolf

Crossing First Street at Eighth.
Calgary, December 2005. Christopher DeWolf

Head to the archives for last month's posts.

On the train
Wednesday, January 18, 2006 - Christopher DeWolf

C-Train on Seventh Avenue
Calgary, December 2005. Christopher DeWolf

Boarding the C-Train downtown.
Calgary, December 2005. Christopher DeWolf

Head to the archives for last month's posts.

Temple of Heaven
Tuesday, January 17, 2006 - Christopher DeWolf

Chinese Cultural Centre, First Street.
Calgary, December 2005. Christopher DeWolf

Women chatting on Centre Street.
Calgary, December 2005. Christopher DeWolf

Centre Street at night.
Calgary, December 2005. Christopher DeWolf

Head to the archives for last month's posts.

Monday, January 16, 2006 - Christopher DeWolf

Downtown from Bridgeland.
Calgary, December 2005. Christopher DeWolf

View from Beaulieu Park.
Calgary, December 2005. Christopher DeWolf

Head to the archives for last month's posts.

Sunday, January 15, 2006 - Christopher DeWolf

Waiting for the train at Centre Street.
Calgary, December 2005. Christopher DeWolf

Waiting to cross at Seventh and Centre.
Calgary, December 2005. Christopher DeWolf

Head to the archives for last month's posts.

Saturday, January 14, 2006 - Christopher DeWolf

Sidewalk grate with footsteps.
Calgary, December 2005. Christopher DeWolf

Crossing Seventh Avenue.
Calgary, December 2005. Christopher DeWolf

Head to the archives for last month's posts.

Three unrelated photos
Friday, January 6, 2006 - Christopher DeWolf

Festive commuters waiting for the train.
Calgary, December 2005. Christopher DeWolf

I have to admit: I'm still in vacation mode. (Yes, even lazy people can take vacations. We just get even lazier.) Today I am mining the Urbanphoto Gallery and hauling out some photos from Hong Kong. In the next coming weeks, however, you can expect more wintery scenes from Montreal and some shots from Calgary.

Calgary is where I have spent the past two weeks. I grew up there and moved away nearly four years ago, sick of its banal architecture, lack of streetlife and provincial shelteredness. There's no hard feelings, though, especially since Calgary has changed so much in the short time since I left. As it grows, it is becoming a more dynamic place, something reflected in its streets. They're livelier now than they have ever been, filled with more languages, different faces and a different attitude than I remember. The rise of Calgary is lumped by some into the vast social and economic shift to the south and west that is occurring in the United States, but Calgary is different from any sunbelt metropolis. Sure, it's young and suburban and has far too many cars. But at its core it also seems to have more potential to become something great, something urban. The rapidly-growing light rail system is the most heavily used in North America after Boston's Green Line; in the past few years alone, dozens of new condo projects have gone up in the inner city, many of them highrises, which adds a lot of bulk to the cityscape. Tens of thousands of immigrants and new migrants pour into the city each year, too, giving it an ambitious, cosmopolitan atmosphere.

What impresses me most is that Calgary has gained a sense of self-awareness. Five years ago, the lack of introspection was infuriating. Few seemed interested in their city, its history, culture and built environment. That's changed. The city, for instance, has wholeheartedly embraced a policy of transit-oriented development, encouraging new development around train stations. Developers have eagerly signed on and a high-density neighbourhood has already sprung up northeast of downtown. Even more, the city has a hugely ambitious plan to knit together downtown neighbourhoods and improve the quality of street design and architecture. It also wants to increase the population of central neighbourhoods between three and twelve times what it is today -- and the planner in charge of the city centre tells me that's a conservative figure. All of this is facilitated by a huge condo boom and a growing office shortage. What this means is that, in less than a decade, Calgary will be a denser, more urban city.

It's not enough to make me want to move back. Calgary still has a dusty, quiet quality to it. Too many of it streets are cold and sterile. But I'm still happy to see such improvement.

Oh right. I almost forgot: the new Calgary section of the Urbanphoto Gallery is open. How's that for a lengthy introduction?

The day after the big storm.
Montreal, December 2005. Christopher DeWolf

Spotted in Stanley.
Hong Kong, August 2005. Christopher DeWolf

Head to the archives for last month's posts.

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