Thoughts on TED

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I was excited to see that Victoria has been playing host to a TEDx event for the past couple of years, learning about it unexpectedly when I found out my next door neighbour spoke at the event last year.  The schedule offered a cross section of local and invited speakers, definitely something to check out.

Those familiar with the TED concept know that TED’s reach has extended into an extensive online presence– I watch TED talks online, have the app on my phone, and a large selection are available on Netflix as well. Given this I was a little curious about attending in person – I was hopeful that I would find the energy and dialogue that you really only get being in the room with colleagues. As it happened, it delivered handily. Plus, waffles!

I began the day with an auspicious conversation with a nice gentleman that had come down from North Saanich for the day. He had the pleasant affability of a favourite uncle but was obviously big on issues in his community; we covered agriculture, amalgamation and buying local all while waiting for the doors to open. I got the sense by the buzz that the diverse crowd was equally keen.

Some highlights for me:

Asha De Vos, blue whale researcher from Berkley, CA had some great insight on her work and had all of us non –TED talkers felling a little better about what we had done with our lives (or rather had yet to). It was entertaining to hear expressed what a lot of people are probably thinking when they go to TED- “how am I going to catch up to what these people have accomplished?!” I appreciated the graph she used showing the average age of Nobel Prize winners – I might still have time!

Talking “making makers” with David Lang from San Francisco, combined with Ann Makosinski’s pictures of her building cardboard inventions at age five got me thinking about setting up an improved workbench and tinkering spot for my boys.

Vicki Kleu and Austin Sawyer, combined with the aforementioned Ann Makosinski had me and my neighbours in the aisle agreeing that they were light years ahead of where we were in high school…

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Young people with big ideas.

The image of organizers and volunteers gathering on stage at the end of the day was great and the spirit of the community was really on show.

There was a lot of content that resonated with me and some that challenged me – I was encouraged to think critically about what I heard. In my opinion these events aren’t there for you to stand in awe of unattainable brainpower but to recognize these are amazing things being done by motivated, positive, approachable people. Watching presenters that were moved to the point of tears by the passion they had for their subjects was inspiring and at the same time a personal challenge to do more.

I thought the Conversation Space concept was a great idea and it was excellent to be able to access the speakers after their talks. I asked a few conversational questions as well as a couple of pointed ones, and enjoyed the dialogue.

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Lots of energy up in the Conversation Space.

All told a great day out and huge credit to the organizers and volunteers for making the event happen. Looking forward to next year.

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Getting fired up, and giving credit where it’s due

This blog really came about as an extension of my desire to get engaged at the civic level, become well grounded in the issues and participate in some constructive discourse. I had an awakening about this some years ago but my mind focused on the project when I went to work for a municipal government. I saw how much of a role the structure and vitality of a community was driven by municipal policy and how disengaged a significant portion of citizens were. Municipalities govern the things we interact with every day- shops, community centres, parks, roads. I started to look at what was going on around me in a different way (and became unusually focused on garbage collection and rezoning signs). At the same time, I was reading up and seeing how civic issues manifested themselves on social media.

I was very fortunate when working at the City to have one of the best coworkers around, in the online world he goes by NWimby. He is an accomplished blogger, an award winning community volunteer and now, a municipal councilor. He and I had many discussions about the constructive use of social media and I admire his work greatly. Not to say that we agreed on all topics- I do miss the regular hockey vs. soccer debates! As I undertake my new community focused blog I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge Patrick, his insight and his commitment to his City. You can be assured I will continue to follow him from this side of the straight.

It’s been a great time to plug in to the political side of issues here as my arrival has coincided with the municipal election period. I’ve taken the opportunity to meet and speak to councilors, attend meetings and review the candidates’ online presence (notable for its scope and professionalism- this surely is the new difference maker in campaigning). The discussion and dialogue coming out of the elections is invigorating- the big issues of amalgamation, sewage and municipal resources all coming to the fore. Before arriving in Victoria I developed an impression that the amalgamation issue was somewhat of a non-starter, even for initial discussion. The results of the various municipalities’ referenda seem to indicate otherwise, and it seems as if the province has heard that message. I’m very interested to learn more and hear from neighbours on this.

 

One issue is of particular interest to me as a Biologist, and you can be sure I’ll have some thoughts here:

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Hey, there’s an election issue in my back yard.

My big realization through following the campaign issues is how much I’ve got to learn. There are a lot of complex issues to explore and it’s given me a pleasantly swimming head. I find myself fired up to find out something about everything, so the reader may see this manifest itself in all manner of odd topics in the posts to come. Have feedback on topics not to be missed? Make sure you let me know right here.

As always, a good bike ride always serves to focus my thoughts:

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When you really ought to arrive on a bike

Seven weeks or so after I broke my leg I got one of the best pieces of news I’ve had in years- I was clear to start walking without the crutches. I had visions of jumping right back on my bike (it’s low impact, right?) but I was unprepared for the reality that the time after the cast would be the worst. It’s amazing how only a couple of weeks of no usage make muscles weaken to the point of being borderline useless. Not only that, but my foot had inflated to the point it barely fit in a shoe. But boy did I miss that right shoe! After trying and failing to power through, I subjected myself to some uncomfortable physio which improved things enormously. So as October came to a close I rolled the bike out of the shed, blew the dust off and gingerly clicked into a pedal.

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(The jeans are a tip-off I’m not going far)

I can honestly say that trip twice around the block was one of the best rides I can remember. I missed my bike. I realized in my enforced time off how much cycling is part of my psyche. I’m a cyclist, it’s what I do.

There was a particular motivation for me to get back on the bike. I am now a proud card carrying member of the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition  and looking to attend their imminent AGM. This was, I thought, not the sort of thing you ought to drive to. My foot was not 100%, but my motivation was through the roof. Fairfield to James Bay is not exactly a major excursion, but it was a major boost to my confidence coming off the injury. When I arrived and put my bike in the room dedicated for the purpose I stood unbelieving, fixed to the spot for a while, to the point someone actually asked me if I was going to come out of there to the meeting…

 
Upon arrival I was very pleased I had made it- a great group of people, both community-minded and up on the “nuts and bolts” of how to make cycling infrastructure better. Some other observations:

Highlights of the GVCC’s work this past year include the innovative Bikes Mean Business report which I’m looking forward to having the time to digest properly. This to my mind is critical supporting information to move the needle on cycling infrastructure.

I’ve also been attending the GVCC sponsored Trans-Form Speaker Series and it’s been fantastic. I came away from the Gil Penalosa talk particularly invigorated by his energy, which borders on the brash. Beware “Civic Cadavers” at your peril!
My ride home, just a few days before Halloween, couldn’t have been nicer. Got to love crisp evenings and leaves under your tires.

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My take-away from these cycling events has been slightly unexpected: Victoria has a well known and vibrant cycling community, but still needs significant improvements to infrastructure and visibility to really boost mode share. As Gil put it Victoria should be conscious of resting on its laurels. With the knowledge that I’m just dipping my toes in at this point, I’m looking forward to many more conversations on this topic in the months to come.

False Start

I had this great idea about how I was going to start this blog.

It’s a very exciting time- new to my community, lots of places and people to get to know. When we announced we were moving to Victoria, lots of folks told us they didn’t know much about life here (unless they had lived here already, in which case they waxed poetic). What better way to get plugged in to the new community and tell everyone about it than to blog about it? The bonus was I was going to do it all on my bike, which is both my preferred mode of transport and favoured technique for enlivening cities. I was ready to get out and engage from day one, and document along the way.

A beautiful fall season was upon us and I was raring to go. A plan was hatched with friends for a weekend expedition to launch the project: to ride west sampling beaches and swimming, then ride home sampling microbrews. And then this happened:

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(Not what I envisioned as the first picture on the new blog)

When people ask how I broke my leg I tell them that “home built” and “rustic” are not descriptions you want applied to a zip line.

So a shift in approach was needed. Time to start seeing what I could see from a pair of crutches. I knew that Victoria has much to explore in both history and culture, but it turns out I got started a short but exhausting crutch trip down the hall from my radiology clinic. I had already gotten great care at Jubilee, but I felt extra confident after seeing one of Canada’s first modern operating theatres.

The Pemberton Operating Theatre was built in 1896 and remains largely in its original condition, now tucked away in the courtyard of a modern new facility. It’s a reminder that as recently as the turn of the 20th century, antiseptic operating conditions were kind of a big deal. Good to know the local hospital has a strong track record! Not where I had planned to start, but it fit with my interest in the form of a community.  I could see the balance between history and modernity that’s a defining feature of Victoria. They literally built the new building around the old one.

Faced with up to 12 weeks off the bike and pretty restricted mobility, I had to accept the reality that my explorations, intended to be pedal powered would begin in the passenger seat of a car. I also took it as a challenge to really utilize the transit system.  I was a total nuisance to my extremely patient wife, who carted me around (noting dryly that next time I should try to break my left foot so as to be able to drive).

I figured if I couldn’t move that far afield, I would try to meet as many folks as possible (the cast proved a good conversation starter). I had heard from a number of people that Victoria is a town where “you have to know someone” to get anything done. Frankly, I’m not sure what that means. If that means that you have to get out there and make an effort to meet people, well then no problem here. I’m not sure getting to know people is really a challenge considering how proactive and positive folks are here.

In my first couple of months on the ground I’ve met a great group of keen people. The Resilient Region Exchange and Victoria Green Drinks have proven to be a great place to start.

I am in the last couple of weeks on crutches and circling my bike like a hungry shark. Look for me soon out on the road!