Hands

“A man paints with his brain not with his hands”

Michelangelo

“There is sound reason to believe than man’s brain was from the beginning far more important than his hands, and its size could not be derived solely from his shaping or using of tools; that ritual and language and social organization which left no material traces whatever, although constantly present in every culture, were probably man’s most important artifacts from the earliest stages on and that so far from conquering nature or reshaping his environment primitive man’s first concern was to utilize his overdeveloped, intensely active nervous system, and to give form to a human self, set apart from his original animal self by the fabrication of symbols-the only tools that could be constructed out of the resources provided by his own body: dreams, images and sounds.”  p. 14

Lewis Mumford,Technics and Human Development: The Myth of the Machine Volume One

“What the Israelites saw, from high on the ridge, was an intimidating giant. In reality, the very thing that gave the giant his size was also the source of his greatest weakness. There is an important lesson in that for battles with all kinds of giants. The powerful and the strong are not always what they seem.”


 Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

“Only God creates. The rest of us just copy”

Michelangelo

Flow tanker

“Flow Tanker, Acrylic on paper, 23″x35”

“The way you see the natural world around you determines much about the kind of world you are willing to live with. It you are aware that whales once swam in your local waters, than you can ask yourself whether they might belong to those straits and bays one again. If you’re unaware of the animals’ past presence, than their absence will seem perfectly natural, and the question of whales in the future simply will not occur to you. “

J.B. Mackinnon from The Once and Future World: Nature as it was, as it is, an it could be

On medium and long-term expectations for growth

“We expect to see growth. Not at the rates we saw back in the 1990s to the early 2000s when we were seeing growth of six, eight, or ten per cent. We’re expecting medium-term growth of three to four per cent with GDP hopefully ending back in the two per cent and up range. So perhaps not the three times GDP growth as was in the past but closer to one and a half to two times GDP growth. Independent forecasts show continued long-term growth in container trade and we are expecting and planning to ensure we are prepared for growth. If we look at the exports, the picture is equally robust for different reasons. Assuming the global economy continues to grow, countries such as China and India are going to continue to develop their middle class and grow their cities. As part of this overseas urbanization, we would expect an increase in steel-making coal exports. In addition, as the world population continues to grow, we are expecting the strong growth in the demand for potash and grain. You have to look at each of the commodities separately, but we would say that growth fundamentals are still there.

We then look at what’s happening in the gateway and see those who know even more about commodity flows investing in our port and that reinforces our confidence. Almost whichever segment we look at, we see investors in the gateway who spend their lives and their businesses in those segments, having the same confidence about growth. I think we’re all recognizing that growth will still be there, just not at the rates we saw in this commodity supercycle over the last decade.

Robin Silvester, President and chief executive officer of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority

Transcendence and human compassion

A Little transcendence

“In China, when we grew up, we had nothing … But for even the poorest people, the treat or the treasure we’d have would be the sunflower seeds in everybody’s pockets. 

It’s a work about mass production and repeatedly accumulating the small effort of individuals to become a massive, useless piece of work.”

Ai Weiwei

“We live amongst ghost always trying to reach us from that shadow world. They are with us every step of the way…”

“The soul is a stubborn thing, it doesn’t dissipate so quickly. Souls remain, they remain herein the air, in empty space, dusty roots, in sidewalks that I knew every single inch of like I knew my our bod, as a child and in the songs that we sing. That is why we sing. We sing for our blood, for our people because that is all we have at the end of the day”

Bruce Springsteen

The will to motorize: from utility to desire

Model T Ford and the Lincoln Highway.

“In 1927, for the first time since it introduced the Model T, Ford lost its sales lead to General Motors, never again to regain it.”

“Henry Ford came out with his “re-styled” Model A. The era of styling began.”

‘Actually, the problem the automobile industry was grappling with was on of maintaining a sales pace every year for a product that last for nearly a decade. Up to a point, a new invention like the automobile can show rising sales by simply meeting the demand for transportation. At the saturation point, however, the demand becomes less and less responsive to price reduction (The Model T had gone as low as $290) and functional improvement. A satiety threshold sets in that is similar to the limits which govern the consumer demand for food. But an emotional demand can be exploited for a much higher curve on the sales chart. There has never been established a human quota for the “status, power, fun, glamour, and freedom.” Thus the second stage in the evolution of a consumer product is reached: the time for catering to buyer’s wants instead of simply to their needs.”

Unsafe at any Speed, Ralph Nader, 1965, pp. 174-75

Vancouver’s “Herbie” seen in Strathcona

Vancouver’s “Herbie” seen in Strathcona

I saw this “Herbie” VW Bug in Strathcona and it made me think of a little bit from a book Asphalt Nation that was reading a little while ago. Published 22 years ago the book is sadly still relevant and worth reading. Interestingly, Vancouver would in the past 20 years implemented a lot of the recommendations for “taming” the car in cities.

1973 The Energy Crisis

A tiny bit of history from the bad days of the 1970’s. OPEC starts an oil embargo which reduces the supply of gas in North American. People lose confidence in their American fuel inefficient autos. The price of gas triples in less than a year. Driving patterns change, folks even change modes with car pooling and using public transit. Car buyers increasingly look to smaller cars from Japan and Europe.

Jane Holtz Kay notes in her book Asphalt Nation:

 “ Why did Americans have to spend a quarter of their income on automobiles, with more and going to accessories? Small imports, less expensive to drive than domestic gas-guzzlers, nibbled away at the Big Three’s sales. “Herbie”, Hollywood’s version of the adorable Volkswagen, also known as the Bug and the Beetle, and the less endearing Japanese vehicles offered low-mileage, low-frills mobility and gave Detroit stiff completion.”

In 1974 Disney comes out with another version of the movie “Herbie Rides Again”. With the American car industry, in a deep down turn, must not have been happy with free PR for Volkswagen. More importantly that move is emblematic of Americans love of the cars. Two tons of metal and toxic material is anthropomorphize into a chippy family member, romping around.

 

 

Its all about land use policy

 

For more than a century the automobile has become the preeminent form of transportation. The manufacturing of cars is central to our economy for jobs and also as a driver of resources for them. The use of cars is a choice for some of us and a de facto mode of travelling for many. While the impacts of the cars primacy on the environment, the landscape, our cities and our bodies are still being fully understood, the inevitability of cars in one form another are with us for a while is evident.

For many reasons the use of private cars has become problematic. From pollution, climate change, personal safety, to a desire to live a more active life style, cars become a transportation choice of last resort or an easy convenience. While the automobile’s dominance has been the past, clearly it won’t always be the only transportation choice in the future. A more complete and complex transportation system needs to be developed that values a multiplicity of types from walking, riding bikes, public transportation, rail, electrical vehicles and who knows maybe even driverless cars.

And while it has taken over century to roll out the primacy of the car it will take a while to transition away from its dominance. Part of this transition process is going to be to understand the histories of the car. With this in mind I have been reading Christopher W. Wells excellent and exciting book Car Country: An Environmental History, which chronicles the rise of cars in North America.

Being anti-car on a visceral level is an easy pattern of thinking that one can fall into. But trying to understands some of the complex reasons for cars success is a necessary step in the process of repositioning it in our transportation system.

“… Car Country refashioned, on a grand scale, both the basic pattern of interaction between people and the environment and fundamental structure and composition of the nation’s ecosystems.

     Almost from the beginning, these changes inspired a legion of vociferous critics. By the time full-blown discontent with America’s car culture and its destructive environmental effect finally percolate up into national politics in the 1060s and 1970s, however, patterns of sprawling, low-density development had already become thoroughly ingrained in the American political economy. Moreover, Car Country’s critics too often focused on particular problems–factory pollution, tailpipe emissions, roadside eyes sores, suburban “boxes made of ticky tacky”, the loss of public “open space” and “pristine wilderness”-without understanding the broader, interconnected forces at work that continued to roll out new car-dependent communities year after year. Environmentalists secured new regulations that limited some of low-density sprawl’s more damaging environmental effects, but they failed to stop sprawl itself or the engines driving its expansion. The overwhelming tendency among critics, with a few important exceptions, has been to focus on cars rather than roads and on the behaviour of drivers rather than the powerful forces shaping American land-use patterns. “

 

Car Country: An Environmental History

Christopher W. Wells, 2012

University of Washington Press

A park under every parking spot

Is there a park under every parking spot? Can car sharing reduce the demand for parking in cities? If cities needed less parking because residents were walking, riding, using public transit and using car sharing the space that was being used to park cars could be transformed for other uses. Public space is a valuable thing in cities and has the power to create more inclusive communities and to give residents greater access to nature.

Cars on average are parked 95% of the time. Large areas of all cities are dedicated to parked cars. Streets, which connect the city’s various destinations account for a large amount of public space and could be, used many different ways.

While the last century has seen the invention of the car and its increased dominance of its use of civic space, we are now in a time where a “multi-modal” future will transform cities and the people who live in them. Smart phones will make the car just one of the periphery devices that will give residents of the city more transportation options.

Car sharing will become one of the choices of residents from walking, public transportation or other modes of active transportation. The fabric the city will change. Parking spaces could be transformed to other uses.

As density in the city increases the space between buildings and public space will be more important. Public space will present more opportunities for residents to experience and envision the city in different ways. From parks, gardens, and new forms of building, thinking about space in proximity to density will open different cityscapes.

A mini van in every drive way

IMG_1414“A mini van in every drive way” Acrylic on recovered plywood, 48″x48″ in progress

The Ford Pinto

Pinto, 48"x48", acrylic, on recovered plywood.

Pinto, 48″x48″, acrylic, on recovered plywood.

My memories of the Ford Pinto are from my Dad’s car pool pal “Curly” Kennedy who owned one. Curly was a giant of a man in many ways. As a boy, when I was sent out to tell him that my Dad would be right out, I would tease him about his car, which he always took with grace. I have a memory of his knees being at his chin sitting in the front of that Pinto. But the real joy of the job was to sit on the curb and talk with Curly before him and my Dad went to work when they were on the afternoon shift.

The 1970s were a hard time for the auto industry in North America. Cars where big, poorly manufactured and gas-guzzlers. The oil embargo in the Middle East and the strengthening market share of foreign imported cars, which were better on petrol with higher quality techniques in manufacturing, necessitated a massive rethink of car design in Detroit.

The Ford Pinto was a response to cheaper more fuel-efficient imports. The Pinto was Ford’s car to counter the enduring popularity of the Volkswagen Beetle, which is a testament to the enduring power of the bug which was designed in the early 1930s in Germany.

The Pinto was marketed as a “carefree” fuel-efficient car, like the pinto horse, a high utility animal with little demands. The car was piloted through the design phase by auto industry legend Lee Iacocca. Iacocca was also the driving force of the Ford Mustang and pushed for a minivan at Ford too, but had to realise the idea when he move to Chrysler with the Caravan. The Pinto was intended to be a car 2000 pounds and to sell for $2000. A car that was more affordable than a VW super beetle.

You can read more about the pinto here: Wikipedia on Ford Pinto 1971-1980 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Pinto

Of course, the most infamous part about the Pinto was the exploding gas tank. Ford became aware of the design defect, but decided against a recall of the car. A cost benefit analysis was done comparing the cost of recalling against the potential cost from the lost of life and property. Ford executives made the decision, that not recalling was a better business decisions despite the loss of life and suffering. One of the worst business decisions made by the auto sector it is used as a case study now on business ethics.

You can read more about it here, The Ford Pinto Case;

https://users.wfu.edu/palmitar/Law&Valuation/Papers/1999/Leggett-pinto.html

1970 Pontiac Station Wagon

stationwagonWR

There are a plethora of stories embedded in every car. Whether it’s the thinking behind the design or our personal tales of our relationship to the car, memories and histories are the substance of a fascinating narrative.

One of the more exciting cars that my family owned when I was growing up was the 1970 Pontiac station wagon. My  uncle Vernon had  a station wagon and it was a favourite activity to be allowed to rattle around in the back of that wagon on family visits. So when my Dad brought home a big green station wagon my sister, brother and me were thrilled. Our huge green wagon was no disappointment with an automated rear tailgate and even a rumble seat that allowed us to sit backwards and look out the rear window!

Station wagons back then were the equivalent of our mini vans: a domesticated utility vehicle. Like a contractor’s truck for carrying their tools, the station wagon is the workhorse of the suburbs and families, carrying kids and stuff. Not the most beautiful cars that were every built, but with a lot of cargo capacity to be sure.

The allure of the station wagon was based on its cargo capacity and mobility. This was a generation of cars that not just promised to get you somewhere, but also with the ability to bring a lot of stuff with you. Car camping and the family vacation were the dreams of this vehicle. The station wagon’s position in the suburb was a form of latent desire to escape to nature.

The expansion of freeways across North American induced a desire to go anywhere. The freeways paradoxically both transformed the landscape and gave us access to remote areas that for generations where inaccessible. The promise of the post war industrial culture was a well-paid job and leisure time and the station wagon was a symbol of this promise.

My Dad had 3 weeks off every summer, which was a real treat. We would go away camping often and it was a journey we looked forward to all year. We would carry a little sailboat on roof racks on the top, pull a small aluminum boat on a trailer, packed with camping equipment and fill the station wagon to its roof with our personal possessions. Essentially we carried a smaller more compact version of our home and take this on the road.

One of my fondest memories was when we were going on vacation and we packed up the station wagon the night before my Dad’s last day at work. My Mom would drive the car from Hamilton to Oakville and park it on the side of the highway beside the Ford plant. When my Dad was done his shift, he ran across the field and hopped the fence and we started our summer camping vacation. It was a beautiful thing.