Exciting Goings On In The Alley Between 18 Block Hamilton & Scarth

Back AlleyThis is the view from the third floor of my building’s back alley fire escape. As construction progresses on Harvard Developments’ 10-story, $60 million Agriculture Place it’s going to change quite a bit.

So far, they’ve demolished the old buildings, crushed and removed their concrete foundations (which caused a fair bit of vibration in our building, I’ll tell you, which has five ground-floor commercial units and 17 residential units on three upper floors), dug down to make space for two levels of underground parking, and driven a bunch of piles to provide a foundation for the building.

Harvard held an open house in November to get area businesses and residents up to speed on what plans they had to make construction as painless as possible for everyone. That hadn’t been the case with Hill Tower III a few years earlier. For significant chunks of time the 12th Ave alley exit was blocked so you’d have these big delivery trucks pulling in off 11th Ave to make deliveries, then have to do a Uey in extremely tight quarters or else try to back out onto 11th. Same with Loraas garbage trucks. And when the alley exit on 12th was open it was often rutted and chopped up so bad it felt like you were driving (or cycling in my case) in a war zone.

This time around, Harvard has promised to try to minimize disruption for local residents and businesses as they erect their 160,000 sq. ft. building. Timeline for completion is early summer 2015. But because of all the cold weather I think they’ve fallen a bit behind. So I guess we’ll see.

What The Bills-In-Toronto Fiasco Says About The True Nature Of Canadian ‘Capitalism’

With Toronto abandoning a 2024 Summer Olympics bid and the news that the Buffalo Bills and Rogers were scuttling the Bills-in-Toronto series (supposedly for one year, but if you believe that I have ocean-front property in Saskatoon), it’s clear that the people pining for the imminent arrival of the Greatest Sports League In The World are the jockdom equivalent of Ford Nation: a dwindling group of pining for something that doesn’t exist. (Doug Ford said his mission was still to get an NFL team in Toronto. No word whether or not it was the Grey Goose talking). I blame Matt Mays.

An hour before game time during the last Bills match in Toronto, Mays, a Canadian alt-retro-rocker, bought a ticket, only to discover that man-child, oral sex enthusiast/juggalooo-in-training/Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was sitting in his seat (Unconfirmed reports said the mayor denied the accusation, saying that he has more than enough seat at home).

While sites such as Deadspin had another field day over the mayor’s continued screwups, everybody else ignored a story that won’t be overlooked by anyone in the National Football League looking at expansion. An hour before game time involving two teams from North America’s most successful sports league, anyone could have bought a ticket in the 100 level section of the Rogers Centre – the prime seating area for football. The game’s total attendance was about the same as the Canadian Football League’s Eastern Final between the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. And a massive chunk of the fans at Sunday’s game – supposedly a home game for the Bills – were cheering for the Falcons, for reasons best known to them (the Falcons were pretty much unwatchably bad in 2013).

Two generations after cable television and the NFL destroyed the Canadian Football League’s television market, and seven years after Rogers assured the world that they would be in the money with the Bills playing a home game In Toronto, paving the way for the NFL to come to Canada … and The Big Smoke is as ‘meh’ to four-down football as they apparently are to three-down football.

In an economic sense, professional sports are about the corporate world selling itself to the corporate world involving people who sweat a lot. And the NFL does this the best in North America, mostly because they don’t make as many stupid decisions as, say, the CFL (still recovering from its disastrous policy of blacking out home games for the better part of two generations, making the games unavailable on television at a time when if it isn’t on TV, it didn’t happen) or the National Hockey League (expanding into markets where there’s no real desire for the sport, such as Phoenix, Miami, Tampa and Nashville).

There’s no real reason to for the NFL to put a team in Toronto. The Canadian television market is too diffuse. Toronto isn’t the key to the Canadian television market in this era. The Toronto Blue Jays may have drawn well on Canadian television – for a while – thanks to a freakish number of free agent signings and trades which were supposed bolster the team into a pennant race. But seven years after Toronto FC came on to the Canadian sports scene, they’re in trouble at the gate (Bringing in a few ringers from Brazil and England might help Toronto FC for the first half of the upcoming season, but if they don’t win big, they’re back to square one, again). Nearly two decades after the Toronto Raptors joined the NBA, they’re kept alive thanks only to the largess of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. And in both cases their television ratings, especially outside Toronto, are about the same as those for tractor pulls and ‘strongman’ competitions. The week of the CFL’s division finals, the Raptors played the Chicago Bulls for a television audience of less than 80,000 viewers. The CFL games drew 1.9 million.

Canadian four-down football fans won’t watch a Toronto NFL team just because they’re from Toronto for the same reason they’re not watching the Raptors just because they’re from Toronto. Crap is crap, wrapping it in the flag is the last refuge of a business run by scoundrels.

So, in addition to contributing nothing to the American television contract, a Toronto-based NFL team would contribute nothing to a Canadian television contract. So why would the NFL have any interest in Toronto if it’s not going to generate any more interest or revenue that the league currently does now? One could say that it’s the headquarters for most of Canadian business, which would support such an enterprise. The NHL thought the same way about expanding to Atlanta (headquarters for many of the big businesses in the southern United States, such as Coca-Cola and The Home Depot). Look how that turned out.

A $3 billion investment in a team – whether purchasing the Bills or getting an expansion franchise, plus building a stadium (or gutting the Rogers Centre and building a new baseball-only park for the Blue Jays) – would be a waste of money in terms of a Canadian television contract. Sportsnet/Rogers and Bell/CTV/TSN probably make more money from broadcasting the NFL than what Bell/TSN makes from broadcasting the CFL, since in the NFL’s case the Canadian networks spend money on the rights, but not on the cost of production.

There’s a few NFL-in-Toronto types, mostly fanboys with no economic sense whatsoever, who blame the failure of the Bills series in TO to take off on the fact that the ‘glory teams’ – the Patriots, the Seahawks, for example – aren’t playing the Bills. But for every ‘glory team’ in the NFL, there are two that aren’t worth watching because of their poor play (last year, Atlanta was one of the better teams in the NFL, so the scheduling looked good for Toronto when this was planned). In the fanboys’ defense, it makes no sense for the Bills, a cold-weather team needing every advantage it has, to schedule a game against a team that plays in a dome to play an away game in a dome if you don’t have to.

Rogers’ Bills-in-TO fiasco (only God knows how much money Rogers lost on the exercise: since they’re a private company, they don’t have to tell anyone) cuts to the heart of the way Canadian big business operate. For all the bluster they make about ‘free enterprise,’ Big Business in Canada exists not in terms of capitalism but of corporatism, where the state is just powerful enough to tilt the rules of the economic game in their favour. Rogers made its money as a monopoly provider of cable TV in southern Ontario at a time when technology (no satellite dishes) and the Canadian Radio and Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) made them the only game in town and if you wanted cable but didn’t want Rogers, the CRTC made sure you were out of luck. And Rogers’ service was legendary crappy (remember the furor over ènegative option billing a generation ago?)

Under corporatism, customers are mere cattle. The companies harvest the revenue, but otherwise don’t care (that corporatist attitude is in full view today as Canada’s two railway companies ignore farmers’ needs and Stephen Harper’s government, with near-total representation from rural western Canada, is as impotent as a corpse). Canadian business history is littered with the wreckage of companies that were protected in the hothouse climate of Sir John A. Macdonald’s National Policy and didn’t know the first thing about true capitalism, from Massey-Ferguson to Eaton’s to the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool).

Right now, it appears as though the NFL-to-Toronto-deal-is-imminent story is like that of a Sasquatch sighting. There’s no evidence, nobody has actually seen it, but people believe in it. I’m thinking the only way the NFL will expand into Canada would be a merging of the CFL and the NFL (given how in the salary cap CFL the Saskatchewan Roughriders can sing Green Is The Colour all the way to the bank, I’m pretty sure Roger Goodell has noticed).

In the meantime, I double-dog dare – nay TRIPLE DOG DARE – Matt Mays to go to Mosaic Stadium in Regina in the 2014 season, and, one hour before the game time of the Roughriders playing a team as equally crappy as the Falcons were this season (say, the Edmonton Eskimos), try to buy a comparable ticket, on the east side or on the lower section of the west side stands. The women working at the Taylor Field ticket office will be laughing themselves silly until the Christmas party.

Ladies Learning Code: HTML and CSS Workshop

ladieslearningcode-500x500The name of the organization hosting this workshop which is being held on Saturday, March 8 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at the office of iQmetrix (500-2221 Cornwall St.) is somewhat misleading since participation is not restricted entirely to women. The workshop is intended to serve as a primer for anyone interested in learning how to program using HTML (HyperText Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets — which is a tool used to format a document written in HTML).

Ladies Learning Code began in Toronto a few years ago,” says local organizer Eden Rohatensky. “In the past year and a half they started an initiative to spread across Canada. And the Regina branch will be holding its first workshop this weekend.

“For those who have some background in computer programming, it’s a good refresher,” Rohatensky says. “But you’re not required to know anything about HTML or CSS. It’s geared toward beginners and through the use of mentors along with a lead instructor [Chad McCallum of iQmetrix)] we make sure the environment is especially conducive to learning.

“By the end of the day you’ll have a website that looks good,” says Rohatensky. “We just usually do one page at the beginning, but you’ll develop the skills you need to do a full website with multiple pages.”

At a recent workshop in Saskatoon, Rohatensky adds, “we had everybody from high school students to senior citizens. And they all seemed to enjoy the workshop very much. HTML and CSS are used in every website you see on the Internet today, so having an understanding of how they work is a real help for people if they’re looking to put content on the Internet.”

That could include everyone from artists and small business people to volunteers at community organizations. It could even serve as a nice addition to a person’s c.v, says Rohatensky. “There’s a huge demand in the job market for people with soft skills related to marketing and communication and having an understanding of how the tech works can be a real asset.”

The workshop is $50, and includes a catered lunch. So it’s a pretty low-cost option for anyone interested in upgrading their knowledge of computer programming. “We plan to have three or four workshops per year,” says Rohatensky. “Those will vary in topic. This one is on HTML and CSS, we might do WordPress or JavaScript or Python in the future. The only thing that you’re required to have is a laptop. We send you all the materials and software that you need for the day. And then you’re ready to go.”

You can register for the workshop here.

Volunteer Hosts Needed For Jane’s Walk

Janes WalkWe received a press release from Regina Urban Ecology the other day saying that the organization will be hosting the sixth annual Jane’s Walk in Regina on Friday May 2 to Sunday May 4. We’ve blogged on this event several times in the past, but here’s an excerpt from the press release  explaining the rationale behind the event:

Jane’s Walk is a street-level celebration of the legacy of Jane Jacobs, an urbanist and activist whose writings championed a fresh, community-based approach to city building. Jacobs believed that walking should be at the heart of transportation in cities and championed the interests of local residents and pedestrians over a car-centered approach to planning. Through the simple act of walking together and discussing what makes a neighbourhood, Jane’s Walk helps knit people together into strong and resourceful communities.

What Regina Urban Ecology is doing now is rounding up a group of volunteers who would be interested in hosting a walk on that weekend. Again, here’s an excerpt from the press release explaining what would be involved:

We are inviting you to lead a tour in an area where you live, work or play. It simply involves planning a route, thinking through the stories, places and people you want to hear about and discuss, then walking participants through it – you decide what’s important. You can also share the guiding duties with a few other resourceful friends or colleagues. Jane’s Walk is meant to be fun and participatory – everyone’s got a story and they’re usually keen to share it.

If this sounds like something you’d be interested in doing you can contact organizers here or through email at janeswalkregina@gmail.com.

The Human Scale

Inspired by the theories of Danish urban planner Jan Gehl, this 2013 documentary travels to a variety of cities around the world — New York, Christchurch, Chongqing — to explore ways that urban design is being rethought in the wake post-WWII planning initiatives that privileged motor vehicles ahead of people and created alienating, costly, unhealthy and inefficient urban environments.

With urban populations skyrocketing world-wide, we face a choice of either planning much more smartly than we have in the past, or going bankrupt as we’re overwhelmed with infrastructure needs that leave huge masses of humanity leading much diminished lives.

The Human Scale screens at the RPL Theatre Thursday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Friday and Sunday at 9 p.m. Here’s the trailer:


Girl Geek Dinner

eden rohatenskyThe words “girl” and “geek” don’t often go together. That’s because geekdom, at least stereotypically, is regarded as the preserve of boys and men, while girls and women aren’t supposed to be interested in technology.  That stereotype is slowly eroding, though, and on Nov. 27 at Bushwakker the first Girl Geek Dinner is being held to acknowledge the role women currently play in the tech industry, and to encourage more women to become involved in technology-related pursuits.

“The ratio of men to women in the tech industry is problematic,” says organizer Eden Rohatensky (pictured), who is a web developer and interface designer. “The number of women is growing, though. This [June] there was a Barcamp event in Regina, and a fair number of women showed up who were working in the tech industry. It was the first time, most said, that they felt they could come out and learn something and network and be comfortable. What we’re trying to do with the dinner is expand that idea where it’s not only comfortable to talk about women’s issues in the tech industry, but also talk about other diversity issues with sexuality, gender, race and try to increase the amount of diversity.”

Not only is this a good idea from an employment perspective in terms of opening up job opportunities for non-traditional tech workers, it’s also smart from a business perspective.  “In the tech industry you’re always solving logical problems,” notes Rohatensky. “If you look at a problem from a different perspective, you’ll arrive at a different solution. These days pretty well everyone has technology needs — whether it’s a website, data base, or app. That goes from teachers to [health care workers] to government to whatever. And those workplaces have different demographics than the tech industry. Technology has responded well to scientific changes, but it hasn’t always responded to demographic changes in the workplace.”

A student at the University of Regina, Rohatensky says that many barriers to girls and women entering tech fields still exist. “When I was in high school the advice you might get from a guidance counselor was sometimes gender-specific. If you were a girl, and you were interested in math, you might be sent to accounting instead of physics or computer science or math. That’s part of the problem. We have certain ideas about what men and women should be doing and what their roles are and that’s what we’re tying to change.”

At the dinner three women with different backgrounds in the tech industry will give short presentations. “Aleana Young is on the edge of the tech industry, she does project management and deals with programmers who are a lot more technical than she is,” says Rohatensky. “Kim Schmidt is a web developer. And Donna Kovatch has been in the tech industry for a number of years and manages a group at ISC. They’ll be talking about how they got into technology, what roadblocks they encountered, and what and who encouraged them to continue in the industry.”

Often when women work in the tech industry, says Rohatensky, “they’re ‘the girl’ in the workplace or ‘the girl’ in the group, and it can be lonely.” By reaching out to women in other workplaces, she adds, it should be possible to build a broader sense of community.

Men are still welcome to attend Girl Geek Dinner, says Rohatensky. And the goal is to hold periodic gatherings to help build a network of tech professionals in Regina. You can find out more on the dinner, which goes at Bushwakker on Wednesday at 7 p.m., here.

Attention Musicians!

Abex AwardsTo celebrate the 30th anniversary of the ABEX (Achievement In Business Excellence) Awards the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce is seeking tenders for the creation of a unique song celebrating business excellence in Saskatchewan. The deadline to submit a proposal is Sept. 16, and the song must be done by Oct. 1. The winning bidder must also be able to appear at the ABEX Awards, which will be held this year in Saskatoon at TCU Place on Oct. 26, to perform the song live.

According to Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce guidelines, the song should be between three and 3.5 minutes long and incorporate as thematic elements subjects like: growth, celebration of excellence, achievements, diversity, service, business, private sector, community involvement, etc. In return for composing, recording and performing the song, the successful bidder will receive $1500. The contractor will also retain ownership of the song.

Musicians wishing to submit a bid should forward their proposal, along with a song outline, to the following email address [cwright@saskchamber.com] no later than Sept. 16 at 2 p.m.


Bring Me The Head Of Anarchopanda

During last spring’s student protests in Quebec over proposed hikes to tuition fees, the city of Montreal passed a bylaw (P-6) that made it illegal to wear a mask during a street demonstration. Yesterday, during a protest against the bylaw, and its negative impact on the Charter rights of Freedom of Speech and Assembly, police seized the head of Anarchopanda who was the unofficial mascot of the 2012 demonstrations.

The man in the human-size panda suit is a Quebec philosophy professor who is a self-described pacifist. During demonstrations, he typically acted as a buffer between the police and students to try to defuse the potential for violence. According to this CBC report, in addition to having his mascot head seized, the professor also received two $637 fines after he was caught up in a police kettling operation against demonstrators.