Cycling in Copenhagen

06/14/2011 13:37

Copenhagen Signals

Photo by Mikael Colville-Andersen

I’ve been on an amazing  adventure over the past couple weeks. During that time I went CYCLING in COPENHAGEN!! It was outrageously cool. I blogged about it over at but now it’s time to bring the cycling posts back here. More to come about cycling in Berlin. Yes, BERLIN TOO!!

A Short Discourse on Hats for Christmas

12/25/2010 14:02

So I got two hats for Christmas. One is made by Kangol and one is made by Cima Coppi. As I started taking off the tags I was struck buy all subtle differences in packaging and brand-differentiation and how these two companies communicate to their customers through the tags and labels they put on their hats.

The Cima Coppi hat says nothing on the outside. On the hat band, as you can see in the picture: a simple stamp that has a logo and says: “cima coppi HandMade in Vancouver Canada”. There’s a tag attached that says exactly the same thing (I’m assuming it’s the same stamp) with the size M handwritten on it. I’ve also shown a picture of the reverse of the tag where you can see, in addition to the retailer’s price tag, another handwritten note: “100% recycled wool – handwash cold”.

Compare this to the Kangol cap:

The Kangol hat has a catchy Kangaroo logo that’s embroidered into the back of the hat and printed on most the labels and tags. It has a large lable printed onto the inside (you can see it in the picture). That label states that it’s “100% pure new wool in three languages and gives washing instructions and says “Designed in Britain”. Another label at the back of the band gives the size, model number (I assume), origin (China), size, and a few other details. A second label at the back says “Kangol Founded 38.83 Blue”. I think Blue is the model name of this cap.

It has a set of three removable tags. One is clear plastic describing, sort of, the origin of the company: “Founded 38.83  – Born British ’38 but raised on the streets of New York ’83”. A second tag is a ribbon with the Kangol logo and “Blue”. The third tag says: “Blue is unwaveringly true to the original ethos of the Kangol brand. Quality, value and unquestionably good product. No matter how the world changes these values won’t.” I have to admit, when I see little statements like this, I imagine the marketing consultants and company executives sitting around a sleek board room with large corplast boards on easels gazing at mockups and talking about the deep psychological buttons they’re trying to push and I wonder, don’t they realize that the more resources they pour into this kind of thing and more slick and “retro” they make it look and sound, the harder it is for them to overcome the powerful discrepancies between their labelling and Cima Coppi’s and what that says to me about the overall quality and authenticity?

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. They’re both nice hats and generous gifts.

Why I like things Italian: the coffee edition

11/5/2010 20:12

This is the second in a irregular series of articles I plan to post about our trip to Italy this past summer. Although, you might notice, if you read them, that they are as much about urban life here in Vancouver as they are about what I saw and did in Italy. However, if you agree that one of the singular values of travel is what it teaches us about ourselves and where we’re from, then please read on.

In Italy a “coffee” is an espresso. They only call it “espresso” on their sandwich-boards in the most touristic areas. Otherwise, if you ask for “espresso” they might look at you with rolled eyes. They’re probably thinking “what do you *think* this big chrome machine on the counter is for?” That espresso won’t be expensive, either. It should only cost 80 or 90 eurocents as long as you stand up at the bar. If you sit down, particularly in tourist areas, it’ll cost twice as much or more.

An awful lot of North American writing about Italy and Italian coffee is along the lines of “the coffee is way better than what you get at home”, but if you live in Vancouver (or (probably) in the centre of most of the other progressive cities on this continent) your Italian espresso is quite possibly not the best coffee you’ve ever tasted or even close to it. I’m lucky to work in an area with some of the best coffee I’ve ever come across. Two or three of the coffee bars I can walk to from my office will reliably draw for me an espresso that’s better than anything else I’ve tasted.

But, that said, I can see where the travel writers get the idea that Italian coffee is so good.  Most of the coffee you can get in downtown Vancouver and which most people seem to be drinking just isn’t that good. The big coffee-chains use beans that are too bitter for a good espresso. I suppose they are optimized for heavy creamy lattes and from what I can tell, that’s what the overwhelming majority of customers order there. Many of the small independent cafe’s I’ve been to are, unfortunately, not turning out very good coffee either. I’ve heard it said that small local cafes are often “$250,000 qualifying- businesses” run by entrepreneur-class immigrants. They may well have a passion for business but not necessarily a passion for drawing a good espresso. I realize I’m tarring these folks with a broad brush but I don’t think the majority of them whose coffee I’ve tasted are dedicated to producing exquisite espresso, and it shows.

So, the coffee impression in Italy isn’t necessarily that it’s the best espresso but it is that very good espresso is not a hit-and-miss proposition and you can get it for cheap. And cheap anything is hard to come by in Italy.

There is also a strong cultural identity in Vancouver and Italy related to the design and atmosphere of cafes, but I’m going to discuss that in a future post about design.

Streets of Rome, 2010

11/1/2010 21:29


The White Package

Photo comment of the day

10/20/2010 14:36


These tourists, on their way to see the library, I presume, are breaking two of my cardinal rules for not being marked from blocks away:

1. Don’t wear bright colours.

2. Don’t dress up in the same thing as your travelling partner.

Wet Rims Take Longer

10/18/2010 19:50
Wet rims take longer to stop

Wet rims take longer to stop

For some reason, my old mountain bike had this terribly quaint warning sticker on the down-tube where you can’t see it while you’re riding. I’ve always wondered two things about that:

1. Of all the things that can cause trouble while you’re riding a bike, how did their committee of lawyers choose that, and only that, hazard?

2. Why did they warn me with a sticker I can’t see when I’m riding?

New Cell phone update

10/3/2010 10:03

So, further to my reports of life without out a cell phone (here & here), I got myself a phone with Wind at the end of June. Despite many reports on forums of narrow home-calling areas and many drop-outs, I’m finding it works just swell. Except: the home zone doesn’t extend into my office! The phone goes into Away zone whenever it sits on my desk. I gots to say, that’s very annoying. It’s in home zone for much of the rest of the library. It even stays in home zone if I hang it from a hook on the wall of my office (seriously!). But I keep forgetting it when I do that.  Luckily, my N810 connects to my voip account in my office so I’m still reachable. And the new cell forwards to the old voip but I haven’t quite worked out the best call-forwarding settings yet so, the cell phone saga continues.

Why we can’t learn from Italy to fix our broken neighbourhood designs.

09/8/2010 20:36
We went to Italy for almost a month. It was great. And tiring: the usual trying-to-fit-too-many-things-in kind of holiday. It’s kind of a crazy, crowded place. Even though it’s not necessarily a small country, it’s long-thinness makes it seemed crowded. The mountains running down the middle don’t exactly space things out. But, for whatever reason,  I respond to so many things Italian: coffee, motorbikes, roadies decked out full regalia, driving small cars on tight little roads. A very powerful thing for me is the very sleek Italian-moderne design ethic that so often is layered over the very old, medieval foundation of so much of their country. And last, but not least, so many of the Italian towns and neighbourhoods we toured had little town squares (piazzas) in the centre of their neighbourhoods.
Cathedral square, Orvieto

Cathedral square, Orvieto

I was reading La Bella Figura about how piazza’s are the centre of Italian public life and realized that there’s no where to go from our neighbourhood that’s part of my urban life. Will construction on Fraser street (at 39th or at 30th) help? Am I dreaming to think it would?  And even if it’s something useful there, a cafe that people gather at, it’s going to be on a busy street. It’s not that piazza’s are always quiet, they aren’t. They can also be clogged with cars. But they’re in the *centre* of the community. Our neighbourhood quandrants that are bounded by arterials mean that the gathering places are at the edges of the neighbourhood: on the arterials. This is an inherent problem, I’d say.

The real solution would have been the corner stores which were once scattered throughout neighbourhoods like mine. If those stores still existed, they could become neighbourhood centres with the simple addition of a cafe and a table on the side walk. But there’s an inherent problem with that, too: our Vancouver neighbourhoods are nowhere near as homogeneous as they once were. While this is a huge advantage for Vancouver as a whole, it’s a problem to sustain a little business that needs support from the whole neighbourhood. The fact that those folks who don’t respond to the kind of little store/cafe I’m imagining can hop in their car and take their business somewhere else is the solution to the lack of homogeneity but the death knell for small neighbourhood stores, especially when they aren’t on the main arterial streets. Which brings us back to the problem of sitting at a sidewalk cafe table on a busy street.  And, of course, the silence of my back deck is very restful and probably very good for all of us as an antidote to constant urban noise. So, you can imagine the complaining from adjacent neighbours if a little corner store put tables on the sidewalk and people sat there talking until 10pm on a summer night. This probably tends to push these activities out onto the arterial streets.
Which brings me right back to my problem of finding a way to “centre” a community with some kind of public (or semi-public) space. I just don’t know how we can do it with our current streetcar suburbs that make up almost all of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods. And if we can’t do it, it means we travel to different neighbourhoods for different needs and we become, in affect, Urban Nomads.

One step in a long journey

07/1/2010 15:50

We opened a new separated bike lane on a downtown street. It’s a start.

Cars and Pedestrians, but no bikes.

Cars and Pedestrians, but no bikes.

I realize it looks totally unused to motorists but it’s a necessary first step: we won’t attract cyclists until we have infrastructure because of safety perception.

I suspect this is not how car usage grew. Motorists don’t feel unsafe around other road users so they will try using a route as soon as they see it’s avaailabe and then they’ll complain because  it’s slow and congested.

The difference is that potential cyclists *won’t* try a route if they think it’s the slightest bit unsafe but instead complain that it’s not safe.

We have to be willing to build (some) infrastructure and then exhort/market to citizenry to use this capacity.

Of course, this leaves us open to criticism from right-wing car addicts/lobby that we’re spending money on infrastructure for nobody (or for latte-sipping urban lefties, or whomever). I’m optimistic this time that our civic politicians have the ability to withstand this criticism.

Finally, we’re making progress in this town.

05/1/2010 11:32

We’re finally making some progress and getting better at defining and maintaining bicycle infrastructure. Our bike routes, especially  in the central areas of the city, are highly problematic because of short-cut SOV traffic. I complained about this before. Now something’s going to be done to fix Ontario St. Maybe I can start riding it again without getting bummed-out.