- Hi, my name is Andrew.
- This is
Your writing is valuable and interesting. Stop throwing it away.
Last year around this time I wrote a post called “I Miss Blogger.” I talked about how before everyone was on Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr, there were just a few people I knew who would update their personal blogs every few days or so, and the personal touch you got from seeing their design changes, font choices, and logos, even if they were mostly from a pre-produced group of templates.
Today, virtually nobody I know in real life blogs. And I think that’s too bad.
I have friends on Facebook who regularly write thoughtful, insightful, and humorous posts that expand to 500 words or more, plenty for a blog post. But they leave it as a status update and it’s gone, fast, swept away under a sea of promoted pages and quizzes.
I’ve seen a few posts this week about the value of personal blogging, but one of my favourites is from a blogger named Jesper, who writes
“Social media has come to symbolize, for me, the tyranny of having to appear relevant, visible and clean to everyone else, the inability to define my own boundaries and the uncertainty about what’s going to happen tomorrow to the fundamental structure of this tool that I’m using – all the while someone either makes money off of me or adds to the looming amorphousness trying to stay afloat.”
Let’s expand on that. I have not heard of Jesper before someone linked to this post, but I can easily visit his website and browse through his archives. I am able to cleanly and easily read his thoughts on a variety of subjects without being invited to “like” a thing. There is no third-party involved. He’s the writer, I’m the reader.
Now let’s say I wanted to do the same with someone whose writing I enjoyed on Facebook. I could visit their personal pages to find these thoughtful, insightful, and humourous posts, but for the most part I only get the first few lines, squeezed between apps and memes other people have posted on their page. Even if it’s immaculately clean, half the space on a profile is taken up by a list of movies and sports teams that they’ve told Facebook they ‘like’ after consistently being harassed to do so. And once you go back more than a few months, Facebook starts trunctuating things with “highlights.”
Facebook is not a space for sharing in the same way blogs are. Facebook is there for Facebook, and what you see is based on what their algorithm determines is best for their potential profitability. And one of the things they don’t seem to be interested in is actually giving you a space that’s truly yours.
I’m not quitting Facebook. It has utitility. I’m going to hit “publish” on this post, and then I’m going to share it, because that’s where the people are- for now. But I’m not throwing my writing, my thoughts, into a space that hungrily swallows everything, without some sort of backup plan.
After reading Jesper’s post, another blogger named Brent Simmons adds this:
“My blog’s older than Twitter and Facebook, and it will outlive them. It has seen Flickr explode and then fade. It’s seen Google Wave and Google Reader come and go, and it’ll still be here as Google Plus fades. When Medium and Tumblr are gone, my blog will be here.
“The things that will last on the internet are not owned. Plain old websites, blogs, RSS, irc, email.”
Not everyone is going to feel this way. But I’d encourage you to consider it. Think of a post or a moment that you put on Facebook or Twitter from a year or two ago, something you’d like to be able to access in the future. How easily can you find it? How easy will it be to find in five, ten, fifty years from now? If you’re not satisfied with the answer, then you may want to stop posting and start blogging.
PS One of the things I started doing in reaction to the stream of social media is start a newsletter. It’s an irregular highlight of the things I find online in digest form, rather than an endless stream. You can subscribe to it below:
“It is really a two-step career journey, in the writing world. Writing, then editing... If you want to get regular promotions and raises, you will, for the most part, accept the fact that your path takes you away from writing and into editing, in some form. The number of pure writing positions that offer salaries as high as top editing positions is vanishingly small.”
I get the impression this applies to a lot of creative pursuits. Now that I’m ostensibly ‘in charge’ of making a radio show, I’m spending a lot less time actually making radio and a lot more doing… well, other things. I’m enjoying it, but would I permanently trade it for the daily craft of writing and audio production? Time (and my financial health) will tell.
In a review of the fantastic Radiotopia podcast network, Bill McKibbon points out the (rather odd) absence of radio from virtually all media attention:
“[I]t annoys me how little attention gets paid these programs. The Times reviews almost every movie that comes out (I enjoy reading their reviews of part 6 of some slasher series) and even though I’ve never seen Breaking Bad I can tell you pretty much everything about it because of the number of stories I’ve read. Radio not so much—the people who make it do so without much public feedback about what’s working and what isn’t.”
It’s a good point. I’m not saying play-by-play announcements every day about what happened on-air, but aside from losing funding, it’s as if CBC- let alone any other radio stations- don’t even exist in the physical and digital pages of this country’s papers (and most of the coverage there is about what should or shouldn’t be done about the television side of things, with only a line or two acknowledging radio).
A few years ago, I remember reading that one of the British newspapers was coming under fire for combining its radio and TV sections into one, and my mind was blown that radio got any coverage at all, let alone had its own section. Even now, the Guardian actually has a radio section online (the Telegraph has TV & Radio, but it’s mostly TV, so maybe it was them).
Anyways, it’s an interesting thought. Despite popular belief, people listen to radio in this country- in big numbers- and it’s curious that we’ll get coverage of virtually all other forms of media (concert reviews, amateur play previews, video game breakdowns, and yes, slasher films) while the thing thousands of people across the country start their day with goes by unnoticed.
The desire to sell used video games after 8 pm may be the best thing to happen to local democracy
Oh, it warms my heart to see it.
The Prince George city council meeting was full- full!- last night. This does not happen often. And why was it full? Not because of some controversial neighbourhood development or group lobbying for more funding.
It was full because people want to be able to sell used video games after 8 pm.
More context: a newcomer to Prince George’s downtown business scene is GameQuest, a shop specializing in retro video games and systems. It’s a cool place: arcade machines line one wall, and tournaments in things like Street Fighter and Smash Bros. are a regular after-hours occurence. It’s a community as much as a store.
But there’s a hitch. The owner of the store, Kelsey Polnick, was informed that because he buys and sells used goods his store falls under city bylaws targeting pawn shops.
City bylaws. Blech. Boring.
But as those of us who sadly and solitarily read through city council agendas know, bylaws affect the way we live our lives. They are the rules created by our local governments in an attempt to nudge the development of our cities and neighbourhoods in one direction or another.
So yes, bylaws affect your ability to buy and sell that vintage edition of Super Marios Bros 2.
You can read the details here and here, but essentially there are rules in place aimed at targeting illegally acquired goods from being sold in pawn shops that include a holding period of 30 days and no sales after 8 pm. At some point, the city saw a problem and created bylaws to try and fix it.
I’m going to take a guess that most of those hundred plus people who showed up at council last night hadn’t heard of this bylaw before Polnick discovered and started a petition to try and get it changed. And I know for a fact that most of them don’t regularly show up to city council meetings.
But whether they knew it or not, those bylaws were in place, affecting their lives! And your life!
And so they showed up, and Polnick presented to city council, and council voted unanimously to look into changing the rules. Democracy in action! That’s the awesome thing about local government- get a hundred or so people together and you will definitely be noticed by the people making the rules. Heck, I’ve seen delegations of like two people make a change. You’re not guaranteed to get your way, but it’s a heck of a lot easier than provincial or federal politics. There are much fewer layers.
And look, I don’t expect these guys and gals to show up at every single city council meeting from here on in. But here’s what I hope: I hope that this is a small example of why local government matters. Bylaws can be boring but they have real consequences. They tell us what we can build where, how many parks we have per thousand square feet, and whether we can buy and sell used video games after 8 pm.
So even if you don’t want to sit through every single council meeting and read every single bylaw change proposal… pay attention to the people who do. This November we are going to be electing a new mayor and council and the decisions they make will affect your life. You may not always notice it, but trust me, those rules are there, shaping the way the city develops.
Only 28.8% of Prince George’s population voted in 2011. Voting day is November 15. Let’s see if we level up.
How a proposed neighbourhood in Blackburn could shape the future of the city
This November, the people of Prince George will be asked to vote for a new mayor and council. And the people asking for those votes are going to lay out their vision for the city. Is there a performing arts center? An engineering program at UNBC? But for my money, one of the best chances to understand how our current council envisions the future of Prince George will be in the discussion surrounding 85 new homes proposed for a small neighbourhood east of the city.
The proposal is to take a 45.5 hectare piece of land and divide it up into 85 smaller lots. The land is in city boundaries but outside of “the city”, past the airport and in what might be more accurately characterized as the “country” part of town. In fact, the land is currently classified as agricultural, something that would have to change for this development to go ahead.
Let’s go back to the notion of “vision”. Back in 2009, the city started a process called “MyPG.” It was a comprehensive set of community consulations basically asking people “what kind of city do we want this to be?” Hundreds of aspects of life in the city were looked at, and an overall plan with lots of smaller plans were put into place to help guide future decision making.
Fast forward to 2014 and this proposal. City staff receive the request for the 85 new lots and they prepare a report to help the mayor and council decide whether to support it. That report was presented back in April. In it, city staff recommend that the new lots not be approved. Why? Because of the city vision.
One bullet point in the report given to council was about something called “Complete Communities.” The vision for Prince George is that it be easy for people to work, play, and shop close to their home without having to rely solely on cars (ie that they be able to bike, walk, and take the bus to the places they have to be). Staff warn:
“The Blackburn neighbourhood offers limited services beyond an elementary school and a community hall. The lack of services results in residents having longer vehicle trips to meet everyday needs. The proposed development would be considerable distance from common destinations such as highschools (Duchess Park – 12.3km) or commercial centres (Parkwood Shopping Centre – 12.1 km). Without any conventional public transit routes in the Blackburn neighbourhood, these longer trips are almost entirely dependent on the private vehicle. There are also no formalized pedestrian or cycling routes serving the Blackburn area at present. The Active Transportation Plan (2010) identifies the potential to create a shared Bike/Traffic lane along Blackburn Road and Giscome Road in medium term forecast, but any trail or cycling connection from the Blackburn area to the Downtown is a low priority.”
To put it more simply, approving this development would contribute to urban sprawl. In fact, the staff report says exactly that later on:
“The term sprawl often refers to settlement patterns that feature some or all of the following characteristics: subdivision of unused agricultural land; large residential lots; tie-in to municipal services; lack of public transit and pedestrian connections; and, considerable distance to other land uses. The proposed rezoning and subsequent subdivision has the characteristics of sprawl.”
There are other concerns surrounding this: the cost of building and maintaing new roads and sewer, the problems of taking agricultural land and making it residential, that sort of thing. But to me the real interest is in the question of how we want the city to grow.
Right now we have roughly 80,000 people. There is an unofficial target of 100,000 in the next decade or so. How do you make space for those 20,000 new people? You could do it by focusing on making smaller lots, apartments, and duplexes in what we already consider the “urban core” of the city: downtown, the Millar Addition, and ‘the bowl’ generally. Strategic building can accomodate quite a few people in urban centers.
Another method is to keep on expanding. If you drive from the university to College Heights, you will see a number of new and developing neighbourhoods that have been created in the last decade. You can see empty space in all directions of town that could be turned into large family homes. We have the space to grow out and out and out.
It’s not an either/or scenario, either. There can be a combination. Certainly, one of the selling points for a place like Prince George is that you can own a home with a yard and still be a few minutes drive from the city proper. One of the supporters of this project argues that by developing Blackburn you will support downtown, because it will be the closest shopping center for anyone who moves there. To hear the case for this development as a counter to the staff report, I recommend listening to this.
None of this is a science. You can’t say for sure that any single subdvision or highrise is “right,” and certainly one highrise or subdivision does not a city make. But listen to the discussion around those subdivisions and highrises and you might get a sense of where the vision’s looking.