PhD complete

Today, an eleven year journey as a PhD student comes to a hard-won, satisfying, successful end. My dissertation (entitled “The Critical Construction of Geolocational Life”) has been submitted to the SFU Library Thesis office, revisions completed and approved. I can breathe – and blog – again.

The Flat Earth

I just read through/viewed this wonderfully animated piece by VEC/Centre for Digital Media students about the False Creek Flats, and it got me rummaging around. Of late I’ve also been examining the standard planning propaganda* (I use that term here in its modern, non-pejorative sense**) about the future of the Flats in Vancouver.

Looking at the public record, there appears to be great uncertainty yet about where the Flats are headed, from a city planning perspective. Despite the seemingly good intentions of many of the companies and institutions that have relocated (and property developers that have installed condominiums) in this neighbourhood with much fanfare, there is considerable administrative inertia on the fate of the flats, due to legal entanglements, multiple (regional and civic) planning agendas***, transportation planning (which depends on Provincial approval, and a referendum on a subway line, among other transit priorities), and the position of the overall redevelopment of the flats within the panoply of hot button issues that haunt Vancouver’s overall political climate.

The Flats

I live (almost) and work (sometimes) in the Flats. I recently created a photo essay of my walk to work, in which I observed (among other things – please read the comments under each image for the full autobiographical story) that many of the new businesses along Terminal Avenue within the past two years are automobile dealerships. This seems broadly and deeply inconsistent with the themes of sustainability and environmental consciousness that inhabit most of the planning literature and discourse in Vancouver. I’m not being cynical; I’m simply pointing out an obvious contradiction. Companies that promote automobile and fossil fuel consumption are fundamentally at odds with community or state planned initiatives to reduce the effects of global warming. If our planning is to be sustainable in the Metro Vancouver region, why is the intensified promotion of luxury (and other) cars included as part of the way forward?

Speaking of climate, False Creek Flats might be under water in a short while if administrative and political inertia permit the status quo patterns of development to continue on for too much longer. An interesting – though perhaps trivial in the grand scheme of things – aside is that Emily Carr University is relocating from one flood zone (originally a sandbar) to another.

Not my image. CC-BY-SA 2.0 Generic (
Not my image. CC-BY-SA 2.0 Generic (

The Flats themselves are a product of regional transportation planning history. Originally a swampy body of water, maps that show the history of Vancouver’s inner shoreline like the one above (source: City of Vancouver Community Services)  hint at the dramatic transformation of this area which began in 1917, as Canadian railway companies were granted permission to fill in the area with regional commercial transportation infrastructure (mainly servicing commercial cargo traffic to the Port). Did you know that the Port of Vancouver is on its way to becoming the largest coal exporting site in North America?

I want Vancouver to be the Greenest City in the world. Strike that: I want every city in the world to be the greenest city in the world. However, I am puzzled as to why the action on this contradicts the talk.

Moreover, you can learn a thing or two about political realities (as opposed to fictions) by simply walking around, taking pictures with a smartphone.


*Noting that civic plans for the False Creek Flats have been institutionally made into an integral part of other, more controversial civic planning initiatives such as the removal of the Georgia/Dunsmuir viaducts.

**Meaning, in my own words, government publications that promote the  activities of government or a particular kind of action, belief [often ideological in nature] – reserving judgement on whether or not said materials are designed to misinform.

***Including the ambitious envisioning of the area as, in the words of one Metro Vancouver planning overseer, the “refrigerator, storeroom, and repair room of the downtown”.

Cities, transportation, and representations of space

Derek Buckner, Freeway 2.
Derek Buckner, Freeway 2.
I’ve posted my thoughts on urban life and the micropolitics of getting around on my parenting blog, but for various reasons, I didn’t explain how philosophies of space and technology (in particular, Lefevbre and Peter-Paul Verbeek) inform my ideas on the subject. since this blog is more dissertation-oriented, I thought I’d drop a brief overview of these philosophies here.

If you’ve read my rant on my other blog, and if you’ve encountered either of these thinkers at all (most parents and transit users I talk to haven’t), you might appreciate where I’m making points that echo their ideas.

Building on Lefevbre, I’m giving attention to processes of social homogenization (or ordering according to the logic of capitalism) that stem from top-down urban planning processes, or what he calls “representations of space” (institutional or bureaucratic space). Using this concept, I declare an “ethos of overconsumption and ecological violence” that seems to dominate contemporary urban planning processes in Vancouver.

More relevant to the work of Verbeek, I’m echoing the Latourian-influenced proposal that technological artefacts have ethical content, in that networks of human and nonhuman actors (in which we are also enrolled as actors) set us up with constrained choices. Sometimes these networks help us make ethical choices (speedbumps, door grooms, etc… his most recent book speaks of this in more depth), but sometimes (as I argue in the case of family transportation networks), they set us up to make choices that go against our ethical predispositions, coercively. The network of transportational artefacts, then – including ramps and kneeling buses, transit authority policies about what constitutes a “mobility aid”, the physical location of schools, the manner in which rules about cross-catchment student enrolment are enforced, cheap car loans – in many ways prefigures our set of options with which we can make choices about how to get around. Parents of young families end up driving cars around because the network of actants (and I’ve only included a partial list here) is tending in that direction, regardless of whether or not those with power to re-design that network have the ethical constitution and political will to do the work of re-designing it.

Voltage v Does: Copyright Trolls of the World Unite…

Looks like Voltage may obtain subscriber info in Canada from Teksavvy, but not without court oversight and privacy protections for people accused of infringement. Still, this was just a motion. The demand letters may roll out soon, but this litigation might prove to be unprofitable, given the tone and language of the judgement.

This could play out in many different ways. I’ve long suspected that this case is merely a demo tape for a sweep of a much larger number of suspected infringing IP addresses assigned to the major ISPs. Time will tell if Canada proves at all to be a jurisdiction within which copyright trolling is a profitable enterprise, but at this point the court looks like it wants to prevent that.

We shouldn’t rule out entirely, though, that copyright trolling might ensue here. Given the well-publicized precedent of secret surveillance by the Canadian government, along with the growing awareness that our data is not our own but potentially everyone’s now, I am hopeful that the time is right for people to mobilize on all of these related problems of digital life: protecting our privacy in ways that reinvigorate digital media with our values and interests (and not just the values of an increasingly out-of-touch, increasingly surveillant near-authoritarian state, or the values of copyright trolls), protecting our access to culture and participation in its reproduction, and protecting our freedom to connect without corporate and government meddling.


Survived an important mental test. Since I’ve been teaching pretty much 3/4 time to full time* over the past 1.5 years, the dissertation gets sporadically updated and reconsidered. Well, there is a time limit on these things, and I’m currently at a half time teaching load. Despite how unpleasant I find this precarity (and there’s reason to suspect it might carry on beyond my graduation later this year), and without getting into the anguish of detail on this count, I’m looking on the bright side, which is that right now my time is freed up a bit for writing.

This is the context behind the “test” I referred to at the outset here. What was it? It was this: I sat down to figure out where I left off, got bored searching for the most recent outline & introductory chapter, and then proceeded to re-write the outline and half the intro. An hour later, I found the former outline & intro, and they were identical in structure and tone as the new text. The temporal distance between these drafts was a full three months, but my ambitions and direction are unmoved.

I take this as a strong indication that I’m ready to finish this thing. Feels good.



*full time at my institution is 4/4 time… I guess 3/4 time is like a waltz then?