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Gene Miller

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Focus Magazine Nov/Dec 2016

Sept/Oct 2016.2

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Everything posted by Gene Miller

  1. Posted November 12, 2020 Can the social messaging inherent in Victoria’s buildings help us render current reality legible in these destabilized times? Go to story
  2. Can the social messaging inherent in Victoria’s buildings help us render current reality legible in these destabilized times? A note to readers of this column: Founding Editor of Focus, Leslie Campbell (you old-timers will remember that Focus began its life as a “women’s magazine” titled Ironing And Brats), has invited me to centre my future contributions generally on urban design and architecture themes, noting that the recorded readership levels of my recent “meaning of life” columns suggest that nobody reads that shit. This, of course, is not true. I know for a fact th
  3. Posted October 15, 2020 Image: Tourists boat by scrap metal pile on Victoria's Selkirk Waters. The project of civic renewal needs us to bring our many gifts to the table—and set an example for the world. Go to story
  4. The project of civic renewal needs us to bring our many gifts to the table—and set an example for the world. SWOONING. Do people still swoon? Informative and very entertaining liner notes with a CD of Charles-Valentin Alkan’s piano music comment that “by the mid-1830’s, Alkan had taken up residence in Paris’s fashionable Square d’Orleans, with the younger Dumas, the ballerina Taglioni, and later, Chopin and George Sand as neighbours,” and friend of the admiring Liszt “whose pianistic style in concerts was capped with such histrionic gestures as swooning at the pia
  5. Posted August 19, 2020 Photo: Park visitors discuss the tents in Beacon Hill Park The vast resources invested in Victoria’s homeless—without apparent success—provide incentive and the means to fashion a new narrative about this city. Go to story
  6. The vast resources invested in Victoria’s homeless—without apparent success—provide incentive and the means to fashion a new narrative about this city. All these beauties will already be familiar to the visitor, who has seen them also in other cities. But the special quality of this city for the man who arrives there on a September evening, when the days are growing shorter, is that he feels envy toward those who now believe they have once before lived an evening identical to this and who think they were happy, that time. —Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities I BEGIN WITH THI
  7. Posted August 11, 2020 Image: Bay Centre Food Court in September 2019, before the pandemic arrived. It’s only when normal takes a holiday that we get an intuitive glimpse of the vast, unseen social and environmental forces that sustain normal. Go to story
  8. It’s only when normal takes a holiday that we get an intuitive glimpse of the vast, unseen social and environmental forces that sustain normal. THANK GOD, things are getting back to normal! You remember normal, don’t you? You can see signs of its return all around: more people on the streets, more shops with “open” signs, more job-resumed rush hour traffic. Why, the way things are going, it shouldn’t be too long before you’re back complaining about how nothing exciting or out of the ordinary ever happens here. But below that, closer to the bone, how to explain the feeling
  9. June 30, 2020 The ideas embedded in our civic architecture say a lot about the state of our civic citizenship. WITH INCREASING FREQUENCY THESE DAYS, I start watching a movie online or crack open a book only to be prodded, ten minutes or ten pages in, by the realization that it’s the second time around: I’ve seen it or read it before. “Huh, will you think of that!” I say to myself and then walk into the bathroom to make myself a sandwich. But enough about you. The occasional mutter from readers reaches me about how this column is so negative and pessimistic, and how I
  10. May 28, 2020 View Towers illustrates how civic inattention can lead to unintended consequences. VIEW TOWERS. It sat there, like a spaceship in a cow pasture, between Quadra and Vancouver, Fort and View Streets, a 19-storey heartbreaker silently announcing to everyone who walked or drove by: “Beauty is tricksome and fleeting, and Death awaits thee.” A description in the Islandist states: “The building, completed in 1968, has been locally notorious for much of its 50 year existence, having been the site of several murders, suicides, fatal overdoses, destructive fires, count
  11. May 13, 2020 The Jawls provide us with examples of how buildings can reflect and build a rational, respectful social vision. I HAVE THIS WAKING FANTASY…Mayor Lisa Helps, just after the start of her first term, back in 2014, is invited by UDI, the property developers’ organization, to be the luncheon speaker. Understandably, the membership wants to get a sense of the priorities, policy directions and “body English” of this new mayor. There are about a 140 attendees, seated at round tables, munching rubber chicken. Finally, lunch eaten and announcements announced, it’s show
  12. March 2020 Scenes of homelessness challenge any illusion that our city is well-ordered—and call for a new blueprint for community. I DON’T WANT TO BREAK A SWEAT attempting to conflate hope and home, but it’s hard not to notice that they share three-quarters of their architecture. I know: you’re sorely tempted to note, so do hole, hone, hose and hove. Remember when you had that stupid idea to create dinner-flavoured ice cream (I recall you said pork chops and Brussels sprouts would “go monster”)? I kept my mouth clamped shut, even when everybody suggested you might,
  13. July 2019 Parsing the promo material for a new development near the Esquimalt Lagoon. HERE'S A RULE OF THUMB: when, or wherever, you see the word “nestled” in real estate advertising copy, make the sign of the cross and run at top speed in the other direction. You need nestling? Go to your partner, or the park, to your therapist, guru or support group, your pet corgi; hell, your pet rock. I urge this in behalf of the last remnant shred of authentic human emotion. That was emotion, not emoticon. The torn genius employed by Rennie Marketing—a Vancouver-based company engaged
  14. March 2019 Will new Downtown buildings help our resiliency and community in the face of social upheaval? LEONARD BERNSTEIN ANNOUNCED his retirement from conducting on October 9, 1990, and five days later died of a heart attack at his Manhattan apartment in The Dakota. At his funeral procession through the streets of Manhattan, construction workers removed their hats and waved, calling out “Goodbye, Lenny.” A city family big enough to have heroes and small enough to weep at their passing. A place, not an anywhere. Cities, communities of people, need identity and are bound
  15. January 2019 Downtown has 1000s of new units, yet it feels unwelcoming to many. MCDONALD'S, OPEN 24/7 at the corner of Douglas and View Streets, is an overnight hellhole and theatre of the absurd. If you can put the prefix dys in front of almost any hapless adjective, or un as in -hinged, -housed, -healthy, -happy, it describes the street-side atmosphere around the place. Really, you should visit some Friday or Saturday around 3am. It screams “major tourist attraction.” It struck me, south-bound on Douglas after a suburban mall run (the Devil never runs out of seductions)
  16. October 2018 We know what we have to do. The only thing holding us back is… THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A PROBLEM WITHOUT A SOLUTION. It’s the nature, the “job,” even, of problems to have solutions, a structural requirement; just like there’s no such thing as a one-sided door, or a here without a there. So it is with the homeless “problem.” It has a solution; possibly several. One would be for all of us to be homeless (goodbye problem, hello trend or new normal); but, of course, that’s foolish to imagine, given current social and political stability, coupled to rosy global p
  17. May 2017 As waves of newcomers arrive, opportunity and peril loom over our urban identity. FROM New York Times movie critic Stephen Holden’s review of director Alexandr Sokurov’s 2002 film, Russian Ark: “This ultimate display of wealth and privilege in the movie is so heady it would be easy to infer that Mr. Sokurov…harbors a lingering nostalgia for the pre-revolutionary era of czars and serfs. But this extraordinary sequence—courtly social life set within the Hermitage Palace in St. Petersburg—even more powerfully evokes the historical blindness of an entitled elite blissfull
  18. January 2017 Douglas Street, once fully invested with life and social purpose, now seems diminished. QUICK, THINK OF A WORD that rhymes with “colostomy.” Infrastructure. Good for you! That profane stew of surveying and shoveling, blueprints, backhoes, migraine-coloured diversion tape, and hellfire-tinted traffic cones. Surfaces shattered, guts and filth exposed, society’s shitty undies pulled down, all niceties abandoned. Invasive urban surgery: mud, crud and blood. Eeeuuwww! Watched a two-month-long project near my home recently: realignment of an innocent
  19. September 2015 A city's urban character and authenticity are never to be taken for granted. IF YOU NEED FURTHER EVIDENCE purposeful forces govern the universe, there was Victoria City Councillor Pam Madoff at a June meeting hosted by the Fairfield-Gonzales Community Association in its space just uphill from Sir James Douglas School, near the corner of Fairfield Road and Moss Street. Fix that intersection in your mind: the school on one corner, Fairfield United Church on another, and a bit of retail/commercial fungus on the other two. The flyer attracting Fairfield pe
  20. January 2015 If we're going to invest in a pricey new McKenzie Avenue intersection, let's charge commuters for stop-reduced driving. TO PUT YOU IN THE MOOD, I’d like to unload some overwrought consumer trivia about the price of English muffins. On Saturday, last November 29, a bag of six Dempster’s English muffins at Thrifty’s was $4.19, or 70 cents each. At Oxford Foods on Cook Street, a bag of six (a competitive brand of equal quality) was $1.88, or 31 cents apiece. A jumbo-pak of 24 at Costco was $6.49, or 27 cents the muffin. A 12-pack at the Wholesale Club on Viewfield Ro
  21. May 2014 Our newest tourist attraction may be one of the Seven Blunders of the World. More of the same are in the works. LONG YEARS AGO, I experienced a recurring kid’s fantasy of being in an elevator whose cable snapped, sending the cab on a clattering rendezvous with destiny 20 storeys below. Just as the plummeting cab was about to hit bottom, I flexed and jumped in the air at the exact same speed as the dropping cage; and when, a split-second later, the cab finally stopped in a roar of torn metal, I landed cloudlike on the ruined deck, my feet crossed gracefully at the ankl
  22. March 2014 Good design helps make good citizens. DID YOU KNOW that in the City of Victoria, six of every ten dwellings are rental units and a rumoured seven of every ten people—especially in and around the city core—are renters? Look over there, 10 o’clock. For God’s sake, don’t look right at them! Yes, yes, right there: renters! Humanity’s wiring diagram may have its mysteries, but there is no missing that property ownership (“a piece of the rock,” we say) is a desired status and an elevated form of tenure. It confers gravitas, true citizenship that reduces renters to a
  23. December 2013 Can Victoria move forward into the past and leave the past behind, all at the same time? Maybe. YESTERDAY MORNING, some street guy beat up my car. I was leaving the Pandora Street McDonald’s with a large, three creams/two sugars. He was crossing south on Mason Street, heading obliquely toward McDonald’s. We kind of made eye contact. I steered a slow, wide, respectful, you-too-sit-on-a-branch-in-the-tree-of-life turn around him toward Vancouver Street, and then he spun, lurched back into the intersection and beat on the hood and windshi
  24. November 2013 Despite some foot-dragging, trends are pointing to a revitalized Downtown. WHEN I DROVE BY on a mid-September Saturday morning, the crane truck was lifting the word “PUBLIC” into place above a steel-frame marquee at The Hudson, Townline Development’s residentially and commercially re-purposed Hudson’s Bay store. The next day, it had been flanked by the words “VICTORIA” and “MARKET.” That Monday, the market opened formally to congratulatory speeches before a large, enthusiastic crowd of merchants and well-wishers. The opening followed years of speculation abo
  25. September 2013 Victoria just needs to turn itself inside-out to be ready for a great future. I TURN—likely turned, by the time you read this—70 on August 2nd. Let me assure you, in this era of wishful and delusional thinking about graceful aging, that 70 is the new 70. Everything hurts or misfires a bit. Whatever noble or sexualized fantasies of remaining good looks I concoct as I strike poses at the bathroom mirror evaporate on the street when everyone under 40 walks by me like I’m wallpaper. I survive off my pension, refunds from deposit containers, petty crime in the bulk f
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