Monday, June 29, 2009

Fear of a Tallgrass Planet

Another day, another piece in the Windsor Star decrying the weed-riddled parks that have flourished during the City of Windsor's outside workers 'work-stoppage'. Personally, I think that the emergence of prairie birds in our city parks has been the only positive outcome that has come out of this unfortunate situation that we've found ourselves in. (Actually, that and grass-braiding)

But I know that here where once was a sea of tallgrass prairie - that I'm in the minority. Most people in Windsor love routinely-mowed grass. In fact most people in the Western world love the lawn and the history of this love affair has been wonderfully captured in Elizabeth Kolbert's New Yorker article "Turf War".

While Kolbert history of the lawn largely equates short-grass with material wealth, there is credible evidence that our love of short-grass is genetically hard-wired into our species:

As a reflection on what lawns mean to people, Gordon H. Orians, a professor emeritus of biology at the University of Washington, Seattle, took photographs of a wide variety of vegetation habitats and asked people around the world to rate them. African savannas were preferred by a large margin. We evolved in a habitat where short green grass provided evidence of abundant grazing mammals; pruned shrubs similarly evidenced lots of browsers; and open spaces meant we could see the dangerous lions, hyenas, and other predators.

So how can we - those of us who are actively working to increase the amount of naturalized land in the Windsor and Essex County to sustainable levels - work around this tendency and keep some of the tallgrass in our public places?

I think I've found an answer in the book, With People in Mind: Design and Management of Everyday Nature by Rachel Kaplan, Stephen Kaplan and Robert L. Ryan. This 1998 work distills decades of research into the design of natural spaces into an easily understandable frame work that designers, public officials and citizens can use to design or evaluate local open space.

I'm currently reading the Leddy Library copy of this book and the good news is that there are strategies that can employed to create public spaces that incorporate natural space while addressing people's fears and preferences to outdoor space.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jane's Walk in Walkerville

The Jane's Walk that we had in Walkerville went over really well. We had around forty people enjoying the warmth of the sun, of the company around them and of the stories they told of their neighbourhood.

These folks were there and they describe the walk better than I can:


One of the reasons why I love the Jane's Walk event is because it is one of the few events I've come across that embodies the ideas it celebrates: community, conversation, walking, neighbourhoods, sharing, accessibility, stories, and activism.

On that note, is anyone interested in a Jane Jacobs book club?

Friday, May 01, 2009

Join us tomorrow for a Jane's Walk in Walkerville

“No one can find what will work for our cities by looking at ... suburban garden cities, manipulating scale models, or inventing dream cities. You've got to get out and walk.”

Jane's Walk in Walkerville
Saturday, May 2, 11 am
starts & ends at Taloola Café

Jane’s Walk is a neighbourhood tour that celebrates the work of activist and urbanist Jane Jacobs and the city life she loved.

Please join our tour guides from as we look at the way Walkerville's historical buildings have been creatively re-used to meet the needs of today's residents. We will also imagine improvements to the neighbourhood and discuss ways to take the best of Walkerville into the future. The walk is on, rain or shine.

For more info, see or

No news is good news from the Windsor Star

Ok, I understand that Chysler's bankruptcy is going to dominate today's news coverage, but why is it that I only learned from Alan Halberstadt's blog that,

Getting back to my alleged subservience to the mayor, I can use last night as a good example to refute such charges. I cast opposing votes on two of the mayor's pet infrastructure stimulus projects that will be forwarded to the federal government -- $30 million to service urban sprawl greenfields in the old Sandwich South, and some $44 million for Eddie's west waterfront marina-canal. One third of the projects cleared last night will be funded by city taxpayers if approved by the senior governments. I was the lone dissenter on the urban sprawl project.

The canal-marina was defeated on a 6-4 vote. I couldn't, in good conscience, vote for a project without seeing any details or a business plan. Dave Cooke turned over the documents to the mayor a number of weeks ago, but the plan has yet to be seen or vetted by Council or the public.

This dodgy voting process occurred two nights ago and there is not a single word mentioned in the Windsor Star about this?

Why do I subscribe to this paper again?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A man. A plan. Something awful

I don't want to spend too much time on the canal proposal that has recently been designated as 'doable' by a small task force. It doesn't seem right to weigh on a proposal that hasn't even been seen by city councilors. But that hasn't stopped the mayor of Windsor from championing its merits and the likes of Gord Henderson to malign detractors of the idea.

But I wanted to make mention of the issue for two reasons. First, Chris Schnurr has recently researched and written a couple great posts about the topic.

From his post, 60 Points of Light:

Mr. Henderson again attempted to paint the canal as the saviour of the downtown by resurrecting the famed Bricktown Canal completed at a cost of $26-million in 1999 in Oklahoma City, population 1-million.... But what Mr. Henderson did not tell us was that the Bricktown Canal was but one of 9 projects approved by voters there known as the MAPS Master Plan...

This master plan includes: fairgrounds renovations, a new AAA baseball park, a bus trolley system, renovation of its convention center and music hall, a new arena and new library and learning centre. Banking downtown revitalization on a canal is not unlike banking revitalization on a marina, the prospect of which was something that Gord Henderson loathed back in 2003.

The central tenant of the canal proposal is that a water feature will lure Windsor households to move downtown. What I find so absurd is that we already have a beautiful water feature downtown. Its called the Detroit River. And we have a beautiful chain of riverside parks that, with a fraction of the costs to add water a couple blocks inland, could become a truly great public place.

That's all I'll say for the time being. Part of me agrees with Ed that the canal proposal is just a distraction from all the ills from the not so bright side of Windsor.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Incubuating small businesses in a Windsor kitchen

Like other local bloggers, I recommend reading Alfie Morgan's Turnaround Plan to Fix City Economy that was printed in yesterday's Windsor Star. I don't agree with everything Morgan proposes in his plan but it contains a world's more sense than some of the schemes that the past Windsor Essex Development Commission dreamed up.

Here's one possible way we could encourage the start of new businesses in Windsor. I figure that the combination of our access to prime agricultural products and the ethnic diversity of our citizens should provide the right conditions to grow food-production businesses in our locale. But starting a small food business is not an easy matter as it is illegal to prepare food for sale in one's one home kitchen. I learned this fact from this post from the Taste T.O. blog which goes on to describe the kitchen incubators available in the city to provide industrial kitchen space to entrepreneurs.

Since St. Clair College offers a culinary skills program, they have industrial kitchen space. I propose that a request be made to St. Clair College to rent the space, when not in use, to create a local kitchen incubator for the Windsor Essex region.

Like the suggestions in Alfie Morgan's plan, this proposal is practical, feasible, and the only thing holding us back is will.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Speed dating for farmers

I learned from this tweet from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, that the London Economic Development Commission is hosting this event:

"Connecting Farmers and Food Buyers to tap into the Buy Local food market place"
March 31, 2009, Western Fair

We desperately need to make better connections between Windsor and Essex County and an event like this could do wonders towards starting up relationships between our tourism and agriculture industries. Too bad our own Windsor Economic Development Corporation have other things on their mind...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Upcoming Local Landscaping Classes

This year we're pleased to offer another series of our Naturalized Landscaping Course. These weekly, 6 part classes combine the best of traditional landscaping concepts with tried and true approaches to incorporating native plants, attracting wildlife and other environmentally sustainable techniques. Since first being introduced in 2002, this course has benefitted over 600 area residents. This year, we're pleased to offer four editions of this course at four convenient locations, which are as follows:

Essex, beginning on Monday March 9. * Tecumseh, beginning on Tuesday, March 10. * Windsor, beginning on Wednesday, March 11. * Kingsville, beginning on Thursday, March 12

All classes begin at 7:00 PM and typically last about 2 hours. Registration for each person is $50, which include a complete annual membership. Most classes can accomodate 20 participants and are open to both new and experienced gardeners. Registrations are now underway will continue as long as there is still vacancy in each class. To secure your spot in a class or to learn more, call Dan at 519-259-2407. [Naturalized Habitat Network]

Friday, February 20, 2009

Space - The Eternal Frontier

I'm still thinking about last night's Talk20 event. Because I had brought my family to Artcite I couldn't pop over to Phog afterwards to see who was continuing the conversations that had begun after the slideshows were over.

While cities have always facinated people, there has been a definate resurgence in exploring public spaces and making them more liveable. If I had to put a local starting point on it, I would say that it began about five years ago with the launch of Spacing Magazine and The Green Corridor project. Since then, initiatives such as Scaledown Windsor and FedUp! Windsor have emerged alongside long-standing groups such as the CEA and ArtCite to encourage and coordinate local action for a better city. Adding to this confluence are new faculty at the University of Windsor such as Jamey Essex and Michael Darroch joining the likes of Veronika Mogyorody among others who have been engaged in working with the community as part of their practice.

Its funny that many folks predicted that cyberspace would diminish the role of real space in our lives but all evidence seems to show the opposite is happening. Social software, online maps, and location-aware devices such as GPS receivers, digital cameras and cell phones are making us more aware of where we are.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The City As Playground : The Slides

Slides and speakers notes (found in the actions menu) are available through this link to the presentation.

Much thanks to Jodi Green and Artcite for the opportunity to be part of such a fun event.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Local peas and beans

from blenheim
Originally uploaded by Mita

We're eating less meat at our house for all the reasons that you, no doubt, are already familiar with. And when possible, we try to buy local.

I found these split peas and red beans at a nearby A&P. They are from Thompsons ("since 1924") in Blenheim, Ontario.

I'm finding the culture of Agriculture quite fascinating. For example, I just learned that the Ontario Bean Producers Marketing Board is dedicated only to promoting White Pea Beans. This is why there is also the Ontario Coloured Bean Growers Association.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Buying local for Valentine’s Day

"This Valentine’s Day, why not try fresh Ontario flowers? The perfect example, say Ontario flower growers, are potted miniature roses - ideal for the upcoming Valentine’s occasion." [Food & Farming Canada]

Monday, February 09, 2009

Pecha Kucha Windsor - February 19 at Artcite

Join us for Windsor's first Pecha Kucha event, a fun-filled evening of words and images.

Pecha Kucha (or talk20, as it is known in the U.S.) is a public lecture format conceived in 2003 by architects Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham. The format: each presenter shows twenty slides; each slide remains on screen for twenty seconds (thus, each presenter speaks for 6 minutes and 40 seconds total).

Time : Thursday, February 19, 2009, 7:30pm - 9:30pm
Host/Location: Artcite Inc, 109 University Avenue West, Windsor

For our first Pecha Kucha evening, six presenters will speak about what they love about Windsor, what they hate, their perspective on the challenges currently faced by our community, how to fix it.

Our presenters:

  • Mita Williams (Leddy Library, University of Windsor): "The City as Playground"
  • Justin Langlois (MFA Candidate in Visual Arts, University of Windsor): "How to Fix the City: Social Practice in Windsor"
  • Pina and Adriano Ciotoli (co-owners, "Eat Your City"
  • Andrew Foot ( "Architectural Desecration"
  • Tom Lucier (owner, Phog Lounge): "No More Bemoaning: Growing Windsor's Creative Class"
  • Rod Strickland (Professor, School of Visual Arts, University of Windsor): "Open Corridor"

See if I can beat the clock!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Road trips for Charity

Through an email from Nancy Johns Gallery & Framing I learned of a Facebook group worth sharing: Road Trips For Charity:

We run fun bus trips to lots of fun places to raise needed donations for local charities. It is volunteer organized. No money is raised ONLY needed donations. We love going to all the events, shopping trips, wine tours, Mexican Towne on Mondays, Cedar Point, sporting events, concerts, dinner spots, nightclubs, the list goes on!... We only charge what the fix cost is to run the bus! It's completely volunteer organized event. It's people helping people. The idea is to capture the spirit of community and volunteersim, make a difference in our communities, raise awareness and donations for the charities! Have lots of fun!

Monday, February 02, 2009

City pays for 20 years downpayment on ketchup

No municipal taxes for 20 years. Free water for 20 years. A $10,000 building purchased by the town. A free sewer line.

It’s difficult to judge what that would have meant to a town of 2,500 with no paved streets at a time when a loaf of bread cost pennies.

With a vote of 551 to 18, Leamington said an overwhelming yes to the H.J. Heinz Company.

In today's Windsor Star is an homage to Heinz Canada. The Pittsburgh PA company decided to settle in Canada one hundred years ago.

I find it fascinating that cities have been trying to lure businesses with tax exemptions and free immenities for so long. Perhaps my assumption that this was only a modern practice is ill founded. Have municipalities alway engaged in this practice?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

It takes a community to make a calendar

I was going to write about the sorry state of community calendars in Windsor - those sad "please submit your event two weeks in advance" calendars that are online but done so in such a way that there is no way to easily add them to a personal online calendar, on the web, on your your pc or mac, or to your cell phone. (I'm looking at *you* CBC Windsor and AM800). Sadly, it appears that there once was a Google driven Community Calendar provided by The City of Windsor but it looks like they've started using something a less functional and pretty.

But after doing some searching around, I was surprised to find a growing number of local calendars on Google Calendar.

So you are going to have to make your own community calendar starting with these:

Buying Local Foods... : Local Food Events :
Arts Council - Windsor & Region (ACWR) :
Detroit River Canadian Cleanup Environmental Events :
Windsor Essex Community Supported Agriculture :

And may I present, The 4-0 Wonderland Calendar as well:

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

E10 - Where to buy ethanol blend gasoline

I am well aware of the problems of using food for fuel but there is still merit in using an ethanol blend of gasoline. After a bit of digging around online, I found a couple sources who work together to provide ethanol gasoline blends produced from Ontario corn: UPI and Sunoco.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Thanks Jennifer 8 - now all I want is to order some Chinese food

Some quick (and thus, error-prone) counts from the Windsor and Area Yellow Pages.

# of McDonald's Restaurants: 10
# of Burger King Restaurants: 11
# of Wendy's : 4
# of KFCs: 7
# of Chinese restaurants: 45

I wanted to do a quick tally of the local restaurant scene after watching Jennifer 8 Lee's TED Talk: Who was General Tso? and other mysteries of American Chinese food. I recommend watching it as its fascinating food history.

(We have our own history with Chinese food as almost every small town in Canada that can support a restaurant has a Chinese restaurant as a result of our own immigration policies.)

Near the end of the talk, Lee makes the case that unlike the centralized uniformity of the fast food franchises, Chinese restaurants ac hived their similarity independently by self-organization. Unlike the Microsofts of the restaurant landscape, Chinese restaurants are like Linux - adapting to local tastes and customs while being both ubiquitous and largely anonymous.

Now I want dim sum something fierce.