York Urbanist

CURLING: A RECREATION TO A BUSINESS

April 20th, 2014
Curling, Recreation

In the coming weeks, this blog will create a hypothetical and entrepreneurial approach to rebuilding the sport of curling in the fictional community of Aasvogel, Ontario.  The story is based on a true life and death of a curling club. Curling is not a dying sport as reported elsewhere. The seeds of curling are able to be planted in any community.

Starting as a Dutch farm community, the village became affected by the changing Greater Toronto Area.  The farm-predominant community looked for activities for the winter. Scots farm immigrants had started a four-sheet curling club in 1951.The Scots imported curling and together one hundred formed a group who built a community centre mostly with volunteer labour and donated materials. Through the 1950’s and 1960’s, the membership grew to 250 but little else changed. Volunteers continued to run the club, making ice, catering events and running leagues for men.  Children of the founding members, baby boomers, provided the regeneration needed to sustain the club into the golden years of curling, the 1970’s. But some things changed.  The third generation was not large enough to provide natural growth for the club. Women wanted to join.  Opportunities to leave the community drew high schoolers to universities away from home. 

But alas, the community demographics changed while the curling membership stood still. Attrition at the normal rate of 15% was not countered by new members from a changing community.  Word-of-mouth had always worked in the past (1951 to 1980). But the club closed in 1988, unable to meet cost obligations. In 2014, the community of Aasvogel is a typical suburban community, population 20,000, whose cultural makeup continues to change.

So what happened?

During the later life of the club, new generations of immigrants and urban dwellers were buying into the community, because there was more land for less cost.  The town population was growing but the club membership was shrinking.

And the sport, in 1988, was isolated to a knowledgeable group of recreationists.

The volunteer board struggled with the shrinkage, not risking their friendships in the farm community by changing directions and fees. Why change what worked in the past?

Finally, the cost of replacing the 30 year-old compressor and plant parts would require $300,000. With fewer than 200 members, the board could not find the money through either donations nor fee increases and the club was forced to close.

What really went wrong?

Fear of Change: This was a proud club formed around a distinct demographic.  The members became comfortable, so much so that there was little long-term planning. The demographic change was coincident with population growth.  The club board failed to engage the new community members. 

Competition: The new community members were unfamiliar with the sport, the Town of Aasvogel built and subsidized an arena in which hockey dominated.  The arena was multi-functional, providing a facility available to the new community members.

Planning, Operations and Budget: The aging curling building had construction/maintenance problems, making it a hazardous facility, and not up to current regulations.  Without capital having been accumulated to cover depreciation of the asset, there was no fund to replace the asset.

Weakening Voluntarism:  Suburbanization caused families to spend more time commuting to workplaces.  Women joined the workforce in ever increasing numbers.  Adult volunteers became more scarce daytime and evenings.  The operations of the formerly volunteer run club struggled to continue without changing their program.

Demographic Change: The former curling demographic no longer could populate the club naturally. The new immigrant population was not educated about the sport.  The aging population does not bode well for the future of the curling club.

Does any of this hit home?  In the coming articles, we suggest that a new community curling facility can be built. We will break the steps down in each article.

Go to http://yorkurbanist.com/recreation/curling/curling-a-recreation-to-a-business/re-forming-the-core-group/ to see the next steps.

STEPS:

  1. REFORMING THE CORE GROUP
  2. THE BUSINESS PLAN
  3. MARKETING
  4. BUILDING PLANS
  5. CURLING STAFF AND VOLUNTEERS
  6. THE OPERATION
  7. DELIVERING SERVICES
  8. SPECIAL EVENTS
  9. AFTER ONE YEAR
  10. AFTER FIVE YEARS
  11. AFTER THIRTY YEARS

New York City – Manhattan

December 23rd, 2013
Urban Design

Sensual NYC

Visual – Look up, way up

The canyons that are the streets are framed by concrete and steel.  To crane your neck is dizzying for a small town boy.

IMG-20130909-01267Replacing the twin towers, are two somber square holes, whose bottoms are unapparent, eerie reminders of what happened here in 2001.  Contrary and resplendent is a single supremely tall building and glistening phallic to The Event. I remember where I was September 11, 2001.

But now, what is the big deal about the Empire State Building.  Tucked amongst other less descript buildings, we searched for its entrance, a lobby that soared with gilt touches.  I suppose that NYC is chock full of interesting architecture reminiscing about the past as in Grand Central Station, and revelling in the present with the new towers. But the white and black plinth that is the United Nations stands as testament to the impact of USA on world affairs and therefore captures my attention. FL Wright’s Guggenheim Museum stands in stark contrast to the architectural flavour of affluent Fifth Avenue. The Starchitect of the past gloried in its white and round disparity with the brick façaded street.  Looking up through the spiraling atrium, the museum has corrupted it into an art piece whereby patrons are to lie on their backs to experience the mood altering colours on white sheets that remove all identity from the normally overlooking railings.

Even the signage and lights are big.  Times Square and Broadway brazenly adopt the theme of never sleeping.  The major corporations are there, tourists are there, but the locals stay away.  This is the playground for the world and for retailers.  Young bucks and does gallop on and off the sidewalks. Taxis let out their fares to wide-eyed approval from those who are visiting for the first time. Toronto’s Dundas Square has tried to emulate Times Square with the digital ads and towering signs, but NYC will not relinquish its crown of excitement 24/7.

Nasal – Until you arrive at Central Park, hold your nose

Manhattan-20130909-01225Such a refreshing oasis is Central Park, away from the gas fumes and street meat caterers.  But even through the park are those thoroughfares essential to a city. This is like Vancouver’s Stanley Park which is bisected by an asphalt vehicular route.  Neglecting the black tarmac, one can immerse oneself in heritage buildings, art and active recreation. The density of plant material protected from human intrusion by ‘temporary’ fences contains the scents and moisture of enveloping greenness.  The broad greens of baseball, soccer and cricket are a welcome alternative recreation to streetwalking and shopping. I understand now the significance of Central Park to the City.  The West side of the Park is an apartment edge, probably some of the most expensive real estate aside from the Fifth Avenue east edge.  Frederick Law Olmstead was the designer, but someone, perhaps a futurist, understood the need for a place of respite, before the city enwrapped itself around the proclaimed public space.  The waft of ocean air greets one who emerges from the Lower East Side smells of food, garbage and traffic.  Open to the sea with vistas of harbour happenings, Battery Park, despite being under construction, promises to be a pertinent green with concrete verge to Lower Manhattan.

Manhattan-20130911-01364Two storeys up, there are panoramic and protected vistas from the Elevated Park that is the High Line.  Converted from an elevated train structure, this was a captivating reuse of infrastructure. With only the Chelsea Market as a commercial anchor, the park attracts so many in the summer, even though it ends abruptly at a construction site on the north end. The park is an attraction by itself. Yet there are often questions about funding its operations and growth. Imagine a loft apartment overlooking a park in lieu of an active rail. There will be no question of its value once the Port Authority is developed at the north end.  The believers in the High Line are today’s futurists.

Tastes – a Cornucopia

One can find any form of food at prices that recognize that there are no farms in Manhattan. NYC appears as multinational as Toronto without the proliferation of corner coffee and donuts shops.  Chelsea Market provided the broadest variety of food experiences in its historic setting on the west side.  But the lower east side is a cornucopia of districts.  Italian meets, Chinese meets Korean and Polish.  The smells and tastes seemingly blend into one another.

Sounds – My ears are ringing

Times Square, with its ever present crowds, is a constant clatter in which to revel. The sounds deaden somewhat in all directions, losing the beckoning salespeople, but not the traffic and delivery van noises.  Music and not-so-tuneful sounds emerge from commercial entities. But back to the hotel for respite, right?  Well, not quite. Even on the 17th floor, the sounds of the city rise above the street level. Good for four days. Good to get back to the quietude of Kleinburg, Ontario.

Touch – New York was cleaner than anticipated.

As a tourist destination, Manhattan respects the need to clean up for its guests.  Street cleaners abound in Times Square and gardeners quietly maintain the parks.  The volumes of persons who grapple for space in the limited green spaces are often prevented from touching what is in such precious limited supply. In this way, the city can retain the greenness of Central Park’s expanses by limiting its use.  Subtle physical guides lead patrons away from planting beds of the High Line and hard, wide trails imbue a need to stay off the grass, except to lounge on its softness.

 

New York City tempts all senses. For a short term, it was an experience all urbanists should have.  To return, I would find a shelter outside of Manhattan and commute in via the excellent transit that exists. Gone are the nostalgic grafittied cars, replaced by an efficient and event courteous system.  To live in Manhattan would require a place that secured a private space free of the senses of the city.   The surprise was the feeling of safety, despite a checkered past.

Vaughan Cycling Limited

June 18th, 2013
Healthy Communities, Recreation, Trails

Vaughan-20130617-00770
Bike Month in Vaughan – it seems anomalous that my city needs a whole month to travel the two major trails that are pictured on the York Region Cycling Trails map. http://ww4.yorkmaps.ca/YorkMaps/CyclingMap/index.html  .

With the exception of the subdivision north of Major Mackenzie and west of Weston, there are no through routes that connect communities of the City without revving your motor!
In Vaughan, there is a chicken and egg scenario. The City Council will not build bike routes because there are not many riders. There are few riders because the bike routes are limited. Every Vaughan bike seminar and event was held in a location to which I had to drive. As adamant as Geoffrey Haines and Mike Tavares (City Staff) are to see routes constructed, the pace of that construction is slow. And it will be thus until it is indicated that there is a financial benefit. There is (a financial benefit):
http://www.railstotrails.org/resources/documents/resource_docs/tgc_economic.pdf
http://www.americantrails.org/resources/economics/
These are only two of many studies. Look no further than Kleinburg to see the land values. With surroundings of greenways peppered with trails, Kleinburg housing commands more than 20% premium on similar properties in Woodbridge and Brampton. That translates into higher taxes for the city. Health benefits will rarely be quantifiable, but undeniably, residents with access to recreation maintain a healthier lifestyle. PriceWaterhouseCooper in their study for TransCanada Trail explain it succinctly:

“A dollar spent on trail construction, maintenance or by users of the trail, circulates and recirculates within the economy, multiplying the effects of the original expenditures on overall economic activity. This process is referred to as the economic multiplier effect. It operates at several levels:

The initial expenditures of the trail users and trail operators on goods and services, wages, materials and other trail-related expenditures are generally referred to as the direct costs of operation and their effects are referred to as the initial (direct) effects.

Subsequent purchases by suppliers of materials and services to sustain the direct expenditures are called the indirect effects.

Induced effects emerge when workers in the sectors stimulated by initial and indirect expenditures spend their additional incomes on consumer goods and services.”

Currently, east to west travel by non-motorized means is, at best, unsafe. Regional Councillor Deb Schulte says she rode Major Mackenzie to City Hall twice last year, but has no plans to do so this year. A plan, I am told, exists to construct a bikeway adjacent to a reconstructed Major Mackenzie between Weston and Islington. It still does not get one across the near-impenetrable Highway 400. The hospital planned for construction in the next 5 years should be an impetus for the construction for such a crossing.
Cycling can be a healthy business, call it Vaughan Cycling Limited, instead of limited Vaughan cycling.

Knoxville – Urban Renaissance

June 7th, 2013
Urban Design

Knoxville street garden

Dropped into Gay Street Knoxville, the city shines as an example of urban renaissance. The broad pedestrian spaces, but still active with traffic and vital commercial spaces. I stopped by a somewhat vacant office space whose street windows shouted out Landscape Architecture. Clint, a student intern with this not-for-profit community design group explained to me, with pride, the changes that have now created a vital downtown.Fireside Lofts Former offices are becoming high rent accommodation, Bijou Theatre reconstruction, streetscape upgrades all contribute to a fine pedestrian experience. I asked about the “Waterfront Plan” that was posted near the entrance. He was hesitant to explain that this was one of the ideas to rebuild on the riverfront, but that it is unlikely to be near future.

Knoxville-streetscape

I passed by on the riverfront highway that was the site of the Waterfront Plan and I understand his reticence. Like Pittsburgh, city planners of the past ignored the water’s edge, only understanding how easy it was to build transportation conduits on such easy grades. Indeed, the significant Tennessee River appears and disappears depending on your vantage on the highways that shoot people past the downtown. Tributaries of the Tennessee are only evident because of the location of other highways. One example is James White Parkway that wends its way past the downtown and there it was, a valley bottom that variably appeared and disappeared under structures.

The gem of the city is the University of Tennessee campus.  The lush greenness separates brick buildings that fit their sites.  The campus occupies what seems to be a third of the Knoxville downtown, as defined by the Tennessee River meander. Unlike the University of Toronto, the boundaries of the campus are definitive, meaning that it has not quite integrated into the city fabric.  It has become a sanctuary for students, not that they isolate themselves.  The streets of downtown have a youthful exuberance.  But the urban design shouts COLLEGE. Brick entry features, change in streetscape…it just feels like one has entered a different, yet pleasant space.

The UofT recreation fields are enormous, and extend by way of a 15 foot wide pave trail that follows the adjoining active rail tracks. Despite the late evening hours of my 2 mile walk, and the vegetative cover, I still felt safe in the suburban setting.

World’s Fair Park is distinct from the downtown, somehow separated from the city by the broadness of Henley Street and the solidity of the convention center. When are we going to realize the impact of servicing the car!! While the downtown caters to pedestrians and the city in general revels in outdoor recreation, you still ‘need’ the car to get around. Yet the grand spaces that are the remnants of the 1982 World’s Fair are appealing, attractive at a distance from the elevated roadways, but off the grade of the surrounding streets.  Once in, the grounds are an oasis.  It appears also to be a maintenance drain for the city, and for what future benefit. I hope that I have the opportunity to see it alive with people.

Curling – Year of Youth 2013

April 29th, 2013
Curling, Sports

logo

Youth Reigns
- Rachel Homan’s team (ages 23-27) wins Scotties
- Brad Jacob’s Team (ages 27-33) wins Brier
- Niklas Edin Swedish Team (ages 24-25) wins Worlds
- Eve Muirhead (21) wins Worlds

Curling legitimized its place as a sport of athletes through the results of this transition year. The timing could not be better as the Olympics are less than a year away and contemplating growth of the number of golds to the sport. Although Martin, Stoughton and Howard continue to hold court at the 8-end events, they weakened during the weeklong Brier. The fittest survived as did the Scotties champions.

Interestingly, it was the seniors of Canada who pulled off the double gold. You’ll say we told you so about Canada’s dominance with those results, but that is just evidence that the players of the past had less requirement to be the fittest…but perhaps they were the craftiest.

Crafty is what Howard, Martin and Stoughton have, but Martin’s loss of Johnny Morris will further weaken his ability to win unless he comes up with a youthful, crafty and fit replacement. And Colleen Jones this year showed skills of the past, but next year will watch the youth of Nova Scotia vie for the Scotties, I suspect.

What I liked to see this year was the emergence of an active and youth oriented sport stateside. The USA has seen more dedicated ice added to the landscape and more in the offing. One off the podium at the US championships, 31 year old Tyler George enlisted the 25 year old Chris Plys to vice. And then there is the just out of juniors Dropkin team in the hunt for nationals and colleges. The Ontario Junior Curling Tour has been around since Wes Johnson invented it in 2004. Nine years and growth of competition was the breeding ground for Homan and Jacobs. Look at the website now. You will read names of future national champions.

Curling is healthy, growing in Ontario and Quebec and USA, and Mixed Doubles has become infectious in Europe as success (and Canada’s lack of success) breeds an excitement that will, in a generation, create a sport that becomes less dominated by the origin-claimant nations. Watch for another spurt of new curling fans and participants with the results coming in from Sochi.
Curling Clubs: prepare yourselves to grow your membership via the Olympic (and youthful) movement!

William H. Whyte Revisited

January 15th, 2013
Landscape Architecture, Urban Design

http://vimeo.com/6821934 I was reminded of the excellence of the basics of urban design that William H. Whyte contributed so many years ago. They still apply today.

Humber Valley East Trail and Hiking Rules

January 10th, 2013
Recreation

York Region has many developed hiking trails for the urban hiker.  The best is still one that ranges from Kleinburg to Woodbridge following the Humber River East Branch. It appeals to all our senses.

The valley is so incised and wide as to allow the hiker to escape the harsh reality of urban light and noise.  The smells can either take you back to your childhood or send you into a sneezing fit.  The paved surface of the trail allows the not-so-avid recreationist the opportunity to experience the outdoors, but the adventurer is allowed to wander off trail to the edges of the valley where the sense of touch comes into play.  We trudge through snow or brush against brush.  Through four seasons, the experienced naturalist can even taste the outdoors. Yes, even winter has its hang-over seeds and fruits.  Get out and breathe the filtered air and take an active lifestyle that will relieve the stressors of the daily routine. See what previous hikes encouraged on the Humber River valley at http://yorkurbanist.com/trails/humber-valley-heritage-trail/

But respect the trails. Take stewardship of them for your next use and for the generation that follows.  Keep litter to your person, avoid taking pets that upset the natural inclinations of wildlife, and greet those other trail users in the most friendly manner as they share your ideals of a walk with nature.

Although urban trails are in a dissimilar context, I am repeating these Hiking Rules from http://www.canadianliving.com/health/fitness/how_to_start_hiking_4.php and Michael Haynes, with whom I have worked on a trails project.  Michael is well known in the hiking world having had his own CBC radio program and having authored a  hiking book.

“Rules to live by….
Safety first
Inconsiderate, ill-informed hikers are the scourge of the trails. For one thing, flicked cigarette butts or flying embers from campfires have started many forest fires. If you must build a fire, the Canada Safety Council recommends clearing an area with a three-metre diameter, making a circle of rocks around the fire and keeping a bucket of water, sand and a shovel nearby.

“I would always discourage people from lighting fires in the backcountry,” says Southam. “It can be damaging to what are often very fragile environments. That said, I think you should carry some waterproof matches in the event that you need to light a fire for safety purposes.”

If you absolutely must indulge in hot soup or tea on the trail, buy a lightweight stove. Some butane stoves are small enough to fit in your pocket.

Leave no footprints nor …
• Scoop when you poop. If fire is the No. 1 problem on trails, No. 2 could be, well, number two. With no outhouses on many long trails, poorly placed poops can be a disgusting problem. Leave No Trace Canada, a national nonprofit organization, advises hikers to dig a hole 15 to 20 centimetres deep and at least 60 metres from water and trails. Cover the hole when you are finished, and don’t leave your used toilet paper on the trail. Ideally you should seal it in a plastic bag and take it off the trail, but at the very least, bury it.
• Pack out what you pack in. Litter is another scourge of the hiking trail. Glass, cans and plastic are not just visually offensive, they can harm animals and people.

• Leave Fido at home.
While dogs are a fixture on many trails, some die-hard hikers believe dogs should stay home. Some trails actually have no-dog policies. “It’s from dog feces more than anything else that water sources get contaminated,” says Haynes. Haynes adds if dogs do need to accompany you, you should always keep them on a leash.

Additional rules
• Don’t hike alone.
• Check the weather forecast before you head out.
• Carry a map and compass with you, even if you have a GPS.
• If you don’t know the area, study a map before you hike.
• Obey all posted signs.
• Tell someone where you’re going and when you will be returning.
• Keep the noise down.
• Leave the alcohol at home.

Choosing your trail
Just as a new swimmer isn’t going to breaststroke across the English Channel, a novice hiker has to pace herself. Some longer trails, especially ones with steep hills, demand a fairly high level of fitness. Haynes recommends beginners should start at five kilometres or less (one to two hours) for their first few walks. Flat trails of up to 10 kilometres may be fine as well, but new hikers shouldn’t attempt longer routes. Trails beyond 15 kilometres – or 10 kilometres with a significant climb – are best left to the more experienced hikers. Most formal trails will tell you the distance, and some will rate the level of difficulty. And if you have a topographic map, you can quickly see if there are any steep hills.

Whether you want to take a sweet afternoon stroll or spend four nights sleeping in the wilderness, there’s a trail out there for you. For getting fit, clearing your head, escaping the concrete and getting to see some of Canada’s most stunning scenery, it’s hard to find anything better than taking a hike. “

Man versus Machine – The Creative Sector

January 1st, 2013
Aging, The Future

In http://boingboing.net/2013/01/01/robots-are-taking-your-job-and.html, the Cory Doctorow referenced author Kevin Kelly in Wired, refers to the evolution of machines taking over laborious tasks and he even states – “Robots create jobs that we did not even know we wanted done.” To put this into perspective, the robots are not ‘creating’, it is humans that are creative. And it is this Creative Sector of humanity that will move us through the next millennium. In sector D of the chart to the left the only jobs for humans will be those that are creative as all other sectors of the chart will be filled by machines.
Creative jobs are the jobs of the future intelligent society. Education spreads to developing nations. There is an importance put on the best schools (McLean’s Canadian University list) and the highest results (EQAO in Ontario, Canada). This foundation will be the premise for growth of technical understanding. But the stand-outs will be those who can use technology in a creative way. Referring to the article above, the people of the 1800’s never imagined the need to “remove a tumor in our gut through our navel, or make a talking-picture video of our wedding”. What is in our future that we could never contemplate today? The Creative Sector will cause needs to evolve.
Back to education… While our children learn their ABC’s and numerals, so too should we infuse the arts and sports. It is through the arts and sports that we can let our minds wander from the government approved structure of the basics. Currently in Ontario, a long hanging labour strike precludes after-school and extracurricular activities. The arts and sports that are being sidelined are as much the fundamentals of learning as those curricula prescribed by the government. Indeed, abilities in the arts and athletics will provide future job-seekers with an advantage for future employment. So that strike is precluding the evolution of learning and delaying future opportunities.
Specialty arts and sports schools are overwhelmed with applications for entry. I recently wrote references for two potential students to the Bruce Carruthers High School, Markham, Ontario specializing in sports. Only 20% of the applicants will be accepted. But why should sports, and the complementary arts schools, be isolated and made into elite institutions? At sports schools, by rote, we learn about our bodies and the needs for them. We learn our human physical limitations. By so knowing, we will discover how those needs can be enhanced. Perhaps the enhancement will be biological or technological, but discovery comes from pushing our limits.
Similarly, the arts schools push the metaphorical limits of acting or music or art or dance. These artistic media are the languages of creativity, explaining how our intellectual self has no limitations and how our minds require exercise to improve to more full potential than we have been allowed in the past. The arts schools liberate students from the norms of the past and allow them to test new ways of thinking.
Combine arts with science and our future will become something we never today imagined.
Leave out sports and arts and our future will dullen creativity, leaving humanity with more of today’s sameness.

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2013

December 31st, 2012
Uncategorized

TOP EIGHT URBAN WISHES AND ANTICIPATIONS FOR YORK IN 2013
1. EMPHASIS ON RECREATION FOR ALL AGES
2. BUILDINGS THAT NOT ONLY MEET LEED STANDARDS BUT THAT DRAMATICALLY INSPIRE
3. PARKS CREATIVELY DESIGNED, APPROPRIATELY LOCATED, FOR ALL DEMOGRAPHICS
4. VILLAGES THAT THRIVE IN A SEA OF BIG BOXES
5. INTENSITY AND FLEXIBILITY IN URBAN DESIGN
6. JUNIOR STAFF WHO ARE ENCOURAGED TO LOOK AT THE WHOLE PICTURE
7. SMART INTERSECTIONS WHOSE LIGHTS ARE RESPONDENT TO APPROACHING VEHICLES
8. TRAILS FOR NON-MOTORIZED TRANSPORTATION CONNECTING NORTH, SOUTH, EAST AND WEST YORK REGION

Landscape meets Curling

December 13th, 2012
Horticulture, Recreation

Never expected to read about Glen Howard in my Turf & Recreation - Landscape Trades magazine. He wasn’t talking curling or beer….but Weedman, the team’s 2012 sponsor. The article, if you can read it, speaks to the challenges of acquiring sponsors for even the world’s top curling team. Weedman has stepped up and used it for their marketing purposes. Great job Glen, Wayne, Brent, Craig. Could you stop by Kleinburg after the worlds and work on my lawn?