Women In Music Concert

Yesterday we took in the 18th annual Women in Music concert. This was only my second time attending this concert, but according to those who have been involved since the beginning the event has grown considerably over the past 18 years. It is a fund-raiser for Gillian’s Place and I certainly hope a lot of funds were raised yesterday.

In addition to performances by BroadBand and The Rockin Daisies, there was a special presentation of the Laura Sabia award to Dr. Rosemary Hale, Dean of Humanities at Brock. Very exciting!

I’d also like to give a shout-out to Anna Olson for not only making delicious vegan-friendly samosas for the event, but also for taking the time to list the ingredients in said samosas. Too often at these sorts of events I am unable to eat any of the food because I have no idea what ingredients were used to make them. Listing the ingredients may seem like a small thing, but for those of us who have to read labels carefully this gesture goes a long way!

The Garden City Plan

An article in the St. Catharines Standard discussing the city’s “blueprint for the future” caught my attention this morning. The draft of the City’s new official plan is available online and makes for quite an interesting read. Of particular interest to me were the following points:

1) “The City will balance the provision of a safe, functional, and attractive pedestrian and cycling oriented environment with an acceptable level of vehicular traffic” and “The city will encourage alternative forms of transportation that promote energy conservation and a healthy lifestyle.”

2) “The City should establish a minimum 1 %, and work towards a target of a minimum 3 %, of the capital budget of all major public buildings and structures, for the provision of public art.”

There are, of course, many more things discussed in this document, but I find these two particularly encouraging!

There will be a series of open houses and presentations in the coming weeks so that members of the community can find out more about the plan and have their say.

Here We GO?

Last evening I stopped by the GO Open House/Information session at market square. In addition to a snazzy new tote bag, some GO Mints (??) and a free pen, I also received some very interesting information about the process of deciding how/where/why to put in expanded GO rail service. Market Square wasn’t packed, but it did seem like a good turnout — many local residents quite eager for this to happen, at least according to the snippets of conversation I heard as I walked around the event last evening.

For what it is worth, I think regular GO Train service to Niagara is long overdue. When I first moved here I was a little shocked to discover that GO service was not available in this region. It just seems like a no-brainer to me. Instead, we have jam-packed lanes on the QEW and increasingly long and frustrating drives to Toronto. (Is it any wonder that I rarely go in to Toronto?) With events like the 2014 Congress of Humanities & Social Sciences and the 2015 Pan Am Games (which will include Niagara sites) coming up, it seems like this sort of transportation system is not really optional.

Fingers crossed!

Transit Issues in the News

Today’s paper reports that the St. Catharines Transit commission is looking to improve service and expand routes. All I have to say is a great big, “hell yeah!”

Also of interest: more discussion on a regional transit system (come on folks, this is a desperately-needed service!) and an GO Transit open house tomorrow evening in Market Square.

[Update: And yet another article about transit in today’s paper. My favourite quote: “some politicians seem completely unaware that there’s a whole class of working adults who don’t drive cars.” Exactly!!]

Sabbatical Diaries — Day #10

Well, sabbatical hasn’t started off as I’d hoped. I got walloped by a nasty cold/flu thing this past week and spent 4 full days in bed. *blech* Much TLC, hot tea, and the occasional Chocolate MoMint biscuit have helped me beat it, so I’m back to work today.

Instead of spending any more time going down the rabbit hole of image permissions and copyright, I’m going to finish up the text portion of my manuscript and send it off. I’d like to finish it today. Then I can get back to dealing with the images. I love, love, love studying visual culture. I couldn’t imagine working in any other field. And yet, the frustration and stress around securing image copies and permissions, etc. is enough to make me lose my mind. I wish there were a straightforward checklist that one could use for this kind of activity, but it seems that every image I want to use (and those that my friends and colleagues seem to use too) is anything but “straightforward.” Ah well, it will be a learning experience I suppose.

In other news, I was delighted to see this article in the local paper today — I’d love it if St. Catharines became a hub for the GO train! Oh, and on the car-free front, I am not at all regretting my decision to “retire my ride.” I was a little worried about the hassle of cancelling my insurance — the last time I had to do that it was a royal pain in the neck and I got dinged several hundred dollars for “early cancellation.” It seems that this time I need not have worried. The good folks over at CAA have been super-duper helpful and, in fact, I received a refund cheque in the mail today. The only hitch is that I’m still waiting for my $300 from the “retire your ride” folks — it has been nearly 2 months since they picked up my car. I’m going to have to call and see what’s up.

Ok, time to get on with these final manuscript edits!

A Piece of History, A Piece of the Future

This week I had the good fortune of participating in a tour of the Canada Hair Cloth Building in downtown St. Catharines. This was a working factory until 2007 and will (hopefully!) be home to the new Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts at Brock.

This is an absolutely exquisite building and I look forward to seeing this space transformed over the coming months.

Notes from the Great Car-Free Experiment

The Great Car-Free Experiment continues and I’m happy to report that things are going well. Of course it is easier because I am attempting to get around in pleasant summer weather and I am on a summer timetable. I have, however, decided to take this experiment into September. I’ve been walking, biking, busing and car-pooling my way through August, and I want to see how long I can keep it up. I just cancelled my fall parking permit, so I guess that means I’m committed to this project.

The City of St. Catharines just announced another set of bike lanes, so this is certainly good news on the car-free front. The biggest challenge I’ve had with cycling around this region, however, is the lack of bike racks. I’ve been really surprised to discover just how hard it is to find a bike rack at retail centres. So far this has been the single biggest deterrent to getting around by bicycle. Today, for instance, I had to go to the grocery store — I could have easily biked, but I opted for the bus because I wasn’t sure if I’d find a place to lock up my bike in front of the grocery store. I thought I’d encounter more difficulties with the traffic, but that hasn’t been an issue as the drivers in this neighbourhood have been quite courteous. But bike racks? I didn’t anticipate this to be a problem. Come on people — there are all sorts of bike rack options out there, let’s work to make this region a little more bike-friendly!

Oh, and while I’m at it — how about making this dream of a regional transit a reality? I was chatting with a friend about going to see some plays this fall and I realized that it is easier for me to get to downtown Toronto (a distance of about 107km) to take in some theatre than it is for me to get into the Shaw Festival in Niagara on the Lake (a distance of about 20km). What the heck?!

Parking the Car

With my move to St. Catharines a few years ago I became more dependent upon my car. This wasn’t a conscious decision, but it is a pattern that I have fallen into because of convenience, I guess. I’m not happy about this. When I lived in Kingston I didn’t own a car — I walked everywhere and did all my errands on foot. Sure, sometimes when I was lugging home heavy groceries I might have wished for a ride, but overall it was easier to not have a car in that city. The proximity of the campus and the downtown shops and the residential areas makes Kingston a very walkable city, in my opinion.

I haven’t found St. Catharines to be a very walkable city. I know it will be better when I eventually buy a house downtown (a goal that is, for various reasons, a little ways off right now), but a city should have more than one neighbourhood that is conducive to walking. I’m not talking about an after dinner stroll — I mean the ability to be able to do errands on foot, to be able to park the car and not have to rely on it every day. While I it made me smile to read about a local man’s pledge to give up his car, it also made me kind of sad to realize that in this city a lifestyle like this qualifies as “news.” Like Randy Ouellette, I am really happy to hear that St. Catharines has signed the International Charter for Walking and that the city council is exploring ways to make it easier for people in this city to opt for walking or cycling instead of driving so much. There are positive changes starting to take place already — the nice new bike lanes on Lake Street, for instance, are a wonderful addition!

Then there is this scary news, which seems like even more incentive to stay off the roads. Wouldn’t a regional transit for Niagara be wonderful?

Walk Score

Over at Bioephemera there is a post about Walk Score, an online tool to help you calculate how “walkable” your neighbourhood (or potential neighbourhood) is. This is a very interesting concept!

We just moved to our lovely little lakeside community and every evening I see people out walking their dogs and enjoying life in Port Dalhousie, so I assumed our new address would get a high score. However, when I plugged in our address it was only given a score of 33/100. This surprised me a little until I read the definition of the score: “25 – 50 = Not Walkable: Only a few destinations are within easy walking range. For most errands, driving or public transportation is a must.” Even though it is lovely to go for walks in our neighbourhood, it really is tough to get any errands completed on foot so I guess I have to agree with this ranking. This is, perhaps, the number one thing I’m having a hard time adjusting to here. Prior to this we lived in Kingston, ON and in Edmonton, AB and in both cities it was very easy to walk to work, to the grocery store, to the bank, etc. In fact, we didn’t even have a car in Kingston and the only reason we had to get one in Edmonton was so that we could drive out and see my family who live about 30 minutes out of town. In Niagara, however, things are quite spread out and it is not always easy to get from one neighbourhood to another on foot. As is the case in many other cities in North America, grocery stores and other necessary shops are no longer found in most residential neighbourhoods here.

Over the past year I’ve also noticed a lot of neighbourhoods in the Niagara region that do not even have sidewalks. There are lovely walking trails all around the region if you go outside of the cities, but in town it is not always easy to opt to walk to do your daily errands. We did make a conscious decision to live in this part of town in order to be near the water (I guess because we grew up in land-locked Alberta we are simply enthralled with Lake Ontario!), so I knew I wouldn’t be walking to work. However, I did think I’d be able to walk to places like the local fruit stand down the road from us. There are no sidewalks or walking paths along that road though, and it scares the bejeezus out of me to walk right on the road towards the fruit stand because of how fast the traffic goes. I realize that this is largely because the area where the fruit stand is used to be farmland until very recently, but it still drives me crazy.

There are other neighbourhoods that are even less walkable. For instance, the situation is even worse up near campus (that neighbourhood got a 20/100 on the Walk Score scale) — I’m forever seeing students walking along the edge of the road because there are often no sidewalks for them to use. Whenever I see this I always hold my breath and hope that nobody gets hit by a car.

There are some local neighbourhoods that scored much higher on the Walk Score scale (especially in the downtown core of St. Catharines), but I guess for now the rest of us will have to go for walks in addition to running errands instead of combining the two things. In Port Dalhousie, however, this means things like walking down to the pier or the beach so I guess it is not all bad news! 🙂