Archive for June, 2009

You can’t always get what you want …

… but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.

THE CITY OF ORILLIA has finally recognized the need for an updated official plan in order to manage the city’s future growth.  The process hasn’t been without its problems — an early draft incorrectly included half a city park in the area slated for development — but it represents a huge step forward from the random scratchings that have directed development in recent years.  This being Orillia, however, the complaining has already begun.

In today’s Packet & Times, staff writer Colin McKim laid into the new plan.  Unfortunately, he’s got it all wrong.  Some of his complaints?

If approved, there could easily be a palisade of eight to 12-storey buildings along a 10-block sweep of the waterfront from Tecumseth Street to Cedar Island.

Except where there couldn’t be, like in the park, or at the marina.  Even then, height isn’t the problem.  Everyone loves to complain about the condos on Cedar Island Road because of the way the building blocks the view of the lake, but that has nothing to do with its height and everything to do with its mass.  The building is only four stories high, but it forms a wall along the shoreline.  If it had been eight stories high with a footprint half as large (or, better yet, a pair of towers each with a footprint one-quarter that of what was built) both the view of the lake and access to it would have been preserved in a way that was not possible with the height limits in place at the time.

Orillia as we know it will be transfigured.

Orillia needs to be transfigured.  It can’t survive as a city of retirees hoping to attract periodic tourists.

This is a gold mine for developers, cashing in by providing exclusive waterfront views for the well-heeled and obstruction, shadows and the loss of a delicate balance for the rest of us.

This isn’t an argument; it’s us-versus-“them” fear-mongering.  Realistically, development along the waterfront would obstruct the views only from downtown, and virtually nobody actually lives there.  Even then, the main view — the one down Mississaga Street — would be largely preserved as the street forms a corridor to the lake (much like the view corridors maintained throughout downtown Vancouver, despite a development density an order of magnitude higher than anything proposed for Orillia).  And there’s no reason to think that shadows would somehow loom over the city; that defies simple geometry.

Of course, that’s nothing compared to this:

Done properly, downtown Orillia’s historical, early 19th-century character will be tightly locked into a few narrow blocks, while the rest of the downtown and surrounding neighbourhoods become the soulless, random, discordant mishmash of development that Barrie has perfected.

First off, McKim clearly hasn’t looked closely at the city in several years.  Orillia’s “historical, early 19th-century character” is already tightly locked into a few narrow blocks.  The only part of Orillia that even fits that description is the historic downtown strip along Mississaga Street from Andrew to Front.  Colborne Street, one block south, is mostly strip malls and back entrances.  Coldwater Road, one block north, is not much better.  The historic downtown is a little island surrounded by parking lots and (inexplicably) multi-lane roads, and there is no “rest of the downtown” to talk about.

Secondly, he doesn’t seem to have a clue about what’s made Barrie the way it is.  For about four decades, that city completed ignored its downtown.  If anything, it actively opposed any efforts to increase the density within the city, instead letting growth take place at the margins.  In my lifetime, virtually all of Barrie’s development has been on the other side of Highway 11, cut off from the original city entirely.  It’s only in the last decade or so that there’s been significant investment within the downtown core, and only within the last couple of years that Barrie council has come up with a comprehensive plan for redevelopment.  Meanwhile, Orillia has pursued growth in exactly the same manner as Barrie.  Downtown Orillia has been allowed to suffer while development has been pushed to the outskirts, first at Rynard Estates, and more recently on the other side of Highway 11 (sound familiar?).  The result has been exactly the “soulless, random, discordant mishmash of development” that McKim warns about, and wrongly attributes to increased density and improved planning.  Getting the reasons wrong is bad enough, but pretending that Orillia’s somehow done a better job over the years than Barrie has is utterly foolish.  Orillia’s simply gotten away with making the same mistakes because people don’t want to drive the extra 25 minutes to and from their jobs in Toronto.

A lot of people in Orillia will read McKim’s column and get their backs up about increased density, or the “shrinking” of the downtown core, or somehow convince themselves that, yes, density has been the cause of Barrie’s problems.  They shouldn’t.  A new official plan may not be what people think they want, but if done properly (and by people who actually understand how cities work) it would be exactly what Orillia needs.

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It’s been one week …

… since you looked at me.

ONE LAST THING regarding the whole Deadspin imbroglio:

On May 31, Deadspin editor A.J. Daulerio published his infamous “shady message” regarding commenting privileges.  After watching people throw dirt at each other for a couple of days, I wrote an open letter to Gawker publisher Nick Denton; he then forwarded my letter to Daulerio, who published it in Deadspin along with a link to this blog.  That was on June 5.  Now take a look at the page views for the last couple of weeks:

Page views, May 31—June 14The small climb on June 4 was due to a zombie aggregator site pretending to be a source of Vancouver news; you can ignore it.  The giant, 700-hit spike on June 5 (and the exponential decay since)?  All Deadspin.

I told you Nick Denton drives my page views.

Just trying to keep my customers satisfied …

[Update, June 7:  I just got a message from A.J. apologizing for posting my e-mail address.  He had assumed that I had my address on here and that he wasn’t divulging anything not already available elsewhere.  In light of that, I can accept that there was no malice intended – Colin.]

A BELATED WELCOME TO EVERYONE WHO DROPPED BY YESTERDAY.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the backstory, I’ve been a reader of a sports blog called Deadspin for some time.  One of the main draws was the comments — the bulk of the stories lately have been little more than recaps and links to other sites, but the comments section still had the sense of community that was established under the founding editor, Will Leitch.  Unfortunately, the new editor, A.J. Daulerio, decided he wanted nothing to do with that community and pretty much declared war on it last week.  Realizing that there was nothing to be gained by complaining to A.J., I went to his boss, Nick Denton of Gawker (Deadspin’s parent company).  The message I sent him is reprinted in my last post.  Denton didn’t reply to me.  Instead he forwarded my message to A.J., who then published it, with my e-mail address and a link to this blog, on Deadspin.  Classy, huh?  From this, two conclusions are obvious:

  1. Denton has no respect either for his readers or for people’s privacy.  I suppose I was naïve to expect otherwise: the guy does run a gossip site.  Or, at least, he used to.  Now it’s mostly just snarky comments and links to real gossip sites.
  2. A.J. has remarkably thin skin.  Again, I had no reason to expect otherwise.  Despite claiming that “this is not being done to deter negative comment about the site, the writers, or anything of that nature,” it seems that the quickest way to get banned from the site has been to criticize A.J. or the new comment policy.

On realizing what was going on (when I noticed that my blog suddenly had 500+ hits — more on that later), I wrote Denton to call him on his (and Daulerio’s) actions:

from Colin Morton
to nick@gawker.com
date Fri, Jun 5, 2009 at 3:01 PM
subject Re: Deadspin and commenting

So after you forwarded him my message, Daulerio decided to print it,
with my e-mail address, in a post today. That’s a classy organization
you run.

Sincerely,

Colin Morton,
Vancouver, BC.

To this, Denton responded immediately:

from Nick Denton
to Colin Morton
date Fri, Jun 5, 2009 at 3:32 PM
subject Re: Deadspin and commenting

You really surprised? Yeah, I’m loyal to AJ. I think he’s doing a great job. And I’m glad he’s running the site in the interest of a wider array of readers — not just the small group of active commenters that so upset that he’s asserted control. Feel free to publish this response where you will.

Nick

……………..
Nick Denton
President
Gawker Media
917.438.7214
nick@gawker.com
……………..

(Emphasis mine.  I wouldn’t have published this if he hadn’t given his permission.  I may be an amateur, but I do have standards.)

In retrospect, I should have asked, “Then why didn’t you just say so, a*****e?” But I didn’t. Instead, I wrote the following:

from Colin Morton
to Nick Denton
date Fri, Jun 5, 2009 at 3:42 PM
subject Re: Deadspin and commenting

Fine — that’s your prerogative. I’ve got no problem with that, and I
said as much in my first message. What I’ve got a problem with is
bully tactics, and that’s all that publishing someone’s address
without their permission amounts to.

Am I surprised? Yeah, actually, I am. That’s the sort of bush-league
crap I’d expect out of local politics, not a successful company.

Colin Morton,
Vancouver, BC.

Denton hasn’t replied.  For all I know, he and A.J. are too busy filling bags with poo to leave on my front step. It wouldn’t be any more childish than anything else they’ve done.  In the end, all they accomplished was to drive about 700 people my blog.  That’s ten times as many as had ever seen it before.  The only people who even knew I had a blog before yesterday were some close friends and family, so I have no idea why Nick and A.J. felt it was a threat that had to be dealt with.  If they’d just ignored my message, nobody would have ever seen the thing.

Anyhow, I’d like to thank everyone who did click through to see what was going on.  I’d especially like to thank you for being a little more mature than either of the Wonder Twins.  It would have been very easy for you to flood my comments with variations on “You suck!” or swamp my e-mail account, but you didn’t and I appreciate that.  I imagine A.J. was hoping for something different, but as usual he didn’t give you, his readers, the credit you deserve. [See above – ACM] My only regret is that I didn’t take the opportunity to introduce you to some of the other, independent, blog sites that many of us support — sites like The Rookies, Avoiding the Drop, Style Points, Sporting Madness, Food Court Lunch, and the blogs they link to — when I first saw what was happening.  Some of them are legitimate analysis, many of them are tongue-in-cheek, and a few are straight-out parody, but they all bring a passion to their efforts that’s been sorely lacking at Deadspin since A.J. took over.  It’s from sites like these that we’ll get our next Deadspin, or KSK, or Baseball Prospectus; our next Aaron Schatz, or Rob Neyer, or Bill Simmons; and I couldn’t be happier.  This is a hell of a time to be a sports fan.

You don’t have to live like a refugee …

[Update, June 6:  For those of you still finding your way here from yesterday’s Deleted Scenes, I apologize for having not put out the welcome mat sooner.  My comments on the whole thing can be found in today’s post. – Colin]

AN OPEN LETTER TO GAWKER FOUNDER NICK DENTON:

Sir:

I’ve been a reader of Gawker and its sister sites for some time. For the last year or so, I’ve had commenter privileges which I’ve used on a number of sites, though my main read has been Deadspin. Normally I wouldn’t write about an editorial position — it is the editor’s privilege, after all — but the events of the last few days have prompted me to do so.

As you may be aware, A.J. Daulerio posted a piece on Sunday night stating that major changes to Deadspin’s commenting system were about to take place and that the readers could expect many commenters to lose their privileges starting almost immediately[1]. No further explanation was offered — no reasons as to why this would happen, no explanation of new commenting rules, nothing — though Daulerio did claim that it was out of his hands, suggesting that the decision had come from higher up in Gawker Media. On Monday, all heck broke loose as many of the most respected (and, dare I say, funniest) commenters were summarily dispatched. Daulerio did post an article[2] to the effect that everybody should stop whining about it and consider themselves lucky to have a site to read, but that was about it. As a result, most of the banned commenters headed off to a different site, one started by a bunch of people who met as Deadspin commenters, for the evening. Many of them haven’t come back and, if the comments on other sites are any indication, won’t.

I don’t think anyone would argue that the comments section was due for a clean-up — there were far too many off-topic and unfunny posts, far too many cheap jokes, and far too much repetition. Daulerio, in an interview on another site Tuesday[3] [Andrew Bucholtz’ excellent Sporting Madness blog – ACM], admitted that his decision to direct successive comments ombuds to lighten up the standards for new commenters was a mistake, and the decision to adopt Facebook Connect, while understandable from a business standpoint, exacerbated the problem. That all could have been fixed without playing games with your readers. As you know, they’re not idiots. By and large, they’re adults and rather well-educated. A message explaining why the comments section needed to improve, and what standards would be enforced to see that it did improve, might have been met with some grumbling, but the vast majority of the regular commenters would have complied. Heck, another blogger [Bucholtz again – ACM] did a great job of analyzing possible reasons for the crackdown based on the available information[4], any of which would have been accepted by Deadspin’s readers and commenters. Unfortunately, Daulerio chose not to offer any explanation. He left everyone in the dark while hiding behind Gawker management — and then, in that same interview on Tuesday, admitted that the decision had, in fact, been his alone (despite having implicated Gawker management in his initial announcement) and was based on the offer of a small group of commenters to form a de facto lynch mob (what Daulerio calls his “comment ninjas”) to clean up the site as they saw fit. In short, he put his own ego, and that of a few commenters upset that they weren’t getting as much attention as they’d like, ahead of any sound business decisions. In the process, he managed to alienate some of your most loyal readers and many of the few people who actually added value to the site with their comments.

I think everyone is aware of Deadspin’s performance relative to the other Gawker sites. Ultimately it’s your site to do with as you see fit, but I can’t see the value in policies designed to drive away your most loyal readers. Sadly, that’s exactly what Daulerio and his team of anonymous “ninjas” have done.

Sincerely,

Colin Morton,
Vancouver, BC

[1]http://deadspin.com/5273554/a-brief-shady-announcement-about-your-commenting-privileges
[2]http://deadspin.com/5273985/your-profanity+laced-tirades-will-now-be-taken-under-advisement
[3]http://sportingmadness.blogspot.com/2009/06/on-ground-deadspins-aj-daulerio-speaks.html
[4]http://sportingmadness.blogspot.com/2009/06/nick-denton-deadspin-and-commenter.html