The Largest “Embassy” in the World

As I was reading this OpenDemocracy column on current U.S. Iraq policy options (conclusion: they’re not leaving anytime soon), I happened across a reference to the new U.S. embassy in Baghdad as the largest in the world. This pricked my interest, so I dug up this column in The Nation from June describing the American embassy under construction in Baghdad. The scale of this massive project is astounding, and illuminating…

The size of 80 football fields, 104 acres. 15-foot thick walls. At $600 million, the biggest construction project in Iraq. Will employ 8,000 people. 619 apartments. Luxurious accommodations. Shops, supper clubs, swimming pool, hair salon, movie theatre. Self-contained and self-sufficient.

The Nation article concludes:

This gigantic complex does not square with the repeated assertions by the people who run the American government that the United States will not stay in the country after Iraq becomes a stand-alone, democratic entity. An “embassy” in which 8,000 people labor, along with the however many thousand military personnnel necessary to defend them, is not a diplomatic outpost. It is a base. A permanent base.

So it turns out that the plan, if that is the right word for the haphazard, faith-based, fact-free and data-scarce decision-making that has been the one constant in this adventure, is to stay in Baghdad and run the country. This is beyond lunacy.

You know, sometimes what appears as incompetence can actually be legerdemain. Or am I paranoid?

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Read Joey’s “Power Breakfast”

IBM is Our Friend Edition

TorCamp braintrust members Joey deVilla and Jay Goldman attended the Technology Innovators Breakfast put on by the Toronto Board of Trade. We were invited by Alicia Bulwik, Project Manager for the ICT Toronto initiative, who has been doing a good job at reaching out to the community.

Unfortunately, due to a technical glitch involving setting the alarm on my new mobile phone and drinks the night before, I missed my opportunity to suit up in time. Fortunately, Joey blogged a very comprehensive set of notes featuring the main speaker, Dan Fortin President of IBM Canada:

How do we innovate to make Toronto stand out?

* The best way is to focus on the expertise that’s available right here
* We need to track and retain expertise, and to do this, we need to
* We need to realize that collaboration is key

Exactly! Indigenous talent, indigenous companies and improved collaboration. I love the fact that IBM is strategically looking for emerging Toronto companies (they want to buy companies, their technology and sell their services, after all). Reading this, it makes me think that the TorCamp community’s interests are more in line with this view of IBM than with many of the organizations pushing for a foreign investment and trade-driven approach to the development of Toronto’s tech cluster. Very interesting.

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More LED Fun

In Montreal, a private-public partnership developed a remarkable lighting design for Quartier des Spectacles. Toronto’s a bit different….less bold, less centrally organized, more conservative but with a thriving counterculture that sometimes shows a wonderful spontaneous anarchy.

I’m looking forward to Radical Illumination, an art-mob graffiti event at Spadina/Queen in Toronto on December 8th @ 11:11pm. Featuring throwies, glowing sticky devices that can attach to any surface, participants can join in the fun and participate in a temporary art experience reclaiming public space. Throwies were developed by Graffiti Research Lab, whose motto I love:

Dedicated to outfitting graffiti artists with open source technologies for urban communication.

Join in!

Universal Music trying to Zune the iPod?

In a funny turn of events, Universal Music, emboldened by their on-paper success in screwing Microsoft for a license fee on every Zune MP3 player, thinks they can use this lever to get a piece of Apple’s iPod business. Good luck with that.

Ok, lets just stand back and look at this. The reviews for the Zune have been universally dismal. It is a case study in Digital Rights Management taking supremacy over usability and customer experience. It’s almost like Microsoft took everything we have learned about the importance of design and user experience from the iPod’s success, rejected it all and tried to respond by mimicking features and making nice with the major labels. It is also setting up to be the biggest tech gadget failure in a long time.

Rob Hyndman’s been all over this, pointing me to the fact that by wrapping the whole device in DRM, Zune assumes everything is proprietary content – even free and Creative Commons licensed content.

A music industry with enlightened self-interest should be watching closely and learning. Which business model sells more music, facilitates discovery of emerging artists and delivers more revenue to the music industry: Apple’s or Microsoft’s? In the face of having their entire business evaporate without an exit strategy, Apple provided a golden egg in the form of a sustainable, popular and growing business model for paid digital downloads. Yet the industry is still at odds with their most important partner.

Universal’s attempt is ridiculous on its face. It makes the assumption that every customer is a thief. I have pointed to the music industry as the canary in the coal-mine as content goes digital. I guess this means the battle between big-media and customers will continue for a long time, until the new models emerge. In the meantime, the new mammals of indie content creators and digital platform makers are scurrying in the underbrush.

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Shark Week!: Creative Hubs and Co-working Edition

Ok, it’s officially Creative Hub Week on the Remarkk blog, which is this wonk-blogger’s version of Shark Week. Coming on the heals of my attendance at the Artscape Creative Hub Development Workshop, more news is surfacing, via David Crow:

215Spadina-1The Zeidlers strike again! The Centre for Social Innovation in the Robertson Building at 215 Spadina in Toronto is expanding. The development includes offices, shared services, permanent and temporary workspace and co-working and a cafe. The development is geared to innovative third sector organizations and social entrepreneurs. More details here [PDF]. I’ll be going to the info session on Friday.
The Zeidler family’s Urbanspace Property Group is a recognized leader in supporting sustainability in their developments, with a strong community connection and social purpose, bridging commerce, culture and community. They are responsible for 401 Richmond and the renewal of the Gladstone Hotel.

Indoor Playground is a more tech-startup and entrepreneur focused co-working and cafe space associated with the Innovation Commons and being planned for 364 Richmond Street West in Toronto. A lot of details are unknown, but David points to some kind of membership model. Initiated by Mark Dowds and Bobby John of Creation Step, some people I really need to get to know.

Indoor Playground is a next generation workspace based in the downtown core of Toronto. It is a home away from home for the entrepreneur who needs an office space on occasion. It helps to solve the problem of having a place to work when you are on the road or when you just want out of the house. Indoor Playground provides a good-looking and creative space populated by other great people worth meeting. It is the perfect solution for new start-ups and independent innovators who are looking for a professional yet affordable way to scale their business.

2007 is shaping up to be a very interesting year in Toronto’s social and economic innovation scene, as these new ideas of creative places become more widespread. This is something our friends at ICT Toronto should be paying attention to.

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50,000 FREE copies of Inconvenient Truth rejected by teacher organization

The political environment in America around climate science is so poisoned that the National Science Teachers Association feels they can’t take free copies of An Inconvenient Truth to their students. A vivid presentation of facts is viewed as opinion – BY SCIENCE TEACHERS! The planet is now a “special interest”. File this under “the rise of truthiness and the collapse of civilization”.

read more | digg story

Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles lighting design

I love Montreal. As much as I am a Toronto-booster and a proud Torontonian, you have to recognize that when it comes to art, culture, design and urban cool, Montreal is the place to beat.

Here’s what my new friends at the Quartier des Spectacles partnership came up with after an extensive consultation and strategy process and design competition: innovative and captivating external lighting designs in front of the major venues in this thriving entertainment district centred on St. Catherine and St. Laurent.


They are not only making a strong design statement and a coherent feeling for the district, they are also demonstrating an innovation in LEDs used as a projected light source, as conceived by Photonic Dreams and built by LEIG. Each spot uses only a 3W LED!

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A Community of Community-Builders

This past week, I attended a great workshop put on by Artscape, the Creative Hub Development Workshop, held in Ottawa. Another great event by Artscape, it gathered a remarkable collection of community builders from across Canada. I look forward to continuing the conversation we began.

Creative hubs are multidimensional multi-tenant places that bring together a number of cultural, social, environmental and/or economic purposes together under a single roof. Creative hubs are being increasingly seen by city-builders as key to urban regeneration, socially-sustainable and livable communities and cultural and creative vitality. They aim to serve many public good outcomes and stakeholders in ways that are unique and relevant to their specific community and are therefore extremely complex projects to pull together successfully. Artscape is pushing the boundaries of knowledge and practice in Canada and around the world in creative community building.

A couple of my favourites include the Green/Arts Barns project at the old TTC Wychwood maintenance barns in the St. Clair/Bathurst area of Toronto and the Evergreen at the Brick Works project at the old Don Valley Brick Works, which produced much of the brick that built the city. These projects will breathe life into the city and are in themselves amazingly innovative.

The group that gathered in Ottawa are community-builders, and they are part of an emerging community of practice that are looking to Artscape to lead a revolution of sustainable social change in their communities across Canada. The challenges of living up to these hopes and aspirations will no doubt further drive Artscape’s continued evolution from a developer of nonprofit housing and studio space for artists in Toronto into an organization that supports, facilitates and enables community-builders across the country and beyond.

For just a sample of what these community-builders are doing, have a look at the Woodward’s project in Vancouver’s east side, the Quartier des Spectacles in Montreal and the Arts Court in Ottawa. From city economic development officers to ZengetsÅ« MyÅ?kyÅ?, Abbess of the Centre Zen de la Main Buddhist centre in Montreal; from theatre groups and art galleries to the Medicine Hat Clay Industries National Historic District; to say that this community of practice represents a diverse set of initiatives would be a serious understatement.

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