Angry Robot

SRSI, the Final Week

So, a lot has happened. Perhaps I won’t try and record everything here – I have 500 gigs of video that serves that purpose – but start talking about the overall feeling, as there are only a few short days left and then SRSI is over.

I haven’t mentioned The Department of Unusual Certainties in a manner that befits them. They are doing a project called Storefront Success Stories that is fairly fascinating – sort of an attempt to do urban design consultation properly, from the ground up. It’s a tricky project to pin down, in part because there is little visible about it yet (their process looks like regular office work mostly), and in part because the boys like to prevent easy explanations of things. But suffice it to say that I’ve had many fascinating conversations with them.

Lee Rodney has decamped her Border Bookmobile and set up a temporary position in the storefront. The contents of the bookmobile (besides the beautiful Chrysler Crimson seating) are a collection of books about Windsor, Detroit, borders, and more. Among the books was a volume of Shrinking Cities which Chris of The Department had mentioned to me, so I was excited to check it out of Lee’s library and get right into.

That’s the thing, those two words: shrinking cities. Cities that are getting smaller, but also cities plural. You might think at first it’s Detroit that’s this stunning historical phenomenon, then you might realize the problems are shared across the rust belt (Cleveland, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Baltimore), and then you might realize the problem spans the goddamned world. East Germany after reunification was a particular hotbed, but it’s happened many times before and will happen again. Your city could shrink. Perhaps it already is. You can’t help but look at the outsourcing of manufacturing to China and the outsourcing of knowledge work to India as harbingers of a whole lot more shrinkage to come.

So it’s important to look at these cities, not just for the sake of the residents of these cities (good enough reason right there of course), but also for everyone else. It’s important to look at the cities as distinct places each with their own set of intersecting problems, but also to find out about the common issues, and about the solutions that have already been attempted. Some have worked. Some have not.

I’m not going to pretend to have any answers myself, so I want to switch gears and think about Windsor. It’s a strange place. We went on a bike ride last night and Michelle took us to the west side, past the ancient Sandwich Town, through slums, past a quick succession of naturalized field / apartment building / giant heaps of salt / school. It’s not a landscape as desolate as Detroit by a long shot, but it’s unlike anything in my Toronto world. It’s beautiful, lively, friendly, diverse. You get the impression that it is a tough town populated exclusively by grumpy auto workers. But the other day I enjoyed Pho at one of many Vietnamese restaurants as I listened to the enormous family seated near me speak Spanish. The pho was a bit greasy but very flavourful.