IMG_20141024_145050    The terror of elitism

Stalks us across the moors

The highland clearance of dead white males

Or not so much dead but dead or living

Battles       fought for years

Beyond their conclusion

That keep the mill wheels grinding

Until finding

Another distinction to terrorise

That is where colour & gender are so useful

Though sometimes we have to resort to religion

Or secret handshakes

Or the cut of cloth

Or   words in a poem

Rarely as innocent as they seem.

Tagged ,

Grey is the most poetic colour

February 2nd 2003

Charleson Park, Vancouver


Grey is the most poetic colour

Unlike red and blue

Colours of unrepentant opinion

Grey is like snatches of

Conversation in a foreign accent

Overheard while walking in a

City park on a Sunday afternoon

In February leaving always

Something unsaid lost and

Found in translation

Scolding but with promise

Of redemption



Tagged ,

War Poem – World War III, January 1991

Saturday 19th January 1991 ,
English Bay Café, Vancouver

You don’t just look up
A woman’s skirt. I mean,      perched
On the bar stool opposite, you can be
Aware of the stitch on it’s inside hem,
Tautness of her tights, and sheerness
Of her parachute silk dress, backlit
From the bar’s under counter light.
And, You know that she knows that you know,
And she moves her legs a little, not
Enough, but a little; as if responding
To heat rising across the room. And
Your eyes rub across each other’s gaze, not
Enough to ignite, but enough to say
I know  that you know  that I know.

And what is this for?      She is
Engaged in trading confidential     Intelligence.
The lady in the pill box hat
At the window table is engaged
In dining alone with composure.
The sun has set a red gash across the winter sky.

You are warmly muffled no longer young,
Engaged in the late afternoon spirit.

…. The world is at war, dawn awakens early

In the Middle East.                 It just seems
More important than usual
For strangers to cross and
Uncross their legs,
In anticipation that,
Despite the terror to come,
May yet yield
At least
One life affirming gesture.

COPENHAGEN – Text Book Urbanism

May 2011
– Graham McGarva

Jan Gehl is probably the best tour guide you could hope for in Copenhagen. And so it was, after luxuriating over a couple of long lunches together, wherein the topic of grandchildren was as least as prominent as kamikaze cyclists and professional liability insurance, Suzy and I took Jan’s marked up map with us over several succeeding days of walking and cycling.


We rented bikes for 3 days, and traversed the city north‐south‐east and west. We enjoyed sunshine and rain ( learned to wait on our bicycles under a big tree when a short downpour rolls in). We found almost all the special bits of street and park that Jan pointed us to, especially enjoying those pockets into which people pour their daily affection.

Highlights came in contrasts. One was exploring the intimate streets of Osterbro with its colour, texture, and impromptu children dancing in the middle of one street. All jammed in together, built as workers housing more than a century ago, is now the where‐all‐the‐intelligentsia‐want‐to‐live‐there kind of place. We walked through several of these, such as Jan Gehl extols in his book “Cities for People” on our way to the FC Kobenhaven soccer match where they won the Danish Championship that day at the stadium just around the corner.

Another highlight was the wasteland of Orestad. You can read all about its cleverness in the excellent BIG archicomic “Yes is More”, or you can enjoy the cycle there and back, stunned by its lack of beating heart in its relentless cleverness. At the end of nowhere – otherwise known as a crashed up building called Otellalet, was a pleasant café, where the resident hermits came to gather. The ideas are visible, give everyone an outlook to endless open air, and we don’t need to walk past anyone as we are all virtually connected, just a click away.

Right away I thought I understood what I was seeing played out – the gulf between the generations. Expressed in Osterbro’s a repository of safe memories that appeal to the baby boomer generations; in Orestad’s cyber space of openness, reflection of a younger generation breaking with convention. However, it was the young kids who were happily playing in Osterbro’s city centre streets. And it was a retiree walking his dog along the canal bank, who told us how much he loved living in Orestad, same privacy with more more amenity that the suburb he came from, and well served by transit and the shopping mall for anything he needs.

The commonality of both environments was that in both the car was “coped” with (and very expensively) – both are about qualities of amenity, that the in‐between of the suburbs cannot address. What was not apparent, from all the construction and renovation, is that all this is to accommodate a country with a shrinking population, not growth. This is about choice, not necessity nor affordability.

In our corner of the world, accommodating 30% growth in 30 years with any measure of affordability is the primary challenge. And the new places at the edge must have the qualities of the centre. So with our tightly constrained land base in mind, in Orestad’s emptiness of place, I automatically crave opportunity for urban infill. However I am sure it would take a doubling of density to make a meaningful local impact ‐ which I am also sure is not the expectation of the current residents. These are the suburbanites, for whom empty streets are the safeguard of the normal.

Much as I love osterbro’s grain of belonging, I know that the future cannot thrive on romanticizing the transformation of worker’s cottages into homes for the wealthy‐enough. Orestad’s dead ends are the pathway’s we must pass to get to the osterbo’s of the future, and then cycle will continue again.

So, with neighbourhood life held hostage within the fortress walls of the shopping palace, I guess that a century could pass before the energy will build for the regeneration that I might envisage. That is about the time a neighbourhood seems to go from ‘ordinary’ to ‘slum/wrong side of the tracks’, to ‘exclusive’.

That is also the time it took Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens to go from being a left-over portion of the City’s military ring of defensive moats and ramparts, to being the amusement park that you have to take your children to (grandchildren for Jan Gehl). Thinking that over, don’t highway cloverleafs just make you immediately think of future ice cream cones and candy floss!

This is all a reminder that the goal of city building is for the café canopy be in the right place. Beware of Big Ideas, if they are not grounded in intimacy, there is a different kind of streetwalking on our horizon.



Tagged ,

The Architecture of Love

stringio 2 orig

I like this a lot. Congratulations to Alejandro Aravena in winning the 2016 Pritzker. I can totally see how his concept of  “half a good house” is part of the way forward for healthy and endurable community building.  I also note that the fundamental factor that makes it work (over and above passion and intelligence in design) that makes it possible is have the right form of land tenure in place.  Tenure includes both form of ownership but also cost of land.  Our Problem, Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco is that we are gripped by a culture that values the price of land above all else, we have no generally applicable mechanism to value affordability as the fundamental building block for our communities.  Therefore we have to celebrate the initiative and enterprise of Alejandro Aravena, and also find the way to achieve the ‘ownership’ that can support the implementation of these ideas in our land value choked context.

ARQ.ac-4I don’t have the answer to this, but I am wholeheartedly engaged in the quest.  One of my points of entry into this world of Alejandro’s is this poem that I wrote 15 years ago, in thinking through this kind of 99%/1% issue with respect to our job of “masterplanning  a model sustainable community” that was the mandate of South East False Creek and the Olympic Village.  So  read it in conjunction with these before and after images from Alejandro Aravena’s website of his architectural firm Elemental.


The Architecture of Love

(a working drawing)

There are those …
Who would design everything for you
Then take even that away
Unfortunately  you may not notice

Is shape of the liquid moment of now
Transcends the lines and edges of form
Curls through every movement
In the city’s paradise of congregation

It requires setting up then letting go
Constantly changing in reflection of you
Presence of sunshine and rain
Canopies open as well as shutters closed
Red echo of traffic light on slick night pavement
Sound of marquetry inlaid on the doorframe

It is about being there
wanting to be there
Not always about being noticed
Cradling the pulse of concentration
Or carrying solace for the mind

Do not surrender to demigods of the automaton
(Lawyer, accountant, bureaucrat
Or architect who won’t let you sing)

Do not accept the object in lieu
Of the emotion

Fight for your birthright  –
the Architecture of Love

Sunday April 9th  2000
False Creek, Vancouver, Canada

Tagged ,

Sunday’s Silent Empty

sunday 3




Sunday’s silent empty
Down by the rail track
Takes me forty years back
When I first intruded here
To these brick slabbed flats
Of social renewal
And the grasps of survival
Were different
Then the ghetto was new
The order of hope overlaid
From the top down
No matter where the hope went
When it crossed the tracks
Now windows have been replaced
And achieve environmental goals
And ghetto rebrands itself
In the imagination
And being on this side of the track
Means being safely removed
From the ghettos of
Million dollar houses
On the other side

Sunday 8th November 2015
Raymur/MacLean Housing, Strathcona

sunday 2

“I learn most everything I know walking to work…” + other poems

This post is comprised of abstracts from Graham McGarva’s Pecha Kucha presentation at the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Vancouver Summit 2015  – Cascadia Chapter.

FINAL Final CNU Pecha Kucha 151107_Page_01introduction
November 2015

Being a plus minus guy
In an increasingly binary world
Colouring the grey areas
Is more and more vital
For the delight
Needed to fuel urban life.
So I write these poetic markers
To help me navigate
The binary data maze
And remember
Why we remade Vancouver in the first place.

the architecture of love (1)
September 3, 2012

This poem is about sitting in parks and cafés FINAL Final CNU Pecha Kucha 151107_Page_02
about height and width of the street
the boulevard between the trees
tracery of greenery and flashes of light

and mostly about which
table and chair to choose
changing with the sun and wind
and whether your neighbour smokes
Not about qualities
Of construction documents

Not about architecture… but what architecture’s about

waiting for the ferry at the edge of my dreams
February 22, 1998

Waiting for the ferry at the edge of my dreamsFINAL Final CNU Pecha Kucha 151107_Page_03
wood dock bobbing like the old twenty years back
tumble down shack by the log booms
before I planned all this

But she knew none of this

Back then she was a teen
In Middle East turmoil
Now her life is
Half a world away
Single still but with determined eyes
Waiting for the ferry at the edge of her dreams

the car I am fond of
April 8, 2010

The car I am fond ofFINAL Final CNU Pecha Kucha 151107_Page_04
Like the last ounces
Of vodka in the freezer
It parks itself in my imagination
Of getting away from it all
With wrap around sound
To block out the world
But walking
The chattering buds
Fill the trees
And flirt with the sky
As  I watch the onrush of  traffic
Exhale one long sigh of regret

throughout history
June 6, 2010

Throughout historyFINAL Final CNU Pecha Kucha 151107_Page_05
Parking has been a problem
Particularly when one
Runs out of slaves
Or valets or whatever
You call sacrificial lambs
In your language
Some peoples chose
To ruin their civilization
To better park the chariot
Others simply hump the sidewalk
Reasoning that suspension
Is a lot easier to replace
Than disbelief

we join the rat race to outrun the spark
February 10, 2010

This heightFINAL Final CNU Pecha Kucha 151107_Page_06
Of Olympian insight
I learned from the
Street performer
In the centre
Of the traffic stopped street
And its liberated
Pedestrian flow
If traffic was normal
Would we delay our trips
And stay through the show
To pay him cash
For being where
We could have been stopped for free

life is about collateral damage

December 30, 2013

Life is about collateral damageFINAL Final CNU Pecha Kucha 151107_Page_07
And how you deal with it
Like spilling foam
From your chai latte
On your shirt front
Or combating homelessness
By building apartments
Closer together
For density
To fund housing
For residents to push
Carts full of tin cans
Who have no taste for chai latte
Which I find too sweet anyway

the city street is the lens
May 12, 2011

The city street is the lensFINAL Final CNU Pecha Kucha 151107_Page_08
Through which I view
My magnification of
Its grit and droppings
To fertilize the freedom
Of association I treasure

My transportation plan
Involves not spilling the milk
On my way to the allotment garden
And not crushing the lettuce leaves
As I text this on my walk home

the margin within which we cling
June 6, 2006

When I stepped out my doorFINAL Final CNU Pecha Kucha 151107_Page_09
I wasn’t looking for the bio-swale
I was looking to breathe
Ironic that looking for the
Same margin the weeds grasp

Dusty trails are central to history
They link all the willow trees
Weeping for
The waters of Babylon
For the narrow margin
Within which we cling

young girl walking alone to school
March 8, 2000

Young girl walking alone to school.FINAL Final CNU Pecha Kucha 151107_Page_10
other woman bends over
talking child-talk
waiting for the light to change
girl skips up the sidewalk
glances round with a quick
once a normal world
growing up on the way to school
handling traffic
handling strangers
skipping lightly in the almost spring

I demand to be shown
September 11, 2015

I demand to be shownFINAL Final CNU Pecha Kucha 151107_Page_11
Where in this masterplan
Is the place for illegal underage drinking
It must be there somewhere and
The cops and I want to know
Where our kids can do this in peace
Throw stones where no-one will get hurt
Sneak home sheepishly because they
Don’t want to be found out
And thereby grow up
With respect for boundaries
And where to place them

and the morning after the city is built
September 20, 2015

And the morning afterFINAL Final CNU Pecha Kucha 151107_Page_12
The city is built
We embrace at the foot
Of the castle steps
And promise ourselves
It will always be like this
And it never is
Just like
Once there was
No graffiti on the lamp post
The handrails needed painting
And the tide was out
So we share these steps
Because this is what we
Do for each other
To keep the embrace alive

I learn most everything I know
January 17, 2014

I learn most everything I knowFINAL Final CNU Pecha Kucha 151107_Page_13
walking to work
such as who looks me
with smiling eyes
bridge high over water
bird song above the traffic
and pushcart bottles
and as I wonder
how the guy with the pushcart
feels about love
he stops
and tosses crusts to the gulls

it is all downhill from here
but at least I’ve learned

… the architecture of love (2) …
September 3, 2012

It is not about architecture and  all about architecture.FINAL Final CNU Pecha Kucha 151107_Page_14
the love of congregation
the lack of fear where structure meets the ground
the reward of the thoughtful detail

about room given to imbue      p l a c e
with your own imaginings
of window boxes above
of neon signs below
order of social expectations
and clut-ter of mislaid intentions

… the architecture of love (3) …
September 3, 2012

It is about taking firm gripFINAL Final CNU Pecha Kucha 151107_Page_15
to guide a child across the street
pointing out signs and lights
and giving clear direction
And having given clear direction
it is about letting go
And having let go
it is about sitting in cafes and parks
watching growth in unexpected ways
Of limbs of trees of leavings
changing  the height width
and texture that colour the street