A year (or so) in

boardroom

If you recall, when last we left our intrepid hero, he’d started a job at TELUS Digital. It’s now been shortly over a year, so let’s check in, shall we?

[Ed note: I can’t keep that 3rd-person voice up, so abandoning it. But I love the phrase “our intrepid hero”, so the opening stays]

Today, I want to write about parenting. I wrote a post for our corporate blog about my experience as a working dad. And so that’s been on my mind. And then, the other night while out for a post-event drink with a couple of people on my team, I was asked “Do guys talk about the struggle? Juggling parenting and working and gym and shopping and, and, and…?” And I had to think about it a moment – and it’s definitely only my personal experience, but the short answer is “no”, we don’t. I don’t see many examples in pop-culture (TV) or on social-media (outside of dad-blog culture). And it’s not cool, so I’m going to:

It’s hard, y’all. When I was working from home, part time, I had a great life. I got work done, I got to the gym, I saw my kids a lot, I got out with friends. I didn’t cook too much, because I don’t enjoy that much, but I felt on top of it all.

Since coming back to work full-time, this has changed. In the year prior to coming to TELUS, I was really good about getting to the gym 3 times a week – I lost about 50 lbs in 15 months. In the last year, that’s just stopped. I had to make priority decisions, and it lost: I work, roughly, 9-to-5. I can’t get to the gym in the AM, because to get to work on time, I’d need to be at the 7am class. And I can’t do that, because generally, I do the morning stuff at home – get the kids up, make breakfast, make lunches, etc. There’s a 5pm class – which would mean leaving by 4:15, which is really hard. There’s a 6pm class, but that means I wouldn’t be home before 7:30ish, and I’d miss virtually the entire evening with the kids, not to mention a late dinner time that might run over the 8yo’s bedtime.

I no longer feel like I get enough time with my kids, and I’m not satisfied with how I spend some of what I do. Professionally, I interact with people all day long. I’m in hours of meetings every day, I’m leading people, I’m on. As an introvert, this is draining. I show up and bring it every day, and then I’m just wiped. And I need recovery time, alone in my head, to be able to bring this every day. Indeed, I’ve stopped listening to podcasts, even music with lyrics most days on my way home from work because I just don’t want to hear any more talking directed at me. And, and this sucks for my family, because some days I just don’t have it in me to be as present as I’d like to be for them. There are (many) days I just want to stare off into space to recover a little.

I don’t see my friends as much, in part because of the above. But also because everything else that needs to get done – taking the kids to their activities, shopping, laundry, etc – there’s just so much less time to do it all, and that gets prioritized over beers with a buddy. And I do miss that.

So, yeah. Being honest, I don’t feel I know how to balance work and life in a way that feels “right”. I don’t believe so much in “work-life balance” because by the nature of what I do and how I do it, I need to believe in it, and so I tend to think about work all sorts of strange times and ways, and that’s all good. And this is nothing like how hard it was when it was my company, and all the extra pressures that brings. But I don’t feel like I’ve got it figured out. And I definitely look around in wonder at some colleagues with families and wonder how they manage to do it all. Sometimes I make judge-y assumptions about them, but increasingly, I suspect they’re also struggling, and just making different, invisible compromises to make it work for them.

3 years with an e-bike

My Bike, as I unboxed it.

A little over 3 years ago, I tore my ACL. It wasn’t awesome. I was in constant pain, and worst of all, I couldn’t ride my bike – my primary means of commuting. I decided that an electric bike would help keep me moving and active.

In October 2016, I brought home a VanMoof Electrified S (that link actually goes to the current model, the S2). I was immediately in love with my bike. I think I only rode my former, much-loved MEC Hold Steady (matte-black version) once more before it was sadly stolen in March of this year.

My VanMoof is definitely a v1 device – even the 2017 version of the same bike had some notable improvements. That being said, 3 years in, I’ve come to know it pretty well, and with that in mind, here’s some things I love, and things I don’t.

The Awesome

  • the integrated lights! I don’t know why this wasn’t immediately stolen by all commuter-bike manufacturers, whether electric or not. I have mine set to “Auto”, so they just come on or turn off based on light levels, and I never have to think about bike lights again.
  • Electric-assist: I know, it’s an electric bike, but riding 10-15K a day, with assist that “smooths out the hills” is still revelatory.
  • Quiet. I’ve read that both the 2017 model and S2 are even quieter, but this bike is already much quieter than virtually every other electric bike I come across. There’s a light whisper with the regular e-assist, and a slight whine when I engage the boost feature. Speaking of…
  • Boost! There’s a button on the handlebar to get a boost of extra power beyond the assist level – this is very handy to keep chill on hills, starting up at lights, or when heavily leaden with bags.
  • The design remains distinctive and lovely. I get questions or appreciative comments monthly, even 3 years later.
  • Ride comfort. This is a well-built bike made for a comfortable ride, and is quite smooth.
  • Battery life. I bike 10-15K a day in my commute, and I generally only charge my bike once a week. I think it advertised 100K and 3 years in, I feel I regularly get pretty close to that. Except in wintertime, when the batter is notably worse.

The not-great.

  • The touch interface. Mine has simply never worked reliably enough to use. I’m supposed to be able to touch turn it on, adjust assist levels and what not. I just pretend it isn’t there.
  • The app. It’s pretty bare bones. It loses connection with the bike semi-regularly so I have to force-close and restart it. I wish it integrated with GPS tools like Strava or Runkeeper to pass on information. I’d love to look in my VanMoof app to see total miles, average speed, time spent with what level of assist/boost, etc.
  • The bike software itself. I’ve had my bike “crash” 3 times (about once a year). It takes resetting the software, a process that itself means plugging the bike into a powered micro-usb cable for a bit to reset itself. 3 times in 3 years isn’t a lot, but it does always seem to happen at the end of a long ride when the battery is low, coincidentally right when I’m about to ride up a big hill
  • Speed settings. My bike seems really happy cruising along at about 18-20 km/h. Which is fine, but definitely much slower than a lot of other e-bikes run at. The Boost, for instance, doesn’t work if you’re going more than 20km/h. I find when riding on the flat, once I hit a speed of about 22-24k, the bike feels like it is actively resisting me, rather than assisting me. So, 18k is fine, but often not as fast as I feel I could go without additional effort, but the bike feels like it is fighting me if I do.
  • Weak motor. I joke that my bike is made for Dutch Hills (Holland is famously flat). It really struggles up the bigger hills in town – from false creek up Ontario st is a daily ride for me, and it whines somewhat ominously, and even the boost, while definitely helpful, means I still get a workout up there (maybe this is good?). Compared to a Trek ebike I was able to try out, I’m clearly not getting the same level of push up a hill though.
  • No gears. I don’t want many, but from that one time I did a tour of burrard inlet, biking from home, across the lions’ gate, along and back over the second narrows, having a gear to help me climb hills better, rather than relying on the underwhelming motor would be nice.
  • Cheap/bad parts. VanMoof definitely skimped out on some of these. The stock pedals and cranks look and feel cheap. The brakes have been problematic the whole time – indeed, the first time I took my bike to a shop to get my brakes adjusted, the comment was “Oh, these are really bad – you should replace them soon”. for a $3K bike, that’s not cool.

Other notes

This isn’t so much about the bike, but rather Vancouver – I don’t feel like I can ride this bike and park it anywhere – even with the “smart lock” and tracking technology built-in, Vancouver is so bad for bike theft that unless I know I’ve got secure bike parking or The Bicycle Valet at my destination, I won’t ride anywhere I’d have to leave my bike out of sight.

You may wonder if I’m happy with my bike, based on that list of pros and cons above. In short, the pros vastly outweigh the cons. The bike is amazing, and I’d recommend it to anyone. Particularly the newer models, which all have very directly addressed several of the problems I’ve seen with it.

Everyone should ride a bike more – and if you need some help doing so, I cannot recommend an e-bike enough. And in 2019, your options are much broader as to what’s available, for a surprisingly reasonable amount!

D&D for kids

Tattoo of a sword-pencil surrounded by the platonic solids

This past long weekend, we were up at Evans Lake Camp for the l’école bilingue annual family camp. This year, in part because the weather looked variable, but also just to offer a new activity for kids, Leah suggest I bring up some D&D materials to run a quick campaign intro for some kids. So on Sunday, I broke out some pregenerated level 1 characters, brought along Tales from the Yawning Portal, and started running the Sunless Citadel adventure.

I also borrowed a bunch of minis from a friend, which turned out to be an excellent idea, and off they went. I had 6 kids, ranging in age from 8-12, along with 2 curious adults. It was glorious chaos. With an eye to fun over rules, we definitely streamlined the adventure some, and the ways in which these kids chose to solve things was amazing!

  • Why climb down a rope when you could just jump and open your cape like a kite?
  • All rats love cheese, and giant rats must love cheese more. So how about charming the giant rats with giant cheese?
  • Goblins are greasy and stinky so they’re probably flammable. Maybe I could set them on fire with a candle?
  • “Kobolds are scared of farts. I’m going to create a mega-fart illusion so they all run away”
  • “Can I make this kobold my pet?”

They loved figuring out how to manoeuvre along the map-tiles, where they’d like to be positioned in a fight, discovering which objects were breakable (wooden tables yes, stone tables no), flammable, etc.
In the course of 3.5 hrs, they all:

  1. customized their characters
  2. introduced themselves
  3. ran through the “kobolds” part of the adventure.
  4. made friends with Meepo
  5. slaughtered some goblins
  6. returned the dragon to the kobolds.

They had so much fun that I was asked to run a second adventure later that day – which I did, creating a quick diversion to a haunted shack where a ghost who just wanted to be left alone was preventing some caravans from resting on their long trip to Oakhurst.

D&D with kids was great fun – I’m hoping I can figure out a way to create an after-school session throughout the school year to run for them (for the 1,000th time, I wish the school day was set to mimic a workday). And also, this is all the excuse I needed to indulge in a love of buying minis!

(aside: the image attached is my latest tattoo, which is very-much D&D-inspired.)

The Facebook Conundrum

In spring of 2018, I deleted the Facebook app from my phone, and decided to just use the web app.

Then in November 2018, I suspended my Facebook account – I didn’t delete it entirely, but put in a calendar reminder 3 months hence to see if I wanted to either restore it or delete my account altogether. That alert came a couple of weeks ago.

So here’s the thing: overall, I think I’m happier not interacting directly with Facebook. I still do in many ways – I’m a regular (but increasingly irregular) Instagram user, I use WhatsApp to chat with friends, and I use Messenger for the same purpose. I was already fairly draconian in that I had a rule that to be Facebook friends, we must have shared a drink together in person, which made for a lovely way to say “thanks but no thanks” to so many random requests-to-be-friends (and, occasionally and awkward “whoops!” when it turns out I had done this thing with the person), and so I have a fairly small friend-list on Facebook compared to many. I’m not sure exactly, but I think it was about 120-150 people.

And while a primary driving factor in my getting rid of Facebook was corporate behaviour, it is also true that spending time on Facebook made me unhappy. No matter how I tried to curate my feed, I seemed to end up full of bizarre ( = conspiratorial, hateful, etc) news stories, dumb/scam-like ads and constant creepy reminders of how well FB could identify my lifestyle, habits and interactions. Very much related, a primary reason I’m using Instagram less and less is my perception that the number of ads I see in my feed is skyrocketing.

But here’s the thing. I’m not “off” Facebook. My wife still uses it a lot, and what’s ended up happening is that because I’m not using it regularly, she’ll mention some news about our circle of friends that I have no idea about. I’ve missed it. And, completely unintentionally I’ve just added the duty to inform me of news about my friends on to her cognitive load. And, it must be said, I miss hearing bits about my friends whom I don’t see regularly. And I can’t think of any reasonable way to stay in touch that doesn’t add a level of imposition to them: one-to-one messaging, rather than broadcasting, just for my benefit isn’t fair. And there’s nothing out there with enough of a presence that I could imagine asking 80-odd people to move to (given that their circle of friends is unlikely to move too).

So I find myself with this conundrum: I can give up this “protest” (I’m not even sure that’s the right word. I just… stopped going there), and turn it all back on, and then I’ll get the updates from friends, and I won’t be out of the loop, and Leah won’t have this extra duty to inform me. But if I do, then I’ll be back on Facebook, which doesn’t feel like a great thing either. I feel damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

And this is (probably) why no matter how scandalous Facebook’s behaviour, it just keeps trucking on. Inertia is massive.


Professional Update: July 2018

set of old mobile phones, from largest to smallest

Since selling Pencilneck Software two years ago, I’ve very much enjoyed my time since then, spending more time with the kids, and running Codegnostic, my fractional-CTO consulting company. I’ll forever relish the opportunity of these past two years to be more involved with school and kid activities on the personal side, and the work on organizational change, growth and process improvement on the professional side. But nothing stays the same, and this is true for me too.

I’m extremely excited to announce that I’m joining TELUS Digital in the role of Senior Technology Architect, starting tomorrow, July 3rd. This role looks to be a really exciting & challenging extension/deep-dive on the work I’ve spent much of this decade doing on the technical management side, and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to do this at a large and rapidly-growing organization.

Podcast Radio Station

Radio City Music Hall

One of my favourite CBC shows is Podcast Playlist, which is a weekly, curated show where Matt Galloway & Lindsay Michael sample a set of podcasts, around a particular theme. They play excerpts, or whole episodes depending on length, and talk about why they have included it.

Related, much to my surprise, one of my favourite [ed: counterpoint] developments in media are these post-show discussion shows (Talking Dead, Talks Machina, After the Thrones). I should note that some of these shows are terrible, some are good. The better ones tend to be web, rather than network, and more free-flowing. They’re also all universally too long.

Whether web-based/digital or, my ideal, an honest-to-goodness terrestrial radio station, would combine these into a thrilling, diverse and interesting talk-format discovery station. With programming divided up throughout the day/week, with curated hosts, and re-broadcasting entire podcast episodes, it re-invents the incredibly tired call-in-and-rant structure of current talk radio. It also offers a chance for different new revenue streams for podcast creators (who, in my idea, are of course compensated for all re-broadcasts & take some share of advertising revenue).

Let’s say you divide each day into 4-hr segments, where hour 3 (or maybe just the last 0.5 hr) is the “discussion of what you just heard” segment, ideally including one or more of the podcast creators you were just listening to, and allowing inbound contribution via phone/text/whatever (like any call-in show).

If there were regular, recurring scheduled themes, I’d tune in for topics that interest me. For serial podcasts, like Serial, this offers an opportunity to have a scheduled broadcast over several weeks. Some would be one-offs, and some regulars for weeks or months at a time.

Last-minute thought: In many ways, this is the model CBC Radio 1 already has. Most of the shows are essentially podcasts (Q, Under the Influence, Ideas, Quirks & Quarks, Spark – the lines between regular radio-show and podcast are very blurry) already, intermixed with news/current event shows. The key difference, I think, is an expectation that the station is curating other people’s content, as well as probably producing their own. For a broadcaster like CBC, with a mandate to support Canadian culture, this could be a really interesting new station, pushing out Canadian podcasts to the world.

My 5 Favourite songs about New York City

Cabs near times square

These aren’t “the best”, just ones I like. And I’m pretty-much ignoring hip-hop/soul here, because that is a real void in my musical knowledge. The impetus was listening to the first one, and thinking about other tracks I keep coming back to.

1. Gil Scott-Heron “New York City”

This album was my intro to Gil Scott-Heron. I’m pretty sure I found it amongst my uncle’s album collection as a kid while visiting. It was on a mix-tape I made from his collection, and I played that cassette until a dying Walkman destroyed nearly a decade later.

2. Cub “New York City”

Vancouver’s own Cub. You may know this song from They Might Be Giants’ cover, but this is the original. It is perfect pop-punk.

3. LCD Soundsystem “New York I love you, but you’re bringing me down”

(NB: pretty sure that’s not an official video, but how could you not love it?) This song is also peak LCD Soundsystem.

4. Lou Reed “Walk on the Wild Side”

Could any list about NYC music not contain a Lou Reed song? I probably could have chosen any number by him. But this, while an obvious choice, is the soundtrack of when I think about the New York that was.

5. Leonard Cohen “Chelsea Hotel No. 2”

Like Lou Reed’s track, this is a hymn to what was, only from the singer’s viewpoint, a leisurely look back to days long gone.

Honourable Mention – Ryan Adams “New York, New York”

This song, with the lyric “hell I still love you New York” was ubiquitous in the wake the of September 11th, 2001 (the video was shot apparently just days before). I had to put it down for a while because of that, but I’ve recently been rediscovering Ryan Adams, and this song along with it.

Albums of the year – 2017

Trees in Pacific Spirit Park

[note: you can see my previous editions in the Albums of the year tag – also, I’ve embedded the playlist (of a top 20, but I won’t discuss them all, below].

So, like other years, here’s the top 10, in alphabetical order by artist.

Arcade Fire – Everything Now

I really wasn’t sold on this album on first listen. It came out while we were in Germany, so got a lot of play in the car…and, well, nothing really stood out. But then I saw them in concert this fall & I got it. This is a live album. The songs, all fine in headphones, suddenly come to life in concert. Playing them loud on a good system is also rewarding as there’s a lot of depth and subtleties to the tracks. It quickly went from an also-ran to an absolute favourite this year.

Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

Perhaps the most achingly personal album of the year. Julien Baker’s songs of ache, longing and defiance as she deals with the fallout from (if I understand correctly) turning to sobriety is both sad, gut-wrenching and incredibly powerful. Weirdly, despite the material, I find it  a hopeful album. Defiance in face of terribleness that really suited 2017. It’s a turn-out-the-lights (oh, i see now!), put-on-the-headphones and just dive into this incredible world kind of album.

Beach Fossils – Somersault

This album is a departure, growth even for this band. Long a jangly-indie-pop outfit that to me always felt a bit like a poor-man’s Real Estate, this album features lusher arrangements and a growth in instrumentation. This makes for better songwriting and thoroughly enjoyable, if perhaps safe, record. This album really grew on me through the year, after my initial uncertainty.

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

Kendrick’s second time on my best-of-year list, and, the second rap album since Madvillainy to end up on endless repeat for me. I don’t know what I can say that hasn’t been better said elsewhere, but after the importance of To Pimp a Butterfly, how amazing to watch this artist turn inwards and produce perhaps an even better album.

Lorde – Melodrama

Pop perfection. Amazing lyrics. Stunning production. My guess is this is one of 3 albums (DAMN. & Sleep Well Beast being the others) that will remain in heavy rotation for years to come.

The National – Sleep Well Beast

I wasn’t sure what this album would be like – after their last, the band sort of dispersed and pull out side projects including producing (and contributing to) the amazing Day of the Dead Grateful Dead covers album. And it turns out that they came back refreshed, willing to experiment with new sounds and time signatures and just knock it out of the park. It’s an uneven album, but where it works, it really, really works.

Slowdive – Slowdive

Well, they’re back! and.. and it is really, really great! It should probably be noted that either you like shoegaze or you don’t, but this is both classic Slowdive and perfectly of the moment.

St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION

New York is probably my favourite track of the year. I don’t know if it is about David Bowie, but it is who I think about whenever I play this song. A long time ago, I wrote about using music to find focus, and last year I got around to making a 5-song playlist that I update from time-to-time with music I want to hear over again that helps with this. That track was added this year. The rest of the album is pretty great too. She’s high on my must-see list, but somehow, never tours where I am. One day!

Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

The most fun album of my set this year. So much going on. Club-ready tracks with a memoirist’s eye for detail in the lyrics, there’s something for everyone here – shut up and dance, or sit down with headphones and really focus.

The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

I’m not sure anyone in rock spends as much time on production as The War on Drugs. Sumptuous, lush, ephemeral, fuzzy – all words I’ve variously used to describe this album. I love to put this on and just kind of float off on the music.

 

 

 

 

My leadership principles

The path not taken

I’ve evolved my approaches to team-leadership over the years (as to be expected), but I’m not sure I’ve ever sought to explicitly write down a These Things I Hold To Be True. Many of these are fairly office-directed, but most apply to my approach when I’m team captain or kids’ coach too.

While writing this, I realized how much of what I consider to be important leadership activities are not things that come naturally to me, but are rather trained skills that I work at consistently. So please consider this a living document too: I’m always looking to improve both this and myself.

  • A successful leader creates more leaders. Remember you’re standing on the shoulders of giants. You don’t become a leader just because of your skills, but also everyone’s around you. Your teachers, your mentors, your peers, your reports – they all help make you a leader. Respect that continuum and play your part to carry it on.
  • Expect to learn from those you lead. This builds on the first idea, but is more explicit. Just because you’re in charge, doesn’t mean that you’re right, or that you always know better. Ask questions. Be curious. Respect opinions. Corollary is to try to hire people who have something to teach you, whether those are hard or soft skills.
  • Facilitate independence. Don’t be a roadblock for your team. Create structure and process that lets your team explore on their own. Encourage decision-making & independent thought. Provide scaffolding for them to stand on while they work. Be a safety net (or rope-and-harness?) if they fall. Transparent, living documentation of process & procedure is good for all.
  • Do the things that don’t scale. Alternate: sweat the small stuff. Remember birthdays. Remember family names. Ensure the pens work. Have the one-on-ones. Make sure the environment is solid. Clean the white board. Show up a little early to the meeting to make sure there’s water, chairs, whatever. If someone mentions something in an off-hand comment, follow up. Pay attention.
  • Own your team’s failures. When something goes wrong (and it will!), take ownership. Don’t pass blame down the line. Be the shield for your reports. Within your team, don’t point fingers. Post-mortems are your friend. Understand what went wrong, and look for how to prevent that in the future.
  • Let your team own their victories. This is the corollary of the last item. Chances are you’ve had plenty of opportunity to shine on your way up. Step aside, let them accept credit. Better yet, go out of your way to give credit to your team-members publicly for their effort. Related to this: celebrate milestones.
  • Be decisive. You need to be ready to make the call when asked. Or step in when something isn’t working. Do your homework, read up, be ready. Trust your instincts. Remember that *most* decisions are reversible. Be ready to provide a path, a solution, or just an affirmation when needed.
  • Be deliberate. A corollary of the previous point: sometimes, a decision is paradigm-shifting –  *not* reversible. So take the time you need, but be firm and committed to the path chosen.
  • Practice and encourage self-care. Your manner, your tone, your emotional state has an outsized effect on your team. If you want your team to be their best selves, do what you need to be your best self. Demonstrate this so your team knows it is ok when they need to do it.
  • Experience the front-line. Participate in pager duty and answer support calls. Push code. Whatever the most junior among you, or the most publicly-exposed experience, make sure you have a reasonable understanding of their day-to-day.
  • Advocate for the Customer. That customer could be yourself, a client, another department, whatever. Chances are your team is delivering something to someone. Be the voice for the customer internally. Talk to the actual customer. Keep the relationship between your team and the customer healthy.
  • Earn your team’s trust every day. Listen actively. Believe, and believe in your team. Be right. Be focused. Be honest. Be self-critical. Be ethical. Default to openness. Give trust. Support your team-member when they need it.
  • Embrace Constraints. It is almost always worth figuring how to do more with less. Optimize where possible. Lean on limitations to see where they lead you. Create limits and boundaries where they are otherwise unclear in order to provide direction & guidance.
  • Confront your bias. You’re human. You have blindspots. You have biases. Keep these in mind. Build a team that helps you reduce, confront and account for these. Find mentors, peers, advisors to explicitly work on these.
  • Fight Culture-fit. This both seems counter-intuitive and oppositional. But “culture-fit”  is a step on the path to homogeneity. Diversity of people leads to diversity of opinion & thought. It leads to better compromise and outcomes. Culture-fit is not the same as team fit. The former is an ephemeral, subjective judgement of person. The latter is a quantifiable, objective judgement of skill, role, expectation.

Community Amenities in Vancouver

Liam in his waterpolo cap

I’ve been peripherally involved with the use & planning of Community Amenities in Vancouver for a long time – by being politically involved with the Park Board;as a both a participant and board member for the Vancouver Ultimate League; as a parent of a kid in Vancouver Thunderbirds Hockey; as parent of a kid in Vancouver Vipers waterpolo; and as a parent of a kid in Vancouver United FC Soccer. And, there’s a few things (that are probably in some ways obvious, but let us be explicit here) to note about doing all this in Vancouver. Let’s of course be clear that this is all anecdotal based on my experience and limited conversations with other families.

  1. With the exception of my experience as an ultimate player, community sports is heavily weighted towards the periphery of the city: rinks, pools, courts, fields are all generally on the western & eastern edges of the city. If you live in the centre, you’re pretty much guaranteed a fairly lengthy commute. It is sort of the inverse of the home-job principle.
  2. There are not enough playing-surface resources in the city of Vancouver compared to the number of participants. Ultimate, which has the *most* fields, because of the surfaces they’re willing to use, probably has this best. But it is still not enough. In my experience, from least available to most, it is probably: pools, quality fields, rinks, flat(ish) grass surfaces. I don’t know about baseball, but from the outside, it looks like each “area” has a really nice-looking “home” field where stuff happens.
  3. UBC is a terrible community partner. Each association I’ve been part of has been “forced” to use UBC’s fields/rinks/pools because there’s not enough in Vancouver, but each association complains bitterly about how expensive renting UBC’s facilities are. I’m not entirely sure of the justification for this, outside of free-market economics (supply v demand), but it sucks.
  4. The lack of playing surfaces leads to some pretty crazy scheduling decisions by the related associations. In practice, this has meant my elementary-aged kids are doing sports both SUPER early in the am (which generally sucks more for the parents) – as early as 6:15am Sunday in my experience – and also SUPER late at night – as late as 10:30pm Friday in my experience. Perhaps not surprisingly, this leads to some drop-off in participation.
  5. Compared to kids in related associations in the suburbs, Vancouver kids have way less access & time to their chosen sport. At younger ages, this has translated primarily to my being jealous of how little other parents are paying per hour-of-activity. At older ages (let’s say 10+) this tends to translate directly into a lack of competitiveness. In each sport I’ve participated in, as a general rule, suburban teams play at a higher level than Vancouver-based ones. Beyond that, we’ve seen several Vancouver families move their children, if not their actual domicile, out to be part of suburban associations just to give their kids access to higher compete levels.
  6. At an association level, these constraints put incredible pressure on the few paid staff & mostly volunteer organizers. I’ve sat in on several board meetings, AGMs and ad-hoc parent meetings where participants and/or parents complain about fees, ever-reducing availability of activity-time, and so on. And, at the core, the answer is always the same: the association is making awful trade-offs between allowing access to participate vs cost vs scheduling. These are generally pretty committed fans of the activity, and the wear on them shows.

So, what can be done?

Real Estate pricing in Vancouver means we are pretty unlikely to find large tracts of land in the city centre (increasingly, anywhere) to build new pools/rinks/fields. As far as I know, developers are not incentivized to build these sorts of community-centre amenities alongside developments. While I’ve always been a big fan of the existence of our park board, I increasingly wonder if it being distinct from city council really just lets council punt community amenity discussion out of “prime” discussions, to somewhere no one really cares about (if you’re to judge by average number of votes it takes to win a seat come election time).

I don’t have answers, but do have some things I wonder about:

  1. Could/should the city strike some sort of deal with UBC to allow community groups access to UBC facilities at a deal closer to what they pay for city amenities? What if the city bought all the available slots at UBC and then re-apportioned them via the existing city model? I don’t know enough about the political/fiscal relationship between Vancouver & UBC to know how possible that might be. If only from an operational/staffing view, a single purchase-source would be good.
  2. The Park Board’s operational & capital plans are being set for the future. Much like the issue with class-sizes & schools, they strike me as being planned for what’s there now (and not nearly enough), not what is coming in the future, regarding population size. But, I recognize they’re incredibly resource-constrained (both budgetary & physically). I don’t know what the answer is to that, outside of investment from perhaps all 3 levels of government & private enterprise. I’ve been historically averse to having corporate sponsors of community amenities, but if that would, say, double the available pools & rinks and/or cut costs by some significant %, maybe it would be worth it.
  3. Open up school resources more, including private schools, perhaps via the same methods as with UBC. Ontario’s LCBO gets good deals on booze by being (I think) the world’s largest single buyer of alcohol. Why couldn’t the city of Vancouver do that for space on behalf of the residents, and let associations just have one source, at, hopefully, lower costs, rather than various small associations all competing with each other across various sources?