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my dream city

By Aaren Madden, September 2012

It’s the latest word from the city-wide conversation on height, density and marrying new with old.

By April 30, 2014, Victoria’s skyline may have a new benchmark for what’s considered to be acceptable height. That’s the expected completion date for Promontory, a 21-storey condominium tower that will emerge from a hilltop in Vic West. At least until the Hudson tower is completed, Promontory, currently only a very large hole blasted into bedrock, will, at 66.3 metres, be the tallest building in a city where height can be a major contention. 

Skylines speak volumes about a city. Given its height and position in the landscape—off to one side of Downtown’s main core where it will stand out—Promontory will make a strong contemporary statement, even as it attempts to balance that with material choices that reference the site’s history.

By Aaren Madden, June 2011

Locavores may be disappointed to know the “local” label on restaurant food doesn’t always mean it’s from around here.

The best farming advice Tom Henry ever got came from established Metchosin farmers John and Lorraine Buchanan. Their words? “Don’t do it.” To which Henry and wife Violaine Mitchell, determined to expand their farm, replied, “No. We’re gonna do it.” To which the Buchanans repeated, “Don’t. Do. It.” 

Now, six years later, they partner on many projects. At first, “they just really tried to scare the shit out of us,” Henry laughs. 

By Aaren Madden, May 2011

With income and housing accessible for all, people in Janine Bandcroft’s dream city would be free to live their values.

It’s the late 1980s and Janine Bandcroft, a student at De Anza College in Cupertino, California, is filled with trepidation. Her History of Latin America teacher has urged her class to engage in social change instead of just studying it, so she ventures out to a meeting of the local Communist party. But instead of braving the red menace, she feels her entire worldview shift.

By Aaren Madden, April 2011

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond believes the most important thing Victoria can build for its kids is community.

Once when I was a child, my mother became suddenly ill. My sister and I were at school, so my younger brother Dustin set out to find her some help. He walked a block to the bus stop, waited, boarded the bus and told the driver to take him to a doctor. Dustin had just turned three at the time. With no way of knowing who this child belonged to, the flabbergasted driver drove him one stop and deposited him on the counter of the corner store—“John’s Store.” Upon seeing my brother’s familiar blond mop, John called my ailing mother. “He’ll be fine here with me,” he assured her. Dustin gleefully sat on the counter taking customers’ money until suppertime, when John brought him home, my mother now recovered. All was well (though admittedly, Mom was somewhat mortified). 

By Aaren Madden, March 2011

The energy-efficient home could well be the radical seed that develops into a green city.

Some houses have enough air leaks that, added together, would equal the diameter of a basketball. But if you seal them all without reworking your ventilation, you can end up with nasty mould, even sick-building syndrome. A house has to breathe. 

The process by which it is made to breathe in an optimal fashion is what Peter Sundberg, executive director of City Green Solutions, calls building science. “It’s actually just the systems approach. When you change one thing in a home, it impacts something else,” Sundberg explains. He assures me that often the solution can be as simple as the right bathroom fan.

By Aaren Madden, February 2011

Jane Baigent’s fascination with rocks have nurtured her love of place.

One evening last fall, I sat at one of several tables in the new Vic West Community Centre with a few neighbours. There we were presented with a large map of the block of Craigflower Road containing the Spiral Café, Sailor Jack kids’ consignment and all the other great shops my family frequents.

by Aaren Madden, January 2011

Victoria’s newest media source focuses on diversity for democracy’s sake. (They’re not in it for the money.)

The coffee shop is empty save for Andrew Ainsley and Chris Johnson, who are seated at a round wooden table concentrating on nearly-identical glowing white laptops that contrast with the knickknacks and scuffed pine and fir of table and floor. When I enter, they look up, fold their computers closed and slide them off the table in one smooth motion. As the main forces behind B Channel (, they squeeze work in wherever possible. 

By Aaren Madden, December 2010

With Fiona Hyslop in charge, “Safe Harbour” would be our city’s guiding theme.

There are stories, and there is history. Stories feed history, animating dates and facts, defining moments, people, families, and places. “We all have histories—individuals and cities—that shape who or what we are,” says volunteer-extraordinaire Fiona Hyslop as we sit in a Pandora Avenue coffee shop. Her own history draws from far-reaching places and experiences, yet roots deeply into the history and geography of this city. 

by Aaren Madden, November 2010

For “economic artist” Donna Morton, sharing power in its many forms is essential to a healthy community.

Donna Morton imagines a scene taking place in the near future in the Hesquiaht community on Vancouver Island’s west coast. A wind tower, adorned by local carvers, stands tall behind the beautiful new school in Hot Springs Cove. Its turbine churns slowly and silently. On the shore in the tower’s shadow, the entire community watches a barge retreat, slowly and silently, to the horizon. It carries the community’s odious diesel-powered generator into the mist.

by Aaren Madden, October 2010

Karel Roessingh sees transportation system improvements just waiting to be taken from the waste stream.

Awhile back, my fella Warren and I bought a 1985 Volkswagen Westfalia. Then we swapped out the engine for a diesel from a 1997 Volkswagen Golf. Ultimate goal? Running on 100 percent biodiesel. Lower emissions, renewable fuel source, all that. 

Enter Karel Roessingh, accomplished arranger, composer and pianist, current Highlands councillor and former mayor. Along with engineering consultant Don Goodeve and Victoria Symphony violist Kenji Fuse (musicians and biofuels, what gives?), Roessingh co-founded the Island Biodiesel Co-op in 2007. He braids the three seemingly disparate skeins of his life together at his Highlands home, where I met him one morning with a dual purpose: talking dream cities and joining the Island Biodiesel Co-op.

by Aaren Madden, September 2010

Environmental activist Zoe Blunt focusses on protecting the places she loves.

For Zoe Blunt, the health of our ecosystems and the sustainability of our cities depends on the same thing: a paradigm shift, in which wilderness, community and human connection to the land are the most valuable currency. It starts with seeing things as they really are, and protecting that which makes a place unique.

by Aaren Madden, August 2010

Calvin Sandborn of the Environmental Law Centre stands on guard for the environment and public interest.

Every year, a volume of oil equal to the Exxon Valdez spill is carried into Puget Sound through stormwater runoff. This is due to the 20th-century’s fixation with pavement, which, instead of letting natural systems do their work, sends rainwater away through pipes as if it were garbage, rather than the resource it is. In our region, the ramifications are felt and seen as threats to public health (polluted beaches), food security (local shellfish beds closed due to contamination), environment and ecology (the spawning salmon used to be so thick in Colquitz Creek, you could walk across them), and overall quality of life. 

by Aaren Madden. Photo by Tony Bounsall. July 2010

Bringing people together to create positive change for youth at risk, and others, is the practical, ethical path for Helen Hughes.