Is the world becoming a scarier place?

When driving, I love to surf the radio for songs that I haven’t heard for awhile – mostly golden oldies.  However, sometimes I channel surf for stations that play new music, to hear what is happening in the contemporary music scene.  Often, the songs are rap music-like and I don’t really relate to the beat +/or the lyrics.

But one day last week my attention was grabbed by a song with lyrics like:

  • we checked our guns at the door   
  • psychopath sitting next to you   
  • the murderer sitting next to you
  • newcomers have a certain smell
  • they can smell your intentions
These two young girls were part of a Saturday afternoon Zombie walk in Mexico City that included many young children and very graphic costumes.  The amazing thing was that it was a fun family event with over 10,000 people of all ages having fun? These two girls with their parents permission willingly posed for this photo with big smiles. 

These two young girls were part of a Saturday afternoon Zombie walk in Mexico City that included many young children and very graphic costumes.  The amazing thing was that it was a fun family event with over 10,000 people of all ages having fun? These two girls with their parents permission willingly posed for this photo with big smiles. 


The words haunted me for the next hour. Then, later that same day, on my drive home, the song was on again. Once home, I immediately looked up the song online to get the title and lyrics…

Heathens by Twenty One Pilots

All my friends are heathens. Take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don't make any sudden moves
You don't know the half of the abuse

All my friends are heathens. Take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don't make any sudden moves
You don't know the half of the abuse

Welcome to the room of people
Who have rooms of people that they loved one day
Docked away
Just because we check the guns at the door
Doesn't mean our brains will change from hand grenades

You'll never know the psychopath sitting next to you
You'll never know the murderer sitting next to you
You'll think, "How'd I get here, sitting next to you?"
But after all I've said
Please don't forget

All my friends are heathens. Take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don't make any sudden moves
You don't know the half of the abuse

We don't deal with outsiders very well
They say newcomers have a certain smell
You have trust issues, not to mention
They say they can smell your intentions

You'll never know the freakshow sitting next to you
You'll have some weird people sitting next to you
You'll think, "How'd I get here, sitting next to you?"
But after all I've said
Please don't forget
(Watch it, watch it)

All my friends are heathens. Take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don't make any sudden moves
You don't know the half of the abuse

All my friends are heathens. Take it slow
(Watch it)
Wait for them to ask you who you know
(Watch it)
Please, all my friends are heathens. Take it slow
(Watch it)
Wait for them to ask you who you know

Why'd you come, you knew you should have stayed
I tried to warn you just to stay away
And now they're outside ready to bust
It looks like you might be one of us

Link: Heathens video

Twenty One Pilots:  Background

Twenty One Pilots is an American musical duo from Columbus, Ohio that was formed in 2009.  The duo brings a mix of piano (sometimes an electronic keyboard or a keytar), synthesizer, drums (sometimes mixed with electronic drums), vocals, and occasionally a ukulele. Their songs are usually poetry-based (written by duo Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun); Joseph has stated that when poetry is too long, he needs to start rapping to fit the lyrics in. 

People typically have trouble affiliating the band to a specific genre to describe them, since they bridge so many. However many fans (and themselves to a degree) have labeled their genre as "Schizophrenic pop" (also known as Schizoid pop), a technically unofficial subgenre of pop

Although many of their songs contain allusions to Christian theology and have messages (even if implied) about God, and all members of the band (past and present) are Christians, Twenty One Pilots is not considered a Christian band

The successful single “Heathens” was recorded for the soundtrack of the 2016 American superhero film Suicide Squad now playing in theatres and reporting strong box office success - $732 million US to date. 

Link: Wikipedia Twenty One Pilots

Link: What does “Heathens” by Twenty One Pilots Mean

Calgary the new Detroit?

I am not known to be an overly sensitive guy (some might argue I’m not a sensitive guy at all). Maybe I am just a little moreso, these days given the Calgary shooting death of Mylan Hicks, a member of the recent Calgary Stampeders football team or because of all the senseless violence that seems to dominate the media today.

For a long time, Calgarians and Canadians have believed (and many still do) that senseless violence, religious and racial hatred doesn’t exist in our communities.  I think our bubble has burst, or at least mine has.

Ironically, Hick’s mother thought it was great that he was getting out of Detroit and living in Calgary where he would be safer.  While nobody would confuse Calgary with Detroit when it comes to personal safety, we shouldn’t stick our heads in the sand - our city is not as safe as it once was – and neither is the bigger world we share.

And that is an opinion echoed by Calgarians in the Calgary Foundation’s recent 2016 Vital Signs Report.  Citizens were asked, “In what ways if any, has the quality of life in Calgary declined noticeably over the past two years,” and answered with “increased violent crime, gangs and drugs.”

Last Word

More and more, I hear friends and colleagues say they are planning their vacations based on where they perceive it is safe to travel. When I told people I loved Mexico City, they would respond, “I would never go to Mexico City or anywhere in Mexico. It isn’t safe?”  Others have said they won’t travel to Europe, as you never know when or where the next suicide bomber will strike.  And they can’t be blamed, as tourist terrorism is a reality in today’s world.

Link: Soft Targets and Tourist Terrorism

Is it just me? Am I becoming overly sensitive in my old age? Or do others feel the world we share is becoming a scarier place?

I’d love to hear what you think.

If you like this blog you might like:

Mexico City vs Calgary: Private Space vs Public Space

Mexico City: Full of Surprises




Pescara, Italy: One Damn Good Day or 4.5 Hour Lunch

This guest blog is by Gaelen Taylor who I have known since he was 8 years old when I became his Big Brother.  Fast-forward to January 2016 at age 28, he decided to quit his engineering job with Imperial Oil in Edmonton to pursue his keen interest in composing electronic music in Berlin. Since then, he has been publishing regular blogs about his experience.  When I received this blog about his Italian family lunch experience (10 courses and 4.5 hours), I thought it would be fun read for Everyday Tourist readers.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Pescara, Italy: One Damn Good Day!

About a month ago, I rolled the dice of fate and booked a vacation with Diego, an Italian classmate in my German class.

Pescara Italy

I really didn’t know Diego that well, but decided nothing would be better than to be accompanied by an Italian in Italy - to experience Italy like an Italian. (Especially since I’d experienced his culinary talents when he made handmade pasta for my visiting father and me at a restaurant he is part of in Berlin.) And since Diego, his partner Roberta, and child Amelie were going back to see both of their families (they both come from a small coastal city on the west coast of Italy called Pescara), it just seemed right to take the opportunity. 

I slept about an hour the night before the flight to Rome. The night before that I also had very few quality hours of sleep after the SIN festival (Gaelen has formed a collective of techno-musicians in Berlin called SIN aka Strength In Numbers). After incurring what felt like debilitating neck injuries uncomfortable plane seats (not helped by nonstop kicks from the Italian kid beside me who seemed to think he had both seats), we landed. I woke to enormous applause. I thought this was a bit strange, but maybe everyone claps when the pilot lands the plane on domestic flights in Europe.

But as I looked around, everyone was so excited - like children going to Disneyland - which I had not seen anywhere else on my European travels. The reason, I concluded, was they were all “home” - and for these Italians, this was the highlight of their year as home was something very special to them.

As we rushed from the plane towards the bus (Pescara is a 3-hour bus ride from Rome), my legs felt like jelly as my body started to complain about the effects of sleeplessness.

Once on the air-conditioned bus, I fell asleep instantly, only to be awoken by stabbing neck pains (why do I always forget those neck cushions?). As I tried not to move my neck too fast in fear of being paralyzed, I tilted my head to the window and one of the most scenic images filled my view. We were in the mountains now and I could see a plain of small villages below, with other villages literally built right into the rock face - like a bunch of mountain goats eating grass on an impossibly steep rock face. 

I smiled and closed my eyes. I had no idea what I was getting into - and that for me, is exciting.


We exited the bus in the scorching 35 degree C heat. I suddenly heard loud intense screams and cries. It sounded like someone had just been shot. My glance scans around for danger - and then I see it - grown men running to their mothers screaming MAMAAAAAA! Cars start pulling over with people getting out and running to embrace each other. Did we just come back from war?

Roberta’s father comes eliciting similar embraces. There is no room in the car for four travelers and our bags so Roberta and Amelie get into the car while Diego and I walk to the house just 600 meters away. We had to hurry though – Italian lunch (and one of the most incredible eating experiences of my life) was waiting.

Diego, also a victim of sleep deprivation (though his was mostly due to excitement) was filled with adrenaline and smiles as we rushed down the scenic Pescara alleyways to the house. We arrive and met his father - a non-stop Italian prankster in his 70s who looks and moves like he is in his 60s. After we settle in, people start showing up, each time involved screaming, yelling, clapping, kissing and embracing - continually surprising me from the previous moments of reasonable volumes of talking.

After seemingly nonstop, celebrity-style arrivals, the first plates of food arrived. A humble bottle of red and rose wine sit on the table - something which I later learned you can never empty - Italian households have an infinite stock despite the modest appearance of two bottles.

The 4.5 Hour Lunch

Now what I am about to describe is surely the top - or close to top-eating experiences of my life. Partly because of how delicious it was, partly because of the atmosphere and people, and most definitely because of the sheer surprise of how the lunch unfolded. You will ask as you read - how could we have possibly digested that much? Well, we ate for 4.5 hours. And no exaggeration- 4.5 hours of nonstop Italian food. So loosen up your belt.

First course: Appetizers

  • Fresh tomatoes from Diego’s father’s garden, which taste unlike any tomato I have ever had.
  • Pecorino
  • Fresh salsiccia (like homemade Italian peperoni-type-deliciousness)

Second course: Pasta

  • Hand made fettuccine in fresh hand made tomato sauce

Third course: More Pasta

  • Hand made (seeing a theme here?) ravioli with vegetable and ricotta filling.

Fourth course:  Fresh Cheese

  • Fresh mozzarella from cow’s milk. Tastes unlike no other mozzarella I have ever had.

Fifth course: Delicious Meats

  • These were the moistest, most delicious meatballs ever. I actually asked Diego what meat they were made of. Turns out just regular beef but ridiculously moist and tender. I have no idea what sorcery was involved in making them.

Sixth course: ArrosticiniAbruzzesi

  • Abruzzesi is the region that Pescara is in – and arrosticini is the dish that makes grown men cry.
  • Essentially, it is lamb on wooden skewers, but I can’t describe how insane this stuff tastes. It was so tender and full of taste that most often people eat these until they get sick (no lie)!

Let’s take a moment to talk about our lord and saviour, Arrosticini: 

One thing to know about arrosticini is the specific way of cooking it. There are special made grills for just this purpose. Here are some photos I have collected of arrosticini grills:


Diego's Father - arrosticini maste

Diego's Father - arrosticini maste

Industrial grade arrosticini cooking - over 100 at a time

Industrial grade arrosticini cooking - over 100 at a time

Tall Tale Teller?

At this point, Diego’s father starts telling stories of how serious of an eater he is (all in Italian which required translation for me). One time he said he ate 50 oysters and later that night he needed to go to the hospital where he stayed for a week. He stands by his belief he only ate 2 or 3 too many (not maybe 40 that is likely more accurate).

Another story bubbles up regarding eating a kilogram of mushrooms. However, it ends in the same fashion (hospital). This is a new class of eating – where, at times, a hospital visit from overeating is needed.

Back to the 4.5 hour lunch

Seventh course: More Fresh Cheese

  • Buffalo mozzarella, much firmer than mozzarella from cow’s milk and a bit sharper in taste. This one is my new favourite.
  • Fresh made ricotta. It felt like you were eating clouds.

Eighth course: Cake from heaven

  • Diego’s mother used to be a professional baker at a local cake shop.
  • The cake was some form of Italian ricotta cheese cake. I can’t even begin to describe it but it was amazing.
  • She made sure to tell me that it “was nothing” and that I should have seen and tasted her baking in her younger days!
  • Also, I witness the first time she ever tried the cake, which is ridiculous given she’s made it for years.

Ninth course: Hand made Gelato and homegrown melon

  • There were about 7 flavours. Pistachio and melon were out of this world - like way out. At this point, I am so high up on the stairway to culinary heaven; I cannot speak (also because I am so full).

Tenth course: Diego’s mother’s special coffee and “coffee killer”

  • The coffee was made up of a secret combination of different kinds of coffee – really tasty and insanely strong. I have no idea how she made it - it wasn’t espresso and she could only make ONE at a time.
  • Grappa, the “coffee killer” is a form of schnapps made from wine. I hear the Grappa and coffee are to help your body process all of the food you just consumed.
Mama's  coffee - really needed at this point 

Mama's  coffee - really needed at this point 

Grappa - the coffee killer

Grappa - the coffee killer


Walk It Off!

Oh and your wine glass is never empty throughout the course of this lunch. 

At the end, they all said I was the first foreigner to eat every dish they prepared - I felt as if I had just received a medal from the Italian President.

Pretty tipsy from all the wine and so full I could barely speak without sounding like Jabba the Hut, I rolled out of my chair in ecstasy and went for a walk with Diego and his father.

During the walk, we stopped every 2 minutes to talk to people they knew. The walk was very good for the digestion – if you ever do this Italian power circuit of food, you must not sit afterwards. You must keep moving!

So tired afterwards, we went back to Roberta’s father’s house where we were staying. My head hit the pillow and I was asleep instantly.

It was one damn good day!
Diego and his father heading out for a walk! LOL!

Diego and his father heading out for a walk! LOL!

Last Word

Gaelan’s experience reminded me of my amazing seven-course with wine pairings gastronomic experience at Restaurant Le Cinq in Paris (one of the top restaurants in the world) with renowned Calgary food and restaurant critic John Gilchrist.  I was very, very lucky to be the “stand in” for John’s wife Catherine who was unable to make it. I am forever in her and his debt.

Nelson BC: Fun, Funky & Quirky

A recent visit to Nelson BC, brought many smiles to our faces as we explored its streets and back alleys.  Nelson might just be Canada’s most bohemian community

It started right from the “get-go” when we checked in at the Adventure Hotel and were dazzled by the psychedelic carpet staircase - inspired by an “acid dream I am sure.” 

The staircase at the Adventure Hotel is like walking on a neon sign. 

After a day of driving (with stops to check out downtown Fernie and thrift stores in Creston), we were anxious to do some flaneuring. We immediately found the two-storey  Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History located in a former Post Office building built in 1902. Once inside, we were quickly immersed in a fantasy world of strange goblins and creatures from the imagination of artist Jude Griebel; this was a good start.  

The fantasy world of Griebel is weird and wacky, the head in the foreground is made of bones. 

Then after checking out Touchstones’ museum, we headed to Nelson’s Main Street (aka Baker Street) for some window licking fun as most of the stores had closed by then. We stumbled upon Relish - what a fun name for a restaurant!  The place had a good buzz, we were thirsty and hungry so in we went. 

Just one of the many fun window reflections along Baker Street.

A cold glass each of Harvest Moon Organic Hemp Ale from the Nelson Brewery Company (NBC) quenched our thirst.  I think NBC should win some type of award for the best beer names – Paddywack, Faceplant, AfterDark and Full Nelson!  My amazing burger with brie and apple still has me salivating.

After a little more street and alley wandering, we called it a day.  

The evening light filters through the tree lined downtown streets to create an eerie canopy. 

Day 2: I thought I was going to die!

Up early, we decided to check out the Oso Negro Café, which research told is the best place in town for breakfast. Expecting a small bohemian café, we were stunned by the amazing urban café atmosphere mixed with an enchanting garden setting.  Service was friendly and efficient so the long line up moved quickly.  The place was full of people of all ages - adults chatting, kids playing and nobody on their phone or computer.  How quirky is that?

The Oso Negro cafe has the most inviting garden I have ever encountered. It is both private and public at the same time. The light is magical. It may well be the best place to sit that I have ever experienced.  They even have a map that tells you what all the plants are. 

It was a beautiful day so I had to check out the local Granite Pointe golf course.  Being a single golfer, it was easy to walk on. What wasn’t so was to walk the golf course (even for a seasoned walker like me).  I had a quick debate with the Pro Shop attendant if the course was walkable and we agreed I could probably do it.  He showed me the hill at hole #10 and said that is the biggest climb. It was a gradual climb so didn’t look too intimidating. 

Walking down the 9th hole I was feeling pretty good about my decision to walk the course.

So off I went, clubs on my back, to enjoy what looked like a walk in the park. The front nine wasn’t bad - the views of the city, lake and mountains were spectacular.  I climbed the 10th but it was harder than I had imagined - going down 11 seemed just as hard as going up.  By the 14th I knew I was in trouble.  I was dragging my butt and wondering if I could finish; this had never happened to me before.  “Am I really getting that old?” I had to ask myself.  I finished - but just barely - as 18 was another climb up a hill to a green guarded by a huge granite rock. If I hit the rock who knows where the ball would go and I certainly wasn’t going to go looking for it.  Fortunately, I hit the green, parred the hole, got into my car and headed straight to the Adventure Hotel for a couple of those NBC beers. 

The hill climbing provided wonderful view of the lake and mountains. 

Dinner was at Itza Pizza across the street from the Adventure Hotel as I didn’t have the energy to wander too far.  The sign said best pizza in town and we also learned that back in 2011, Rick Nelson, Itza’s owner and pizza maker was one of four chefs across Canada to compete in Canadian Pizza Magazine’s (who knew there was a pizza magazine, let alone a Canadian one) best Canadian pizza contest. While Nelson didn’t win, he still makes a great pizza.  We had front row seats to Nelson’s street ballet on Itza’s street patio located on the parking spot in front of the restaurant – very urban.   We enjoyed our Harvest Pizza with pesto, sundried tomato, apples, smoked gruyere, roasted red peppers and pickled capers.

Unfortunately I had no energy left to check out the blues band playing across the street that night at Finley’s Bar and Grill across the street.  

Day 3: Caffeine Heaven

Rested, it was back to Oso Negro Café for a repeat breakfast.  By this time we were thinking this must be the best café in the world.

On the way, we noticed a sleazy looking mannequin standing in the back alley. We had to check it out.  It was in front of a funky looking hair salon, which we didn’t think was open at 8 am, but when I peaked in there were people inside and we were invited in to the “Chop Shop.”  Turns out this 50s themed salon/museum was featured on Slice Network’s “Chop Shop” Show.    

Who could resist checking out a barber pole like this one? Not us!

The Chop Shop the most unique and friendliest barbershop I have ever encountered. 

When we arrived at Oso Negro, we were again in caffeine heaven.  It is the perfect place to start the morning as the garden was bathed in early morning sunshine. We lingered for over an hour, people watching and enjoying our muffins and Oso Negro coffee, which we found out is roasted just a few blocks away.

Another view of Oso Negro garden, sorry I don't think even if I included 10 photos I could capture the wonderful sense of place. 

Another view of Oso Negro garden, sorry I don't think even if I included 10 photos I could capture the wonderful sense of place. 

While Brenda went off to do more thrifting, I went to take photos of the buildings, streets, alleys and shops.  As I was wandering, I discovered the west end of Baker Street was closed for a flower street market.  The street was full of characters from the lady trying to sell worm farms to another lady giving her little dog a drink of water out of a baby bottle. I did say Nelson was fun, funky and quirky, didn’t I? 

There are many wonderful turn of the century buildings like this courthouse in downtown Nelson

Electric Circus books and records had this amazing collection of Beat books. It was a wonderful place to explore.

This flower shop in an alley has a wonderful European ambience. 

Found this wall of seeds in a quirky grocery/garden shop. 

The Baker Street Plant Market attracted an eclectic crowd to downtown.

Then it was off to check out Cottonwood Falls and adjacent Railtown district at the west end of Baker Street. The falls, a hidden gem, though small it packs a big punch -as the water crashing over the black rocks creates a mist that, combined with the sunlight, is ethereal.

Cottonwood Falls is tucked away in a small industrial park on the west end of downtown. 

We next met up with Alex, who toured us through the Nelson Brewery Company building, with all its shiny hardware and hoses creating what looks like a madman’s laboratory – there is even a door that says, “laboratory!” NBC is brewed in funky- looking old building that has been a brewery for over 100 years, so this isn’t some new kid on the craft brewery block, rather something that has evolved over the past century.

As all NBC beers are organic, you have to drink them reasonably quickly (they have a best before date), which I see as a bonus. If you want a tour, fill out the form on the website and they will get back to you quickly.

NBC's brewery is like a mad scientists lab.

Dinner was the Smokehouse BBQ, which is as authentic as you can get thousands of kilometers from southern USA with its plywood and corrugated steel interior. Order from the kitchen window and your meal is brought to you in a cardboard take-away box even if you are eating in.  We grabbed a window seat and chowed down on a finger licking good meal of ribs and pulled pork that was as good as anything we had in Austin Texas (unfortunately, it’s not licensed to serve alcohol).

El Taco is a very popular spot for locals. Did you know that on a per capital basis Nelson has more restaurants than New York City?

While there, we were treated to a steady stream of people picking up their Smokehouse BBQ orders as well as people heading to El Taco restaurant across the street.  As we left, we asked a young Nelsonian enjoying his pizza from Thor’s Pizzeria next to the Smokehouse what he knew about El Taco and he said it is very good and very popular with the locals.  He also added Thor’s has the best pizza in town.

Then it was off for an evening walk along the waterfront pathway. While the pathway along the West Arm of Kootenay Lake is lovely, the place was surprisingly deserted, even on a warm mid-May evening.

The waterfront pathway is a lovely walk along the lake which even has a beach at the bridge. We expected to find lots of people walking and cycling along the pathway, but it was deserted.   

One of the many lovely reflections of the boats in the water along the pathway. 

Last Word

We had a great time in Nelson; our only regrets are we didn’t have enough time to check out all of the great dining spots and that we didn’t do the Pulpit Rock trail which locals highly recommended for its great views. 

A big surprise was that while Nelson has a reputation of being a great art town, there aren’t  many art galleries and lots of the art (galleries, public art and street art) we saw was not as professional and contemporary as we expected. 

Street Art mixes with graffiti on this garage door. 

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that given Nelson’s reputation as the marijuana growing capital of Canada, we didn’t see or smell any evidence of it wherever we travelled in the city.


While we didn't see or smell the use of marijuana, there is a store on Baker Street next to the CIBC building where you can buy it, like you are buying an ice cream cone or perhaps some gelato. There were at least 50 flavours.  

Urban planning / Travel / Participant Observer?

My recent blog about urban planning not being a science but more of an art, got lots of comments from the public and planners, some in support and some in disagreement. 

As a result, I have been giving more thought to different approaches to urban planning and city building and the importance of the “power of observation” i.e. what works and what doesn’t in creating vibrant cities. 

I have always been intrigued by the idea of the role a “participant observer’’ plays in understanding the world we share, how we live together in urban places and how we shape our urban spaces. 

I have often thought of myself - rightly or wrongly - as “participant observer.” 

Mexico City and many other cities close down a City Centre street on Sunday to create a fun carnival experience. Why doesn't every city?

So I checked with colleague Harry Hiller, Urban Sociologist at the University of Calgary to see if he could with what is a “participant observer.”

Hiller quickly emailed back:

“Participant observation is a concept and research strategy that is
rooted in the scientific or scholarly community.  As such, it requires the utilization of the logic and canons of science.  This does not mean others cannot engage in participant observation, but it often has a less rigorous procedure.  
From a scientific perspective, we begin with a literature review in order to know what is already known about a topic and how that knowledge was discovered.  Then a research plan is established that seeks to isolate explanatory variables for that phenomenon and then to alert the researcher for the link between variables that are desired to be tested.  
So before going out into the field of research, a careful plan and set of objectives are established first that clarify what to look for, the pitfalls in doing so, and above all, an empirical strategy is created that allows one to speak to results within a carefully designed framework.  
This does not mean no one else can observe things as a participant, but it does mean that a researcher is more aware of how their presence as a participant affects the results and it means that observing is structured by a background of knowledge and a research plan.  
Perhaps one difference from journalism is that the researcher engages in research like this to make a carefully planned contribution to knowledge with some sense of certainty about the results and how they are to be evaluated.  
There are many "observers" of urban planning actions and consequences who bring their own biases to bear in their evaluations, but a good researcher is open to a variety of outcomes and can weigh the results with more depth.  
That is the challenge!”

A challenge indeed, by this definition I am definitely not a "participant observer," as I am certainly not that rigourous as flaneur cities aimlessly, enjoying the urban surprises.

In Dublin transit, pedestrians, cyclists and drivers all share the road. Travel opens everyone's eyes to new possibilities in urban design and sharing space.

Top Planners Are Often Participant Observers

While doing some Internet searching, I found an interesting 2014 article from the American Planning Association’s magazine. Written by Reid Ewing, a professor of city and metropolitan planning at the University of Utah, he referenced a 2009 poll of Planetizen (an independent resource for people passionate about planning and related fields) members asking them who the believe have been the “Top Thinkers vs. Top Academics” in the history of urban planning.  Ewing noted,  “Topping the list was Jane Jacobs, the ultimate participant-observer, who analyzed the built environment from her apartment in Greenwich Village and wrote in poetic fashion.  

Also high on the list were Allan Jacobs (no relation to Jane), Donald Appleyard and William H. Whyte all participant observers in Ewing’s mind.  He concludes, “observational methods seem particularly well suited to urban design.”

One of thousands of public open houses and workshops held every year in Calgary to engage the public in how their city should evolve short and long term, big and small projects.

We are all observers!

I have often thought many tourists are quasi “participant observers.” When you travel to a new place, you are looking with “fresh eyes” and often wonder “why don’t we have a park, street, museum, store, café, festival etc. like this in our city?” or “why does this seem to work better here than back home?”

Sometimes the thinking stops at just wondering. Other times it may go further as one tries to understand the rationale for what works and what doesn’t in making our city a more attractive place to live, work and play. More and more the public is becoming more engaged in designing the evolution of their community and city with their participation in workshops, open houses and Council meetings.

Post-it notes are essential to any public meeting/workshop.

Last Word

Today, as community engagement has become the norm for projects big and small on a community, citywide and regional basis. More and more, politicians, planners and developers are realizing the value of getting a diversity of citizen input (even if some is diametrically opposed and some isn’t feasible) to capture the hidden expertise that comes from the average person’s observation and day-to-day experience of their community, as well as experiences when travelling in other cities.


One could say, “it takes more than just academics to create a great community/city.”


If you like this blog, you will like:

Mexico City: Full of Fun Surprises

Ten Commandments Of A Flaneur

Urban planning is an art not a science.