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Some notes on Barcamp Vancouver 2009 (part 1)

Barcamp Vancouver 2009, based on the “ad-hoc un-conference born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment,” happened last Saturday Oct.3 at Discovery Parks Vancouver.

It was a blast, and props to the organizers, which included Boris Mann (whose booming voice was the first thing I heard when I entered the office complex – and whose blog post on Barcamp you can read here). In addition, there is a host (such an appropriate word!) of others who should be singled out for thanks, but I’m too ignorant of how many are actually in that near-invisible choir, and would merely expose my ignorance as well as affront the excluded if I tried to list the few I’m aware of. But to everyone who helped get this thing in gear: well-done, and thank-you so much!

So what did I see and hear? In the interest of shorter blog posts, I’ll break this up into a couple of posts.

Here’s part 1:

The first session I participated in set the bar really high in terms of scope of project, physical presence/resources, and political/community energy: it was led by April Smith, Magnus Thyvold, and Irwin Oostindie, all three of whom are key motivators, instigators, and keepers of the flame at the new W2 Community Media Arts center in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). The center is set to open in January 2010, just in time to facilitate (among many other things) a citizen media space around the Winter Olympics:

W2 features a 200-capacity performance space, community TV studio, FM radio station, gallery, social enterprise café, letterpress studio, telepresence and mobile media programs, and more. (source)


W2 Community Media Art is set to open in time for the Olympics at Woodward’s, with Fearless City Mobile, True North Media House, and a full slate of social and community media platforms (FM radio, cable TV, satellite TV, fibre optic network, telepresence, mobile, printing, and creative technology incubator) available for the Downtown Eastside, the city, and international partners.(source)

What really interested me is how the center came about. Like most cities, Vancouver has had policies in place around what planning departments and developers sometimes call bonus density.

It works (roughly) like this: let’s say an area in town is zoned for a density of 3:1, which can mean you’re allowed to build 3 square feet of usable space for each 1 square foot of buildable land. In really broad terms, a 3:1 zoning might mean a 3-story building. But when faced with existing zoning that doesn’t make the right business sense, a developer can go to the city and ask for a rezoning that gives him more density. In that case, the city might in turn extract from the developer an amenity (or two) in exchange for the additional density. In other words, city planning departments design bonus density policies to extract amenities for the community from developers who wish to build higher or denser than current zoning permits (and as everyone knows, Vancouver has had stellar planners for a while now).

That’s what happened around W2, which is housed in the old Woodward’s Building. The city of Vancouver had purchased the site in 2003. Well over a year later (in September 2004), City Council chose the developer Westbank (in conjunction with Peterson Investment Group and Henriquez Partners as architects) to develop the property, which has in turn become an amenity-rich project in accordance with extensive community consultation.

Westbank received a huge bonus density (which helps ensure profits for them), but in return, the city has a rehabbed facility (and heritage property) that will serve as an arts and community hub for a variety of groups. It’s a non-zero-sum game where 1 plus 1 adds up to 3.

What will W2 do that’s so tech-related and amazing? It’s best to go to their overview page for a full run-down, but in brief: this is a unique, first-in-Canada center for new media, with full studio services (made available to “the community,” and rented out at cost to professional users). They’re serious about an economic model that will allow them to run for the long-term (see their W2 Social Enterprises description, too).

There’s a performance space (presumably also great for tech community events like Democamp, Barcamp, or NorthernVoice); a Creative Technology Incubator; a Crossmedia Lab (with a true multi-platform environment tailored to multimedia production using cutting edge digital technology); and lots of other tech-digital-media-community goodness. Check out their Impact page for what W2 expects to accomplish.

Coming up later, part 2: Raul Pacheco on why Freelance is not Free.