Lifelong Learning

Crocus shoots from this January

Lifelong Learning has become a given for many of us in our post-millennial culture, in order to keep up with the knowledge economy and to promote intellectual and emotional health. This can mean going back to school to finish a degree, to pursue an additional level of education, or to take a brand new direction altogether. But, traditional routes to further education, like university and college programs, are becoming increasingly financially inaccessible, leaving many folks behind. Even famed tuition-free college, Cooper Union, may begin charging their students.

While the loss of widely accessible education is deeply troubling for our culture, there are new educational resources that are attempting to fill this gap, particularly online. Coursera is one of the more promising start ups in this area, offering free courses from well-regarded universities around the world. I’m also impressed by this list, 12 Dozen Places To Educate Yourself Online For Free, for the autodidacts among us.

I suspect that credits from institutions like Coursera will begin to carry more weight on resumés, but I also worry that they’ll become part of the demarcation between elites who can afford traditional routes to higher education and the rest of society. We shall see.

But what about those of us who want to add to our skills without committing to a two or four year program? Free resources like Coursera or reasonably-priced versions like Udemy are great for online learning, but there’s also in-person options like Trade Schools popping up here and there. (At Vancouver’s Trade School this month, they’re offering classes on Career Planning, Writer’s Block, and Performance Poetry.)

As for me, I’ve signed up for Codecademy, where I can top up my web skills for free. I’ve wanted to do that for a while, but haven’t wanted to commit to a course. Now, I can do it at my own pace, in my spare time.

What are your tips for lifelong learning?

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Bourgeois Populism

New pizza place opening soon on Victoria Drive.

I was telling a friend today that I’m a mixture of the bourgeois and the populist. Well, neither of those words is a perfect match for me, but that’s what I came up with today. My blog reflects this, with my definition of community encompassing everything from social justice issues to local shopping. One must embrace the contradictions of one’s nature, I suppose.

Sometimes though, the mixture can be a little hard to handle.

Today, I took the photo at the top of the post. I always have contradictory feelings when I see a new restaurant starting up in the neighbourhood. I like the expansion of food choices within walking distance, but fear the trend these openings represent. Right now, we have a number of produce vendors, food markets, and small merchants along the Drive. These are the sort of businesses that get pushed out with gentrification.

Our neighbourhood also seems to have been promised to developers for mid-rise, suburban-style condos. The number of rezonings approved by council is rapidly increasing. Long-time residents, who support independent businesses, are being pushed out of the neighbourhood. I suspect they will be replaced with folks with a suburban perspective, along with greater demand for chain stores and restaurants.

I like my mixed-income, (somewhat) diverse neighbourhood, that’s still able to support a video store, an old school diner, and a walkable street culture. Decrying the expensive, car-centric housing developments that are slated for this area gets one dismissed as an out-of-touch NIMBY. But what about the community that exists here? Surely there’s a way to preserve it, one of the most functional neighbourhoods in the city, while making room for new businesses that add to the ambiance?

I suppose not.

Income Inequality and Unrest

In the midst of all the news about the riots in England, I couldn’t help but think about the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us. I grew up in a time of relative prosperity (for white, middle-class kids like me, anyway) and the gap between the wealthy and most of us was much, much less. University was a given for many of us and it was affordable. Canada’s Medicare system was so much the status quo that it never occurred to us that it could be challenged or eroded.

Now, I realize my nieces and nephews have grown up into a world where none of this is guaranteed or even expected. In Britain, where class and race inequality are even more entrenched, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a youth today.

There’s been a lot of good analysis of both the English riots and the growth of income inequality. Rather than re-hashing their points, I’d like to share some links with you.

While Alternet can always be relied upon for good analysis, one of the best posts I’ve seen about the riots in London comes from the blog Penny Red: Panic on the Streets of London

Here in Canada, The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has come out with a number of reports and multimedia tools on the subjects of income inequality and poverty:

Canada’s Income Gap

The Cost of Poverty in BC

And finally, another article from Alternet, pointing out the awful absurdities that occur in a culture committed to widening the income gap:

$230,000 for a Guard Dog

100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day – Vancouver Parade & Festival

It felt good to march in the International Women’s Day parade today – great energy and a wide spectrum of participants. The march ran from McSpadden Park down Commercial Drive and up Adanac Street to the WISE Hall. I skipped the community festival, as the little dog had had enough by that point, but the crowd was amazing, filling the hall and spilling out onto the street.

Here are some pre-march photos for you:

More, not Less

When we think of community, it’s usually in the context of what the members of a community have in common. It can be more difficult to remember that none of the communities we belong to are monolithic.

How do we make our communities accessible, whether they are communities of interest, identity or geography? What makes a neighbourhood/event/discussion safe and accessible?

Defensiveness is often the response to these questions. But this defensiveness only serves to break down community. Being open to critique and change can only strengthen it.

Curb cuts and bike lanes are hard-won concessions that increase everyone’s ability to get around a neighbourhood. Providing precise accessibility information for events lets people know if it’s possible to attend and also leads to the awareness needed to plan more inclusively in the future. Identifying our areas of privilege can help us to stop erasing or ignoring the experiences and contributions of others. Stepping back when asked to by people whose experience of privilege is different from your own doesn’t diminish community; it widens it.

What Lies Ahead

It is a commonplace that those who reach middle age lament the world that has passed and rail against the one that is coming into being. I keep that in mind when I feel curmudgeonly, but I don’t let that stop me from making my mind up about the rights and wrongs of our time.

I come from the generation whose grandparents experienced life in Canada without universal medicare or unemployment insurance. Our parents came of age here in the era of the greatest prosperity and the narrowest class gap of all time. Now, the gap between rich and poor is widening at a frightening rate and medicare is hardly likely to survive into my old age. In the face of these pressures, communities are engaging in discussions about food security and re-discovering techniques for self-sufficiency. Others are discussing the impacts of unchecked development, both within cities and on agricultural land.

I don’t mean to suggest that we return to a mythical golden era; we’ve certainly made strides in human rights and equality since then. I just believe that much is being lost right now that puts the best of our culture at risk.

This post is the introduction to a series of occasional posts about my neighbourhood and region, where I’ll explore my thoughts and fears about the suburbanization of the city, the loss of agricultural land and the growing economic gap that will affect city dwellers and outliers alike.