Oh, the irony

by Yule Heibel on March 9, 2011

Today our city “leaders” voted to go ahead with a new Johnson Street Bridge project that excludes rail. See this article for skeletal information: Victoria council decides not to include rail as part of the new Johnson Street bridge. See also Ross Crockford’s piece in yesterday’s paper, No need for panic on bridge decision, which hits on some important points.

Regardless of all counter-arguments, city council (with the exception of Counc. Geoff Young) voted to kill the 122-year old rail link into the city today.

Imagine the cognitive dissonance I also experienced today as, walking my dog, I saw a poster for a local upcoming TEDx conference – TED, which stands for progressive thinking and innovation. What did the local organizers of TEDxJuanDeFuca use to illustrate their poster? Why, an image of the bridge that our city council has voted to destroy (along with any hope for rail on the new bridge – already dubbed Fortin’s Folly in “honor” of Victoria’s mayor)…

Do the innovators around TED understand something our city leaders don’t? The old bridge is unique and iconic, and maybe they intuitively grasp that one builds on that DNA (versus destroying it). Unique and iconic is a damn good basis for innovation and transformation.


Incidentally, while I’m at it: note that TEDxJuanDeFuca will be held at the Vancouver Island Technology Park, which bills itself as the city’s (or region’s) tech hub. But I wonder where the tech community was when the battle to save the existing Johnson Street Bridge – and the rail line it currently carries – was being waged by JohnsonStreetBridge.ORG and its supporters. Why was there no awareness of rail’s significance for technology and innovation in our city? Consider that, over on Quora, Robert Scoble answered the question, Why are so many tech companies based in the San Francisco Bay Area?, with a pointed reference to the significance in Silicon Valley of the railroad. Please read the whole text, it’s a great little history and analysis of what made Silicon Valley become Silicon Valley. Scoble writes :

First, this is a railroad town. It wouldn’t have existed without it. Literally. First of all, if you go and visit the Santa Clara train depot inside is a museum. One of the photos on the wall is of this depot with NOTHING around it. Today it is the hub of Silicon Valley. Inside the rail yard, too, is one of the first computers used in Silicon Valley. It’s an interlocking machine. Basically controlled the the flow of trains in and out of the rail yard. These were the first “geek machines” along with communications, and other systems. That drew the first “geeky types” out west, to build systems for the railroads. Many liked the area and stayed.

The railway also brought a few other things…

Scoble goes on to enumerate those “few other things,” including how railroad wealth (concentrated in the hands of Leland Stanford) eventually created Stanford University. And how the railway right-of-way provided the path for laying internet cables and fiber. Traveling on top of those lines are the trains – commuter trains – that bring workers from San Francisco to Palo Alto (and vice versa). Now isn’t that interesting? Silicon Valley’s railway was integral to growing a robust regional ecosystem – one that could survive. Kill the railway, and you’ve preemptively killed whatever ecosystem it could be sustaining.

We used to have trains running from downtown Victoria to Sidney. No more. We still have a train track running from Nanaimo into downtown Victoria. Soon to be no more – it will end outside of downtown, in Victoria West, thanks to Fortin’s Folly.

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