October 2, 2020

Growing a community, one garden at a time

Plants with Neighbours for the Bees sign
One of the micro street corner gardens with “Neighbours for the Bees” sign

Back in 2008, when I was living in Surrey, BC, I stumbled upon a grassy, vacant lot and an age-old idea: a community garden where the area’s townhouse residents could grow their own veggies and compost their food scraps. It never materialized beyond a blog post, “Community solutions for food security and urban health“, and today — I did some Street View sleuthing — there’s another cookie-cutter house on the lot. So be it.

Fast forward to 2020. We’re currently 6 months into a pandemic, there are issues with food security (still), and seed sales are through the roof. We need each other more than ever, but we have to stay apart. That doesn’t mean we can’t come together on solutions.

Continue reading Growing a community, one garden at a time »

November 28, 2016

7 reasons why buying local is better (year round)

Trout Lake farmers market in the autumn

As Cyber Monday and the Black Friday weekend chaos comes to a close, I’m reflecting on a weekend where I practiced Buy Nothing Day on Friday, and bought things only from local makers and small businesses since then. My year-round preference is to shop local, but I’m writing about this now because it’s the start of BC Buy Local week.

As you plan your holiday shopping — or any shopping — keep local businesses top of mind. Here’s why:

1) Buying local keeps more money in the local economy. According to LOCO BC‘s 2013 stats, for every $100 spent at a local business, $46 goes back into the local economy. That’s 2.6x more than at multi-national chains ($18 out of every $100).

2) Supporting local businesses also translates into more jobs for locals. In fact, “a 1% increase in BC consumer spending creates 3100 jobs and $94 million in annual wages to BC workers” (LOCO BC). Those wages in turn recirculate if spent locally.

3) Supporting local businesses supports a network: local businesses tend to buy from other locals, including producers, services providers and credit unions/banks. According to LOCO, local businesses also give five times more per dollar of revenue to charities in their communities.

4) Local businesses are more personal. As a repeat customer at several local shops, the owners and staff know my preferences, buying history and sometimes my name — and I know theirs. (“How was your trip?” asked Maria who co-owns the deli, several days after I told her about weekend plans.) The relationship makes shopping there a pleasant experience, in addition to the more relaxed atmosphere. This is one way of building a vibrant and trusting community.

5) Belonging and pride of place are enhanced when a neighbourhood has the conviviality of public life. Local businesses are a great way to meet other locals and newcomers and build social connection. They also contribute to a more meaningful experience outside…

6) Local small businesses contribute to a vibrant streetscape. Architect Jan Gehl, interviewed in Charles Montgomery’s Happy City, says: “… what attracts people to stop and linger and look, will invariably be other people. Activity in human life is the greatest attraction in cities. … If you make more space for people, you get more people and of course then you get public life” (pp150-151). And Montgomery writes that “studies of seniors living in Montreal found that elderly people who lived on blocks that had front porches and stoops actually had stronger legs and hands than those living on more barren blocks.” The latter could include streets with big-box stores. “Meanwhile, those who could actually walk to shops and services were more likely to volunteer, visit other people, and stay active” (163). I can’t think of a better reason to make sure we keep small businesses healthy.

7) Local businesses offer another great social advantage: meeting the makers. Farmers markets and craft fairs are great examples of this, but there are others with brick-and-mortar shops such as Melk art & design on Clark Dr., which I visited during the East Side Culture Crawl, and Under the Umbrella on Lonsdale Ave. where the makers take turns tending the co-operative shop. This offers opportunities to hear the story behind objects and learn where materials come from. (The handle on my razor is made from cherry wood found in West Vancouver.) And there are plenty of places to find higher-quality and sustainably-made goods among the locally-run shops. My client Second Nature Home Boutique stocks plenty of goods by local makers year-round.

If you’re a local business owner or employee, join me at LOCO BC’s next monthly mixer, Tuesday December 6th on Granville Island.

Find a local business using LOCO BC’s member map/list and join the conversation on social media by tagging your Instagram posts with #BCbuylocal. BC Buy Local week runs through December 4th.

October 19, 2016

What a new economy looks like

What if our economic system was modelled after natural systems? What if business operated collaboratively instead of competitively? What if companies’ shareholders and beneficiaries were their own community?

Most of us live in a broken system where the distribution of monetary wealth is becoming increasingly top-heavy, and the consequences of this push down and exploit the people at the bottom of the ladder instead of uplifting everyone. But there are entrepreneurs around the globe working with a different set of values and a different idea of what wealth means. Named after this alternative vision, A New Economy is a heavily-researched film from director Trevor Meier looking at democratic, cooperative and equality-driven ventures in various cities, mainly in Canada. It asks: “What if working together for the good of all was the most common business model?” The team pored over hundreds of case studies and whittled them down to seven inspiring social innovators for this film, including Vancouver’s own Sole Food farms, where employee and interviewee Lyle speaks with heartbreaking candour. Profiled ventures also include a cooperative brewery, an innovative independent hotel, and an open-source tech company.

David Suzuki pointed out that the economy is a human invention that we anthropomorphise and worship. It becomes the centre of everything at the expense of not only our planet but our people. It’s not sustainable (endless growth is not possible on a finite planet), and is given higher importance than what we truly value or need: family, friends, food, clean air and water, culture, community. The new economy innovators turn this on its head for a sustainable, human-centred approach.

Another approach not explored in this film is the gift economy. I recently listened to a very inspiring Permaculture Podcast interview with permaculturist Ethan Hughes in which he talks about this alternative form of sharing and spreading wealth. It’s well worth your time.

Ticket proceeds from the first film screening were donated to Sole Food — $2,742.90 that stays in the local economy and helps 35 people to keep making a big difference in a small city.

A New Economy screens again Tuesday, November 15th at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver. Get your $10 ticket quickly — the first one sold out! Not in Vancouver? Check out their other screenings or host your own. See also this review and interview from The Georgia Straight.

May 30, 2016

Get in gear for the 10th annual Bike to Work Week

Bike the Blossoms riders (2014)
Enjoying Bike the Blossoms in Vancouver

I have to admit, I miss my bike commute. (I bet you’ll rarely hear a driver say that about their car commute!) I cycled to work during the warmer months for about three years, which was, for the majority of that time, 21km each way. (Yes, it’s doable!) Sometimes on my morning ride, I took the False Creek sea wall and really enjoyed it. If you haven’t yet discovered the bliss of biking to work and your commute is under 25km, this week is a perfect one to start. Today is Bike Day in Canada and the start of the 10th annual Bike to Work Week spring edition, ending June 5. While I don’t get to enjoy the thrill and freshness of an early morning ride anymore, I can attest to how awesome biking to work is. Here’s my take.

Continue reading Get in gear for the 10th annual Bike to Work Week »

May 25, 2016

Reflecting on ten years of blogging

It’s hard to believe I’ve been chronicling my life and interests online for a decade now. I started with a brief Blogger blog before moving to Movable Type where it stayed until today, the tenth anniversary. So with that, here’s my relaunch on WordPress (“about damn time!” you’re probably thinking, and yes) and a little recap of where the last ten years have taken me.

  • I graduated from Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design University, had four jobs (2 design studios, a non-profit and a mobile tech start-up), and started a business
  • I’ve lived in three municipalities; in my current one I live a stone’s throw from the hospital where I was born!
  • I haven’t aged one bit since entering my thirties (yeah right)
  • There are 9 unfinished blog posts and 367 published
  • I developed connections with several local bloggers
  • My blog was noticed by Natural Health magazine, which published some of my zero waste tips and a brief profile in 2015
  • I continue to get traffic to posts about monoculture and biodiversity and why bikes are good for Vancouver (updated for an upcoming article in my local paper’s cycling column)
  • I learned a second content management system and a third programming language
  • iPhones and iPads came on the scene, changing my design process and making things more fun and more complex at the same time
  • Since starting my business a little over three years ago, I’ve worked with more than 30 non-profit and small business clients, for which I’m grateful, and I probably need to blog more often about the amazing work they’re doing
  • I took up cycling (and became addicted), stand-up paddling, knitting, gardening and hiking. Also protesting!

My blog has been chronically neglected for a long time, and to be frank that’s probably not going to change. Facebook tends to absorb ideas into short blurbs rather than researched exploration or an illustrated story. I do enjoy writing, however, and I’m hoping that this new content management system will facilitate more of it.

If you’ve been here before, thanks for coming back. If this is your first time, take a gander. There’s a decade’s worth of reading material!

January 18, 2016

Are you a Radical Doer?

Last summer I joined the 2015 RADIUS Fellows and other social entrepreneurs on a train tour to meet like-minded changemakers in Seattle and Portland. Through that event and (quite awesome) RADIUS events prior to that, I learned about what other passionate and forward-thinking entrepreneurs are building in Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest. I can only begin to imagine what the Fellowship is like after spending three days with amazing, interesting and friendly people — from Vancouver and elsewhere in BC — on the tour.

RADIUS SFU is now accepting applications for the 2016 Fellowship through January 28th:

“Once a year, the RADIUS Fellows program opens applications to bring together a cohort of emerging Radical Doers from the SFU community and the Lower Mainland. We are looking for the next generation of untamed social entrepreneurs and innovators who are early on their changemaking journey, demonstrating remarkable accomplishment and a relentless dedication to creating positive, sustainable impact in all they do.”

Does this sound like you or someone you know? Apply or find out more today!

October 11, 2015

8 ways to get informed and involved in Canada’s 2015 federal election

Men spray-painting Vote all over wall

The last nine years of Harper rule have seen a strategic dismantling of environmental protections, an increase in surveillance, muzzling of scientists, laws designed to limit our ability to protest our government, and contempt for democracy itself. (It doesn’t end there: see The Tyee’s compilation of “70 Harper government assaults on democracy and the law”.)

It’s time to fix that in what may be the most important election Canada has ever seen. Let’s not just get Canada back — let’s make it better (as my friend Faisal Moola says). I believe the most important thing we Canadians can do is get out and vote en masse. With 61.1% of eligible voters casting a ballot in 2011 and the Conservatives winning a majority with the support of only about a quarter of eligible voters, we have major room for improvement. Less than 40% of 18- to 24-year-olds voted. If you have friends, neighbours or family who don’t vote, especially if they’re between 18 and 30, please encourage them (gently, non-judgementally, and non-partisanally) to vote on October 19th. Let’s vote in a government that can restore our Canadian pride!

Here are some great organizations and some sources of data to help you get out the vote, get informed and help others find reliable information.


Victoria, BC-based Dogwood Initiative has a great resource to help British Columbians identify candidates in their riding who share their values. Candidates in all ridings were sent a ten-question survey around issues like oil pipeline expansion, Bill C-51 and the current state of democracy in our country. Responses from candidates who obliged are online. VoteBC.ca also includes current polling data.

Want to get involved? Calling Dogwood supporters is key to getting voters to the polls. You can help out by joining a phone banking party or canvassing. (I’ve been volunteering with Dogwood Initiative since summer 2014.)


“Leadnow’s Vote Together campaign connects the millions of people who want change on October 19th with the information and tools they need to defeat the Harper Conservatives.” The Vote Together website offers at-a-glance information about party policies on issues Leadnow’s community cares about, including democratic reform, a fair economy and a clean environment. Enter your postal code to see how your candidates are performing in local polls. Don’t forget to sign the pledge to Vote Together.

Want to get involved? There are plenty of ways to volunteer until the election.


OpenMedia.ca created a crowd-sourced platform for digital rights in Canada, covering privacy, access and free expression. Pledge to vote for “affordable access, free expression, and a surveillance-free Internet” and encourage your candidate to sign up to be a pro-Internet candidate. OpenMedia’s policies, informed by real Canadians, is also outlined on the website.

Promote the Vote

Promote the Vote encourages and empowers Canadians to increase voter turnout and engagement by having conversations with their friends and family about voting. Promote the Vote offers resources and engagement leadership workshops on dialogue. Check out the website for upcoming events in the Metro Vancouver area. (Workshops ahead of the election have now finished.)

Join Promote the Vote and Reel Causes for a screening of The Price We Pay on October 14th in Vancouver. By donation, with proceeds to Promote the Vote (non-partisan, not-for-profit).

David Suzuki Foundation’s election pledge

Tell our federal leaders you’re voting for bold leadership on the environment and climate change. Take the pledge.

Vote Compass

Vote Compass shows you how your views align with those of the candidates running for election.” It is “an educational tool developed by political scientists designed to help you explore how you fit in Canada’s political landscape.” I found the results of this one really interesting when I used it before the previous election. (May require some patience loading.)

Polling data

threehundredeight.com polling data is visualized on the poll tracker at CBC.ca.

Make a social media profile photo

Use this easy tool at VoteNation.ca to let your friends know you’re voting.

Are you registered to vote? Make sure you are: visit Elections Canada’s website or call 1-800-463-6868.

June 15, 2015

9 ways to green your home office

Office chalkboard

I’m very pleased to announce that in addition to my home office, my website is now bullfrogpowered® with 100% green electricity thanks to Ethical Host. It’s just one of many ways I walk the talk. To help you make a difference at work, here are nine tips to make your home office more earth-friendly.*

1. Use a chalkboard for ideas, to-dos and notes instead of paper. I like having my to-do list or projects list in front of my face, but I grew tired of managing scrap paper and rewriting notes when they got messy. I also wanted some motivational quotes nearby that I could change at will. Paint a chalkboard wall or board with VOC-free latex paint — available from Benjamin Moore in any colour — and use real chalk, not chalk pens. Wipe it off with an old sponge or a rag, rather than paper towels. Chalkboards are great for being non-committal. Get different colours of chalk to colour-code projects on a hand-made calendar, which could be a temporary or permanent feature.

2. Bullfrogpower your pad (if you know how much energy you use) and use energy-efficient lighting (LEDs or compact fluorescents). My monthly Bullfrogpower fee is less than $2, or about 10% of my electricity bill, but all of us together really adds up to a big positive impact! If you can, position your desk to take advantage of natural light. If you can see out a window, even better, so your eyes can get a break.

Continue reading 9 ways to green your home office »

March 16, 2015

8 reasons why I’m voting YES in the transit referendum

Car Free Day 2009

I get around everywhere by bike, public transit and on foot. So when my mayor presented the Mayors’ Council plan during a HUB committee meeting, I was super excited. More SeaBus? B-Lines in my neighbourhood? Bike lanes? YES!

All this and more needs to be funded somehow. There’s a lot of fact-slinging, grumbling and even partying happening, so I thought I’d offer my own personal reasons for supporting the plan. And some info along with it.

Here’s why I’m voting YES:

1. Safe cycling paths are the best!

More safe cycling paths means cyclists like myself — and those usually less comfortable riding in the city — can get to their destinations more easily. 2700 more kilometres of bike paths will encourage more people to take up cycling as a convenient, fast, safe and fun way to get around. Check out my 6+ reasons why bikes are good for Vancouver.

Erika lifting bike

I’m this excited. (Photo by Pia Massie)

2. 50% more SeaBus service, woo!

10-minute SeaBus service at peak times at 15-minute service otherwise will literally change my life. It’s so stressful to miss — or almost miss — one, especially when buses in my neighbourhood often fail to make this critical connection at rush hour. More frequent SeaBus means more freedom in our schedules. I’d hardly need to look at the time. Leave when you want, and you won’t have to wait long. I think this will be a huge draw for people who currently deal with backed-up bridge traffic. Speaking of which…

Continue reading 8 reasons why I’m voting YES in the transit referendum »

February 5, 2015

11 phases to a successful website design

Fair Share BC

Websites can be complex beasts. So the common question, “how much does a website cost?” is pretty similar to “how much does a house cost?” The simple answer is, it depends. There are so many factors that determine a website’s cost or time to build — as with a house — that there is no single answer. But with enough information, an estimate can be made for yours.

Websites, like anything else one designs, don’t appear magically — they’re the end result of a thoughtful and collaborative process that takes time. To take some of the sticker shock out of the price tag of websites, here’s what a typical successful website design process looks like, along with some tips:


How do you describe the character of your organization? What are your website goals? Who are your current and desired audiences? I could go on, but the quality of this first phase determines the outcome. The more accurate the answers are, the fewer revisions and mistakes will occur down the road. This is a good time to tell your designer* if your audience is, for example, over 75 or if they’re mostly in a rural area. Different audiences’ needs are different. Be as specific as you can.

“Poor user experiences inevitably come from poorly informed design teams.”

— Jared M. Spool, founder of User Interface Engineering


I’m giving this its own phase, though research is also included in other phases such as discovery and usability testing. I’m by no means an expert on all the types of research, so I’ll point you to Erika Hall’s Just Enough Research for a great overview (and more). Responding to a common objection of “we don’t have time” to do research, she says: “You don’t have time to be wrong about your assumptions.”

Continue reading 11 phases to a successful website design »