“The pen is mightier than the sword.”
So wrote English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his 1839 play Richelieu: Or the Conspiracy, although seventh century BC Assyrian sage Ahigar is reported to have written “The word is mightier than the sword.”
I have been thinking about these quotations over the past week as a result of the tragic Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris and other related events. I cannot help but admire the bravery of the journalists who were murdered and the phenomenal response by people around the world. On Sunday, the sight of world leaders marching arm in arm in front of more than a million people through the streets of Paris is something I will never forget.
We can only hope that this tragedy will lead to a better understanding of the concerns of Muslims, Christians and Jews in France and greater world harmony. However, I am not overly optimistic that this will happen in my lifetime.
Last week we lost another great journalist. Vancouver writer Sean Rossiter died after a decade-long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
As repeatedly noted in other obituaries, Sean was universally regarded as a great writer, but more importantly, a true gentleman.
He authored 26 books on various topics but was best known to many of us in the architectural, planning and development community as the author of the “Twelfth and Cambie” column, which appeared monthly in Vancouver Magazine from summer 1975 until fall 1991.
In one of his last columns in June 1991, “City Hall Wins One For The Bureaucrats,” he wrote about the Bayshore project and my failed attempt to get permission to develop a residential tower on piers in the marina in return for extending a public pier at the end of Denman Street, linking it to the shoreline with an Amsterdam bridge.
As he wrote, “One reason the planner gave for turning thumbs-down on the tower-in-the-water was that there aren’t a lot of examples of towers on waterfront in Vancouver. No wonder! It is noteworthy that the only alderman who voted for it was the only newcomer to civic politics, the only truly open-mind on council, Tung Chan.”
Twenty four years later, I still think it is a shame Vancouver does not have a lively public pier and more places to gather along the waterfront.
During the ’70s and ’80s, Sean was the only Vancouver journalist regularly writing about architecture and urban issues. Each month, architects around the city would eagerly await the next issue of Vancouver Magazine to see what topic he was tackling. He often wrote about the importance of protecting older buildings while saluting visionary architects and planners.
In 2007, in one of his last books, Sean collaborated with Mike Harcourt and Ken Cameron on City Making in Paradise: Nine Decisions that Saved Vancouver. For those who have not yet read it, the book describes, amongst other things, the efforts to save Strathcona, the creation of the Agricultural Land Reserve, Expo ’86 and the remaking of False Creek, and the important role played by the GVRD and Regional Planning.
Sean was one of the founding directors of Vancouver’s Urbanarium Society, along with former chief planner Ray Spaxman, architects Richard Henriquez and Frank Musson, landscape architect Jane Durante and others. The goal of the society was to create a special museum similar to those found in Singapore and Shanghai, housing a large model of the city and other displays. It would be a place where one could discuss future projects and plans and important urban topics.
With Sean’s help, the Urbanarium Society launched the Builders of Vancouver series, which profiled architects, engineers and other personalities who helped create our city.
Today, former Urbanarium directors, along with Leslie Van Duzer, head of the UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, are continuing to explore the feasibility of creating an Urbanarium for Vancouver.
I hope they succeed so we can one day wander through the Sean Rossiter Gallery.
Sean Rossiter leaves behind his wife, Terri Wershler, and other family members. A memorial service is being held tomorrow (Jan. 15) at 4:30 p.m. at Dr. Sun Yat Sen Garden.
Rest in peace, Sean.