Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Adam Vaughan Puts Forward Motion On Info Pillars

Recommendations from Adam Vaughan's motion to be debated at City Council this week
A few weeks ago, after the installation the hideous Astral Media info pillar on Bloor and Spadina (and various other locations around the city), I wrote a post about how they impeded pedestrian flow by taking up sometimes more than 1/3 of the sidewalk. I also wrote an email to Adam Vaughan, the councillor in my ward, expressing my concern.

It seems I wasn't the only one worried about the placement of these ad pillars. Vaughan has put forth a motion for debate at City Council this week, seconded by Janet Davis, that aims to look at the placement of the pillars, asking for relocation of pillars that take up more than 1/3 of the sidewalk. The motion also asks for pillars to be removed where they obstruct site lines, and that Astral Media be required to restore decorative paving where the installation of the pillar has left a giant concrete block in the middle of the street.

Vaughan included several photographs that showed where pillars blocked too much sidewalk space, obstructed site lines, and ruined decorative street paving.

What surprised me most, however, was the recommendation that "City Council direct the appropriate City staff to create a system that notifies local Councillors and local BIAs of placement before installation so that conflicts with existing sidewalk uses are avoided."

I find it incredible that councillors were not aware of the location of the pillars before they were installed. This leads to the obvious question of who got to decide where these info pillars were placed? Astral Media? City staff? Regardless of whether it was the company or the City, councillors should definitely get a heads-up before these things are rooted into the ground and cause problems.

You can read up on some of the other motions being put forward at City Council this week, including naming rights, backyard chickens, and side guards on trucks, on Torontoist.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Map Breaks Down Vancouver Voting Patterns

The glorious map of voting patterns by divsion
Frances Bula, journalist for the Globe and Mail, pointed out this amazing interactive Google map that breaks down Vancouver voter patterns by division, giving you the numbers for mayor and party. Knock yourselves out. Bula has some interesting number crunching on her own blog from these stats. What's most interesting about this breakdown is what this reveals about the city if Vancouver were ever to approve a ward-based system, where councillors run in specific ridings or wards, instead of the current at-large, where councillors are elected city-wide.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dear Voter: It Doesn't Stop After the Election

Vancouver City Hall. Photo by Foxtongue from Flickr
Elections have always given me a rush. I remember the first time I got to vote, standing in a long line outside of an elementary school, waiting to mark an X on a piece of paper that somehow, amazingly, was going to contribute to determining the future of my community. It's like doing a giant puzzle with a whole bunch of strangers, except you don't know what the final image will be.

City politics may not always consist of grand, fiery debates over health care reform or foreign policy or that ever-elusive beast the economy. But each decision at council, be it a rezoning, a development approval, a new by-law, a decision to spend money on this instead of that, affects your day-to-day life as an urbanite greatly. That sidewalk you walk on, that road you drive on, that bus you take, that water you drink, that poop you flush--all of it belongs to the realm of your city government. And you should pay attention to what they do in between elections.

You can attend meetings and council sessions. You can even watch online in your own home with no pants on if that's your thing (it's often my thing). Some of it may be mind-numbingly boring. I won't lie. You may not understand everything at first. And no one will fault you for zoning out for a minute to play Angry Birds on your phone.

You can write emails to your councillors. You can even tweet at some of them or be their friend on Facebook. Sometimes they even write back. The good ones, anyway. You're their boss, after all. Why give them a performance evaluation only once every few years? Tell them what you think of what they're doing. Give them suggestions. Help them do a better job.

Only 34% of people in Vancouver managed to get out and vote in the November 19th election. And that pitiful number is actual an increase over the 2008 election when it was 31%. That means that 66% of people in Vancouver decided they didn't really care about who ran their city for the next three years.

You may not think you care, but you do. If you care about your roads, transit, water, sewage, electricity, arts, libraries, parks, recreation, police, bikes, street festivals, affordable housing, and homelessness, then you care what your councillors are doing in between those election dates. If we didn't have a city government we would all be floating in a void, like in The Matrix before they program stuff in.

If you want to keep up to date on Vancouver City Council, watch meetings online and read agendas, click here.

If you're in Toronto (or like me and have a toe in both cities) and want to do the same for Toronto City Council then check out the calendar which has links to meetings and agendas. You can also watch council sessions online at RogersTV.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Twitter Guide to the *New* City of Vancouver

"Tweet tweet, rezoning, tweet tweet" photo by Porfirio on Flickr (cc)
Twitter's not all about what you ate for breakfast or how cute your cat can be (although mine is frequently about the latter). It's also a good place to follow your local politicians and get the scoop about what's going on in the city. Here's a list of the Twitter accounts for the new City Council, Park Board, and School Board in Vancouver. I've also included a few candidates that weren't elected that are good to follow. Please add freely in the comments section.

Vision Vancouver - @visionvancouver
NPA - @npavancouver
COPE - @copevancouver

Greenest City - @greenestcity
Vancouver Park Board - @parkboard
Vancouver Archives - @vanarchives
City of Vancouver - @cityofvancouver


Vision Vancouver 
Gregor Robertson - @mayorgregor
Heather Deal - @vanrealdeal
Geoff Meggs - @geoffmeggs
Andrea Reimer - @andreareimer
Tim Stevenson - None
Tony Tang - None
Kerry Jang - None
Raymond Louie - None

George Affleck - @george_affleck
Elizabeth Ball - @elizabeth_ball

Adriane Carr - @adrianecarr

School Board

Vision Vancouver
Patti Bacchus - @pattibacchus
Mike Lombardi - @lombardimike
Ken Clement - None
Cherie Payne - @cheriepayne
Rob Wynen - @robwynen

Ken Denike - @ubcken
Sophia Woo - @woo_sophia
Fraser Ballantyne - @frasergb

Allan Wong - None

Park Board

Vision Vancouver
Constance Barnes - @constancebarnes
Sarah Blyth - @sarahblyth
Aaron Jasper - @aaron_jasper
Niki Sharma - @nikisharma2
Trevor Loke - @trevorloke

Melissa De Genova - @melissadegenova (hasn't tweet yet)
John Coupar - @johnccoupar


Sandy Garossino (Independent) - @garossino 
RJ Aquino (COPE) - @ayoslang
Ellen Woodsworth (COPE) - @ellenwoodsworth
Mike Klassan (NPA) - @mikeklassen
Brent Granby (COPE) - @brentgranby
Sean Bickerton (NPA) - @seanbickerton

[edit: I've just been alerted by Andrea Reimer (via Twitter! See? It works!) that you can find the full list of City agencies and their respective Twitter, YouTube and Facebook accounts up on the City's website, so be sure to check it out]

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Vancouver Election a Lesson in Every Vote Counts

Election results by division from Vancouver.ca
Last night I had some friends over for dinner, but as 11pm rolled around my thoughts were elsewhere. That's because all the way over on the other side of the country in my former city of Vancouver, where the time was just 8pm, the polls had just closed on what had become a pretty heated municipal election.

It was hard to gauge what the real feeling was like in Vancouver from my perch over here in Toronto where all I had to go on was Twitter, blogs, and newspapers. As polls rolled in that showed Suzanne Anton's NPA closing in on Gregor Robertson's Vision Vancouver--a trend attributed by the media mostly to the Occupy Vancouver protests--I started to wonder if Robertson could really lose a campaign that seemed like such a sure shot only a few weeks ago.

Well, wonder did not turn to reality. Vision has swept back in with a majority on council, taking the top seven spots, with the NPA taking spots eight and nine and, amazingly, Adriane Carr of the Greens squeaking into spot number ten. Sadly, COPE saw themselves shut out, which is a disappointment.

But as the night went on, it was the bottom spot on council where the action really was. As each wave of polls were reported (I think I almost broke the refresh button on my browser), the results for the bottom seat changed. It was the NPA's Bill Yuen, then it was the NPA's Mike Klassen, then COPE's Ellen Woodsworth began bubbling upwards, then it was Green's Adriane Carr, then Yuen again.

With all the polls reporting except one in the West End, even with Yuen still sitting in spot number ten, it was pretty clear that Carr was going to get that last council seat. The West End is her territory after all. I remember in past Provincial elections when I used to live in the West End, seeing Carr standing on street corners with BC Green Party volunteers back when she was the leader of that party.

At the end of the night, Carr won the seat over COPE's Ellen Woodsworth by a mere 91 votes. Let me say that again. 91 votes. You could squish that many people onto a bus if you really wanted to. If there was ever a lesson in every vote counts, that was it.

I'm sad to see Woodsworth lose the spot as I think she is a great, capable and down-to-earth councillor. I remember her showing up briefly to the magazine launch of OCW Magazine with bicycle helmet under arm to say hello, back when I was Managing Editor there. Out of all the councillors we invited, she was the only one who showed up.

The next time you hear someone say their vote doesn't count, you can point to that result. 91 people. That's all it took.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Photo: Concrete Annex planter boxes get festive

These festive Martha Stewartesque arrangements of evergreen, coloured sticks, and pinecones have appeared in the hideously ugly concrete planter boxes outside of my apartment on Bloor Street. I am happy for them, one, because I love all things wintry and Christmasy, and, two, because perhaps they will thwart those heathens who decide that planter boxes are a good place to stash spent cigarettes and beer cans. Last year, when the snow finally melted, it revealed a gag-inducing pile of soggy, yellow butts.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Toronto's new info pillars block sidewalk with ads

Newly installed InfoToGo pillar at Bloor and Spadina
Yesterday, I mentioned AstralMedia's street furniture contract with the City of Toronto in relation to community message boards, but they also are responsible for installing what are called InfoToGo pillars around the city. These pillars are supposed to help with wayfinding, allowing tourists to orient themselves.  The new design, however, contains very little info. And by little info, I mean it has no info. Nada. Unless of course you count learning about FibeTV from Bell information.

The two largest sides of the pillar contain spots for advertising, while the skinny spine on the side is the part that is going to eventually contain some sort of map (right now it just says: Welcome to Toronto).

The advertisements encroaching into public space is one thing, but the awful and inconsiderate placement of these new pillars is another thing entirely. I first noticed this after a pillar was installed on Bloor and Spadina just outside of Fresh restaurant. The pillar takes up about one third of the sidewalk for no other purpose than to advertise. This is in a busy intersection that sees a lot of pedestrian traffic in the city, which could potentially create problems for people using assistive-mobility devices or those with strollers.

Street furniture placed in the public right of way, like benches, bus shelters, and bike racks, at least have a purpose. About 80% of the purpose of the info pillar is to display advertising, which makes this a poor use of the public right of way. If we have to have these things in Toronto, more thought and care needs to go into their placement and orientation on sidewalks to make sure they don't impede on pedestrian flow.

Compare this to Vancouver's info pillars, which the city began installing before the 2010 Olympics and continued afterward. As I wrote a few months ago, the vast majority of the pillars contain no advertising (ads are placed on one side of larger info pillars on some downtown commercial streets). The pillars are also skinny and oriented in such a way so they don't take up a lot of sidewalk space. Score one for Vancouver.

You can read more about these in this article by Steve Kupferman over at Torontoist.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Annex BIA installs anti-poster sleeves on light posts

Posters scraped off light pole on Bloor and Walmer
I noticed a few days ago that all of the posters had been scraped off the light poles on Bloor Street and thought it was just routine cleaning. That is until the next morning I stumbled upon workers who were wrapping the light poles with a tape-repellent sleeve that is supposed to keep posters off of them.

I first wrote about this back in February of 2011 for Torontoist, so it has taken the BIA quite some time to get things going. These sleeves are already in use just a few blocks west on Bloor in Koreatown. And, if you've ever walked down there, you'll notice that there are still lots of posters up on the light poles. All it takes is wrapping the tape securely all the way around the pole to keep your poster up.

Indeed, shortly after the sleeves were installed, I came across blank pieces of paper that had been taped to the poles in exactly that manner. In the bottom of each read: Annex Public Space.

Same light pole, but with new anti-poster sleeve and fresh Annex Public Space poster
As I wrote in that initial article, posters are an integral part of community expression. Many of the posters found on lamp poles are for lost cats, garage sales, and community services like guitar lessons. AstralMedia, through a 20 year street furniture contract with the City of Toronto, is supposed to be installing community message boards where people are allowed to put up posters. These official poster boards, while more are being installed, are few and far between.