Saturday, June 25, 2011


Vacation June 25 - July 15th

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

(This article was originally published June 7, 2011 on Torontoist)

"This is why we can’t have nice things." That was a comment left on an article Torontoist published on the spectacular and sudden demise of the Fort York Bridge: a bridge that several weeks ago many Torontonians didn’t even know about but, when it was up for debate, suddenly couldn’t live without. Of course, the bridge, as many pointed out, was not the heart of the issue being debated. What was being debated was the sentiment expressed by the commenter on the article: that we can’t have nice things.

Why can’t we? Well, that depends on who you ask. Some believe we have long been spending money we didn't earn—which is to say, we probably could never have afforded the nice things we already have—and someone is finally telling us the truth about that. Others think it's because so many of our elected officials are short-sighted missiles ideologically programmed to seek out anything that gives off the heat of aspiration.

An architecturally beautiful bridge to a neglected historical site that may prove popular to tourism and residents of the city? Don’t need it. Reconnecting the city to the waterfront with well-designed public spaces? How about a monorail instead? Getting rid of the five-cent bag tax? Now there’s a project that can really do something.

City-building is more than physical construction—it encompasses a style of governing. As former director of Urban Design and Architecture for the City of Toronto, Ken Greenberg writes in his freshly published book,Walking Home: "In undertaking transformative projects, staff need encouragement and permission from their elected bosses to be proactive in making change, to become creative problem solvers, and not just prudent regulators, and to accomplish new things, not just ensure that no harm is done."

Think here of Metrolinx’s Big Move, or Waterfront Toronto’s ambitious plans for a revitalized waterfront, or the Tower Renewal program we don't hear about any more, or the largely defunct Transit City.

These are the types of creative solutions and proactive projects that John van Nostrand of the planningAlliance spoke about at the Centre for City Ecology last week, in a talk on the importance of planning—and unplanning—Toronto. What he meant was that, instead of overarching Official Plans that work to crystallize development, we need to embrace a network of innovative projects that move us forward as a city.

Toronto is a living, breathing organism, and like an organism it will grow and evolve over time. It can be easy to mistake a city for something mostly static: after all, change seems to happen so slowly that, like watching the hour hand of a clock, it becomes difficult to perceive it as change at all. But then one day we look up and realize a new building has gone up just down the road and that everything looks different in light of it.

Rob Ford and many on city council do not yet seem to have a grasp on this concept of the living city. It was Ford, after all, who proposed during his mayoral campaign that we discourage immigration of new people into Toronto until we figured out how to deal with the population we have. Despite what Mayor Ford may believe, however, we cannot just hit the pause button while we figure things out. Any attempt at planning or governing a city through the pause button is like building a box around a growing plant: the plant will still grow, but it will become distorted—and eventually it will burst through, whether you want it to or not.

In cancelling, modifying, or delaying projects—some already funded and ready to go—Ford has begun to pick at this city, pulling the ends of what he deems to be small, useless threads. The thing about the city, though, is that what may seem like small, expendable threads turn out to be woven and connected to so many other things, that when you tug on them hard enough something you didn’t expect begins to unravel too.

The greatest mistake of this administration, and the one that will leave the most lasting legacy of harm, is the simplistic view of the city as something to be managed and not something to be built, or fed, or nurtured. The view that aspirational projects are elitist and thus not worthy of consideration. The view that public spaces suck money and offer nothing back. The view that if we just squeeze our public services tight enough a few pennies will pop out.

We already have a city manager—his name is Joseph Pennachetti. What we need is a leader.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Video: The Perils of Biking in the Bike Lane

This New Yorker got a ticket for not riding in the bike lane, so he decided to make a video about what happens when you always ride in the bike lane no matter what.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Queen's Park Sidewalk to Nowhere

Pictured above is a sidewalk that extends out from the south grounds of Queen's Park, dumping pedestrians out onto the busy University Avenue. After I ventured across--craning my neck down the bend of University to make sure I wouldn't become roadkill--I stood and watched as several people, a family, and a woman with a stroller did the same--each one darting across like deers.

There is a crosswalk just a short walk south of here by College, but there is nowhere to really get there safely from the south end of Queen's Park, short of walking back north until you find a crosswalk, crossing over, and walking back down again on either side of University. And the structure of the two forking sidewalks makes it seem as though you are supposed to cross University Avenue there, but without providing any infrastructure to help you cross. In other words, the city will help you get to the edge of the road, but once you step off the curb you're on your own.

At the very least they should install some zebra-stripes, or perhaps a button pedestrians could push which would flash lights up ahead of the curve to let drivers know that someone was crossing. I have no idea if anyone has ever been hit here, but it seems like a possibility considering how many people scurry across.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

That Time I Went To Sherbourne Common and Saw a Groundhog

After receiving a copy of Reshaping Toronto's Waterfront from University of Toronto Press, I thought the perfect place to begin reading this would be none other than the waterfront park pictured on the front cover of the book--Sugar Beach. I've written about Sugar Beach previously, so I won't say much about it now save for the fact that there was a hulking ship docked at the Redpath Sugar Refinery that was sending metallic reverberations out into the air as it unloaded its haul of yellowy unrefined sugar.

The waterfront is a strange place to be right now. There are completed projects like Sugar Beach and the Corus building, which sit amidst an otherwise vast expanse of either industrial lands or construction sites at various stages of completion.

After a particularly muscular wind caused me to eat too much white sand at Sugar Beach, I packed up my belongings and decided to head over to check out Sherbourne Common--or the completed part at least--since I hadn't yet taken a look.

The first half of the park opened September 24, 2010, and, while the second half is still under construction, you can start to begin to see how it will take shape. There were several constructions workers there on the day I visited working to install some weird public art.

The completed part of the park is a very alluring combination of bridges, shallow canals, hard surface, and a grassy expanse. There is also a funky building that houses, amongst other things, washrooms.

Right now the completed Sherbourne Common is a bit of an orphaned space. Eventually it will be sandwiched between development, creating a closed in feeling that will hopefully give the park a more cohesive feel. It's a bit difficult at this point to envision how all the new waterfront spaces are going to stitch together, but if the whole is anything like the parts then it's going to be pretty dazzling. However, Sherbourne Common, set further east of Sugar Beach (which was quite full on a mid-week day afternoon), was virtually empty except for me...and some creature underneath one of the bridges.

My curious gaze frightened whatever it was out of the safety of the bridge and out it came, furry and looking like a beaver with a bushy tale.

Being the sensitive animal lover I am, I proceeded to chase, what I later determined to be a groundhog, across the concrete expanse of the Common until it disappeared into the bushes on the other side.

So you see? Waterfront Toronto's ambition to reconnect Toronto to its waterfront, and thus to nature, has already seen success.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Video: Learning to Ride a Bike? Listen to This Kid.

This kid may have watched too many movies, but he definitely kicks ass.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Richmond St West Sidewalk is Awesome. Except For One Thing.

A few months ago, I wrote about how the south side of Richmond St West between Spadina and Peter got a much needed sidewalk. I work in 401 Richmond, the huge, converted tin factory-turned artist studio building which sits on the corner of Spadina and Richmond and every time I wanted to walk east to get a delicious burrito I had to cross over to the north side, use the thin strip of a sidewalk there, and then cross back over.

So when it was announced a sidewalk would finally be constructed, everyone in the building awaited its completion with much anticipation. The building management, Urbanspace Property Group, even started a blog that chronicled the construction process. People were really excited about this sidewalk.

However, now that the weather is warm and thousands more cyclists are out on the streets, bicycle parking in the area has become scarce. The City had a really great opportunity along this new sidewalk to put in a whole bunch of much needed bike parking. The space between the trees is perfect for a post-and-ring, but instead they sit empty, forcing bikers to lock up to the cages that protect the trees they've planted.

Why wasn't bicycle parking incorporated into the design from the beginning? It's not like the addition of the post-and-rings will inhibit pedestrian flow. It seems like only a matter of time before they are added, especially if the street is actually going to contain a separated bike lane. These seem like the types of design elements that should be included in every streetscape redesign, so it's all done at one time.