2014_TUG

As we approach the end of 2014, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on a very exciting and productive year as your Urban Geographer. I’ve grown a lot since this time last year. I had a short stint living on Toronto Island, and I’ve had the opportunity to create maps, host events, facilitate workshops and write about my love of place, architecture, urban planning and ecology!

Please join me in remembering some of the highlights from 2014.

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  • The year started with a bang, as I moved to Toronto Island with Chris Foster to participate in the pilot Work Exchange program at Artscape Gibraltar Point. The residency went extremely well. On top of getting a job at Artscape (a phenomenal organization in Toronto that is committed to creating good urban space), Chris was hired as Superintendent, and I was able to contribute to the Island community and AGP as an interpreter of its history (as tour guide),  and an ambassador of the building. I was extremely inspired by the Island and its history, and helped come up with a new design for AGP that referenced its history, but remained elegant and contemporary.

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  • My partner Natalie Amber and I began hosting the Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series - a storytelling event taking place in overlooked and unconventional spaces across the city. On the heels of two incredibly successful events, we are excited to get the ball rolling on indoor lectures for the first and coldest months of 2015.

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  • After a widely embraced article for Torontoist, I began working as Communications Coordinator for Charlie’s Freewheels, an amazing organization that empowers youth from Regent and Moss Parks by teaching them how to build, maintain and ride their own bikes. The campaign has been a great opportunity to employ my skills as a geographer, planning, graphic designer and writer – and another attempt to master the elusive internet by trying to go viral. The campaign is still going on! Check out our indiegogo! (until January 6 2015)

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  • I spent the last few months of summer visiting and drawing every branch of the Toronto Public Library – a journey to all 6 corners of the city that taught me a lot about the social and architectural realities of my city. Get ready for its release in early January!

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  • I debuted Geomancy, my version of the ancient practice of fortune telling with maps, to receptive audiences at the Algonquin Island Christmas Boutique and Long Winter. People loved it, and I thoroughly enjoyed helping people gain geographic insights into their being. The project has generated a lot of interest, and will be appearing in unexpected places in 2015!

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  • Along with the ASEED map, I expanded my reach as a critical geographer, illustrating map-themed political cartoons to go alongside articles for the Dominion, a grassroots, alternative news outlet with a mission to go beyond mainstream coverage of political and environmental situations.

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Thank you to all my readers for your support over the years. While 2014 is almost behind us, 2015 promises to be incredibly exciting for my professional development, art and writing practices. Get ready for more Geomancy, the release of All the Libraries Toronto, and more editions of Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series. I also may be finally making it to grad school….maybe!

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Toronto is a city of ravines and river valleys — and it needs a vast system of bridges to stretch over them. While these bridges are built to maintain the integrity of our famous grid, they inadvertently create amphitheatre like architectural spaces that beg to be explored, along with other overlooked parts of the city. Likewise, Toronto is filled with interesting humans with captivating narratives who need a space to share their stories.

LW LogoWith this in mind, my partner Natalie Amber and I began hosting the Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series last Fall. Building on the success of 2013’s Under the Grid concert, Learnt Wisdom invites attendees to “explore the city as we explore our hearts”, by holding story telling events in interesting and overlooked spaces across Toronto.

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Each event features four speakers from a diversity of backgrounds, sharing stories inspired by a set theme. The event is accompanied by an illustrated map showcasing the lecture location, and a short walking route from a set meeting point. While Natalie waits with the speakers at the lecture location, I go and meet the attendees at the meeting point, creating a psychogeographic procession as we make our way to the lecture space.

At the beginning of each event I introduce the space by sharing a brief history, including First Nations history, lost rivers, poignant events and quirky trivia.

Mount Pleasant Bridge

The first Learnt Wisdom Lecture was held under the Mount Pleasant bridge along Rosedale Valley Road. Rosedale Valley Road, voted the best route for motorcycling by YouMotorcycle.com, is in a ravine created by the now buried Castle Frank Brook. It was the site of the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada’s mansion (Castle Frank), and one of the city’s first breweries.

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Inspired by the theme Thing Your Parents Never Told You, our lecturers regaled attendees with stories of finding roots, overcoming narratives of strength, and breaking into hotels. Sipping pay what you can mulled cider, it was an absolute pleasure to take in stories under the breathtaking arches of the Mount Pleasant Bridge.

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The second lecture, this time in the afternoon, took place under the soaring Dundas Street bridge by the beautiful Humber River. Despite the Humber’s eden-like qualities, many Torontonians have not explored this verdant paradise – a linear park that stretches, only somewhat interrupted, from Steeles all the way to the lake. I was excited to share one of the most breathtaking, but least known pieces of infrastructure in the city with friends and strangers.

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Before getting to the lectures inspired by the theme Over the Hill, I shared a brief history of the site with attendees, including the Humber’s importance to First Nation’s as a trading route, the River’s role in the naming of Toronto, and the flooding caused by Hurricane Hazel, remembered vividly by Anne Michaels in her Fugitive Pieces. The lecturers shared stories of epic travel, bicycle-based endurance, and the struggle of moving on from unhealthy situations. As the river flowed, we drank spiced chai under the soaring arches of the beautiful Dundas bridge.

Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series has been a huge success. Each event has brought out impressive crowds, and a chord has been struck by an event that combines storytelling and urban exploration. Natalie and I appreciate the support of our friends and collaborators in these early stages of Learnt Wisdom, and thank you for coming out!

For now, Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series is taking a little hiatus until the new year. We are actively looking for appropriate indoor space for our next instalment. This is harder than you may think! Many of Toronto’s indoor spaces are privatized, and require lots of money or business insurance to use them. Learnt Wisdom Lectures has neither. But we won’t give up our search, and hope to announce our next lecture somewhere in the PATH system, 2015.

See you there and then, under the bridge, in the ravine, or under the grid! 

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Last Friday, I debuted Geomancy, Fortune Telling with Maps at the most recent iteration of the seasonal/monthly multi disciplinary art party Long Winter.

Geomancy is based on the idea that we are all implicated in the city, and no one can opt out of geography. The features of the landscape and their histories undeniably influence our being.

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Surveying participants’ present and historical routes through the city, I helped people map their lives, and untangle the relationship between their disposition and the landscapes they most often travel.

I spoke with many people about their routes. There was a person from Scarborough who mapped her relationship with industrial spaces, and a fellow living in Liberty Village who crosses under the Strachan railway overpass everyday. Many people had spent their entire lives in the Don or Humber watersheds.

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All the while, those participating in Geomancy — or waiting their turn — got to enjoy a hot cup of Cedar Tea – harvested from one of Toronto’s forests the previous day and served by the always gracious Walking Philosopher. In his words, we were considering the landscape as we drank it.

As I prepare my application for Guelph’s fantastic Masters of Landscape Architecture program, I realize the Geomancy, or, Urban Feng Shui, could be an effective approach to urban design. Taking a regional scale, the appropriate situation of a park, streetscape feature, or square can depend on the landscape around it: its topography or its proximity to railroads and river valleys and waterways.

I am excited to continue to study Geomancy/Feng Shui, and incorporate it into a future professional practice.

Until then, I look forward to seeing you at the next iteration of Geomancy.

All photos courtesy of RCSTILLS via Long Winter

This post originally appeared on the Charlie’s Freewheels blog

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Research by the Toronto Cycling Think & Do Tank has taught us that bike campaigns aren’t enough to increase cycling in Toronto. While education does the work of inspiration, a number of barriers continue to stop people from actually getting on their bikes.

Barriers can be a lot of things. Would you ride your bike to a party if all your friends were driving there? If you couldn’t afford to buy a bike and maintain it? If you were scared of biking on busy city streets, even if there were bike lanes?

Identifying barriers and helping people overcome them is essential to building a strong and safe bike culture.

Students often start our program saying they’re afraid to ride their bikes through the city. Having to negotiate speeding cars, huge trucks and street car tracks is enough to make a reasonable person choose another way to get around.

Despite evidence that shows biking to be as safe, if not safer than driving, fear can be so strong that it triumphs over the benefits of biking.

While fear of biking mostly comes from experience, it is also exaggerated by the “prevalence of cycle and road safety training courses that focus excessively on cycling’s risks”, finds the Toronto Cycling Think & Do Tank. The language of our current regime of road safety courses contributes to fear as a real emotional barrier to cycling.

Charlie’s Build-a-Bike program includes road safety courses that use positive language to teach safety skills. And with group rides that encourage a supportive and fun cycling culture, we are helping them overcome their fear of riding by actively harbouring a love of cycling.

In fact, despite initial fear of cycling, we’ve seen a 70% rate of ‘regular bike usage’ (5-7 times per week) by program graduates, 6 months after completion of the program!

From the hundreds of students that have completed our Build-A-Bike program, we’ve learnt that a cycling culture of love – not fear – is essential for increasing biking in Toronto.

This post originally appeared on the Charlie’s Freewheels blog

Photo courtesy of Raising the Roof

According to the Covenant House, there are at least 10,000 homeless youth in Toronto during any given year and as many as 2,000 on a given night.

Driven from home by abuse and neglect, homeless youth are more at risk of dying from suicide or drug overdose, and are more likely to be the victims of assault.

Many of these youth have dropped out of school and can’t get jobs because of their lack of education. Without job experiences and a chance to develop life skills, these youth have a difficult time moving forward with their lives.

Agencies serving homeless youth collectively advocate that young people need more job opportunities to sustain a secure and independent life. Employment opportunities are essential to alleviate youth homelessness.

Charlie’s has responded to this directive by providing vocational training for homeless youth. The rigour and structure of our Build-A-Bike program replicates the work environment, and in many cases, is the first step to employment for the homeless youth that participate in the program.

Charlie’s is a unique programming space, where students can overcome issues by focusing on a concrete project. We are a warm and welcoming environment, and the sense of belonging we foster is an essential “soft” contribution to alleviating youth homelessness. A past student we employed puts it well:

They hired me to be a “Shop Administrator”…. It was like jumping into the deep end of a pool. I grew as an individual, and learned a bit about myself… [which has] played a part in who I have become and the experience I have gained.

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We want to take this even further by hiring graduates of our Build-a-Bike program, giving them job experience to propel them forward. We plan to hire one teenaged participant to work with our staff to coordinate, promote and plan Charlie’s Rides for the spring and summer of 2015 and generate interest in Drop-In Hours with local high school students.

We also hope to hire one past graduate of Build-A-Bike programming to teach alongside our mechanic during class. Last year, just less than 10% of our annual operating budget was earmarked for honorariums for youth leaders.

Slowly, we will work alongside other amazing Toronto organizations to provide more employment opportunities for homeless youth. Every job opportunity, every honorarium counts!

This post originally appeared on the Charlie’s Freewheels blog

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Immigration is a big part of life here, where half of all Torontonians were born somewhere else! Many of us, our parents or our friends have personally experienced what it means to overhaul your life and settle down in a new place.

What lots of people have noticed is that newcomers are particularly open to adopting new behaviour. Which makes sense: getting to a new country, we are eager to take up new customs, and it’s easier to get over old habits.

That’s why it’s so important to encourage new immigrants to Toronto to cycle. If we can show newcomers that cycling is affordable, healthy and convenient, they’ll more readily use a bike to get around. And they’ll become part of the ever growing contingent of Toronto cyclists, pushing the benefits of cycling to society at large and enabling more infrastructure that will make biking even more viable and safe.

But with the image of what it means to successfully integrate, a lot of new immigrants have expectations of getting a car when they come to Canada, even if they come from a place where cycling is an everyday way to get around. According to the Toronto Cycling Think & Do Tank, many new immigrants consider bicycles a “second class” mode of transportation, chosen out of necessity rather than desire.

It seems our trusty bicycle has an image problem. But we can get over it!

CANADA-BIKELots of organizations are working to connect new immigrants to bicycles. Since 2009, CultureLinkand Cycle Toronto have collaborated to offer Bike Host, a program that has been giving bike tours of the city, mentorships and road safety courses to newcomers. Once a participant has gone through the program, they then mentor the next group of newcomers the following summer.

Charlie’s serves youth from Regent and Moss Parks, the neighbourhoods that have some of the highest concentrations of immigrants in the country. Recognizing that newcomers are especially suitable cyclists, our programs normalize cycling as a viable way to get from A to B in Canada, and the most affordable, convenient and healthy transportation option.

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We like the way Caravane, an immigrant-cycling organization in Montreal puts it. Bicycling is a way of participating in a culture, and when you participate, you integrate.

So let’s keep supporting newcomers with bikes!

Smarty Biky

A little comic/infographic I made for Charlie’s Freewheels Indiegogo campaign to put 50 youth on 50 bikes.

It turns out children who bike or walk to school learn better, as those who get to school actively are much more mentally alert than those who are passively driven to school.

A Danish study of over 20 000 children found that youth mental alertness was advanced by half a school year if they used active transportation to get to school. This is more benefit in mental development than having breakfast or lunch

*Source Egelund et al 2012 study of over 20 000 school children and research by PhD John Pucher of Rutgers Univesity 

This post originally appeared on Spacing

The Storymobile has been parked in front of the Mimico Centennial Library since October, as part of the Tale of a Town’s cross-country story gathering quest

If you’ve travelled through Mimico – a waterfront neighbourhood in Toronto’s west end – during the last few months, you may have noticed a tiny retro trailer parked in front of the local library. It’s the “Storymobile” (a mobile recording studio somehow squeezed into the trailer) producing the Tale of a Town and has been traveling across Canada, gathering community memories from the country’s main streets. At a time when big box multinationals are moving into urban centres, the goal of The Tale of a Town is to inspire people to make meaningful connections with the small businesses that form the backbone of Canadian downtowns.

The Storymobile in Windsor, Ontario

The Storymobile in Pasadena, NewfoundlandThe Storymobile in Saint John, New Brunswick

Above, the Storymobile in Windsor, Ontario, Pasadena, Newfoundland and Saint John, Newbrunswick

Led by arts and media company FIXT POINT, the Tale of a Town has so far had stints in towns and cities in Ontario, PEI, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and have just begun a stay in Ottawa. The Canada-wide quest will culminate in a multi-platform celebration of the country’s main street culture, alongside Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017.

As part of the Toronto Public Library’s Artists in the Library program, the Tale’s team of radio-artists have been recording interviews with Mimico’s business owners and residents and posting the best of their collection of local lore and personal histories online.

An independent town since 1911, Mimico was merged back into Etobicoke in 1967, amalgamating with the rest of Metropolitan Toronto in 1998. Despite amalgamation, Mimico still feels like small town surrounded by Toronto.

Image courtesy of John Chuckman, http://chuckmanothercollectionvolume2.blogspot.ca/

Mimico's lakeside Westpoint Motor hotel stands alongside mid-century low rise apartment buildings

Mimico’s lakeside Westpoint Motor hotel stands alongside mid-century low rise apartment buildings

On the western shores of Humber Bay, Lakeshore Avenue West winds through a not yet complete condo neighbourhood before crossing over Mimico Creek and turning southwest to become one of Mimico’s main streets. Serviced by the 501 streetcar, the area is defined by small shops, diners, grocery stores, single family homes and mid rise 1950s apartment buildings that line the waterfront. The area has a seaside vibe – the mid century apartment buildings feel like a part of Miami Beach that has yet to be ritzed up.

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Ask any town a question, and you’re bound to get an earful. With it’s own distinct history, it’s no surprise that the stories from Mimico are plentiful, eclectic and quirky. There’s the one about the barber who was too drunk to cut mustaches straight, or the time when Santa Clause made a surprise helicopter appearance at the Pickin’ Chicken. And of course, there’s the classic ghost story that will make you think twice about walking past the library after dark. 

As the winter comes, the Storymobile is getting ready to move on from Mimico, where they’ve been stationed since early October. To celebrate the end of their residency, a Tale of a Town has collaborated with Sean Frey to create an interactive installation in the Mimico  Centennial Library, transforming it into a city of books – books that you can listen to. 

The audio installation will launch as part of a community celebration at the library on December 13th  (here’s the Facebook event) and will stay up until December 20th.

Geomance

We are all implicated in the city. We cannot opt out of geography.

Geomancy, fortune telling with maps, looks at the routes we most commonly traverse through the city, suggesting ways topography, ecology, history, cardinal orientation, infrastructure and the grid affects our being.

Geomancy was first presented at the Algonquin Island Christmas boutique. It will appear next at Long Winter, Year 3, Vol. 2, this Friday December 12 at the Great Hall.

Come, explore your geography with me. Let’s try to understand the intersection of landscape and spirit.

I was pleased to participate in the first of Dandyhorse Magazine‘s #dandySANTA Q & A series. Read about my winter biking tips, which bike lanes I want Santa to bring this Christmas, and my work with Charlie’s Freewheels!

#dandySANTA: Daniel Rotsztain of Charlie’s Freewheels


Rotsztain in Moss Park nearby Charlie’s Bike Joint. 

#dandySANTA Q&A: Daniel Rotsztain

Photos and Interview by Jenna Campbell

Daniel Rotsztain is campaign coordinator for Charlie’s Freewheels that just kick-started their “50 Youth on 50 Bikes” fundraiser on Dec. 1. Charlie’s goal is to teach 115 young riders how to build bicycles in 2015. They’re collecting donations from businesses and foundations to fund 65 youths to build bikes, but need the public’s help to fund the other 50.

As a part of our dandy winter cyclist series [more details coming soon], we thought we’d ask Rotsztain what he’d like #dandySANTA to bring him for the holidays.

dandyhorse: If you could get a(nother) bike, what would it be and why?

One of those dreamy upright Dutch bikes – perfect for city cruisers and with big enough wheels to handle the snow that’s coming! I also spent half a year (biking) in Amsterdam. Anything to bring me back there, just a bit…

Q: What bike lane(s) do you hope dandySANTA will bring for 2015? 

Utopian bike lane: running alongside the boulevard in the middle of University Avenue. In Barcelona, they have a bike lane on a similarly scaled street, Passeig de Sant Joan, running all the way to their Triumph Arch.

Realistic: Extending Richmond and Adelaide lanes further east, so that we can get closer to a Minimum Grid.

Q: What bike gear do you hope dandySANTA puts in your stocking this year?

Back paniers that I can remove, so that I can put my bike on the front bus rack. Right now, with my milk crate, most bus drivers don’t allow my bike on the rack.

Q: What else do you hope dandySANTA delivers this year?

I hope that everyone will contribute to Charlie’s Freewheels Indiegogo Campaign! Charlie’s is an amazing organization that I work with that empowers youth in priority neighbourhoods with the knowledge of how to build, maintain and ride bikes around the city. Check out our campaign here.

Q: What is your number one tip for winter cycling?

The best streets to bike on in the winter, in my opinion, are those middle kinds of streets, the ones that aren’t major, or minor. Like Dovercourt. The snow is cleared by a higher volume of traffic, but the street is generally not as busy as the major arteries: Perfect for a winter ride.

At dandyhorse, we will be rolling out several more winter cyclist wish list profiles as we head into the holiday season. As part of these special profiles we will announce dandy giveaways with Soulpepper theatre (Win tickets to see The Conjurer) and Steam Whistle brewery (6 gift packs) on social media starting on Dec. 15. Keep an eye out for #dandySANTA here and on Twitter and Facebook.

Mobility Rings

Check out this map I made for Charlie’s Freewheels to publicize the impact their programming has on empowering youth in Toronto on the occasion of their Indiegogo campaign. It shows, quite simply, that your world it quite small if you walk everywhere, and you can farther, faster by bike. Bikes make the city smaller for everyone – and that makes opportunities for connection and engagement with the rest of the city.

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Exciting news, readers!

For the remaining days of 2014, I will be working with Charlie’s Freewheels to publicize their indiegogo campaign to put 50 youth on 50 bikes!

Charlie’s is an amazing organization in Toronto’s downtown east-side. They empower youth in Regent Park and Moss Park, two of Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods, teaching them how to build and maintain their own bikes and how to ride them safely in the city. With lovely instructors and mechanics, an inviting atmosphere and drop-in hours Charlie’s also provides a supportive community, spreading positive messaging about biking in the city. You might have read about them in my Torontoist article from last month.

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Our campaign is mostly keeping to social media, but we’re doing our best to get conventional media like Now and the Toronto Star on our case to help us spread the word.

The campaign has been an opportunity to reach out to other bike organizations in the city, including Cycle Toronto and Dandyhorse Magazine, and other communities dedicated to sustainability (e.g. Evergreen), urban planning (e.g. Toronto Centre for Active Transportation), health (e.g. activeTO), youth homelessness (e.g. Covenant House) and youth advocacy in the city.

I’m most excited about the meme-side of our campaign. While going viral is more of an art than a science, making the memes has been hilariously fun, and a good opportunity to collaborate with the Charlie’s community to celebrate the amazing culture of the organization.

Please enjoy this selection of the memes and infographics we’ve already put out, and stay tuned for more!

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