grow op

I am excited to be participating in the Gladstone Hotel’s Grow Op, a four day event that explores landscape and place.

My photos and recollections will be part of Vernal Poola participatory art project about place and precipitation, by Karen Abel and Jessica Marion Barr. Vernal Pool explores snow gathering as art practice. Karen and Jessica have invited artists from across the country to send snow gathered in a jar, accompanied by photos and a few words about the moment of collection.

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At Grow-Op, “the resulting reservoir of snowmelt will be convened into an immersive, elemental water installation… referencing the ephemeral wetland ecosystems that form in springtime from melting snow and rainwater. Following the exhibition, the pool will be restored to the earth through a collective watering of gardens and urban greenspaces.”

I am happy to be representing the Toronto Island in this wonderfully expansive project. The photos of my moment of gathering capture the essence of my winter here: an endlessly beautiful, quiet and isolated time, watching the snow and ice formations change on the beach and forest, right at the sea’s edge.

The themes of Grow-Op are also aligned with the foundations of my geographic practice. Exploring the softer edges of geography, I am interested in how the places we are embedded in manifest within our culture, our values, our selves.

Please enjoy my submission, and see you at Grow-Op this Friday April 25!

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014, 2pm

I am currently a resident at the Artscape Gibraltar Point art centre on the Island. After a lovely spring day, Winter came back in full force, dumping 15 cm of powder over an otherwise thawing beach. The snow samples came from the beach itself, off the dogwood, and from the “sandy forest”, a collection of huge ironwoods right at the water’s edge. The snow was wet to the touch, and heavy. It’s been a spectacular winter at Gibraltar Point.

This post first appeared on Spacing Toronto, and was originally titled #FrenchTO

Last week I was driving along College enjoying a jazzy groove on 90.3 FM Espace Musique. When the song ended and the hosts returned to their banter, I found it strange to hear familiar Toronto neighbourhoods, streets, and venues spoken about in French.

This experience is definitely not restricted to the airwaves. I regularly overhear groups of people speaking French on the street or subway, talking about Toronto. It’s about the hundredth time hear College Street pronounced as “Rue de Collège” that I recognize Toronto as a thoroughly French city.

When you look into Toronto’s history, it makes sense that people would speak of Rue de Collège today. In fact, Toronto’s history is steeped in French. As plaques along the Humber River will remind you, the first Europeans here were French, and the maps they left of the GTA show familiar places covered in French names.

FrenchTO Map 3

FrenchTO Map 1

FrenchTO Map 2

The above maps are from the Historical Atlas of Toronto, by Derek Hayes, a necessary book for the Toronto-curious

Thinking about these old French maps of Toronto, it becomes less surprising to hear about Rue de Collège, or people calling Toronto’s Subway system the Métro, the way they refer to the systems in Paris and Montreal. I actually prefer the French term. Calling it a subway is misleading, as much of the tracks are actually above-ground. You need look no further than LRTs and streetcars to realize that confusing terminology can derail a reasonable conversation about rapid transit.

Recognizing all this Torontonian French history and hearing French heard on the streets and Metro makes me appreciate the significant French contingent in this city. Though Toronto is still reeling from its solid British colonial roots,the latest census lists  1.1.% of the city with French as their mother tongue (compared to 3% Italian, and 2% Portuguese). With roughly 50,000 French speakers in total, an informal survey on Toronto’s streets reveals that all dialects of French spoken worldwide — Quebecois, European French, Francontarian, Acadian, Manitoba-French, African French, Caribbean French, Middle Eastern French — are spoken in Toronto. Where else, other than maybe Paris, Marseille or Montreal, could you find this many ways of speaking la belle langue?

Though the dialects of French in Toronto come from far and wide, they do coalesce in a few places. There’s the Alliance Française, an organization that promotes the use of French language and culture, and Labo, a French arts organization. Toronto’s weekly L’Express newspaper, “le journal français du Grand Toronto” is a venue for the city’s Francophones of all origins.

In the pages of L’Express, Toronto is often called La Ville Reine — the Queen City. Though generally defunct, the nickname keeps our city bonded to its colonial British and puritan roots, and in a tongue and cheek way reminds us of historical rivalries between Toronto and Quebec, back when Montreal was sparkling city number one, and down the 401, Toronto the Good was simmering on dull.

Maybe it’s these past rivalries, and their continued manifestations today, that keep Toronto from fully embracing its French soul.

Depanneur

For one thing, our streets aren’t lined with Deppaneurs (Quebec’s version of the convenience store), where you can buy your groceries, cleaning products, wine and beer all in the same place. For now, Toronto only has oneDeppanuer — on Rue de Collège. While not quite the same (it’s a restaurant), this Deppaneur certainly carries the spirit of Quebec into Toronto.

The pilot program to put LCBO kiosks in 10 grocery stores is a good start, but here’s hoping that Toronto will take the cues from its thoroughly French past and present, and at some point, let its convenience stores sell beer.

Exciting news, dear readers!

Your Urban Geographer is taking flight, and traveling to the biggest city in Carolinia – New York City, that is.

Though I defined the southern limits of Carolinia’s borders as a small portion of upstate New York, a broader definition of the Carolinian bioregion includes New York City — the same forest as Toronto. The Carolinian forest is known as the Eastern Deciduous forest in the US due to slightly different approaches to ecology north and south of the border. In any case, I am excited to explore New York City with this bioregional lens.

Though there are no ravines in New York City, to my knowledge, I will explicitly find my way to forested urban areas, to feel the forest. Will it feel familiar? Will I recognize the species? Will I find parallels between New York and Torontonian culture, since they have the same ecology?

My hypothesis for Toronto is that the Carolinian ecoregion is dynamic, small scale and dense. The dynamacy certainly holds true for New York, but does the small scale, dense beauty remain the same there? Since Toronto is at the northern edge of Carolinia, perhaps the growth gets larger further south, explaining New York’s propensity for grandeur. We will have to wait and see.

For now, one clue is the New York Parks and Recreation logo: a maple leaf — an important species for Carolinia, up here.

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In an effort to start a conversation with the proliferation of research occurring outside of the academy and facilitated by the internet, the University of Manchester and Hunter College created the Alternative Mode of Scholarship Competition.

Here was the call out:

In recognition of the increasingly diverse ways in which researchers disseminate their research, the UGSG Alternative Mode of Scholarship Competition Committee solicits submissions of blogs, videos and websites by an undergraduate or postgraduate student or group of students. The winner/s of the award will receive $200. Submissions should be in the form of a URL address plus no more than 300 words explaining how the submission contributes to an understanding of urban geography. 

I was especially excited to enter the contest, as research outside of academia is exactly how I define the activities of this blog. The internet has truly facilitated my emerging career, and has connected me with collaborators and like minded people world wide. The University of Manchester also happens to be the home of one of my favourite geography professors, Erik Swyngedouw, of the Urban Political Ecology literature.

Entering the competition was an opportunity to define my approach to blogging, and is one version of how perceive my contributions to Urban Geography, and its role in the world.

I didn’t win the scholarship, but I present to you my submission anyways. Enjoy.


 

My blog, TheUrbanGeographer.Wordpress.com, has been an invaluable venue to design my own research programme after the completion of my Undergraduate degree in Urban Geography at McGill University.

Using the blog, I have extended Swynedgedouw and Heynen’s theories of Urban Political Ecology(2003). Via art work, photography and writing, I have applied their theories to Toronto, a city that has an evocative relationship with its ecology.

One project that has emerged has been an exploration of Bioregionialism and its application to Toronto. Carolinia is a hypothetical post-national region that encapsulates the northern tip of the Eastern Deciduous forest, southern Ontario and Upstate New York. It is a region that shares watershed, commutershed, culture and ecology. I presented my research at the 2013 Urban Ecologies Conference, arguing that emphasizing Toronto’s ecology in its identity is an important step toward achieving social and environmental justice.

Though inspired by academic research, my blog has become a venue for crafting theories that are very accessible. The blog has also encouraged the use of visual aids (photographs, drawn maps, diagrams). Clarifying my writing and making it more accessible has lead to my writing for other blogs and magazines such as SpacingVolume and the Pop-Up City.

Perhaps the blog’s greatest strength, however, is that it exists within a network. My blog has connected me to other academics, planners, entrepreneurs and artists engaged in the topic of Urbanism. We are all working toward inclusive and sustainable city building. The blog has lead me to a number of employment opportunities including working on the establishment of a Greenbelt for Halifax.

I will continue to blog as my career grows and transforms. Whether I am engaged in academic, artistic, economic or political work, my blog is an invaluable and connected depository of my theories, thoughts and practice.

 

Errands_On_Eglinton

Judging by the amount of traffic along  Eglinton Avenue, it’s safe to say that construction of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT has begun in earnest.

Running underground through central Toronto, and above ground at its extremities, this new rapid transit line is sorely needed in a city that has long outgrown its transit system. Fixing the mistakes of the past, when an Eglinton subway had begun to be dug, but was cancelled by Mike Harris in the late 90s, the Eglinton Crosstown will transect Toronto, cutting through culturally diverse neighbourhoods, linking together the six former boroughs of Metropolitan Toronto.

In anticipation of the frustration that will be felt by 8 long years of construction on Eglinton, the Upper Village BIA had a contest for a poster campaign that will encourage residents to shop locally during these hards times.

I entered the contest with my good friend and collaborator, Josh Schendel, a student of Advertising at Humber College. With my spatio-analytic skills as Your Urban Geographer, and his debonair intuition as an Ad Man, we thought we really had a shot.

We didn’t win, but I present you our submission anyways, pictured above, with our biographies and rationale below.

I think we put in a really good effort. What are your thoughts?

________________________

BIO
Daniel Rotsztain and Josh Schendel grew up along Eglinton Avenue West. Daniel is an artist, designer and urban geographer who celebrates Toronto in his written and visual work. Along with freelance art and design, he is employed by Evergreen Brick Works, Artscape, and writes for Spacing Toronto. Josh is a writer and student of advertising at Humber College. He is finishing a novella that follows the residents of a Forest Hill home, chronicling their misadventures.
Recognizing complimentary skill sets — Daniel’s visual communication skills and urban issues acumen, and Josh’s sense of humour, wit and advertising sensibilities — this is Josh and Daniel’s first collaborative effort. At early stages in their careers, the Experience Eglinton contest has been an excellent opportunity to sharpen their design, communication and writing skills. They will undoubtedly continue to collaborate in the future. Josh and Daniel are excited at the opportunity to give back toEglinton West and contribute to the celebration of local businesses in their home Ward.
Josh and Daniel explored Eglinton West as kids, made relationships with its proprietors and frequented its restaurants during school lunch breaks. They continue to live in Toronto and visit the strip when doing errands for their parents. Josh and Daniel understand the essence of Eglinton and are perfect ambassadors to spread the message of support for local businesses during the strain that construction of the LRT will bring to this beloved Avenue.
RATIONALE
Eglinton West is the backbone of the Ward 21 community. Unlike destination streets such as West Queen West and Bloor/Yorkville, Eglinton West is a working street that serves as an important conduit for transportation and services. Eglinton’s charm is in its honesty, serving the purposes of the everyday needs of its residents.
With this campaign, we intend to celebrate one of the pillars of Eglinton West: Errands. The importance of the errands of Eglinton deserve to be celebrated. Highlighting its everyday activities in the form of a playful visualization and ad campaign will remind residents of the value of their street and its importance to their lives.
While acting as a reminder to shop locally during construction of the LRT, our slogan, “Your Errandswill still be on Eglinton” contains within it a secondary slogan “Errands on Eglinton” that is meant to extend beyond this campaign and become part of the way people talk about their main street.
By including pictograms of the now ubiquitous construction fences, and directly addressing them in our tag line, “get beyond the fence”, we wanted our poster to honestly engage with the disruptions construction will bring, rather than ignore them. The disruptions construction of the LRT will bring toEglinton West can already be felt, and it is important to take this opportunity to make a solid call to arms to support local businesses in these difficult times. “Errands on Eglinton” is a poster that will do just that.
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BONUS
Collaborations often mean compromise. I had an entirely different vision for the piece, pictured below, but through my partnership with Josh, let it be and took the project in another direction.
With this version, I was trying to evoke Instagram. My idea was to celebrate what Eglinton is, thinking that an image of a familiar scene on a billboard would cause a resident to pause and reflect.
Errands on Eglinton

The Dominion is a monthly Canada-wide publication that provides a venue for alternative journalism. It provides a space for the uncovered angles on major news events, and has a mandate to report on the under-reported.

Each city in Canada has its own Media-Coop, where news from the grassroots is distributed in a variety of formats. The Dominion represents the collective effort of the Media-Coops across Canada. It is a pulse of resistance in this country.

I am very happy to have begun contributing to the Dominion as an illustrator, helping to visualize the the good work of the Media-Coop journalists.

With my first two illustrations, I have brought in my love of geography and maps. As a former professor of mine was known to say, “there’s a geography to everything” — and indeed, we can understand many things on a map.

saskatchewan tar sands

The first illustration accompanied an article exposing initial tar sands exploration in Saskatchewan. Of course, the geologic phenomenon that created the infamous tar sands in Alberta extends beyond the provinces border to the east. On top of this, acid rain from the pollution in Fort McMurray has already started to rain on the Northern Saskatchewan forests.

honduras_hydrocarbon

My second illustrations depicts disembodied Canadian business-hands playing Honduras like a board game. The potential extraction of oil in the north-west threatens to uproot the mostly indigenous Moskitia people there.

I look forward to contributing to the Dominion in the future, helping increase awareness of social and environmental injustices in Canada and beyond, and the resistance that is thriving in its face.

This post originally appeared on Spacing Toronto 

For most Torontonians, Spring couldn’t come any sooner. The icy cold that has gripped the city since December has let up on only a few occasions, and we’re in for a few more frigid days before the thaw.

It’s not that this city hates winter. Hiking through snowy ravines, tobogganing down icy slopes, and enjoying a hot chocolate after skating one of the many rinks spread throughout the city are cornerstones of the Torontonian winter experience. But this city is a long way from fully embracing its cold months.

We could learn a thing or two from cities down the road in Quebec, where they wear their winter well. Along with Quebec City’s Carnival, and Igloofest(an outdoor, neon snow suit filled raved in Montreal’s Old Port), a common urban Quebec scene involves squares transformed into wonderful winter gathering spaces — bonfires, bands, beer and all.

Winter revelers in Montreal gather at Parc Compagnons-de-St-Laurent for a bonfire, beer, and music. Image courtesy of Tourisme Montreal.

Winter revelers in Montreal gather at Parc Compagnons-de-St-Laurent for a bonfire, beer, and music. Image courtesy of Tourisme Montreal.

Toronto definitely prefers its winter to be a little more indoors. It’s no surprise this city boasts one of the largest underground walking networks in the world. Using the PATH system, you can get from Dundas & Bay to well south of Front Street without ever getting your ears cold.

The other day, I was walking through Regent Park on a frigid day. Feeling the semi-publicness of the building, I ducked into Artscape’s Daniels Spectrum to warm up my fingers and toes. I immediately felt comfortable in the space, noticing that others were taking refuge from the cold in the sunny lobby. Though the adjoining Paintbox Bistro has a small take out coffee bar fronting the space, I didn’t feel any pressure to buy anything to stay. I took a seat on one of the many sofas, enjoying the views of the street from the floor to ceiling windows, while warming myself up in the bright, airy space.

People gather inside at the Artscape Lounge at Daniels Spectrum. Image by Garrison McArthur Photographers.

People gather inside at the Artscape Lounge at Daniels Spectrum. Image by Garrison McArthur Photographers.

The Artscape Lounge at Daniels Spectrum is an excellent example of accessible indoor space — a real asset for a city that likes its winter inside. The lounge is a third kind of place. Not an overly programmed or regulated public space like a library or community centre, or a fancy cafe where you have to buy something to stay, Daniels Spectrum offers free, accessible and indoor space with a pleasant atmosphere.

Regent Park has its Daniels Spectrum, but this is a model that could be applied in neighbourhoods across the city. Where are other accessible, indoor spaces in Toronto that have been keeping you warm this winter?

Amnesia 1

Amnesia 2Amnesia 4

Trees are also the holding-place for a community’s collective memories.

Amnesia

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Cities have different relationships with their memory.

Amsterdam holds its history close to its heart. Its famous canal belt is celebrated by Amsterdammers, and nothing can be built that deviates too much from the aesthetic of 17th century Dutch architecture.

Sometimes, cities can go too far with holding onto their memory, preserving their historic centres to the point they become essentially dead — frozen in time and preserved as museums of themselves. I’ve heard people speak about central Rome this way, and Bath in the UK.

And sometimes cities can go too far the other way — not paying credence to their history at all, leading to the demolition of beautiful and important buildings, and general disregard for history, culture and ecology.

At times, I think Toronto falls into this latter category.

In fact, I think Toronto has cultural amnesia. I’ve illustrated a few of my arguments in the comic above.

Do you agree?…. and what are other examples of Toronto having amnesia?

airport-rocket

Image: George Kelly of Toronto Life

Toronto Life picked up on a Spacing Toronto post I did about TTC’s 192 Airport Rocket, an express bus service to Pearson Airport that leaves from Kipling Station.

I am happy that Toronto Life agreed with me: this bus is not promoted well by the TTC, and is not widely known as a viable transportation option to the Airport.

Kipling planeA simple change to the subway map would make all the difference…

Thanks to Toronto Life’s megaphone, the idea has generated many comments, on Toronto Life’s website and its Facebook page. The general consensus seems to be that this service should be better promoted.

Screen shot 2014-02-21 at 9.17.14 AM

Many commenters, however, are offended by the notion that this bus would be called “secret”.

When you’re in a group, I understand that it’s hard to appreciate that there are others with different experiences and knowledge bases. Those that commented “this was a secret?” form a portion of Toronto’s populace — the Insiders — who are tech savvy enough to find the bus on google maps, not to mention participate in online debates!

In any case, the word is out. And that’s great, because more people using the bus means more pressure for better transit.

This post originally appeared on Spacing Toronto

The secret Toronto airport express bus

Last November, my father and I to took the bus to the airport.

At the regular TTC fare of $3 a ride, taking the Bloor-Danforth line to Kipling then catching the 192 Rocket (an express bus that travels along highway 427) is a bargain compared to the alternative $50-ish cab ride. Taking the subway and the bus, my dad and I were surprised that we could get from our house to Pearson in under an hour.

TTC Rocket 192

The 192 Rocket travels from Kipling Station to Pearson Airport along the 427. Image courtesy of the TTC.

It makes me wonder. Why isn’t the 192 Rocket promoted by the TTC, with maybe a little airplane icon above Kipling station on the subway map? Other then seeing people with luggage in tow every now and then on the Bloor-Danforth line, and the odd Air Canada flight attendant in full uniform, you’d never realize that the TTC was connected to the airport.

Kipling station airport

In Montreal, the bus to the airport was introduced in 2010 with a major ad campaign. The bus — numbered 747 — is painted brightly with the image of an airplane. As the bus makes its way through downtown Montreal and onto the highway toward Trudeau International, it becomes a moving billboard advertising itself as a viable transit option to the airport.

747 Bus STM

The 747 bus in Montreal. Image courtesy of STM.

I am definitely excited about the opening of the Union-Pearson express train in 2015. This city will benefit greatly from a direct route between its airport and central transit hub. At roughly $20-$30 per ride however, the UP Express won’t exactly be accessible to every Torontonian. I do hope the UP Express doesn’t mean the end of taking the bus to the airport.

And why is the TTC bus to the airport so secret anyways? It definitely affirms my suspicions that Toronto is thoroughly an Insider’s city. We Torontonians like our secrets. Our gems are accessible, but you’ve got to find them yourself. We have a great ravine system, but its trails remains largely unmarked. And just try to make your way through the PATH system for the first time.

So, apologies for breaking Torontonian code by exposing the express airport bus to the internet masses. But hey, it’s a good service!

Daniel Rotsztain is the Urban Geographer. Check out his website or say hello on Twitter!

Leading image by James Bow, from Transit Toronto

island jan 12_2

These days, I’m learning a lot about the beauty of the Toronto region.

Compared to the West Coast, where there are enormous mountain ranges and wide-girthed trees, Toronto’s beauty lies in the micro, where one can find an infinity of dynamic and fine grained processes — the ice, the soil, the ferns — emerging and fading away.

Toronto’s microscopic beauty is very much of its Carolinian ecology. This Eastern Deciduous forest is a dynamic life zone, its beauty lying in the small, interconnected and temporal.

I also see this in the dynamacy of the human culture that inhabits these lands: Toronto is a land of immigration, of multiple identities. Toronto’s dense neighbourhoods are a fine grain of human settlement.

Micro_Toronto

Please enjoy this GIF I made to illustrate the beauty of Toronto’s micro-processes. Look closely…amongst the ice and the finely textured grasses, you might find a bit of Toronto in there…

Check out these maps I illustrated of the gardens spread throughout Artscape Gibraltar Point.

As Spring approaches, we are busy preparing for the gardening season here on the Island. Some of the plans for 2014 include expanding the main garden and herb garden, with the possibility of a small CSA of mixed greens and herbs that will be delivered to Islanders by bike!

The maps are functional diagrams of the dimensions of the gardens, but also reveal the stories of this special place. Enjoy!


Main expansion Greens garden

Herb garden Raspberry patch

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