This post originally appeared on Spacing Toronto

A few weeks ago I biked over to The Guild park. Known for its collection of modern Toronto “ruins”, a bonus to visiting the park is its unobstructed view of Lake Ontario. Gazing from cliffs high above the water, far from the distractions of the Bluffs or the skyline, and without the Island and Leslie Spit interrupting the horizon, all that can be seen from the Guild’s vantage is sparkling and limitless blue.

It’s moments like this, high above the water along Scarborough’s cliffs, that confirm it for me. Calling this enormous body of water a Lake doesn’t do it justice. Lake Ontario — it’s a Sea.

When I was showing a friend from Sweden around Toronto last Winter, she looked over Lake Ontario and kept casually calling it “the sea”. In Swedish, sjörefers to both lakes and seas, so she wasn’t technically wrong. The roots of most Germanic languages make no distinction between lakes and seas, and it turns out, among today’s oceanographers, there is no accepted definition of sea.

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A German edition of an atlas map by French mapmaker Jacques-Nicolas Bellin from 1757, from The Historical Atlas of Toronto by Derek Hayes

The same goes for lakes. Though definitions vary, lake often refers to a small, inland body of water. And the way we use it, a lake suggests waters that are knowable, safe and domesticated — calm waters that you can dip your feet in at the cottage.

I know it’s just a matter of language, and may seem trivial. But the language we use says a lot about our relationship with the world, and Toronto could use some help reinvigorating its relationship with the vast body of water along its southern edge. Calling it a lake has made us forget about the water in our ideas of Toronto’s identity and geography. If we started calling it the Sea of Ontario, however, we would be acknowledging the water’s power and mystery, launching it into prominence in our civic mythology.

Over in the Middle-East, the Sea of Galilee is technically a lake. But its importance in the history and mythology of Western civilization transforms this tiny patch of fresh water into a Sea in our minds – a body of water with enough stories and myths that its worthy of its name. (For comparison, The Sea of Galilee is 166 km squared, whereas Lake Ontario is more than 18 000 km squared!)

Stormy Lake Ontario has been known to wreck ships

 Stormy Lake Ontario has been known to wreck ships

Of course, Lake Ontario has its own share of stories and myth. Though a “lake”, this body of water is a powerful force, as mighty as any sea. When stormy, its waves have battered boats and taken lives. Last March, the TRCA hosted Lake Ontario Evenings: Hidden Secrets of the Lake. The audience regaled in tales of Lake Ontario from geographers, historians and marine archaeologists. We learnt of shipwrecks from the War of 1812, and how Robert Ballard, an oceanographer of Titanic fame came to explore a pair of sunken boats, the Hamilton and Scourge. We learnt about the HMS Toronto, wrecked off the shores of Gibraltar Point in 1811, and the Monarch, which sank in 1866 off Ward’s Beach.

Throughout the evening, as the Lake Ontario experts shared secrets of the Lake, they kept accidentally calling it a sea.

The waters have brought trouble to more recent ships as well. I recently encountered a boat mechanic who worked on the short-lived ferry connection between Toronto and Rochester. Its failure is often explained as financial, but the mechanic told me that wasn’t the whole story. Apparently the catamaran, designed by an Australian company for ocean journeys in the South Pacific, couldn’t handle Lake Ontario’s waves. The powerful waters lead to mechanic failure, adding to the cost of operation. The ferry is now in Denmark after briefly doing service between Tarifa, Spain and Tangiers, Morocco, where it sailed passed the other Gibraltar Point.

Though the Great Lakes are often referred to collectively as inland seas, individually, they are rarely given the sea treatment. By taking cues from its size, its stories, and its scope, calling Lake Ontario a sea would elevate its status in the minds of Torontonians, enabling us to embrace our identity as a City by the Sea.

map_line 9 Last Spring, the National Energy Board (NEB) approved the reversal of the flow of Enbridge’s oil pipeline 9. It will now carry bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to refineries in Eastern Canada. Line 9, as its commonly referred to, runs through Toronto, and crosses over every river and creek in the city.

Toronto’s rivers, creeks and valleys make up significant wildlife habitats, while providing invaluable resources to communities across the city, not to mention, carrying fresh drinking water from the Oak Ridges Moraine to Lake Ontario. Despite intense protests and backlash against reversing the flow of Line 9 citing the aging pipeline isn’t safe enough to carry such a dangerous material, and referencing the devastating consequences of the pipeline leakage along the Kalamazoo river, the NEB approved the project. We are now learning that Enbridge, the company that controls the pipeline, failed to install adequate safety infrastructure before trying to reverse the pipeline’s flow.

This decision is demonstrative of the lack of democracy in Canada. Our government is essentially an agent for extractive resource industries, and despite opposition, unelected and non-transparent boards make decisions that effect us all.

Another problem, however, is apathy. Most Torontonians, (and most Canadians), are not aware of the major consequences and risks associated with pipeline decisions, or simply don’t care. This leaves me with the impression that we have to start getting better at telling the story of oil in Canada, to get the attention of the disenfranchised and the apathetic, and communicate the risks of Line 9, and the negative consequences of our country’s reliance on oil.

There are many groups that are dedicated to bringing awareness to the issues of pipelines and Line 9 specifically. Some use direct action, while others are hosting events, protests, and lectures about the concerns associated with Line 9. DSCF9898 While biking in upper Scarborough and Rexdale, I passed hydro corridors, where with spray paint, a group has attempted to make it clear where exactly Line 9 runs. The strategy is effective, and you can easily imagine a disastrous leakage if the pipe failed. DSCF9897 I tried to image Line 9 myself, a few months ago, seen as the first image in this post. I tried to focus on the fact that the pipeline crosses every river and creek in Toronto. What do you think of this effort? How else can we get people to realize how close Line 9 is to their lives? How do we effectively image Line 9?

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It’s no secret — Toronto’s got election fever.

Pass through any of the city’s neighbourhoods and you will see streets filled with signs endorsing one candidate or another. Read any newspaper, alt weekly, or free daily, and the pages are lined with candidates’ goings-on.

Yes indeed, after 4 traumatic years of personal scandals and political gridlock, the city is ready to reinvent itself. On October 27th, Torontonians will cast their ballots for Mayor, City Councillor and School Board Trustee.

Though Rob Ford dropped out of the mayoral race at the last minute, Doug Ford quickly replaced him. The election remains a referendum on the idea of Toronto.

Is Toronto simply a place to pass through between work, shopping and home, as the Fords see it, where we shouldn’t be concerned with the course of its development, instead devoting ourselves to paying the least amount of taxes possible?

Or should Toronto aspire to be a place that cares about what it means to be a city — as Olivia Chow sees it — a place of natural and cultural beauty, a place of shared experiences, a place where people invest in each other, even when that doesn’t necessarily mean we experience the benefits directly.

Or is it something in between — as John Tory views things  — a city of penny-pinching, but cosmopolitan urbanites, afraid of taxes but yearning for that scintillating city-living.

With these three visions on the table, a major question stands: will the city remain divided, roughly along the lines of downtowners and suburbanites. Or will a candidate capture our imagination and unify this fractured burgh?

Casting your vote for Ford, Chow or Tory is a vow, a commitment to what you think Toronto is and should be.

And I know who I’m voting for, and the idea of Toronto I believe in — and it ain’t any of the front runners.

I’m voting for the duck.

Yes, there is a duck running for Mayor of Toronto. Chandler Mallard is a plucky, bright eyed candidate from Toronto Island. Throughout his campaign, he has made it clear that he Loves Toronto — a positive message, and passionate commitment to this place that I haven’t heard from any other candidate. And his support is growing with at least one hundred thousand of the city’s water fowl, in the ravines, river valleys and along the lakeshore, raising their wings and pledging their support.

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This summer I had the good fortune of sitting down with Mr. Mallard at Grossman’s Tavern to talk City. We spoke of transit, urban agriculture and he showed a special interest in figuring out what was up with my beard. You can catch up with the duck’s campaign on his website, and on twitter.

Yup, I’m voting duck, because I love Toronto too. And it’s only from a place of love that we can really get this city going.

See you at the polling stations on October 27th!

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Yesterday, I had the pleasure of volunteering at the 7th annual Complete Streets Forum, a meeting of urban planners, designers, politicians, advocates and urbanists of all stripes committed to building streets that make room for all users — not just cars — in cities across the world.

The conference was hosted by the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation at Daniels Spectrum, an art centre managed by Artscape in Regent Park. Regent Park is currently undergoing “revitalization”, and is home home to a number of innovative urban design features, including what’s almost a complete street.

The conference was invigorating. It is inspiring to see all the work folks are doing to advance inclusive, healthy and active street design in municipalities across the world.

The morning’s first keynote Speaker, Dr John Pucher, set an energizing tone for the conference as he spoke excitedly and passionately about the need for complete streets. He shared his research team’s findings that women are an “indicator species” for good bike infrastructure (more women biking = more bike infrastructure, and vice versa!), and that children who walk or bike to school are half a year more intelligent then their driving contemporaries.

Tactical Urbanism: Lesson in Test Driving had Nathan Westendorp and Robert Voigt share their experiences working with cities to pilot projects at 0.75% of the budget of the overall cost of the implemented project. The “try before you buy” mentality means smarter city building, and everyone, even urbanist focused city planners, can learn from the experience. I also enjoyed the idea that DIY city repair, like citizens painting their own cross walks when the city ignores the need, can be dangerous, and we need a way to leverage that energy and make the city more responsible and nimble to the requests of citizen groups.

Dr. Jeannette Montufar spoke after lunch about the history of transportation planning, focusing on “how we got here”. Her historical analysis showed empathy for the decisions of urban planners of the 50s and 60s who opted to build “ribbons of pristine concrete” through “slum” neighbourhoods. They were trying to make the world better, and could not anticipate the negative effects a total highway society would bring. Dr. Montufar’s perspective as an engineer was valuable, and she spoke about the need to get engineers to conferences on complete streets. Public realm is often in the department of transportation, and engineers are as the ones implementing the design of roadways. In terms of street design, they are only being taught to maximize capacity — thus missing on the essential stop and chat nature of a city.

After an afternoon walking tour of the revitalization of Regent Park, including the project’s complete-ish street between Regent Park Park and Nelson Mandela Elementary School, I was delighted to hear from Heidi Wolf, of NYC’s Department of Transportation. She spoke clearly and passionately about her work documenting the Before and After photos of New York’s many urban design and complete streets projects. She stressed the need for clarity, including people in the photos, and getting the same angle for the before and after shots as essential to “selling” the projects to the city, developers and citizens.

The day ended with an engaging panel on the redesign of Eglinton Avenue, moderated by Toronto’s chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat. Incredibly, despite the current anti-bike, “war on the car” rhetoric in Toronto, city council approved a 19km separated bike lane, running along Eglinton Avenue, as part of the streets redesign in conjunction with the coming LRT. The panel included an urban designer, cycling advocate, community faciliator, and a representative of the area’s BIAs, and focused on the difficulty of suggesting a bike lane to business owners who overestimate the amount of business the yget from car drivers. A 19 kilometre separated bike lane on Eglinton! How exciting — but the details are material for another post.

Thank you to TCAT for hosting such an excellent, informative and positive conference. I left feeling inspired, energized and motivated to contribute to a world of increasingly friendly environments for pedestrians, cycling, transit and cars. Congratulations to all the presenters and attendees, it was a pleasure meeting you and I look forward to working with you in the future!

Spadina Avenue, closed to traffic - Pedestrians and Streetcars mixing. Image courtesy of BlogTO

Spadina Avenue, closed to traffic – Pedestrians and Streetcars mixing. Image courtesy of BlogTO

Love it or hate it, Nuit Blanche delivers the spectacle of Toronto’s streets crammed full of people. With the sidewalks at capacity, and many streets closed to car traffic, we are treated to a hyper-urbanized version, 24/7 version of Toronto. Every October, the city becomes fully animated — perhaps a preview of things to come if population growth keeps apace in the next 50 years.

This year’s edition of the all night contemporary arts festival included the addition of new zones. Along with Fort York and City Place, Spadina Avenue was closed to traffic, and many artworks were displayed along the street.

The experience of Spadina closed to automobile traffic was highly enjoyable, providing a new perspective on the potential of this thoroughfare. The broad avenue, with dedicated street car tracks running down the middle, naturally lends itself to being a pedestrian boulevard. The dynamic was reminiscent of Las Ramblas in Barcelona — a boulevard famous for its walking culture.

I noticed, however, Torontonians struggling with the concept of a street being set aside for pedestrians and streetcars. Though barricades and traffic police were present to ensure that people would not cross the tracks when streetcars were coming, people kept on running through the tracks at the moment a streetcar was approaching.

The mix of a pedestrianized thoroughfare and streetcar tracks reminded me of some of my favourite street designs in Europe, where this kind of configuration is more common. As a past post explored, along Leidsestraat, a pedestrian-only street in Amsterdam, people freely walk along the tram tracks until one needs to pass by. The street is both a tram track and a pedestrian walk way and works beautifully. In Manchester, dedicated Tramways line the central Piccadilly Gardens, a bustling square. The square’s surface covers the entire area, with only slight demarcation of where the trams run, other than their tracks. The flow of this place is lovely — as pedestrians cross the square without stress, and avoid the trams when they come every-so-often. And when they do they blow their gentle whistle and all the senses have their outlet.

Making room for trams as the need arises, on Leidsetraat in Amserdam. Image courtesy of Urban Capture

Making room for trams as the need arises, on Leidsetraat in Amserdam. Image courtesy of Urban Capture

Pedestrians share space with trams and their tracks in Manchester. Image courtesy of ManchesterHistory.net

Pedestrians share space with trams and their tracks in Manchester. Image courtesy of ManchesterHistory.net

In Toronto, where we’re not used to this kind of shared space (yet), things were a little more challenging. Perhaps the presence of safety officers and infrastructure contributed to the tension, and people would have been better of interacting with the streetcars organically.

In any case, I was delighted to experience a step toward shared flexible space in my own Toronto. Little by little, we are demonstrating that streets are not only for cars, and can host multiple uses, complimenting and accommodating one another as the need arises.

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Toronto is condo boom town. The explosion of development within the last ten years means that Toronto will be left with buildings that will be associated our time: the 2000s and 2010s.

Love them or hate them, 2000s condo design has a certain ubiquity — an immediately recognizable look that makes them identifiable among tall structures from other eras and that serve other purposes. Their heavy use of glass, the uninventive balcony design, the bluish, greyish colouring, all point to buildings that are unmistakably condos built in the last ten years. And there are a lot of them.

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Toronto condos from the 2000s have a certain ubquity

The Condo Box Project

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Using wheat paste, my street art collaborator Glo’erm, and I, transformed a Canada Post drop-off box into a mini-Condo. Their ubiquitous design, as described above, mean that the box is immediately recognizable as a condo.

The box is placed on Ossington, just south of College — a neighbourhood at the edge of condo boom town. Its mini-ness leaves the effect that this condo has, like its larger counterparts, somehow naturally emerged, like a mushroom in the forest. Its spawning feels inevitable and uncontrollable — a feeling many Torontonians have about the current explosion in, often low quality and sloppily placed condo developments.

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The size also puts passersby in the position of an urban planner or developer looking out over a model of the city. Its a position of power, that ordinary citizens do not occupy. But this position points to the agency we do indeed have over shaping our city. Like the planners and developers, Torontonians do have some say in the city they inhabit — the democratic processes may be somewhat broken, but political agency can be accessed, if only we had the motivation.

Another interesting phenomenon will be the box’s decay over time. Inevitably, the wheat pasted paper panels will begin to fade and strip away. Will this hyper-sped process of decay predict what the condos being built today might look like in the future? As they say, time will tell.

Forest Hill is changing.

One house at a time, the abundance of solid, modest 1940s era houses are being demolished, replaced by bigger, grander, and louder mansions. They tower over the increasingly rare, smaller houses.

Many streets, like the north side of Vesta Drive, west of Spadina, have been entirely transformed — no original house remains.

It is hard to lament the loss of mansions, as in this complicated and overwhelmingly unjust world, there are simply, more important things to spill ink over. As I explored in my first ever post on this blog, however, we cannot anticipate how the city will take itself up in the future, Today’s mansion neighbourhood is tomorrow’s subdivided, affordable apartment zone, as Toronto has experienced with the mansions along Jarvis Street. With this in mind, heritage, even in an exclusive part of this city, is important to consider given the extensions of time and transformations of space.

Regardless of the loss of old, beautiful, heritage and humble homes, and the influx of towering and garish mansions, the effect in the neighbourhood is mesmerizing.

A walk today through the streets of Forest Hill was accompanied by the clang of steel, a constant buzz of power tools, an incessant banging of hundreds of hammers. We are witnessing the metamorphosis of a neighbourhood. It is shedding a new skin, and is doing so rapidly.

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As many of my readers may know by now, I spent a glorious week of August as a participant artist in the White Rabbit Residency.

Along the shores of the other-worldly Bay of Fundy (where you can experience the highest tides in the world), I joined 16 artists - including my brother, cartoonist and graphic designer, Jonathan – in a week of supportive, nurturing, and inspired creation, responding to the beautiful landscape of Red Clay. The residency focuses on the process of creation, culminating in the White Rabbit Celebration, where visitors come to celebrate the end of the residency in a festival of art and music. Along with illustrating the festival’s map, I spent the week working on my project, Framing Red Clay.

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I initially proposed spending the week wandering around the grounds and creating frames out of found materials, to direct wanderers toward views of specific landscapes. I would comment on the landscape based on the frames’ shape, position and materiality, frames made out of materials ranging from the most natural to the most human-made. I was excited to frame dynamic scenes that would change based on the time of day viewed — especially those views of the swift transformations of the intertidal zone.

But when I got to Red Clay, it was the August super-moon — and high above the Bay, the full moon sat and slowly moved across the sky. The fullness of the moon illuminated the entire landscape, and, I couldn’t look away.

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I promptly adapted my project to a project of chasing, and framing the moon. Building on the vertical ladder tradition initiated by Andrew Maize the previous year, I constructed a ten foot ladder and erected it straight out of the ground, on a spot that affords the best views of the bay — where I initially viewed the moon in its fullness.

Learning from brilliant Red Clay veterans how to sustainably harvest spruce, and latch with rope, I built a small frame with a handle, and hung it on the top of the ladder. Passersby were tacitly invited to climb the ladder. Once at the top, they intuitively grabbed the frame, and began viewing the world from enjoyably high vantage. When the half moon rose on August 17, we gathered around the ladder to enjoy the experience of framing the moon as it hovered across the bay. Ironically, from this high vantage, I ended up framing Red Clay, as I initially intended to.

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As my artist statement in the White Rabbit program put it:

I came to Red Clay with the intention of framing the landscape, but I couldn’t stop looking at the moon, so I tried to frame the Moon. I ended up framing Red Clay. 

It was a pleasure to participate in White Rabbit 2014, and I congratulate my fellow artists-in-residence. Framing Red Clay was a wonderful manifestation of my art practice, emphasizing process but with a physical and interactive end product.

See you at White Rabbit 2015!


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Far from the Bloor Viaduct and the concentration of touristy Greek restaurants, Art of the Danforth is a semi-annual art festival along the “other” Danforth, east of Greenwood to Woodbine.

Last May, I was delighted to participate in the festival in collaboration with Sean Martindale.

Half whimsical art project, half participatory urban planning exercise, Dan/Dani IV invited passersby to participate in various activities that crowned them King/Queen of the Danforth for the day, including the big question, “What would you do if you were King or Queen of the Danforth for a day?”

My contribution to the project was a flag making workshop. I worked with participants to create their own flags to reflect their lives and connection to their neighbourhood.

The result was amazing! Beyond some Pizza flags and Ice Cream Cone flags from the youngest Kings and Queens, the result was hyper local flags that included symbols of very small slices of the neighbourhood — a welcome move away from flags that erase the overwhelming diversity of a country under a simplified symbol.

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Imagine a Toronto where every neighbourhood had its own flag, every street, every street corner? We would feel mighty connected to those flags, I imagine — and to those places by extension. Perhaps designating official neighbourhood flags would be the first step toward a decentralized Toronto government, where neighbourhoods could call their own shots, relying on a central city government for services like water and transit. Cabbagetown and the Toronto Island already have theirs!

My favourite flag of the workshop was this one below — the flag, resembling the St Andrew’s cross, was actually a depiction of the paths and gardens of the Robertson parkette at Danforth and Coxwell!

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Making flags with the good people of Danforth East was such a pleasure. Please enjoy the photos, and see you at the next flag making workshop!

LightNews

Luminato is a multi-day, medium spanning, and geographically expansive festival of creativity held every Spring in Toronto.

To compliment the festival’s programming, Luminato releases LightNewsa daily newsletter, that is less news/reviews than an art project in and of itself. As “a performance in print”, LightNews invites artists, cartoonists, poets and writers to critically respond to the festival’s haps.

I was delighted to participate in LightNews at 2014’s Luminato Festival. As part of the Young people we really like are sayingfeature, I responded to two dance performances — Stones in Her Mouth, a dark and hypnotic decent into the depths of creation and protection, and So Blue, an act of sheer endurance as much as it was elegantly choreographed movement.

It was a pleasure to flex my writing muscles beyond the realm of architecture and urban affairs, and contribute to a fantastic part of Luminato’s excellent programming. Please enjoy my response to Stones in Her Mouth, and So Blue, below!

Young People We Really Like

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White Rabbit is a week long artist residency on the shores of the Bay of Fundy. Every year, 16 artists are invited to explore Red Clay, and engage in process-based art making in response to the landscape.

The residency culminates in a music and art festival, where visitors are invited to explore the land and enjoy the manifestations of the residency, including installations, workshops, performances and audio-tours. 

Every few years, the organizers of White Rabbit invite an artist to create a map to help festival goers find their way around the land to projects that are often deep in the Red Clay woods. Past map-makers have included Jayme Melrose, Sarah Burwash, and Chris Foster — artists and individuals who have been highly influential to my way of living and art practice. I was honoured to join the ranks of these esteemed creators, having been invited to be the resident Red Clay cartographer this past White Rabbit. It was a pleasure to see people navigate the festival with a map I had created!

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Festival goers figuring out where they are this year at White Rabbit

 

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Toronto’s craft beer scene is exploding. In response, local entrepreneur Michael Stulberg came up with the Craft Beer Passport. For $20, the passport gives you access to $2 craft brews from bars around the city. Just like that you get cheap, delicious beer, support local bars and breweries, and are encouraged to explore Toronto!

The Craft Beer Passport crew used my services as an Urban Geographer to determine how to divide the city into neighbourhoods — Torontonians’ local pride can get mighty fierce, and calling something the wrong neighbourhood would not be good. On top of that, I illustrated a poster for a Pub Crawl that happened in June as part of Ontario Craft Beer Week. Proceeds went to Not Far From the Tree, an organization that redistributes urban fruit harvests.

The map had to be a usable wayfinding device — but  I managed to sneak some local character in there. Enjoy! 

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