Vancouver City Council recently voted to remove the elevated highway-like viaducts that have been cutting off its Chinatown and Strathcona neighbourhoods with the rest of downtown Vancouver and False Creek.

Of course, this is a fantastic development for Vancouver, continuing a long history of progressive, people-oriented urban planning.

The removal of these viaducts will improve the surrounding area, making it safer and less hostile to pedestrians. And no, it won’t mean downtown Vancouver will not be inundated with cars. People who chose to drive downtown will find other options, and (hopefully), the money gained from unlocked development opportunities will go directly to transit funding.

As you may know, I visited Vancouver and the Lower Mainland this past summer. I had the opportunity to explore the spaces under — and over — the viaducts.

I was pleased to discover there was a bi-directional bike lane running the length of Vancouver’s viaducts. Approaching the viaducts from Main Street, the elevated roadway and its bike lane quickly climbs uphill, becoming suspended above the city. The feeling of biking the viaduct lanes was thrilling – high above the streets, the viaducts runs over many intersections, curving around the often-renamed Rogers Arena, and depositing cyclists to Yaletown at the base of Vancouver’s downtown core.

GVO-Eds-ViaductBikeLane-5 2926442 cyclinggroupupdunsmuir

I’ve explored car-style, human scale infrastructure on this blog before, where I described the thrilling experience of biking Halifax’s similar highway-to-nowhere Cogswell interchange, and Montreal’s Rosemont Flyover. Car-style infrastructure at a human scale, I wrote, offers a change in the rhythm of a city and a truly unique urban experience. That is, if it doesn’t define the urban form, and if adequate space for pedestrians is provided.

So, like many urbanists, I celebrate the taking down of Vancouver’s viaducts – ugly barriers that favour cars over humans, preventing vital urban life from thriving.

But I also lament their loss. We praise the Denmark’s cycling highways while we take down our own in Canada.

Imagine what the debate would be like in Toronto if there was a bike lane on the Gardiner Expressway!


Downtown Guelph has many coffee shops – more than its population would seem to be able to support.

Cafes on offer include local mega-chain Planet Bean, hyperlocal one-of-a-kind Red Brick, and the more of a restaurant Cornerstone.

There’s also the Common.

The Common is a small Toronto chain that has been slowly expanding from the original Dufferin Grove location to Bloor Street in Bloordale and the Annex. Their recent, and most ambitious, expansion to Guelph might be due to the large concentrations of ex- and sometimes-Torontonians in the city, looking for a piece of home while away.

The Common in Guelph is a carbon copy of its Toronto counterparts: whitewashed walls, blond wood, minimal furnishings yet eclectic and warm, a simple menu of espresso-based coffees and few baked goods.

The other day, I went to the Common in Guelph to study. I overheard a group of people talking about Toronto intersections, “Spadina and Dundas”, “Gerard and University”. I looked over to the next table and saw someone reading the latest edition of NOW magazine.


“Where am I?” I thought.

I looked out the window, and despite what I saw, heard, and felt, there was Guelph – its hills, its limestone buildings, its city hall.


The Common in Guelph – a major case of Geognitive Dissosance.


Fresca – where the Toronto-style garlic brush was born, and has been dousing slices at Vietnamese-run pizzerias since the death of Massimo’s.

The culmination of over four years of delicious research, my latest contribution to the Globe and Mail follows the amazing story of the emergence of Toronto-style pizza – the product of accidents of history, only-in-Toronto cultural fusion, and the death of a pizza institution. It has given me the opportunity to celebrate what might be the “best slice in town” – the garlicky, tender and savoury pizza at Fresca. 

Read Meet Toronto’s new masters of pizza on the Globe and Mail website

401 north

All my life in Toronto, the 401 has been north of where I’ve lived.

But now, in Guelph, the 401 is south of where I live.

Yet the 401 has endured as north in my mind. I often find myself looking at maps of Guelph, completely disoriented as to where I am, all because I’ve flipped the map in my mind so that 401 is squarely north, where it’s always been.

I am so surprised that this highway — which I often perceive as the bane of my existence — would play such a prominent role in my understanding of geography.

But it undeniably is.

It’s going to take a long time for me to adjust to the 401 being south. Maybe I never will. The 16 lane wide concrete and metal belt stretching laterally across Southern Ontario and through Toronto will prove hard to shift in my mental landscape.

As I continue to negotiate my identity – Am I from Guelph? Am I from Toronto? Am I spending too much time in Toronto when I should be embracing Guelph? – I’ll take thinking of the 401 as south as a sign that my internal geography has shifted.

This post first appeared on the Koffler Gallery’s K-Blog, and was written by Jessica Dargo-Caplan. All photos by Mary Anderson. 

Inspired by the Koffler Gallery’s Spring 2015 exhibition Erratics (an art installation which brought together two distinct archives and explored the tensions between memory and fiction by Martha Baillie, and Malka Greene with Alan Resnick), grade 5/6 students from Rose Avenue Public School and Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School explored the connections between place, memory and fiction.



During this 6-week project, students worked with urban geographer/artist Daniel Rotsztain to build collaborative neighbourhood archives through line drawing, mapping, personal narrative, postcard-writing and exchange.

Daniel leads students on a neighbourhood walks, encouraging them to pay attention to those small but vibrant details, which hold stories and personal memories in neighbourhood landmarks.


After the neighbourhood walks, Daniel taught the students how to transfer their sketches into graphic line drawings onto their postcards.


Inspired by their line drawings, students write personal narratives about their chosen neighbourhood objects, landmarks and buildings.


Daniel works with the students to create a new map of their neighbourhoods, animated by their postcards.

The students from each school then mailed their postcards to the students at the other school, so they could exchange and share their personal perspectives, and create a collective archive of the two school communities, through their eyes and imaginations.


These postcards are just a sample from the collective archive:


photo-7aphoto-7bphoto-8aphoto-8bphoto-9aphoto-10On June 1, after 5 weeks of workshops, the two school groups met at the Koffler Gallery for an informal tour of Erratics, and to see their collaborative Neighbourhood Archives postcard project installed in one of the flex studios at Artscape Youngplace.


“Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods that are distinct, but share lots in common. The students from Rose Avenue and Paul Penna compared their two neighbourhoods by drawing hybrid utopian communities along the schools’ shared arterial: Bloor Street.”

– Daniel Rotsztain


The teachers at both schools recognized the importance of this cross-cultural dialogue and saw the impact on their students.

“The learning was authentic, deep, and empowering. By exploring the program from the perspectives of social justice, architecture, art, writing, and history, my students now have a newfound and genuine understanding of what’s in their own backyard… and how it all connects to the context of the city around it.”

– Diana FitzGerald, Grade 6 teacher, Rose Avenue Public School


Perhaps the truest testament to the project’s success is the way the collective process fostered new community understanding and connections.

“Through all the six years that I have spent living downtown, I had never noticed, never realized, never saw just how many nooks and crannies there were and how much people cared about them. When Daniel [Rotzstain] came, we all became part of this group of people who cared about all of these beautiful places.”

–Grade 5 student, Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School


Many thanks to the school administration, teachers and students for their dedication and support on this project:

Rose Avenue Public School: David Crichton (principal), Diana Fitzgerald (grade 6 teacher), and their grade 6 students

Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School: Laila Lipetz (Director of Curriculum), Edi Fisher, Avee Helfand (grade 5 teachers), and their grade 5 students

And thank you to Daniel Rotsztain, for leading us throughout this beautiful, collaborative project.

You can also read about the project in the August 27, 2015 edition of the Canadian Jewish News 

Koffler CJN

L'heure de pointe de pizza_colour

Inspired by many hungry hours driving on the 401 between Toronto and Guelph. 

This post originally appeared on Spacing Toronto 

To the delight of many, it was recently announced that the TORONTO sign in Nathan Phillips Square will remain in front of City Hall until its structural expiry date of 2016, when it will be replaced by a more sturdy set of letters.

Installed as part of the Pan Am Games, the sign is one of the most popular legacies of the event. It is a highly photogenic addition to City Hall, offering the perfect spot for selfies amongst the sign’s many Ts Rs and Os.

The old saying is that “life imitates art” — but with the immense popularity of the TORONTO sign, it might be more accurate to say that these days, “life imitates graphic design.”

The dominance of graphic design culture — researchers now estimate we’re exposed to5,000 ads per day, and the number of graphic designers in Canada has increased rapidly over the last few years — has reached its apotheosis in the 3D TORONTO sign. Photos of Nathan Phillips Square and City Hall now automatically take on the look and feel of a highly designed poster.

The TORONTO sign is part of a global trend of huge letters in prominent public space. It’s most direct precedent is the I amsterdam sign. Situated behind Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum since 2005, friends visiting the Netherlands are almost guaranteed to post photos of themselves climbing the iconic red and white letters. The ONLY LYON sign followed in 2010 and the BUDAPEST sign in 2014. It was only a matter of time that big font would come to Toronto.

I amsterdam


Budapest sign

This isn’t the first time art has affected landscape. Big, wooded parks with meandering pathways like High Park in Toronto, Central Park in Manhattan, and Mount Royal Park in Montreal, were all inspired by Romantic landscape paintings of the late 19th century. Spreading as a park format worldwide (most major North American cities have an equivalent), these pastoral parks are a reflection of what people in burgeoning industrial cities needed from their landscapes — and how they idealized them.

But the blending of graphic design and landscape architecture is evidence of a new kind of relationship we’ve developed with our civic spaces. No longer pastoral retreats à la High Park, with our smartphone cameras always close at hand, a landscape must be striking and photographable to make an impact. And giant, Instagram-able letters are the most effective way to communicate the core of most messages on social media — “I was here.”


How does that old adage go? Ontario is flat- as flat at can be. 

For those who have explored the province, however, you know this is simply not true.

Look at Toronto on a map and all you see is a seemingly limitless grid of streets, extending indefinitely for kilometres in every direction (except to the south – the sea’s there!). But explore a little, and you’ll soon find steep ravines and the dramatic topography of river valleys spread all throughout the city, hidden beneath the grid.

A Harbourfront photography exhibit debunked the concept of a featureless Toronto topography last summer with No Flat City – a series of photos that explored Toronto’s more steep side.

But even for those in the know, that old notion that Ontario is flat is hard to shake.

Visiting Guelph in the past, the city seemed like another instance of even-grounded Ontario – but for a few rolling hills it felt like a limitless plane on which agricultural, suburban and urban development could be built indefinitely.

But as I get to know Guelph – drive down its streets, bike up its hills and walk along its rivers and alleys – I am learning the subtle topography of this place. As I push into Guelph’s topography, those subtle inclines become more dramatic – I understand where the highest bluffs and lowest river valleys are – I know where to go for the best views. (So far, that’s on College street just west of the University of Guelph, where the city looks like it’s emerging from an lush forest).

Whenever I look at a physical topographical map, I’m always surprised to see how unvaried the landscape seems from a large scale. I run my hands across the raised surfaces — even mountains appear like small bumps rising only slightly from the landscape.

There’s a subjective experience of topography that makes the hills appear beneath your fingers. Every huff of breath, every extra push in the pedal, every time your ears pop in the car, you are pushing into topography and making the ups and downs of landscape real and legible.


Exciting news, readers!

Your Urban Geography is expanding his experience of Southern Ontario and setting up shop in Guelph.

Guelph is a lovely little city just down the road from Toronto (the road happens to be the 401…), and is the perfect environment to pursue a Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of Guelph. That’s right, friends – this urban geographer is no longer just a passionate observer of the city – he’s going to be making city too!

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know this city slowly from afar, visiting for music festivals or to just spend time with friends. From afar, I’ve developed a few ideas and speculations about Guelph that I’d like to note before getting into the nitty gritty of its culture, ecology, history, geology etc.

Guelph has strong connections to its agricultural hinterland. Since its inception, the city has identified as an agricultural centre, and the University of Guelph started as the University of Toronto’s agricultural college, splintering as an independent institution only 50 years ago.

You can take a city bus to the countryside in Guelph. You can bike to farms in under 10 minutes. Guelph has resisted the sprawl typical of Southern Ontario cities, and has only recently given in to density, with its residential suburbs in its south end. Even though it was designated by the Ontario government as a growth centre which lead to the south end’s suburbs, the sprawl is twice as dense as typical Ontario developments. The city also fought passionately against a Wal-Mart opening up – which it inevitably did, but the battle is evident of a populace who understands the limits of growth, the need for density and the value of preserving a distinction between town and country.

Guelph’s nickname is the Royal City – but I think it should be the Rural City – a city that has, not always perfectly – found the balance between urban and rural – two human settlement patterns that depend on each other anyway.

Guelph is a 10 minute drive north of the 401, and I think this separation has been critical to its positive development — not awash with a sea of cars coming through the 401, the “inconvenience” of the 8 km between Guelph and the highway has made all the difference.

Guelph is vital – its a small Ontario city where people are interested in each other. Its ecology is alive – built at the confluence of the Eromosa and Speed Rivers – tributaries of the Grand River which run into Lake Eerie. The rivers move fast and the air is clean and refreshed by its moving waters.

My favourite view of Guelph so far is from the high lands south of the Eramosa River, looking north toward the city centre. It is a verdant, lush city, humid in the late summer heat. But instead of the ubiquitous glass condo tower, the only thing that rises from the green is the Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate – a grand cathedral that centres Guelph as would a church in a small city in France or Germany.

I’m interested in my relationship to Toronto as I study in Guelph. I will go back often – as your Toronto-based Urban Geographer I naturally have lots to do there with forthcoming projects and articles.

I am excited to avoid driving to Toronto as much as possible. I have romantic notions of taking the train — a GO line runs to Guelph, but for now its a commuter train that only leaves twice in the morning, coming back twice in the evening. It stops just short of Guelph in in Aberfoyle at the other times of the day due to conflicts with the CN/CP schedule, the industrial owner of the stretch of track. This short-stopped service is holding Guelph back from the urban energy of Toronto and the southern Ontario mega region. Maybe this is a good thing.

If not the train, the GO bus does excellent service between downtown Guelph and Union Station in Toronto, or between the University of Guelph and York University. With the pending York subway extension, this might be a pretty good option!

I am excited to feel Toronto as an insider/outsider – to understand the city in a regional context. To feel the dynamism of its urban energy as something I’m not used to. I wonder what details I’ll pick up – what difference I will notice. How it will feel to enter the city from the west.

I look forward to updating you on my insights of Southern Ontario and its many cities. I hope you enjoy this slightly new perspective as your Urban Geographer.

This post first appeared on the Koffler Gallery’s K-Blog, and was collaboratively written by myself, Mary Anderson, Mariah Hamilton and Jessica Dargo-Caplan. All photos by Mary Anderson. 

On Sunday, May 3, 2015, the Koffler Gallery organized its first Jane’s Walk, which explored the Urban Legends of our West Queen West neighbourhood. Our walk was created and led by Urban Geographer and artist, Daniel Rotsztain.

Inspired by the Koffler Gallery exhibition Erratics, (which explores the tensions between memory and fiction), Daniel introduced the walk by posing the question, “does Toronto have amnesia?”



Daniel led our group on a 2-hour walk through Toronto’s West Queen West neighbourhood, attempting to reassemble the neighbourhood’s memory by uncovering its histories, urban legends, and everything in between.


“What happens to a city’s notion of history when it has amnesia? A funny thing happens where the lines blur between fact and fiction. Without a strong historical tradition, urban legends emerge to fill the gaps and pass for that history. Strange historical blips, and anecdotal evidence emerge as what we remember. There are zones with strong historical memory, and others that people pass without a thought. But can’t we say that about all history? What distinguishes an urban legend – a story passed down through an oral tradition, from the random facts that become enshrined as historical evidence?” – Daniel Rotsztain


Our second stop was in front of The Lakeview Diner, where Daniel told us about the legend of the Lake Ontario Sea Serpent, which was named Gaasynedietha by First Nations people.


Our third stop was at Crawford and Dundas – where we explored the mystery of the green posts. Are they some sort of escape exits? Super Mario pipe replicas? Or are they berating tubes for a community of mole people, dwelling beneath Toronto? As Daniel explored these urban legends, he pointed out that the posts are actually ventilation stacks for a complex sewer system known as the Mid-Toronto Interceptor.


Our fourth stop was on Crawford Street – the buried bridges of Garrison Creek. Here, we explored the the legends of Garrison Creek, Toronto’s most famous lost waterway, as well as some lesser known facts about the creek including lost visions for its future.

Did you know that you used to be able to navigate the creek by boat, well north of Bloor, and that it was 10 metres wide and 20 metres deep at its largest?


Our next stop led us through the paths of Trinity Bellwoods to the park’s valley, or what it has become affectionately known as the Dog Bowl.


We often hear that Garrison Creek is “dead” or “lost” – but is it really? Here Daniel described some of the legends of Toronto’s zombie rivers, rising from the dead. These lost and buried rivers make themselves known quite frequently – re-emerging during rainstorms and leaching ancient dump chemicals into waterways. “The creek is not dead, but was buried alive!”


We continued our walk through the rest of Trinity Bellwoods to stop at our next location, the Trinity Gates. Just as the topography leave clues of lost rivers, Trinity Bellwoods’ gates are a clue of lost campuses. Here we explored the legends surrounding Trinity College, and other architectural fragments.


On CAMH’s grounds we recalled the history of the provincial mental health institution, and how the original 1850 buildings were demolished, leaving only its walls. Here we also discussed the legend of failed architecture, and the truth of failed governance.


Our next stop was at Dovercourt and Sudbury Streets where we remembered 48 Abell Street – an important building for West Queen West’s early art scene. It has since been demolished and replaced by condos.


We concluded our walk at Queen and Dovercourt, in front of West Queen West’s iconic, You’ve Changed mural. Daniel invited Carrie Lester to lead this portion of the walk. Carrie is a Haudenosaunee storyteller who told us about the meaning of Toronto, the myths and history of the land on which the modern city is built.


The walk brought to light many kinds of urban legends and histories. Stories were told as we attempted to untangle fact from fiction, and knit together our collective histories.

Over the summer, I’ve illustrated a few maps for my friends over at Craft Beer Passport, encouraging its users to fulfill the passport’s motto: “Explore Beer Through Toronto | Explore Toronto Through Beer”.

Each map takes cues from its neighbourhood and is themed accordingly. Downtown Patios is a film noir-esque jaunt through Toronto’s most Gotham like quarters. The Train-Hopper is inspired by the train tracks that dominate Toronto’s west end, especially the Junction. Day at the Beach and The Danny are pure explorations of the Beach and the Danforth East, while The Cozy Date crawl indulges in the whimsy of Bloor West.

Enjoy the maps and happy exploring!






Field notes from Coast Salish//Cascadia/Lower Mainland, BC


Along the Pacific Northwest coasts of Canada and the US, blackberries are growing everywhere. Come late Summer, there is endless bushes of free candy, available in total abundance.

Well, they don’t technically grow everywhere. As a “weed”/wild plant, they grow at the fringes of the city – industrial zones and left over spaces under bridges and back alleyways. In this sense, a copious amount of blackberry bushes is an indicator of inner city wilderness, a space or patch untended to and left to delicious transformations.

As Tom Robbins explored the landscapes of Seattle in Still Life With Woodpecker,“blackberries spread so rapidly that dogs and small children were sometimes engulfed and never heard from again.”

With the availability of such delicious and sweet fruit, how does anybody get anything done around here in July and August? It is taking me hours to bike around Richmond and Vancouver because I am stopping every few feet to chow down…. leading to inevitable blackberries stomach aches.

In one sense, cities are great machines of market-power efficiency. In this sense, the ubiquitous blackberry bush must act as something of a wrench and the great cogs. How would Toronto be different if blackberries grew everywhere?

These bushes of blackberries, of the Himalayan variety, are an invasive species here. But no one seems to care, further complicating the contentious world of plant migration politics.


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