Archives for category: urbana-politica

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In late October, Glo’erm and I put up a fake development proposal sign on the lawn of Old City Hall in Toronto. The proposal included a 90-storey residential tower, while the heritage building would be converted into a parking garage. At the bottom of the sign was a link to a website that featured several other, increasingly absurd, parody proposals.

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I guess pranking is still in style, because the stunt was covered by every local news outlet in Toronto, with many thinking it was real. The project struck a chord with a city anxious about how fast it is changing.

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Some of the comments on CityTV’s coverage of the story, ranging from outrage to… outrage

After articles in blogTO, the Toronto Star, Metro Toronto, and Canadian Art, and some hilarious TV news coverage where they created animations of the proposed buildings actually coming out of the existing structures,  I wrote about our motivations in the Globe and Mail. (We were initially anonymous, but decided to reveal ourselves to explain the ideas behind the project and keep the conversation going, not to mention some good press).

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The signs in the print edition of the Globe and Mail, October 29, 2016

As soon as the article was published, there was a vast amount of criticism regarding my position. One critic called it “NIMBYism dressed up as art”, despite my very clear stance that development is needed, but that doesn’t mean it has to be so extreme and uncontrolled. I do agree with most of the critiques, and my knowledge about the state of development in Toronto has expanded greatly from this experience.

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Basically, the reason we’re getting so much “hyper-density” in Toronto, is because of what is known as the Yellow Belt – huge swaths of Toronto zoned as Neighbourhoods, and protected from development that doesn’t meet the character of the area. This means that people can use the official plan to reject even gentle, mid-rise density from these neighbourhoods. With a rapidly growing population in Toronto, that density has to go somewhere – and its landing in neighbourhoods where there weren’t many previous residents to defend them, like along lower Yonge Street and Liberty Village. One planner described it as a stress ball: if you squeeze the ball, all the pressure has to go somewhere, and it’s popping up as a extremely high density in certain parts of the city.

I was able to express a more nuanced view in an interview with NOW magazine.

Inclusivity is important: Toronto has an affordable housing crisis, and its important to increase the supply of housing so that the city remains accessible to all. The development proposals we are critiquing are not the answer: they are not affordable, and their extreme heights do not contribute to a higher quality of life.

I stand by our initial critique of an opaque proposal process that leaves most Torontonians out of the decision making process. When you go to a public meeting regarding a development proposal, that meeting is only accessible to a certain segment of the population, who have the time and knowledge to be able to respond to a fully formed proposal that will probably be built. At those meetings, as critical urbanist Jay Pitter has said more than once, the most important question is who is not at those meetings, and why aren’t they there?

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As part of Rising Tide Toronto‘s Earth Day Action to Stop Line 9, I illustrated a map showing how disastrous a pipeline failure would be for the city’s waterways.

Enbridge plans to have Line 9 operating by June, despite the fact that the legal challenge by the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation has yet to be heard in court and despite the City of Toronto’s recent motion requiring safety valves be installed to protect Toronto’s waterways.

Exciting news readers – I’ve started to write for Now Magazine, Toronto’s alt-weekly. The publication is the perfect venue to explore some core urban geography concepts and how they apply to Toronto. 

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My first article for Now investigated neighbourhood change in my current Toronto neck-of-the-woods at Dufferin and Davenport. The older Italian generation is aging and new people are moving in. People are quick to call this “gentrification”, but I argue that it’s not. It’s rather a strengthening of the vitality and culture of the neighbourhood that is harmonious with the current residents. The more malicious form of gentrification  – in neighbourhoods like Parkdale where low income residents are forced out – must be avoided. If we use the term to describe too many things that aren’t gentrification, we lose its usefulness.

Read the article here.

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!

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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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!

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ASEED is an activist organization based in Amsterdam that targets the structural causes of environmental destruction and social injustice.

Much of their work in the Netherlands focuses on food security, and the averse effects of the industrialization of the food system. Their work involves education, workshops and events like the yearly March Against Monsanto march in Wageningen.

Earlier this year, I designed and illustrated a map of the world, exploring the negative effects of GMOs and resistance to them all over the planet. It was a fantastic project, diverse and challenging. The goal was to communicate a dense amount of information in an accessible and engaging visualization. A map is often the best way to achieve this!

Click on the map below for a full resolution version, and support the resistance to GMOs!

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

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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?

This post originally appeared on Spacing Toronto

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While exploring the neighbourhoods along Broadview north of the Danforth last week, I stumbled upon what may be the most beautiful Dairy Queen in Toronto.

Perched on a ridge above Pottery Road, the DQ overlooks the Don Valley, affording a perfect view of Toronto’s skyline poking out of the forests along the Valley’s western bank.

Come summer time, the restaurant’s picnic tables will be a great spot to enjoy a sundae or Blizzard while thinking about the forests, highways, towers and rivers that make up Toronto.

by Daniel Rotsztain

Though many would think of the intersection of Broadview and Pottery Road as being part of downtown Toronto, this Dairy Queen reveals the area’s very suburban DNA (and Pottery Road’s history goes back even further). Straddled by wide streets and parking lots and its own drive-thru window, this cliffside DQ is a piece of the suburbs within the borders of pre-amalgamation Toronto.

by Daniel Rotsztain

As it happens, Broadview and Pottery Road are part of Ward 29, where a healthy majority of the residents did not vote for Rob Ford in the 2010 municipal election. But it doesn’t matter to me whether this part of town is urban or suburban, Ford-land or Latte-ville — what matters is whether I can get there easily on the TTC. I live at another end of town, but I’m excited for the summer, when I’ll make the trek to Broadview Station, walk a few minutes north, and enjoy a Blizzard while taking in great views of the city.

Cover of Toronto Life, October 2002, at the end of Mel Lastman’s Mayoralty.

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This post originally appeared on Urban Toronto

Toronto is a condo boom town. With the highest rate of condo construction in North America, Toronto’s cityscape has been dramatically altered by the doubling of condo towers in the last decade.

But are condos contributing to a liveable city? Or are they the product of a global investments game, sacrificing quality for profit to the detriment of the innocent Torontonian condo-dweller?

Condo Game Doc Zone CBCThe Condo Game airs on CBC’s Doc Zone on Thursday November 21 at 9pm

We know that UrbanToronto readers have strong opinions about these matters as Toronto continues to verticalize, and we are excited that CBC Television’s Doc Zone will explore these pressing questions in ‘The Condo Game’, a documentary by Bountiful Films airing next week, Thursday Nov 21 at 9pm.

The documentary will examine the forces at play behind Toronto’s fast paced market, exploring finance, construction and the future of the condo. The integrity of city planning in effecting the shape of the city will be examined, along with analysis of the forces of a booming market.

Check out the trailer, and read more about the documentary on CBC’s website.