Archives for posts with tag: spacing

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?

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

This post originally appeared on Spacing Toronto


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.


Exciting news, readers.

With experience writing for its counterpart blogs in Montreal and Halifax, it was inevitable. Your Urban Geographer has begun contributing to Spacing Toronto!

Spacing Toronto is the original Spacing blog and most closely associated with the fantastic work of the writers, artists and editors of the quarterly Spacing Magazine.

As you probably know by now, I grew up in Toronto, and feel a deep connection with this city, its history and geography. I look forward to sharing my observations, comments and responses to Toronto’s endlessly fantastic cityscape with Spacing Toronto’s wide readership.

Look out for my first post on the Spacing Toronto blog tomorrow!

Cross-posted from Spacing Atlantic

HALIFAX – For those who haven’t been scrutinizing the urban landscape for the last few years, the appearance of a centuries’-old house, stilted and shunted to the edge of the parking lot across from the Trident Cafe, must be a mighty strange site.

Having survived the demolition of the neighbouring Victoria Apartments in 2009, the Morris House has since found refuge on an adjacent parcel of land.

Spacing Atlantic reported extensively on the loss of the Victoria Apartments, a beautiful heritage property that has connections with the Morris family, the first and only Chief Surveyors of Nova Scotia. In its later years, the Apartments were a hub for musicians and artists and one of the last vestiges of affordable housing in the city’s South End.

An emotional affair, crowds gathered to share the Victoria Apartments’ final moments.

The historic Morris House, the second oldest wood structure in HRM, seems to have been dormant in the years since its rescue from the bulldozer. But appearances are deceiving, and over the last three years a buzz of activity has been surrounding the Morris House, its preservation and its future.

Since they saved the house in 2009, a Joint Action Committee comprised of the Ecology Action CentreHeritage Trust of Nova ScotiaMetro Transit Non Profit Housing Association, and the ARK have been busy preparing for the Morris House’s next life.

It took some time, but the donation of a lot at the south west corner of Creighton and Charles Streets in the North End secured the Morris House’s fate. When it’s moved in early 2013, the Morris House will be expanded and developed as (energy efficient) affordable housing  for nine young adults.

A rendering of the Morris House’s new home, at Creighton and Charles Streets, with an addition still in the design phase

The project is a beautiful mix of elements that would make any local urbanist melt: the preservation of the city’s heritage built environment, the marriage of old and new architectural styles, adaptive reuse of recycled building materials, the provision of affordable housing, and the monumental filling of one of Halifax’s infamous vacant lots.

It’s no wonder the Morris House has been the subject of countless academic and art projects. (Its allure most recently attracted Anna Sprague, who surrounded the house with whimsical white balloons for Nocturne 2012.) Since it was rescued in 2009, the sight of the lonely house has embodied a powerful energy, it’s back turned to the street it used to be an intimate part of.

There’s something captivating about the persistence of the Morris House, its insistence that it continue to be a conspicuous member of the cast of characters that make up Halifax’s built environment. There will also be something magical about witnessing the historic house sail three kilometers through the streets of Halifax when it is moved to its new home in the North End early next year.

With these qualities, the Morris House project is capable of catalyzing a deep conversation about affordable housing and inclusivity in Halifax, a conversation we desperately need to have. The project is also a dramatic testament to the idea that the “greenest building is the one still standing”.

In efforts to raise funds for moving the house, an Indiegogo campaign has been set up. The house is scheduled to move in early January. 2013. Check out the Morris House website for updates and more information.

cross-posted froSpacing Atlantic

SACKVILLE – Last weekend saw Sappy Fest Six energize the otherwise quiet summer streets of beautiful Sackville, New Brunswick. The festival features a diversity of musical acts, workshops and art installations that take place in a variety of venues, including Uncle Larry’s Billiards Hall, the Royal Canadian Legion and a Main Stage Tent that closes down Bridge Street, downtown Sackville’s main commercial thoroughfare.

The effect is a unique experience of urban space, where otherwise ordinary features of the town become the backdrops of incredible musical experiences. The festival is an opportunity for Sackville to showcase itself, and submit its streets, structures and parks to transformation and reconsideration by visiting festival-goers and resident Sackvillers alike.

A special buzz preceded the first night of Sappy Fest this year, as a mysterious final act, “Shark Attack!” was billed to play after Owen Pallet, the scheduled headliner. And the rumours were all but confirmed until the Arcade Fire took the stage to an electrified crowd of 1500, screaming and singing along with equal intensity to the stadium-sized crowds this band is now used to playing for.

During the opening refrains of the anthemic “Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)” the crowd and band sang together, “Meet me in the middle/ the middle of the town!” There, in the middle Sackville, in a tent on a street intimately framed by 19th and 20th century store fronts, the Arcade Fire played in an exceptionally appropriate setting, in light of this lyric and the subject matter of their music in general.

The Arcade Fire’s surprise concert in the streets of Sackville is a good opportunity to acknowledge this band’s contribution to our collective project of understanding and relating to the complexities of contemporary urban space. Their most recent album, “The Suburbs,” is a thoughtful reflection on what it has meant for a generation to grow up in a country characterized by immense suburban sprawl. The album’s popularity is testament to the importance and ability of exploring concepts of urban space familiar to Spacing readers in a broader context, outside of the immediate planning/urban enthusiast community. Arcade Fire’s reflections on our built environment come at a critical moment when issues of urban planning and design have become central to the public eye. Their songs offer philosophical comfort as we make sense of, and come up with solutions to, the environmental, social and psychological consequences of the sprawl that defines much of the Canadian urban landscape.

cross posted from Spacing Atlantic

This summer across the country, the idea that vegetables can and should be grown in the city continues to gain momentum. Urban agriculture is a lot of things, but as a formal movement promotes local, sustainable food systems, renewed inner-city social and physical health, and a shift toward people-oriented urbanism. Inner city food production has obvious impacts on the urban landscape, creating pleasant productive spaces in otherwise unproductive, sterile land.

Halifax has many lovely gardens, many of which can be found on the Halifax Garden Network’s user-generated map. You can, of course, engage in urban gardening in a variety of ways, ranging from formalized municipal allotments, to semi-private community gardens, to straight up guerilla gardens.

The nexus of do-it-yourself city planning and urban agriculture, guerilla gardening is a reminder of the possibility and importance of informal urban design. With the eye of a guerilla gardener, a quick scan of any street in Halifax presents many plots of public and private land that have the potential to be reclaimed and transformed from barren, asphalt spaces into beautiful urban places.

On my regular bike trips to the Far North End, I have noticed the slow cultivation of an otherwise barren lot at Agricola and Bilby. Though I haven’t met them, it seems that an individual or a group of people have taken it upon themselves to transform what was (as some quick Google Street View investigative work revealed) an extremely desolate corner, into a lovely urban space.

 Many vegetables and flowers have been planted, and thoughtfully labelled to educate curious onlookers about the varieties of species grown there. Though the changes are few, the introduction of a variety of vegetation and DIY landscape architecture imbues a formerly neglected, barren corner into a space that is obviously cared for, and as a result, has become a beautiful place to be.

It’s not news that official urban planning in Halifax often leaves much to be desired. A history of decisions that have favoured developers and promoted car culture, Halifax has a notorious knack for destroying communities in the name of potential economic development and urban renewal. With the potential widening of Bayers road on the horizon, it’s obvious that official planning in Halifax, for now, will continue along its historically misguided footsteps, while the rest of the world experiments in progressive, community-oriented urban design.

Guerilla gardens, like the one at Agricola and Bilby, are one of the many ways that we can take shaping-the-city into our own hands. As the summer roars on and the gardening season reaches its peak, let us celebrate these fantastic guerilla gardens, reminders that we do not have to be the passive recipients of top-down city plans, but that we can be, and are, active agents in our cityscape.

The Urban Geographer is excited to have begun contributing to Spacing Atlantic, one of the many blogs within the Spacing network, a group of websites and magazine that focus on Canadian urban issues, ranging from the poetic to the political.

My first post, Guerilla Urban Design on Agricola, acknowledges the possibility and importance of informal urban design in response to the city’s often inadequate top-down planning, focusing on a lovely guerilla garden that has sprung up on a formerly neglected corner in Halifax’s North End.

I have also, in the past, contributed to Spacing Montreal, and have linked the articles below:

Natural Paths, 25 February, 2010

Flexible Bike Paths: Lessons from a Mild Winter, 19 March, 2010

How My Father Sees the Mile End, 7 April, 2010

An Unintentional Public Space, 23 October, 2010