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Archive for the ‘Urban Note’ Category

[URBAN NOTE] Five links about Toronto neighbourhoods, past and present and future

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  • Metro Toronto‘s David Hains reports on a new interactive map of Trinity-Bellwoods Park designed to help users find other people in that large complex space.
  • You’ll never have to spend 20 minutes trying to find your friend in Trinity-Bellwoods Park again.

    New York-based cartographer (and former Toronto Star employee) William Davis loves Toronto, and so he knows this is one of the city’s great summer frustrations. It’s because of the geographically complicated, but very popular park, that he and Tom Weatherburn made an interactive map for Torontonians to share their location.

    All users need to do is drag and drop a “here” pin on a map of the park. It can be accessed for free at the MapTO website, a personal project with Weatherburn that features quirky and interesting maps on a variety of city subjects.

    The Trinity-Bellwoods map is overlaid with easy-to-read icons, including a dog at the dog bowl, a baseball at the baseball diamond, and beer mugs where people like to hang out.

  • The Toronto Star‘s Jennifer Pagliaro describes the catastrophic state of repair of far too many of the houses of Toronto Community Housing.
  • Half of Toronto Community Housing developments will be in “critical” condition in the next five years without additional funding for repairs, according to an internal database provided to the Star.

    Already, the data shows more than 30 social-housing properties are in serious disrepair. Of 364 developments — which include houses and groupings of low-rise buildings and towers — 222 developments are ranked in “poor” condition, with dozens edging on critical condition, based on a standard ranking used by the housing corporation.

    Those critical sites are homes for more than 3,000 individuals and families.

    The data shows a pervasive problem at a time when the city is grappling with how to keep thousands of units open with a $1.73-billion funding gap.

    Of the 364 developments, more than 100 were offloaded onto the city by the province more than a decade and a half ago without money needed to cover the repairs. Of the buildings in the critical and poor categories, more than a third were downloaded by the province.

  • Back in August, Yasmine Laarsroui wrote for Torontoist about the potential for the housing co-op model to help solve the Toronto housing crisis.
  • Those affected by the lack of rent controls left young professionals, like reporter Shannon Martin, with no option but to turn to more extreme alternatives, such as couch-surfing.

    Young people seeking more reliable housing options are turning to co-op housing—at least, those lucky enough to get a unit.

    Toronto renter Donald Robert moved into Cabbagetown’s Diane Frankling Co-operative Homes in September 2016 and speaks highly of his experience.

    Robert pays $1,300 for a large two-bedroom unit with access to an underground parking and a small gym, almost $500 cheaper than the average one-bedroom unit in Toronto. Robert explains that, “the best part though has been the community here. Everybody says ‘hi.’”

  • Also back in April, John Lorinc wrote in Spacing about the oft-overlooked musicality of the lost neighbourhood of The Ward.
  • If you try to imagine your way back into the early 20th century streets and laneways of The Ward — the dense immigrant enclave razed to make way for Toronto’s City Hall — you might pick up the sounds of newsies and peddlers hawking their wares, the clanging of the area’s junk and lumber yards, and shrieking children playing on the Elizabeth Street playground north of Dundas.

    Those streets would also reverberate day and night with a jumble of languages — Italian, Yiddish, Chinese. The dialects and accents of these newcomers were considered to be not only “foreign,” but also proof (to the keepers of Toronto’s Anglo-Saxon morality) of the area’s worrisome social and physical failings.

    But despite the fact that many mainstream Torontonians saw The Ward as an impoverished blight on the face of the city, the neighbourhood resonated with energy and culture and music — evidence of the resilience of the stigmatized newcomers who settled there in waves from the late 19th century onward.

    Photographers recorded fiddle players and organ grinders with their hurdy gurdies, playing as mesmerized children listened. After their shifts ended, one 1914 account noted, labourers whiled away their free times playing mandolins or concertinas as they sang rags and the Neapolitan songs so popular at the time.

    “When sleep in crowded rooms seems all but impossible,” journalist Emily Weaver observed in The Globe and Mail in 1910, “the people of ‘The Ward’ are astir till all hours, and the Italians amuse themselves by singing in their rich sweet voices the songs of their far-away homelands or dancing their native dances to the music of a mandolin or guitar in the open roadway beneath the stars.”

  • The Toronto Star‘s Azzura Lalani describes how the rapid growth of young families in Leslieville threatens to overload local schools. What will the Downtown Relief Line do?
  • As the mother of a 16-month-old boy, Michelle Usprech is looking to leave the Financial District where it’s just “suits and suits and suits,” for a more family friendly vibe, and she’s got her eye on Leslieville.

    But one of Toronto’s most family-friendly neighbourhoods may be a victim of its own success as signs from the Toronto District School Board have cropped up, warning parents in Leslieville their children may not be able to attend their local school because of possible overcrowding, school board spokesperson Ryan Bird confirmed.

    Those signs warn that “due to residential growth, sufficient accommodation may not be available for all students,” despite the school board making “every effort to accommodate students at local schools.”

    [. . .]

    It’s a concern for some parents, including Kerry Sharpe, who lives in Leslieville and has a four-month-old daughter named Eisla.

    “It’s still early days for me,” she said, but, “it is a concern. Even daycare, that’s hard to get into, so I don’t see it getting any better.”

    [URBAN NOTE] “CRYSTAL CLEARer”

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    In The Globe and Mail, Alex Bozikovic looks at what plans for redoing the Bloor street entry of the Royal Ontario Museum mean.

    The Crystal is flawed. The Royal Ontario Museum doesn’t want to put it that way, but that is the message of what it calls the “Welcome Project”: Its architectural transformation of a decade ago, which was meant to revive the Toronto institution, doesn’t work as it should.

    That message was hidden in a piece of news this week from Canada’s most-visited museum. It plans to reopen the entrance in its 1932 wing, add a new ramp and broader stair, and reconfigure the rotunda inside as a lobby once again.

    A small step, but it’s an appetizer for larger plans that include new plazas, an outdoor amphitheatre and renovations to the current lobby.

    It’s good news for residents and visitors to Toronto: The region’s most popular and most democratic museum will be a more pleasant place to visit.

    And it reflects a new focus for architecture in institutions such as this: not in making showpieces, but on the nuts and bolts of making places that work.

    Written by Randy McDonald

    May 16, 2017 at 10:00 pm

    [URBAN NOTE] “How do Toronto’s light rail vehicles compare? It’s Bombardier versus Alstom”

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    The Toronto Star‘s Ben Spurr looks at how the new streetcars the TTC is contracting to buy with Alstom with compared with Bombardier’s oft-promised ones, and the consequences.

    After a protracted dispute with Bombardier about delays to its light rail vehicle order for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, Metrolinx has taken the drastic step of placing an order for cars with another company.

    Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca announced Friday that Metrolinx, which is the provincial agency in charge of transit planning for the GTHA, has inked a deal to buy 61 vehicles from the French firm Alstom at a cost of $528 million.

    The transit agency hasn’t cancelled its $770-million purchase from Bombardier, which as a result of a lawsuit brought by the manufacturer is now tied up in a dispute resolution process. But Del Duca said allowing both purchases to go ahead simultaneously would provide Metrolinx with a backup fleet that guarantees it will have enough vehicles to open the Crosstown line by 2021.

    Del Duca called it “a creative and prudent approach to dealing with a less than ideal situation.”

    Bombardier maintains that Metrolinx had no need to seek another supplier, and says it will be able to supply all 182 cars the agency ordered in 2010, 76 of which would run on the Crosstown line.

    Written by Randy McDonald

    May 16, 2017 at 9:45 pm

    [URBAN NOTE] “Tory is right to raise hell with province, but must also find a way to fix social housing”

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    Earlier this month, Edward Keenan argued that, whatever his legitimate disputes with the Ontario government, John Tory has to fix social housing.

    If you’re the mayor of Toronto, as I’ve written before, sooner or later the province will always screw you. Because it can, and it has its own priorities that are different than yours.

    And so sooner or later, if you’re the mayor of Toronto, you have to get into a war of words with the province about it. Because what else can you do?

    Mel Lastman said of Mike Harris, “everything he has touched has turned to crap.” David Miller said Dalton McGuinty was being “disgraceful.” Rob Ford was “furious” over a “last-minute blindsiding” from Kathleen Wynne.

    And now it’s John Tory’s turn to turn his rhetorical guns on the province and raise hell about their neglect. Tory has hauled out his signature move — holding lots of press conferences in different parts of the city to announce the same thing over and over— to complain about the province stiffing Toronto by not chipping in to repair or build social housing. “Premier Kathleen Wynne and her government had a chance to stand up for Toronto on transit and on housing. Instead, at least on the pages of this budget, they turned their backs,” he said last week, outlining the theme of the week to come.

    The man has a point.

    Written by Randy McDonald

    May 16, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    [URBAN NOTE] Toronto Life on the Parkdale rent strike

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    Toronto Life’s Cody Punter shared brief interviews with a view of the people taking part in this month’s rent strike in Parkdale.

    On May 1, hundreds of people took to the streets of Parkdale to protest rent increases at a handful of apartment towers managed by MetCap, a major landlord in the neighbourhood.

    Ontario law normally prevents landlords of pre-1991 buildings from raising rents by more than a low, guideline percentage every 12 months, but MetCap has applied to raise rents higher than the guideline in several of its Parkdale buildings. In response, some tenants are threatening a rent strike, during which they’ll withhold rent payments to MetCap until the company agrees to put a halt to future rent increases and address tenant grievances. We spoke with some MetCap renters in Parkdale to find out how they’re feeling about all this. (MetCap president Brent Merrill didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.)

    Written by Randy McDonald

    May 16, 2017 at 9:00 pm

    [URBAN NOTE] “Toronto’s Rent Control Risks Stoking the Red-Hot Housing Market”

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    Bloomberg’s Ken Chipman argues that rent control in Toronto risks shifting real estate development from rental units to condos.

    Ontario’s government is set to impose the most sweeping rent controls in a quarter century, linking annual increases to inflation, with a cap of 2.5 percent, on all buildings as it tries to keep costs under control. The measure, meant to protect tenants from price gouging, could end up making it more — not less — expensive to rent in North America’s fourth biggest city.

    The rules threaten to bring apartment construction to a halt, critics warn. At least one developer said he’s scrapping all rental projects in the pipeline. Others are considering doing the same. This risks worsening the rental-housing shortage and hurting those already priced out of the for-sale housing market, where prices are at a record high even as the troubles at mortgage lender Home Capital Group Inc. threaten to spill into the market.

    Lamb Development Corp. had seven apartment buildings in the works in Ontario — five in downtown Toronto — before Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the expanded rent control on April 20, part of the province’s 16-point plan to cool scorching home price gains. The proposal calls for a rent cap on all units, not just those built before 1991 as mandated by current law.

    “We won’t build these buildings as apartments. We will build condominiums,” said Brad Lamb, Lamb Development’s founder. “If you were to now ask 20 or 30 prominent developers about purpose-built apartments, they will tell you they are no longer viable in Toronto.”

    Written by Randy McDonald

    May 16, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    [URBAN NOTE] “Beyond ­Galleria Mall”

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    NOW Toronto‘s Joshua Sherman tells the story of a Jane’s Walk organized by Shari Kasman around the parking lots of Dufferin and Dupont.

    “Thanks for coming to this beautiful parking lot on this beautiful, sunny day in Toronto.”

    Shari Kasman is speaking into a red-and-white megaphone. And it’s not sunny at all. It’s a drizzly May 6 Saturday afternoon outside the Galleria Mall at Dufferin and Dupont.

    Kasman, a local artist and author, is starting her latest guided tour, Parking Lots & Parking Spots: Galleria Mall & Beyond. It’s one of nearly 180 that took place last weekend in Toronto as part of the annual Jane’s Walk festival, named for the late urban activist Jane Jacobs.

    While other local Jane’s Walks explore the historic aspects of the city, this tour is dedicated to the unglamorous and utilitarian: where Torontonians in a small pocket of the west end park “from the perspective of a non-expert,” Kasman tells NOW ahead of the event, making it clear this tour is no joke.

    She may not be a parking authority, but Kasman, who already has two other Galleria-based Jane’s Walks under her belt, has been busy reading up on the subject for the past few weeks.

    Written by Randy McDonald

    May 16, 2017 at 8:15 pm