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[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.”

    [META] Some blogroll additions

    Two links are being added.

    • To the news section, I’m adding the Canadian news website National Observer, which has interesting longer articles analyzing Canadian events. Of their recent articles, I would recommend Lorimer Shenher’s “LGBTQ officers need to pick the right target”, which argues that LGBTQ police officers should step back and consider the import of the police, as an organization, to many queer people.
    • To the blog section, I’m adding Strange Company, a great blog that assembles links of interesting and odd things around the world, in the past and present, and takes the occasional longer look at particular events. This link, examining the history of one Reverend Griffiths who was something of a ghostbuster in 19th century Wales, is a good example of the latter category of post.

    Written by Randy McDonald

    March 6, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    [META] More blogroll and news links

    The start of a new year is a good time to add links to my blogroll, bloggish and otherwise.

    Enjoy!

    Written by Randy McDonald

    January 2, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    [LINK] “Donald Trump, the First President of Our Post-Literate Age”

    I wonder if Joe Wiesenthal’s Bloomberg View essay is unduly unkind to traditional oral cultures. Honesty has almost always been praised, after all.

    [A]ll this focus on fake Facebook news obscures a much bigger story about the way social media — the endless public opining and sharing of information — is reshaping politics. Even if you’ve never given much thought to its meaning, you’ve probably heard someone say “the medium is the message,” the famous dictum of media theorist Marshall McLuhan.

    But what does that mean, and what does it mean specifically for the 2016 election? A possible answer can be found in the work of Walter J. Ong, a Jesuit priest and a former student of McLuhan’s at St. Louis University. In his most famous work, “Orality and Literacy,” Ong examined how the invention of reading and writing fundamentally changed human consciousness. He argued that the written word wasn’t just an extension of the spoken word, but something that opened up new ways of thinking — something that created a whole new world.

    The easiest way to grasp the difference between the written world and the oral world is that in the latter, there’s no way to look up anything. Before the invention of writing, knowledge existed in the present tense between two or more people; when information was forgotten, it disappeared forever. That state of affairs created a special need for ideas that were easily memorized and repeatable (so, in a way, they could go viral). The immediacy of the oral world did not favor complicated, abstract ideas that need to be thought through. Instead, it elevated individuals who passed along memorable stories, wisdom and good news.

    Written by Randy McDonald

    December 2, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    [LINK] “A Wikipedian Explains How Wikipedia Stays Reliable in the Fake News”

    Vice‘s Mike Pearl interviews Wikipedia editor Victor Grigas to examine Wikipedia’s strategies for exposing fraud.

    VICE: How’d you get into writing about fake news?
    Victor Grigas: Chicago stuff is what I write about, and I had all these friends who were like, “This is bullshit, man!” when Trump got elected. And I was like, “Send your [protest] photos in!” I had one friend who did, and I uploaded them. [So] I’m pretty happy with where [Wikipedia’s articles about Trump protests have] gone. But in the process of researching it, if you type in “Trump protests,” you’ll find these fake news articles that say there were people paid, and it’s crazy! If you actually read the fake news articles, they’ll cite this one YouTube video of a dash cam camera driving in Chicago past a bunch of buses. So it’s like, “Oh, because these buses are here, they’ve bused in protesters from everywhere!”

    Is that claim backed up by any sources Wikipedia considers reliable?
    It’s total nonsense with no basis whatsoever! But they’re writing this to feed whatever beast. I don’t know if they’re writing it just to make money, or if there’s a political incentive. I have no fucking clue, but it’s obviously not reliable. But for some reason it’s coming up near the top of my Google searches, which is really infuriating. So I want to make sure that when people read about these things, they know they’re not there.

    Does the existence of this fake news merit its own inclusion in well-sourced articles?
    At the bottom of the page about the protests, there’s one or two lines about [fake news]. And I got into a little bit of an editing conflict about that because I tried using the fake news site as a source about the fake news. They deleted what I wrote, and I think the line was “awful reference!” and it got deleted right away, automatically without reading or trying to understand what I was trying to do about it.

    So when veteran Wikipedia editors aren’t around, what happens when an article shows up based on fake news?
    There’s a lot of policing that happens on Wikipedia, which people see as a real barrier to entry to get started, because there’s a huge learning curve. One of the aspects of that learning curve is what you’re allowed to write, basically. And it takes a little bit of patience to figure out how to make it work. So one of the things that happens is you start editing and stuff gets deleted like that.

    What kind of stuff do you mean?
    If you start [sourcing] like a blog, or a personal site, or something like that, it’s gonna bite the dust real fast. People are gonna take it out, and they’re gonna point you to the reason why they took it out, usually.

    Written by Randy McDonald

    December 2, 2016 at 6:00 pm

    [NEWS] Some Friday links

    • Bloomberg notes the recent challenge to one-family rule in Gabon, looks at Russia’s new Internet firewall, examines the Syrian Kurds’ withdrawal beyond the Euphrates, and reports on near-record migration into the United Kingdom.
    • Bloomberg View talks about inequality in China, looks at continuing disputes over Second World War history in Poland and Ukraine, and examines the things Texas and California have in common.
    • CBC reports on the impending release of a report on foreign workers, looks at the integration problems of Syrian refugees re: housing, and reports on Canada’s interest in more immigration from China.
    • The Inter Press Service notes how drought is hurting cocoa farmers in Cameroon.
    • MacLean’s looks at how some in the Conservative Party have not moved past same-sex marriage, describes how the new British Columbia tax on foreign buyers of real estate is deterring Chinese, and reports on the catastrophic potential of carbon release from melting permafrost.
    • National Geographic notes how the young generation sees Pluto and its classification history.
    • The National Post describes how design fans want the CBC to release its 1974 standards manual, and looks at controversy over a study claiming extensive support in mosques for extremist literature.
    • Wired has photos from the uninhabited cities of China, and describes the new prominence of the alt right.

    [NEWS] Some more links about Proxima Centauri b

    The European Southern Observatory provided this artist’s impression of the surface of Proxima b. “The double star Alpha Centauri AB also appears in the image to the upper-right of Proxima itself. Proxima b is a little more massive than the Earth and orbits in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri, where the temperature is suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface.”

    Like.

    Proxima Centauri b has continued to excite over the weekend. The MacLean’s article “Why everyone is excited about an exoplanet named Proxima b”, by Amanda Shendrake, points out the apparent import for a layman’s audience.

    Just because an exoplanet is in a star’s habitable zone, however, does not mean it can host life. It simply means that if the exoplanet featured a similar atmosphere and surface pressure as the Earth, the planet could sustain liquid water. Unfortunately, we know nothing about Proxima b’s atmosphere.

    For an exoplanet to be potentially habitable, scientists consider more than just whether or not it can host water. The star around which the exoplanet orbits needs to be of a particular type—one that burns long enough to allow life a chance to evolve, and emits appropriate amounts of ultraviolet radiation.

    Additionally, the exoplanet must have significant similarities to Earth. The Earth Similarity Index (ESI) is a way to measure this likeness, and it places objects on a scale of zero to one, where one is Earth itself. The closer to 1.0, the more similar the exoplanet is to our home. The measurement takes into account radius, density, escape velocity, and surface temperature.

    No other planets in our solar system are Earth-like; however, in addition to being the nearest of the 44 potentially habitable exoplanets we’ve found, Proxima b also has the highest ESI.

    (Nice infographics, too.)

    At Scientific American, Elizabeth Tasker’s blog post “Yes, We’ve Discovered a Planet Orbiting the Nearest Star but…” notes the many, many caveats around identifying Proxima Centauri b as Earth-like. Sarah Scoles’ Wired article “Y’all Need to Chill About Proxima Centauri b” explores the same territory, and makes an argument as to the underlying motivation for this identification of worlds as potentially Earth-like.

    [I]t’s not an Earth twin, no matter what the headlines say, and neither are any other planets scientists have found. Hot Jupiters may be cool; planets that rain glass may be a hit at parties; “Super-Earth” may be fun to say. And getting the full census of exoplanets is valuable. But most scientists, Messeri has found, really just want to find another Earth. Research priorities reflect that. The Kepler Space Telescope, which has discovered more planets than any other enterprise, was “specifically designed to survey a portion of our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover dozens of Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone,” according to NASA.

    The search for an “Earth Twin” is the quest for a platonic ideal, says Messeri. “It allows us to imagine Earth at its best, Earth as we want to imagine it, Earth that isn’t hampered by climate change or war or disease,” she says.

    In other words, Earth as we’ve never known it and never will. If scientists found a twin planet, Pure Earth would become, in our minds, a real place that still exists, somewhere out there.

    But we haven’t discovered that place. And we might not ever. On a quest for the perfect partner, you usually find someone who’s pretty cool but yells at you when they’re hungry, or hates your mom. After you sign on to the perfect job, you discover that you’re supposed to wash everyone’s coffee mugs. In that way, finding Proxima Centauri b while searching for Pure Earth is just like every human quest for perfection.

    “What we’ve actually found is something more real,” says Messeri, “and less ideal.”

    Joseph Dussault at the Christian Science Monitor notes in “Do we need to change the way we talk about potentially habitable planets?” that the language used to describe these worlds may need to be altered, for lay audiences at least. Universe Today’s Matt Williams notes that Earth-like means something that is not a duplicate of Tahiti.

    [F]inding a planet that is greater in size and mass than Earth, but significantly less than that of a gas giant, does not mean it is terrestrial. In fact, some scientists have recommended that the term “mini-Neptune” be used to describe planets that are more massive than Earth, but not necessarily composed of silicate minerals and metals.

    And estimates of size and mass are not exactly metrics for determining whether or not a planet is “habitable”. This term is especially sticky when it comes to exoplanets. When scientists attach this word to extra-solar planets like Proxima b, Gliese 667 Cc, Kepler-452b, they are generally referring to the fact that the planet exists within its parent star’s “habitable zone” (aka. Goldilocks zone).

    This term describes the region around a star where a planet will experience average surface temperatures that allow for liquid water to exist on its surface. For those planets that orbit too close to their star, they will experience intense heat that transforms surface waster into hydrogen and oxygen – the former escaping into space, the latter combining with carbon to form CO².

    This is what scientists believe happened to Venus, where thick clouds of CO² and water vapor triggered a runaway greenhouse effect. This turned Venus from a world that once had oceans into the hellish environment we know today, where temperatures are hot enough to melt lead, atmospheric density if off the charts, and sulfuric acid rains from its thick clouds.

    For planets that orbit beyond a star’s habitable zone, water ice will become frozen solid, and the only liquid water will likely be found in underground reservoirs (this is the case on Mars). As such, finding planets that are just right in terms of average surface temperature is intrinsic to the “low-hanging fruit” approach of searching for life in our Universe.

    Even so, the optimism expressed by Bloomberg View’s Faye Flam in “What the New Planet Says About Life in the Universe” is something I would like to cling to. Proxima b’s ideal, or at least worlds like this ideal, might be perfectly suited for life.

    Studying this planet could reveal something important about the timeline of life in the universe, and whether we earthlings are early to the party. That’s because stars like Proxima Centauri are the future of the universe. Called red dwarfs, these make up the majority of stars in the galaxy, and they live about 1,000 times as long as our sun.

    In a paper made public last month, Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb looked at the cosmic implications of life surrounding red dwarfs. Loeb calculated that if life is just as likely to form around these stars as sun-like ones, then the vast majority of life in the universe has yet to be born, and we earthlings are not just early, he said, but “premature.”

    That’s because scientists believe eventually, all the raw materials for star formation will be used up and all the stars will die, leaving a dark universe of dust and black holes. For most of the trillions of years stretching between now and cosmic darkness, red dwarfs will be the only game in town.

    The papers at arXiV at least allow for hope. Why not encourage it?

    Written by Randy McDonald

    August 28, 2016 at 10:29 pm