Archive for May, 2006

PS Kensington: more than an afterthought?

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

In our last post we threw in the comment that a bicyclicious thing to do on a sunny spring Sunday would be to ride down and participate in the car-free celebration in Kensington Market.

Although it’s called “P.S.” Kensington, it stands for “Pedestrian Sunday” not “post-script,” as many of our readers were led to believe. For this little misunderstanding the ALLDERBLOB apologizes.

After all, a “P.S.” at the end of a letter or note implies an afterthought, something not germaine, something extraneous to the important business of the letter or note foregoing.

But what of the “P.S.” that was Kensington Market on Sunday? Was it also not merely an appendix to the bloated stomach that is Toronto? If it were lopped off, would anyone miss it?

We went down to investigate this question.

We took up a station at the corner of Oxford and Augusta, at an outside table with a big umbrella to block the sun. Behind us was a bakery, “Alchemy” by name, and before us a mug of coffee and a cinnamon almond shortbread cookie or two. Luxury!

And just beyond that, the ballet of the sidewalk, writ large. Writ across the whole street, in fact. The ballet of the streets, sans cars.

Our desk, it turned out, was well chosen in one regard. For the restaurant across the street, “La Palette,” held a great big banner proclaiming “volunteer headquarters,” and from this restaurant came and went a steady trickle of City Idol candidates: Shamez Amlani, and Kelsey Carriere, and Michael Louis Johnson, and others. Out front were parked two bicycle rickshaws, a steaming mountain of lesser bicycles, and a woman-powered phaeton cabriolet which periodically saw service towing smallish children up or down the crowded street.

[Crowded? Tell us more about the crowds. –ed]

We got to counting at one point, but ennui overtook us as the seconds crept past. What hell it is to count! Still, in sixty seconds we counted 65 people walking north or south. Twelve of them wheeled bikes along (two astride). They filled the streets from curb to curb at most points. They tended to stay off the sidewalks, except where they paused to look at some vendor’s display or to manoeuvre around some slower-moving person or group.

Strange to say, except for the expected at La Palette across the street, we saw no familiars: that is, no one we recognized, or thought we recognized, or had ever seen before. And we sat with our coffee and cookies for a long while. Many multiples of the aforementioned sixty seconds. We could do some multiplication, in fact, and turn up a number: say two hours’ worth of sixty second periods times 65 people. Um… What’s that, like a zillion? And each one stranger than the last.

We watched a little girl, maybe 4 years old, for a long time. She was waiting while her dad talked on his cell phone, sitting there on the curb, but she wasn’t bored. She amused herself with a variety of little movements, swinging her arms, posing as a swan, pirouetting, and then, for variety, throwing in a couple little karete punches. Most of this was accomplished within a four-foot range of her dad, who seemingly paid her no attention at all.

We watched an old lady pushing an even older lady along in a wheelchair, swooping along right on the centreline. People got out of their way in a hurry.

We overheard another little girl, this one boasting “watch me, mommy” as she crossed the street by herself: normally, perhaps, a forbidden activity.

We saw a guy with an infant strapped on his chest, and another one, and at least two more. Moms and infants too, but lots of dads.

Which is to say what? Is P.S. Kensington drawing in a different crowd than we might have expected? Where were the Reclaim the Street activists? The political junkies who frequent St Lawrence Fora? The renegade C-Mers? The run-of-the-mill ARCistas?

P.S. Kensington was crowded all right. But it was filled with normal people. People with kids. People with bikes. People holding hands and back cars. The “Real People,” as a Toronto city councillor named Shiner once called them [City Idols, take note! –ed.]. They own houses and hold day jobs and run errands and pay real estate taxes. Most of them own cars, we might assume. Most of them were there for a day out of the ordinary, away from the hated, the dreaded, automobilious everyday.

P.S. The cost of a day in Kensington filled with pedestrians, Kelsey Carriere told us, is about $2000–this covers liability insurance, overtime salary for cops, and the rental of the gates and signs to indicate streets now “open–” for pedestrians that is. We call that a bargain. Pass the hat and do it more than just once a month!

Automobilious corruption versus Bicyclicious devotion

Saturday, May 27th, 2006

Ads are not all created equal.

Car ads, which would convince us to buy something that will:

a. cause obesity
b. cause respiratory illness to people outside cars and to people who make cars
c. cause death by crashes and by petroleum development
d. cause rape of nature
e. cause destruction of productive farmland
f. cause erosion of cities
g. cause cancer to people inside
h. cause cancer to people outside
i. cause destruction of public transit and automobile addiction

are by nature automobilious. They lead directly to that sickness induced by the presence of automobiles.

But bicycle ads don’t do any of this stuff.

They promote consumption, it’s true, but the product they promote is by nature “bicyclicious,” which describes the “full flavour of a bicycle experience.”

A bicyclicious experience this weekend might be to ride around and visit some of Toronto’s “Doors Open” architectural open houses. Head to the Toronto Islands by ferry and cycle slowly through the “largest carfree urban community in North America.” Stop by the market gallery over the St. Lawrence market and take a gander at the remarkable exhibit of photos and memorabilia curated and with commentary by Steve Brearton, that comprises “from scorchers to alley-cat scrambles: the amazing history of the bicycle in Toronto.”

Bicyclicious or automobilious? The choice is yours. Here at the ALLDERBLOB, we always prefer health over sickness, full flavour over the pasty simulacra.

May, Uneventful

Friday, May 26th, 2006

We wonder where the time goes.

Another May has passed, and nothing happened.

Nothing? Well, yes, the ALLDERBLOB entered a new introspective phase, with its post entitled “Do You Feel Lucky?” And we wrote some letters to the Toronto Star about their car fixation that didn’t get published. But that’s not what we mean.

We mean the sort of thing you could write a book about.

“The events of May,” or “Five days in May:” these are the books we’re talking about.

Instead, it’s “May, I hardly knew ye,” and “May…be, or maybe not.”

Did GM [that genetically modified car company –ed.] continue its downward slide into ignominy and shame? Yes, that’s a given. Did Honda make plans for a new plant in Ontario, with “no government subsidies” (only $5 million in road construction for “plant access”). Well, yeah.

But “events?” there were none.

Perhaps it’s a case of the quiet before the storm (literally–with hurricane season starting next week). Perhaps “events” are meant to unfold in June this time around. Perhaps then we’ll have public hectoring at the street corners, from bards of the old school.

One can only hope so.

Cause May without Events is like Paris without the the spring.

[redundant “the.” Please fix –ed.]

Dateline: Toronto: ISLAND AIRPORT REDESIGNED; Jane Jacobs Dies PART VII

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

[note: this concludes this seven-part series –ed.]

In Part V of this series we wrote:

The charrette concluded Saturday afternoon, at the lovely grand ballroom of a waterfront hotel, with presentations of the various design proposals as sown by the whirlwind. Here again members of the public were invited, and here his worship, the mayor of Toronto David Miller delivered a stirring address on the subject of our labours.

Then, in Part VI, we backtracked and described the consensus-building process as experienced by our own Jacob Allderdice, Urban Designer, in the group facilitated by Landscape Architect Janet Rosenberg:

In a nutshell, we all shouted at each other, or whispered at the sidelines, or some hybrid of the two, haggling each in our own way for our point to make it to the final list. Ultimately it was a question of “survival of the fittest,” or “consensus by attrition.”

It makes for sad and sordid reading. Go back and look again if you don’t believe us.

Thing is, the steam was out of our sails on this process by the Friday night before Saturday morning [ain’t that just always the way it goes? –ed.].

But we showed up Saturday (too late for Eb Zeidler’s presentation of his 1970s-era airport lands park proposal, but in plenty of time for several cups of strong coffee) for a fresh dive into the dusty whirlwind of the team Rosenberg charrette.

Surprisingly, the process on Saturday went fairly smoothly. Fact is, people came to the charrette in order to work on a proposal to replace the island airport with “something better” [kind of like the WTO protester slogan of yore about replacing “capitalism?” –ed.]. and most of us were fed up with the strife of the day before. We wanted to move forward and create something.

As a group, we had the talent and the skills to draw something up, and we worked from the idea about a new campus for the environmental faculty, together with ideas about the existing airport runways meeting the encroaching dune structure that would naturally be there, to arrive at a proposal for earth-sheltered buildings and a near-universal pathway that would filter through the “dunes” to arrive wherever a person might wish to go.

Janet Rosenberg refered to it, quite aptly, as “landscape-driven, not architecture-driven urban form.” Coincidentally, it was very similar to a project Peter Lynch Architect of New York submitted to an international competition for a cultural centre in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, back in 1990. Fact is, we worked on the Lynch proposal, but the coincidence ends there.

We presented our work with the five other groups on Saturday afternoon. It was an anticlimactic experience. Ms Rosenberg, who had spent the hour prior to her presentation struggling with John Bessai to nail down the exact words she would use to describe each slide (“I need a title for our project! I need a title!”), made a real hash of it. It wouldn’t have mattered that she rushed through her comments, out of sync with the slides on the screen, if only when, as she reached the end, she had not neglected to press the button to advance the presentation to the last slide. This image was to have been a skillfully crafted perspective view of the scheme that Ms. Rosenberg’s associate, James Roche, had spent hours creating.

It was a pretty telling moment, in our opinion.

Only one group among the lot of us, the one whose “fresh eyes” were provided by Michael Gordon, senior planner from Vancouver B.C., provided for a residential community on the site. How could this be? We have a theory that it’s in no small part due to one fact: despite receiving an extensive tour of the waterfront by the charrette organizers, no one among the “fresh eyes” was taken to visit the island residential community. How could they have any real idea how successful an idea it is? Fact is, living amidst a park with cars kept well outside the town line does not fit into the picture of “normal life” the automobile advertisements feed us each day.

But Michael Gordon had a secret weapon: he had family who had lived on the island and he had spent time there during summers past. He knew what a magical place it is, and was able to incorporate hints of that magic in the proposal of his group.

[Now might be a good time to sum up this whole process. Now might be a good time to round up the connection to Jane Jacobs’s life and work. –ed.]

Um, yeah.

Well, sorry, but it ain’t gonna happen.

First off, it turns out if you research the Community AIR project we mentioned previously, the one designed by John Bessai’s brother Tom, you’ll see that in fact it’s heartily endorsed by Jane Jacobs herself, who showed up at the opening presentation launch in 2002. As reported by Christopher Hume in the Toronto Star,

The drawings depict a varied landscape with hotels, cultural facilities, baseball diamonds and even a stadium. Architect Tom Bessai, who led the project, stresses the plan is intended mainly to stir discussion.

“This is the best planning I’ve seen for the waterfront,” Jacobs responded. “Downtown is very deprived of active recreation space, especially for teenagers. This new park would give them a place…. We have a miserable waterfront in Toronto. Everyone knows that. I worry about it.”

Second, and it’s no small point, Jacobs was a flexible thinker in her approach to the automobile and the city. She recognized strengths and weaknesses. At best, if you read what she says in Death and Life of Great American Cities or in Dark Age Ahead, she says cars take up too much space and there are too many of them. She decries “traffic engineering” as a pseudo-science and warns it is one aspect of the impending failure of our cultural institutions, but she makes no bones about the improved conditions in cities that came about when the “mud” (“a euphemism”) of horses was removed: it’s just that “We went awry by replacing… each horse on the crowded city streets with half-a-dozen or so mechanized vehicles, instead of using each mechanized vehicle to replace a half-a-dozen horses” (Death and Life, p. 343).

[Okay… So Jane Jacobs might not support your call for more car-free residential construction on the airport site. Can you at least say what is, exactly, that ties this whole event into the call to end automobile advertising in all its forms? –ed.]

You know, we’d like to, we really would. Problem is, it’s complicated. Closest we get is the “Gospel of the Car Ad” that told Janet Rosenberg (and, to be fair, Mark Van Elsberg too): “Got Kids? Need Car.” It’s kind of weak. We can see that. And then there’s that bit about how Jane Jacobs starts chapter two of Dark Age Ahead:

You probably know them personally, but in any case you’ve seen them in a thousand advertisements: the father, the mother, the little boy, and his older sister, alighting from their new car at the charming small-town church…

What does it say, though? Obviously Jacobs was aware of car ads. It doesn’t mean she bought them. She didn’t own a car. She didn’t know how to drive. She famously took taxis everywhere.

[This gets more and more pathetic. You’ve worked on this for over a month. Have you got anything to tell us, except about how you’ve lost all these ALLDERBLOB readers who miss the glory days of Jacob Richler and Leah McLaren? –ed.]

Well, there’s the small matter of these two letters to the editor that appeared in the Star last week. They’re kind of interesting. There’s a third one, too, that the Star didn’t publish, but we’ll stick it at the end too. It kind of sums up our position.


Turn island airport into waterside park
May 15, 2006. 01:00 AM

Harbour of our dreams
Column, May 13.

I can feel Christopher Hume’s excitement about the new waterfront projects and proposals. Unfortunately, the way things are proceeding, anyone who wants to enjoy the new amenities will have to do so while being assaulted by the roar of planes and the stench of aircraft fuel from Robert Deluce’s taxpayer-subsidized Porter Airlines scheme at the island airport.

Unseen will be the well-documented witches’ brew of carcinogens and other noxious chemicals that are also generated by aircraft fuel combustion.

If the money-losing airport were closed, Toronto could turn the airport lands into a spectacular new park. Adding a ferry across the Eastern Gap would then enable creation of a continuous waterfront greenbelt from Etobicoke to Scarborough.

The new airport lands’ park could be named in honour of the late Jane Jacobs, who wrote, “Expanding the Toronto island airport will undermine the downtown’s economy and liveability and intensify pollution and smog from Oshawa to Oakville.”

I urge people to write to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, tell him not to cave in to Deluce’s legion of lobbyists and to do the right thing for Toronto’s waterfront.

Marc Brien, Toronto


Welcome debate on island airport
May 16, 2006. 01:00 AM

Turn island airport into waterside park
Letter, May 15.

I was surprised to see Marc Brien’s letter regarding the island airport run yesterday in your newspaper without properly identifying his affiliation.

I’m sure your readers will be interested to know that Brien is a spokesperson for CommunityAIR, a local group opposed to the Toronto City Centre Airport. While this may explain Brien’s perspective, it does not justify his cavalier attitude toward the facts.

Contrary to Brien’s assertions, Porter Airlines is a 100 per cent privately-funded enterprise. In fact, we have raised more than $125 million in equity, making the airline one of the most well-capitalized in aviation history.

In addition, the Q400 turboprop aircraft that Porter is having built here in Toronto has an exceptionally low noise profile and reduced engine emissions which exceed the International Civil Aviation Organization’s standards by a large margin. Today, the Q400 is the turboprop of choice for airlines in many of Europe’s most environmentally-conscious countries.

We fully support an informed public debate on the benefits of the island airport.

However, to have that debate one must factor in the more than 500 new jobs to be created by Porter Airlines, the $800 million in economic benefits which will be delivered to the city annually and increased choice and competition for the travelling public.

Robert Deluce, President and Chief Executive Officer, Porter Airlines Inc., Toronto City Centre Airport


To the Editor:

re: Toronto Island Airport controversy rages on in letters page of the Star (letters, May 15, 16, 2006)

Robert Deluce, chief of Porter Air, and Marc Brien of the Community AIR advocacy group can duke it out on your letters page, and Christopher Hume has weighed in on the international competition to redesign Harbourfront, but little notice was taken of the little charrette, or design workshop, that the city sponsored a couple weekends ago to redesign the whole island airport site.

Called “Fresh Eyes,” the charrette brought outside design experts together with local ones and community members to consider an alternative future for the airport lands. The local organizer was the urban design firm OfficeforUrbanism, and public presentation of the work produced, including a congratulatory talk by his Worship the Mayor of Toronto, was held at the Harbourfront Radisson hotel on April 22.

Your paper may have missed it, but you can be sure neither Community Air nor Porter Airlines did.

I participated as a “local expert,” on the strength of an urban design proposal I did several years ago for a previous waterfront competition, this one organized by the Toronto Society for Architects. This proposal was also published in the remarkable book “uTOpia: Toward a New Toronto,” to which your paper has devoted much ink.

My impression coming out of the charrette is that positions are entrenched so deeply that neither side of this debate is likely to get anywhere. Community Air wants a park and Porter Air wants turboprop airplanes. Whatever happens, someone is going to raise a stink.

Those of us who want something else, say a continuation of the good urban design that exists in Toronto’s main streets like the Danforth or Queen Street, together with the rich and unique (car-free) residential fabric that can be found on Ward’s and Algonquin Islands, are not being heard.

Yet we exist in droves. There are 500 names on the (capped) waiting list for one of the 262 houses on Toronto Island. You cannot pay to get on the list. If someone, say the Toronto Port Authority who holds sway over what can happen on the airport site, were to look with their own “fresh eyes” at the situation, they might see a public relations coup in the making.

Yes, the island airport is unpopular: a mayoral race was decided on the basis of it alone in 2003. And yes, people would love to live in a carfree park setting. These two facts should point a direction for the Port Authority.

Eliminate the airport, build “main streets” with shops and apartments and tramline linkages along its (former) runways, and stamp the simple platting of Ward’s island housing lots on the interstitial quads of sun-baked turf. Lease the land and set strict design controls on what can be built (i.e. no “Harbourfront.”

Overnight, Toronto would have a new residential community of a type unique in the world, a true eco-village, and with the Port Authority as lease-holder that federal agency (which many revile) could finally turn a profit.

And what of Community AIR? What of Porter Air? Let them find somewhere else for parkland and airstrips. I hear there’s some vacant land at Downsview….

Jacob Allderdice M.Arch M.U.D.
Urban Designer


[huzzah! thank heavens! –ed.]

Dateline: Toronto: ISLAND AIRPORT REDESIGNED; Jane Jacobs Dies PART VI

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006

Like a cancer, this thing is metastasizing. It threatens to spread its diseased tentacles throughout the otherwise healthy ALLDERBLOB [well, somewhat healthy. Well, not completely sick. Never mind. Carry on –ed.]. It threatens to strangle and obscure our well-formed call for a moratorium on car ads in all their nefarious forms.

We need an experienced surgeon. Barring that, we need an accomplished urban designer. But this is the ALLDERBLOB, and we take what we can get. What we get is Jacob Allderdice, our wrap-up pitcher. He’s there in the bullpen now, firing them in [they look like lobs to me –ed.].

Here he comes now, trotting onto the field. Watch out kids, he’s said to have one stinking floater.

Thank you. Thank you Blobby. Thank you “–ed.” Let’s see if I can’t get us out of this muddle.

First things first: Janet Rosenberg. Nice lady. Landscape architect. Works with the best of them and has an impressive portfolio of work. I have nothing against her beyond the healthy jealosy anyone might feel for a more capable and industrious colleague.

Especially one so youthful. How’d she get where she is today?

Hard work? Focused attention? Political skill?

Or something else. Luck? Personal contacts? Personality?

But I want to accentuate the positive. I want to offer constructive criticism. Such, after all, is the tao of the ALLDERBLOB.

Okay. Let’s say you’re brought in to facilitate a design charrette. That means you’re charged with helping a group of disparate people reach consensus and work toward a common design goal. You have a limited amount of time for this work. How do you go about it?

Here, briefly, are “Seven Points in Search of Consensus.”

1. You find out who you’re dealing with. You have six or eight people sitting around a table, eager to work. What expertise do they carry? What are their interests and passions? What skills do they bring to the project? It doesn’t take much to ask for introductions. It doesn’t take much time to provide them. Anyway, you have all day. Might as well start out all warm and fuzzy. In the words of the immortal Fred McFeelie Rogers, let your participants hear “You are important to me.”

2. You elect a note-taker. This person can still contribute to the discussion, but their responsibility is to keep track of the meanderings and mutterings of the group. Maybe it’s come out in the introductions that someone’s eager for the job. If no one volunteers, it may befall you to take notes. Be prepared for that. The notes get written down, with accompanying sketches as required, on the giant pads of paper provided by the charrette sponsor. This way everyone can see what’s recorded as it’s put down. Part of the note-taker’s job is to ask, at critical junctures, “Hey–did I get that right?”

3. You have “all day?” What needs to be done in that time? What are the milestones? The intros are over; it’s 9:15 by now; soon it will be coffee break, and then lunch. Your group is to present “initial findings” at lunch. How do you get there from here? You neeed a rough map, one that each participant can see and understand. I said a rough map. It can be flexible. But if everyone knows the milestones, you can maintain momentum over (or around) any hurdles that come up.

4. You conduct the discussion. You encourage contributions from all, especially when some area of expertise (which you will remember from the introductions) is touched upon. Especially when you notice some poignant silence or other nonverbal cues. Especially when you notice someone’s being shut out of the discussion.

5. You follow the “roadmap.” This means periodic stopping to review. Where are those elusive milestones? Keep your eyes on the prize: consensus. What does everyone agree on? Where are the lingering doubts? On what points may you all “agree to disagree?”

6. There will be crackpots and folks with unwavering agendas in your group [speak for yourself! –ed.]. You need a mechanism to allow those with an “axe to grind” to be heard without disrupting the process. This too is part of the roadmap. You can stay on track if you encourage those with off-target comments to save them for “later.” When is that? After the next milestone, of course. By then maybe they will have cooled down about their pet peeve.

7. You elect a presentor from the group. Will it be you? That depends. Is anyone else on the edge of their chair for the job? Let them do it.

There you go. Seven points. Consensus. Also, lively discussion, reasoned debate, and a clear record of the process.

Now you can proceed to the design work in good faith, knowing each person in your group has contributed to the definition of the problem at hand and is prepared to stand by its rules.

I didn’t make these procedures up. Everyone knows them. Or they do if they’ve ever paid attention during a consensus-based group decision-making process. The night before my day-and-a-half’s adventure with Janet Rosenberg, for example, two labourers from the Office for Urbanism factory gave a perfect example of how to do it right (see part I of this series).

[So where did Janet Rosenberg go wrong? You reached consensus, right? Your team presented a design along with everyone else on Saturday, right? What are you whining about? You unhappy with the results? Maybe it’s you who’s “passive-aggressive.” And when are you going to nail down the connection to car advertising, anyway? –ed.]

I’m trying to be nice about this, is all. But maybe it’s time to take the gloves off.

After all, Ms. Rosenberg had her own “seven points in search of consensus.”

In a nutshell, we all shouted at each other, or whispered at the sidelines, or some hybrid of the two, haggling each in our own way for our point to make it to the final list. Ultimately it was a question of “survival of the fittest,” or “consensus by attrition.”

Hereafter follows the Rosenberg system: “consensus by attrition.” I leave it to you to do the necessary “compare and contrast” exercise.

1. Hold a private conversation with a member of the group as the participants arrive at the table. Continue to hold it, allowing it to morph into a wider and larger conversation as people catch on that there will be no definitive “start” to the session.

2. Let the conversation go where ’twill, willy nilly. Eventually it strays into something that seems like it’s related to the job at hand, and someone, who appears to be Ms. Rosenberg’s associate at the table, mentions “I guess I should be taking notes on this!” But it’s an aside, and there he goes, on his little notepad in front of him. Someone else is also taking notes. Why, two or three people are taking notes. Whose notes will triumph? It’s a mystery. Meanwhile, the loudest voices seem to be prevailing, except there, someone is quietly saying something to Ms. Rosenberg under the tumult, and there, everyone is hushing to catch what it might be. Now it’s back to shouting again! How thrilling. What a ride we are on!

3. Don’t bother with introductions. After all, time is precious, as you see. Why we’re already making important observations about the work we must do. Besides, most everyone has nametags. I feel proud at one point when Ms. Rosenberg reaches over to cast a closer eye at mine. I must have said something wise! Eventually we garner most everyone’s names, and their take on the situation. Who needs introductions. Why stand on formality? Look at me. I got who most of the participants were, eventually. There’s Janet Rosenberg, the boss. She’s a Landscape Architect of note in the city, famous for her remarkable project with the clever name HtO (as in H2O (water) meets TO (Toronto)–get it? Turns out clever names are important to Ms. Rosenberg. Keep this in mind). The guy taking notes? That’s James Roche. The guy with the quiet observations that everyone shushes to catch? That’s John Bessai, a documentary filmmaker who lives in a harbourfront condo or co-op. His is a familiar face to me–turns out his brother, who’s at another table today, is the architect Tom Bessai, well-known as the designer of the “airport as a park” scheme so favoured by the Bill Freeman gang at Community AIR (and actually, Tom’s wife or partner is here today too somewhere, working at another of the six or so tables–that’s nice–or is it nepotism?). The aforementioned Julie Beddoes is at our table. She’s a top honcho in the Gooderham-Worts neighbourhood association, and is here, it seems, both to trumpet the fantastic park setting that her work has helped create at the mouth of the Don River, but also to make sure that no houses be built on the airport site. What she hammers home over and over is the notion that “nothing” should be built there “that can be built somewhere else in Toronto.” Somehow it doesn’t register with her that sterile, underused parkland can be found all over the city, while the notion that “People and Parks belong together,” which rallied the island residents in their fight to save their Toronto Island houses in the 1970s, is unique, almost in the world. Ms. Beddoes argues that if a person (or 500 of them, in the case of the Island Residential Community waiting list) wants houses in a carfree setting, they can work for that on Toronto’s Port Lands site–after all, it’s slated for 40,000 units of housing. There’s another woman who agrees with Ms. Beddoes on most points; I never caught her name. Her main concern was about how to prevent Canada Geese from clambering up onto the new parkland that would replace the Island Airport. She told us the most important thing is to have sightline controls, because if the geese can’t see the open land from their perch on the water, they won’t climb up. It’s the goose droppings we need to worry about, of course. An urban designer from the city of Toronto, named Mark Van Elsberg was also in our group. He argued in favour of a community to be built on the island site. He agreed with me that any development that excluded residential uses would be dead, unsafe at night, unpleasant. He revealed that he’d lived in Christiana, Denmark, for god’s sake. He knows how a pedestrian-oriented community could work. Then there was me, Jacob Allderdice. I brought the drawings I show in Part V above, and argued, of course, in favour of a development that sustainably treats the existing runways as something to build on, copying the successful model of the existing carfree housing plan of Ward’s and Algonquin while modeling mainstreet developments of walkable-height mixed-use buildings along new transit lines on the existing runways.

4. It’s Lunchtime already! We’re supposed to present our intitial findings. Who will do it? Do we even have intitial findings? It’s Ms. Rosenberg, by default. No one else has a clue what we’ve agreed on, if we’ve agreed on anything at all. Then we hear what she says. Something about a university campus. Something about the need for parking lots on the mainland, so families can come down in their minivans, unload their bikes, and spend a day in “nature.” Something about the importance of links around the backbone of the island, including the Eastern Gap, so recreational cyclists and hikers can walk the length of the waterfront without being endangered by the car and truck traffic that’s inevitable there. Okay…

5. Go back to the drawing board and shout at each other some more. John Bessai makes a radical move, switching seats so he’s to the left of Ms. Rosenberg and across from me. Better for the nuanced conversation? Julie Beddoes tells me, when I once more speak about the need for houses on the site, “Haven’t you heard? There are to be no houses. You’ve been outvoted.” We took a vote? It’s possible. It might have happened in one of the side conversations with Ms. Rosenberg.

6. Make some notes and drawings. James Roche is drawing something. Mark Van Elsberg is drawing something. I draw something. People are hoarse from shouting. John Bessai is in a private conversation with Ms. Rosenberg. Julie Beddoes is making notes. The woman who was worried about geese has left. We are near the end of the day. There’s a locker-room feel about the place. We all need showers.

7. Seven? There’s a point seven? Why don’t you give it up already, for goodness’ sake.

Success! Consensus by attrition. However, we all feel vaguely nauseous, the debate’s put us on edge, and there’s no clear record of the process–or the points of agreement.


Dateline: Toronto: ISLAND AIRPORT REDESIGNED; Jane Jacobs Dies PART V

Friday, May 19th, 2006

In part IV of this series we wrote:

But hey—the Toronto Port Authority operates an airport, too. It used to be called the Toronto Island Airport, but has been rebranded since 1994 as the Toronto City Centre airport. At its peak, in the 1980s, it served some 400,000 passengers annually. Today that number is around 80,000.

That’s a big drop. Does the airport needs another rebranding?

What we forgot to mention is we at the ALLDERBLOB take a stand on branding.

To be precise, we reject it [like “rejecting branding” isn’t a brand? –ed.]. We reject “urbanism” and we reject “disurbanism.”

We like to bike, we will say that. With Ivan Illich we say “Participatory democracy demands low-energy technology, and free people must travel the road to productive social relations at the speed of a bicycle” [can you be any less clear for us? –ed.].

Okay, but given this stance, how is it an outfit that bills itself as “Office for Urbanism” could come calling for us?

Fact is, we contacted them. We heard about the charrette, and offered our services. Our own Jacob Allderdice was accepted as a “local expert” (does this mean we got paid? No).

We were accepted on the strength of a proposal we aired first in 2000 for a waterfront ideas competition run by the Toronto Society of Architects (TSA) [published here and subsequently republished in uTOpia: Toward a New Toronto –ed.]. Our proposal was about as dumb and simple as they get, and for that reason compelling. It was predicated on the fact that thousands of people once lived in the carfree residential communities of Toronto island. Within the living memories of many in Toronto.

Toronto Island ca. 1955 (from the book "More than an Island"
A place where everyone got around by bicycle and on foot.

We know people would move there again in a flash because the communities, which operate through a legal anomaly called a land trust, have a waiting list that’s capped at 500 names. There are only some 262 houses on the islands at this time, and no more will be built there without exceptional dispensation.

Is 262 a lot? They say Toronto Island is the largest carfree urban community in North America.

Our TSA competition proposal left the super-hardened concrete runways of the airport as palimpsests, using them to create broad avenues down which a tramline would run, in a loop around the entire site. These avenues would be lined with shops and offices at grade, and four- to five-storeys of apartments over top. Sounds familiar? Think of the best features of any downtown mainstreet.

Except without cars.

Because people don’t shop in cars. Even Jacob Richler gets out of his car to do his shopping.

Then we took the close-knit figure-ground plan of Ward’s Island,
Ward\'s and Algonquin Islands, Toronto
with its 40′ x 50′ lots and its 1200 s.f. houses and its narrow 10-ft lanes, and stamped it around in the interstitial areas between the airport runways. We placed a wide public boardwalk along the western beach, and linked it with the narrow public paths of the Ward’s Island grid, to connect everywhere and anywhere on the Island.

Palimpsest, schmalimpsest. Where can I buy a pair of pants?
You’d get around on foot, bike or tram only. Like people would, if they could.

The airport’s large existing buildings, the hangars with their lofty spaces and the historically significant control tower, would be adapted for new uses as necessary: a grocery store, a lumber yard, a community centre, etc. And we’d extend the tramline over to the residential communities at the east end of the island, to let them share the new shopping and work opportunities offered by our proposal.

Dumb and compelling as they get: Jacob Allderdice, Urban Design
Or they could walk or bike. We figured they’d like that.

But see, that’s where we were wrong. The people who live on the island, at least the ones like Bill Freeman, are among the most vocal opponents of any new places to live being built at the airport site. Freeman’s organization, Community AIR, which was represented in great number at the charrette, is adamant about the airport being replaced with “parkland.” They hold no truck with folks who may want to live in a new carfree setting similar to their own. No, for them the drawbridge is “up.” “Put yourself on the list, like anyone else,” is what Bill Freeman told us when we told him how badly we would like to join his number. Remember, the list is capped.

“Can’t get on the list? Too bad. You’ll have to work on it.”

The man is a walking definition of cynicism.

But he was not the most vocal opponent of new residential uses for the airport.

No, that honor is reserved for the Harbourfront residents and others, like Julie Beddoes, a member of the Gooderham-Worts Distillery neighbourhood. Beddoes is on record decrying gentrification in her own cozy neighbourhood. Maybe her fear for more houses on the island is that with it will come more of the yachting set that lives in the existing part.

But they’re not all like Bill Freeman. We know that.

The Julie Beddoes of the charrette were nonetheless just as adamant as the Bill Freemans that the Island airport site should be a park only. It was as if they could imagine no other building type than their own terrible “harbourfrontal lobotomies” that so desecrate the mainland edge of Toronto.

Of course, if that’s the best Toronto had to offer on the waterfront, we could understand their fears.

But it’s not. We have the example of Ward’s and Algonquin. And we have fine main streets in Toronto too, places we once knew how to build and could be building again.

We participated in the charrette thinking we would have the chance to argue the case for our proposal.

Then we found ourselves in the group facilitated by Janet Rosenberg, landscape architect. Notable for her remarkable waterfront park, “HtO,”
HtO--a clever name for a basic concept: dip your toe in the water
which promises one of the only places along Toronto’s brutal downtown lake edge where a person might dip a toe in the water.

Did we say “argue our case?” Brother, that was no understatement.

Perhaps we were not persuasive enough? Perhaps our logic was insufficient against the fears and cynicism?

Soon, oh readers of the ALLDERBLOB. The truth will out. Janet Rosenberg’s facilitation skills, the Death and Life of the Great American Jane Jacobs, the call to end automobile advertising in all its forms. Soon.


McGran’s Highway’s from Hell, but not ours

Monday, May 15th, 2006

The Toronto Star’s main headline reads today: “Your highways from hell.”

Good, we’re thinking, at last the Star gets it. Highways from hell, highways to hell, highways are hell. Time to rip them all out and start again with something saner: railways for the long distances, folding bikes for the critical linkages, jitneys and taxis for the absolutely unavoidable drive that befalls us.

After all, the story’s by Kevin McGran. McGran gets it, right? He heralded the news that cars kill four times more people in Toronto than guns do, back in January when the fashionable talk was of the city’s rash of gun homicides.

We read on, eager to see how McGran will phrase our call.

Improvements of Greater Toronto roads move at snail’s pace
For the cottage-bound, this summer brings more of the same

So goes the subhead.

Good, good, we’re thinking. Tell it like it is, brother. Let them hear the difficulties and dangers facing cyclists who try to cross the girdle of car-dependent sprawl that marks the middle distance on any trip out of town.

It begins in four days. The season’s first long weekend, the slow journey to escape the GTA. And motorists will find the highways are in no better shape to handle the traffic than they were a year ago, or two years ago, or even 10 years ago.

Ready, set, slow.

Only now Queen’s Park is waking up to the notion that maybe Greater Toronto needs better links to the rest of the province.

Yeah, we’re thinking. You nailed it. Better links. Now get to the good stuff. The solutions. The new railway links and reopening of depots in towns north of Toronto. The critical call for “complete streets” throughout Ontario. The government-funded free bicycle program for all towns in the cottage country region. Get to it, man, don’t hold back!

But then something goes sour. McGran starts listing the highway rebuilding projects of the provincial government, and bemoans–BEMOANS– their “inability to keep up with traffic demands.”

And when we turn to page A6 to continue the story, and see our old friend Faye Lyons being sought for “expertise,” the wind falls dead in our sails.

Faye Lyons? You know her. Well, you know the organization she lobbies for [the one Gord Perks helps fund –ed]: the Canadian Automobile Association. The ones who’ve never seen a road proposal they didn’t like [as long as motorists don’t have to pay for using it –ed.]. The ones with plans for an elevated highway in Lake Ontario to bypass the “congestion” of Toronto. The heroes of Jacob Richler’s wettest dreams. The ones for whom we coined the term “ROT,” or “Roads Out of Town,” because their vision for a successful city is Detroit, Michigan. The ones for whom the “hell” of McGran’s headline (“Highways from hell) is the city itself, with all its diversity, freedom of movement, and delightful congestion that says “wait a minute, slow down, get out and really enjoy this place.”


“Whether people are heading out of the city or staying in the city, congestion on long weekends is a problem,” says Faye Lyons, the CAA’s government relations specialist. “The existing road network is not sustainable and is not capable of supporting projected growth.

“We need investment and improvement to Ontario’s road network.”

And so it goes. Downhill from there. And we don’t mean that in a good way.

Turns out McGran is a blank-eyed convert to the Gospel of the Car Ad after all, the one that says “More roads will fix existing congestion.”

It’s as if he’s never heard Blobby’s Law: “Cars rush in to fill the space available to them.” He doesn’t know the saw that says “building roads to fix congestion is like getting a bigger belt to fix obesity.” Can it be possible?

And it gets worse. It turns out it’s McGran himself who McGran is looking out for in this story. In the accompanying piece, he describes his weekend trip to his cottage, and how miserable he is on the existing highways. How is it an editor would let such a self-serving screed into print?

Oh yeah. It’s the Toronto Star, after all, and don’t forget whose porn graces the centrefold.

McGran thinks building highways will make his weekend trip north easier and faster. But he’s been duped.

If McGran wants to lighten his cottage country commute in fact, he’d do better to take a leaf from the books of New York City, San Francisco or Portland: cities where the removal of a highway, whether by design or accident, improved travel times and lowered blood pressure for motorists and local residents alike.

In fact, he doesn’t have to look that far afield. He has an example right here in Toronto, where the “Gardiner stump,” the eastern terminus of the city’s hated elevated highway, was torn down in 2000. Replaced with a landscaped boulevard at grade, improved cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, and normalized intersections with local streets, the road today performs better than ever.

It takes vision and courage to look beyond one’s own petty needs of the moment. McGran, whose purview at the Star is for all “transportation,” needs reprogramming. He needs the Gospel of the Car Ad drummed out of him. He needs to review Blobby’s Law.

McGran ends with a telling quote:

Cottager Gibson says people will find ways to cope [with “brutal” cottage-bound traffic].

“Everyone kind of works it out. They find that zone,” she says. “But as soon as you have your beer at the end of the dock on a Friday evening, you forget about the all the time you just spent in the car.”

“Beer on the dock” sounds good. We understand what it is that drives people to the cottage: similar to what drives them to drink, perhaps. It’s a form of solace for the penance of everyday life. We understand that people are addicted to cars, and it’s a sick dependency, not a pleasurable one. McGran nails it with this quote. In a choice between two lethal dependencies, “alcohol” equals freedom, “car” equals defeat.

See, what we want is to have a beer on the train, as we pull out of town. Maybe two. Why not? We’re not driving. We might have another one on the dock, but it won’t be because we need it, thanks.

Mother’s Day and Advertising Agencies

Sunday, May 14th, 2006

In 1858, Anna Reeve Jarvis organized Mother’s Work Days in West Virginia. Her immediate goal was to improve sanitation in Appalachian communities. In 1872, Julia Ward Howe, author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” proposed an annual Mother’s Day for Peace.

Think those are noble causes? We agree. But the same crafty amoralists who stoke the global warming engine of automobile sales have long had their hooks in “Mother’s Day.” Today, it’s enough for the Steven Harpers and George W. Bushes of this world to buy mom a flower or take her out to dinner. That lets them off the hook for another 364 days of warmongering. That excuses them to peel another dollar out of daycare or child nutrition programs.

We present this pong on Mother’s Day as a reminder of how insidious those “artists with nothing to say” can be. Never forget, the same ad agency that GM has relied on since 1914, the Campbell-Ewald company, was a prime recipient of $US 194 million in secret p.r. funding to bolster the U.S. President’s image. Don’t trust them. Don’t believe them.

As Ruth Rosen (professor in Davis California) writes,

In 1913, Congress declared the second Sunday in May to be Mother’s Day. By then, the growing consumer culture had successfully redefined women as consumers for their families. Politicians and businessmen eagerly enbraced the idea of celebrating the private sacrifices made by individual mothers. As the Florists’ Review, the industry’s trade jounal, bluntly put it, “This was a holiday that could be exploited.”

The new advertising industry quickly taught Americans how to honour their mothers – by buying flowers. Outraged by florists who were selling carnations for the exorbitant price of $1 apiece, Anna Jarvis’ daughter undertook a campaign against those who “would undermine Mother’s Day with their greed.” But she fought a losing battle. Within a few years, the Florists’ Reviewtriumphantly announced that it was “Miss Jarvis who was completely squelched.”

Since then, Mother’s Day has ballooned into a billion-dollar industry. Americans may revere the idea of motherhood and love their own mothers, but not all mothers. Poor, unemployed mothers may enjoy flowers, but they also need child care, job training, health care, a higher minimum wage and paid parental leave. Working mothers may enjoy breakfast in bed, but they also need the kind of governmental assistance provided by every other industrialized society.

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts,
whether our baptism be that of water or of fears!

Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by
irrelevant agencies
[emphasis mine –ed.]. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking
with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be
taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach
them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another
country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From
the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says “Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance
of justice.”

Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons
of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a
great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women,
to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the
means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each
bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a
general congress of women without limit of nationality may be
appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at
the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the
alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement
of international questions, the great and general interests of

Julia Ward Howe

“I Feel Lucky,” part I

Friday, May 12th, 2006

As we warm up for a final jerk on the chain that you’ve all grown to love and admire over the past two weeks, we offer a diversion. Here is a list of words and phrases google users have found “lucky” recently, according to our inner sanctum (for even more fun, vote for your favourite by selecting the link that brings you full circle!).

Really lucky:

1. “Ban car advertisements”

2. Car ads should be illegal

3. Jacob too too

Pretty lucky:

1. Carfree Lifestyle

2. “Urbane Designer”

3. Jacob Richler

Bizarre, but getting warmer!

1. “your first car” “toronto star”

2. toronto island airport design charrette

3. “automobile industry” global advertising plan

Dateline: Toronto: ISLAND AIRPORT REDESIGNED; Jane Jacobs Dies PART IV

Wednesday, May 10th, 2006

Welcome to our world: part four in a [seemingly interminable –ed.] series. A spinning vortex of mystery and intrigue where we, your host Blobby, together with our editor try to connect the dots.

DOT ONE: a weekend design workshop (or charrette, French for “horse-drawn cart”) to design new uses and programmes for the Toronto Island Airport.

DOT TWO: Jane Jacobs dies, age 89.

DOT UNKNOWN: the ALLDERBLOB’s persistent call for a moratorium on car advertising in all its forms.

To recap:

In Part I of this series we wrote:

For who was Jane Jacobs, and what is the Island Airport? Answers to these questions will point to a much deeper mystery, an enigma, a conundrum: nay, some may even call it a conspiracy.

In Part II we continued:

It’s no surprise though that newspaper pundits, dependent on the automobile for the advertising that fills their centrefolds, would get all meally-mouthed about someone who really spoke truth to power about the dangers automobile dependency presents to urban life.

And most recently, in Part III we said:

If we accept that the Toronto Island residential community is a place removed from automobilious culture, and we accept the proposition with Lord Acton that “Advertising corrupts; automobile advertising corrupts automobiliously,” we have among the many souls who accept the island residential community as a good thing the possibility of an immunity to, or at least a resistance to, automobile advertising and its gospel message.

The charrette included both design professionals [such as Toronto’s renowned urban designer, teacher and “walkable commnities” facilitator Jacob Allderdice, M.Arch, M.U.D. –ed.] and members of the public. It lasted three days.

It started Thursday evening at Toronto’s Metro Hall in a session open to the public, where guidelines were set out, and we were introduced to the “Fresh Eyes” participants: out-of-town architects, landscape architects, and urban designers who were to lead us with their bold thinking. We describe the Thursday session in Part I.

It resumed next day bright and early at the National Yacht Club [and you thought you knew what NYC stands for –ed.] with its plate glass window and cyclone fencing topped with barbed wire, just a stone’s throw across from the superhardened concrete and sunbaked turf of the airport itself. There, we met in small groups as assigned by our hosts, the acclaimed Office for Urbanism (website under construction) [not unlike this series –ed.].

Our place was found at a table that day facilitated by Janet Rosenberg, a landscape architect.

And we mean to describe this experience. We really do. We regard it as central to our work to provide accurate feedback on the methods employed by Ms. Rosenberg. But first, the big picture.

The charrette concluded Saturday afternoon, at the lovely grand ballroom of a waterfront hotel, with presentations of the various design proposals as sown by the whirlwind. Here again members of the public were invited, and here his worship, the mayor of Toronto David Miller delivered a stirring address on the subject of our labours.

By coincidence, on the Tuesday after the charrette, Jane Jacobs died, age 89.

Jane Jacobs, the author of the books Death and Life of Great American Cities and Dark Age Ahead, as well as many in between, was a long-time resident of Toronto, and a vocal opponent of the Toronto Port Authority’s plans to expand the island airport.

So, what is The Big Picture?

For starters, you cannot grasp the Toronto Island Airport without seeing first its landlord, the Toronto Port Authority.

And the Port Authority is responsible for some very bad things on the waterfront.

Toronto’s waterfront port handles some 2 million tons of cargo per year. Is this a lot? We don’t know. The port authority of New York and New Jersey handles 14.5 million tons of cargo a year. The port authority of New Orleans handled 31.4 million tons of cargo in 2004. The Yangshan port in Nantong China [wherever that is –ed.] handles 200 million tons of cargo a year. Are these fair comparisons? What about Duluth, Minnesota [wherever that is –ed.]: try 25 million to 31 million metric tons a year. Then there’s Montreal: 20 million tons. Halifax: 4.5 million metric tons. Vancouver: 19.3 million metric tons.

Maybe 2 million tons isn’t so much. According to Wikipedia, the port of Toronto is ranked 15th in Ontario in total tonnage of cargo shipped annually.

Even Toronto’s Pearson International Airport moves 11.7 million tons of cargo a year. Not to mention 24.7 million passengers.

But hey–the Toronto Port Authority operates an airport, too. It used to be called the Toronto Island Airport, but has been rebranded since 1994 as the Toronto City Centre airport. At its peak, in the 1980s, it served some 400,000 passengers annually. Today that number is around 80,000.

That’s a big drop. Does the airport needs another rebranding?

You could say that’s what’s going on right now. Only there’s an argument about what the new brand should be.

On the one hand, we have Porter airlines, run by one Robert Deluce, who used to run Air Ontario out of the island airport during the boom years. He was in thick with the crew who tried to drop a $22 million bridge over the western gap shipping channel in the 1990s. This was a transparent effort to get urban traffic onto the island, and a backdoor to big development. It was the bridge issue that lost the election for the mayoral frontrunners [don’t you mean “won the election for the underdog”? –ed.] in 2003.

Robert Deluce is there now, puffing on the $35 million the Port Authority received from the feds when the new city government under Mayor David Miller cancelled the bridge after the 2003 election. His new “brand” involves a faster ferry and a new terminal, as if decreasing the current five minute run will really make a difference.

It’s not the ferry. We don’t know what it is, but we know it’s not the ferry.

On the other “brand,” we have Mayor Miller and the city of Toronto, with its bid for the 2015 World’s Fair, and the Office for Urbanism. It is they who directed the three-day charrette that carried a bunch of practicing architects, landscape architects, urban designers and interested members of the public around, from meeting room to meeting room, two weekends ago.

And we were there.