Archive for the ‘A Question of Urban Design’ Category

Circle the wagons! Here come Case Ootes

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

a question of urban design
Cranston Thirwell III reporting:

Everyone by now knows about Councillor Case Ootes‘s [rhymes with “odious” –ed.] sad decline. From his role as the man behind Toronto city hall’s throne just two terms ago, when as Deputy Mayor he administered day-to-day operations for Mayor Mel Lastman, Ootes has been, shall we say, “distracted” from the role that should have been his: Mr. Behind-the-scenes Operator running Toronto.

Instead he’s become Mr Magoo.
letter to the \"ad\" itor?

To say any particular act “caused” his fall would be an overstatement, but in fact the distraction, early on, took a predictable turn. Much like the “Clown Army” role in distracting the police at the G8 events (to allow hard-core protesters to get closer to the criminals inside the fences), the issues surrounding bicycle infrastructure and its promotion in the City of Toronto have been used to distract Sr. Ootes from his more nefarious duties. The result of this distraction has been the creation of a vacuum at the right wing of city hall, and the elevation of a crowd of so-called “progressives” to the reigns of power.

Fact is, no one’s minding the proverbial shop. Not that it’s meant the “progressives” have accomplished much.

But Ootes exemplifies the “lame duck” role: a man who quacked to power with just 20 votes in the last election–the smallest majority in the history of Toronto politics–and who no one expects to stick around for another drubbing.

So it comes as no surprise that Ootes is carving a path for his retirement. Just what form that retirement will take is not hard to predict: Ootes will buy a Winnebago and use it to burn up some of the planet’s remaining fossil fuels as he tours the continent. But where will he park while in Toronto? Because for sure the tony cul-de-sac off Taylor Creek Ravine won’t permit his monster truck a parkplatz.

It’s no doubt in fantasizing about the RV home he hopes to use for his farewell cruise into the sunset that Ootes hit upon a problem. Here in Toronto, there isn’t really any respect for the RV classes. If fact, in all the city the archaic behemoths are welcome only at one “park:” the Glen Rouge campground, far to the east, in ward 44, home of councillor Ron Moeser. A friend of ours who bicycled to the Rouge park for a relaxing hike along the river found the route there a dangerous sewer of cars, and it’s hard to see even a confirmed carhead like Sr. Ootes happy with the commute (for his is likely to be one of those ridiculous get-ups you see where the RV is towing a small car for the local jaunts).

Now for Ootes, as for most of us, the personal is political: just as he helped his son the motorcyclist by arranging for motorcycles to park for free on city streets and sidewalks (and is currently striving for motorcycles to be permitted on HOV commuter lanes), he is also struggling with the city to arrange for the subsidised creation of an RV park on public lands closer to the downtown core.

This past week he experienced a minor setback in this quest; this time it was Toronto’s economic development corporation (TEDCO) that shot him down.

We know Ootes; he is a tenacious brute and not for long will this setback slow him down. We know this isn’t the last of his RV fantasy we will hear of. It’s true that no RV campsite is to be allowed at the Exhibition parking lot or at Parc Downsview Park, but there are other open spaces around town. Lots of them.

In fact the Governor’s Bridge Ratepayers Association, the bosses of them plywood mansions what gave Ootes his 20-vote boost to power in the last election, can expect a call from Sr. Odious in the near future.

Ootes to aide: “Get George V. Hughes or Mary McDonald Maude on the line, wouldya? It’s payback time. That Nesbitt Park thingie’s basicaly empty after all.”

RV park shot down by economic development committee:

RV owners will have to park elsewhere
RV owners will have to park elsewhere
Plan to create a local RV site shot down at committee
June 7, 2007 05:12 PM

Creating a resort for recreational vehicles in the absence of a development application isn’t a priority for the city, members of Toronto’s Economic Development Corporation (TEDCO) agreed Thursday.
“I don’t believe this is a core function of the city to provide an RV site,” committee chair and Ward 27 (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) Councillor Kyle Rae said, noting that no one has come forward and proposed such a project.

“The concept needs to have legs first,” said Rae, who told his colleague he’d be prepared to consider an application if someone was interested in developing a park here.

Ward 29 (Toronto-Danforth) Councillor Case Ootes, who raised the concept, argued that an RV park has great tourism potential for the city.

“There are millions of RV users in North American that simply don’t come to Toronto because there is no place for them to park their vehicles,” he said.

But Ootes failed to convince his colleagues to study potential sites for such a facility.

A staff report presented to the committee Thursday stated there are nine RV-friendly campgrounds and parks located within one hour of Toronto, including the Glen Rouge Campground in Scarborough.

However, all of the current facilities operate near capacity during peak season.

And none of the facilities offer the kinds of amenities sought by high-end RV owners.

“There aren’t any facilities that we in good conscience can recommend to our viewers,” Rob Engman of RVTV, a TV show dedicated to the RV lifestyle, told the committee. He said a local resort would be well received by RV users who travel throughout North America.

“These people are no different than any other tourists other than the fact they take their hotel room with them,” he said, noting that users are happy to pay for premium services and are keen to visit local attractions.

Engman said the port lands or the CNE grounds would be an ideal location for a park. Downsview is another option, he said.

But even if a developer were to propose the idea, the waterfront isn’t a suitable location, said Ward 19 (Trinity-Spadina) Councillor Joe Pantalone.

“It does not make any sense whatsoever,” Pantalone said of the suggestion that an RV park could be established at the Exhibition or Ontario Place, two sites that are booked with events throughout much of the year.

“There simply is not the space. … I think people should simply forget about it. … It’s not an achievable desire unless you plan to do serious damage to all those jewels (that) are part of Toronto’s festival constellation,” he said in reference to events like the CNE and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, which are hosted on the grounds.

As for the port lands, Pantalone, who serves on the board of TEDCO, said that’s also a bad idea.

“We are trying to achieve the highest and best use for those areas,” he said, adding the best use “is not an RV campground.”

Previous report in East York Mirror and Car Advertiser, back when Ootes was still hopeful:

RV park still being considered for Toronto
May 31, 2007 03:39 PM

Toronto’s economic development committee will consider a report on options for recreational vehicle tourism next week.

And Ward 29 (Toronto-Danforth) Councillor Case Ootes is optimistic an RV park can be created in the city.

Ootes, who first raised the idea about a year ago, brought the matter forward again in January.

And although the staff report being presented next week doesn’t suggest a specific location, the idea hasn’t been ruled out.

“The report is not shutting it down,” Ootes said. “The question is, are there opportunities here to further pursue the whole idea? I think what they’re looking for is further direction.”

The report notes there are nine RV-friendly campgrounds and parks located within one hour of Toronto, including the Glen Rouge Campground in Scarborough.

However all of the current facilities operate at close to capacity during peak season.

And none of the facilities offer the kinds of amenities sought by high-end RV owners.

“The analysis of the upscale RV market and the facilities currently offered in the Toronto area and in other cities in North America and Europe suggests that there may be a potential to add to our current RV facilities,” the report states.

Ootes has said that there is a huge RV market in North America and he believes Toronto is losing out on a big opportunity for tourism.

He reported that roughly eight million U.S. households own RVs. There are also about 800,000 RVs in Canada, he said.

Economic development staff indicate that Downsview Park, the port lands and Woodbine are all sites with the potential to host RV facilities.

“The most obvious place would be the Exhibition grounds and I’m not ruling that out,” Ootes said, adding that Downsview is another good option.

“It’s been sitting vacant for years and nothing ever happens so maybe this is an opportunity to take a look at that,” Ootes said.

The economic development committee meets June 7.

Mugged in Phin Park lately?

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

Breaking News Dept.

This story was published in the Toronto Star and Car Advertiser the other day. Written by Jessica Hume, who we understand is the daughter of Star architecture critic Christopher Hume, it’s a first-person account of a brutal mugging that took place late one Friday night in the so-called Riverdale Pocket area of the Danforth Peninsula, just south of Donland subway station. The exact location was a pedestrian path running south from the Danforth behind Eastern Commerce Collegiate, east of Jones ave, south of the Danforth.

The story’s a compelling read, and not just for folks like us who live in the area. Cross-posted to Spacing Wire, which describes the author as a “Spacing contributor,” it has generated 60 comments as of press time (it’s here that we read of Jessica’s relationship to Christopher). One of those comments mentioned the story is the third-most-read on the Star and Car Advertiser website. Jessica Hume’s story took up half the page: the other half was a story warning homeowners it’s “break and enter season.”

Don’t let anyone tell you that there wasn’t an editorial decision to ramp up fear among Torontonians, for whatever reason.

Obviously, from the comments at Spacing Wire, the decision worked. The tenor of most of them is of muted hysteria, mixed with practical advice for avoiding a similar fate, and an interesting sidetrack about how it is that Jessica’s comments found print (implying nepotism) while so many other equally compelling stories never do. We like the idea of gatekeeper by the way. We need a gatekeeper at the Allderblob [hey! pay attention! –ed.].

The fact is, no one who wrote comments over at Spacing looked at the specifics of the situation: the writer is talking about Phin park, she’s talking about a footpath that runs between Eastern Commerce collegiate and its soccer field, she’s talking about an “unlit alleyway” that her shortcut “home to Riverdale” crosses [it bears mentioning that “Riverdale” includes the neighbourhood she was in, east of Jones: vis “Riverdale Collegiate,” which celebrated 100 years in its current building, east of Jones on Gerrard, this year. –ed.].

It’s worth a look at the scene. The path leads north straight to the Only Cafe, and south into the “Pocket,” so named because all the roads in and out come from Jones Ave. But before it reaches the Only Cafe, it passes a suburban-style parking lot outside a 24-hour 7-11, a place that attracts litter and offers an opportunity to watch for victims heading for the path.

The 7-11 is the first problem. The 7-11 suggests no one cares, just because it doesn’t. It’s a place that never shovels its sidewalk in the winter. Trash bearing its logo is spread for blocks around. It’s a bad neighbour.

Then the problem is with the path itself. It’s the lack of front doors opening onto it–it’s a back alley, it’s the back yards against the park, it’s the rear of the school.

Go look at Phin Park. The back yards abutting it on the north are 200 feet long. Why couldn’t they have granny flats opening onto the park, with a little carfree path leading between the front doors and the playground? Light spilling from living room windows is a lot more effective than a streetlight at chasing away demons. Look at the “unlit laneway.” Why couldn’t all those garages have apartments built up top, providing eyes on the Eastern Commerce running track night and day?

We write from the perspective of having lived in Boston, New York, Tokyo and Portland Oregon, not to mention St John’s. But you know what? You don’t need to leave Toronto to find examples of great urbanism. The little park at the end of Wellesley street in Cabbagetown is an example of what all our parks could be: with front doors opening right onto the green. The carfree utopia of Toronto Island, with its “capped” 500-name waiting list, tells us all we need to know about what we could be building everywhere. As we say on the Allderblob, “Everyone should be able to live in a park.”

This story doesn’t holler to us about the need for a fraudulent “crime sweep” a la Rudy Giuliani–a situation where everyone poor is a suspect. Nor does it holler about the need to import solutions from “away,” using “experts” from New York, Boston, Tokyo or Portland Oregon. Hey–it’s thanks to those outside experts that we have urban sprawl (imported from Levittown Pennsylvania Levittown PA), “highrises in the park” (imported from NYC “projects” by Le Corbusier wanna-bes), and motorways that “lift and separate” (the Detroit model).

What this story hollers about is the need for increased low-scale density and more eyes on the street (and the park), built on the existing models that we know work in Toronto already.

Proposal: divide Danforth Peninsula with hydro corridor. Case Ootes silent

Sunday, May 6th, 2007

Today’s East York Mirror and Car Advertiser carried three interesting snippets. On page two was a correction regarding last week’s story, that “erroneously reported that a plan to build new Hydro transmission lines through Scarborough and down Pape Avenue was a preferred option of the Ontario Power Authority OPA).”

On page three, in a story by our cycling buddy David Nickle, the headline read: “Hydro line will not go down Pape, other options remain.”

And finally on page four cyclist Joe Cooper, who was at the same meeting as us a few days back (where MPP Peter Tabuns and Paula Fletcher, together with Jack Gibbons of Ontario Clean Air Alliance and the lawyer from Sack Goldblatt Mitchell (you will know them as the team that worked to defeat Ontario Power Authority in its bid to build a hydro corridor across the town of Markham), informed the two hundred or so assembled citizens of the new plan, to run a gazillion megawatt power line across the Danforth Peninsula–on Pape or on Donlands perhaps–to the new Portland Emissions Centre)–Joe Cooper in his “Watchdog” column delved into the history of power. His point was to remind his readers that the need for conservation is not new; that the desire for beauty has ever been in conflict with the landscape-despoiling effects of electrical power generation.

So now we have Energy Minister Dwight Duncan promising that Pape avenue is not under consideration for the power lines. As David Nickle notes however, “when Jack Gibbons of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance questioned [Steve Erwin, spokesperson for Duncan] about the matter… he asked specifically about neighbouring streets – Jones Avenue, Carlaw Avenue, or Leslie Street – Erwin wouldn’t rule it out.”


The fact is, wherever this harebrained scheme drops to earth, it’s still a bad idea. With a cost estimated at $600 million, OPA claims it will be needed by at least 2015–eight years from now–to provide the summer air conditioning needs of a growing Toronto.

They paint it as a choice between growth or no growth, but that’s not the choice. The choice is between a climate that’s hospitable to human beings and one that’s not. The choice is between stewardship of the planet and rampant, uncontrolled consumption. The choice is between the greater good–survival of the planet–and a terrible and short-sighted evil.

The term NIMBY is sure to be heard in this debate. But it’s not about NIMBYism. NIMBYs are hypocrites who reject something that’s for the greater good–something like social housing–only when it’s in their “back yard.” In this debate folks both support a greater good–energy conservation–and believe $600 million could be more wisely spent on programs to encourage it.

It’s not NIMBY to refuse programs in one’s “back yard” that despoil the landscape, reduce property values, and possibly cause leukemia and other disease, all for the sake of appeasing the basest instincts of humanity. Such programs would be a bad idea anywhere.

She Walks!

Friday, May 4th, 2007

We were in the room when Chris Winter of the Conservation Council of Ontario told everyone his plans for a commemorative walk to honor Jane Jacobs at her birthday. With the others, including our colleagues Gil Penalosa and Paul Young, Dylan Reid and Janice Etter, we stifled a smile. Mathew Cowley, the organizer for the upcoming Walk21 conference. He smiled. Shamaz Amlani, the restaurateur and organizer of Streets Are For People, and Lisa Tolentino, of the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition.

Smiles all around.

Talk is cheap, we were thinking. Yeah, yeah. Jane’s Walk. She sure deserves a walk. But llet me tell you about my plans to Ban Car Ads.

Good one, Chris. “Jane’s Walk.” Call us next year when you figure out how to get it rolling.

That was, what–eight weeks ago? Nine?

We have the minutes of that meeting, and we’ll say it again: talk is cheap. But take a note of item number two. And then, scroll down to the fourth from the bottom. Smiling, I tells ya:

* Opportunities Noted:

– BIA/Community Associations – become partners (shop local etc), create awareness in local economies

– ‘Ride for the Heart’ – Jane’s Walk idea – walk, play, eat and shop locally

– Work with schools for greater impact – International Walk to School Day in Oct

– Relate issue to children, ‘what does it mean to me?’ parental motivation

– Ways to build a movement – create obvious alliances

– June 2009 deadline for municipalities to conform to municipal planning documents such as PPS; still have yet to examine documents

– ‘perfect storm’ – health+environment+public opinion

– pedestrians tend not to organize

– need to find opportunities to engage public in planning

– communities not designed to be walkable, yet good number of people do not have vehicle – social justice issue

– barriers – media reporting, BIAs love cars

(From the meeting minutes by OSGN‘s Janet May).

Today, as they say in the zombie movies, “She Walks!

And we mean that in the very best sense.

Congratulations are rare coming from a vitriol-dripping blob like ours, but we are truly impressed with the way this one has gotten off the ground. We’d like to think we’ve got Chris Winter on “our side.”

Of course, the fact that there are only two “Walks” in the whole schlemiel east of the Don is going to gall fans of the Danforth Peninsula. We can practically hear them gnashing their teeth on Governor’s Bridge and chez Ootes. But really, who’s to blame for that?

Jesus. We were there in the room with Chris when he came up with the whole idea.

Next year maybe.

Today’s Globe and Mail and Car Advertiser had two articles on the event. Here’s the one our colleague Dave LeBlanc wrote (We reproduce it in full):

A new tour honours the late urbanist and the neighbourhoods she worked to preserve

Dave LeBlanc

Architect and tour leader Angus Skene stands in front of the Annex home of Jane Jacobs. (photo: DAVE LEBLANC)

Today is “Jane Jacobs Day” in Toronto. It is also her birthday — she would have been 91.

To honour her, I took my dog-eared copy of The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) — her glorious attack on the well-entrenched, blockbusting school of urban planning — down off the shelf. Its groundbreaking ideas, manually typed almost a half century ago while Greenwich Village street life hummed below her window, are still fresh, contemporary and vital.

And then I thought about what this city might have looked like if she hadn’t come here in 1968.

“Toronto would have had an entirely different future,” says Margie Zeidler, one of the organizers of “Jane’s Walk,” a collection of free neighbourhood walking tours happening across the city tomorrow. “I don’t think we understand how blessed we are that this woman chose to come to this city. … I’ve heard many people that were immigrants to Toronto say, ‘Well, I knew Jane Jacobs moved here so I figured there had to be something special about the city.’ ”

To be sure, her beloved Annex, where she lived until her death in April of last year, would have never fully healed from the wound the Spadina Expressway would have opened had it gone ahead. It wouldn’t be a haven for lovers of street life, dog-walkers or university students, or a place for events such as these walking tours to happen.

Architect Angus Skene has agreed to give me a preview of his walk, “Jane’s ‘Hood,” which will start at 10 a.m. at the entrance to the St. George subway station. After we meet in the Annex, he gets down on one knee, produces a piece of blue chalk from his pocket, and begins to sketch Toronto circa 1793, when the British military was sent to settle the land.

“If you can get people on it, you can kind of safeguard it for the Crown,” he explains. “That’s why the city’s here in the first place.”

Expanding the sidewalk diagram, he shows how folks got around to living way up here in the Annex by 1885, when the expanding city had to annex farmland north of Bloor Street. He explains that, originally, strict controls were placed on land use — no stores, schools or institutions — so the area would appeal to the upper classes.

Proof is right over his shoulder: the 1890 Gooderham house, now the York Club. As we walk over to admire its handsome Richardsonian Romanesque details, Mr. Skene explains that many of the smaller houses in the area built afterward copied some of its design vocabulary, such as asymmetry, “massive arches,” “Rapunzel” balconies and attention-getting turrets.

He also notes that, unlike the ravine-protected enclave of Rosedale, the Annex was subject to a watering-down of those early land-use controls. “There was no way of stopping the city from just ploughing through,” he says of the eventual addition of stores, schools and institutions. “So while this was built for some of the wealthiest people in the city, it couldn’t hold out. When you’ve got bridges, you can keep the barbarians on one side,” he laughs.

Walking up and down the Annex’s people-filled streets with the pulse of Bloor never far away, it’s easy to understand why Ms. Jacobs loved this neighbourhood and why, despite her enormous success, she stayed “human” with a “wonderful sense of humour and a wonderful giggle,” says Ms. Zeidler, who was 10 years-old when she met her.

“She was a cheerleader for a lot of people in terms of them having the courage to go out and fight for the things they believed in,” she adds.

Continuing our walk, as Mr. Skene and I pass Bloor Street United Church and he reveals the secret of its rather low-key entryway (you’ll have to go on the tour to find out what that is), I ask him if he ever met Ms. Jacobs. He didn’t, he says, but he did read Death and Life when he was 16, which got me to thinking: Her prose is so conversational, reading it is like talking with her; to read her is to know her.

En route to her former home, we admire the Victorian fussiness of 37 Madison Ave., the exuberance of 1960s architect Uno Prii’s sculptural apartment tower at 35 Walmer Rd., and discuss how she’d probably approve of the infill development going up beside it.

When we reach her house at 69 Albany Ave., I immediately check out the front porch. It was from here that Ms. Jacobs would sit and watch the world go by, where she would add her own “eyes on the street,” to borrow her famous phrase.

Thanks to Chris Winter of the Conservation Council of Ontario, who came up with Jane’s Walk, Ms. Zeidler, Mr. Skene and the other walk leaders (check out for a complete list), we can celebrate her memory by getting our eyes — and feet — on the street too.

Toronto Island Airport in TIME. You know the end is near…

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007

Some of our regular readers have been wondering why we don’t write about the Toronto Island Airport anymore. What happened to the the big design charrette, they ask us. What is up with the planned uTOpia, the new community of houses, apartments, shops and offices, built on a palimpsest of the former airport runways, with trams and bikes and people walking, with a beach on the west and with canoes trolling the marshy areas just offshore, and with NO CARS?

We have appeased the non-smokers. What about the non-drivers? Andy Singer CARtoon

Well, the fact is, we did our best to bring down the mighty Robert Deluce and his creepy bandit-branded airline. We slung our lobs hither and yon, and we blobbed as best we could. Fact is, a search for Porter Airlines on google gets lucky every time [well, provided you tweak the search words properly –ed.].

Finally, our bitter quest has borne fruit. The island airport saga has reached the pages of TIME magazine. Of course, as anyone can tell you, once TIME notices, it’s all over ‘cept for the counting.

Next, we just have to work on the drawbridge mentality that persists among certain of the island residents. You know, the crowd that says “What Toronto needs is another big park downtown. More houses on this island would ruin the place (for us).”

No one’s calling them hypocrites, but isn’t it hypocritical to say “the airport is a nonconforming use of the park, the airport must go,” while at the same time saying “How dare you question our right to live in houses in a park?”

We at the ALLDERBLOB say “everyone should have the right to live in a house in the park!”

Danforth Peninsula: fact or fabulation?

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

Urban design is an imprecise science. Mostly, when it works, it’s because it succeeds in naming the “obvious.” No one ever accused Jane Jacobs, for example, of doing anything more than that (although it didn’t always seem obvious until she named it). Urban design is therefore antithetically opposed to Traffic Engineering, which depends in its entirety on denying that which is evident to the senses. Urban designers know that more roads don’t “fix” congestion, for example, while traffic engineers (and the ideologues at “Reason”) hold the opposite as a central tenet of their so-called profession.

Like traffic engineers, the geniuses at Ontario Power Generation are unable to envision a world where there could be less energy expenditure. Their plan for the future has no word save “more” to describe projected energy needs. At the same time, they share the traffic engineer’s fatal flaw, which is to segregate the world into zoned parcels that require massive arterials, arteries that simultaneously link and divide the zones. For the power brokers, this means huge power generation plants with massive tentacles of E.M.F-emitting “hydro corridors” that carve the landscape. Sometimes the hydro corridors parallel the very arterials that the traffic engineers have imposed; other times they swing overhead on pylons high above the ground. In the latter case the landscape is denuded however; no trees must be allowed to grow and potentially interfere with the overhead wires.

All of this connects, quite literally, to the Portlands Energy Centre–a 550-megawatt electrical generating plant that Ontario’s liberal government is placing, in its wisdom, in the middle of the empty landscape of Toronto’s waterfront south of Lakeshore boulevard, east of the Don River: the so-called “Port Lands” of Toronto.

port lands view toward t.o.
Port Lands View of Toronto
click for larger image

For those of you “from away” who are still with us at this point, the situation in the Port Lands is an ugly and awkward ball of wax that no one really has a handle on. It’s a massive disused piece of land, built on a landfilled marsh at the outfall of the Don River. According to Wikipedia, the area was formed when “Ashbridges Bay was filled in …[from] Cherry St to Leslie St… in the early 1900s. The bay was filled in partly due to concerns about public health – locals had disposed of sewage, farm animal carcasses and household waste in the bay for years.” the newly created land, being “east,” was found to be ideal for all kinds of toxin-spewing industry. Today, while some of the industry has moved away, the port lands still hold industry’s toxic residue. While the western half of the Portlands is being planned as a new and vital waterfront (see for example the recent competition finalists whose work was on public display this past week and which is described in some detail by our friends at spacing wire and the bricoleurbanist), the eastern half of the Portlands maintains a business-as-usual zoning as a employment lands, including the “concrete campus” (headquarters for the cement manufacturers) and the aforementioned Portlands Emissions Centre.

Sorry–did someone say “emissions?”

Problem is, that’s just what all this amounts to–a huge dinosaur of 20th-century thinking that the current government is hypocritically foisting on future generations.

Balls of wax tend to have bits and pieces of imbedded stuff from their process of formation, and Toronto’s Port Lands is no exception. Jutting out is a puzzle piece from the previous (“Progressive Conservative“) Ontario government: the forced amalgamation of Toronto’s six separate civic governments into one “Megacity.” Thus, while the land is itself entirely within the city limits of the preamalgamated city of Toronto, it is actually a part of a unique entity within the city: a peninsula reaching from Scarborough in the east toward Toronto proper: a peninsula with Danforth Avenue running along its central spine from east to west, and bounded by deep ravines and valleys to the north and west, and the great Lake Ontario to the South.

All peninsulas have isthmuses, and the Danforth Peninsula is no exception: its constriction comes where Taylor creek ravine reaches within a kilometer or so of Lake Ontario, a constriction made all the more intense for its crushing together of numerous lines of flight: the major roads of the Danforth and Highway 2 to Kingston, crunched in with the eastward-linking CN, VIA and GO railway lines, and TTC subway line.

The Danforth Peninsula, while existing absolutely as a fact of geography, has never been recognized politically [um, care to rephrase that? –ed.].

That is to say, prior to amalgamation, the peninsula’s government was divided between Toronto, which ignored the region then as now (that lot can’t see anything east of the Don River until you reach Montreal), and the Borough of East York.

map of the former “Borough of East York,” Toronto
Borough of East York click for larger image

East York loudly claimed “status” as “Canada’s Only Borough,” but had its own mayor and councillors. Problem was, East York was geographically split down the seams. One third was the northern half of the Danforth Peninsula, one third was a chunk of land north of the Taylor Creek Ravine (where the ALLDERBLOB’s evil twin, counts the days until retirement on a car-restricted cul-de-sac) and the last third was Leaside and Thorncliffe Park, north of the Don Valley (where Jane Pitfield once worked). While it’s doubtful anything could have stopped the scheming juggarnaut that cobbled together the megacity, there’s no doubt that a Danforth Peninsula so divided had any chance.

Our colleague at the East York Mirror and Car Advertiser, Joe Cooper, has on occasion written about the ills of amalgamation. One gets the distinct impression, reading him, that he holds out hope still, ten years on, for folks to band together and de-amalgamate.

Lisa Queen photo: Donna-Lynn McCallum
Donna-Lynn McCallum still has the signage at her East York home from her days as an anti-amalgamation advocate. A proud East Yorker, she says the community has suffered since the megacity merger. click for larger image

But deamalgamation to the status of “borough” for East York would have no purpose. And returning the disconnected lands north of the geographical peninsula that is the Danforth to government at the peninsula’s centre, near Coxwell and Danforth, would do no good for Leaside or Scarborough.

No, if the Megacity is to be deamalgamated, a close examination of the real geographical boundaries of the Danforth Peninsula must be acknowledged.

Unfortunately, this will never happen.

For one thing, the orphaned “Governor’s Bridge” section of the former borough would have no one to call daddy.

Eastern Avenue motorcycle lanes report

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

Here at the blob of blobs, all-der-blob, all de time, we are known to speak sophistry and carry a bigs tick. When we’s peak, you’s lissen.

Lissen. Lissen good.

This sort of arrogance does not go unnoticed, needles to sashay.

For example, in our blobbering about Eastern Avenue and its problematic proposal for cyclists-as-speed-bumps, two weeks ago, we happened to mention the existence of a so-called “Hell’s Angel’s” motorcycle gang club-house on that street. We pointed this out by way of suggesting that “motorcycle lanes” might be more appropriate road improvements on Eastern, since no self-propelled cycloid we knew had any reason to ride the street.

Unfortunately, in our naive posting on the Hell’s Angel’s, we linked to their website.

Immediately, we noticed two things: one was a surge in the number of spam messages to the ol’ blob. We went from 30 messages a day to 150 or more. The other was a significant lowering of the tenor of said messages: the proportion of tramadol-type offers dropped; that of tranny-doll-type ones went stratospheric.

Unfortunately for the biker-types, the attention brought to them by our acknowledgment of their existence was their undoing. A couple days ago the Ontario Provincial Police pounced on them, knocking a hole through the washroom wall by way of finding entrance and removing their lovely skull-pture to be sold to the highest bidder on Craigslist.

Watch for it.

The good news is our spam messages have sunk back to normal.

The bad news is Walmart is going to take the removal of the Hell’s Angels from Eastern as an invitation for their own form of “gang-related activity.”

And finally, speaking of people who need to lissen, lissen good, we note that Toronto Councillor Paula Fletcher (ward 30) has pulled back from the brink with her original Eastern Avenue bikelane proposal. Word is she has gone to the neighbouring councillor, Sandra Bussin (ward 32), asking for cooperation. She wants to extend the proposed bikelanes across the dreaded Leslie Street to the East, where it would link with proposed bikelanes on Knox, leading south to Lakeshore bikelanes and north to the bikelanes proposed for Greenwood.

ALLDERBLOB scooped: or, “What’s that on my shoe?”

Friday, March 9th, 2007

In what is beginning to feel like some of our unhappiest childhood memories, we are sad to report that our once-stalwart urban designist, Jacob Allderdice, has again lent his talents to the competition. Who needs the ol’ blob, apparently is his thinking. He apparently has bigger fish to fry. We’d like to say to hell with him, and “let it go,” as the euphemism has it [“Allderdice, you’re fired!” is what we’d mean–ed.] but without him, um, we’re nothing.

And we’re not just whistlin’ dixie here.

So we soldier on…(sigh).

Allderdice’s latest screed has him shouting at Paula Fletcher, councillor for Toronto Ward 30, regarding her misguided attempts to “help” bicyclists by putting a bike lane on a busy arterial road where cyclists have no desire to be. She’s taken Eastern Avenue, a scary four-lane road that takes rush hour car commuters (1,685 of them per hour, peak period) and throws them into downtown Toronto. Out of Eastern, she’s chopped an eleven-block section (from Leslie St. to Logan) where she proposes an experiment: namely, if you build it, will they come?

Eastern Avenue Toronto looking downtown

See, at present no one rides a bike on Eastern Ave.
Why? Because there are other, more pleasant and more useful roads to take on a bicycle. You can ride on the gold-plated Lakeshore bikepath. You can ride on Queen, with its streetcar-becalmed traffic, its shops, restaurants and apartments. You can take the bikelanes on Dundas East if you’re in a hurry to get downtown on your bike–it’s about a two minute bikeride north of Eastern.

gold-plated lakeshore bikepath, toronto
gold-plated lakeshore bikepath, toronto

These other east-west biking options differ from Eastern (and from Fletcher’s proposal on Eastern) in that they actually take you where you want to go. Dundas gets you to River, River to Shuter, and hey-presto! You’re downtown. Lakeshore takes you to a new bridge over the Don River, built just for bicycles, and from there hooks you up to the Martin Goodman–you can practically ride all the way to the offices of the Toronto Star and Car Advertiser (at 1 Yonge St.) on segregated bikepaths. Queen has workplaces, residences, and–did we mention? Places to eat dessert.

Eastern Avenue has none of this. Instead, it concludes its westward, downtown-veering stretch with a lane-weaving pretzel of an intersection with the car-jacked Don Valley “Parkway.” Does Eastern have cafes, restaurants or pleasant vistas that cyclists would be drawn to? No. Does it have a Hell’s Angel’s Motorcycle club, a lot of warehouses and empty lots, and a failing film industry? Yes. Do people who live on Eastern ride bikes? Yes, to get away from Eastern. Is Eastern on Toronto’s bikelane masterplan? No.

You get the picture.

Why is Fletcher looking at Eastern? We don’t know, but we have our suspicions. First of all, what she says is that about two years ago, residents in streets off Eastern came to her with concerns about the fast traffic. Can you blame them? If you lived near an airport, wouldn’t you be pissed off about the roar of the jets? If you had kids and Eastern in your back yard, wouldn’t you be thinking about moving? Why should you have to move? It’s cars from Scarborough and the Beaches making your life dangerous. It’s trucks and taxis avoiding congestion on Queen and Lakeshore boulevard. It’s motorcyclists from all over the city who’ve found a place to make their own personal hell.

Secondly, there’s Walmart. What’s up with that? First Pro development corp. has bought control of the land formerly known as Toronto Film Studio on Eastern Avenue. Whozat? First Pro? Just the development company behind every Walmart store in Canada.

Fletcher puts up a brave front, saying Walmart is not going to be allowed to come to Ward 30 under her watch, but we think her hands are tied. See, there’s the little matter of something called “zoning.” The land south of Eastern is zoned “employment lands.” This means Toronto Film Studio was not allowed by the city to build the “mixed use” residential/commercial project they proposed last year, one that included numerous new small streets linking south from Eastern to Lakeshore. Then there’s the big-box Loblaw grocery store at Leslie and Eastern, and the big-box Pricechopper grocery store at Leslie and Lakeshore, and the big-box Canadian Tire department store ready for a grand opening this spring at the same intersection. When (and that’s the operative word) Firstpro takes its Walmart proposal to the OMB what will happen? What’s one more big box in a field of big box stores–and, arguably, Walmart means “employment” (even if Fletcher’s husband John Cartwright, head of Toronto and York Region Labour Council, might be more inclined to see it as wage slavery).

No, Walmart is a given on Eastern. The best Fletcher can hope for is to remake the street into a “friendly, slow, residential neighbourhoood” that tells Walmart: “Unload your trucks and your mega parking lot from some other direction.” This, we suspect, is at least part of Fletcher’s desire for bikelanes here. And who knows? It might just deflect Firstpro completely.

It’s nothing but traffic calming. It’s not a concern for cyclists’ needs. There’s been no consultation with the cycling community that indicated cyclists would like bikelanes here, as opposed to somewhere else, in fact at the two public meetings Fletcher called prior to announcing this proposal (neither meeting at which she herself appeared), cyclists were adamant that the problem is Leslie St., not Eastern. Fletcher sent lackies [shurely you mean “administrative assistants” –ed.] to both these meetings, and from both meetings the lackies went away with clear instructions to Fletcher: forget Eastern. It’s Leslie that needs work.

So what is it about Leslie Street?

Let’s put this in perspective.

leslie street spit with surrounding parklands and neighbourhoods of toronto
First of all, there’s the spit. Leslie Street spit that is. A glorious carfree paradise that’s centrepiece to the new Lake Ontario Park that was just announced a few weeks ago, designed by celebrated New York architects Field Operations (FO) [Same to you–ed.].

field operations: lake ontario park
The new park has two major axes. One is east-west, from the Port to the Beaches. The other is north-south, tying the Leslie Street Spit back to the city.

The critical node in the FO plan for Lake Ontario Park is thus where Leslie Street hits Lakeshore boulevard. The fact that this critical gateway has no infrastructure for the intended users of the park: cyclists and pedestrians–to enter safely from residential areas to the North is a sign of outright failure on the part of the designers and the organization planning the park.

Then there’s the stretch of Leslie between the new park and the residential neighbourhoods to the north. This stretch is dangerous. For one thing, it is four lanes wide but its peak loads (760 cars per hour a.m. peak, 615 cars per hour p.m. peak) are just two-lanes-worth of cars. That means drivers will perceive the road as emptier, and rush to fill “gaps.” For another thing, it has driveways to the parking lots that think they’re roads: The city has even put traffic lights to control traffic entering and leaving the parking lots. So even though the sidewalk marches across the driveway, you’ve got to have these little reminder signs shrieking “Pedestrians, obey your signals!” (and woe betide you if you think it’s unnecessary). This stretch of Leslie is so unpleasant that a whole row of about 20 1970’s-era townhouses “backlots” against the street on the west side. Whoa! Is this the suburbs or what?

The street is a mess. It’s also where Isaac Morkel was killed, December 20 2005, riding his bike to Loblaws for some groceries. An experienced cyclist, he was hit by an 18-wheeler whose driver was allegedly “lost.” Morkel had a green light.

Children and elderly, walk this street at your peril. Experienced cyclists, maybe you should consider dismounting.

Yet it’s these folks: children and elderly, experienced cyclists and not, that might be expected to make use of the new park. It’s these folks who could conceiveably walk or bike to the big-box grocery stores for food or work.

It’s Leslie that has to be fixed.
Eastern is another matter.

But by putting a bikelane on Eastern, a street that carries a peak load of 1,685 cars per hour, we have to remove a lane of traffic. Now one lane is being asked to carry roughly double what any single lane can be expected to carry. There are 800 cars an hour now that are going to be looking for somewhere to turn off.

They will take Leslie. Leslie, as we have demonstrated, has capacity for all those additional 800 cars per hour.

And pity the damn fools who don’t know better than to drive their bike-laden trucks to the new Lake Ontario Park for their recreational pastimes. As another Toronto Councillor, Rob Ford put it so eloquently in city hall yesterday, “I can’t support bike lanes. Roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks. My heart bleeds when someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”

Gord Perks: We have to redesign the city

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

This post started out as a lob at the absurd “Driven to Quit” challenge being waved about over at the Canadian Cancer Society. You’ve seen the billboards, newspaper ads and the pamphlets: they’re offering a new car as incentive to cigarette smokers to abstain for the month of March.

You can spot the irony. In a city with a huge smog problem, a province with a huge sprawl problem, and a country with a huge climate change problem, which dependency is worse: that on tobacco or that on cars?

For more, we give you our urban design correspondent, Jacob Allderdice:

cc Toronto Globe and Mail and Car Advertiser

Fax: 1 800 706-0112 (toll-free)
Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division
1639 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON
M4T 2W6

Hi Canadian Cancer Society–

I was planning to make a big donation to your organization this year but am waiting to hear from you. What is your rationalization for this absurd campaign to encourage more people to drive cars?

I am referring to your “Driven to Quit” promotion, which offers a new car as incentive to get smokers to quit.

Fact is, I’m not a smoker, but I’d rather have the entire population addicted to cigarettes than have everyone “dependent” (as the euphemism has it) on the automobile: at least smokers don’t necessarily despoil the landscape with urban sprawl; they don’t kill wildlife and people by their need to get places quickly, and they don’t cause wars over the raw material of their addiction. Tobacco smokers don’t require the spreading of roadsalt and other toxic substances everywhere, or contribute substantially to global warming. And then there’s the smoke/smog comparison: think the contents of tobacco smoke is noxious? Try sucking the tailpipe of an automobile.

No matter how your PR flacks spin this “promotion” (I suspect you’re going to tell me that “everyone wants a car, so it’s a good motivator”) fact is you’ve made a giant mistake. How much do the full page ads and TTC billboards cost, anyway? What percent of my donation actually pays for cancer research?

Until I get satisfaction with these questions, you sure won’t be getting any money from me, and everyone I know is going to know why I feel this way.

“Driven to Quit:” absurd, no? Yet this thing is mainstream: it has backing from the City of Toronto and is cosponsored by Johnson & Johnson. Johnson & Johnson? You know them–they probably made that crap you smeared on your body this morning–whatever it was. You know them. They own Pfizer Pharmaceutical, and a wink is as good as a nod with those people. You know Johnson & Johnson. They own the company that makes Dean Kamen’s “ibot.” And for god’s sake, you know Kamen. You know the Segway he invented, coming to a sidewalk (god forbid) near you.

As for us, we’d be interested in a Driven to Quit campaign that awards quitters with a new Segway. We just have to make sure they stay on the road where they belong, though.

Oh–Johnson & Johnson also own companies that make nicotine patches, sprays and gum. So when you take the “Driven to Quit” challenge, you know you’ve got a friend ™.

Some of our colleagues in the International Bicycle Conspiracy and at BACON (Ban Advertising Cars Over Night) have had their antennae up over the “Driven to Quit” campaign for a long time. But it’s Streets Are For People, the ingenious tag team of auto-wranglers who’ve brought us such delicacies as Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington Market and the “Parked Car” project, who hit this one out of the parking lot.
quitten to drive--photo by Darren Stehr

Learn about the results of their effort in this week’s NOW magazine and at Martino’s Bikelane Diary.

We first read the coverage in this week’s NOW magazine (after we finished drooling over the “letters to the editor” page), but following the link from Martino got us to the online version of the story, including this fascinating snippet from Toronto City Councillor Gord Perks: “If you live where you can walk to a grocery store or take a streetcar to work, giving up driving is quite easy, as I have.”

Now it’s true we’ve had our differences with Sr. Perks in the past. We’re pleased to hear he’s given up driving, but we wonder how far that takes him so long as his wife is still a member of that rabid pack of road-huggers, the Canadian Automobile Association.

“If you live in an area where you can’t get a loaf of bread unless you get in your car, then it’s a whole different challenge. So we have to both give people incentives to get out of their car but also redesign parts of the city so that’s easy to do.”

Bravo, Sr. Perks! Where shall we start? How about replacing the Toronto Island Airport with a new carfree community of shops, apartments, and houses? How about taking a bulldozer to the Don Valley Parkway? Oh, we at the ALLDERBLOB have lots of suggestions for this one. We’ll put our resident Urban Designer right on it. Just call us.

NOW magazine completes its coverage of the Quittin’ to Drive campaign with its own modest suggestion: “What about bike lanes, a better transit system and walkable neighbourhoods to encourage drivers to kick their filthy habit?”

Robbie Burns, car hater

Friday, January 26th, 2007

We had the pleasure of hearing Dr Lawrence Frank, PhD, deliver from the minutiae of his research the other day.

We were thinking of Robbie Burns, perhaps because of the proximity to the noon hour and the thought of an overstuffed haggis [whatever that is –ed.] which had found foothold in our right cerebral cortex.

Among the audience members we recognized Toronto bicycle planner Daniel Egan, furiously scribbling notes. Meanwhile, down in front, U of Toronto Planning professor Paul Hess, whose research into “walking-sheds” deserves its own ALLDERB-LOB, maintained an even disposition even as Larry Frank called his presence to the attention of all in the room.

Larry Frank, after Paul Hess: “pedestrian radius” has meaning only for crows

Dr. Frank is among the many people we at the ALLDERBLOB would emulate. What we particularly admire about him is his contention that good research should not seek to overturn that which one knows intuitively, but the reverse. Thus his latest finding, based on thousands of individual reports in Atlanta, Georgia that people prefer communities that encourage walking even if it means automobile use is discouraged, is refreshing music to our ears.

Car advertisers, are you listening?