Archive for the ‘A Question of Urban Design’ Category

Danforth Peninsula Redux

Sunday, November 5th, 2006

The shallow troughs of knowledge at the ALLDERBLOB were taxed the other day by Joe Cooper of the “Riverdale/East York Mirror and Car Advertiser.” In his weekly “watchdog” column of October 12, 2006, Cooper declaimed about the condition of Danforth Avenue here in Toronto: in particular the “east” section of the street (unfortunately the link to Cooper’s original column has been removed by the newspaper).

Now, to our 13 1/4 loyal readers, we must apologize. This will seem like an extremely arcane subject to you. First of all, there is the problem of the Danforth. It is, by definition, in the east end of Toronto. But just think: it gets worse. It turns out there is a further distinction to be made: a west end and an east end to the Danforth itself.

The horror, the horror.

As we have described it elsewhere, the mysterious Danforth Peninsula is bisected
on a north-south line at Coxwell Avenue. However it will not surprise you to hear that long before one reaches Coxwell, traveling east, the “Rougher end of the Danforth” has been found.

For naturally, if there is to be a pleasant part of Danforth at all, it would be the western section.
The eastern section, as Joe Cooper makes clear, is a train wreck. West of Pape Avenue, all is nice. You would be forgiven for confusing your experience there with any of a number of busy, people-filled ‘hoods of the west end of Toronto. Bloor West Village. Little Italy. Queen St. West. The Junction. It has tons of little boutiques and restaurants, it has people crossing midblock and with abandon, it has grocery stores, a bookstore and three subway stops to choose from. You can walk there from Yonge Street in less than a half-hour, and you’ll be treated to a literary experience crossing the Prince Edward Viaduct as you go.

Wow. No wonder they can pack ’em in at the “Taste of the Danforth.”

Although he does not say so, it seems likely Cooper is responding to a similar argument put forth by Bert Archer in the local paper “The Global Male and Car Advertiser” [shurely you mean “Canada’s National Newspaper” –ed.] a few Saturdays previous.

Oh, it wasn’t always thus. At some point in the dim and distant past, when Joe was a lad and his granddad ran a butcher shop at Woodbine and Danforth, before the subway, before the duchess-faced horse [yes, yes, you’re a poet: get to the point –ed.], there was a real community on Danforth East: a vital place, a centre. Not a place completely removed from Toronto proper (Cooper takes pains to remind his readers that the owner of the movie palace located at Woodbine and Danforth was briefly mayor of Toronto).

Now, readers of Joe Cooper know that, as surely as the car ad will be decried in the ALLDERBLOB, the amanglemation of Toronto will be despised in the Watchdog, and Cooper was true to form in his discussion of Danforth East. In fact, he takes the curious position that it was the advent of the subway that killed his beloved corner at Woodbine. He describes how, with the Bloor/Danforth line’s extension to Woodbine came first the death of the movie palace (people took the subway downtown) and soon after the immolation of the small butcher’s (the movie palace was replaced by a supermarket–a supermarket with–gasp–an entrance directly from the subway!).

But as you can imagine, our resident urban designer had something to say about the matter, and a furious letter-writing campaign commenced.

Yesterday, two weeks later, the letter found print, if not web-space at the RimRom. Lucky for our readers, we retained a copy:

To the Editor:

Joe Cooper writes (“Danforth Avenue has 40 years of bad planning to overcome,” Oct. 12 2006) that Danforth Avenue east of Pape has a lot of problems: “the area is struggling, with many businesses having to cope with declining sales, crime and a poorly maintained streetscape.”

He doesn’t mention it, but it’s said that Toronto cabbies have a nickname for this stretch of Danforth: “the miracle mile,” so-named because they say if you hit the right speed, it’s possible to cruise the entire stretch without braking or slowing down for any red lights.

The fact is, this road has been designed for speed. The Metro Toronto planners, with their 1950s car-oriented mentality, got their meathooks into it a long time ago, and turned it into a “traffic corridor.” It’s the road design that’s led to the downfall of community along Danforth
East.

Notice that Cooper addresses the Danforth “east of Pape.” What makes the difference to the west of Pape?

The storefronts are similar in size. The residential neighbourhoods to the north and south are similar in density. The road is the same width. The subway’s there east and west. But there is one significant difference: it’s the way the road is striped.

Danforth west of Pape has been “calmed” for 22 hours of the day. The road markings allow for left turn lanes and two through lanes of traffic during rush hours, but for most of the day the road is a lazy two-lane affair. It has what urban designers like me call “thickening:” a deliberate slowing of traffic, with ample parking on both sides, ample room for cyclists, and a centre painted median that allows pedestrians to safely cross the street almost anywhere (a
feature that is enhanced by the slowing of traffic during non-peak hours).

Contrast this with the street layout east of Pape. There, the same width of road encourages a squeeze zone of dangerously speeding cars in the right lane, while cars back up behind traffic making left turns. The street is unpleasant for pedestrians and dangerous for cyclists.

[but at least you can park there, thank God –ed.]

Children and the elderly visit this stretch of road at their peril.

It’s no wonder small stores have so much trouble staying in business. All any sane person would want to do in the eastern section of Danforth is race through, to get back home as fast as possible.

Until the business owners east of Pape understand this simple difference, and demand the city restripe their end of the street, there is no chance “Danforth East” will ever become a place that
people will want to linger or savour an experience.

Wow. Such forceful expression. Surely the car advertisers [newspapers, you mean? ed.] are lining up with offers of employment. Surely a book deal is in the offing. May we say we are as impressed with Mr. Allderdice’s writing as you are?

ABC ON THE DANFORTH PENINSULA

Sunday, October 22nd, 2006

Here on Toronto’s “Danforth Peninsula,” that strangely unrecognized spit of land that extends from the highlands of Scarborough westward to a line dangerously close to the “real” Toronto, we have a war on our hands. It’s going to be resolved one way or another on election day, November 13, but in the meantime it bears scrutiny.

But first, who or what is the “Danforth Peninsula?” Why has it never been recognized for what it is? What is its potential?

For answers to these questions, we turn to our resident urban designer, Jacob Allderdice.

The ‘Danforth Peninsula’ is bounded to the south by Lake Ontario, to the west by the Don Valley, and to the North by the Taylor Creek Ravine. Historically, the peninsula consisted of farms, marshes and small creeks running down to the lake. At a later time it held many of the polluting industries that typically locate east of any city’s bespoke citizenry (assuming the wind blows from the west): today it’s a bedroom community for the rest of the city and an emblem for the badge that claims “Nothing Ever happens in the East End.” People live here because it’s close to somewhere they need to get to but not so close the real estate is outrageously priced. People live here because they work in the film industry that’s built itself into the fabric along the waterfront. People live here because they’re anti-snobs who hate (and secretly envy) the west end’s plethora of cultural activities. And people live here because they always have: they’re “east end” boys and girls: they like the waterfront and the ravines that define the margins; they like the churning, pedestrian-friendly shopping strip that’s the Danforth (west of Pape); they hold dear a hope that things will get better, somehow.

Some of us in the latter camp even work for that “better” world.

The peninsula is bisected on a North-south line by Coxwell Avenue and on an east-west line by Danforth Avenue: these lines also divide the peninsula into four of the city’s 44 wards: ward 29, reprehensible by councilor Case Ootes: ward 30, represented by councilor Paula Fletcher; ward 31, represented by councilor Janet Davis; and ward 32, represented by Sandra Bussin.

One of these wards is not like the other. Can you tell us which before we finish this paragraph?

Yes, it’s Case Ootes who stands out. Is it because he’s a man among three women? Is it because he’s a conservative among three progressives? Is it because he’s an old-guard, suburban-style pro-car goon, a malingering Mel Lastmanite among folks who generally “get it,” in Mayor David Miller’s inimitable phrasing?

Yes, yes, and, well, check the voting record and decide for yourself.

But there’s more.

Case Ootes, more than any other elected offal in the city, represents failure: failure on the part of the progressive vote to move beyond the dark clowning that typified Toronto during the era of Premier Mike Harris: a time that reigns in infamy for its many undemocratic and Machiavellian events. With the ineffectual buffoon Mel Lastman at the Mayor’s throne in City Hall, it was this dark period that saw the city amalgamated from five cities to one, and the removal of power from the hands of people to be placed in the hands of big business and their lackey politicians. Yes, and it was this same Mel Lastman, whose name will forever be stamped on the horns [shurely you mean “antlers?” –ed.] of the many fiberglas moose that artists sold their souls for the chance to “decorate” (moose that even today can be found in nooks and crannies all over the city), to whom our own Case Ootes swore fealty as “the city’s first Deputy Mayor.”

With Lastman finally unelected in 2003, the city was promised a “new broom” in the hands of Mayor David Miller. But the Danforth Peninsula still bears the imprint of the old guard. Now, three years later, the time has come to rid city hall of the “embarrassment from ward 29,” Mr. Odious.

So we are here to tell you about that movement: the ABC movement. No, it’s not a new move to ensure literacy among our many immigrants from the Netherlands and elsewhere. In short, ABC stands for “Anybody But Case:” It’s a movement that’s under the breaths of everyone who lives in ward 29, which fact alone will mean that Mr. Odious (who lives deep in neighbouring ward 31 and is ineligible therefore even to cast a vote for himself) will not have heard it.

But it’s out there. We have heard it.

Not that we subscribe to it. There could be worse things than having Mr. Odious back in office for “four more years.” Odious hates bikes (a result of his inability in his native Holland to “get the knack” of the wheel before emigrating at age 13 to Canada, we understand), but he does so in such a clumsy, transparent fashion that it pulls energy from many other activities to which he could do much more damage. In fact, we love the fact that the Toronto Sun, in its annual rating of city Councillors, gave Odious a “C” in 2004 or so, specifically citing his distraction to tilt at pedal-driven wheels.

So while we aren’t ABC, we wish those alphabetizers all the luck. If it means Diane Alexopoulos gets some extra votes because she’s the visible alternative to Case, we can live with that. If it means the vote is split between Alexopoulos and the one cyclist to have declared himself against Mr. Odious, Hamish Wilson, well, we’ll have to live with that too.

What we know however, is that things on the Danforth Peninsula will never “get better” until Case Ootes leaves his pubic office for good.

The creeps at Porter Airlines

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

The creeps at Porter Airlines are at it again.

Yeah, them. The same dopes and thugs we warned you about last year:

Some have questioned how $22 million could have been touted as the cost of building the bridge, when a few months later $35 million is being paid to not build it. But it’s likely the money won’t be wasted, because the original schemers are still around, and now they have money greasing their pocketbooks. It’s unlikely we’ve heard the last of their lot.

Or should we be fuming at the Toronto Star. Cancel our subscription!

Oh, wait. We already did that.

Today the Star (which editorialized several days ago on the subject of why the new airline is a “good thing” for Toronto and goes hand-in-hand with the “clean, green waterfront” they’ve always paid lipservice to) presented on the front page a story about the new airline’s expansion plans.

It wasn’t their story that bugged us though, but the pretty little diagram they included with it: a map of North America with Toronto in the centre and a dashed line encircling most of the continent from St. John’s in the east to Regina in the west, and from Havana in the south to Iqaluit in the north.

“Garsh,” we heard people muttering on the subway from Donlands clear over to Christie, “That dashed line makes it clear we here in Toronto will soon be really connected to the world, thanks to those generous urban visionaries at Porter Air.”

This isn’t to say the airline company’s sworn enemies, the folks at CommunityAIR, will be taking this lying down. Oh, no. They’re going to be at the front line with their petitions and their noise complaints and their demands for an extension of the park that comprises most of the Toronto Islands. We expect there will be letters to the editor in all the major papers.

The radicals.

And the people of Toronto are going to yawn and turn away. Some of them are going to actually applaud the new airline. Some of them are going to be happy not to have to weather the turbulence getting to Pearson Airport for their jaunt. Some of them don’t care about the noise concerns of those whom they perceive as “elites” in the 362 houses on the Toronto Islands. Even among the condominium crowd, there is no consensus. For every tenant who worries about noise from the airport, there’s another one hiding behind hermetically sealed windows who thinks it’s cool to have airplanes buzzing past.

The two main contenders for mayor in November’s election were in the thick of it today.
Miller, the incumbent, made a pun about the “endless flight–I mean fight” with the island airport. Pitfield, the challenger, is happy to rub the belly of the new airline. No surprise there. Her strategy so far has been to oppose everything the mayor supports, and vice-versa. Neither of them seems to be thinking for themself, in any case. Neither of them has taken a stand on the fact that three cyclists this year were killed by large trucks. Neither of them has made a call to mandate European-style sideguards on large trucks.

But we digress.

Fact is, if the choice with the island airport is between a new and expanded airport, with connections from downtown Toronto to St John’s and Havana and Regina and Iqaluit, and a new and expanded island park system, with picnic areas and sand dunes and a ball diamond, we actually feel ambivalent.

Toronto has a lot of parkland. It also has a pretty good airport. We almost don’t care which one prevails.

And we don’t think we’re alone in this.

Most people are bored with the debate.
Most don’t see how it affects them, out in their bungalow north of the 401 highway. Neither Miller nor Pitfield is going to get traction in this argument. Neither is going to win votes either way.

It’s too bad there doesn’t seem to be anyone capable of expressing a third way: neither an expansion of the airport, nor an expansion of the stale parkland that’s already over there on the iislands.

A third way: an expansion of the non-driving zones of the city.
A place to live. A new urban settlement.

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

What we have in mind is a residential development modeled on the existing Toronto Island Land Trust, where residents would lease, not buy the land under their dwellings. Who would own the land? We don’t care. Hell, it could be the Toronto Port Authority, for all we care. But the Land Trust would control sales, eliminating speculation and land grabs.

A scheme that leaves the super-hardened runways in place as a palimpsest for future main street development, ala Queen Street West or the Danforth: shops at street level, walk-up apartments over top. One that drops the time-tested patterns of Ward’s or Algonquin islands into the interstitial areas, with small houses on small lots, bordered by narrow, car-free streets.

A non-driving zone, with a tram system in place on the former runways, with shops and storefronts beneath apartments on the car-free “main streets,” with multiple ferry-links to the mainland of Toronto and to the rest of the islands, and with the tiny houses that anyone who ever visits Ward’s Island comes away marveling at. Bicycles everywhere. People walking hand-in-hand. People singing and skipping and playing in the streets. A non-driving zone: a living zone.

The island airport site could easily provide several thousand dwelling units of a variety of forms, plus the amenities to support the new inhabitants, all in a car-free setting that would put Toronto in the forefront of the sustainable urban design movement.

Where is the Mayoral contender with the vision to voice such a proposal.

We’re just asking.

After all, as another mayor, Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago famously said, “You can’t have cars, cars, cars 24 hours a day.”

Airplanes? Parks? That’s another matter. Apparently for Swiller and Pigfield, either one will do just fine.

Expand the non-driving zones of the city!

It’s the climate, stupid.

David Olive, Toronto Star writer: “Big city, small minds streets”

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006

In a piece on the front of the Toronto Sunday Star the other day, David Olive [who he? –ed.] wrote: “T.O needs a Department of Fun,” (subhead: “SMALL MINDS BIG CITY : Why is Toronto so hostile to the dramatic, bold decisions that could transform the city?”).

Now, we’re as fed up with the small ideas that get choked to death in this city as the next blob, but when a senior business reporter for the nation’s biggest newspaper rants about it, we know we’re mainstream: haleleujah and amen to that, brother.

But then we read what constitutes “fun” for David Olive. What for him would be considered a “big idea.”

Yeesh! What a creepazoid!

Now, he starts out on the right foot. He quotes our colleague Daniel Burnham [Hey! –ed.], who famously said of his design for Chicago’s massive waterfront park:

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die.

What’s not to agree with about that?

Problem is, a lot of wackos and fascists throughout history have made “no little plans,” and the world is the worse for it.

So in making “Big Plans” we at the ALLDERBLOB say it’s best to tread carefully: car-lessly, that is.

Because Big Plans that include big highways are no more than big bummers for folks who prefer living to driving.

David Olive would disagree. With the rest of the car-headed set that passes for Toronto’s “intelligentsia” [bettur chek speling –ed.], a.k.a. the folks that say what’s fit to print in our newspapers, David Olive has yet to meet a road he didn’t like.

Naturally we put our resident urban designer, a man who’s never met a bikepath he didn’t like, to the task of crafting a response:

To the Editor:

re: David Olive: “Big City, small minds” (July 30 ’06)

First thought: Bravo David Olive for calling attention to the “Ideas Deficit Syndrome” that has our leaders in its grip.

Second thought: David Olive would not recognize a “big idea” if it smacked him upside the head.

I mean, come on: the Front Street Extension? That qualifies for a big idea in Olive’s book?

There’s a reason the Front Street Extension was rebranded by opponents as the Gardiner Expressway Extension: we saw it for what it was: a simple way of getting more cars into the city, with no clear “exit strategy” except more roads, more parking lots, more blight.

Instead of the expressway extension, today we have people repopulating the downtown core in droves, delighted to find there the walkable and coherent neighbourhoods the suburbs can never provide. We have former mayor June Rowlands to thank for the zoning changes that made possible this development, but despite this smack upside the head, Olive never mentions the special “Kings” zoning.

Olive’s big idea is a city for cars, not people. It’s a vision most clearly expressed in places like Detroit and Buffalo.

Olive is welcome to those places, if that’s what he prefers.

In fact, it appears Olive is among the growing line of people showing up at the playground to kick sand on the memory of Jane Jacobs. His heralding of Robert Moses and former Toronto Mayor Fred Gardiner as champions of the “big idea” clarifies the matter: Moses took a meat ax to New York City, just as Gardiner did to the Toronto Islands, both in the name of car access. Moses, famously, designed bridges on his New York City parkways to be too low to allow for bus traffic: you’re welcome to visit Jones Beach if you can afford to rent a car.

Gardiner, meawhile took his meat-ax to the Toronto Island, a viable car-free residential community that was decimated under his watch. Of course, we also have him to thank for the expressway that Olive today recognizes needs a new “big idea” to fix.

Now, just to show I’m not just some kind of NIMBY armchair critic, carping from the sideline, here’s a big idea, David Olive: let’s divide the city into “driving” and “non-driving” areas.

Just consider: “non-driving sectors” with sidewalk cafes where you can hear the birds sing, versus “driving sectors” where stepping off the curb may be a death sentence; “non-driving sectors” with windows you can throw open to fresh breezes and sweet smells, versus “driving sectors” where the roar and clank of cars, and the belching of exhaust keeps your windows shut tight; “non-driving sectors” with children playing and cyclists wheeling, versus “driving sectors” with sidewalks empty and teeth gritted? Which will you choose?

Jacob Allderdice, M.Urban Design
member, CAFE (Citizens Against the Front Expressway)

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

Gospel of the car ad: fight congestion by building roads

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

Hearts were a-twitter last week as the Ontaro government released exciting new plans. According to the Toronto Globe and Mail

The Ontario government said yesterday it would spend $3.4-billion over five years to build or repair nearly 1,730 kilometres of highway and 264 bridges to ease growing traffic congestion in southern Ontario.

The story, “Ontario plans major highway upgrades” by Karen Howlett, also described how the gov’t plans to paste new High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes alongside some of the existing highways.

Noteworthy for its absence from this list was highway 401.

Who or what is highway 401? Well, you may know it as the MacDonald-Cartier freeway, linking Windsor Ontario with Quebec City. To Toronto taxidrivers, it’s the “flyover.” According to our friends at Wikipedia,

The 401 is widely considered to be North America’s busiest highway, with an estimated Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) of over 425,000 in 2004, between the Weston Road and Highway 400 interchanges in Toronto. This surpasses the Santa Monica Freeway in Los Angeles, and several Interstate freeways in Houston, Texas. Due to its triple use as the main trade, commuting and recreational corridor in Ontario, 24-hour traffic volumes can exceed the 500,000 level on some days. The just-in-time inventory systems of the highly integrated auto industry in Michigan and Ontario have made the highway the busiest truck route in North America. Highway 401 also includes the continent’s busiest multi-structure bridge at Hogg’s Hollow in Toronto (four structures for the highway’s four roadway beds).

According to the Globe story, the 401 isn’t wide enough for HOV lanes. Not wide enough? Look again at the Wikipedia description:

Today the stretch of Highway 401 that passes through the Greater Toronto Area ranges from 6 to 18 lanes, and the stretch between Highway 403 and Brock Road in Pickering is thought to be the world’s longest continuous stretch of highway having 10 or more lanes.

(Hat tip to Martino).

As our fellow ARCista Rick put it: “What are they smoking?” (He says he was channeling Kunstler with that one).

Okay, Ontario’s on the bandwagon for building highways. Yawn. Guess what? We’re in North America. What are we supposed to build? Bikelanes? Car-free communities? Get real. Maybe it would be more appropriate to ask, what is Rick smoking?

Now we love cars as much as the next jacob. So we’re confused by the story that accompanied the exciting news of Ontario’s highway construction.

Same paper, same day, same author, same page: this story, which enthused: “Ontario releases plan to contain urban sprawl, save farmland.”

According to it,

The Ontario government’s vision for taming urban sprawl in the greater Golden Horseshoe is made up of “complete communities” where people could live, work and shop without ever having to get in their car.

Huh? Howzzat?

To protect farmland, 40 per cent of all new growth must be contained within existing built-up areas by 2015, and regions must transform themselves into “compact communities” where residents can walk or ride bicycles to work. These communities would be served by public transit

Garsh, we don’t know about you, but we’re confused. What’s on the table, Ontario? On the one hand you got roads and more roads, on the other hand you got a magnificent plan to curb what the roads doth bring: sprawl.

The viper-like pen of our resident urban designer, Jacob Allderdice, was fortunately at the ready. A “Letter to the Editor” sprang forth, with the usual fangs.

And was accepted for publication, much to our surprise. Complete with a photo (of a car-clogged highway, not us, silly).

An op-ed in the New York Times it aint, but it’s still a letter to the editor in “Canada’s newspaper of record” and for that we’re proud:

Roads and land

JACOB ALLDERDICE

Toronto — Re Ontario Plans Major Highway Upgrades (June 17) and Ontario Releases Plan To Contain Urban Sprawl, Save Farmland (June 17): According to these stories, Ontario badly needs a psychiatrist.

On one hand, we have a government building or expanding highways, a proven recipe for increased automobile use and creating more urban sprawl. On the other hand, the government claims to be acting to contain urban sprawl and save farmland. Which one is it? Because it can’t be both.

A government that wanted to contain sprawl would be decreasing, not increasing, the amount of paved land. Money for transportation infrastructure would be directed to improved passenger rail service and getting more freight into trains. Road-building plans that try to reduce car dependency by adding high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes to proposed new construction suffer a fundamental flaw in logic: the new road construction itself.

And when the authorities say that no HOV lanes can be added to the 401 because it’s not wide enough, how do they keep from blushing? Isn’t the idea of HOV lanes to reduce the number of automobiles and thereby the number of lanes required? You’d think an elementary calculation would tell you that the narrower the roadway, the more suited it is to HOV lanes.

Putting HOV lanes on the 401 would decrease congestion there as well as wherever its off ramps lead. Jane Jacobs was right about traffic engineers: Theirs is a pseudo-science. Their roads lead to darkness.

A second, even more brilliant letter on the subject of roads and sprawl followed ours that day, and we paste it below, for the record. Its subject is one dear to our hearts, the property tax theories of Henry George.

Take it away, Dave Wetzel:

Roads and land

DAVE WETZEL

vice-chair, Transport for London

England — If the Ontario government really wants to contain urban sprawl “by encouraging new growth within existing built-up areas” (Ontario Releases Plan To Contain Urban Sprawl, Save Farmland) then it should examine the example of Harrisburg, Pa., where an annual land-value tax, called the Two-Tier Tax, has been adopted.

The consequence has been an 85-per-cent reduction of empty sites and buildings, with whole areas of Harrisburg that were previously blighted now revitalized with the building and refurbishment of affordable business premises and homes.

The resultant inward investment has increased the number of firms paying taxes to the city from 1,900 to 9,000 and led to a dramatic drop in unemployment and crime.

The lesson is obvious. To contain urban sprawl and create prosperous communities, tax location value, which is created by all of us, and do not tax buildings, wages, trade and enterprise.

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.

1. COMMUNITY AIR’S 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

2. RESPONSE FROM ROBERT DELUCE:

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

3. LAST WORD GOES TO THE ALLDERBLOB:

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

…NOT TO BE CONTINUED…

[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.

…TO BE CONTINUED…

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.

…TO BE CONTINUED…

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.

…TO BE CONTINUED…

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

Saturday, May 6th, 2006

[Part three you say? Part THREE? What the hell is going on here? Who has time for this crap? –ed.]

Fact is, we want to know too. We want to know what the relationship between a long discourse on a fantasy design process (a.k.a. a charrette) for excising the Toronto island airport has to do with the call to abolish automobile advertising in all its many guises.

If the reason behind the ALLDERBLOB is to convince our government to ban car advertising, why are we spending all this time writing about a bunch of people who had nothing more pressing than to spend three days talking and drawing an alternative future for some land on the Toronto Harbour?

And, what does Jane Jacobs have to do with anything?

Ay-yah, as they say in Cantonese. This is a complicated matter [Do everyone a favour then. Make a long story short. –ed.].

Here goes:

The Toronto Islands are one of a handful of carfree residential communities in the western, automobilious world

[ the adjective “automobilious,” means “car-sickened.” Not “car-sickness,” that’s the effect the car has on its passengers. “Car-sickened” is the effect cars have on those outside, not those inside the car. It refers to the degradation of society as a whole that the car induces. –ed.].

Elsewhere on this site we present our ideas about the nature of carfree places. Read it if you dare, and consider the following: to be carfree is not necessarily to be without cars. A “thickened” commercial street where by necessity cars just inch along, Danforth Avenue, Toronto, West of Pape Ave, midday, midweek, midwinter. Can you see the three jaywalkers? Sure you can. allowing a pedestrian to cross the street virtually anywhere, can be argued to be “carfree.”

And the same street, now “thinned” and empty of cars, Danforth Avenue, Toronto, East of Pape Ave: same day, same time. No Cars? Watch out, you\'re about to be hit by one! can be the most dangerous place imaginable for a cyclist or pedestrian.

We won’t get into the reasons for this here [please! –ed.]. Suffice it to say that Murphy’s Blobby’s law states “Cars rush to fill up the space available to them.”

Everyone knows this law.

So everyone who considers the future of the Toronto island airport hits their head on the same dull reality: if you build a bridge, cars will rush in.

That’s why the Port Authority wanted to build a bridge: to allow onto the island “urban traffic.”

And that’s why the single resounding point of consensus among members of the public who showed up for the Thursday evening session where we set the parameters for the charrette was “Build no fixed link to the island: keep the islands carfree” [um, that’s two points. –ed.].

We described the Thursday night sessions in part I of this series. We ended part I with the suggestion that a description of the facilitation technique of one Janet Rosenberg was in order. Tantalizing, to be sure, but in part II we got sidetracked. We devoted part II to a discussion of Jane Jacobs’s analysis of the car in urban settings. We called Ms. Jacobs “someone who really spoke truth to power about the dangers automobile dependency presents to urban life.” [My god, does it get any worse? That phrase went out with the Monkees. –ed.]

Okay. Let’s get down to business.

If we accept that the Toronto Island residential community is a place removed from automobilious culture, and we accept the proposition with Lord Acton Historian Lord Acton (1834-1902): \"Absolute power corrupts absolutely\" 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.

That said, we imagined we would find, among the professional designers and members of the public who filled the halls during the charrette, an embrace of the notion of a residential community in a carfree setting. We imagined that the group, which included the likes of Bill Freeman, Barry Lipton, and other Toronto Island residents, would be eager to include others in their warm, carfree embrace. We imagined that the likes of Julie Beddoes, and others who live on or near the harbourfront, dedicated pedestrian advocates who pay homage to the principles of carfree urban life, would be eager to see developed on the island airport site more of the existing residential form of Ward’s and Algonquin Islands.

We could not conceive of anyone looking at the island, especially anyone with the slightest knowledge of its historic battle to prove “People and Parks Belong Together,” not choosing to ensure a residential component to any scheme to replace the airport.

But at our table at the Saturday design charrette, facilitated by Janet Rosenberg, we were in for a surprise.

…TO BE CONTINUED…

[augh! –ed.]