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Toronto approves 2018 budget, with extra funding for transit

City Council approved the Toronto 2018 budget Monday 33-11, with a special interest in transit. Included in the $11-billion operating budget budget is over $50 million for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to help in new investments and maintenance, as well as provide discounts for low-income riders and the hop-on-hop-off transfer.

There will also be a fare freeze for the next year.

The city is planning on investing in transit, shelters, recreational spaces, and the Vision Zero plan, among others. The revenue for this budget is being collected from various sources, including taxes, TTC fares, provincial grants, and reserve funds.

“This is a good news budget. It invests in key areas while spending low and keeping tax increases low,” said budget chief Gary Crawford in a statement. “Toronto residents want City Hall to build the city but they also appreciate that we strike the right balance, that we tighten spending, find efficiencies and don’t hike taxes sky-high. For the fourth year in a row, I’m confident we have struck the right, responsible balance that people expect.”

Residential property taxes are set to increase 2.1 per cent along with the rate of inflation, while commercial taxes will only increase by one per cent. City staff say this will equal an increase of about $82 on average for homeowners with property valued at $624,418. Residents will pay an additional 0.5 per cent for the City Building Fund, which supports infrastructure projects such as transit and housing. The city will be relying on approximately $800 million collected from the municipal land transfer tax to fund services, something city manager Peter Wallace says is dangerous considering the real estate market.

Prior to budget approval, mayor John Tory announced $3 million (included in the $50 million investment) earmarked to help overcrowding on Line 1, including the prioritization of the relief line. The 10-point plan includes the addition of more subway cars during peak hours, overnight maintenance schedules, hiring of platform staff for the Bloor/Yonge station, and the use of express busses to alleviate overcrowding.

“I know delays and crowding can be frustrating. I know people want an expanded transit system as soon as possible. I know how maddening it can be when transit and traffic don’t move in this city,” said Tory in a statement. “I want Toronto residents to know that I am dedicated to getting transit and traffic moving. I’m dedicated to building our entire transit network plan. I’m dedicated to making sure the TTC is doing everything possible to minimize delays and ease crowding.”

Council also voted to approve a 50 per cent reduction in property taxes for culture hubs like 401 Richmond. To be eligible, a hub must prove their tenants produce cultural goods and services, charge tenants below market rent, and have a minimum rentable space of 10,000 square feet (5,000 if owned by the city).

Woman of the Week: Margaret Zeidler

Margaret Zeidler is one of the biggest Jane Jacobs fans you will meet. In fact, she attributes much of her success and innovation to the urbanist’s theories.

While Zeidler has studied much of Jacobs’ work,  it was two sentences in the chapter “The Need for Aged Buildings” of The Death and Life of Great American Cities that inspired the creation of a company called Urbanspace and 401 Richmond, an urban community for artists and entrepreneurs.

“Old ideas can use new buildings, but new ideas need old buildings,” she said. “It was a waking up for me – you can’t solve everything with architecture and maybe you shouldn’t try to do that. These things that seem like they need to be fixed or torn down actually have a purpose in the economy to the city. That’s what 401 Richmond is all about”

Zeidler found and bought the industrial building complex in 1994 at a time when property prices were at an all time low. In 18 months, Zeidler led a team that transformed the warehouse into a vibrant workplace that housed a number of tenants with art and culture backgrounds, most hoping to kick start their careers in Toronto. The buildings have since been designated a heritage site.

401 Richmond now houses 140 tenants, all artists, entrepreneurs, or heads of social enterprises that are using spaces to launch their non-profits or startups. There are 12 galleries showcasing art of all kinds, a dance school, a roof garden, and Studio 123, an early learning centre. Each aspect of 401 Richmond works together to create a sustainable community and inspire ideas.

401 Richmond also has what’s called a career launcher studio, which is given to a graduating art student for a year to start their practice. All of these things together create a diverse community where artists and dreamers could thrive.

“I love it. It’s gorgeous,” Zeidler said of 401 Richmond. “It has almost 1000 windows in it – wood and metal, beautiful old fashioned windows. We are constantly doing renovations or adding new tenants that we think will be interesting. It’s a wonderful place to be and work. You run into all kinds of fabulous people.”

Zeidler expanded the idea through UrbanSpace by purchasing a new warehouse further down Spadina to be used as a co-working space for non-profits and startups. This led to a co-founded space called the Centre for Social Innovation, a shared workspace for over 170 nonprofits, social enterprises, activists, and artists.

“We talked to a bunch of young people working out of their basement,” Zeidler said. “They wanted to be in a community and talk to people and work physically in a space with people doing similar work.”

These urban communities, specifically 401 Richmond, is currently facing it’s own set of troubles. The space was hit with a property assessment that doubled the buildings’ tax bill. These same taxes are set to jump by another 21 per cent, making it difficult for Urban Space to continue and provide below-average rent costs for tenants — a staple of the entire 401 Richmond concept.

The issue is still being worked out, with the City of Toronto actively pushing for an exemption using a provision classified as “community benefit.”

“There are reasons why it’s useful to have inexpensive and mixed space within a core, especially when it’s rapidly gentrifying,” Zeidler said. “It’s about invention and new ideas.”

Zeidler will not be deterred. She spends as much of her free time at 401 Richmond as she can and remains active in the management of the community. “People are said to feel welcome. Diverse and happy place. We spend a ton of our lives working and it would be so nice to work on something you love but also in an environment you love.”

Zeidler is currently reading Becoming Jane Jacobs by Peter L. Laurence.

 

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