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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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Ontario implements new condo board laws

The Ontario government will implement new condo laws in the fall that is said to “ better protect condo owners and residents by increasing consumer protections in Ontario’s condo communities.”

The media has reported on a number of issues involving condo boards, including conflicts of interest and possible corruption. These new laws will provide more education to those that sit on these boards and ensure more transparency as to the process.

One of the biggest changes will be to improve corporation governance and introduce disclosure requirements for directors. This means that all condo directors must indicate whether or not they occupy units in the condo or if they have interests in contracts involving the corporations. Condo directors will also be given mandatory training to improve management and operations.

New voting and quorum rules will be implemented to make it easier for owners to participate. The board must also update the condo corporation regularly to help improve communications.

To aide in this transition, the government will be creating two new administrative authorities — the Condominium Authority of Ontario and the Condominium, which will educate and promote awareness of condo owner rights, and the Management Regulatory Authority of Ontario, which will help regulate and licence managers and providers.

“Creating new consumer protections will help to build more sustainable condo communities so residents moving into condos today and in the future will be able to look forward to healthy condo communities and peace of mind in the place they call home,” said Tracy MacCharles, Minister of Government and Consumer Services, in a statement.

These new rules will be implemented on Sept. 1 and phased in throughout the year.

Why is there still a stigma around bare breasts?

As the temperatures continue to rise, women may see more and more guys walking around the streets without their shirts on. It’s a normal thing, right? But, what about when women try to walk down those same streets without their shirts on?

People would probably stare or point. Someone may even ask these women to cover up, saying they are indecent in a public place.

Every year it seems like women get in trouble for baring her breasts in public. Whether it’s two sisters asked to cover up while cycling without a top or an eight-year-old girl told to put her shirt back on in a swimming pool, it’s obvious there is still stigma and misunderstanding over a woman’s right to go topless in public.

Over the last week, the media has reported a woman in Cornwall is making a complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, claiming a pool policy that makes it mandatory for girls over the age of 10 to wear a top is discriminatory. City councillors now have to decide whether to fight the complaint or change the policy — a conversation that is bound to turn heads in both the press and in the chamber.

It’s a bit silly toplessness is still a problem in 2017, especially considering Ontario essentially made the act legal in 1991 when Guelph University student Gwen Jacobs won her court case. Municipalities have followed suit, adjusting policies where needed to adapt to this change, but it still isn’t common place. Women still get harassed and told to put more clothes on. Public beaches and pools still don’t understand that it is perfectly acceptable for women to go topless while outdoors. And men use this as an opportunity to make sexual remarks or comment on a woman’s figure.

While I was in Mexico, I went to a beach every day and saw women of all shapes and sizes walking around without a bathing suit top on. And you know what? It wasn’t a big deal! And in Europe families walk down the street or relax in the park wearing nothing but underwear! So, why is it that in North America it’s so taboo?

Personally, I think the sexualization of a woman’s breasts has become so engrained in social culture that it has seeped its way into every day activities. Anatomically, women have breasts in order to breastfeed. They were never “meant” to be sexual objects, and yet the number of brassieres and pasties makes it impossible to think of them as anything else. Even for women it becomes stigmatized. I know that for myself, being in public without something covering my breasts would make me uncomfortable. That’s a shame, but a reality of the kind of society we live in.

For those women who do feel comfortable — rock on! Remember that breasts are a part of the human body. They are not sexual objects, despite what people have been taught, and are no different than the nipples men showcase every day of the summer when they wander around downtown without a top.

So next time the heat becomes too much to stand, remember that baring your breasts is legal and totally okay — and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Will toplessness ever be considered a norm for both women and men? Let us know what you think in the comments below! 

Will replacing the OMB cause more problems?

The Ontario government is looking to replace the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) with something called the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

The OMB is an independent adjudicative tribunal that conducts hearings and makes planning decisions on zoning bylaws, development proposals, subdivision plans, and ward boundaries. It has been around for over 100 years and has been criticized by some for its lengthy and costly process.

Despite these criticisms, the OMB is considered a positive third party officiate between developers and municipalities. The fear is that the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal may not have the same reputation.

One of the biggest challenges with the new tribunal is the elimination of the “de novo” hearings, which allows the OMB to consider municipal land use planning decisions as though no previous decision had been made. This is frustrating for city councils that may have already made a ruling on a development and it lengthens the hearings because all evidence has to be presented anew. It also gives the perception the OMB favours developers, despite this not being the case.

The Local Planning Appeal Tribunal is supposed to be independent and at an arms’ length from the government — but removing the “de novo” hearings will ensure the decisions of city councillors and/or provincial representatives are taken into consideration during appeals, effectively giving them more power than before.

Another example is the new appeal process. The tribunal will only be able to overturn a municipal decision if it does not follow provincial policies or municipal plans, unlike the OMB, which has power to overturn a decision if it isn’t considered the best planning decision. Instead of repealing the decision, the tribunal will then give the municipality 90 days to take new action based on that information. The tribunal will have a final say only if on a second appeal the plan still falls short of provincial policies. The idea is to give communities more control in land use planning.

The new legislation will also exempt a range of major land use planning decisions from appeal, including Official Plans to support transit areas like Go Train and subway stations or Official Plans (and their updates) that have been approved by the province, as well as minister’s zoning orders.

All of these changes to the appeal system are meant to try and reduce hearing times and encourage mediation. Since length and cost are the two biggest complaints about the OMB, this makes sense. However, the new tribunal also makes it difficult for developers to get their projects past councillors who may not approve of their blueprints despite it being the best planning option. It also limits hearings to policy rather than encourage innovation and creative thinking.

While the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal does include a number of interesting new policies that would encourage resident and community engagement, it is unclear how it will function as a third-party appeal agency.

The legislation in question, also known as Bill 139, “Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act “, has already passed the first reading in the Legislative Assembly.

What do you think of Bill 139? Will it help or hinder the system? Let us know in the comments below! 

Is Ontario investing too much in foreign builders?

Everyone is talking about the foreign buyers tax in Ontario — but no one is talking about the increase in foreign builders.

What do I mean by foreign builders? Large, international companies based in Italy, France, or Japan, with small offices within the GTHA, are being given contracts for large transit projects while smaller Canadian companies are shut out.

If you take a look at the shortlist for the Hurontario LRT, half of the constructors are not from Canada. They may have Canadian offices, but the companies themselves were created and have headquarters in Europe, the United States, and Asia. While each individual “team” that is bidding for the contract does have at least two Canadian companies on board, this is not a guarantee on division of work and/or financial contributions.

And this is a big problem.

By allotting contracts for big developments and transit projects to foreign builders, it severely impacts the Canadian economy. It means less jobs and less money for construction workers, and it means the competition between Canadian companies is steep.

Canada also has a unique climate. There are certain materials that must be used for a development to support extreme cold and hot temperatures. Would a company from Spain or Italy be able to understand how to build something resistant to this temperamental landscape?

An even bigger problem is that these foreign companies are not connected to the community, and therefore do not understand and/or empathize with local concerns over a new development. These companies come in, build, and leave, which means they are not around if any problems arise and they don’t get to see the affect it has on the residents who leave them. There is no real investment to the community they are building.

To be clear, collaborating with international partners is not a bad thing. These types of partnerships can inspire new ideas and provide interesting solutions to municipal problems.

However, when native companies are pushed out of the process in favour of international conglomerates — it’s Canada that loses out.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Transit Alliance: financing infrastructure via P3 and AFP

Ontario has an infrastructure deficit — there is a lot of infrastructure that still needs to be developed, but very little money is available. This creates a bit of a challenge. “If we were to build all infrastructure on public balance sheets, we wouldn’t be able to get there,” said Bruce McCuaig, Executive Advisor of Privy Council Office. “Money isn’t free.”

McCuaig was a special guest at the Transit Alliance’s seminar on alternative financing and public-private partnerships. Over 80 people attended the June 20 event in hopes of learning more about the Infrastructure Bank and alternative financing models that can help push municipal projects forward.

The morning seminar began with a fireside chat between McCuaig, KPMG partner Will Lipson, and Transit Alliance Chair Brian Crombie. The conversation centered around the Infrastructure Bank, a crown corporation that will provide low-cost financing for new infrastructure projects. McCuaig is set to help launch the Infrastructure Bank through the Privy Council.

“It’s about finding the best financial model for the project,” McCuaig said. “Each on has different needs.”

Transit will play a big part of the portfolio, although clean water was also mentioned numerous times throughout the discussion. McCuaig stressed that a balance will be needed between public interest and independence within the crown corporation, and that decisions should be made using evidence-based analysis.

The Infrastructure Bank will be complimentary to Infrastructure Ontario, Infrastructure Canada, and other private agencies. KPMG said the corporation will bring about numerous opportunities for municipalities, providing more financing options than before.

“The government has been quite wise in implementing the bank,” Lipson said.

After the fireside chat, Crombie moderated a second panel that dealt largely with financing for smaller municipal projects. Special guests on the panel included Rob Pattison, SVP, LRT, Infrastructure Ontario; Don Dinnin, VP Procurement Services at Metrolinx; Olivia MacAngus, VP Corporate Development at Plenary Group; and Omer Malik, Vice President Project Financing at Stonebridge Financial Corporation.

Each member of the panel is involved in public-private partnerships or alternative financing, and believes that innovation and creativity are key when it comes to municipal projects. For most, the Infrastructure Bank is a unique opportunity, but not something to depend on. MacAngus and Malik both think there is too much unknown about the Infrastructure Bank. “We don’t need another traditional lender,” Malik said. “It should focus on a gap, where larger equity funds aren’t interested.”

Dinnin suggested the use of an agency such as the Infrastructure Bank to help spearhead the relief line in Toronto. Metrolinx, he said, has a number of funded projects using public-private partnerships, but maybe the Infrastructure Bank can fill the rest of that gap. “There is always more than one way to do something,” he said.

The collective solution to municipal infrastructure, as suggested by the panel, is hybrid-financing models and innovative thinking — partnering with the right investors to see your project completed.

The goal of alternative financing and public-private partnerships is to build and develop a project on time and on budget. According to Pattison of Infrastructure Ontario, the worst thing someone can do is drag out the construction phase.

The seminar also included a networking opportunity, where business and municipal leaders were able to approach these financial firms to discuss their personal projects and seek advice (or offer potential solutions).

“Expertise should always be evolving,” Pattison said.

Here are some photos from the event:

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”7″ gal_title=”P3 Seminar June 20″]

More photos to come.

Photographs taken by Ethan Helfrich.

Ontario tries to empower women, but ends up with stale report

Engaging empowered women in Ontario is getting more political airtime, with more focus on the “status of women” in legislature. But will it have the desired impact of actually helping women in Ontario?

The province released an engagement paper on June 9 that describes the ways in which the government wants to increase women empowerment and close the wage gap. The paper includes a survey with questions about youth, economic opportunities, social attitudes, and leadership. These are significant issues for women and addressing them is important — as long as it is for and about the women in Ontario, instead of an election issue to win votes with no real purpose.

The survey asks Canadian citizens what they believe is the most important component to women’s empowerment via a series of detailed questions. The issue with the survey is that it offers several reasons why women don’t have complete equality in Ontario and doesn’t mandate the survey-taker to choose which issue is the most important on every question. This allows the people taking the survey to choose every issue and not specify what subject matters should be tackled first. It is fairly obvious that each of the four goals specified in the report is important, but asking if all of them are important is redundant. This is often seen in government surveys and makes a democratic and potentially helpful questionnaire essentially pointless.

Though Ontario is making strides with women, the efforts thus far is limited. For example, the province has committed to help 100,000 children obtain licensed child care over the next five years, but the subsidy waiting list in Toronto alone is 18 months long. There are also efforts to help 1700 low-income women gain financial literacy training, but there are thousands of women who still need help to gain education and training to move up in the world. Needless to say, more is needed and it shouldn’t be based on fulfilling commitments five years down the road, but should be fulfilled now.

The report is well-minded, but still lends itself to words such as “encouraging women to explore different careers”, and “supporting continued career progression”, but lacks specific goals with targeted language. Though it is important to “encourage” and “support”, women need action and specific goals with a ready-made budget instead of a tentative report and survey. Often, talking about women empowerment is seen as enough action when credible and supported goals need to be met to actually close the wage gap and promote women equality.

Women’s economic empowerment is a primary concern in Ontario and needs to be addressed with affirmative action as soon as possible. Between reports, surveys, and loosely mandated changes, there remains a gap on giving childcare to all women who need it so they can work. Pay wage gaps must also be addressed immediately, and board positions should be mandated to have 50/50 representation.  The engagement paper is yet another shining example of the government using ‘status of women’ to appease female voters — what will it take to get the real support and action women need?

Ontario may use hydrogen-powered train on GO Transit lines

Ontario is hoping to join the list of mostly European innovators looking to create clean public transportation.

The provincial government has announced their intention to study the feasibility of having hydrogen-powered passenger trains in use on RER lines and the UP express. The train will combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, converting the energy via fuel cells that charge the train’s battery. The only emissions that will be produced is steam and condensed water.

The feasibility study will look at whether or not hydrogen-powered trains are more efficient than electric vehicles. The ultimate decision maker will be how quickly this technology can be adopted, as the government doesn’t want these new innovations to impact pre-set completion dates for RER.  “We want to know if hydrogen fuel cell technology can be ready in time to deliver Go regional express rail by 2024-25,” Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, said while in Etobicoke.

In the fall, the province will bring industry leaders together for a symposium to explore the application of hydrogen fuel cell technology. In the meantime, the province will continue to work on electrified rail service.

“Our work on GO RER is about transforming transit in the GTHA by creating a sustainable, integrated, regional transit network that connects people and communities to jobs, services and activities in their everyday lives,” Del Duca said in a statement. “Electrified service as part of GO RER will allow us to run faster, more frequent rail service across core sections of the GO rail network, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by removing diesel service where possible.”

The first hydrogen-powered train will launch in December 2017 in Germany. Alstrom, a French manufacturing company, is working on the actual train while a Canadian company called Hydrogenics is providing the fuel cell to help with the energy conversion.

Del Duca mentioned Hydrogenics and said there is a “positive economic development potential” in embracing hydrogen-powered technology, but that Ontario isn’t ready to discuss any specific details.

While in Etobicoke, Del Duca also announced the launch of a study that will examine electrification of the GO line as part of the Regional Express Rail program, “the backbone of this next generation of transit”. The RER program is set to be completed by 2025, regardless of whether or not the province chooses to use to clean technology.

The RER program expansion will introduce two-day GO service by 2025, including Lakeshore, Kitchener, Barrie, and Stouffville lines.

EDITORIAL: What’s the value of an employee?

What’s the value of an employee? Better yet, what’s the value of a human life?

A few weeks ago, the Ontario Liberal government announced a plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 in the next few years. After the press releases were handed out, two things happened — low-paying workers rejoiced and businesses started complaining.

Small businesses argued they wouldn’t be able to stay afloat if they had to dedicate more funds to their employees. Larger industries also criticized the government’s decision, saying they will be forced to cut down on labour and raise the prices of their services.

As someone who understands the perils of living on minimum wage, I don’t exactly sympathize. But, it’s one thing to make a business-case argument and another to dismiss the value of having a hardworking (and well-paid) employee at all.

In Tuesday’s morning paper, I saw an advertisement doing exactly that.

In the ad, a woman is standing at a counter preparing to take a customer’s card and complete a transaction. The text reads: “The Ontario government has announced a devastating 31.6 per cent increase in the general minimum wage. Quick Service Restaurant operators now have a choice….More than $15.00/hour or only $2.50/hour.” The advertisement is for a self-serving order kiosk, by RT7 Incorporated. Under the picture of the machine is a list of benefits such as “never comes late”, “no coffee breaks”, “no overtime”, and “doesn’t complain.”

This advertisement isn’t about technology or the future of restaurants — it’s about an employer who thinks his/her workers aren’t worth the sick days and overtime pay. It’s about labelling everything that employee does as something not deserving of being fairly compensated.

And that is absolutely unacceptable.

Advertisements like this one are incredibly dangerous. It makes the assumption that every day human actions like getting coffee or getting sick are somehow of detriment to a company. That human beings, especially those paid minimum wage, complain too much and use social media (a.k.a. are irresponsible).

This is not a stereotype that should be allowed to spread.

As Ontario pushes forward this new legislation, it’s important to remember that employees are, more often than not, hard workers. Many have large student loans or families to support. They may have a second job or may be in school. All they want to do is be able to afford a place to live and food to eat. It’s not that much of an ask, right?

If a business can’t afford their employees, they shouldn’t be allowed to remain open. It’s as simple as that. And anyone who thinks a kiosk can replace a human being, obviously hasn’t had to call the cable company.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Lack of pet euthanization laws in Canada put animals in danger

Imagine if you had a neighbour or an acquaintance who had a beautiful healthy dog that was young, vibrant and excited to be alive. Then the next time you hear about the animal, it had been euthanized because the neighbour or acquaintance had moved and didn’t want their pet anymore. The dog was not sick and did not have low quality-of-life. Instead, it became inconvenient for the pet owner to continue caring for the dog and euthanization was the easiest option.

The reality is in Canada, there is very little animal welfare protection. There are no laws that prevent pet owners from euthanizing healthy animals due to silly and irresponsible reasons like not having time for the dog, divorce, moving, or behavioural issues. Many veterinarians try to avoid euthanizing animals when there are little ethical grounds, but it isn’t prohibited and there is no way to stop it if a vet is willing. Other vets could try to adopt out the animals or give them to rescues, but sometimes it isn’t possible and the pets are left in a terrible situation.

“We recently had a beautiful German shepherd surrendered to our shelter. He belonged to a husband and wife who were getting divorced, and neither felt they could care for the dog any longer. The wife asked the husband to euthanize, and he called us in a panic and asked us if we had space,” media director at Dog Tales Rescue and Sanctuary, Clare Forndran, says. “Of course we said yes, and since meeting him, we have fallen in love with him though the wife thinks the dog has been euthanized..It is difficult to understand how anyone could euthanize a vibrant dog who has so much life left to live. Our hearts break for the dogs that don’t get that opportunity.”

Many animals simply don’t get this opportunity and there is no legal protection to keep the pets from getting put down needlessly. According to the 2015 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, 1890 healthy animals were put down that year. This consisted of 759 cats, 39 dogs, and 1092 other animal species. These statistics are fairly limited because the survey is voluntary and no concrete evidence exists on the total amount of healthy animals were put down in Canada. In Ontario, there are few limitations on convenience killing and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) doesn’t advocate for ‘no kill’ shelters. “We need robust publically supported shelters and much more federal and provincial investment,” Executive Director of Animal Justice, a Canadian animal rights law charity, Camille Labchuk says. “There is nothing kind about convenience killing and it should be illegal.”

On June 20, 2017, the OSPCA is going to court for a case that involves putting down 21 pitbulls that were involved in a dog fighting ring in Chatam Ont. In 2015, the dogs were seized and subsequently the OSPCA applied to the courts to euthanize the dogs because they deemed them ‘unfit for society’. Three animal advocacy organizations, Dog Tales Rescue and Sanctuary, Animal Justice, and Bullies in Need applied to intervene in the case in February 2016 and were later denied in December 2016. The owners of the dogs, who are not being charged of several accounts of animal Cruelty and other criminal charges, have not granted the OSPCA the right to euthanize them and granted the rescues permission to take the dogs for rehabilitation, yet the date of the 21 pitbulls still lies in the hands of the OSPCA and their court application. “Our team is continuing to work around the clock in hopes of saving the lives of these dogs and providing them with a much-needed second chance,” Ferndran says. “Our hope is that a positive update will come out of the June 20th court date.”

Paris Hilton supporting the #savethe21 campaign. Photo provided by Dog Tales Rescue & Sanctuary.

In the meantime, Dog Tales has launched the #savethe21 campaign, which has ignited support worldwide. Celebrities like Paris Hilton and business magnate Richard Branson have showed support to save the dogs from euthanization. If Dog Tales is successful and the dogs are released, they have developed a rehabilitation plan that includes sending the canines down to Florida to the Dogs Playing for Life National Canine Centre for Advanced Behavioral Support. “The court is well aware of the public interest in the case and it has really a chord with people,” Labchuk says. “People need to remind the justice system that these dogs were rescued from a horrific dog fighting ring. It is not appropriate to kill them without giving them a fair chance at rehabilitation.” People can show support by writing to the CEO of OSPCA, the Ontario government, and posting a photo on twitter with the tag #savethe21 to show support.

It is clear that animals needs stronger legal protection against euthanization. Healthy animals deserve to live fulfilling and happy lives, instead of at the whim of irresponsible pet owners. Euthanizing an animal should only be used in the most dire of circumstances, including illness and low quality-of-life ie. from old age. There should also be more education available to teach potential pet owners of the responsibilities of owning and taking care of an animal to lower the amount of unnecessary euthanization happening in Canada currently. As a country, Canada needs to start promoting better animal welfare protection and become a leader in animal rights advocacy, instead of an international embarrassment when it comes to animal protection.