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What’s with the animal-themed parks in Toronto?

Toronto’s parks are transforming to appeal to animal lovers — and it turns out there are a ton in this city. First, the Berczy Park Revitalization features man’s best friend and now, the same architect said he may create a cat-themed park near Front St. West.

Berczy Park/Plaza is centered around a giant tiered fountain surrounded by 27 dog sculptures. These puppies shoot jets of water out of their mouths into the fountain towards the giant golden bone sitting at the top of the structure. There is plenty of seating space and enough greenery for families, and their canine friends, to roam.

The trees were planted using Silva Cell technology, a suspended pavement system that supports large trees while providing storm water management at the same time. This allows Toronto to support the growth of plant life in an urban setting.

The fountain within Berczy Park has received a lot of attention in the media. While some people love the quirky concept, others feel it isn’t sophisticated enough for this city. Either way, people have crowded around the fountain day and night (it lights up when the sun goes down) to enjoy the public space. It creates a fun and whimsy atmosphere that can’t be found anywhere else in Toronto.

That is until architect Claude Cormier gets his hands on the mega development at Front and Spadina.

It is rumoured that Cormier has a plan for a cat-themed promenade. There are few details available. The only information publicly available is that Cormier will work with the other developers and architects to create a new green space as part of the mixed-use project…and that feline sculptures may be involved.

Not everyone will be thrilled with this concept, but honestly, anything that creates a space for people to enjoy each others company in the outdoors is a win for Toronto.

 

What do you think? Would a cat-themed park be welcome on Front and Spadina?

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! 

King St. Pilot Study approved by city council

Thursday evening, Toronto city council approved the one-year King St. Pilot Study, with an amendment to allow an exemption for taxis during the hours of 10 p.m. and 5  a.m.

There was quite a bit of debate from councillors surrounding this exemption, as well as the $1.5 million price tag of the project. But, after four hours of debate, the plan was approved 35 to 4.

The pilot will cover six kilometres of King St., from Jarvis to Bathurst. The corridor would funnel drivers to parallel east-west routes like Queen St., Richmond, Adelaide, Wellington, or Front, while still allowing local drivers to access the street for short periods of time.

The plan allows local residents to drive on King St., but only between intersections. These vehicles must turn right at the next traffic signal. Physical barriers will be used to prevent vehicles other than the streetcars from passing through the intersection.

There is also going to be designated spaces for short-term loading, deliveries, and taxis, something business owners indicated was a necessity.

courtesy of the city of toronto

Now, with this added amendment, taxis will be able to pass through intersections during the designated time slots. This exemption only applies to licensed cabs and not ride-sharing services like Uber.

City staff argued against the exemption, saying it has the potential to confuse drivers and that traffic is still heavy on King St. in the early hours of the morning. In fact, they said it could undermine the transit-first mentality of the study.

Regardless of the warnings, council choose to adopt the exemption anyway (although they limited the hours to the evening/early morning) to help relieve the nightlife crowding along the corridor.

The pilot will be implemented in the fall.

Council unanimously approves TransformTO to reduce emissions

Toronto city council has unanimously approved a plan that would see the city reduce green house gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. If adopted, this would affectively transform Toronto into a low-carbon city.

The motion itself was for city staff to go forward and create a business-case analysis of the various recommendations presented that day. The idea is to determine a carbon reduction per dollar ratio, decide which projects would be funded municipality or cost-shared with other levels of government, and to examine whether the recommendations would align with federal plans to reduce greenhouse has emissions.

“TransformTO provides a path forward that will allow our city to make decisions that lead to a low-carbon city that is healthy, prosperous, strong, and equitable,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a statement. “Together, we are going to build more transit including the Relief Line, make sure our social housing is viable for the long-term and that our buildings are energy efficient.”

This ambitious plan, entitled TranformTO: 2050 Pathway to a Low-Carbon Toronto, includes 23 different strategies and acceleration campaigns that will help reduce carbon emissions drastically over the next 30 years.

Some of TransformTO’s highlights include:

  • Having all new buildings produce near zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030
  • Having 100 per cent existing buildings retrofitted to achieve on average 40 per cent energy use
  • Having 100 per cent of all transportation using low-carbon energy sources
  • Having people walk or cycle for 75 per cent of trips less than five kilometres

The report also stresses the importance of engaging communities and neighbourhoods. Education campaigns and local support will be critical to the success of TransformTO.

This biggest point of discussion was the price tag of this plan, $6.7 million for 2018. City staff estimated an annual cost of $8 million following 2018. While this doesn’t seem like much considering the other projects council has approved, the number is bound to increase as projects are added. However, as certain councillors said during the debate, there are times where going cheap will hurt the city. This is one of them.

TransformTO is led by a collaborative team made of the city’s Environment and Energy Division and the Atmospheric Fund, an organization that looks for urban solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

“We applaud today’s decision by Mayor Tory and City Council to unanimously approve TransformTO and renew Toronto’s climate leadership role,” said Mary Pickering, TAF’s VP for Programs and Partnerships and project co-chair for TransformTO. “Implementing TransformTO will not only cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 but also boost public health, local jobs, and social equity in our city.”

It is rare that city council votes on anything involving a high price tag unanimously, but hopefully this is a trend that will continue — especially when it comes to the King St. Pilot Study, a transit plan that will ultimately help spearhead a low-carbon corridor.

The King St. Pilot Study will be discussed Thursday morning at city council.

Time to tell male friends they are guilty of ‘Mansplaining’

Have you ever had a man interrupt you to explain something you know more about? Or how about being told how you feel from a guy instead of being asked? Or just felt this uneasy feeling of inferiority when talking to a man who appears to be leering at you and not actually listening at all?

If you have answered yes to any of the above, you have been ‘mansplained’ to, which is an annoying experience to say the least.

‘Mansplaining’ is described as an experience when a man with an undeserved air of authority condescendingly explains something to a woman who generally knows more about the topic at hand. Interestingly, I can recount several occurrences of having experienced ‘mansplaining’ and was too naïve to understand it wasn’t respectful. There have been dozens of times when male friends, partners, and family members have explained what my job as a journalist is and how it impacts me as a person in the suffering media industry. Instead of asking me for my opinion on my career as a journalist, I was informed of how I should feel about it. Thanks guys, much appreciated.

In all honesty, I wish I could go back to my younger self and say “Excuse me? Why don’t you ask instead of tell? How did you get to be such a pompous ass?”, but I quite honestly didn’t have the knowledge that I was being talked down to at the time. I have little doubt that I grew up in a city dominated by men. Hailing from Calgary, known as Canada’s oil tycoon capital, I watched big men in suits in various power positions throughout my entire life, and I never quite realized that many of the women by their side seemed to be standing in the background — never acknowledged, or appreciated, somehow smaller or less important.

It makes me wonder, as an adult woman today equipped with words such as ‘mansplaining’ and ‘bropropriating’ and a strong community of feminists around me, how did these women feel being in the back of that room? How did my own mother feel being ‘mansplained’ to without being able to tell these men to screw off without fear of impunity? Even though there are still miles to travel in terms of true gender equality, every young lady today owes a thank you to their mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and older women colleagues. They have experienced unadulterated ‘mansplaining’ a hell of a lot longer than I know I have.

Sadly, it still happens today. Toronto is chalk full of entitled young men who want to dominate over women in conversation. The sense of authority these men carry seems to be a character trait that hasn’t ‘left the building’ and most aren’t even aware. If you have a male who has an authoritative ‘holier than thou’ attitude and feels the need to tell you how to feel, but you know they are genuinely a good person and just haven’t been taught better — do them a favour and let them know. Be honest, and straightforward because many men aren’t even aware that they are doing it. It is a learned behaviour and women to nip this bad habit in the bud. Be respectful when doing so, as it’s likely your friend will be embarrassed or offended. But your gentle criticisms will permeate and may even convince said male counterpart to ditch the entitled behaviour all together.

The world is slowly moving towards gender equality, and highlighting the ridiculousness of ‘mansplaining’ will help men understand that what they are doing is wrong, relieving hundreds of thousands of women who are just down with being told things they already know.

Stick up for yourselves ladies! It is never too late and you may be surprised by the response you receive. There are a lot of men out there who are ardent feminists and will ditch the bad attitude to embrace a world where women aren’t interrupted anymore.

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

Are Smart Cities the future of congestion relief?

The last time Mayor John Tory spoke about roads at the Toronto Region Board of Trade, he announced his intention to propose tolling of the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway.

At Wednesday’s annual meeting, Tory again talked about the state of Toronto’s streets and the need to tackle congestion in the city.

“Am I satisfied with the traffic and congestion we still see? NO, I am not. Is this good for our residents and our economy? No, it is now. We have to do more for our economy, for our residents, for our businesses and productivity and competitiveness,” Tory said at the Board of Trade.

In this speech, Tory announced a new “Smart Streets Plan”. This plan will center around the collection of data. Toronto has completed its first real-time and historical data agreement, which will provide real-time traffic flow data. This data will be used to help manage traffic better.

The city also announced a partnership with Waze, a community-based traffic and navigation app. This app will be able to provide alerts about collisions and lane closures so that the city can push updates out to commuters.

Other parts of the Smart Streets Plan include the implementation of smart traffic signals, steps to manage curb space, and more parking blitzs in September.

Tory also praised the city’s King St. Pilot Study, saying it is a necessary project to help move the 65,000 people who use transit to navigate that corridor.

None of these announcements are as daring as that to toll the DVP and Gardiner, but considering the province has refused to allow Toronto to toll its own roadways, they are necessary steps towards trying to relieve congestion. Changing urban or street design to try and increase the flow of traffic will make Toronto a smart-city, but only if the rest of city council approves these innovative projects and studies.

 

What do you think of the Smart Streets Plan and the King St. Pilot Study?

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.

Transit-first King St. pilot moves forward

Next week, Toronto’s executive committee will vote on the proposed King St. Pilot, the first plan to enact a transit-first mentality to city planning.

The King. St. Pilot is a direct response to slow transit service and increased congestion along the downtown corridor. “King Street is not currently working well for transit,” a report prepared by Toronto’s General Manager said. “Streetcar service can be slow, unreliable, and erratic, with unpredictable travel times, especially during rush hours, but also during some late evening and weekend times. People end up having to plan for their slowest trip.”

With more than 65,000 daily TTC riders compared to the 20,000 vehicle users along King St., re-branding this corridor as transit-first makes a lot of sense.The pilot will cover six kilometres of King St., from Jarvis to Bathurst. The corridor would funnel drivers to parallel east-west routes like Queen St., Richmond, Adelaide, Wellington, or Front, while still allowing local drivers to access the street for short periods of time.

Earlier suggestions of creating a car-free roadway were dismissed, as there are a number of driveways and parking garages that must be accessed from King St. However, city staff came up with a solution that would allow drivers to access King St. without bottling traffic.

Local residents may drive on King St., but only in between intersections. At each traffic sign, cars must turn left. It will be up to the drivers to decide how best to reach their destination. This will allow for significantly less cars on the roads and for the King. St. streetcars to have unobstructed access to their own lane.

King St. Pilot
Photo courtesy of City of Toronto.

Other features of the plan include dedicated pick-up and drop off areas and designated delivery areas. There will be no dedicated cycling lanes.

The last reported cost for this project was estimated to be at $1.5 million, but it has since been determined the project is eligible for funding under Phase I of the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund. This means it’s possible to get 50 per cent of funding from the federal government, leaving the city to come up with the remaining 50 per cent.

The Toronto Transit Commission will vote on the pilot program prior to the executive committee vote. If all goes well, it will be discussed in the July city council meeting.

What do you think of the King St. Pilot? Let us know in the comments below!

In Her Voice: reflecting on female writers

Looking for something to do this week? Head to the Scotiabank Community Studio to listen to a number of strong women speak about their experiences writing a variety of fiction and non-fiction works. The conversation promises to be stimulating and controversial, touching on a number of topics varying from the realities of writing and publishing to the struggles of Indigenous peoples in light of Canada’s 150th anniversary.

In Her Voice is a festival that runs from June 15th to June 17th and features three-days worth of talented and inspirational female voices. The event, hosted by independent bookstore Ben McNally Books, is designed to showcase various female identities and perspectives. Each author will be given the opportunity to discuss the themes of their latest works.

Here is the schedule:

June 15
7 p.m. – Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. The Fact of a Body Presentation.

June 16
7 p.m. – Durga Chew-Bose and Scaachi Koul, interviewed by Fariha Roisin.

June 17
12 p.m. – S.K. Ali, Cherie Dimaline, Jane Oxkowski. Young Adult Writers Presentation
2 p.m. – Patricia Lockwood. Priestdaddy Presentation.
4 p.m. – Myra Tait, Kiera Ladner. Surviving Canada Presentation.

For more information or to get tickets to these presentations, click here.

 

Do you have a favourite female author? Let us know in the comments below!