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City council approves transit network plan

As a reporter, I love covering City Hall. But, sometimes it can get frustrating — for example, when it takes nine hours of discussion before a decision can be made surrounding a transit plan that has been on the table for over a year.

City Council voted Tuesday to go forward with the “motherlode” Transit Network Plan and approve a deal made with the province that will see them contribute approximately $11 billion towards transit. This includes $3.7 billion for Regional Express Rail (RER) and $7.84 billion for Light Rail Transit (LRT).

The problem? The city was not prepared to carry their weight of SmartTrack. This agreement would see the city contribute $3 billion of their own funding towards the project (or $2 billion if the federal government pitches in). Toronto will also be responsible for day-to-day-operations and maintenance of the Finch West, Sheppard East, and Eglinton Crosstown LRTs.

Mayor John Tory had to remind council a number of times that the deal with the province really does benefit the city, saying that if the province had meant to pay for everything, they would have had a parade and used it as an election campaign issue.

“The number one thing they want me to do is ease the strangulation that has taken place in this city as a result of traffic congestion and the number one way you can do that is build public transportation,” Tory said to reporters half way through the meeting.

This transit network has been a continuous source of political capital for city councillors, which is why staff divided the funding discussion into two parts in hopes of making the decision easier. During this particular council meeting, councillors were simply voting to approve the negotiations between the province and the city, and committing the city to continue their work. Staff will then return with the exact costs and details of construction for each project.

The second discussion will be about revenue tools — how exactly will Toronto pay for transit? Will they have to raise property taxes? Will they have to find cuts somewhere in the budget? This discussion will happen in December or January and is sure to be just as lengthy, if not more so.

However, this did not stop a number of councillors from using this time to try and amend the motion to squeeze as much as possible out of the province. Staff warned that by delaying the provincial negotiations, it could result in the province completely reneging on the agreement. As City Manager David Wallace pointed out, Toronto needs to make an investment and they need to do it now.

There were a number of councillors who were concerned about making that investment, saying that approving a plan before knowing how the city was going to pay for it was irresponsible. While I can admire their tenacity and commitment to the budget, city staff, as well as the Toronto Transit Commission, have reached an agreement that appears to be quite fair. By continuing to delay the building and construction of necessary transit systems, council will ultimately ruin all the hard work city staff have put into building an integrated transit network to begin with.

The solution seems simple: instead of complaining, be creative and start to come up with ways of creating revenue without raising property taxes to the extreme. I’ve previously suggested the use of tolls, something I firmly believe would help raise the much-needed revenue for transit. Not only would it unlock gridlock on our congested roads, but the money could be earmarked for SmartTrack specifically!

Toronto NEEDS transit, and if at all possible, it would be great if part of it was finished in my lifetime. Let’s stop the bickering and start to think of real solutions to the city’s gridlock problems.

Should Toronto use tolls to maintain transit network?

The City of Toronto has completed the first round of negotiations with the province over funding for the Transit Network. Staff will present their updated financial report to a special executive committee meeting Tuesday afternoon for approval prior to the November city council meeting the following week.

The report outlines the funding model for the various elements of the Transit Network, including the amount of money being provided by the Ontario government. As of Nov. 1, the province has offered $3.7 billion for Regional Express Rail (RER) and $7.84 billion for Light Rail Transit (LRT).

The biggest blow to the transit-funding model is that city council will now be responsible for the day-to-day operations or maintenance of the Finch West, Sheppard East, and Eglinton Crosstown LRTs. These are projects that will be built by the province and Metrolinx; yet, Toronto residents will be on the hook for its maintenance.

Aspects of SmartTrack will be covered under the provincial funding; however, it will not be enough. The federal government has said they will make a contribution — but there has been no firm commitment yet. In the meantime, the city will have to come up with other ways of finding revenue to pay for the project, as well as the maintenance and operations of the network once it is complete. This could mean raising property taxes, something the city has promised not to do.

But, why should Toronto residents pay for all of these transit plans when they benefit the GTHA region in its entirety? Maybe the more economically feasible form of revenue can be found in the use of tolls, something that everyone entering and driving in Toronto can contribute to.

If drivers were asked to pay a toll when using the Don Valley Parkway or the Gardiner Expressway, a lot of these funding problems could be solved. First of all, tolls would encourage more people to use the new transit network, thus freeing up the roads and alleviating the insane gridlock Toronto faces on a daily basis. Second of all, the money collected from these tolls could be funnelled directly into a transit fund — to be used in conjunction with the money collected from fares, ect. — to pay for the daily operations of these projects.

On Tuesday’s meeting, staff will be recommending that city council approve the current funding model and authorize further negotiations and agreements with the province, Metrolinx, and other agencies in order to gain extra funding for SmartTrack.

But, I don’t think Toronto should hold its breath. It’s time to come up with some realistic solutions to the transit-funding problem instead of hoping that other levels of government will bail us out. Embracing tolls is the logical solution — but is there someone brave enough to say it on the council floor?

The city has until Nov. 30 to finalize financial arrangements for SmartTrack to keep the provincial deadline.

Presto fare system not working up to standard

What is the deal with Presto these days?

On three separate occasions, I have gone into subway stations to fill up my Presto card and the machine is either broken or refuses to load my “e-purse”. The machines on buses and streetcars have also been malfunctioning, and an internal audit has confirmed that five to six per cent of machines aren’t working at all times on TTC transit.

Presto is supposed to be running on the entire transit system by the end of 2016, and will eventually replace the metropass and TTC fare tokens. Considering that the machines malfunction so often, it is inconceivable to think that Toronto’s entire TTC system will rely on the Presto fare system. If you think that TTC delays are long now, can you even imagine?

The Ontario government signed a $250 million contract with Accenture and other vendors to develop and operate Presto by the end of 2016. As the operator, these companies must design the software, test it, manufacture, implement, do rollout and support the project for 10 years. It appears that Accenture and the other vendors aren’t living up to its promise considering rollout issues, due to the machines malfunctioning. The project’s glitches and high costs have also been criticized by the Auditor General of Ontario.

When a student or senior tries to get their fare for a lower price on Presto, it is necessary to commute up to Davisville Station to get the specialized rate. This surely prevents seniors with limited mobility from accessing the service and is not user-friendly. When the Presto system was implemented in TTC, more planning and implementation of these issues should have been considered and solved. With the end of 2016 looming, machines not working and not having specialized fare options available at every station shows how poorly the Presto card system is working.

TTC had hoped to implement the Presto fare system instead of tokens or the metropass by sometime in 2017. It has been delayed and a lot of questions remain on how that will happen. How will a pay-asyou go system be implemented without crashing the system? How will single-fare transfers be managed? What will be the daily cap? How will the metropass work as a part of the Presto card? Accenture and other vendors will also have to really step up to the plate and fix a lot of unnecessary issues before anyone believes Toronto commuters can rely on Presto as one of their main transit options.

The idea of integrating the GO transit system and TTC into one fare was a spectacular idea for Toronto and Ontario. It is frusturating that the rollout of the Presto machines has been so disappointing. It will be interesting to see if Accenture and the other vendors can fix the operating issues with the system, and then TTC can move forward with integrating the Presto system into Toronto successfully.

City approves $2.4 million Rail Deck Park study

A $2.4 million study for the Rail Deck Park was approved unanimously by city council Wednesday, despite complaints by the suburbs.

The proposal would cover the rail lines between Bathurst St. and Blue Jays Way with an urban park. Toronto Mayor John Tory compared this 21-acre project to that of Chicago’s millennium Park and New York’s Central Park — all big tourist attractions, with the added bonus of making the downtown core more liveable. The preliminary work is estimated to cost a bit over $1 billion.

Councillor’s unanimously approved the motion to study the feasibility of the park; however, they also took the opportunity to complain about the lack of funding in their wards to maintain park space and clean up their neighbourhoods. York West Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti told his colleagues he would only support the project if suburban parks were given the same consideration and investments.

Because of all the concerns from the suburb councillors, an amendment to the original motion was added to a study on the “deficiencies in parks in the suburbs” and a study on funding mechanisms for parks in other wards.

Both studies will be presented to City Council next year, and will include feasibility, costs of obtaining air rights to the site, and details of the platform used to suspend the park over the rails. Staff will also look at funding alternatives.

Toronto is always growing and expanding — and while building condominiums and malls is important, councillors also need to remember to embrace green spaces. The value of having community space available downtown, where most people work and live, is incredibly important. Toronto needs to have a long-term vision and ambitious planning goals to ensure future generations don’t suffer from intense gridlock and pollution. Building an amazing park overtop of a transit hub is exactly what this city needs.

A little Stars Hallow in Toronto – Pop-Up Luke’s Diner

I left my house at 6:30 in the morning excited and ready to experience something I’ve only ever dreamed of — getting coffee from Luke’s Diner, a staple set on the comedy-drama TV show, Gilmore Girls.

I’ve followed the escapades of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore for most of my life. I laughed when Rory stole a box of cornstarch after her first kiss; cringed whenever Taylor Doosey led a town meeting; swooned when Sookie and Jackson finally went on a date; and cried my eyes out when Lorelai broke up with Luke (both times), leading to a recovery Gilmore-esque feast of pop-tarts and marshmallows.

Not only was the show full of quick-witted dialogue and loveable characters, but it showed a side of teen drama that wasn’t boy-obsessed or filled with unnecessary dating triangles.

While Gilmore Girls did touch on relationships, it also showcased developed characters who cared more about their ambitions than who they were going out with at night. In fact, no Gilmore girl would ever settle or change their lifestyle for a guy, and that’s something I really respected and learned from as a young girl.

And then there was Rory Gilmore. She was a bookworm — smart, academically driven, and completely comfortable with who she was. As she struggled to figure out what it meant to be a teen, a university student, and then an adult, so did I. I watched as she pursued journalism in high school and university, struggling to befriend her nemesis Paris Geller, and fought for her perfect study tree. In the end, she succeeded in getting a job in journalism, something that gave me hope as I ventured out into a similar profession.

After years of watching this show over and over again (thanks Netflix), I was ecstatic to hear there would be four pop-up “Luke’s Diners” in Toronto. I knew I had to go, even if it would mean being slightly late for work. The line was already around the corner when I arrived around 7:15 a.m. and took my place among a sea of plaid, flannel, and backwards baseball hats. While I waited for my free coffee, I chatted with the group of women around me, discussing our favourite episodes and arguing about whether Rory should have married Logan, or stayed with Jesse or Dean.

As the line unravelled and I got closer to the storefront, I saw the sign. Luke’s Diner, just like the show. I snapped a photo and moved inside the independent coffee shop The Rolling Pin, near Lawrence and Yonge. After a bit of a wait got a coffee with a sleeve that said Luke’s Diner. The cup itself had one of my favourite quotes on them (Coffee please and a shot of cynicism).

And then…I left. That was it. I stood in line for one and a half hours for a picture of a sign and a cup of coffee with a marketing sleeve.

20161005_084332_hdrI’m not sure what I was expecting, but I know it was more than that. I thought the music of Carol King, the singer of the infamous theme song “Where You Lead”, would be playing in the background. I thought there would be cut out of the characters and a list of Luke’s diner rules plastered in large print on the wall (it was there, but it was typed on regular printing paper and tapped messily on the wall). I also thought they would be selling some cool Gilmore Girl merchandise — which was honestly a lost opportunity because the group I was with would have purchased anything after that wait! Baseball hats, tshirts, even roasted coffee with the words “Luke’s Diner” would have sold like, well, Luke’s coffee!

 

I know these pop-ups are marketing ploys, but a little more effort could have been made to make the experience more complete. Netflix could have provided a lot more in terms of supplies. I don’t think the coffee shops had enough time to do any sort of re-decorating and some of them struggled with the mass amount of people waiting to enter their storefront.

Suffice to say, it was a great idea, but it was all poorly executed. With the Gilmore Girl revival coming to Netflix in November, you would think there would be more of a fanfare. You know, Lorelai Gilmore style?

But, I got my picture with a Luke’s Diner sign. So, I guess that’s okay.

Oy with the poodles already — am I right?

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What the hell happened to Nuit Blanche?

I remember the first time I went to Nuit Blanche. My sister and I headed out around 10 p.m. and stayed out until 2 a.m. wandering the streets of Toronto, taking a look and even taking part in some of the art. University Ave. was completely closed off and all of the exhibitions were placed on platforms outdoors. There were performance pieces, sculptures, photography galleries, and some really neat interactive installations. A few of the pieces were inside a few select buildings, but the majority was outside. Enjoying art under the stars — there is really nothing better.

As we made our way through the intense crowds, we were handed free samples of coffee or hot chocolate, pamphlets from sponsors, and a bunch of other goodies. There was live music and a few DJs, but mostly it was the atmosphere. All together, it seemed like an incredibly late night festival celebrating Toronto’s art community.

And I have to say I enjoyed it immensely.

This year, I left my house late at night hoping to experience something similar. And boy, was I disappointed.

I’m not sure if lack of funding was a factor, but there was very little that was good about this year’s Nuit Blanche. First of all, there was very little organization or signage. I managed to grab a map from a lone volunteer standing on a street by herself downtown, but aside from the rare volunteer and the odd Nuit Blanche square (it was an actual lighted square with a map and nothing else), there were no directions, arrows, or instructions as to how to find and/or enter each instalment.

Second of all — the lines!! If the point is to present art for the masses, this year’s Nuit Blanche failed. Most of the artwork was held inside, and therefore people had to line up to simply enter the building. Some of the interactive installations only let a dozen or so people in at a time.

The lines extended a few blocks and by the time I walked to the front to read the vague and artistic sign that explained what I would see if I decided to wait 45 min. outside in the cold, my mind was already made up. Like most people, I’m not willing to wait in line that long to see a few lights projected against a wall, no matter how modern it is.

The advantage of having art on the street rather than inside a building is that people can actually see it. There are no lines necessary. It also doesn’t make you feel as though you have to rush when you finally enter the building. I think in my total three hour Nuit Blanche experience, I only truly witnessed four or five installations.

And finally, there was no sense of community. Previous years, there were conversations about art, people spoke to one another, discussed what they were seeing, danced to the music, and celebrated Toronto’s culture.

The music, the atmosphere, it was all missing. Most of the time, I was left wondering: is this art or is this just a random group of people playing music dressed up as deer?

Sure, there were some really cool exhibits. “Pneuma” by Floria Sigismondi, a series of projections onto a steady stream of water being sprayed from the pool at Nathan Phillips Square, for example, was truly beautiful and mesmerizing Luzinterruptus’s Literature vs. Traffic was a treat for us book lovers and was quite the compelling installation.

But it wasn’t enough to warrant a whole night out. And by the end, I felt more exhausted than enlightened.

I realize that Nuit Blanche lost a significant amount of funding when Scotiabank pulled out, but if you are going to do it, make sure it is worth seeing. Because next year, some of us may not bother to show up.

GTA pipeline outside our front doors, and nobody seems to care

Did you know a natural gas pipeline is being placed in the ground right outside of our front doors — and it is using your money to do so?

Enbridge, a gas distribution company, is building a pipeline in the GTHA that will cost taxpayers $900 million and will run natural gas through Brampton, Mississauga, Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Markham and Toronto. The GTHA project consists of two new natural gas pipelines and adds 50 km of new pipeline into the Toronto. It will run along the Highway 407 corridor, with 23 km alongside Keele St. E to Scarborough and then south to an existing line near Sheppard Ave E.

The project was approved by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) on January 30, 2014. It is a part of Enbridge’s largest upgrade to their natural gas distribution system in 20 years. Enbridge claims that if the pipeline wasn’t approved and built, the current station in Toronto’s Port Lands in the downtown core could run out of gas in the winter of 2016. This would mean 270,000 customers would run out of gas in Toronto.

On the other hand, the pipeline came under fire by many green groups. Enbridge was criticized because they kept trying to obtain more customers though they would not be able to support the level of gas needed come 2015-2016. Natural gas accounts for 35 per cent of Ontario’s energy, and instead of offering alternatives, the OMB decided to build more pipeline and continue to grow gas output in the province.

Ontario has set a greenhouse gas target to cut emissions by 80 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050, but they still supported the Enbridge project, which will charge taxpayers to build more natural gas pipelines.

Ontario recently cut $3.8 billion in renewable energy contracts, claiming it will help Ontarians save money on their electricity bills. The province may save money in the short-run, but is being short-sighted when looking at the long term impact of trying to build and support green energy in the future. An investment in renewable energy needs to happen now in order to meet emissions targets by 2050 and the continued support for natural gas in place of renewable energy contracts demonstrates a lack of green leadership on the part of the Ontario government.

Taxpayer’s dollars are being wasted and the press has been silent about the pipeline project. The pipeline is due to be complete this year and will continue to use natural gas, a source of energy that is not sustainable or environmental in any way. We need to put more pressure the government to choose alternatives and not remain silent over the continued use of natural gas. Clearly the government has two very different objectives; to publicly support green projects and to privately fund unsustainable and very powerful natural gas companies.

5 must-read books set in Toronto

Toronto is a beautiful city and sets the perfect stage for a novel. From the downtown cityscape to the heritage buildings that seem to emit stories from their very foundations, it is easy to imagine a tale of romance taking place or the plot of a horror story being set in a dark subway tunnel. Many famous authors have used Toronto as the setting of their novels. Here are a few of my favourites.

In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje

In the Skin of a Lion is by the renowned Canadian-Sri Lankan Michael Ondaatje and is one of the most famous novels set in Toronto. The storyline takes readers back in time to Toronto in the 1930’s and focuses on key themes of that era. The separation of immigrants in Cabbagetown was considered normal at the time, and Ondaatje uses the novel as a way of showing how immigrants are mostly left out of Toronto’s history.

A fictional story develops around R.C Harris, Toronto’s commissioner of Public Works. Harris built several of the city’s most important landmarks, most noticeably the water treatment plant and the Bloor Street Viaduct. In the Skin of a Lion is a story that converges two storylines, between immigrants who built the structures and Harris who commissioned them, leading to a shocking conclusion. Upon moving to Toronto, I read this book and it helped me to understand the true history of this city. Furthermore, Ondaatje captures a sentiment that permeates through Toronto to this day, and it lends a new perspective to living and surviving in the Big Smoke.

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

Cat’s Eye is set in Toronto and follows the life of fictional artist Elaine Risley through her childhood in Toronto to her eventual return to her hometown. The novel begins with Risley riding on a streetcar, or the “the iron lung” as Atwood describes it, with two friends. Risley ends up getting bullied by her friends, and almost freezes to death in a ravine mid-way through the book. The setting of the ravine is a common theme in novels set in Toronto because of the recognizable topography in the city. When the artist returns to the city of her birth, she realizes integral things about her past. Atwood really sets the scene of the non-linear relationship all of us have with life. Cat’s Eye discusses a child’s perspective of growing up in Toronto and paints a special picture of the large metropolitan area.

Headhunter by Timothy Findley

Timothy Finley’s Headhunter is a dystopian novel set in Toronto at a time when a disease called sturusemia has swept through the city. The disease is carried by birds and, as a result, the city decides to kill them off.  The storyline is focused around a schizophrenic librarian named Lilah Kemp and two psychiatrists named Kurtz and Marlow, drawing a parallel with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Mental illness is rampant and Kurtz uses his wealthy patients to his own ends,

The novel is set around Rosedale and the Parkin Psychiatric Institute based on the Clark Institute of Psychiatry located at University of Toronto’s College St. location. Findley’s perspective of Toronto paints a frightening and fascinating picture of downtown Toronto and its surrounding neighbourhoods.

Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

Fifth Business by Robertson Davies begins in a small town near Toronto known as Deptford, Ont. The central character is Dunstan Ramsay and the novel follows his life from small-town Ontario to big-city Toronto. Ramsay stays in contact with friends from his childhood and always plays a supporting role in their lives instead of taking charge of his own — known as the “fifth business”, a term coined by Davies.

After a series of tragedies occurring in WWI and WWII, Ramsay finds his destiny and his own sense of self. This novel discusses wealth and how dangerous it is in the hands of people who don’t deserve it. Davies draws an interesting connection between academia and capitalism, which is relevant to Toronto’s culture even today. Davies is one of the great Toronto writers in the last century and most of his novels bring in Canadian themes. This book is a great read and every Canadian should be familiar with Davies’ works.

Girls Fall Down by Maggie Helwig

Girls Fall Down by Maggie Helwig is a relatively new novel, released in 2008. It is a dystopian novel set in the underground subway tunnels as a disease spreads throughout the city. The setting scene describes Toronto as a cold place, with subway tunnels and ravines that “slice around and under the streets, where the rivers, the Don and the Humber and their tributaries, carve into the heart of the city.” The storyline focuses around a group of girls that contract this disease, and the subsequent result of everyone beginning to die. One of the characters also becomes obsessed with capturing the devastation on film, which is quite fitting considering Toronto is the center of Canadian film. This is a great novel to read on the subway and was even nominated as a must-read by the TTC Toronto book club.

Books about Toronto shed light into various themes and imaginings that plague this city. It is a metropolis that creates endless opportunities for settings in novels that embrace the history of the city and its future. Reading all of these novels often makes me think what I would write? Which setting would I use for my Toronto story? In Canada’s largest city, the options seem endless.

What is your favourite novel about Toronto? Let Women’s Post know in our comments below.

Sarah Hall: making art out of renewable energy

In an age where technology seems to be getting smaller and sleeker, renewable energy is lagging behind. Even though people are constantly encouraged to live green, no one wants to see giant windmills in their parks or have metal panels on top of their roofs.

Limited resources and cost restraints in North America have created challenges for architects, engineers, and even artists in the design of sustainable buildings.

“Solar in North America often looks ugly, and then people reject renewable energy,” Toronto artist Sarah Hall says. “We have to start using as many renewables as possible, and I thought ‘well, if it’s beautiful, we can change people’s minds and help transform the industry as well’.”

Hall is one of the few innovators  incorporating renewable energy into artwork. One of her most notable pieces is “Waterglass”, a stained glass piece that can be found wrapped around the Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront in Toronto. While seemingly unnoticeable during the day, the piece comes alive at night. LED lights powered by the sun reveal 360 archived photographs of Lake Ontario, all stunningly preserved on di-chroic glass, the most expensive glass in the world at $1,000 per square foot.

The piece will create 1,750 kilowatt hours worth of electricity annually, enough to power the plug outlets within the building, according to Livio Nichilo, an engineering manager at Interenat Energy Solutions Canada. Nichilo consulted on “Waterglass” and analyzed the environmental impact of the project. He said that one of the biggest challenges was not to compromise artistic vision or technical efficiencies.

“The glass we designed for this project is the first of its kind in the world and we had to incorporate many technologies at once,” Nichilo says. “From my knowledge it hasn’t been done yet.”

“Waterglass” is one of six pieces Hall has created in North America using photovoltaic cells, which convert the sun’s rays into electric voltage. Each piece is connected into the power distribution of the building. For example, her piece “Leaves of Light” can be found outside the Life Sciences Building at York University illuminating the entranceway. Solar panels allow energy to be collected from the sun, which powers the LED lights that were placed between two beautifully painted pieces of glass.

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“Leaves of Light”, by Sarah Hall, lights up the entranceway of the Life Sciences Building at York.

Hall is also experimenting with bird-friendly glass that, in addition to collecting solar energy, will alter the reflections on large buildings in an effort to decrease the number of bird deaths in Canada.

About 10 million birds die in Toronto because they fly into glass buildings, particularly high-rise condominiums that are reflective and transparent. “I was astounded by that information and thought I may be able to do something in that direction and began thinking of al the technologies I’ve worked in and I knew these organic solar things were being done in the labs and I’ve never thought of using them”

The challenge is to make the glass transparent enough for people to see out of, but still opaque enough that birds won’t be tricked into flying towards it. Hall will be using organic photovoltaic cells used for this project — a relatively new technology developed by Oxford Photovoltaics in London. Once the prototype is complete, it will be tested at the American Bird Conservancy in New York before Hall can start to create proposals; although she has already provided a few sample designs.

A sample design of TD Tower in Toronto, provided by Sarah Hall.
A sample design of TD Tower in Toronto, provided by Sarah Hall.

Hall fell in love with glasswork at the age of nine. She studied in Canada, as well as in the United Kingdom and Jerusalem, and ended up opening a studio in Germany. It was there that an engineer named Christof Erban approached her with a way to integrate photovoltaic cells into glasswork. While other artists in the studio believed this would hinder their artistic abilities, Hall saw it as a challenge.

“All those guys said no. They said it would be an imposition to have a grid on their work, but I liked the idea of trying to work with that grid of technology in art and trying to change people’s mind about solar,” Hall says.

The challenge with using photovoltaic cells in art is that the designs have to be geometrical. Solar cells are square and require the use of wiring, which can hinder creative freedom.

“My artwork for many years was always geometry and organic, naturalistic work. To combine this geometry wasn’t as hard as another artist.”

Before she begins a design, Hall has to consult engineers and ensure that the electrical wires are properly introduced into the building’s systems and that they adhere to city codes. The traveling can also be tedious, as most of the work has to be done overseas. Hall’s main studio is in Germany. She had to move from Toronto because her studio on Dupont St. just wasn’t big enough for the scale of glasswork she wanted to complete.

“Germany and Austria was where the work had to be done,” Nichilo explains. “The biggest challenge was that what we were asking to do in terms of design couldn’t be completed here locally. We didn’t have the skill or equipment needed to do it.”

Unfortunately, it’s been up to artists like Sarah Hall to ensure that the architectural field is aware of its options and doesn’t shy away from using renewable energy for fear it will interfere with the functionality of a building. But at the same time, Hall is simply an artist, and above else she just wants to be creative and

“At first, there was quite a bit of scepticism taking something traditional like stained glass and moving it into an environmental positioning,” Hall says. “I also hope that other companies will get interested and figure this stuff out for themselves. As an artist … the commercial aspect isn’t the reason why I do it, but I hope that others will do it commercially — and I think they will.”

Would you hang a Canadian flag in front of your mosque?

What does the Canadian flag mean to you? For Jawad Rathore, it represents all things Canadiana — and he thinks it should be flown in front every mosque in Toronto.

“We see Muslims right now being subjected to harassment. Hate crimes are up, [and] rhetoric publicly and privately is up. There are terrible things happening around the world in the name of Islam,” Rathore said in an interview. “[Putting up Canadian flags is] a wonderful way to remind our neighbours that we are Canadian. There is nothing to fear.”

Rathore, who is also president and CEO of Fortress Real Development, presented the idea to the Canadian Muslim Vote last week and received an overwhelmingly positive response. Rathore says he has already received funding from the community for over 50 flags and he has received messages from mosques across Canada asking to participate.

The Canadian Muslim Vote is a non-partisan organization whose objective is to promote greater community engagement among the Muslim-Canadian population. It was founded last year as a response to low voter turnout with a goal to increase attendance and engagement during the 2015 federal elections. And they did the job. According to Rathore, turnout was close to 79 per cent.

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Jawad Rathore

Now, the organization is focusing on integrating communities through a “very simple” campaign. At its core, the campaign is about unity and pride during a time in which people are being marginalized. Hate speech is rampant, even in Canada, a country whose foundation is based on religious freedom. As Rathore says, there is a lot of fear among those who don’t understand the Islam faith and putting up a Canadian flag symbolizes unity in a time of uncertainty.

“It’s a way to let our community know we are their neighbours,” he said.

Rathore may be spearheading this campaign through Canadian Muslim Vote, but he says every corporation and community member should be giving back.

“Give what you can afford — give a little, give often, give once a year,” he said. “Many of us in the corporate world are incredibly blessed and if we turn our minds over to the community. Whether initiative like this or any other benefits – the world would be a better place.”

Rathore is confirming a list of mosques that are willing to participate in the campaign and is working out the physical details for installation. He has also committed to do the first 10 flags himself.

The first flag should be installed by the end of September and, if the campaign goes well, Rathore hopes to be able to install flagpoles in front of mosques across Canada.

If you are interested in contributing to the campaign, email canadaflag@canadianmuslimvote.ca.