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Rail deck park is still on the table, but how to fund it?

Rail Deck Park is still on the table for Toronto, as the city debates whether the one billion dollar price tag on the 21-acre park is plausible.

Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat moderated an urban planning symposium, held by the Urban Land Institute Toronto (ULI) Tuesday, that discussed the implementation strategy for the controversial park project. In the fall of 2016, the city announced they would prepare a strategy to build a park between Bathurst St. to Blue Jays Way. The Rail Deck would use airspace above the railyard in downtown Toronto and close up a gap that divides the downtown area and makes it less walkable.

The park is controversial because it is incredibly expensive to build, estimated at one billion dollars as a starting point. That price tag doesn’t include the cost of purchasing the air rights over the rail deck, which is a necessity. A developer has already signed an agreement for air rights over the space and isn’t willing to go down without a fight. The city will have to work hard to obtain the space to create a park in downtown Toronto. It is a worthwhile venture though. It would be one of the city’s last chances to create a large green space downtown as open space becomes increasingly rare.

According to a November Forum Research Poll of Toronto residents, 51 per cent of respondents supported the proposed park and 38 per cent opposed it. Not surprisingly, 46 per cent of respondents felt that the space should not be paid for with public dollars. Though there are several issues remaining on how to budget the rail deck park, Keesmaat has confirmed there is already $350 million invested from developers that is earmarked for public space.

The Rail Deck Park is an ambitious, but worthwhile project. Green space in the downtown area promotes healthy tourism and is relatively simple to upkeep. It also provides Torontonians with more outdoor space, and a carbon sink in the middle of an area full of pollution. Hopefully, the rail deck park can become Mayor Tory’s legacy, and it will be enjoyed for generations to come. Until then, it will be interesting see if the funding can be found.

Is Ontario a ‘real funding partner’ for Toronto’s relief line?

The Yonge Relief Line may have a new alignment — and that decision couldn’t come soon enough. This alignment is one of the few remaining steps that need approval before city staff can push this much-needed project forward.

And this project NEEDS to move forward.

The relief line has been talked about on and off for the last decade, and yet, it is still nowhere near completion. Politics always got in the way. Since then, the original Yonge line (Line 1) has become more crowded. This has made commutes nearly unbearable during peak hours. It has effected ridership and forced more people to use their cars instead of taking public transportation.

While some question the need for a relief line, especially with SmartTrack on the table, city staff, the Toronto Transit Commission, and Metrolinx have all come together to label the relief line as a priority for Toronto’s new transit network. Without it, they say, congestion on the Yonge Line will not be alleviated.

The biggest problem with the relief line will be the funding. As Toronto Mayor John Tory said repeatedly at a series of press conferences on transit last week, without serious funding from provincial and federal partners, Toronto will be unable to grow its transit network.

The Ontario government promised in 2016 to provide $150 million in funds to the planning and design of the relief line. That number has not changed, despite the current cost projection of $6.8 billion for the relief line. This means that the provincial contribution won’t do anything other then fund a study or two.

It’s also why Tory has been campaigning and pushing the province for more. When the province dismissed Toronto’s attempt at raising funds through tolls, they effectively removed a significant form of revenue for the city. Without that money, Toronto has no choice but to make its residents pay for the transit network, no matter what the politicians say. That’s why Tory is asking the province to step up and become a “real partner” in their efforts to fund transit infrastructure. He wants the province and the federal government to each pay 40 per cent of the relief line.

The province has been hitting back, indicating they are a “stable provincial funding partner”, despite the lack of funding announcements. But Toronto residents are not falling for it — and that fact is already showing in the polls.

Taking away a revenue-generating tool like tolls without offering a solution is not leadership. Ignoring the needs of one of the biggest cities in the province is also not the way to get elected, despite what advisors may be whispering into the Premier’s ears. The Liberal government will find that out if they refuse Tory’s proposal of short-term hotel taxes as a revenue tool.

Back to the relief line: In May, the executive committee will debate the new alignment option down Carlaw Ave., between Gerrard St. and Eastern Ave., before sending the route to city council for approval.

At this moment, construction will begin in 2025.

Laneway suites as sustainable housing solution in Toronto

Laneway housing has been all the buzz in Toronto as a way to create more housing in high-density areas. With an eminent housing crisis and very low availability for housing in the city, stakeholders are desperate to find a solution, and find new places to put homes could be the answer. So what exactly is laneway housing?

Think of it as a basement suite, but on top of your existing property. A laneway house is an additional suite on the same property as an already existing house. It is typically built on top of a garage or at the back of the house near a lane or alley. It would function similarly to a basement suite in the sense that it relies on services on the main house, but would be above ground instead. According to Cofounder & Architect of Lanescape, Craig Race, “There are a lot of cities with framework for laneway housing, with Vancouver as a leader for this. The laneway suite gets all of its servicing and mail delivery from the main house, they are always on the same property and must work in tandem with the main property. Through a pretty intense public consultation process, we are trying to build something suitable for Toronto as well.”

Previous city councillor Adam Giambrone killed laneway housing in 2006 when a report condemned the practice because homes would to be provided with external services such as water and hydro from the laneways rather than the main house on the property, and this was seen as untenable by the city. As a result, the city over-regulated laneway housing and made it extremely difficult to build at all. The process to build a laneway suite is covered in red tape and can take months to approve. “It is a difficult process and very expensive. It is necessary to go through the Committee of Adjustment or the Ontario Municipal Board, which is a long process and takes a lot of expertise,” Race says. “It is very prohibitive for homeowners today.”

Since then, laneway suites (as opposed to independent houses) have grown in popularity in urban centres across North America, and would rely on the main house for water and electricity. “When the city looked at this before, it was assumed that the laneway would need to provide services, but the services could be provided at the front of the home. It is just a matter of taking it underground.” Race explains. “You would take it from your basement and dig a rear trench to the laneway house.” Once the trench is constructed, the laneway suite would use the same water and electricity as the main home.

In conjunction with Evergreen, Lanescape has been involved in public consultations across the city educating people on the importance of laneway housing. The involved parties have been actively engaging with city councillors, meeting with technical staff who will be affected by the changes and hosting presentations for the public to be involved. The public consultation process ramped up after Ontario Minister of Housing Chris Ballard announced last fall that every municipality should begin developing legislation for laneway housing across the province.

Allowing laneway suites would ultimately be a positive development for Toronto because it responds to the need for housing in high-density neighbourhoods and is also a sustainable approach to housing. “Laneway suites and sustainable living go hand in hand. They allow for visible density because people can co-habitat on existing structures and makes better use of what we have,” Race says. “These structures are designed to be environmentally conscious. There is also a point to be made about the health component of living above ground, and not in a basement.”

In order to develop a cohesive report to present to council in the spring, Lanescape is accepting responses to a public survey as a part of their consultation process. From there, the report will be delivered to city council and they will begin debating to see if laneway suites can become a part of the housing development landscape in the city.

If you are interested in supporting laneway housing, take the survey and help push forward the agenda for more affordable housing initiatives in Toronto.

Running helps Canadian singer Melissa Bel stay on a high note

Why do you run? Some people choose to run to loose weight or keep fit — all you need is a pair of shoes and an open road. But, there are many more benefits to running than simply overall health, just ask Canadian singer and songwriter Melissa Bel. In a phone interview, the Toronto native now living in Devon England talks about her music career and how running helps her both mentally and physically.

“It has been over a year now living in a rural village called Devon. It is a slower pace of life where everything closes at 5pm,” Bell says with a laugh. Despite missing the busy city life in Toronto, this Canadian pop soul artist finds running on country roads relaxing. “The city drives you to be busy. Having that balance is good,” she adds.

And she wouldn’t have it any other way.

When she isn’t doing media interviews or promoting her music, Bel is running. The movement helps inspire creativity and clears her mind. “I considered myself a casual runner and Devon is a beautiful place to run. It is a constant battle to run but it is the progress you can make it. I run one mile. Next day I will run two. It is therapeutic and is a good way to blow off steam,” she says.

“I originally started running to lose weight, tone up my legs, and improve my fitness. I’ve been an on-and-off runner for about six years, but recently have started to be more consistent with it. Possibly because the more mild UK climate makes it easier to run outside all year long. I’m actually thinking of doing my first-ever race in October, the 10 mile Great South Run (I have to stick to it now that I’ve said it on record!). I still run for the same reasons as when I started, but also to blow off steam, clear my mind, and challenge myself. It’s a bit meditative for me as well because it’s one of the rare times where I’m fully in the moment and not getting distracted by thoughts and worries. I’m fully focused on my breath and my strides.”

Bel is not working on any new music at the moment, but is rather promoting her recent album In the Light, which includes seven songs on the Extended Play. The album was released on Nov. 4 of last year.

This will be Bel’s fourth album and her music before was jazz and blues attracting fans in the 40’s and 60’s age groups and a huge following in Quebec. “My earlier albums were definitely more jazz and blues, with bits of pop, folk, soul and even rock,” she says. “I wanted to be more consistent as far as the genre of “In the Light”, and to be perfectly honest wanted a better shot at getting played on the radio. My goal with this album was to do something fresh and contemporary while incorporating my soul and blues influences. Hoping to gain some new fans while giving my existing ones something a bit different that they’ll still enjoy!”

On April 26th, Bel will be coming back to Canada. She will be in Toronto performing at the Cameron House.

 

www.runwithit.ca

Twitter: @ christineruns

Youtube – runwithitcb1

Tory hits back at province for transit and relief line funds

Early Tuesday morning, Toronto Mayor John Tory sent a letter and a list of budget recommendations to Ontario Minister of Finance, Charles Sousa, calling on Ontario to become “a full partner in cost-sharing of major infrastructure investments going forward.”

The letter outlines Toronto’s infrastructure expectations given the province’s rejection of tolls. Tory said the province has an “obligation” to help the city pay for the maintenance of both the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway, in addition to helping pay for new lines in the transit network, like the Yonge Relief Line.

Tory’s budget recommendation included the approval of a new revenue tool — a levy on hotel and short-term accommodation. The city of Toronto needs legislative authority from the province in order to tax lodgings; however, it doesn’t want this tool to interfere with the funding already given to Tourism Toronto. Tory is proposing a four per cent tax on hotels and short-term accommodations like airbnb.

In addition to a revenue tool, Tory has outlined a list of recommended items the province should fund, including $820 million to help rehabilitate the Gardiner Expressway, $3.36 billion for the transit network plan, $863 million for Toronto Community Housing, and $50 million for child care subsidies.

These recommendations follow a public exchange by Tory and Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca on Monday, in which Tory told the media the province was not acting like a “full partner” in their commitment to build transit. Tory stood at the Bloor – Yonge subway platform and said the province needed to come up with a plan to help contribute to the relief line and other transit projects. He suggested the province, as well as the federal government, each contribute 40 per cent of the funds for the project. Toronto would then pay for the remaining 20 per cent.

Del Duca responded with his own press statement, saying the Ontario government has “always been a strong partner with Toronto city council” and that they were “not going to play political games with transit.” With words bolded and underlined, Del Duca mentioned the measly $150 million the provincial government has already pledged to the relief line and claimed to be a “stable provincial funding partner at the table” unlike the federal government.

The reality is that Toronto needs billions to develop its transit network — a network that will benefit residents throughout the GTHA as more people use public transportation instead of driving on already congested roadways. The refusal of the provincial government to allow Toronto to fund its own projects through revenue tools like tolls puts projects like the downtown relief line in jeopardy. Toronto’s growth and development is, effectively, at the mercy of Queen’s Park.

Tory understands this and is fighting back. He is trying to make it abundantly clear that if the province doesn’t allow Toronto to explore and use its own revenue tools, then it has to step up to the plate and help pay for these important projects.

There are universal benefits to developing Toronto’s transit network. It will help reduce carbon emissions as less people drive into the city. It will help connect the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area so that people can get from their home to work in a seamless manner. And it will help reduce congestion for those who have no choice but to use their car to get around.

Funding this network is a win-win scenario — and if the province is not going play politics with transit, they would see that.

City council votes in favour of Scarborough subway

After an entire day of debate, Toronto City Council voted Tuesday to approve the alignment and procurement model for the Scarborough subway.

The 6.2 kilometre subway will extend from Kennedy Station on the Bloor Line to Scarborough Town Centre along McCowan, as recommended by city staff. Council also approved the building of a new bus terminal that is meant to help create a “dynamic hub” that will attract businesses and build communities.

This is one of the final steps towards the actual construction of the subway. Staff will report back once procurement is at 30 per cent completion. It is currently sitting at five per cent.

All of city council agreed that having a transit system that connects Scarborough with the rest of the GTHA was necessary. As Toronto Mayor John Tory said while presenting this item to the rest of council, “in my respectful opinion, we need to move on.”

“The time for debate is over. It’s time to actually start building transit in Scarborough.”

The motion passed 26-18.

Why did this decision take a whole day? It’s because of the price tag. Councillors were shocked to find out that at just 5 per cent procurement, the Scarborough Subway had a price tag of approximately $3.56 billion, much higher than originally expected. When asked about this balloon in cost, the CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission noted the time that had passed since council originally decided to go forward with a subway. The longer council waits, the more expensive it will get.

Council came close to passing another motion that would have required staff to submit another report showcasing a business-cost analysis between the Scarborough subway and the seven-stop LRT alternative. According to city manager Peter Wallace, council had never asked for a comparison like this before. The motion was rejected 27-17.

Tory said that asking for another study will simply lead to another study, and then another. He pressed the need to start designing and building transit in Scarborough.

“I know in 30 years no one will question this decision,” Tory said.

Green Party hopes to woo voters with honesty and revenue tools

The Ontario Green Party is working on a comprehensive revenue tool package that will help fund infrastructure and transit projects throughout the province. The package will include a plethora of options for drivers and transit users, including the use of tolls and congestion charges in addition to uploading the cost of maintaining and operating the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Express back to the province.

“One of the biggest challenges facing the GTHA is gridlock,” says party leader Mike Schreiner. “It affects our economy to the tune of $6 billion in lost productivity.”

According to Schreiner, the Green Party is willing to do something other political parties are not — explain honestly and openly what it will take to improve transit and quality of life in cities across Ontario.

“This is a situation where political self-interest is trumping the people’s interest,” he says. “There is a myth that somehow all this infrastructure is going to be built. Imagine if our great grandparents hadn’t paid for dams in Niagara Falls that generates electricity … or hadn’t agreed to pay for the cost of the 400 series highways that enabled us to ship goods to province and the US. It’s time for our generation to step up to plate and fund transit infrastructure desperately needed.”

As part of this plan, the Green Party is supporting dynamic tolling, where drivers are charged a larger cost for using certain roadways like the Gardiner and DVP during on-peak hours and less (or not at all) during off-peak hours. The hope is that this will encourage those who can use transit, to do so, and those who must drive, to carpool.

“A toll taxes people regardless of time of day when real problem is rush hour,” says Tim Grant, Green Party shadow cabinet minister for transportation. “The dynamic road pricing – although it sounds harsh at first glance – is really fair and equitable. It acknowledges that there is a higher cost to discourage drivers in rush hours.”

The money collected from these tolls would be dedicated to transit, ensuring that those who choose to use alternative modes of transportation are able to use a modern and well-maintained system. It’s a win-win scenario — the challenge is to convince people the long-term benefits are worth the cost.

“If you reduce traffic congestion, people have a higher quality of life,” Grant says. “Air pollution is reduced, fuel economy is reduced, which leads to higher air quality and more time on [drivers] hands.”

Grant says the problem with the current funding provided by both the provincial and federal governments to municipalities for infrastructures is that it only pays for the initial planning and construction of a transit project, but not to operate or maintain it. This results in poorer service and low ridership.

Another aspect of the Green Party’s revenue plan is to upload the costs of operating and maintaining the DVP and Gardiner Expressway back to the province, something that was promised over 10 years ago. This would free up a couple billion dollars worth of funding the City of Toronto could use to build better transit infrastructure and maintain other roads within the city.

The key, both Schreiner and Grant say, is to actually listen to experts and communicate that information honestly to the public, without political agenda.

“Part of the problem is that political parties prepare their platform and policies based on a calculation of what voters think – and it’s a sad state because the alternative is for a political leader to go out and be honest and say, you won’t like this, but you will love it afterwards,” Grant said. “It needs political leadership willing to get out in front of all this and say we are doing this because people will get to work faster, kids will have better transit, and this will be a benefit. Vote for me or not – but I will try to make life better.”

The Green Party will discuss their platform and comprehensive revenue package in May in preparation for the 2018 election.

Toronto gets ‘More Life’ with release of Drake’s new album

While most people were out on Saturday night enjoying a glass of wine with their girls or at the movies watching Beauty and the Beast with their ‘boo thang’, others were at home on Spotify- listening to their own, mutual ‘boo thang’; Drake. And what a beautiful Saturday evening it was. More Life, since then, has streamed 89.9 million times. That too, in its first 24 hours on Apple Music. That’s a record breaker for the most streams on a single-day album for every music service. Ever. Proud of you, bae!

As fans nodded their heads to the new beats and texted fire emojis to their friends about Canadian artist Drake’s new playlist, one thing became evident quite quickly. More Life is essentially another big ode to Toronto — and people from all across the globe are showing their passion for the big TO. Can you blame them?  Direct references to Queen Street and G-way, which is short for Galloway, had Toronto residents gleaming with pride and fans from all around the world looking up references and street maps of the 6ix. Because they too, want to be part of the culture that is Toronto. *Insert Fake Love lyrics here, while sipping tea.*

The playlist (it’s not an album, folks!) has everything Drake fans are looking for – the soothing, deep voice in octaves so low, it’ll make Morgan Freeman wish he jumped on a musical career. Get it Together, for example, is the perfect track for your coffee shop playlist. Madiba Riddim, on the other hand, will have you reminiscing of his older hits, with similar beats and acoustics. But, whether he’s crooning in Passionfruit or dropping bars in Portland, Drake brings forth the wide range and originality that he’s known for. Let’s face it. He’s not pop-y enough to be a pop sensation and not urban enough to be a hip hop star. Drake is his own genre. And a mighty good genre at that.

There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to this playlist. Councillor Norm Kelly can prep his tweets on another Meek Mill and Drake feud, as references can be heard in Free Smoke, the most played track on the playlist. Jennifer Lopez no longer has to explain the Instagram picture that sparked alleged dating rumours between the two. Drake took care of that in two of his tracks as well. Also, he may still have ‘the feels’ for rapper, Nicki Minaj. We’re not sure though.

One thing is for sure – More Life is giving us life.

What are your thoughts on Drake’s new playlist? Let us know in the comments below!  

 

Hello Spring! Now, get outside!

Have you ever gone outside just for the sake of going outside?

Taking a walk outside and breathing in the fresh air, running along the beach, or just sitting in a field of green can work wonders for relaxation and stress-relief. Nature can be incredibly peaceful and rejuvenating — and luckily in Canada, these green spaces and beaches are accessible throughout any landscape.

Most people feel they need a reason to go outside, whether it be to play sports or for a planned outdoor adventure to get their next Instagram photo opportunity. Instead, why not just go outside for the sake of it. When I’m in a bad mood, taking a break and walking outside cures the blues faster than almost any other possible solution. The fresh air, sunshine, and peaceful silence creates an appreciation of life that is impossible to find anywhere else.

If you aren’t quite sure how to get outdoors for the pure enjoyment of it, the secret to success lies in making sure you do it mindfully. Don’t go outside equipped with your phone to distract you. Free yourself from all your devices and take your lovely self for a walk and really look at the world around you. You will find that there is so much beauty to see once you remove yourself from the bubble of technological existence. Birds still exist. Trees actually grow taller. It is amazing how much can be noticed without our phones two inches from our faces at all times.

Take note of how your body feels when you are outside as well. It is good to stretch out in the open space and understand which muscles are sore and target those areas. Even doing yoga outside would feel relaxing and in tune with how nature can make our aching bodies feel better.  Even if you have a cold, talking a brief walk can help get some fresh air into your body and may rejuvenate you if you have been inside sleeping for a long period of time.

Next time you find yourself with a free 30 minutes (or even an hour), go outside and revel in the oncoming spring. There is so much to be thankful for in good weather, and taking time to appreciate it leads to a more fulfilling and connected life. The more people use the greens paces and natural areas, the more likely it is to be conserved for future generations. Get outside today and enjoy it!

Tourism Toronto captures beauty and creativity in city

The perception of Toronto by outsiders and those actually living within the city are very different. As someone who moved year a little over a year ago, I can confidently say that Toronto is not the mean, green, and cold place many across Canada think it to be.

Toronto is hot, it is fresh, and it has an edge to it that offers people many creative outlets to express themselves. The new video “The Views are Different Here,” released by Tourism Toronto, truly manages to capture Toronto’s essence and shows a variety of different perspectives to living in the Big Smoke. The video is getting massive hits on social media because it shows the quintessential Toronto narrative of a multicultural city, where everyone is welcome. Tourism Toronto manages to capture the annual pride parade, the AGO, Caribana and a Drake concert in the video and it creates a narrative of what it is like to be a part of the multicultural fabric of this city.

When I moved to Toronto from Western Canada, I had certain assumptions of the city. I thought it would be big, mean, and greasy. It has the reputation of being the main hub of Canada where people go to work long hours and spend most of their time underground on the subway. I was completely surprised when I learned that Toronto isn’t just a chaotic and busy city, but actually exudes a vibe that is creative and beautiful; yet, authentic. Toronto is replete with people full of large ideas concerning art, the environment, music, and everything in between. Most of these folks manage to own their ideas, but are not pretentious or self-serving about it. In other words, they are real and genuine creators looking to collaborate and work with other like-minded people.

Though Toronto typically has a reputation of being one of the more ‘unfriendly’ Canadian cities, its actually just the opposite. The majority of city dwellers are non-judgmental and very kind to each other. I have met so many lovely people since moving here and am struck nearly every day by how kind the average person really is. There is a level of openness and progressive discussion in this city (perhaps due to deep ties leaning to the left politically) that opens doors for a variety of topics. Any daily conversation could range from an 80 year old man about attending a drag show to discussing the future of classical music with a 20 year old woman with green hair.

I will even admit that the man bun has grown on me. It isn’t just a sign of the dreaded hipster, but has become a fashion symbol for the Toronto urban style ([note the clip in the tourism video of the older gentleman with the man bun, doesn’t he look suave?). It is important to notice that the video also includes a special focus on graffiti art in the city. To see the beautiful street art that exists in the city showcased as a tourist grab is phenomenal. It is a form of art that deserves celebration and there is a turn happening in Toronto where art is become an important avenue of expression for the city. Lastly, the video also manages to put a creative spin on the TTC with ballet dancers on the subway. This gives a more positive outlook for the subway system, and dare I say it almost makes commuting on public transit look enjoyable.

It really is incredible to see Tourism Toronto for giving other outsiders such as myself a more realistic glimpse of what this beautiful city has to offer. I am proud to live in this dirty, artsy, and fascinatingly multicultural city. It is busy, it is loud, and it is in your face. I would ask for nothing else in the years of my youth and I am astounded nearly every day by something new and fresh in this city that I just hadn’t noticed before.

What did you think of “The Views are Different here”? Let Women’s Post know in the comments below.