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Where can Pokemon Go from here?

I got into a rather heated argument with my family last weekend over Pokemon Go. They had been reading the headlines about the terrible consequences of the app — the stampedes around Central Park, the guy who accidentally shot at two kids who were hanging out near his car, and the theft sprees that have occurred throughout the United States.

All I could say was that despite all of the glitches, I thought the app was a work of genius. And I haven’t even played it yet.

There are a number of reasons why I haven’t downloaded the app yet — a) I think it will take up more data than I can muster and b) I don’t think I’ll sleep for a week if I get it — but, that doesn’t mean I don’t think the technology is absolutely brilliant.

Pokemon Go inserts the game into the real-world, allowing players to walk around neighbourhoods and “catch” or “battle” Pokemon on the streets. Pokestops can be found at public art installations, tourist attractions and historical markers. Players will be allowed to join teams, battle other players, and train their Pokemon based on physical challenges. Eggs can only be hatched if a certain distance or number of steps is achieved. This has spurred a number of hilarious digs on social media about a sedentary generation finally having to move in order to play the game.

Sure, there are a few glitches — some of the Pokemon are hidden on private property and in commercial buildings — but it encourages people of all ages to explore neighbourhoods, play outdoors, and get nerdy. Is this really that terrible?

This fascinating mixture of augmented reality, geocached data of objects and locations, and Google Maps has the potential to revolutionize the way apps are developed in the future. Not only that, but it has the potential to change the way society as a whole uses this technology.

First of all, it’s a great marketing tool. Already, institutions like Toronto Tourism are asking residents to tweet pictures of Pokemon at historical sites for promotion. Imagine you are hosting an event and you want attendees to really engage with your company. Simply create an app that encourages participants to visit each table, station, or area of the event and collect points for a draw. Already, businesses can purchase a “lure” or “incense”,which attracts Pokemon to their area.

Now, let’s take this to the next step. How about using it for public good? Maybe a municipality can use it to encourage residents to pick up garbage or use public transportation? How great would it be to use this technology to host a neighbourhood-or city-wide scavenger hunt, highlighting government buildings, public monuments, and community centres?

There is so much potential with Pokemon Go and I can’t wait to see how it’s used next. Who knows, maybe this will be the week I give in to the Pokemon Go crave? I’ll let you know if I catch em’ all!

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Motion for gender disparity pushed until October at City Council

City Council has promised to address greater gender diversity on the boards of directors of public and private corporations in October.

Councillor Michelle Holland presented a motion to City Council that would see new appointments for women on public boards to start as soon as fall 2016. The motion further directs that all public appointments on boards in Toronto be made up of 50 per cent women by 2019. Unfortunately, the motion was deferred until October because of a heavy agenda at this month’s meeting.

Women in Canada only represent 15.9 per cent of board positions in large corporations and public companies only have 12.1 per cent women. Crown corporations have the highest representation in public office with 30 per cent, but this still falls well below the 50 per cent mark.

This motion is influenced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to have 50 per cent representation in his federal cabinet, which has arguably renewed the work equality debate in Canada. Ontario has also promised to have 40 per cent women representation on their boards by 2019. Involving Toronto in the gender parity goal makes sense alongside the other levels of government so that women can have better representation in positions of power too.

Private FP500 companies have increased their gender parity on boards in their companies to 19.5 per cent in 2015, according to a report by the Canadian Board Diversity Council. Ontario Securities Commission rose the bar when they created new disclosure criteria for gender diversity in Dec. 2014.  Public boards have a lower percentage of equal representation compared to private corporations in Canada.

In a country that advocates on behalf on gender equality, I wonder when the employment sector will embrace gender parity entirely. Both public and private institutions need equal representation on their boards, and it is interesting to see that private companies are leading the way. The fact that the motion was pushed to executive council in October indicates the issue was dismissed in the wake of an important time for gender equality in politics. Toronto needs to join the movement and take women’s rights seriously at City Council.

Women’s Post will be watching to see how seriously the motion is taken in October.

TTC to tackle safety using ‘gender-specific lens’

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) discussed safety at Monday’s board meeting, with a special focus on women.

City Council requested that the TTC “apply a full safety audit using a gender-specific lens…to address safety concerns of women and women with disabilities.” Suggestions included adequate lighting, clear sightline design for stations, more security, and more women employed in the transit process.

The board, however, chose to focus on an app that would allow a TTC rider to take a photo of a person who is harassing or assaulting someone and report it. The hope is that it will draw less attention than pushing the yellow emergency strip and stopping traffic. The app should be ready to launch by the end of the year.

As a woman who takes public transportation at least twice a day — if not more — I understand the type harassment that can take place on an enclosed streetcar or subway car. But, I’m not sure this app is the solution.

As with a lot of Toronto’s safety plans, it puts the onus on bystanders to help out. Bystanders are notorious for…well…being bystanders. There is no guarantee that someone will capture the moment on film, and if that person did take time to take a photo of the harassment, I hope they would also step up and stop it.

The idea is that the app will automatically turn off flash and sound so that those making the report won’t have to worry about drawing attention to themselves. But, with the size of cell phones nowadays, it’s almost impossible to be conspicuous when taking a photograph in a small space. And has anyone thought about the many false accusations that will have to be filtered through to find the legitimate complaints?

I also don’t think that silent reporting is enough — anyone who assaults or harasses another person should be afraid to do it again. They should be worried they won’t get away with it. They should be made to seriously consider their actions. Pushing the yellow emergency strip and forcing them to wait for the authorities is exactly what people should be doing, and encouraging them to do otherwise is just another way to say “don’t worry about it, the authorities will deal with it the situation…maybe.”

If someone is harassing a woman (or a man for that matter), someone should speak up and tell them to get lost. People should rally around victims of assault and let it be known that it’s not okay. Women should also feel comfortable telling the driver of the bus or streetcar about the incident, which means that all drivers, toll operators, and TTC workers should be trained on how to deal with harassment and assault.

It is imperative that future designs of stations, streetcars, and subways take public safety into account — better lighting, a more secure waiting area, and a bigger authority presence after sunset are all integral to the safety of women and women with disabilities. But, let’s not diminish this importance by creating silly apps that allow us to spy and report people to authorities.

Let’s focus on what really matters: making people safe and training staff do handle numerous types of emergency scenarios, including harassment and assault. If you have to make an app, I would rather an app that allows me to reload my PRESTO card on my phone – thank you very much!

Inflated Toronto housing market prevents buyers from going green

High housing prices in Toronto are affecting homebuyer’s pockets and effectively preventing them from investing money in building sustainably instead.

The real estate market has skyrocketed, with expensive homes and low availability for people looking to buy. A detached single-family home in the GTA costing between $2 million and $4 million rose 77 per cent compared to 2015. Single detached homes in the GTA between $1 million and $2 million rose 64 per cent compared to the prior year. Homes have become unaffordable and are causing homebuyers to pool all of their available funds into buying a house at an extremely inflated price.

When homebuyers use every penny to invest in their home and begin paying their mortgage, much needed sustainable building practices such as solar panels or geothermal energy are cast by the wayside. Homebuyers often view sustainable practices as expensive and not worthy in the long-term. Though sustainable energy can be expensive initially, the long term investment is actually less expensive. However, many people aren’t even considering green energy investment because of current astronomical costs of housing.

Solutions are being discussed though to remedy the inflated real estate market and assuage the housing issues at hand. The federal government is discussing a speculative tax targeted at foreign investors. Many properties in Toronto and Vancouver — the two Canadian housing markets that have increased — are owned by absentee owners. The Canadian government has made it fairly easy for foreign investors to purchase property without paying taxes as a local citizen and it has helped inflate the market significantly.

One idea that has been presented to help Vancouver’s housing market is the B.C Housing Affordability fund. House owners would be charged a 1.5 per cent property surcharge on residential real estate, which would amount to $15,000 on a $1 million property. If the homeowner paid over $15,000 in income taxes though, they would be exempt from the surcharge.

Another issue that is driving housing prices upwards is a loophole in the real estate board that allows investors to flip properties without being taxed, which drives up the property value at a fast rate without repercussions. In Vancouver, the provincial government has promised to intervene in the real estate board to ensure they are following fair practices, but Toronto has not moved forward with any commitments of their own.

The federal government is also discussing forcibly cooling the housing market by increasing the mandatory down payment for houses under $1 million to 10 per cent. This would dissuade most first-time buyers from purchasing a house and decrease competition in the Toronto and Vancouver markets. At the same time, measures need to be taken to ensure that the rental market doesn’t accidentally drive prices up. There is also a fear that cooling the market would harm Calgary and Montreal’s housing markets, which aren’t doing as well as Toronto and Vancouver.

Preventing first-time buyers from purchasing homes to cool the market has been criticized as an unfair practice, and another option might be more profitable for everyone. Creating affordable housing in key areas would allow first-time buyers to purchase homes and wouldn’t continue to increase current house prices. Calgary launched a program called “Attainable Homes” that allowed buyers to purchase a home for $2000 as long as they could manage the mortgage. These homeowners were required to take financial training to properly understand the market and to pay the organization a certain amount of the property value increase when they sold the house. People are also prevented from flipping their house because if they try to sell too quickly, they would owe “Attainable Homes” a higher percentage of their property value increase.

The housing market has been a popular topic of conversation at the dinner table and the chosen solutions don’t seems to be working. It will be interesting to see how government intervention will cool the market, and if affordable housing becomes a priority. No matter what, cheaper housing prices will allow people to focus on sustainable building practices and invest in the future of green living.

Pride Parade through the eyes of a five-year-old

I decided to bring my daughter to the Pride Parade last Sunday to teach her the importance of inclusivity and LGBTQ rights in Toronto. We created a rainbow flag at home prior to leaving for the event and I explained to her the meaning behind each of the colours on the flag and we talked about what those words meant to us. Red represents life, orange is for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic and art, indigo for serenity, violet for spirit, and hot pink for sexuality. We also discussed the term sexuality and how it meant that you were allowed to like anyone you want, boys or girls, or anywhere in between.

My daughter took all of this in easily and was excited to celebrate people who loved rainbows as much as her. When we discussed trans-people, she told me that two kids in her class dressed as boys and everyone in the class accepted their chosen identities with ease. I was thrilled to see how accepting and open my little lady was and thanked my lucky stars that I decided to raise her in Toronto, one of the most progressive cities in the country.

We headed to the parade, rainbow flag and bubbles in tow, only to be overwhelmed by the thousands of people that crowded Yonge St. To say that the pride parade was a mildly popular affair would be an understatement. Luckily, we brought lots of water and snacks, and once we found a spot where we could see, the crowd bothered us less. I definitely recommend that parents bring hats, water guns, sunblock, and a lot of refreshing snacks. The parade is long and can be very hot due to the crowds and summer weather.

BlackLivesMatter at the Pride Parade 2016. By Kaeleigh Phillips.
BlackLivesMatter at the Pride Parade 2016. By Kaeleigh Phillips.

We were waiting for the parade to start for awhile until twitter alerted us that BlackLivesMatter was protesting and preventing the rest of the parade from continuing. They were conducting a sit-in protest and demanding the organizer of Pride, Mathieu Chantelois, sign a list of demands before they would let the parade continue. Chantelois signed the list and the parade resumed. The incident has incited a hot debate as to whether this delay caused BlackLivesMatter to alienate the LGBTQ community or incite positive activism in the parade. From my standpoint as a parent, it was difficult waiting in the extremely hot crowd with my five year old for the parade to start.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. By Kaeleigh Phillips.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. By Kaeleigh Phillips.

Once the parade started again, she was clapping and singing along with the music. She described the elaborate and beautiful outfits as “magical” and we bogeyed and cheered the day away. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walked by, my daughter wanted to be picked up to see “the ruler of the land”, and cried when she only saw his back. The colourful signs of Pflag, an organization of parents, families, friends, and allies of Toronto’s LGBTQ community, cheered her up though. She loved the positive messages of love and family, and really took the best from the parade.

We went home exhausted, sunburnt and satisfied. My daughter will grow up being part of the LGBTQ community and seeing positive messages flow through loving events such as pride. As a young woman who grew up in a community that was often homophobic and close-minded — and was harmful to many people I loved — I am so deeply grateful to the people who fought for events that celebrate LGBTQ interests. It shows that society can progress in an inclusive manner, and it gives me hope for my daughter’s future.

The unfortunate shame of Liberty Village

The towering condos loom ominously over the brick factories, converted warehouses, and swarms of young professionals who have descended upon the area known as Liberty Village. It’s a muggy Saturday afternoon and the sidewalks are busy; 20-and 30-somethings scurry about with grocery bags in hand, coffee cups in clenched fists, and sweat dripping painfully into their eyes.

No one seems to notice how absurd the area has become.

What could have been a showcase neighbourhood for the city, a place to proudly demonstrate a commitment to sustainability, forward-thinking design, and a beautiful juxtaposition between old and new, has instead become a laughing stock, courtesy of an over-built, under-designed cash grab for developers. We are left with a wall of condos, each one more spectacular in their hideousness than the next, the lack of beauty the only real cohesion between them.

Why does this happen? Why is there no governing body to ensure neighbourhoods have at least some semblance of uniformity and complimentary appeal? Liberty Village looks like a dumping ground for the reject designs no one else wanted — like each condo was built as quickly and cheaply as possible with a malicious lack of thoughtfulness.

It really is such a shame. So, what then, would I, an unqualified citizen with a ranting opinion have done differently? What alternative, un-apocalyptic state would I have preferred for Liberty Village?

I’m glad you asked.

Firstly, I would want a municipal committee in place to oversee special projects. These projects would include new neighbourhoods that are being built where a rich selection of heritage buildings exist. The mix of new and old can be a beautiful thing – if approached with patience, empathy, and vision.

Secondly, each project within the neighbourhood should not be viewed in a silo, at least from a design and function perspective. Part of the committee’s duty would be to develop an overall vision for the area to guide all new developments, land plots, and the type of mix required between retail, residential, and commercial. Forward-thinking designers, city planners, and architects would be amongst those involved to ensure that a beautiful vision is also a realistic one. Look to other cities who take a more advanced process towards urban design (Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tokyo, to name a few).

Lastly, with guidelines in place, the process for developer selection would be a scrutinized approach to ensure they fit – both from a functional and a cultural perspective.

Of course there are other factors that come into play – the economics of it, the push back from private landowners and developers who feel their liberties were being trampled on, my lawyer friends who’d tell me I’m crazy, etc. But you know what? If it’s crazy to prefer a city that values good design, understands the benefits of thoughtful neighbourhoods, and would rather be proud than ashamed of new areas, then so be it.

The value of a home

My husband and I bought a monster house 12 years ago. It was an old Victorian style, double brick with good bones, but in need of repair. In the 60s it was divided into four apartments and no one had renovated it since. The yellowed shag carpeting had seen better days, and the white stucco walls and arched doorways had gone grey over time. It still had all the old plumbing and knob and tube wiring so needed desperately to be gutted and restored.

A house has a personality, and ours seemed to be like an old oak tree that had been made to look like a Christmas pine. It had a solid soul, but the renovations were horrendous. Our goal was to restore it to the solid home it once was. It was the perfect project for a newly married couple!

We decided to live in it and tackle one floor at a time. Both of us were working full time, so it meant spending our evenings and weekends toiling away on the house.  After gutting out all the apartments, we found signs of the original stairs that were located right where we planned to put in the main stairwell. We repaired all the old fireplaces, putting new liners in all and using old bricks from the original construction that we found hidden away to repair the chimneys. We managed to save all the original leaded glass windows, and searched salvage yards for old six panel solid wood interior doors to match the original doors in the house.

Between electrical, plumbing, tiling and carpentry, we found that only a few of the trades people we hired could deliver the quality that we wanted and so did much of the work ourselves. There were months when we were too busy with our jobs to do anything on the house, and with the demands of toddlers, there was a year or two when very little was done. Our 10-month renovation project took us 12 years! And now that it is finally done, it feels like we’ve reached the top of the mountain. We’re looking around and enjoying the view, thinking cool we did it… but now what?

I don’t think I can sit quietly in a huge house, sipping tea and eating bon-bons, or give up the confidence I get from building with my own hands. What many think of as menial work —painting, sanding, tiling — is my way of keeping grounded and in shape! Being able to see the work that you have done take shape doesn’t happen often in politics, and there is nothing like taking down a wall to let out a little frustration!

Although we have built many terrific memories in our house, it was the journey, not the asset, that created them. And so we decided to put our house up for sale and continue our journey.

I feel that we have lucked out when it comes to our real estate agent. We have listed with Cheenee Foster. She is with Slavens and Associates and is one of the hardest working agents I have ever met. Cheenee spent years staging houses and has an eye for design. But what I admire most about her is her drive. She isn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and help, although she is always dressed to perfection. Watching her in an elegant summer dress and high heels as she set up my living room furniture, moving couches and chairs without hesitation, reminded me that women can do anything men can do — and we can do it in heels!

Cheenee spent a week helping me stage the house. From moving furniture to picking paint colour, she walked me through the process of preparing our house to sell. Few agents would invest the time that Cheenee gave to making sure our house looked terrific.  But, what truly makes her a top agent is her integrity. She knows that we aren’t in any rush to sell and has suggested that if we don’t get what we want, she’d recommend taking it off the market and trying again in the fall. I’ve bought and sold a lot of homes, and where most agents would try to coerce us down in price to make a quick commission, Cheenee sees the value in our property and in holding on for a better market if need be. What makes Cheenee Foster one of Toronto’s best real estate agents is that she puts her customers before her commission. So, if you are looking for a good agent to help you through the stressful process of selling your home, I highly recommend Cheenee Foster.

She’ll be hosting an open house at our home this weekend. Come out and meet her!

Grab your helmet! It’s bike month in the GTHA!

Happy Bike Month!!

While city council argues the validity of bike lanes on Bloor, Toronto residents will be taking part in bike month, a celebration of all things two-wheeled.

The idea is to encourage more people to use their bikes to get around the city. Throughout the month various cities across the GTHA will be hosting guided bike tours, festivals, art shows, film screenings, and more.

Cycling advocates point out that by trading in a car for a bike you don’t only save money —you don’t have to purchase gas or a bus token — but you are also helping relieve congestion.

Monday marked the beginning of this celebration with Bike To Work Day, where hundreds of people hoped on their bikes and took over downtown Toronto. Sadly, I could not join the movement (it would have taken my three hours to bike to work this morning), but I’m there in mind and spirit!

A number of city officials showed their cycling pride this morning, posting pictures to social media as proof of their physical prowess.

 

During the first week of bike month city officials will be taking part in an enforcement blitz to stop drivers from parking and stopping in cycling lanes. This type of activity is incredibly dangerous for cyclists, as it forces them into the thick of traffic. The fine for simply stopping in a bike lane is $150.

To see more events, take a look at the Bike Month calendar.

The world of tomorrow, today

A former professional life brought me to New York City every couple of weeks. Routinely flying into LaGaurdia Airport in Queens, (no, this article is not about the horrendous state of the terminal Air Canada is located in) I was afforded a wonderful view of the New York World’s Fair location as we approached the runway. The skeleton globe, the monolithic structures, and the tree-lined paths remain an iconic reminder of a time when the world would gather with pilgrimage fashion to be awe-struck by the grand possibilities of the future.

During its heyday, the fair held a sense of wonder and aspiration for its visitors. In 1889, the Eiffel Tower was built in Paris, in 1893 the world was introduced to the Ferris Wheel in Chicago, and in 1939, broadcast television was inaugurated in New York. Expo ’67 held in Montreal left the city with iconic architecture and, for a time, a Major League Baseball team named after it. Themes such as “The World of Tomorrow”, “Dawn of a New Day”, and “Peace Through Understanding” captivated the world with the promise of unimaginable spectacle. But today, with the proliferation of the Internet, there is less need for the Expo. Our present inundation of information about new technologies, new designs, theories, advances, and plans for the future are readily available in an endless stream of images, articles, tweets, websites, and data.

Today our pilgrimage has been reduced to a drooling stare into an LCD screen. And so, I wonder whether there is still value for cities to host the World’s Fair?

Held every five years, the World’s Fair (or World’s Expo as it’s also known) is a six-month long showcase of trade, innovation, and products from around the world. The Expo was held in Milan last year and the next one will be hosted by Dubai in 2020. Lately, and most likely in part because of the success of the Pan-Am Games, there have been rumblings about Toronto bidding on the 2025 World Expo. It is a chance to once again showcase our city on the world stage while continuing to push our mandate as a place rich in innovation, financial stability, and livability.

But still, is it worth the cost? Toronto Mayor John Tory, while not opposed to the idea, has intelligently taken a cautious approach; there are many unanswered questions related to cost and effort – questions that must be ironed out before any sort of decision is made.

Now, cost and effort aside, the other question that must considered revolves around theme. What grand proposition will be used to inspire the world to once again care about the World’s Fair? How are we going to put our stamp on an event that’s become largely irrelevant? How can we harken back to a time when the world of tomorrow was not so easily available through a few clicks? And most importantly, how do we balance the need for commercial capital without an overly branded marketing experience for the companies that foot the bill?

Here are a few areas of inspiration that may help:

  • Apple and Tesla Product Launch Format: the ability to keep new product designs and details under wraps from the media, while driving excitement and anticipation, is the fuel that powers both company’s marketing-driven sales. If the Expo could showcase things that were truly ground-breaking with a hotly-anticipated reveal, it would certainly help drive buzz.
  • Influencer Participation: gathering the best of the best in all fields to not just showcase their ideas, products, and plans, but to buy-in to the World’s Fair concept will help spread the word by association. If the most influential people in their fields participate, the rest will follow.
  • Integrated Projects: gather experts and leaders from a variety of industries to create conceptual works that fit into their unique visions of the future. Don’t worry about feasibility, worry only about inspiring people’s imaginations.
  • What Happens After: when the Expo is complete, what will be left? What types of architecture will remain permanently that future generations will look at with awe and wonder. Let’s build something that lasts.

Regardless of whether or not we bid on the Expo, the process of discussion should provide a valuable template for how we aim to push Toronto into the future as it relates to innovation. The notion of the world of tomorrow is still very much alive today.

Top exhibitions to check out at CONTACT photography festival

Do you love photography? Look no further! Women’s Post has found the best venues in the city for the annual CONTACT Photography festival.

CONTACT Photography Festival runs from May 1 to 31 and is the largest photography festival in the world. CONTACT is celebrating its 20th year with 20 primary exhibitions and 20 public installations. Most of the primary exhibitions are free except for the one at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the McMichael Museum, which are providing discounted tickets to exhibitions on certain days. Public installations feature photographic images on walls, billboards and subway platforms for the people of Toronto to enjoy. The festival explores a variety of topics through the lens of photography and is well worth checking out.

Here are some of the best spots for the festival, enjoy yourself and let us know what you think!