Porter Plans…the annotated version.

Sounding like an annoyed parent who’s tired of explaining the virtues of eating vegetable to his snotty kids, Porter posted a “Reality Check” on its site in which it tried to refute the arguments of No Jets TO, the most visible group opposing expansion at the island airport.

I have my own reservations about the expansion. I understand why Porter would want to expand (although I really wish they weren’t being so snarly about it); they’re a business and business want to grow. On the other hand, the city is a public space and the desire of businesses to expand cannot be paramount.

I had a few minutes to spare this afternoon, so I decided to work out some of my feeling about the proposed project by taking Porter’s reality check and marking it up with some thoughts. Some favour No Jets TO and other opponents of the expansion, some favour Porter. Overall I’m most interested in having a real debate about what the airport would mean to the city, both expanded, in its current form, and gone altogether.

Enjoy.

Click on the link to view: PorterPlans_Markup

Andrea Houston and Jonathan Goldsbie on Aug. 3rd FMA

http://www.joshuahind.com/Audio/HoustonGoldsbie_Interview.mp3

To Download, right click on the player and choose “Save Link As” (Mac) or “Save Target As” (PC)

Andrea Houston is in Montreal this weekend as a featured speaker at the 2012 Humanist Canada Conference, being held at the Hilton Bonaventure. The theme of this year’s conference is Sex and Secularism and that’s a topic on which Andrea is uniquely qualified to speak. Her tireless reporting in Xtra on the battle to force the Ontario Catholic School Boards to allow Gay-Straight Alliances in their schools has earned Andrea broad acclaim and played a part in her being named Honoured Dyke in this years Dyke March, part of the massive Toronto Pride event. She’ll be sharing the stage this weekend with the likes of Sue Johanson and Leanne Iskander, another prominent figure in the GSA fight.

Jonathan Goldsbie is a Toronto-based writer who has been alternately described as the resident communist at the National Post, the king of Toronto political tweeting, several things I can’t repeat, but most appropriately he’s an advocate for public space issues and a contributor to Spacing Magazine, Xtra, Torontoist, and The Grid, among others.

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On condos and the Distillery District…

I wanted to share a few quick thoughts about an article in the Star about a possible condo/hotel development in the Distillery and the concerns surrounding such a development; specifically, the appropriateness of a large tower in the historic Distillery District (or “Distillery Historic District”, as the developers would prefer).

My introduction to the area came in 2004/2005, coinciding with the opening of the Young Centre. By that time the development of the area, led by Cityscape Developments, was in it’s toddler years. Stalwarts like Balzacs, Brick Street Bakery, the brewery and Dancemakers had established themselves, but the restaurant and entertainment scene was only just starting to form.

It was a hip place, to be sure and the whole gang at the Young Centre was pretty happy to be a part of something we knew would eventually get very, very popular.

But it certainly hasn’t happened overnight. Despite the tremendous success of Soulpepper and the other tenants of the Young Centre, there was a long time when it seemed like irritable, hungry, sleep-deprived actors, stagehands and designers like myself kept the businesses going down there through the winter months. For the district to survive, it was clear more people had to come and that eventually, people would have to live there.

Through every step of the development of the Distillery, from the refurb of the existing buildings, to the construction of the first tower on the undeveloped west side of the district (Mill and Parliament) to the new towers being built in the Tankhouses across from the Young Centre, Cityscape has acted with utmost respect for the historical integrity of the site.

But it’s true that none of this comes without a price tag. The refurbishment of the existing buildings on the site was not done on the cheap, but was done entirely on spec. In other words, while the rental money from arts groups and retailers is nice, it was never gonna pay for the massive renovation effort. Certainly not if rental rates were kept at a level where arts groups and indie merchants could afford to take up shop in the Distillery. Condos were always a necessary part of the plan.

As for the rack house, the building across from the main gates to the Distillery, it’s been a tough sell for a long time.

During the inaugural Luminato Festival, I was hired to create an installation light design for the site with a mandate to include as many buildings as possible, including the rack house, a building typically thought of as “off-site”. The downside was coming up with a way to integrate the building with the property, the upside was that I got to go inside and poke around. Eventually, I decided to make use of the building’s prominent heavy, green shutters and make a kind of “gateway of light”, shining high-powered HMI lights through the rack house’s tiny windows, through the trees in front and onto the building across the street. In general, it worked. But from that experience I can honestly say I understand both why Cityscape wants to go the hotel route and also why it’s taken so long to get anything going. If you were a hotelier or a condo developer, would you want to erect a building on the Distillery site with all the cache that comes with the location, or across the street from the place with all the cache?

So, to address the question posed by the Star more directly, which is, “Does a 34-storey tower belong in the Distillery District?”, I offer the following…

  1. The building isn’t really on the site, as most people would think of it. Neither the brick streets, the classic green cupolas, nor the odd bits of left-over infrastructure that make the Distillery so unique would be affected by a development in the rack house. If anything, this corner is the best place on the site or surrounding area for a tall building.
  2. From first-hand observation, I can say that the cavernous interior of the rack house isn’t really well suited to anything and would require massive renovation, condo or otherwise.
  3. While I haven’t checked, my suspicion is that from Tank House Lane (the east west path leading to the Young Centre, you’d see less than half of a tall tower over top of the Boiler House and even if you saw more, if the building is architecturally engaging, who cares if you can see it?
  4. Looking north, a tall building in that location wouldn’t block the view of anything. North of the Distillery along Trinity is a film studio, a car dealership, Eastern Ave. and neighbourhood beyond. If anything, a tall building would add to the area.
  5. And finally…Looking south while walking along Trinity, no view of the Distillery would be any more obscured than it is now by the rack house in its present form.
If there’s one thing Cityscape has gotten exactly right (and to be fair, they’ve done a lot right) it’s been their focus on getting people to live in the Distillery. While the Victorian-era site is certainly a tourist attraction, it can’t only be a tourist attraction. It has to be reasonably developed to include full-time residents, day travellers and now short-term visitors equally. As new neighbourhoods shoot up in the Don Lands, the Distillery can become a vital “downtown” of sorts.
I look forward to that and when it comes I’ll nostalgically reflect on a time when you never had to wait in line at Balzacs.

The Second Pride War

"I've got these queers right where I want 'em..."

Just over a year ago, I wrote a piece called “Why Pride” in which I argued 2 points related to the 2010 Pride celebrations in Toronto. In brief, they were:

  1. Pride should distance itself from aggressive political messages that are not its own, specifically the messages related to Israeli/Palestinian relations promoted by QuAIA.
  2. Pride should make better use of their its platform by de-emphasizing the naked, gyrating party and trying to put more media spotlight on their core messages of acceptance and openness.

On one of those two points, the one dealing with Queers against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA), I feel somewhat validated by the events of the past few months. Pride did distance themselves slightly from QuAIA which was enough (at the time) to get the wolves at City Hall to back off their bull-headed pledge to pull Pride’s funding. But more than that, it put the focus of this year’s parade back squarely where it belongs, on the continuing day-to-day struggles of LGBTQ peoples in Toronto. Even the flap over the absence of Mayor Rob Ford from the parade was at least centred on the idea that a leader of the people of Toronto should represent all the people of Toronto, especially those who have been marginalized.

On the second point, concerning the emphasis on crazy fun over strong political messaging, I was quite wrong. I failed to grasp the power of an event where people can be themselves, even if only for an afternoon. I can see now that Pride allows those who perhaps spend much of the year couching their real feelings and personality to break free. In that way, the parade is both precious and beautiful and the way in which it creates spaces where people can feel completely comfortable IS the broader political message. I’d overlooked that in the past and I’m relieved to have seen the error in my thinking.

With that mea culpa humbly managed, we must return to the business of the day, which again is centred on QuAIA and the continued funding of Pride by the City of Toronto.

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Gimme Sympathy

The heart-wrenching stories of minor inconveniences are already pouring in from across Toronto and it’s only been 16 hours. According to the Toronto Star, a guy had to wait a whole 12 minutes to get a parking spot at City Hall.

But who I am riffing on here, the guy or the Star? It’s bullshit to say “a bit of both” so I’ll say that when even the lefty paper (can we really still call it that? Royson James still works there, after all) is spending a disproportionate amount of words on pissed off citizens vs. pissed off city workers, it’s easy to see where the dice are stacked.

But who can blame the media? Momma’s have to stay home with their kids, Bay Streeters can’t get parking and the gay communitee must suffer the double indignity of a possible Pride cancellation and losing access to Hanlan’s Point. In the Globe, a Ms. Shiner (who can’t “chase men” to “stay alive” at the Community Centre) gets 5 lines of text before the union prez gets one; and then it’s to play Mr. Obvious and say that he’s managing an “unpopular” strike. Hey, mad people make better press than negotiations. So if this strike drags on, the cover of the Sun will get more vitriolic (Bastards!, How Dare They?, Stinks!, etc.) and people, suckers for anger as they are, will get all rowdy right along with it.

But what about the workers themselves. Again in the Globe, a Ms. Godard asserts that “times are hard and their benefits are more than most people have”. Well, so what? If Ms. Godard wants to live in a country where everyone gets the same pay and same benefits regardless of what they do…a perfectly fair society…then perhaps Soviet-era Russia is more your speed than Canada. In Canada, as in most of the Western world, people are free (to an extent) to make as much as they can as long as they play within the rules. Local 416 played within the rules, earning what they’ve got over years and years of collective agreements. And now their supposed to give it back? If the City does get a concession, does Ms. Godard expect to see a cheque. All that will really happen is the city worker will have less, which is bound to have a real effect on their life; and Ms. Godard will have a feeling of moral superiority, which can’t buy shit.

It must be tough to run a union today. Unions typically fight for a guy/gal that works with their hands trying to make something; people who used to be the backbone of our economy; people worth rewarding. But that was in a time when people didn’t weigh their self-worth against the whole world as they do now. A guy who spent 5 years and $50,000 on a degree gets pretty pissed when he’s out-earned by a garbage worker. Money equals self-worth and how the hell can a garbage man be worth more than a university graduate? It’s ridiculous and mean. But there’s nothing the unions can do about it. We are gradually slinking towards a class system and the unions find themselves representing workers who’ve been classified as “the little people”.

As long as you can find members of the public who really thinks it’s “unfair” that someone makes a decent wage with benefits by working with our trash (or our ferries, pools, whatever), then the union must exist. And if they exist, they must work for the benefit of their workers. And finally, let’s remember that contracts don’t sign themselves. The other name on there is Mr. Mayor. A Mr. Mayor agreed to the time bank, for example, and another Mr. Mayor agreed to it again in the last contract. Why does he get off easy?

Dundas Square = Times Square = WHY?

Times Square vs. Dundas Square

In our quest to be a “World Class City” we’ve been spending far too much time on comparison and too little time taking a hard look at the places and things to which we compare ourselves. The best example currently is Yonge-Dundas Square, the north side of which is finally taking shape. I am constantly hearing people refer to Yonge-Dundas as “Toronto’s Times Square”, a place of light and action that will serve as hub for the city. But what are we emulating? Is Times Square the heart of New York City? And even if it is, is Toronto similar enough to New York that we should have a similar heart?

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