January 10th, 2017

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Centauri Dreams considers the potentially habitability of planets made mostly of garnet.

  • D-Brief notes a new technique that can use stem cells to regenerate teeth.

  • Dangerous Minds shares photos of a man who makes sweaters of place and takes photos of himself wearing the sweater at these places.

  • The Everyday Sociology Blog considers the hookup culture of universities.

  • Language Hat looks at how different languages name different colours over time.

  • Language Log looks at teachers of Cantonese who teach it using Mandarin grammar rules.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money examines the fake news of Muslims destroying an old church in Germany.</lu>
  • The NYRB Daily makes the case for the importance of Black Mirror.

  • Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw shares a photo and a story from his holiday trip to Denmark.

  • The Russian Demographics Blog charts birth and fertility rates in the United States over the past hundred years.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy takes issue with the idea that Chicago's rate is record-setting.

  • Window on Eurasia warns of potential instability in Russia's Caucasian republic of Dagestan.

[URBAN NOTE] "Downtown Toronto continues to shed its grittiness"

The Globe and Mail's Marcus Gee wrote last Wednesday about how the transformation of downtown Toronto is spreading even to areas like Jarvis and Dundas.

Social media lit up this week, when a story went around that the so-called “Hooker Harvey’s” at Jarvis and Gerrard Streets in east-side downtown Toronto was going to close, the victim of a relentless building boom.

“Nooooo! I love Hooker Harvey’s. Is nothing sacred in this city?” one post said. Another marked the loss of this “cultural touchstone” and its “seedy presence.” Yet another remembered the time a sex worker got her spiky heel caught in a grate near the entrance and let out a memorable volley of curses.

Never fear, Hooker Harvey’s fans. City planning officials say the famous burger joint at 278 Jarvis St. is not, at present, part of the development proposal that came in on Dec. 29 for the block on the north side of Gerrard between Jarvis and Mutual Streets. The proposal envisions a mixed development, including one 25-storey tower, one 10-storey building and 306 residential units, with heritage buildings integrated into the project. Artist’s renderings show the new buildings encircling the squat Harvey’s on the northwest corner of Gerrard and Jarvis. Its manager said he did not know of any plans to close it.

In a sense, though, Hooker Harvey’s is already gone. The days when Jarvis Street was a busy “stroll” where cars would pull up to the curb at night to negotiate terms with skimpily dressed women are mostly past. In those days, the Harvey’s was the centre of a lurid late-night parade. All sorts of sights could be absorbed from its big plate-glass windows. Asked what he has seen over the years, the manager answers: “Everything.”

Today, like so many once-sketchy corners of old Toronto, the district around Harvey’s is changing fast. New residents who embrace city living are moving in, part of a continentwide trend of reviving big-city downtowns. Two great big holes in the ground just to the south of Harvey’s, at Dundas and Jarvis, signal that new towers are about to rise there as Toronto’s condo craze continues.

[URBAN NOTE] "Toronto creating first indigenous business district"

Metro Toronto's Gilbert Ngabo reported this morning about plans to create an indigenous business district in downtown Toronto, around Dundas and Jarvis. I like the idea, but I'm also reminded of the 2011 initiative to create a French neighbourhood. (Coincidentally enough, Toronto's Francophones are concentrated near Dundas and Jarvis.) That project may have failed because of the diversity of Toronto's different Francophone populations, and because of the lack of a historic centre. Can this First Nations quarter encounter a different fate? I wonder, and hope.

The city boasts ethnic enclaves from Little India to Little Italy – there are even two Chinatowns – but there’s no area dedicated to the city’s indigenous roots.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam wants to change that. Through partnerships with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations, she’s working to secure 1,300 square metres of land near Dundas and Jarvis streets for the project.

The district could be a gathering place for indigenous entrepreneurs, Wong-Tam said, or serve as a venue for cultural events.

As someone of a Chinese descent who can always trace her heritage in the city, Wong-Tam says the lack of indigenous visibility in Toronto is “shocking.”

“They’ve been here the longest but you’ll not find an Aboriginal BIA that’s not tied to a land treaty or a reserve,” she said.

[URBAN NOTE] "A taste of real winter and Vancouver just can’t keep it together"

I post Gary Mason's Friday column in The Globe and Mail mainly so that I can criticize it. Does it make sense to criticize Vancouver for not being prepared for an unexpected bout of weather? I write this, incidentally, on a day in Toronto where some centimetres of softly falling snow seem to be on the verge of shutting the town down.

Every few years or so, Vancouver gets to do something it does better than any other city in the country: embarrass itself.

This occurs when there is a snowfall. And when this happens, the rest of the country gets to laugh as the snowflakes that call Vancouver home melt into a puddle of tears and self-pity. Yet the hysteria that has greeted winter this year has set historic records for wailing and chuntering.

For those who haven’t heard, Vancouver has been experiencing a few weeks of real, genuine, Canadian winter. They are conditions the rest of the country (and B.C.) greets with a yawn around this time of year. But in Vancouver, it has touched off near riots.

There are now calls for an independent inquiry into how the city has managed the recent spate of snow and freezing rain. Yes, you read that correctly: an inquiry.

Look, I get that the city could have been better organized for the blast of winter it has received. It lost a gamble that the weather would warm, and the ice on the streets and sidewalks would melt. To be fair though, Vancouver is experiencing a weather reality it hasn’t faced in three decades.

[LINK] "Marineland charged with six new counts of animal cruelty"

For people like myself who look back on visits to Marineland wtih fond memories, news like this shared by the Toronto Star's Sammy Hudes is terribly depressing.

Ontario’s animal welfare agency announced six new animal cruelty and neglect charges against Marineland on Monday as part of a continuing investigation into the care of land mammals at the theme park.

The charges include one count each for permitting elk, red deer and fallow deer to be in distress. They also include one count each for failing to provide prescribed standards of care.

“Essentially, animals being in distress can relate to not being provided with adequate care: food, water, shelter, necessary veterinary care in some cases,” said Jennifer Bluhm, deputy chief of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Bluhm said the new charges stem from the same investigation that resulted in the Niagara Falls, Ont. attraction being charged with five counts of animal cruelty in late November.

Those charges were related to the treatment of peacocks, guinea hens and black bears.

[URBAN NOTE] "Province backs and will fund supervised injection sites in Toronto"

David Rider and Jennifer Pagliaro describe in the Toronto Star how the Province of Ontario will not only be supporting but actually funding supervised injection sites in Toronto. This harm reduction strikes me as critical, especially as fentanyl approaches.

Overdose deaths of more than 250 Torontonians a year is a preventable “epidemic,” the city’s public health boss declared as Ontario agreed to fund supervised drug injection services at three sites.

The opioid crisis “is having a devastating impact on individuals, on their families and on our community,” Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Toronto’s acting medical officer of health, warned at an inaugural monthly meeting after marshalling those involved in the struggle, including police and drug users.

Hours before the gathering, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins confirmed the province will pay to install and operate sites at three health centres where users will inject their own illegal drugs under medical supervision.

“I believe that community-supported and community-run supervised injection services will not only save lives, but also must be part of a larger strategy for harm reduction and supports for people struggling with addiction,” Hoskins said in a statement.

[URBAN NOTE] "TTC blames service cuts on streetcar delays"

The Toronto Star looks at one way Bombardier's late delivery of streetcars is affecting service.

Starting Monday, the transit agency has reduced morning rush hour service on 13 routes. The changes mean that buses will come less frequently, with customers on most of the affected lines facing wait times one or two minutes longer than usual. One route, the 51 Leslie, will also have service cut back during the afternoon rush hour.

TTC spokesperson Brad Ross said the root cause of the service reductions is the delayed delivery of new streetcars from rail manufacturer Bombardier. He said that the shortage of new streetcars, combined with the need to run buses on portions of streetcar routes due to construction projects, has overstretched the bus fleet.

“We simply don’t have the number of buses that we need,” he said.

According to Ross, the TTC trimmed service on routes where doing so would have the least impact. “Our customers will notice minimal difference, if any,” he said. He conceded that less frequent service could mean some of the routes will exceed the TTC’s crowding standards, however.

Some of the routes that will see less service are among the TTC’s busiest, including the 32 Eglinton West and 85 Sheppard East. The Eglinton West line will be served by about 27 bus trips an hour instead of about 28, while the Sheppard East will have its headways increased by one to two minutes.

[URBAN NOTE] "I'm a TTC fare evader"

The pseudonymous NOW Toronto article written by one Cliff G. does not convince me. I think I might make about as much money as Cliff, but I wouldn't think of evading the TTC. But who knows? Maybe he has a point still about prices being too high.

Yup, I frequently use the TTC and hardly ever pay. How? Well that’ll stay my secret for the time being. Do I feel guilty about it? Not really.

Here’s the thing. My income does not meet the minimum poverty level. So without regular, full-time employment I just can’t afford to get around this wondrous city.

Cars are great. They can take you almost anywhere – if you can afford to buy one and pay for the gas. And repairs. And insurance. And parking.

Alas, biking in winter is something not to be taken lightly. Besides, Toronto is the bicycle theft capital of North America. So where does that leave people like me? Walking? I love my neighbourhood but in a city like Toronto there should be no barriers to public transit. None.

A round trip adult cash fare is $6.50. That’s a meal off my table. I have to really need to be somewhere before deciding to spend that kind of money on transit.

[URBAN NOTE] "In Hamilton, Ont., an onslaught of millennials escaping the bidding wars and mortgages

The National Post carries Sean Fitzgerald's Postmedia News article examining how Hamilton is becoming a hub for millennial migrants, particularly from expensive Toronto.

According to a 2016 study by the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton, there are now more millennials than baby boomers living in Hamilton, with millennials making up 27.58% of the city’s population — which is above the provincial average of 26.84%.

It’s a shift that’s been happening in the past few years, with the city’s millennial population – people aged 20 to 34 – increasing 9.9% between 2011 and 2015, according to Statistics Canada. In comparison, Toronto has only seen an increase of 5.85%.

Erwin Szeto, a real estate investor based in Hamilton, says the trend has been on his radar for a few years now.

“About three years ago, our market started behaving more like Toronto’s, where offers were much more aggressive,” he says. “I talk to my property managers regularly, and more than half the tenant applications are coming from the GTA area. We’ve known it’s been coming for a while.”

Hamilton has a number of appealing qualities for Torontonians, he says, including a vibrant arts scene, a low unemployment rate, close proximity to T.O., the new West Harbour GO Train station and a fun and rejuvenated downtown area. Oh, and the parking’s cheaper, too.

[AH] What would have come of an independent Prince Edward Island?

In an article by CBC News' Sara Fraser looking at how Prince Edward Island has had its choice of Confederation-related anniversaries lately now that we're nearing the 150th--the Charlottetown Conference of 1864, the formation of Canada in 1867, the entry of Prince Edward Island into Confederation in 1873--local historian and folklorist David Weale raised the question of whether Confederation was necessary for the Island.

"The real problem on P.E.I. is that there is a really interesting story associated with Confederation and P.E.I. and we've turned it into a boring story," he said from his Charlottetown home.

In 1864, he points out, Islanders wanted nothing to do with Confederation — P.E.I. politicians didn't even really want to discuss Maritime union.

"Islanders had this feisty, independent spirit that they wanted to go on their own," Weale said. P.E.I. was prospering, its population was booming and Island politicians had even held independent talks with the U.S. on free trade.

"Islanders have probably never been united on any other issue as much as they were in their desire to be independent and to stay out of Confederation," Weale said. One Summerside newspaper, he said, was actively campaigning for P.E.I. to become a U.S. state.

"We'd been fighting against the British government control of us — now did we just want to turn it over to some people in Ontario? That was playing out in their minds," Weale said.

They were "heady times," he said, but whether P.E.I. would have been better off independent, he admits he doesn't know — but that's not exactly the point. It's the whitewashing, whether intentional or through ignorance, that bothers him more.

As a fan of alternate history, I would suggest that we can develop a reasonably good idea as to whether or not Prince Edward Island would have been better off independent. Francis Bulger's "Prince Edward Island and Confederation 1863-1873", published in 1961 in the Report of the Canadian Catholic Historical Association, observes that the entry of Prince Edward Island into Confederation was triggered by economic catastrophe, the costs of building the Prince Edward Island Railway forcing the Island to choose between Confederation and bankruptcy.

Since Prince Edward Island had rejected Confederation based upon the Quebec Resolutions because it considered such a scheme “would prove politically, commercially and financially disastrous to the rights and best interests of its people,” the Dominion realized that it would have to make a more generous settlement to offset these declared disadvantages if it were to succeed in inducing the Island to enter Confederation. Accordingly, the terms of Confederation offered to Prince Edward Island in 1869 were more generous than those provided by the Quebec Resolutions. The new provisions were “better” in that the Dominion government promised to establish efficient steam service and constant communication between the Island and the Mainland and to provide a loan of $800,000 to enable the Island to purchase the proprietary lands if this compensation could not be obtained from the Imperial government.

The attitude of Prince Edward Islanders to these proposals revealed that they were still so bent on maintaining their independence that as the Dominion offered more concessions they were prepared to demand additional ones. They refused to accept the new proposals. They maintained that the proposed terms did not include an adequate solution of the land question because the $800,000 compensation should come from the Imperial government accompanied by a guarantee that the proprietors would be compelled to sell their lands. They also asserted that the Dominion should build a railway on the Island. The reaction of Prince Edward Island to the “better terms” made it apparent that only the presence of some compelling crisis would ever induce it to enter into union with Canada.

In the year 1871 the Island government unwittingly took a step that was destined to provide the emergency which led to Confederation. In the session of the Legislature of that year a railway bill was passed which was decisive in making the Island a province of the Dominion. Two years later railway liabilities so imperilled the Island’s position in the money market and brought its economy so close to callapse that the Island government reluctantly admitted that Confederation was the only possible solution. Delegates from the Island entered into negotiations with the Dominion and submitted terms of Confederation to the electors. The people were informed that their independence could not be maintained any longer since the Island was encumbered with a debt entirely disproportionate to its resources. They were also advised that increased taxation, besides being unbearable, would only postpone the inevitable which in the end would have to be accepted. The people reluctantly yielded to these arguments.

The role played by Prince Edward Island in the final act of the Confederation drama was in perfect harmony with previous performances. Confederation was viewed primarily in terms of the financial settlement. The electors while voting in favour of the principle of Confederation gave the mandate to the party that promised to secure still better terms of admission. The new government entered into further negotiations with the Dominion and obtained a few additional concessions. In May, 1873, the new terms were carried almost unanimously by the Island Legislature. Local patriotism had finally been forced to yield to economic necessity and on July 1, 1873 Prince Edward Island became a province of the Dominion of Canada.

Note, too, that the other major provision of the Island's entry into Confederation was the buying out of absentee landlords, overseas proprietors who owned the land of the province.

Without the Island's entry into Confederation, what could have happened but catastrophe? The province was unable to finance its debts, and Confederation was the only bailout that the British Empire was willing to offer. Had the Island persisted in maintaining its independence in Canada, the only outcome imaginable would be that of a failed state. Long before then, I suspect that popular pressure for relief on any terms would have seen Prince Edward Island join its larger neighbour, the only difference being much avoidable suffering.

If the Island had not entered into the destructive plan to build a railroad--why not is beyond me, since a railroad seemed to be a popular and rational way to further the economic development of the province--could it have done better? Was there potential, as Weale suggests, that were left unfulfilled? For the Maritimes as a whole, perhaps: Nova Scotia was a province particularly well-positioned to experience a mercantile industrial revolution, but the whole of the Maritimes could conceivably have shared.

What of the Island specifically, almost wholly agricultural, without significant industrial resources, and--until Anne of Green Gables--without any other economic resources of note but its mobile workforce? Was there the potential for the Island specifically to develop somehow, to avoid being the agrarian source of labourers that it was almost to the end of the 20th century? I would argue that the necessary resources were not there, that the Island developed much as you would expect any peripheral agricultural region on the fringes of booming industrial areas to develop. The Island's pre-Confederation economic model, with the most promising proto-industrial sector being wooden shipbuilding, was failing by the 1860s. The scale of emigration had become so huge by the 1890s as to cause net population decline, but as Amanda Creamer noted emigration to New England had begun on a substantial scale as early as the 1850s in response to local problems.

Even in a best-case scenario, Prince Edward Island and its population would seem likely to lose out. Abandoning membership in a much larger and wealthier Canada would deprive the Island of resources that it simply lacked the wherewithal to acquire on its own, while independence would be unlikely to bring about a positive economic transformation. Particularly with absentee landlordism playing a role, the case could be made that Island agriculture would be worse off, and where agriculture went so would the entire Island. An independent Prince Edward Island might do better than Newfoundland, in that its agrarian economy would be more self-sustained, but not much better.