January 11th, 2017

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Centauri Dreams looks at the upgrading of the European Southern Observatory in order to investigate the Alpha Centauri system.

  • Dangerous Minds shares some vintage drag and gay club matchbook covers.

  • The Frailest Thing quotes Hannah Arendt on what it means to live in dark times.

  • Joe. My. God. notes Jeff Sessions' less than convincing defense of same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at the unstable white supremacist base.

  • Marginal Revolution takes a look at some interesting conflicts in American government.

  • At the NYRB Daily, Masha Gessen is less than convinced by the intelligence evidence offered up against Trump.

  • Torontoist notes that the most recently proposed Scarborough subway extension is not going through.

  • Window on Eurasia looks at the collapse of Russia's print media owing to falling readership.

[URBAN NOTE] "Quirky Exterior Details Appear as Casey House Nears Completion"

Urban Toronto's Jack Landau reports on the interesting new renovations expected for Casey House, Toronto's long-standing HIV/AIDS hospice.

The 1875-built William R. Johnston House—formerly known as the Grey Lady of Jarvis Street—is now awash with colour, as exterior details appear at the Jarvis and Isabella construction site. The home is becoming the Jarvis Street face for a brand new Casey House expansion. Years of paint and grime have been meticulously cleaned from the historic house's red brick exterior, while a modern addition designed by architect Siamak Hariri of Hariri Pontarini Architects will soon be home to a much improved HIV/AIDS care facility.

Following the 2014 start of restoration on the existing building, construction of the 58,000 ft² addition commenced in Spring 2015 with a ceremonial ground breaking event, followed a year later by the April 2016 topping off of the four-storey addition. By this past December, work on Casey House's exterior was substantially complete, and work is now being carried out on the interior build-out and final exterior elements before the building's anticipated early 2017 opening.

Inspired by memorial quilts made by volunteers to honour past Casey House patients lost to HIV/AIDS, Siamak Hariri's design for the building incorporates a range of exterior finishes. This quilt effect is achieved through a mix of three different tones of reclaimed brick, crust-faced limestone, and a combination of mirrored and pattern-enameled glass.

[URBAN NOTE] "Toronto’s OCAD University may boast another city landmark"

The Globe and Mail's Alex Bozikovic describes plans for an architecturally interesting expansion to Toronto's OCAD University.

A decade ago, OCAD University changed Toronto’s streetscape with a box on stilts.

Now, the school may be about to do it again. OCAD announced Tuesday that its new “Creative City Campus,” a series of renovations and additions to its campus on McCaul Street, will be led by the Southern California architects Morphosis.

The project includes an addition to OCADU’s main building of about 55,000 square feet and a renovation of about 95,000 square feet. And with the engagement of Morphosis, led by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne, this building could redefine the university’s relationship with the city, and perhaps provide the city with a new architectural landmark.

The process hasn’t begun, but Monday, Mayne was clearly excited about the task at hand. “It’s a very interesting challenge,” he said. “We’re very interested in the education of art, the question of whether we can design an architecture that responds to that process.”

The effort includes a renovation and expansion of the university’s library, new studio and classroom spaces, a student commons and the construction of an Indigenous Visual Culture and Student Centre.

It is the biggest set of changes to the downtown campus since the school’s Sharp Centre for Design – the dramatic box-on-stilts designed by British architect Will Alsop – transformed the campus in 2004, becoming one of the most visible and highly publicized buildings in the city. And OCAD sits next to the Art Gallery of Ontario, whose redesign by Frank Gehry in 2008 made it another crucial piece of 21st-century architecture in the city.

[URBAN NOTE] "Historic building at 1 Front St. W. up for sale, and it won't be cheap"

CBC News' Trevor Dunn reports on the impending sale of the imposing Dominion Public Building, a Canadian government property literally located in the middle of Toronto. I can only imagine how much it will retail for in the end, and I can only hope it will go to some good ends.

A historic government building on a prime piece of downtown Toronto real estate is now on the market, fuelling speculation about its potential for redevelopment.

The Dominion Public Building, the five-storey curved concrete structure next door to Union Station, is being sold by Canada Lands Company (CLC), the crown corporation that acquires surplus federal government properties to manage their sale and redevelopment.

CLC acquired the 33,662 square metre building and 0.775-hectare lot from the federal government on Jan. 3. Neither side would disclose the sale price.

"The Government of Canada is committed to obtaining the best value for Canadians while managing large and complex property portfolios," Jeremy Link, spokesperson for Public Services and Procurement Canada said in a statement to CBC Toronto.

With the property now in CLC hands, the crown corporation isn't speculating on what it hopes to fetch on the open market.

[URBAN NOTE] "Toronto now counting the deaths of homeless people"

Part of me is surprised by the news, as reported by the Toronto Star's Kenyon Wallace and Mary Ormsby, that Toronto was not keeping systematic track of the many hundreds of homeless dead. More of me is unsurprised.

Toronto’s top public health official says the city’s new program to track all homeless deaths will provide invaluable data to better assist and house vulnerable populations.

“The full scope of this problem has been unknown,” said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Toronto’s Acting Medical Officer of Health, speaking at the Church of the Holy Trinity.

“What we needed was information from the many health and social service agencies which work closely with individuals experiencing homelessness or who are marginally housed.”

The initiative, which began Jan. 1, was officially launched Tuesday with a press conference at the church, the site of the Toronto Homeless Memorial where an unofficial list is kept of more than 800 GTA homeless people who died since the mid-1980s.

The tracking system will collect information such as age, gender, unofficial cause of death and the location of the death, and whether the deceased is of indigenous heritage, said Yaffe. Names will be kept confidential.

[URBAN NOTE] "A guide to the hidden spaces of the TTC"

blogTO's Derek Flack takes a look at some hidden spaces on the TTC network, starting with infamous Lower Bay station.

Lower Bay Station (or, as the TTC refers to it, Bay Lower) is surely the best known of Toronto's hidden underground spaces. The ghost subway station was in service briefly in 1966 when the TTC tried its interlining system, which turned the city's two subway routes into three.

One platform serviced the Bloor-Danforth Route, while the other was a stop on the Danforth-University-Yonge Route. The experiment failed for a number of reasons, and the lower platform was promptly decommissioned.

It now serves as an area for training exercises and film shoots, though it has also been opened to the public for events like Nuit Blanche in the past.

Lower Bay isn't the only ghost station on the TTC, though. Underneath Queen Station, there's the shell of a streetcar subway station that would likely have taken the name City Hall, but is now typically referred to as Lower Queen or Queen Lower.

It was partially built in anticipation of Queen Street transit line that was never built.

[LINK] "Chrystia Freeland: Trudeau's first star candidate becomes his brand ambassador"

CBC News' Aaron Wherry looks at the ascent of Chrystia Freeland, a Liberal star candidate in the last election, to the position of Canadian foreign affairs minister.

Chrystia Freeland, the new foreign affairs minister, wasn't quite the first Justin Trudeau Liberal — Yvonne Jones was elected in a byelection a month after he became party leader — but she was his first star candidate, wooed by Trudeau and his advisers to hold the Liberal bastion of Toronto-Centre.

Her turn to politics in 2013 came on the heels of her acclaimed book, Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, and her reporting on economic inequality converged with Trudeau's increasing focus on the middle class.

Her curriculum vitae reads like the model of a certain Liberal ideal: a worldly, Harvard-educated journalist who has worked in Moscow and New York, writing and talking about international politics and global finance while in the employ of some of the most revered companies in international media. (Her familial roots in Peace River, Alta., help to take some of the edge off her cosmopolitan bona fides.)

Before she was even elected, she was made a co-chair of the economic advisory council of MPs and wonks that would inform the Liberal platform. Immediately upon arriving in Ottawa, she became a prominent voice on Russian interference in Ukraine, her ancestral homeland.

During 14 months as the minister of international trade, she completed a deal with the European Union — famously emoting in public at one point during negotiations and later hugging her Conservative predecessor in the Commons — and apparently worked to improve her French.

[LINK] "China Plans To Land Probes on Far Side of Moon, Mars by 2020"

This news comes from the end of 2016, but it's still quite good. May China continue to progress in space travel, for the benefit of us all.

China vowed Tuesday to speed up the development of its space industry as it set out its plans to become the first country to soft land a probe on the far side of the moon, around 2018, and launch its first Mars probe by 2020.

"To explore the vast cosmos, develop the space industry and build China into a space power is a dream we pursue unremittingly," read a white paper setting out the country's space strategy for the next five years. It says China aims to use space for peaceful purposes and to guarantee national security, and to carry out cutting edge scientific research.

The white paper released by the information office of China's Cabinet points to the growing ambitions of China's already rapidly advancing space program. Although the white paper doesn't mention it, China's eventual goal is the symbolic feat of landing an astronaut on the moon.

While Russia and the United States have more experience in manned space travel, China's military-backed program has made steady progress in a comparatively short time.

Since China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, it has staged a spacewalk and landed a rover on the moon in 2013 -- the first time humans had soft landed anything on the moon since the 1970s.

[LINK] "California Floods Its Fields to Keep Its Cities From Flooding"

Wired's Nick Stockton reports from Claifornia in the time of flooding, looking at how its water management authorities are preventing the state capital from getting overwhelmed by water so soon after the devastation of drought.

To see how close California is to being drowned by its recent winter storms, just look to the small crowd of spectators and TV newscasters gathered yesterday on the northwest side of the state capital hoping to watch state water managers open the gates of the Sacramento Weir. The weir, something between a dam and a levee, lets dangerously high water spill over its top into a long, narrow, floodplain filled with rice paddies, grain fields, and other row crops.

Californians pay attention to the weir for three reasons. One: People here are obsessed with water. Two: The thing hasn’t been opened in a decade. Three: Opening the 100-year old piece of infrastructure is a spectacle, requiring a person wielding a long, hooked pole to manually unlatch each of its 48 wooden floodgates. The crowd slept through that spectacle; state workers opened the weir in the dark, early this morning. They can still catch the sight of water thundering over the weir and into the Yolo Bypass, flooding the plain to protect the city of Sacramento.

From 1850 on, Sacramento has flooded numerous times. This was why, in 1916, the city built the Sacramento Weir to protect itself. In the following decades, the state added five more upstream weirs, and several additional spillways. Besides the Sacramento Weir, all of these are automatic failsafes: If the river reaches a certain height, it spills over a weir into the adjoining bypass.

But because the Sacramento Weir’s gates must be manually opened, they must be manually closed, too. And that cannot be done until the water recedes below the weir gate levels. “Once you open them, you’re making a decision that you’re going to stick with,” says Michael Anderson, state climatologist for the California Department of Water Resources. And when that decision happens, Yolo Bypass becomes an inland sea. Birds flock in, and fish swim below.

[ISL] On PEI ranking among the best places to visit in the world, according to CNN

CBC Prince Edward Island was among the news sources to note that Prince Edward Island was listed first in CNN's list of the top places to go this year.

With Canada celebrating its 150th birthday in 2017, there's no finer excuse to head to the birthplace of the nation, Prince Edward Island.

Travelers are falling in love with the island's rocky red shores and picturesque fishing villages all over again thanks to several new TV and movie productions of the Lucy Maud Montgomery classic, "Anne of Green Gables."

The best way to explore the island's capital, Charlottetown, is on foot.

Many of the highlights are in the historic downtown core including the Charlottetown Province House -- the famed government building where the Charlottetown Conference took place in 1864. It was here that a small group of elected officials gathered to discuss the possibility of joining the region's independent provinces to create a singular nation.

Three years later, Canada's Constitution Act was passed by British Parliament and a new country was born.
Upscale restaurants have multiplied on the island in the last 10 years, taking advantage of the excellent local produce.

But there's nothing quite like an old fashioned lobster supper -- a massive gathering traditionally held in a cavernous community hall that ends with a table full of empty shells and butter-coated fingers.

Note that it did not rank #1, but instead was just the first entry. This is a distinction, I think, some people have passed over.