January 29th, 2017


[PHOTO] Abandoned, 3950 Colonial Avenue, Montréal

Literally around the corner from Schwartz's in Montréal, walking east on rue Napoléon in the Plateau, I saw on the northwest corner where Napoléon meets avenue Coloniale this building striking in its disrepair.

Abandoned, 3950 Colonial Avenue (1)

The above photo was one I shared immediately on Instagram. The three below are ones I took with my canon and shared today.

Abandoned, 3950 Colonial Avenue (2)

Abandoned, 3950 Colonial Avenue (3)

Abandoned, 3950 Colonial Avenue (4)

This building has been in disrepair for some time. Philippe Du Berger's post on Flickr, dated the 31st of October, 2012, states the building dated from 1870 and that the façade had been stripped for later repair. Nothing happened then or immediately afterwards. A 23 May 2013 post on the tumblr of VVoyons shows the only thing that changed was the building's slide into disrepair. The website of the city of Montréal, meanwhile, claims that this building is for sale at a price of just over 700 thousand dollars, and that the land would sell for a bit more than a third that price.

[BLOG] Some Sunday links

  • blogTO notes concerns in Church and Wellesley about a spike of reported anti-gay violence.

  • Crooked Timber looks at the shambolic mess that is the Republican healthcare plan.

  • Language Hat links to an article concerned with the question of how to try cracking the Indus Valley script.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that the malevolence and incompetence of the Trump Administration are record-breaking.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer notes that the proposed border tax on Mexican imports is likely workable for all the major actors.

  • Strange Maps examines with maps how families of landowners centuries old still own huge swathes of downtown London.

  • Une heure de peine's Denis Colombi examines, in French and in the French political context, the idea of a guaranteed minimum income.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy shares Emma Lazarus' poem "The New Colossus" welcoming refugees to American shores.

  • Window on Eurasia notes the concerns of one Tatar historian that Russian federalism is being undermined and looks at the consequences of Putin's chat with Trump.

[URBAN NOTE] "Parks as natural places for engagement across difference"

Spacing's Jake Tobin Garrett has an interview with Jay Pitter looking at how parks can be critical bits of public space, especially in a multicultural community.

Jake Tobin Garrett: The vision of the organization you work for, the Inspirit Foundation, is to create a more inclusive and pluralist Canada where differences are valued and engaged. How do you see that vision relating to parks and public spaces?

Jay Pitter: In addition to acknowledging and addressing systemic inequities, we believe that encouraging an inclusive and pluralist Canada is predicated on encouraging people to engage each other across difference. The public realm plays a large role in that. The Inspirit Foundation supports many projects that leverage the public realm to bring people together to address issues that are paramount within their local context.

For instance, we funded an Edmonton-based project called iHuman. The project provides supports for Indigenous youth, many of whom are street-involved, to engage with the broader community in the public realm. Last year they hosted a block party and there were performances and workshops led by Indigenous youth who are street-involved engaging the wider community. What’s really exciting about this project is it really recast Indigenous youth who are experiencing homelessness from being a vulnerable to powerful. The project demonstrates their capacity not just their struggles; the public realm plays an integral role in amplifying this respectful approach to youth engagement and addressing systemic exclusion.

[URBAN NOTE] On the 11th anniversary of Steve Munro's blog and Toronto transit problems

Steve Munro recently celebrated the 11th anniversary of his Toronto transit blog by warning that the treatment of Toronto mass transit has become dominated by political appearances and stunningly lacks any appreciation of--for instance--the need to adequately fund mass transit.

Regular readers have probably noticed that some of my writing, both here and on social media, has become less tolerant, less willing to accept the premise that the politicians who serve us are simply misguided and open to reasonable argument. That’s total bullshit, and the pols are as self-serving as ever, facts be damned. “Playing nice” only invites the assumption that one can be ignored.

The most recent news, that Premier Wynne has decided that investing in transit should not cost people anything, is only the most ridiculous in a long line of crazy plans for municipal transportation and financing. [. . .]

Provincial transportation policy for the last decade has focused on voters in the 905, some of whom might actually use transit. Long ago, when “The Big Move” master plan was still a new idea, it was clear, and acknowledged by Metrolinx, that this plan would at best keep congestion from getting any worse than today by diverting most growth onto new transit lines. The Big Problem, however, was the plan’s concentration of capacity on trips bound for Toronto’s core while largely ignoring trips between the outer 416 and within the 905 region and beyond.

Local transit was somebody else’s problem, and only recently has Metrolinx acknowledged that their fully built-out network cannot work without a robust set of local services to ferry people to and from the GO stations. And if you don’t live on a rail corridor? So sad. We might run a bus now and then.

Metrolinx itself is a huge problem. It is a secretive organization meeting only occasionally in public, and then with carefully choreographed sessions in which there is far too little critical discussion of policy options. The organization, especially under the current Minister, seems to exist primarily as a provider of photo ops. The operational side, GO Transit, muddles along providing service within a constained budget, while follies such as the Union Pearson Express and Presto burn through millions with little accountability.

[URBAN NOTE] "Toronto housing shortage verging on crisis levels"

blogTO's Derek Flack warns about the worsening of Toronto's housing shortage.

In the latest bit of troubling news related to Toronto's real estate market comes a report from the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), which suggests the city's soaring housing prices are a sign of trouble on the horizon.

"We have a shortage of housing supply in the GTA that is approaching crisis levels,” BILD President and CEO Bryan Tuckey said in a press release.

This lack of inventory is driving prices to record highs with no let up in demand. The average price for a detached home in the GTA reached $1,264,604 at the end of 2016, marking an increase of $273,000 in the last 12 months according to BILD's figures.

“Housing is selling as quickly as the industry can bring it to market and the lack of developable land that is serviced with infrastructure, excessive red tape, out-of-date zoning and NIMBYism are hindering our ability to bring more to the market.”

[URBAN NOTE] "A convenience store’s second life"

In Friday's issue of The Globe and Mail, Jeremiah Shamess and John Lorinc report on the unexpected problems encountered with retrofitting an old convenience store in Toronto's Seaton Village, in my neighbourhood, into residential space.

In 2012, when Jeremiah Shamess and Travis Goodhand bought an old convenience store at 134 Pendrith Ave., deep in a residential neighbourhood near Dupont and Ossington, for $815,000, they reckoned that they could remake the spacious corner building into a triplex with luxury apartments.

Or, in those moments when they were thinking more expansively, they figured they could add a floor, a roof-top patio and re-position the retail space as a “bodega” – a small European-style café that also sold a selection of groceries.

In either case, the partners saw an infill investment project that could produce some income by adding value to a well-located and highly flexible building in need of some upgrading.

But by the time Mr. Shamess, a commercial real estate broker, and Mr. Goodhand, a structural engineer, finally put it on the market last fall, they had learned a few important lessons about both the possibilities and limitations of repurposing the ghost retail stores that dot the dense former working-class neighbourhoods that extend in a swath from Victoria Park all the way over to Roncesvalles.

“Our thinking was, ‘Let’s make high-end rental units in an interesting neighbourhood,’ ” Mr. Shamess says. While finding tenants was easy enough, the financing and selling proved somewhat tricky, and this despite the abundance of cheap credit and a market crying out for product. “It was harder than we thought.”

[URBAN NOTE] "Bloordale Residents Push for More Input on Planned Community Hub"

Torontoist's Nikhil Sharma reports on how locals in Bloordale have been aiming to have more say in what a new community hub, planned for the southwest corner of Bloor and Dufferin, will be like.

Andrea Nann is a homeowner in Toronto’s Bloordale neighbourhood and the parent of a Grade 12 student at Bloor Collegiate Institute. There’s a lot at stake in planning changes to her neighbourhood. Nann is a member of the Building a Better Bloordale Community Group, a collective of people concerned with the sale and redevelopment of Toronto District School Board property at the southwest corner of Bloor Street West and Dufferin Street.

A 30,000-square-foot community hub with a licensed child-care centre, as well as a new secondary school, is slated for the site. Ontario’s provincial government has also committed $20 million to the project. Last month, the City, Province, and the TDSB announced that Capital Developments purchased for $121.5 million the 7.3-acre site that was declared surplus by the TDSB in 2013.

Several schools in addition to Bloor CI used to operate on the site, but Kent Senior Public School closed in 2012 after the Board of Trustees voted in June 2010 to shut it down due to decreasing enrolment in the area. Brockton High School has been closed since 1995, but the building has been leased by many organizations over the years, including the TDSB’s Aboriginal Education Centre, the Royal Conservatory of Music, and non-profit food security organization FoodShare. About 900 students from Bloor CI and Alpha II Senior Alternative School—which currently operate under the same roof—will relocate to a new secondary school when it’s built.

Nann said members of her community group have been meeting regularly since November 2014, when the TDSB announced plans to sell the public land at Bloor and Dufferin.

[LINK] "Canadian dual citizens can travel freely to the U.S. despite Trump travel ban"

CBC News reports on the continuing confusion in American entry procedures for Canadians.

Canadian citizens can travel freely to the United States despite U.S. President Donald Trump's sweeping immigration order that bans visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, the Prime Minister's Office says.

Saturday's news came hours after the U.S. State Department told CBC News the 90-day travel ban covers all people who have a nationality or dual nationality with Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen — which would include tens of thousands of Canadians.

"We have been assured that Canadian citizens travelling on Canadian passport will be dealt with ‎in the usual process," Kate Purchase, spokeswoman for the Prime Minister's Office, said in a statement.

[. . .]

Trump's executive order on Friday curbs travel to the U.S. for people coming from the seven Muslim-majority countries. In an email to CBC News earlier on Saturday, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said: "Beginning January 27, 2017, travellers who have nationality or dual nationality of one of these countries will not be permitted for 90 days to enter the United States or be issued an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa."

"Those nationals or dual nationals holding valid immigrant or nonimmigrant visas will not be permitted to enter the United States during this period."​

It's not clear at this point whether the ban affects dual nationals who have citizenship with one of the banned countries and another country outside of Canada.

[LINK] "Canadian tech leaders ask Ottawa for temporary visas after Trump order"

The Globe and Mail's Tom Kiladze reports on an initiative by Canadian tech startup companies that, besides being humanitarian, may also work out to be something really advantageous for Canada in the long run.

A collection of Canada’s top technology leaders is asking Ottawa to provide “immediate and targeted” assistance, including temporary residency, to those displaced by President Donald Trump’s executive order that bans entry to the United States for citizens of seven countries.

In a statement, the leaders, who include Wattpad chief executive officer Allen Lau, Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke, TechGirls Canada founder Saadia Muzaffar and Wealthsimple CEO Michael Katchen, ask the federal government to provide visas to people displaced by the executive order.

“This visa would allow these residents to live and work in Canada with access to benefits until such time as they can complete the application process for permanent residency if they so choose,” the group wrote. More than 200 people have signed the open letter to show their support.

The Canadian tech community has long stressed that diversity is one of its strengths – as well as one of Canada’s – but the decision to boldly ask the federal government to take action in the face of the new U.S. order is a sign of its evolution.

Until recently, the country’s tech community was thought of as a collection of small startups likely to be acquired by larger American tech companies. Lately, though, it has grown up, and in the last few months there is additional buzz about its potential – particularly around artificial intelligence. Former Facebook executive Steve Irvine recently left the Silicon Valley giant to start a Toronto-based AI company.

[URBAN NOTE] "Toronto's changing Chinatown: who is it for?"

NOW Toronto's Michelle da Silva reports on how Toronto's main Chinatown, along Spadina Avenue, has been changing with growing immigration and diversification among Chinese Canadians. Where is the neighbourhood heading?

When Craig Wong lived in Paris in his early 20s, he felt deeply homesick. He was there to cook for renowned chef Alain Ducasse after attending culinary school at Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon. On his days off, he'd wander the 13th arrondissement of the capital, where Chinatown is located.

The Scarborough-raised chef, after spending most of his waking hours cooking high-end French food, missed the flavours of home, the ones that reminded him of Toronto's Chinatown: the cacophony of Chinese dialects weaving in and out of erhu music, the sight of roasted pork glistening in restaurant windows and the scent of dried mushrooms and tea leaves floating from herbal shops. Paris didn't cut it.

"It was the shittiest Chinatown I'd ever seen," he recalls, seated at a table at the recently opened Jackpot Chicken Rice, his trendy new casual restaurant on Spadina. "The way they treated Chinese food was really bad."

As for many Canadians of Chinese heritage, many of Wong's formative memories are deeply rooted in the stretch of Spadina around Dundas. He can point to the grocery stores and restaurants he used to frequent with family, and the house his dad lived in for a short time on Baldwin.

As a teen, Wong would skip school with Ivy Lam, his high school sweetheart and now wife, and end up at the "banh mi shop with the green sign" located, coincidentally, in exactly the same space that Jackpot now occupies.

In the 1980s, the Chinatown at Spadina and Dundas looked remarkably similar to today's. Its residents, however, were different - mostly Taishanese people from China's southern Guangdong province, to which Wong traces his family lineage. Today the dominant Chinese population is Fujianese. Toronto's other Chinatown at Broadview and Gerrard had, and has, a mix of Chinese and Vietnamese. Both districts grew out of the Chinatown that ran along Elizabeth Street in the Ward, a so-called slum populated by immigrants including European Jews, Italians, African-Americans and Chinese settlers following the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

[LINK] "The Suicide Bomber Next Door"

In the latest issue of Toronto Life, Lauren McKeon examines the short and sad life of Aaron Driver, a small-town Canadian who became so lost after family traumas--a mother's early death, a stillborn child--that he managed to join up with ISIS online, eventually to die in a confrontation with police.

Aaron Driver was a sunny, easygoing kid with knobby knees and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles obsession. Born in Regina in 1991 to Wayne, a long-haul trucker, and Linda, a stay-at-home mom, he was a late addition to his family. His sister, Eileen, was already 12, and his brother, Rob, was 10. Wayne often spent weeks on the road, and, in his absence, Aaron became inseparable from his mom. He’d do anything to make her happy—clean his room, do his homework, take out the garbage.

Wayne, a devout Christian, had always planned to become a pastor, but he never finished divinity school. Instead, he worked a succession of contract jobs. The Drivers moved around constantly, jumping across Canada from Regina to Kitchener to Port Colborne. On Sundays, they would go to church, then pack a picnic lunch and head to a nearby beach on Lake Erie.

Everything changed when Aaron was seven. Doctors discovered an inoperable tumour in his mom’s brain. Aaron didn’t understand how sick she was until his dad brought him to the hospital to see her undergo radiation. That’s when it sunk in: she wasn’t going to be okay. Aaron grew quiet and withdrawn, spending entire days in the hospital room with his mom.

A few months after Linda was diagnosed, she fell into a coma and never woke up. Aaron was inconsolable. He and his father were suddenly on their own—his older siblings had already moved out—and Aaron found the loneliness unbearable. In the following months, he often refused to get out of bed to go to school. He stopped eating his lunches, telling Wayne that, if he starved himself to death, he could be with his mom in heaven.

When Aaron was nine, his dad met a woman named Monica on a Christian dating site. Aaron seemed to like her at first, but that changed when, several months later, she and Wayne announced they were getting married. Aaron snapped. He raged and screamed, telling his dad nobody would ever replace his mom—and that he wished Wayne had died instead. Wayne took Aaron to a Christian bereavement counsellor, but his son refused to participate. He tried again with a psychiatrist and had to drag Aaron into the office; he sat through the entire appointment in silence. When Wayne brought a family counsellor in for home sessions, Aaron would storm out of the room. Eventually, Wayne stopped trying altogether.