February 6th, 2017


[OBSCURA] Alex Colville, "To Prince Edward Island

I was given a challenge by Facebook's Paul: "The idea is to occupy Facebook with art, breaking up all the political posts. Whoever 'likes' this post will be given an artist and has to post a piece by that artist, along with this text." He gave me Alex Colville, and for me, after a certain amount of consideration, there was only one artist I could pick.

Alex Colville's "To Prince Edward Island" is my favourite work by the man. I was so pleased to see it in the AGO's 2014 Alex Colville exhibit--I even have a picture of me before it. What is the central figure looking at, and how did the ferry to the mainland (from the mainland?) get to be so exciting?

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • blogTO notes that the Honest Ed's sign is not going to be salvaged.

  • The Dragon's Gaze reports on the last of Kepler's detections.

  • Joe. My. God. notes the apology of the Church of England for the delivery of holy services in the gay slang language of Polari.

  • Language Log shares a triscriptal writing from California.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that government workers in the United States generally are revolting.

  • The Map Room Blog reports on someone hoping to draw fantasy-style maps of the fifty states of the Union.

  • Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen questions why people have issue with his model of dining out, which focus on restaurants not in the mainstream.

  • The NRYB Daily looks at the lost cartoons of Gerhard Richter.

  • Savage Minds looks at the problems of archeology in the era of alternative facts.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy examines the unconstitutionality of Trump's refugee order.

  • Window on Eurasia looks at recent negative trends in Russia's environmental policies.

[URBAN NOTE] "Reflections on the art of flânerie"

Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw reflects on his experience of being a flâneur, and the problems of said.

Introduced to the concept by a friend, there was a time when I was a most dedicated flaneur. Then I drifted away a little, although I introduced a remarkable number of people to the concept.

I think one of the reasons for my decline in flaneuring is that I started walking for exercise. This may be healthy, but it tends to defeats the point, the discoveries that can come from random idling.

I find that when walking for exercise I have in mind distance and time, two things in direct conflict with the art of flânerie. What's worse, I tend to get very bored and thus stop walking! Even the desire to achieve a minimum number of paces (10,000 per day appears to have become an almost universal target) provides insufficient incentive.

The irony, of course, is that I actually walked more as a flaneur than as an exerciser because I was simply more interested, was inclined to keep moving.

[URBAN NOTE] "As Toronto home prices soar, commuters will feel the pain"

The Globe and Mail's Oliver Moore looks at how the booming real estate market is set to ensure longer commute times for people in the Greater Toronto Area.

Frank Quinto wakes each work day at 5:30 a.m. He’s “suited and booted” by 6 a.m. and at the VIA station near his Brantford home by 7 a.m. By the time his train arrives at Union Station at 8:40 a.m. he’s read his e-mail, prepped for meetings and put on his self-titled professional “game face.” He transfers to the TTC for the 10-minute trip to his government office at Yonge and Bloor and arrives at his desk just before 9 a.m.

He leaves at 4:55 p.m. to catch the 5:30 VIA train home. There’s no GO train to Brantford, just the option of a bus from the Aldershot station in Burlington. He’s back home by 7 p.m.

Four hours a day commuting, five days a week. “Rinse and repeat for nearly seven years,” he says. It’s a daily grind, but one that lets him keep his downtown-based job while staying in the community in which he grew up, where the average price of a home sold in December was barely $300,000.

Toronto’s escalating housing market – up 22.3 per cent in January from a year earlier – is challenging not only buyers, but also the region’s infrastructure. Growth is being forced farther afield and lengthy commutes seem increasingly the norm. Where Hamilton used to seem far, communities even farther away are seeing new interest from buyers.

It’s no longer unthinkable that masses of workers will be travelling daily from Niagara Falls or Cobourg. And predicting if and when that will happen is the challenge for transportation and city planners trying to calculate how the Golden Horseshoe will grow and move in the coming decades.

[URBAN NOTE] "How Queen and Broadview's small businesses are losing to gentrification"

The Globe and Mail's Brad Wheeler reports from Queen and Broadview, where the closure of hamburger restaurant Dangerous Dan's signals the impending transformation of this Riverdale intersection.

The news this week that Dangerous Dan’s will close at the end of May hit Riversiders like a ton of ground beef. But while the venerable burger joint’s demise is a blow to the meat-loving masses, the restaurant’s passing is just another sign of the changing times at the junction of Queen and Broadview. For 18 years, from his window seat at the front of his bustling diner, Dangerous Dan’s owner James McKinnon has watched the corner gentrify, literally in front of his eyes. We got his grill-hot take on the morphing intersection.


Dangerous Dan’s (named after owner McKinnon’s grandfather) opened in 1999. Early in 2015, McKinnon put his business and lease up for sale. Corporate fast-food chain Pizza Nova bought the whole building, and now, after failing to come to a new lease agreement, McKinnon and his outrageous burger inventions (including such meat monstrosities as the Big Kevorkian and the Colossal Colon Clogger Combo) are leaving. Nearby, a new Korean fried chicken restaurant has opened. Kaboom Chicken attracts a crowd more hip than the blue-collar clientele of Dangerous Dan’s, but Mr. McKinnon never saw the eatery as competition. “The chains have half the market,” he says. “Little guys like me and Kaboom Chicken are just nibbling on the edges.” Speaking of chains, Pizza Nova released a statement this week saying it hadn’t decided on future plans for the corner location.

The other corners are covered, too.

[URBAN NOTE] "One of Toronto's architectural 'gems' could get a new lease on life"

CBC News' Mary Wiens reports on how the old Bank of Toronto building at 205 Yonge Street, south of Dundas, may yet be made into a boutique hotel combined with a museum. See also Peter Edwards' recent article for the Toronto Star.

The sign on the door of the grand old bank at 205 Yonge St. reads, "Don't sleep on the steps."

That kind of notice would not have done at all in 1905 when this building was erected as the Bank of Toronto on the city's most important avenue, a neo-classical temple serving both the city's growing wealth and traditional ideals of beauty.

The front doors have been locked for 15 years and the stunning white marble interior, with its black and gold detailing barred from public view.

But CBC Toronto has learned of negotiations underway this week that could see the building reopen as a combined museum and boutique hotel. The building's current owner, Irish businessman Thomas Farrell, has confirmed he is in the middle of negotiations with a prospective client to open and operate the building.

The building is designated as a heritage site with both the exterior and interior protected, which means finding the right tenant isn't easy.

[URBAN NOTE] "The business case for heritage building preservation"

Sharon Crowther reports from Edmonton for The Globe and Mail, where the issue of preserving the Albertan capital's heritage buildings is starting to make economic sense.

Heritage advocates in Edmonton are making the case that building preservation can not only beautify the city but make economic sense.

A new report commissioned by the Edmonton Historical Board says heritage properties in the city provide significant long-term return on investments for buyers and generate a greater return on taxpayer dollars.

“There’s been nothing like this before for Edmonton,” researcher and author Shirley Lowe says. “We modelled the report on one which was undertaken by the city of Savannah in Georgia. We added in environmental metrics which we felt were an important part of the picture here.”

Currently, Edmonton has 38 recognized heritage neighbourhoods, comprising 6 per cent of the city’s land area.

“Much of the city’s early pioneer buildings were torn down during the boom times,” explains Ms. Lowe, who is herself a heritage advocate. “We consider Edmonton’s current economic slowdown to be a good time to make our case.”

[URBAN NOTE] "Toronto shelters struggle to cope with surge in refugee claimants"

The Toronto Star's Nicholas Keung describes how incoming refugees--not only from Syria--are overwhelming the city's shelter system.

At one Toronto refugee shelter, a family with four kids was asked to give up one of their two rooms for a newly arrived family so both could have a roof over their heads.

At another, in the west end, a family of three stored their luggage in the staff office and spent the night in what’s supposed to be the TV room for other residents.

The recent shelter crunch has even prompted the Romero House, which has four locations in Toronto, to launch a community host program to ask neighbours, friends and supporters to open their homes to accommodate the overflow until a shelter bed is available for those knocking on its doors.

Since the beginning of the fall, the peak season for refugee arrivals, Toronto’s already strained refugee shelter system has been dealing with what some operators call an unprecedented bed shortage. Some operators are even referring callers to shelters in Hamilton.

The system is expected to be further strained with more asylum seekers anticipated to arrive via the United States after the Trump administration’s recent executive order to limit immigration and refugees that is widely viewed by the immigrant communities there as xenophobic.

[URBAN NOTE] "Foreign home buyers love Toronto for the schools: realtor"

CBC shares an interview with a realtor, Richard Silver from Sotheby's, talking about the factors attracting foreign buyers to the Toronto real estate market. They want to live here, they argue; they like the city.

Richard Silver, a Sotheby's realtor and past Toronto Real Estate Board president who works with foreign buyers, told Metro Morning host Matt Galloway that most of his foreign clients are coming to Toronto for educational and business opportunities, not just to park their money offshore, and that a foreign buyer tax would be a bad idea.

TREB is making a concerted effort to lobby against a possible foreign buyer tax on homes in Ontario, arguing that such a tax would be 'misguided' when just 4.9 per cent of its member agents acted on behalf a foreign buyer in 2016.

But Silver also said TREB's figure significantly understates the proportion of foreign buyers in the GTA, as it only captures home resales — not sales of new construction.

Matt: Galloway: Who are the foreign buyers that you're working with?

Richard Silver: You know, it changes. Right now we have been doing a lot of business with Asia, with people from mainland China. What we've done is, we work for a very international company, we've gone out and added people to our team who speak Mandarin. We've gone to Asia three times, I'm about go to Delhi again for a weekend conference in a couple of weeks. You have to go out, you have to meet people, you have to understand their sensitivities, what's driving them to buy.

A lot of it focuses on the education. So having great education in the city of Toronto, both in the post-secondary and secondary, I think is very, very important, because that's what they're looking for.

MG: Language skills are one thing. Going there is something different. What do you learn about who the potential buyers are when you're actually on the ground in those countries?

RS: It's really from the questions. A lot of people have the questions about … they know about Toronto, they know about Vancouver, they want to know which is the city that you should buy in. They want to know mostly about education. Seriously, you have to have an idea of the ratings of all of the private schools, the public schools, the universities. And you can know that those are the locations that people are going to be looking in. It has to be accessible to a university or a private school or a very well-rated public school.

[URBAN NOTE] "The petty battle against Bike Share in historic Cabbagetown"

I'm inclined to agree with Shawn Micallef's argument in the Toronto Star about the NIMBYism in opposition to a Bike Share stand in Cabbagetown.

In a Jan, 23 letter to City Councillor Pam McConnell, the Cabbagetown Heritage Conservation District Committee expressed disappointment that a Bike Share station was installed last summer within the Cabbagetown North Heritage Conservation District (HCD) without “any regard for the truly unique character” the area presents and asked it be removed.

An HCD protects an entire neighbourhood, not just a historic building. Bike Share, Toronto’s municipal bike lending program, installed a station with 14 bikes in the northwest corner of Riverdale Park, near the Winchester and Sumach Sts. intersection. The committee says the bikes interfere with the “character, rhythm and overall setting” of Cabbagetown and mentioned three listed heritage properties nearby, including the Toronto Necropolis chapel, that the bikes compromised.

Back in November, the Cabbagetown Residents Association conducted an online survey after two residents launched the first historic petards at the bikes, with complaints that stated, in part, “the park should not be dumping grounds for the latest trend from city hall.” Of the 739 who responded to the survey, 721 were in favour of the current location, with only 16 wanting the bike station removed, and two people choosing somewhere else entirely. Undaunted by the survey results, the heritage committee, made up of Cabbagetown residents, launched another volley.

Should the committee be successful in removing the Bike Share station from the park, can we expect them to then work on removing the on-street parking found throughout historic Cabbagetown? While the Bike Share station took up just one small pocket, the entire park and necropolis are surrounded by Hondas, Volkswagens and Volvos, many of them closer to the heritage properties than the bike share is.

[URBAN NOTE] Torontoist on Bikes and Belonging

Torontoist's Taylor Moyle described a remarkable problem, Bikes and Belonging, combining cycling with photography for newcomers. How did I miss this? Spacing had more on the project in November.

Musician Beck made an impact with two turntables and a microphone, but here in Toronto a small group of bike lovers have helped make an impact in the lives of new Canadians using two wheels and a camera phone.
About 40 people gathered at city hall on Monday to look at photos taken by people who are new to Canada and new to biking in Toronto. The exhibit, titled Bikes and Belonging, is on display in the rotunda until February 3.

The exhibit features photos from people who are new to Canada and a part of CultureLink’s 2016 Bike Host program in partnership with the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT). The participants took pictures while riding bikes given to them by Scarborough Cycles around Toronto.

The program loaned out bicycles to newcomers for the summer. Participants were set up with a mentor cyclist to show them around the city and get them comfortable with riding in Toronto’s crowded streets and beautiful ravines.

The photography aspect of the program was created by Ryerson masters student Yvonne Verlinden, and is part of her urban planning research. She came up with the idea as she was cycling: Verlinden is a proud cyclist who is constantly visiting and photographing new places and she wanted others to share in this experience.

[PHOTO] "Selfies blur the line between high-art and social posturing"

Russell Smith's essay published in The Globe and Mail on the 25th of January, considering the claims of the selfie to cultural legitimacy, even the status of high art. I largely agree with him: There's no reason why the self-portrait is a negative form when it's a photograph, certainly not when it's a photograph that's a product of modern computing technology aided by social networking platforms. At their best, the properly-cultivated selfie really can be high art, or at least great fun.

Columnist after pundit has come out to claim that one of Obama’s many strengths was a familiarity with pop music and comedy, and an ability to goof around (as with the selfie), to appear natural and self-deprecating at the same time. He appeared on late-night talk shows, he played along with comedians (Zach Galifianakis, Key and Peele, Jerry Seinfeld), he had rappers at the White House. The guy compiled Spotify playlists (on an official White House account). This, surprisingly, did not make him look unpresidential, just cool.

This goes against the intuitive feeling that many of us – well, many of us over 40 – have when contemplating the role of the selfie in young people’s lives. The taking of many amusing, sexy or boastful phone-shots, does not look, generally, to be conducive to the obtaining of high public office. Most of the selfies we see posted by young people on their social media seem to be perpetuating a culture of narcissism. Their lack of dignity and their salaciousness, we fear, endanger their future careers.

[. . .]

Just as such anti-selfie sentiment seems to reach an apex, the Saatchi Gallery in London is planning a major exhibition, to open March 31, entirely devoted to the notion of instant self-representation in the contemporary age. It is more ambitious, though: called “From Selfie to Self-Expression.” It juxtaposes painted self-portraits – by van Gogh and Rembrandt – with staged and stylized contemporary photo self-portraiture – by Tracey Emin and June Calypso – and the candid, amateur selfies of celebrities, including Obama.

Its point is simple: that selfies are a part of a long tradition of great art. Painters have practised techniques on themselves since the invention of paint, and they have also used their own faces as vehicles for mood and self-expression. They are often vaguely defiant. (Think of all those sober, frowning painters’ faces: What are they so mad about?)

Endless photos of oneself in various guises or identities have also become a repeated form of feminist art: June Calypso shoots herself undergoing fantastical beauty regimens in luxurious bathrooms, surrounded by mirrors; Cindy Sherman poses as threatened heroines in nightmarish faux-Hollywood movies. Tracey Emin’s notorious narcissism – an oeuvre that celebrates the artist’s own trashiness – is also defiant, a challenge to received ideas about femininity. A photo of hers in the Saatchi show portrays her with legs splayed, scooping paper money into her crotch. These are in a sense commentaries on the selfie age and angry defiance of the disapproval of female vanity.

[PHOTO] Seven past links of mine and one review on photography

  • In July 2009, I wrote about my reaction to the photography of Nan Goldin, as seen in a 2003 exhibition at Montréal's Musée d'art contemporain and in book format in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, noting how her impulse to preserve the people around her in photographs is one I got.

  • In November 2010, I linked to a blog post by Andrew Barton talking about how film photography, unlike digital photography, imposed a certain discipline owing to the relative expense of film.

  • In February 2012, I noted in an article on the power of social media to drive the mass media Zeynap Tufekci's essay wondering if social networking technologies and ubiquitous video and photography will help preserve bad memories as well as the good.

  • In April 2012, I linked to an article arguing that Instagram was ultimately good for photography.

  • In January 2014, I linked to an io9 article predicting the imminent end of cameras as standalone devices.

  • In June 2015, I linked to an Open Democracy essay talking about how photography can lend structure to a chaotic world.

  • In December 2015, I defended the practice of taking photographs in art galleries, even selfies, as actions perfectly compatible with caring about the artworks that would be subjects or even backgrounds to photographs.

  • In December 2016, I linked to an article in Wired noting how the power of photographs helps spread fake news.

  • On that same day in December, I shared Burhan Ozbilici's stunning photograph of Mevlut Mert Altintas, assassin of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, praising Ozbilici's skill.