February 11th, 2017

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

  • Centauri Dreams looks at ongoing research into the sizes of Alpha Centauri A and B.

  • Dangerous Minds notes Finland's introduction of a new Tom of Finland emoji.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper speculating as to the fate of icy dwarf exoplanets in white dwarf systems.

  • The Dragon's Tales reports on the intensification of the war in Ukraine's Donbas.

  • The Everyday Sociology Blog asks readers how they study.

  • Language Log looks at the structure of yes-no questions in Chinese.

  • The NYRB Daily looks at the consequences of the Trump travel ban.

  • The Planetary Society Blog considers impact craters as potential abodes for life.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer does not quite understand renters' fears about new developments in their neighbourhoods.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy considers the court ruling against Trump's refugee order.

  • Window on Eurasia suggests prospects for long-term economic growth in Russia have collapsed, and notes the sharp fall in real incomes in Asian Russia.

[URBAN NOTE] "Two centuries and counting for Toronto's last farming family"

Chris Bateman described how the Reesor family in north Scarborough remain the last farmers active within the borders of the city of Toronto.

Dale Reesor figures he’s the last farmer in Toronto.

Since his elderly neighbour Jim Murison passed away in December, Reesor’s family is the only one he knows of that’s still growing crops commercially in the city.

From their 136-year-old farmhouse on the south side of Steeles Ave. E. in north Scarborough, Dale and Lois Reesor and their five kids work about 350 acres of land within the Toronto city limits under the name Sweet Ridge Farms. They grow mostly sweet corn, about 10 to 12 varieties, plus soybeans and wheat.

It’s a way of life that stretches back more than 200 years.

The Reesors “came to the Toronto area, Markham and Scarborough, in 1804,” Dale said. “It’s a Mennonite family. They came from Pennsylvania. They travelled up and bought land in this area. It’s been the same family ever since.”

[URBAN NOTE] "Population falling in areas near planned Scarborough subway stop"

Using the census data released earlier this week, Ben Spurr writes in the Toronto Star about how the Scarborough neighbourhoods that will get the subway extension have actually been seeing falling populations in the context of strong growth in Toronto generally. Where will the ridership come from?

The population is shrinking in more than a dozen neighbourhoods in the immediate vicinity of the planned one-stop Scarborough subway extension, raising fresh concerns about the viability of the $3.2-billion transit project.

According to a Star analysis of 2016 census data released on Wednesday, of 31 census tracts surrounding the planned location for the subway station at Scarborough Town Centre, the population of 18 declined over the previous five years.

Some tracts, including the one in which the station will be built, saw robust growth percentages in the double digits, and the population of Scarborough Centre, the federal riding that covers the area, grew by 3.5 per cent. But in the majority of nearby tracts the population fell, by between 1.4 per cent and 6.3 per cent.

Eric Miller, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Transportation Engineering Research Group, warned that if the trend continued it could jeopardize the extension of the Line 2 (Bloor-Danforth) subway.

“Any subway station depends on two things: the people that are within the close distance to it that can maybe walk or take a very short bus ride, and then people who are coming in from further afield to use it,” Miller said.

[URBAN NOTE] "New life for Eglinton Avenue East"

In The Globe and Mail, John Lorinc notes plans for the extensive redevelopment of a stretch of Eglinton Avenue East in Scarborough.

By suburban standards, the 7.7-hectare No Frills property on the north side of Eglinton Avenue East, between Victoria Park and Pharmacy, may not seem like the sort of real estate destined for serious mixed-use intensification.

Situated at the western edge of Scarborough’s Golden Mile, the decades-old shopping centre, anchored by a 55,000-square-foot No Frills, is part of a long stretch of big-box malls, low-slung industrial sites and a few squat office blocks.

But when Choice Properties REIT, Loblaw’s development spinoff, acquired the property four years ago, it identified the shopping centre as a candidate for the sort of big-bang intensification exercise that has few precedents in Toronto’s inner suburbs.

“We looked at that site and said, ‘It’s significantly underutilized,’” Choice Properties chief executive and president John Morrison said. “We want to build a new community where people can live and shop and ideally work as well.”

In what he predicted will be a multiphase project beginning with a redevelopment of the supermarket, Choice will add 2,500 residential units – stacked townhouses, mid-rise apartments and towers – as well as 260,000 square feet of additional retail, green space, private and public community amenities and links to the two LRT stations that will serve the 410-metre-long parcel when the Eglinton Crosstown goes into service, expected in 2023.

[URBAN NOTE] "Customers, food banks hit by No Frills closures"

The Toronto Star's Isabel Teotonio reports on the closure of two No Frills discount grocery stores in the Toronto area, including one in Parkdale, and how the resulting shortage of inexpensive food is causing all kinds of unneeded strains on budgets and diets.

A small group of people huddled in the parking lot of a closed No Frills wait for a shuttle bus to go grocery shopping.

Among them is Chris Wood, 60, who has bronchitis. He should be in bed, but is standing in the cold because Rocca’s No Frills at Coxwell Ave. and Gerrard St. E. closed for repairs in May.

Wood lives nearby, but is waiting for a free company bus to take him to another No Frills. He has little choice. Local green grocers are too expensive. He doesn’t own a car. And he can’t afford to regularly ride the TTC.

“It’s a hassle,” says Wood, who gets by on about $900 a month from Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). “Being able to shop at a grocery store with lower costs, like No Frills, is quite important for me.”

Two other No Frills stores in the GTA have also recently closed, shedding light on the need for access to affordable and healthy food.

Vi’s No Frills in Parkdale closed in early December for immediate roof repairs — the landlord is hopeful it will reopen in the spring. And Linda’s No Frills in Port Credit, Mississauga, permanently closed in late December when a leasing agreement couldn’t be reached. That site will be redeveloped to include a condo, commercial and office space.

[URBAN NOTE] "Urban buildings repurposed for student housing"

The Globe and Mail's Paul Attfield reports on how the new George Brown College student residence used to be part of the Pan Am athletes village.

From the brand-new aquatics centre in Scarborough to the world-class cycling velodrome in Milton, the legacy of the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games can be seen right across the Greater Toronto Area.

Chief among the beneficiaries, though, is Toronto’s George Brown College, which gained its first student residence in the process. This was the culmination of a long journey to add what so many other postsecondary educational establishments take for granted.

While the Pam Am athletes village in the city core’s east end was purpose-built to be converted into condominiums following the conclusion of the sporting spectacle, one of those buildings, which housed the United States squad during the Games, was earmarked to accommodate George Brown students.

After an eight-month period of conversion by construction company Ellis Don, George Brown took over the building last April, finally welcoming its first intake of about 500 students last fall. With a school enrolment of more than 32,000 full- and part-time students, as well as apprentices, George Brown is already hoping to add more residences in the future, but knows the importance of gaining just one.

“It’s a huge attraction, so we think it will help us with our applicants,” says Anne Sado, president of George Brown College. “We can’t accommodate them all but we’re hoping over time to develop some more residence capacity. The ideal would be another 500-1,000 beds.”

[URBAN NOTE] "Why Regent Park’s Revitalization Needs $108 Million More to Keep Going"

Torontoist's Alex McKeen explains why Toronto Community Housing finds it needs hundred million dollars to finish its revitalization of Regent Park, unexpectedly. There are both contingent and structural reasons at work.

The revitalization of Regent Park has been lauded as a “game changer”—partly because of the project’s mixed-income integration model. But despite its flourishing amenities and the positive attention it has attracted, the community—long one of the poorest in Toronto—is far from immune to funding woes.

A January 17 report from the City of Toronto’s Budget Committee indicates that the first two phases of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation plan for Regent Park have seen a significant funding shortfall. As a result, phase three of the project, which includes replacing 339 units of housing, is expected to have unfunded costs totalling $107.7 million.

“According to TCHC, delays in timing of sales of market housing resulted in delays in the social housing redevelopment,” a portion of the report reads. The Budget Committee also cited “additional unexpected costs” associated with phases one and two of the project to have contributed to the funding shortfall.

In order for phase three of the project to proceed, the Budget Committee has recommended that the City of Toronto authorize TCHC to incur indebtedness of $107.7 million.

This measure reflects a larger problem in the TCHC. The deputy city manager’s Tenants First report, dated June 14 2016, called the TCHC’s business model “fundamentally broken,” with a growing operating deficit resulting from “a combination of static revenues and rapidly increasing operating costs.” The report also identifies numerous governance and organizational issues.

[URBAN NOTE] "Bombardier seeks injunction to stop Metrolinx contract termination"

MacLean's shares Ross Marowits' Canadian Press report noting Bombardier's lawsuit against Metrolinx in what appears to be a desperate effort to prevent the regional transit agency from breaking its contract over the immense delays involved with Bombardier's delivery of new vehicles.

Bombardier has turned up the heat in its fight with Metrolinx by asking an Ontario court to impose an injunction in response to the provincial transportation agency’s notice to terminate a contract for light rail vehicles in Toronto.

The transportation manufacturer’s railway division says its 49-page application to the Ontario Superior Court is designed to encourage Metrolinx to resume good-faith discussions as required in its contract.

In November, Metrolinx ramped up pressure on Bombardier to deliver a prototype train by issuing a formal notice of intent to terminate its $770-million contract, a step that would be required if the agency ultimately asks a court to rip up the deal.

Bombardier turned the table on Metrolinx on Friday, accusing it of putting the project in jeopardy through multiple delays.

“Since the contract was signed in 2010, Metrolinx has changed the scope, the timelines, and the technical qualifications countless times,” it said in a news release.

[DM] "Hans Rosling, in memoriam"

At Demography Matters, I have a brief note noting the sad death earlier this week of Gapminder's Hans Rosling. 68 was too young for anyone, certainly too young for someone so dedicated to helping the world know itself through the truth. Scott Gilmore's article in MacLean's is one I recommend.

What can I say but that I wish that his vision be continued?