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November 2013

Toronto Idea Jam — 300 people share their ideas for a better city

November 29, 2013 | Shawn Micallef | Comments (1)


On Monday the Toronto Reference Library hosted 300 engaged Torontonians for an Idea Jam. To get the brainstorming going there were three short presentations first. The City of Toronto's chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, presented the Avenues Plan; Artscape's Seema Jethalal discussed how to use the arts to access, engage, and empower Toronto's diversve population; and I proposed limiting developers ability to assemble parcels of land together so, perhaps, new condo footprints might be smaller.

Then there was a brainstorming session among the 300 attendees, and below are the ideas that were collected that night; an open source well of thoughts about Toronto that may inspire further action.


•create positive loitering spaces for people to hang out in—indoor/outdoor space, e.g. a public space  that is open late with chairs and tables, musicians, following a European model

•use things like bike paths to draw people in from different neighborhoods and communities

•use public services to bridge income gaps—i.e. the public library, community centers, etc.—or leverage  existing spaces

•encourage more community involvement in downtown area via community groups, etc.

•more affordable housing

•GO Transit should have all-day service

•take Adelaide back as a transit corridor

•examine and be aware of the way technological progress may be negatively impacting our environment

•send Porter to Pearson to protect the waterfront

•revamp the ferry to the Toronto Islands to make it more of an experience and tourist attraction, to  make the most of a unique Toronto experience

•more public art

•keep employment opportunities where the condos are

•no more condos

•keep the density mid-rise—e.g. London, Paris, Europe

•more livable communities—live/work—with amenities close by

•preserve our heritage buildings

•walkability—less intimidating streetscapes

•more green space

•family cab license—new taxi class based on owner and his/her family operating a family livery business  to create an avenue of entry to middle class while improving congestion/pollution

•we support midrise buildings but we also want to have the costs per condo unit controlled at an  affordable price for average families who have an income of less than $80,000

•help motorists respect cyclists and vice versa—side streets designated as bike routes, similar to Vancouver

•reduce pollution exposure to cyclists using bike paths

•legislation to put planning first—if developers can’t or won’t comply, they won’t get a permit

•save the waterfront from pollution from expansion from the island airport

•improve streetscapes—create more livable communities with amenities close by

•implement rent control for commercial spaces

•new developments (condos) should have 20% dedicated to affordable and special needs units

•give developers incentive to sell/rent/secure retail spaces so that communities are created along with  condos

•retail size control to keep rents down and so that entrepreneurs can flourish

•activities/initiatives that tie suburbs to downtown

•homeless hotel

•we need to have a vision session and ask public what is it we like in our city, want in our city, need in  our city—then start brainstorming the ideas. Ideas are great but without buy in from all of Toronto, you  won’t have the city vision needed.

•stop the tax funding disconnect between urban and suburban voters, we propose tax free municipal  bonds and TTC

•all new buildings, if they have a flat roof, must have a garden—if roof is slanted, solar panels must be  installed

•TTC builds subway lines to remote places in Toronto—they have the real estate rights for 150 m  surrounding any station—and the TTC therefore becomes self-sustaining

•upgrade all buried telephone cable to fiber optic

•make city councilors potentially financially liable when they cancel/backtrack on a decision (e.g.  cancelled LRT)

•buses on Bloor Street as well as subways to relieve crowding on the subway (and buses are easier for  elders and disabled people)

•integrated, comprehensive transit system including rail, GO Transit, subway, buses, light rail, streetcars, boats, etc., across GTA

•we need municipal leadership and governance model that builds bridges (between suburbs &  downtown, etc.)

•build more dynamic market squares

•mid-rise idea is good, but vulnerable to OMB—get rid of OMB and replace with a more amenable  citizen design council

•as a way of making the GTA more efficient, let’s have all mass transit operated, funded, and managed  by one agency

•we need a more senior friendly city that welcomes seniors (as well as youth) to participate in city life

•we need a legislative review (provincial/municipal) of the governance of the city (the Ford fiasco has  demonstrated this)

•the City of Toronto should withdraw from the OMB

•a series of interconnected car free zones/pedestrian plazas kit together by a walking corridor across the city to unite us all

•more pedestrian streets

•narrow the roadways in Toronto

•mid-rise buildings would allow for ground level engagement

•warmer street lights and exterior building lights

•more color in exterior architecture

•less “red tape” at City Hall—i.e. with food trucks

•remove barriers to good planning—e.g. empty store subsidy

•protect our schools as public spaces we pay for

•place avenues in NW and NE corners of the city

•engage youth and artists to create streetscapes in neighborhoods and in all neighborhood design

•shadow city council

•higher density in the suburbs

•plan for people, not just buildings

•neighborhood businesses—places to eat and drink that are not chain restaurants or in strip malls

•prioritize ugly neighborhoods and do something about them—trees, streetscapes, etc.

•more landscaping for suburban trees as well as trees downtown

•create small “plaza” areas at or near major intersections with places to sit, small cafes, chessboards, to invite people to walk their neighborhoods and interact with their neighbors

•close off retail areas along major streets for the summer as pedestrian malls (e.g. Yonge Street from  Bloor to Queen)

•how can we rid ourselves of the OMB?—no matter what communities want or need, the developers go  to the OMB and they get everything they want—eliminate the OMB and allow city planners to have the  final say

•implement rent control for small retail shops in new developments

•facilitate outdoor culture, give citizens opportunities to know and engage with each other

•focus on improving transportation throughout the city

•change “taxpayer” references to “citizen” references

•teach children Urban Studies and Civic Engagement in school

•develop formula for allocating green space throughout the city

•make a beautiful city

•open design competitions with a focus on 3D zoning:

•green industrial

•urban agriculture

•community design

•public rooftops

•design for density

•since we are a city of high-rise density, we need to plan for more emphasis on public parks—more  parks, larger parks—to build communities from the inside out

•“an artist at every table”—Toronto can be the best city for the world if artists are invited to every decision-making table

•expand the Express Bus system all around the city, but not necessarily at double the fee (although I  don’t mind paying extra)

•beautify Avenue Road—it could be this city’s Champs Elysees

•all buildings with a flat roof should have a rooftop garden

•pay attention to the suburbs, like Scarborough, which were built with car culture in mind—it takes a  brave new approach to address the scourge of strip malls and inadequate transit

•start a Pan Toronto Interest Group—identify leaders and influencers from city core and the suburbs to  come together to engage members in their communities with those from other communities. We don’t  understand each other—understanding is key because we’re in this together.

•a youth council committee is a good idea, but what about a citizens’ council? I am a 30+ year old  working, rent•paying, citizen with no desire to be in politics but I would love to participate in something like this Idea Jam every month.

•bridge gap between suburbanites, downtown dwellers, and newcomers—create trust

•build a Junction gateway to Toronto—Bloor/Dundas West mobility hub

•encourage participation in resident associations

•create youth oriented local organization to integrate services including schools, recreation, libraries,  businesses, etc.

•recall the mantra “Toronto the Good” and collectively renew the civility of our city: care for our neighbors, extend courtesy to our fellow citizens (end road rage and encourage cyclists to observe rules of the road), encourage people to be informed and to vote.

•what happened to the idea of the canopy over the Gardiner that was going to be a walkway and park?

•elevated bicycle expressways

•toll the Gardiner

•elevated bicycle expressways

•make King and Queen streets one way opposite each other

•stop building high•rise condos near Yonge and Bloor

•create relief line that bypasses Yonge/Bloor subway station

•toll the expressways into Toronto—congestion tax for drivers

•mandate ward councilors to convene regularly scheduled weekly ward open forums to open dialogue  and confer with their diverse communities

•limit the power of the OMB

•a lot of the fountains in the city are not working—let’s fix them

•make building materials for condos higher quality, more colorful

•size of condo interiors is too small for most families

From the stacks of the Toronto Collection, Nathan Phillips reports to the people

November 24, 2013 | Shawn Micallef | Comments (0)


Our current mayor has lost his radio show, and though his was controversial, it wasn't the first time a mayor has taken regularly to the airwaves. Deep in the reference library Toronto Collection stacks I found this neatly bound collection of transcripts from Mayor Nathan Phillips's radio addresses to Toronto.



Like Mayor Ford, Mayor Phillips listed community events during his radio addresses and was a city booster. While not calling Toronto the greatest city in the world, Phillips did note that Toronto "is a city of character, with warmth and hospitality -- it is a city where good manners and culture is the order of the day". There you have it, little has changed, right?

Writing the City — Passing through the passages of Yorkville

November 20, 2013 | Shawn Micallef | Comments (0)


Last week our final stroll this fall left from reference library mothership in Yorkville. A night walk through the sparkling city, the idea was to see the mix in Yorkville and pass through some of its passageways. Like the wanderer can famously do in Paris or Edinburgh, we can pass through Yorkville not just on the streets, but through passageways (like Edinburgh's "closes") and indoor retail corridors (like Paris's arcades). Despite the rapid growth in the neighbourhood, there's still much small scale, though there is some development pressure are particularly special parts of the areas. (Yorkville will be part of the Big Idea I'm going to present at next Monday's Idea Jam at the reference library come check it out).

Here's the route we took on this walk.

Our large group stopped at the now-disused presentation centre for the Four Season's hotel across the street. Such massive, solid buildings for temporary use. Somebody in the group said they would make good cottages.


Yorkville Walk 011


We checked out some of the public spaces created by recent development. Here's the courtyard at 18 Yorkville, designed by Toronto landscape architect Janet Rosenberg.

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Just down the street all 50 of us wandered through the new "rose" pathway pattern created by Montreal landscape architect Claude Cormier in the new Four Seasons courtyard. The "steam" wall wasn't on though — that's the wall you see in the back of the above picture. It produces a misty steam at regular intervals when working.

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Bright lights and some of the preserved Old Yorkville homes on Hazelton Avenue.

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We slipped through the series of outdoor courtyards and passageways that run alongside the Hazelton Lanes mall and condos — the old Victorian houses were preserved and partially incorporated into the 1970s structure, a very typical Toronto blend of old and new. If we weren't such a large group, we'd have passed through the Lanes indoors, but security might panic and think one of the notorious Library Gangs of Yorkville was invading.

Yorkville Walk 052


We all crowded into one of my favorite places in Toronto, York Square, built in 1968.  Not just an early post-hippy Yorkville development, it is one of Toronto's earliest adaptive reuse projects of this era that saw the Avenue Road Victorians connected to modern buildings designed by architects Jack Diamond and Barton Myers. Here we are in its courtyard, though soon it may be filled in as a condo proposal for this site has been made. Modern heritage is at the most risk of being cast aside right now during its awkward teenage years (at around 40 or 50 yrs old for buildigns).



We stopped at the Yorkville Park's Canadian Shield rock to look at the park itself, built over the subway, and Cumberland Street that does "up and down" fairly well, something that often doesn't work in Toronto as people here tend to like commercial spaces on the same level as the sidewalk.

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We ended in Cumberland Terrace, the mall across the street from the reference library. It's a block-long passage, and a bit of a museum of 1970s mall design, but it too is slated for redevelopment so check it out while you can, especially the cone of silence above and post-psychedelic tile work.

Photos in this post by Laura Headley and Phyllis Jacklin.

Walking the City: through the Ben Jungle and beyond

November 12, 2013 | Shawn Micallef | Comments (0)

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Tomorrow (Wed Nov 12th) is the last of our Toronto walks. We went from bare-ankle walking to winter coats. The seasons move fast. Meet us at the reference library front entrance at 7PM for a meander through Yorkville's passageways.

Two weeks ago we began a Saturday afternoon Scarborough walk at the Bendale branch of TPL. It's there at the bottom of the above map, in the wedge of land created where Danforth and McCowan Roads converge. Danforth Road weaves its way across the city until it meets up with the other Danforth (Avenue) as if it's the Broadway of Scarborough, crossing the grid of arterials at its own angle. Our general route was around Thomson Park, which some detours, as you can see.


We briefly toured "The Hub," the strip mall just south of Lawrence on McCowan. It has a genuine barber's pole.


Our walk covered nearly 5 kilometers of varied territory. After the commercial diversion, we head down into the Highland Creek ravine, passing by some of Scarborough's great modernist housing. The Brady bunch could live here.


The creek and path lead south by southeast from Thomson Park, slipping under the roadways making the Scarborough landscape of large roads and traffic seem far away. You can follow this path all the way to the mouth of the creek, meandering across Scarborough, below UTSC, except for the part of the creek that flows through Scarborough Golf and Country Club, where surface streets are required. All over Toronto golf courses block ravine path connectivity. We headed northwest though.


Like on our previous Etobicoke Creek walk, storm water has carved away some of the pathway. This area had been fenced off, so not recent. Water was running fast the day we were out after a morning of heavy rain. Here we're heading north — that's Lawrence in the background.


Under the Lawrence bridge.


We then popped up into the "Ben Jungle," where a dozen or so streets are named Ben-something.


Crossing over we wandered along St. Andrews Road, one of my favourite places in Toronto. For about half a kilometer it's a one-lane, country road.

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Some of Scarborough's oldest buildings are on this road.

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It was appropirate we came upon Scarborough's first public library along St. Andrews road, next door to St. Andrews Church, by the St. Andrews cemetary where some of the Scarborough's first european settlers are buried.

Bendale Walk 100

Cutting through the middle of Thomson Park we stopped by the Scarborough Historical Museum, a collection of historic buildings moved to this site from around Scarobourgh. We were invited in for some warm apple cider and bread baked in their wood burning stove.

Bendale Walk 103

Back towards the library we crossed the Gatineau hydro corridor. It runs diagonal across Scarborough and often has bike highways, though they aren't yet continuous. It does provide some vistas and open country though that, along with the creek ravines, are alternative routes through Scarborough.

Fall view from the Opera house — a Toronto poem by Jamal Uddin

November 8, 2013 | Shawn Micallef | Comments (0)

Part of my role as writer in residence is meeting with people to discuss their writing about the city (any city, though the GTA comes up the most, and non-fiction is the focus). There's still time to get your submission in (don't be shy). Yesterday I met with Jamal Uddin to discuss some of his poetry, some of which reflects our city. A retired doctor, he's written & published poety in his native Bengali, but has started working in English now, writing about Torontoish things like high voltage power lines, the streets, and the Opera House. He's agree to share one of his pieces below — Toronto needs more of this, writing, prose or poetry, that reflects the city back artfully and helps us see it a little differently.


Fall view from the Opera house

Floor to ceiling wall
but a massive  glass window,
not reflective though,
to see out and to be seen
a citadel from within.

Architectural marvel of modern mix
light and shadow warmth of wood
and cold steel blending into showcase
for a showplace :
ballerina gracefully floats,
aria spreads its wings.

Etrog's sunbird on an artful elevation
watching in benevolent metallic silence,
people mingle in intermission chatter
glasses happily clink.

In vain across the busy street
urban concrete jungle
attempts to  block autumn sun
but the  warm ray cuts a swath through,

blessing maple trees standing erect
golden blazing arms
shivering with cold caress
of gusty autumn wind,
 striping,aritual dance of the season
slowly unfolding.

© Jamal Uddin

Browsing the city stacks for inspiration

November 7, 2013 | Shawn Micallef | Comments (1)

Photo 4 copy

Walking the city, exploring, is one way to understand this city we live in, but we can do the same in the library. The miles of aisles at the Toronto Reference Library reveal a lot about this place. The second floor, with the urban affairs collection (which was once at Metro Hall) is great for this. Without fail, randomly browsing either generates new ideas or produces some interesting old gems, like this one above.

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You might think this is a contemporary book, but look at the city hall featured. People have been hating on Toronto since at least 1956, when this one was published. We ought not to care by now.

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Etobicoke's more genteel history too. The collection at TRL gets quite specific to pre-amalgamation cities and even neighbourhood and street level.

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Apart from the creative and historical books, there are shelves full of City of Toronto studies and plans. Everything you wanted to know about how the city came to be, what makes it run, and what could have been. That last part can be a bit depressing.

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Talking about transit in Scarborough and on Eglinton is not a new phenomena in Toronto. These studies are a few decades old.

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O'Keefe-now-Sony was just renovated, years after this first study proposed it. Did you know Earl Bales Park in North York has an outdoor theatre? One of the neatest places in Toronto, right by the ski hill.

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For a moment I thought this said "Cool buildings in downtown Toronto". That would be a good book.

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Before there was the West Don Lands developement happening now, there was Ataratiri. Millions were spent on this mixed-use housing plan that was ultimately cancelled in the 1990s.

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Toronto never sounded so adventurous.

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More stories.

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Diving into any of this will at the very least help you procrastinate on something else, entertain, but possible get you thinking about what you might like to write about Toronto or go out and see for yourself.

There are a 1000 stories in the naked city, as the saying goes, and you should be writing some of them. Writer in Residence Shawn Micallef will be encouraging people to write about their city. Follow along here on city explorations and journeys into the library stacks. Shawn will also be posting some of the city-writing that he receives from people like you.

Your comments, posts, messages and creative content are welcome, provided they encourage a respectful dialogue and comply with the Library's mission, values and policies.
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