Monday, October 23, 2006

No Seats? Greyhound Says "Free Ride"!

On the weekend my partner and I went to visit his parents in lovely Fergus Ontario. For our return trip, we boarded a Greyhound bus at the Guelph bus terminal. We were surprised to see how full the bus was for 9:20 on a Sunday night, but we didn't expect it to be totally full, which in fact, it was. We managed to get seats, but when we made the next stop at the University of Guelph, there was only one seat left, and several passengers waiting.

Here's the surprise: the bus driver advised the waiting passengers that they could either wait for the next bus (about an hour later), or ride standing, and the ride would be FREE! I was amazed by this, as I had always understood that in this situation, Greyhound would simply call for more buses to deal with the extra passengers. I'm not sure whether this is Greyhound policy, or if it is up to the discretion of the driver, but I was most pleased. I'm sure that (what I assume were) Guelph students didn't mind standing to save about $15. Somehow, I can't imagine Go Transit doing this.

This reminded me of the victory for the Bus Rider's Union in Los Angeles, which insisted that people were not sardines, and should not be packed into overcrowded buses. They demanded from the Metro Transit Authority that if there were no seats on the bus, they shouldn't have to pay the fare. This was especially salient because the reason buses were so overcrowded was that the MTA was not fully servicing minority and poor areas of L.A.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Grounds for Art Public Art Competition

Manhole Cover from France

Manhole Cover from Japan

Although "manhole covers" are not first and foremost in our minds when we think about public art, why not? They're necessary, so why not make them beautiful and meaningful too? Many cities have done great things in this regard, as the pics above show.

See more on the what different countries and cities have done with their manhole covers on

Now its Toronto's turn. As part of the Regent Park Revitalization, the City of Toronto is holding a competition to design new gratings for utility hole covers such as water valve covers, storm sewer covers and sanitary sewer covers. This is a fantastic idea, as manhole covers are always there, but mostly ignored. Its an easy way to inject some creativity into the city, literally from (below) the ground up.

Anyone can submit up to three designs, so get cracking! The deadline is Nov. 27/06. Read more about it here.

Friday, October 20, 2006

York University Gets $ 1 Million and Uses It Wisely

TD Bank recently gave a cool 1 milliion dollars to York. Big Whoop. But, it sound like its actually going to something worthwhile: community engagement with the neighbouring, much maligned Jane/Finch community. It would appear that they're trying to combine providing community services, support and outreach while allowing York students to learn about, and get hands on experience doing. I do have a nagging suspicion that it may turn into some sort of exploitive relationship, i.e.: having (comparitively well off) York students just using the black community to get their assignments done, or to have something good to put on their resume. But I'm probably just being too suspicious. Unless.....

Read the whole article here.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Sock Hop Arousal Gig - October 15, 2006

Checked out the band Sock Hop Arousal , and Undadogg the other night at The Kathedral, as part of Frygirl's twice annual (I think) Hempfest. It is so named, because one can access a special "smoking room" (which is really a covered over outdoor area), and purchase some "special" baked goods.

Sock Hop Arousal was brilliant as always, with their dub sounds and socially conscious lyrics. Check out pics of Sock Hop from the gig here.

Undadogg consistently delivers smooth and soulful trip hopp-y grooves, and they're tight as all get out.

Frygirl was also excellent, with her stripped down, honest acoustics, with haunting melodies. Doesn't hurt that she's got a voice that could carry across a continent! This time she has some accompaniment (guitar and djembe, I think), but I think I prefer her solo, as I've heard her before.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Curitiba Brazil: Model Sustainable City

As I just completed some research on sustainable cities, I thought I would include an excerpt here from my paper (minus the diagrams). I won't bore everyone with the theoretical basis of sustainable cities, but you'll get the idea by reading this section about the city of Curitiba, Brazil, which is generally acknowledged to be one of the most sustainable cities in the world. This fact is even more remarkable when one considers that it is quite a poor city, yet has managed to achieve more sustainability than cities in the global North through innovative means. For example, the pic above is of bus 'boarding tubes'. When you're waiting for the bus (which isn't a long wait), you enter your token to get into this tube. This saves precious time, as when the bus gets there, everyone is ready to just get on without fare-paying delays. Enjoy!

Case Study: Curitiba, Brazil
At this point, it will be very useful to examine the sustainable city initiatives of a particular city in order to further illustrate the previous theoretical points. Rabinovitch (1992) notes several historical facts about the development of Curitiba’s sustainable policies and structure. The city of Curitiba is located in South Brazil, and has been both a political and administrative centre for a many years. During the 1960’s, planners made a conscious decision to prioritize public transit over the car, focus on hundreds of small projects (while avoiding large expensive ones) and discourage new developments downtown. The goal was to encourage urban expansion along the transit lines (which extend outward from the downtown), which would leave the downtown area’s history preserved, and allow more public space for citizens. Thus, a more transit and pedestrian friendly city was created.

There are several specific features of Curitiba which deserve further examination (see Figure 3 for a complete list).

First, the city’s heritage has been preserved in its architecture. Local government allowed businesses to utilize historic buildings with the condition that the building was not substantially physically changed. Thus, a theatre now sits in a building which was once a gunpowder arsenal.

Second, lest the reader think that a sustainable city cannot have industry, it should be noted that the city also has an industrial area, which is not isolated but contains housing, schools, green space, etc. Industries must adhere to strict environmental regulations. (Rabinovitch, 1992).

Third, Curitiba provides many services (delivered in an inexpensive, innovative and sustainable fashion) to their citizens. Rabinovitch (1992) notes that their water sanitation system, which uses a system of local lagoons for filtration, is cheap, effective and uses the local ecosystem. Many environmental education programs have been implemented in poor areas, and old city buses are used as mobile learning centres to teach adults useful trades. Basiago (1999) describes a program in which the poor can exchange six bags of garbage for healthy groceries, thus combating urban starvation and keeping the city clean. With recycling, and equally innovative approach was taken: the local government asked citizens to separate wet from dry garbage. The government then set up plays at local schools featuring the “Leaf Family” to show kids how to recycle. Thus, kids consider recycling fun, and encourage their families to participate. The author also observes that the local government ensures that the basic needs of the poor are met by providing free dental and health care. Further, free child care is provided to allow parents to work, which has resulted in a significant decline in infant mortality rates.

Fourth, the many green areas not only provide aesthetic value, but also act to control flooding. (Rabinovitch, 1992). Curitiba has taken many measures to encourage green space such as creating ‘green zones’, building a botanical park downtown, and passing laws to discourage cutting down trees while mandating that two trees must be planted for each one cut down. (Basiago, 1999).

Fifth, strong local governance and active citizen participation are encouraged. The mayor of Curitiba has noted that “….we take the administration to the community and promote administrative decentralization, cutting red tape and serving the people” (Alberti & Dos Santos, 1996, p. 438)

Finally, the pride and joy of Curitiba is their transit system. The choice to use only buses proved to be exceedingly practical and economical for Curitiba (see Figure 4). Not only have they implemented a bus system with many desirable features, but it is well integrated into land use planning and zoning. For example, only high rises are allowed to be built along major bus routes, and the bottom two floors of these must contain stores. Thus, residents need to travel less for shopping, many residents have easy access to transit and it provides local employment. The express buses travel in bus-only lanes, and are supplemented by local and downtown routes. In addition, passengers pay their fare while waiting for the bus, which makes the boarding process faster and more efficient (Basiago, 1999). Rabinovitch (1992) adds that one fare is valid for all types of buses, making travel much more convenient. Consequently, two-thirds of the population uses transit and this popularity allows it to pay for itself (Basiago, 1999). Thus, “Curitiba’s public transportation system is directly responsible for the city having one of the lowest rates of ambient air pollution in Brazil….residents spend only about 10% of their income on transport, which is a relatively low proportion for Brazil”. (Rabinovitch, 1992, p. 66).


Alberti, M & Ricardo Dos Santos, C. (1996). Interview with the Mayor of Curitiba on Habitat II. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 16, pp. 435-438.

Basiago, A.D. (1999). Economic, Social and Environmental Sustainability in Development Theory and Urban Planning Practice. The Environmentalist, 19, pp. 145-161.

Rabinovitch, J. (1992). Curitiba: Towards Sustainable Urban Development. Environment and Urbanization 4(2), pp. 62-73.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Otto Vass Inquest - October 2006

You may remember hearing about Otto Vass a few years ago, as the guy who was beaten to death by police in front of the 7-11 at Landsdowne and College in 2000. The police were never charged, and after much controversy, today they are beginning a new inquest.

Riddle me this: if the idea of the inquest is that Vass did not receive the justice he deserved, why is it that a group representing Vass' family (the ones who can really ask the tough questions of police) are not being allowed standing? WTF? Add to this the additional discrimination that comes with the fact that Vass had a history of mental health issues, and this becomes totally ridiculous.

Quote from a CBC article:
"We are going to have a very unbalanced inquest where there won't be anyone really probing the police," said Peter Rosenthal, a lawyer representing a group called the Committee for Justice for Otto Vass.

Read the whole CBC article here.

Check out Justice for Otto Vass here.

Get the story on what really happened from OCAP here.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Asia Republik

You Annex-rats may have noticed that the space formerly occupied by the sterile and uppity Goldfish now houses the new restaurant Asia Republik. My partner and I tried it out on Friday night, which I admit, was only because our first choice (Thai Basil) had a lineup almost outside the door. Sometimes my theory that no one will go out for dinner on one of the first really cold nights this fall, doesn't pan out.

Asia Republik looks almost as sterile as Goldfish did, but with more silver than blue. There is some very nice backlighting goin' on, as well as some interesting textile wallcovering (I'm guessing woven strips of bamboo painted silver). All in all, it could by no stretch of the imagination be described as a warm atmosphere. It seemed a bit early 90's minimalist to me.

The servers (some very attractive, I might add) provide excellent and attentive service. However, we were surprised that they took away our water glasses when we ordered green tea to drink. Can't you have both? We were also slightly non-plussed that our veggie spring roll order had chicken in it.

The menu is definitely "Pan-Asian", heavily leaning on Thai and Vietnamese, with the odd Japanese (and I think Malaysian) dish thrown in. We both ordered Pad Thai, which was good, but not great. A bit too kethcupy for our taste. However, the portions were large, and generally well executed.

The crowd seemed to be the typical Annex mix of students, older hipsters and stylish late-twenties and thirtysomethings.

The prices are great, and its worth checking out.

See the BlogTO review here.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Douglas Tompkins' Conservation: Good or Evil?

This morning on the CBC Radio One show The Current, I heard a piece about Douglas Tompkins, a San Franscisco millionaire. Seems he has been buying huge tracts of land in Chile and Argentina and turning them into nature reserves. Sounds great, no?

Not for everyone; the local people have big problems with this. So, here comes the rich, white, male foreigner into their country, buys their land, and tells them what to do with it. Not too crowd-pleasing. In some things I have heard, the media seems to be implying that the locals do not know enough about conservation, and this is why they disapprove of his project. How about the truth? That these countries are sick and tired of the West telling what to do, how to do it, and that they will be better off if they just listen. Sounds like the usual colonial, condescending attitude of the West to me.

Naturally, the local forest and other resource extraction industries are against this. But isn't it good to save the forests from destruction? But isn't it bad to take away the livlihood of the local people? Here we have the main problem in resource management.

My suggestion: by all means turn them into reserves, but the least he can do is help the government set up employment initiatives for jobs in or around the reserve, so that the locals will actually have a good reason to support it. As it is, they just see another white guy taking away their livlihood.

Having been in Environmental Studies for a few years now, it has come to my attention that the majority of the environmental movement (in Canada anyway) is middle class and white. Many such individuals (and this is a very general statement here, before anyone gets upset)are not able to see the vailidity in the above argument that I'm making. They would say that its our job to tell 'these people' how to take care of their environment....yes, the same people that live closer to it that we do by a mile. If Tompkins really wanted to help alleviate the situation, he could still create the reserves in close collaboration with local governments and the public to come up with a 'made locally' solution. But no, since its his money, he must have the final say on how it is spent, no? Ridiculous.

Here this segment of The Current here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Liminal Landscapes at York University - Post # 1

Today I went on a tour of the 'liminal' landscapes at York University, as part of my Imagining Toronto course. The majority of the York campus is sterile, angular, full of concrete and devoid of character. However, there are many beautiful and historic natural features on the campus, which few people (including faculty and staff) know about. It was hard to believe we were still on campus, and not on a hike somewhere in a conservation area!

Enjoy this post, and the next one which feature scenic fall foliage from "wild" locations on campus, Stong Pond, the Maloca Garden and...that body of water you see is Black Creek! Yep, its not just an expressway, you know.

Liminal Landscapes at York University - Post # 2

Monday, October 09, 2006

Sebadoh Reunites!

Photo Courtesy of Magnet Magazine
Lou Barlow is full of good news these days. Pitchfork is reporting that the original Sebadaoh line-up will be reuniting, and touring next spring! Woo-hoo!

Add to that, that Dinosaur Jr. will be releasing a new album (also next spring), and it gives indie kids everywhere reason enough to make it through the winter.

Read the entire Pitchfork article here.

The Quartertones

Just heard this Toronto band today (The Quartertones), gotta love these laid back jazzy downtempo grooves. Would be perfect for the 2-3 am music slot at a house party. More here.

Postsecret Blog

Recently I've had a bit of an obsession with trying to see through the bullshit and facades which we are presented with everyday in this crazy world. In particular, I've been interested in having REAL conversations with people, about real, honest things. Like lonliness. Abuse. Addiction. Self-worth. I feel like there's a whole other parallel universe out there that we can access, not by going to another dimension, but just by having honest, heartfelt interactions with others.

Accordingly, I was happy to find out about this blog. This guy decided to leave postcards (pre-paid, I think) and pre-addressed all over the place, with requests that people write down their secrets and mail it back to him. Damn, I wish I had thought of this first. Some of them are by turns funny, horrifying, and slit-your-wrists-vertically tragic. See the Postsecret blog here, which is updated every Sunday with new secrets. Now, its even more interesting because people make their own postcards, and I think you can even send in your own secrets! Of course, if anyone feels the immediate need, you can leave an anonymous secret by commenting here!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Sunday Afternoon in Dufferin Grove Park

Today being a day of unseasonable warmth in Toronto, my partner and I decided to venture out to Dufferin Grove Park, which has been described as a community centre without walls. Couldn't agree more.

This is a pic of the cob courtyard, a fun area where kids can play about. I love this roof! Have you heard about the great composting toilet they're putting in very close to this structure? It has galvanized the community, will bring greater awareness of composting toilets and their environmental benefits, and will give parents quick and easy access to a washroom when they're using the playground with their kids. More here.

Here are some pics of general park fun, and some saucy squirrels!

Friday Night at Spadina Station

We all know that the TTC has its problems, mainly with service. Here is the large crowd waiting for the Spadina streetcar on Friday night. Eventually, as often happens on Spadina, three streetcars came at once. I was hoping that this would stop when they reintroduced the streetcars, as I remember the same thing happening when buses ran on Spadina many years ago. Answer me this: why is it, that when people can clearly see that there are two other streetcars waiting, they feel the need to stuff themselves onto the first streetcar?It doesn't pay off; the first streetcar out will have to pick up the most people once it starts making the stops.

Also managed to get a shot of a cop/merchant interaction, also at Spadina Station. Perhaps there was a a robbery? Who knows, but I like the body language that this shot caught.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Toronto's First Annual Nuit Blanche 2006 - Post # 3

This is the final post in a short series about the Nuit Blanche Festival in Toronto.

These three pics are on Philosopher's Walk (behind the ROM). This is the much publisized fog sculpture, the idea (or so I heard) being that as you walk through it, each person changes and creates the scuplture. Although walking through the fog with a bunch of strangers was really cool, I didn't find that the above idea really held. Its interesting how fog can be captured on film.

These next two pics were, I think, also on Philosopher's Walk. Each of these long pieces of paper ties to tree branches with tinsel were printed with wishes. Bad part: there were only a few originals, the rest of the papers were just repeats. The good part: visitors took it upon themselves to write in some of their own wishes in pen. Most memorable, something like "I wish that everyone could be happy in their own way". Amen to that! Testify!

And, finally, my friend the lovely Miss Kitty Galore (aka Kristyn Dunnion) did a reading of her most excellent literary work (at the Heliconian club which can be seen in the previous posts).

All in all, this was a great festival, and I hope they do it again next year, and every year following. Toronto has been trying extra hard in the last few years to promote itself as world city (Waterfront Revitalization, Four Seasons Centre, ROM, AGO and Royal Conservatory renos, downtown wi-fi) just to name a few. This can thus be seen as the latest attempt to achieve this end. Let's see if the results are good enough to see it thorough to next year! To see what other people were saying about Nuit Blanche, see bloggers here and here. On Flickr, the Toronto Star, and the Globe and Mail, and of course, Spacing.

Toronto's First Annual Nuit Blanche 2006 - Post # 2

Second in a series of posts about the Nuit Blanche festival.

These two pics were at the Heliconian Club in Yorkville. It was pretty frightening for my partner and I, who had never actually been to Hazelton Ave before. Yipes....each store more expensive looking, trendy and pretentious than the last. This was formerly a church (more on its history here), and is a beautiful space. We met a lovely and very chatty woman there, who is part of this exclusive club. She told us that the space has been used by a womens' musical ensemble since 19-0-something (hey it was 3:30 am, and I'd been nipping from my friend's flask, so don't expect me to remember exact details). I just loved the atmosphere: cushions strewn about, fireplace roaring, and they even served free hot chocolate and cookies! The actual event was a reading, one more pics of that in my third and final post.

These next two were in an alleyway off of Queen West, and featured a wall covered with various white shoes, with interesting notes written on the wall.

A beautiful ice sculpture on Queen West.

Toronto's First Annual Nuit Blanche 2006 - Post # 1

Toronto has finally decided to join the ranks of many other "world class" cities (Paris, Brussels, etc.) and has thus started to hold the Nuit Blanche Festival. Although they did reject my proposal (not that I' m bitter or anything), I went, I frolicked, I drank lots of coffee (and other intoxicants) and had a blast. It was so cool to navigate the city at night and see so many people out. I was reminded of my trip to Spain many years ago, when it was such a novelty to me to be out in a foreign city, at 3 am, and feel totally safe because there were families, couples, etc, just strolling around. If you haven't been to Spain, get off your ass and go!

Anyway, on to the Nuit Blanche pics:

The Drake was hopping, as it is anyway on a Saturday night. These projections onto the building added some visual interest.

Some trendy folks busting a move outside the Drake. Note to very trendy and dressed up ladies seen on Queen West and Yorkville: heels and light capes are not appropriate attire for running around the city in misty weather.

A car wash on Queen West that had four "garages", each one set up like this, but with a different video playing. Brilliant idea, although not many people were actually sticking around to watch them.

On Queen West, this was quite the extravaganza. The man below was performing a live play, and he was featured in a separate performance on the screen which was set to dramatic opera music, while the people on the sidelines waved flags and fire. Can you find the sign that says "Queen W is Dead"?

Another one of the Queen W. car wash videos.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Be cool, get rid of your car!

I was very pleased to read a recent article by Martin O'Malley which extolls the virtues, frugality and fun of not having a car. Here is an excerpt:

"I have become a better person by not owning a car. Jostling with other humans on the subway and on city sidewalks brings me new experiences every day that I would not enjoy locked inside a hermetically sealed automobile. I’m convinced what many car-owners most enjoy about driving their cars is the delightful privacy in lives otherwise fettered to jobs and families. In the lush privacy of their automobiles, even on hour-long commutes, they can listen to their favourite music, follow sports, smoke and chat on their cellphones."

Read the whole article here.