There’s a great clash of mentalities bursting at the seams in Toronto. No where was this more evident than at the Economic Development Committee (EDC) meeting last week in city hall. The movement to host an Open Streets TO festival is a primo example of undercurrents taking shape in the city. Urban designers, environmentalists, activists and advocacy groups in Toronto are bringing community and sustainability onto the mainstream agenda more and more. So while I’m not a city hall blogger, this is where my quest to exploit Toronto culture is taking me it seems.
Business improvement associations, neighbourhood associations and urban renewal advocates emphatically waved their arms at the EDC to approve Open Streets in a series of meetings. The events would open the streets to alternative ways of moving through the city, car free. Originally, the proposal was for a wide-scale, four-day event on Sundays in August, but it was met with resistance at the city’s core. Critical responses, delayed processes and rigid requirements from the EDC effectively downgraded and diluted efforts. All but for the voice of Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.
Thinking Past the Known
More than anything, the posture of city hall demonstrates to me a disturbing lack of imagination among the individuals running the city. Practical, logistical questions need to be asked for sure, but when the questions become knee-jerk reactions, creativity and opportunity are severely limited. Some councillors are probably very familiar with car commuter culture as they shuttle in and out from places like Scarborough. They may view cyclists or pedestrians as groups they will never associate with or understand. Then there’sthe notorious Ford's belligerent insistence on squashing this bug and enjoying it with Grade 3 delight. Likewise, many urban-centric figures have been quite ignorant about suburban concerns. Where's the bridge?
Devil in the Details
Presenters supporting the Open Streets project suggested that police presence should be more of a collaboration than a massive, unilateral police undertaking. There is a struggle to come to terms with real community participation and collaboration, to imagine what that looks like. It boggles my mind that the committee also has no cognition of the business potential from increased foot traffic. The mentality that business must centre around car traffic is a sad, stubborn lack of vision.
As Gil Penalosa, Executive Director of 8-80 Cities put it, “Change is hard.” Penalosa has produced successful Open Streets around the world, including in Columbia where over 1 million people attend and hundreds of miles are dedicated to car-free traffic. There are many places in the world that have accomplished more than what Open Streets TO originally proposed. But there needs to be an attitude of solutions to problems, not problems for solutions. So while the EDC has shrunk Open Streets TO to a one day affair, this or a similar issue will come up again. Next time, the momentum will need to be even greater to jump over this canyon of division and improve the city.
All I Can Eat - Gorging on Documentaries
9 late night documentary screenings, all mine. Gobble, gobble!
A sharp, pressed dress suit with strong, contrasting colour blocks: It’s the Toronto look. The essence of American je ne sais quoi! Now let’s imagine the business man above walking down a lush, magnolia and cherry blossom-lined street of the West End in Vancouver. Kind of like an industrial ink spot on mother nature. There’s a sense of purpose with which he walks. Every step counts, no time for smelling the roses.
In a city that judges so harshly on corporatism and values so deeply independence, this guy wouldn’t have a hope of fitting in. Smug anti-Toronto vibes would be emanating around him. I, myself, remember mentally singling out the bright-eyed, corporate Torontonians visiting the city on business.
Risking over-generalizing now, let’s imagine the typical Vancouver suit, for fun. Yep, that’s F-U-N Vancouver. Ah, I used the F word! And seriously, if the following offends any Vancouverites who feels ‘stereotyped’, I recommend laughing exercises. So - I’m picturing natural fibres and neutrals… but also, the element of non-conformity, expressed one way or another with flamboyant accessories or a fresh-off-the-beach twist. Wha’da’ya think? Or else a highly, highly, preciously constructed hipsterism that speaks to a lifestyle unfettered by economic realities and a curatorial obsession with whimsical, romantic ideals. To be anything except a mainstream, corporate drone! Anything!
And so, there we have it. The direct, no nonsense, Toronto power suit contrasting the non-committal, cool and slightly wild Vancouver professional type. I love studying Canadian dichotomies.
Has This Japantown Graffiti Mural Always Been Here? @ Queen & Claremont, Toronto
Apparently not, but it was completed this past Fall! It’s surprising to think how much changes so fast, or rather more excitingly, to think of all the little pockets of the city that lie waiting to be rediscovered on foot. I found a great little video and a backgrounder on this project, headed by the National Association of Japanese Canadians.
If you’re ever in this ‘hood, make sure you check out Sanko, the adorable Japanese import grocery store behind these walls.
Time to Get Your Happy Dance On
Pharrell William’s “Happy” - the Vancouver version! I love this song, and I love seeing joyful people. Come on Vancouver, I see you smiling. Plus, I also love that this video is a great way to see both notable and secret Vancouver landmarks. Happy Friday!
Vancouver Blogger Wanted for Schemes and Master Plans
Hey Vancouverites! I’m looking for a Vancouver blogger to be the west coast voice on Hybrid Inhabitor!
It’s a little hard to have my ear on the ground in two places at the same time and I’d like to make Hybrid Inhabitor authentic to both Toronto and Vancouver.
You: Are you a seasoned blogger looking for a new focus and inspiration? Are you new to blogging with big ideas swimming in your head? Either way, this could be your perfect, new creative outlet. You’re a bit of a Vancouver veteran, with a critical yet loving eye on your city. You also hold a curiosity for what else is out there and can respond to news and trends from Toronto in a Vancouver context.
If you are interested in sharing your experiences about Vancouver quirks and peculiarities, events, arts, culture, food, politics, nature, urban planning and/or sustainability - not to mention achieving nation-wide fame - I’d love to put our heads together and see where this leads. It is a labour of love but you never know what the future holds with the right ideas and chutzpah. Be prepared to face-off Toronto with zest and help take Hybrid Inhabitor to the next level.
One of the advantages of living further east that truly excites me is being able to go to cool, new places for the weekend! Montreal, Quebec City, New York, Boston and Chicago are all in proximity to Toronto. My heart is set on driving south and exploring exotic regions such as New Orleans, South Carolina and Virgina too. On the West Coast, we only watch places like this on TV, where they say things like “I done told you twice!”.
This weekend though, I had to go deep into Canadiana territory, near Montreal, in order to properly experience the maple syrup binge that is Sugar Shack season. Getting there really was half the fun. The train still holds somewhat exotic qualities for me as a West Coaster. Ooh, VIA Rail, so Canadian!!
I better explain for the western folks that a Sugar Shack, or Cabane à Sucre, is a buffet celebration of the coming spring as the maple trees release their syrup. Really, it’s an all-out sugar gorge-fest where it’s ok to ecstatically pour - no douse - liquid sugar all over everything in giddy jubilation. (It’s natural sugar though, right?) Eggs, ham, dumplings, beans, bacon, pancakes awash in maple syrup. Then washed down with maple beer. And finally, the sugar pie. No, but yet, the TAFFY. Does anyone else remember the Sesame Street segment where they demonstrate the syrup poured on the snow? I’ve been dreaming of it since the age of 5. Now, in full-fledged adulthood, I’ve tasted the reality!
For the record, the maple syrup harvest is unique to eastern Canada. Several locals practically pulled their hair out at the thought that we have no such thing as a Sugar Shack on the west coast and don’t grow up with this annual tradition. Without maple farms, it’s a little difficult. It’s funny that people living in the same country assume so much about each other. Or rather that we know so much about each other. Anyways, what would happen if the whole country was high on maple syrup?!
I am happy to have experienced the joy that is Sugar Shack season and its’ snow-taffy popsicle glory. This weekend was, what I hope to be, the first of many weekend getaways as the weather warms up. They’re just a train or bus ride away.
Guess where I am?
Raptors Warm Up Paints An Artful Scene
Warm-up on the Air Canada Centre court struck me as a Victorian or Renaissance crowd painting when I attended a game last week. Every detail revealed a small story about the people within the larger picture, as in The Last Supper or a famous Renoir.
I guess this is the type of observation that comes from a person not really in tune with basketball! I confess, it was my first Raptors game, and this casual spectacle made my imagination fly.
The Sacramento Kings were about to get their butts kicked, but first, mini-moments of preparation could be seen around the court. Take a look. :)
Can We Please Have You?
Mr. Nenshi, who is in town for several speaking engagements to promote Calgary, also offered Toronto’s mayoral candidates candid campaign advice. He said the obsession over partisanship and splitting votes on the right and left is distracting from real issues.
“Here’s the thing: nobody cares about those old labels of left or right and liberal and conservative. Is removing the snow a right-wing or left-wing idea? Is fixing the potholes more New Democrat or Conservative? It’s ridiculous,” he said.
“If we went on to Bay Street today and asked 100 people, ‘Are you left-wing or right-wing?’ I guarantee you, 85 of them would have no idea what we were talking about and 11 of them would answer incorrectly. And the rest would be John Tory.’” he said, to wild laughter.
Would you like waffles with your waffles? Friends and I stumbled upon this new brunch spot right in the Wychood ‘hood. Mine: potato waffles topped with big dollops of sour cream, bacon and cheese. Option of baked beans or fruit on the siiiiide with each meal.
Free, Mobile Dental Clinics on the Move
@ Queen and Peter
Apparently the City of Toronto supplies this service for teens 17 and under. I wish my dentist would do this!
My experience of ‘primary care’ in Ontario has been one of overwhelming attention. When one is starved, the littlest give seems like a huge gesture. The fact that the city dedicates resources like this to general dental care, strikes me as another example of how much more emphasis is put on primary care here. I’m simply not used to doctors following up my symptoms with actual testing and persistence. I’m amazed that I see the same doctor each time I visit the office. The distracted, walk-in style of family medicine in Vancouver has me expecting a nod and a prescription slip from a stranger. Apparently health funding in BC is split with research on things like antiretroviral medicines, and the difference in service to the general public is amazing, to my wide eyes!
@ Dupont & Spadina
Less Pesticides Would Be Sweeter Than Honey
More Than Honey, the documentary screened by Planet in Focus at the Art Gallery of Ontario this week, has my mind abuzzzz. What I loved about this documentary, aside from the big question about bee survival, was the way they showed bees close up in flight. No doubt some special effects were applied but the bees were real.
Their communal intelligence is astounding, and yet, we humans commonly see ourselves as superior. More Than Honey tells how the bees may have found a way around our ignorant insistence on spraying crops with pesticides and interfering in their mating habits. Interestingly, the ‘killer bee’ phenomenon has produced a virile, if not angry, new subspecies. If I took one lesson from this doc it’s ‘Don’t *&!k with nature’. Did you know that in some parts of China, humans polinate blooms by hand because the bees have deserted farming areas? They reminded me of Oompa Loompas (see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).
After the screening, emotions high in my throat, I learned about why bees are disappearing in Canada from a panel of beekeepers and naturalists. Would you even be surprised if the pesticides widely used in corn and soy mono-farming were said to be the major contributors? The chemicals wear on the bees’ immunity, hence wide-spread diseases, infections and parasite infestations. The wider farming and chemical industry are well-aware of the impact of their businesses and the effects are backed up by numerous studies as well. But the panelists pointed to feeble regulation as the reason these chemicals are continuously used in Canada, unlike Europe. There is a petition to Ontario Premiere Kathleen Wynne that you cansign instantly online asking the province of Ontario to ban neonicotinoid pesticide use. Over 50 000 have signed so far but it’s not enough to be heard yet. What about in BC too?
The next contribution I can make to the situation is to choose organic foods, particularly corn and soy-based foods. We don’t need pesticides and increased productivity. We have enough, more than enough to be grateful for. It reminds us of the respect we must have for the other creatures we share the world with and to share our food supply with those in need. I think the only way out is to change our ideas about food consumption in North America fundamentally.
More Than Honey
Looking forward to this doc screening tomorrow at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) about why bees are disappearing. It’s hosted by Planet in Focus film festival.