Detroit Part 2: Market Garden Tour

Community-Based Urban Farm Feeds the City

Our initiation to Detroit urbanism on Spacing Magazine's road trip began with a tour of the Detroit Market Garden.

In the midst of empty, paved lots, graffiti and abandoned warehouses springs this refreshing testament to revitalization and grassroots initiative in Detroit. The Greening of Detroit has turned 2.5 acres of urban wasteland into an urban farm that engages over 100 community volunteers in cultivating and harvesting food. The food is then sold at local farmers’ markets. Other urban agricultural projects are spread throughout the city as well, run by The Greening of Detroit.

I was inspired seeing how the locals are doing it for themselves and in a sustainable, conscious manner that is substantially contributing to the communities. Next time, it would be even more inspiring to meet some of the volunteers and the wider community. We came in as tourists on this trip, not to be voyeurs, but to build understanding. The locals we did encounter on the tour though showed so much passion for their city. I love that. Perhaps there is something in the process of falling so hard, as the city of Detroit has, that cultivates a strong will to spring up again in new form. Detroit, you got heart!

 

Ode to Third Beach, Stanley Park, Vancouver

Still one of my favourite ‘secret’ spots in the city! No better place to chill and mellow out than on this surprisingly secluded beach on the far side of the park. Lots of interesting folks to watch…

 

Detroit Part 1: The Heidelberg Art Project
Sculpting the Rubble

I was lucky enough to take a weekend trip down to Detroit with Spacing Magazine recently. It was a tour of both the challenges and revitalization taking place in the city. We’ve all heard so much about the abandoned buildings and financial ruin of Detroit, but it’s a love for the place we live in and the people we live with that makes a place home, no matter the aesthetics. Detroit is no exception, regardless of recession.

The Heidelberg Project, essentially an art installation, struck me as a voice amidst the chaos, negative perceptions and disillusion that threaten to overshadow the residents of DetroitThe project manages to make a statement out of the yard scraps and household items that represent the people and the memories in this neighbourhood. It’s a declaration of spirit and creation contradicting deterioration. 

Tyree Guyton, the mastermind behind the project, has extended his project through two colourful blocks in his neighbourhood. My favourite, most moving part of the project was a charred house foundation crowned with a TV and the words “Detroit is a Phoenix” scrawled across the screen (see photo above). It’s an extremely powerful statement elevating the situation to the spiritual. If you listen to Guyton speak too, you will definitely feel the spiritual energy he pours into his work. What a wonderfully wacky neighbourhood to walk through. I highly recommend visiting if you have the chance. I can only imagine what it’s like to live there!

More of the Detroit trip to come. Please bear with my intermittent Vancouver updates!

 

4 Challenges to Designing a Green Line

A Walking Tour of a Toronto Rail/Hydro Corridor

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The legacy of industrialism in Toronto culture strikes me. It colours the approach to many things here, including city planning. This may sound like the statement of a privileged west coast snob, but the fact is, many cities around the world are finding ways to blend their industrial needs with their human needs.

Case in point for Toronto: the five kilometre stretch of parks from Lansdowne Avenue to Christie Avenue along rail tracks and a hydro corridor just north of Dupont, has the potential to be an active, connected travel route for non-vehicular traffic. With a little imagination and lots of drive, local community groups are studying the potential to turn this into a future Green Line. I joined their walking tour to see exactly what the area is like and to learn what kind of obstacles the project must overcome. Most of all, I wanted to see what it looks like to grapple with industrial-mentalities.

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Challenge 1: Park People is working with residents to develop the idea of a Green Line into a coherent, long-term plan that would make use of these otherwise abandoned green spaces. Several other community groups such as Cycle Toronto, the David Suzuki Foundation and city planners were on hand during the tour to provide input as well. Political and psychological boundaries pose a real challenge to sustainability initiatives in Hogtown though. In order to make the Green Line a reality, tenacity will need to overcome comfortable and well-established silos between city planning, parks, transportation and wards. The project requires cooperation, or rather, positive attitudes to creating a new, sustainable city infrastructure project.

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Challenge 2: As you follow the parks west to east, you’re immediately confronted with the discouraging issue of crossing busy avenues at your own perile. This happens repeatedly every ten blocks. One part of the plan would be to create cycling/pedestrian-friendly bridges over the busy avenues that currently splice the path.

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Challenge 3: On a larger scale, disconnection between existing cycling and pedestrian infrastructure in Toronto prevents users from being able to travel right across the city. With the Green Line, it would be possible to connect to other cycling and pedestrian paths that lead to the centre of the city and beyond (brilliant!), but it would require extending the line east with the Bridgman Transformer Station. The Dupont Employment Lands Study could possibly influence this with its own study of the Green Line’s potential, thereby pushing the project further onto the city’s radar and congregating support for this type of expansion.

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Challenge 4: What residents definitely don’t want are thoughtless, industrial-based designs characterizing the future Green Line. Several tour participants raised the concern that concrete safety divider walls would be used to buttress the rail lines, when other, more aesthetic ideas should be considered. Communities want creative, responsive and proactive solutions from the engineers, planners, developers and landscape architects who will ultimately define the feel and usability of this corridor.

And so Toronto, I leave you with this challenge: to tear the blinders of status quo from your eyes! Go, seek within yourselves. If Vancouver, New York, Portland, Amsterdam and _____ can do it, why can’t we?

 

The Sunlight, Serenaded into Dusk
Another gorgeous Luminato festival experience

It was a delicious day of literary readings in a sumptuously sunny park and then an evening coaxed, lulled and invigorated by beautiful strings and soaring scores. Can you tell I’ve been inspired to use expressive language?!

A heavenly performance on harp and kora by Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita, followed by the TSO’s vibrant, passionate Salute to the Americas, were everything I wanted them to be. It was my symphonic fix! Earlier in the day, I basked in the poetic words coming from small stages at the Literary Picnic in Trinity Bellwoods Park. Oh to be a Bohemian.

Thank you God for outdoor festival season and the sunburn on my back.

 

How to Decide When It’s Time to Go Back

4 Great Questions to Ask Oneself

Time out! Enough with the spring insanity, it’s time for some personal reflection. SkyWithLemon (fellow blogger) wrote a post so relevant to my theme of relocation, I had to repost part of it.

Here are the four points SkyWithLemon considers on whether ‘to go back’ or not:

  1. Don’t go back out of fear.
  2. Don’t go back because you have something to prove.
  3. Don’t go back to avoid pain.
  4. When either you have changed, or the something has changed (I guess this means whatever it was that caused you to move, has to have changed before you can return).

I’m loving the thought-structure this list brings! It would really suck to think you’ve come full circle, new and improved, only to realize you’re really stuck back where you started. Sometimes I think about the things I’m learning by living far away from my hometown, and it blows my mind. I could never have predicted how valuable some of these life lessons would be. The prospect of returning to Vancouver always presents questions about whether some of the gains I’ve made would rewind. It’s easy to be naive about a return home. Just as much, it’s easy to be naive about returning to many things from the past. So if you’re weighing your options on whether to return to a job, a relationship or even a city, I suggest turning these questions over in your mind.

SkyWithLemon inhabits far away places like Dubai and Indonesia, yet the distance between Vancouver and Toronto seems just as far. 

 

The Walking Diaries: Diana

Step into the shoes of people from different walks of life in Toronto through The Walking Diaries! I ask about their favourite places to walk in Toronto and what a walking-friendly city looks like to them in celebration of the 2014 Jane’s Walk festival.

Diana Condolo
Web Developer

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Diana Condolo is a Web Developer/Graphic Designer/Social Media Specialist by day and a blogger for Torontonity.com by night. She loves to wander around the city, exploring all its treasures. Her dream is to live within walking distance of her office and a happening area. You can also find her on Twitter at @geekycatgirl.

When’s your favourite time to go for a walk?
I love strolling Sunday mornings when the city is at its quietest and the light is soft. I especially love the dewy-fresh smell of the morning air. It feels so wholesome.

How has walking changed your experience of the city
?
A couple of years ago there was a Jane’s Walk close to my neighbourhood. Not only did I not think anyone would organize a walk in this dormant area of the city but I also thought no one could find anything interesting to say, let alone keep us engaged for one-and-a-half hours. I was happily surprised! There was much to see and learn. I discovered new row houses in a previously empty lot. Now, every time I walk through what I think of as a boring area, I take a second look.

What’s one of your favourite walks in Toronto that you would suggest to others?
I love walking Queen Street.West. When I’m ambitious, I start walking from Dundas St. West subway station and go south on Roncesvalles, enjoying the indie coffee shops along the way and the brief view of Lake Ontario as I turn on to Queen Street. I wander, losing myself in the eclectic combo of antique, vintage and trendy stores. The art galleries along the Queen West strip are just wonderful and are always changing their exhibits.

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May is an especially good time to check out the Scotiabank Contact festival in this area. If you are feeling energetic you could walk to the east end of Queen Street, finishing at Leslie Jones, the last venue on Queen. That is 11.6km! You can walk as little or as much as you want, rest and find a café, or head home on the TTC.

Check out Diana’s walk route > 

If you could go on a dream walk, who would it be with?
I would relish walking with a group of urban planners from all over the world. The conversation would be so interesting. I imagine there would be a wide variety of opinions about the urban environment.

Describe an interestingJane’s Walk you did during the festival this year.

The Visions of Parkdale Past and Future, In the Balance walk led by Alec Keefer was a fascinating walk. He talked about a house on Dowling Street where Anderson Ruffin Abbott, the first Black Canadian to become a physician, lived from 1890. He repeatedly emphasized that there was no plaque on the house. I wonder why would that be? Alec is a really interesting and charismatic guy - he had a captive audience.

Describe your favourite walking shoes.
The best shoes for walking extensively are running shoes, but I don’t like how they look with dresses. So I have a pair of Cole Haan Nike Air shoes that are comfortable AND pretty.

 

Everything Will Be ________.

Vancouver Chinatown Documentary Kicks *#$! at Hot Docs

The gradual and seductive gentrification of Vancouver’s Chinatown is simply the unavoidable onset of change that defines life. How do you feel about that?

In Julia Kwan’s documentation of development and hipsterfication, one hundred year old family businesses close shop to make way for modern condos and cultural memorial art work. You watch layers of fresh, opaque paint mute the characters and history of a community. The little tea shop, the family-run Italian grocer, the poet who lives in the community hotel and the 90 year old woman who’s sold newspapers on the street for over 20 years form the crux of Kwan’s presentation.

Capturing the sights and sounds of street-level Chinatown with humour and reflection, Everything Will Be is a sensory experience of an aging community watching its own passing. I feel the film really reflects the ability of Vancouver to celebrate its individuals, to cherish the uniqueness of the little guy. Tear.

Director Julia Kwan and Producer David Christensen at Hot Docs for the post-screening Q&A

Also notably, I have to admit that 20 minutes into the film, I had a persistent craving for congee and steamer buns. Vancouver does have the best selection of fresh, Asian cuisine! Nevertheless, I found myself scurrying to Spadina and Dundas straight after the screening to satiate my craving!

Anyways, excuse my stomache. As the neon art piece that presides over the shifting skyline of Chinatown proclaims, “Everything Will Be Alright”. Coincidentally, the same day of seeing the film, I noticed a tweet announcing the cancellation of the night market this year. What’s up? Kind of like a sad confirmation of everything the film speaks to. Everything Will Be is sure to screen in Vancouver festivals soon and I’m sure it will melt the hearts of everyone there.

 

The Walking Diaries: Dan Falk

Step into the shoes of people from different walks of life in Toronto through The Walking Diaries! I ask about their favourite places to walk in Toronto and what a walking-friendly city looks like to them in celebration of the 2014 Jane’s Walk festival.

Dan Falk
Science Journalist

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Dan Falk is a journalist, author, and broadcaster. His most recent book is “The Science of Shakespeare: A New Look at the Playwright’s Universe.” Follow him on Twitter at @danfalk.

What is the best discovery you’ve made while walking the city?
The city is always changing! Recently I went for a walk in the Liberty Village area, and I was amazed to see how an entirely new neighbourhood had popped up, with its own cafes and restaurants and parks, all within the last few years.

Why do you like to walk?
Sometimes I just notice the little things, that might have nothing to do with the neighbourhood that I’m in: the skyline reflected in a puddle, the sun glinting of an airliner heading for Pearson, a robin getting excited over a worm – things that you’d only notice if you’re on foot.

What is one thing you would do to make Toronto more “walkable”?
One issue is that not all walks start from home; therefore, you somehow need to get to the place where you intend to walk. As an avid transit rider, that means taking the subway, bus, or streetcar. So I think that anyone who loves walking is also – more or less automatically – a supporter of public transit. To sum up: Better transit = a more walkable city.

What’s a Toronto walk you would suggest to others?
I often walk from my house on Davenport Road down to the Annex. I try to maximize the amount of green space that I pass, so beginning with Marian Engel Park, I zig-zag south of Dupont and east of Christie. I slice across the southwest corner of Vermont Square, east to Jean Sibelius Square, and finally south to Bloor Street. Heading back the other way, I confess, I usually take the bus!

Find Dan’s walking route

I have a bunch of favourite smaller walks that I enjoy too, like the length of the Little Italy strip, or the trek across Trinity Bellwoods Park.

If you could go on a dream walk, would it be with?
How about Paul McCartney? Then you could tell people, “You’ll never guess who I went for a walk with: Paul McCartney!” Buzz Aldrin would be another cool choice.

Describe your favourite walking shoes.
These days I walk in a pair of Merrell’s. I don’t have any particular brand loyalty for shoes and sneakers, though.

Want to be featured in the Walking Diaries series? Take the step and get in touch!

 

The Walking Diaries

Step into the shoes of people from different walks of life in Toronto through The Walking Diaries! I ask about their favourite places to walk in the city and what ‘walkability’ looks like to them in celebration of the Jane’s Walk festival, May 2-4.

Read The Walking Diaries and find some great new walking routes and ideas:

Want to be featured in the Walking Diaries series? Take the step and get in touch!