A green Toronto Christmas

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas 2006

Christmas Eve 2006. Merry Christmas to one and all …


Home Sweet Home

Saturday, December 23, 2006

I arrived back in Toronto last night after my relaxing week in New York visiting the extended family. For the longest time after coming home from a city like New York, I always felt that Toronto lacked a certain … je ne c’est quoi. It felt like a little village in a way, rather than the largest city in Canada. But when one compares it to a monster city like New York, how can it not?

Coming home last night was different though. I’ve found a new appreciation for it. I can see beyond the grey cement walls and better understand the underlying foundation of the city and can understand why things are the way they are better.

Toronto the good. Toronto is good.

I dropped off my bags at home and went out for a bite to eat with my partner at Fresh (I’ve been jonsing for a good Warrior rice bowl and some dosas!). Walking into the restaurant, the first thing I said was “This feels so Toronto”. There’s something distinctly Toronto about Fresh. It’s clean and trendy, but not trying to be anything other than what it is. I can’t really put my finger on it, but I enjoy the atmosphere. In New York, you’d be surrounded by woman who looked like they just stepped out of a Gucci ad and men who are either Wall Street millionaires or who look very Hollywood. But the people in the restaurant last night were laid back, funky, laughing, engaging in serious conversations … they were enjoying themselves.

I was home and it was comforting. It’s good to be home.


And now for something completely different …

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ah, the good ol’ Monty Python segway – works every time.

No, I’m not vering from my Toronto centric blog (because I’m sure the thousands of readers subscribed to this blog [note the sarcasm] are scared this post is about something other than Toronto) … I’m merely setting up what this post is about, the job of any good title to an article, is it not?

Torontonians know that the Gardiner Expressway, that strip of raised roadway, that physical and psychological barrier to the, what sounds like it should be the Emerald City – aka the Waterfront, has been one of the biggest debates in the last decade amongst politicians, urban planners, suburbanites and citizens of the City of Toronto.

What, oh what are we to do with this concrete thing?

Well, finally after much demand, the report on what we should do with the Gardiner was released during the mayoral race. Mayor Miller said it wasn’t ready to be released to the public, but everyone wanted to know … so we finally got to see what has been “officially” recommended to the City. The four plans for the Gardiner are all interesting (except for the one that recommends keeping it up). Personally, I say tear it down. I think it’s a hindrance more than anything. I think we could do much more interesting things with the space it currently occupies – the Grand Boulevard idea with the commercial shopping and street life sounds like a great idea to me. However, of all the plans that have been officially put forth to the City in this report, there is one that I think would be far more innovative, less costly and would be something completely different.

TO Viaduct

Behold the Toronto Waterfront Viaduct. Without me paraphrasing what this project is, here is what is posted on the website:
This proposal is based on a cable-stayed viaduct running above the existing lake shore rail corridor. Since these railway tracks are not going to be removed from their current location, due to their major transportation role for downtown Toronto, the right-of-way that they occupy seems to be the obvious choice to improve transporation capacity, while removing the elevated expressway.

The Viaduct is an unusual plan. Who would think to put a suspended bridge running through the middle of a downtown core?

Jose Gutierrez certainly did. Gutierrez is a graduate of Seneca College’s Civil Engineering program where he dreamt up this project for his final project. Spacing Wire has an excellent interview by Ian Malczewski with Gutierrez about his vision and reasoning behind the Viaduct approach.

But if you think about, the plan is actually quite brilliant. By combining the need for a speedy and reliable east-west public transit line to relieve the traffic on the 501 Queen Street car, along with an 8-10 lane expressway, coupled with a beautiful garden-enclosed walkway which would stretch the entire length of the bridge allowing citizens to walk, bike, blade in any weather the length of downtown … and with the possibility of building apartments/condos into each of the A-frame towers, which aligns itself well with the City’s plan for a more dense downtown core to stop the spread of the urban sprawl … well, quite frankly, I think we’ve got a winner on our hands, ladies and gentlemen.

Now, keep in mind, I’m not an urban planner – didn’t go to school for it, don’t know the first thing about architecture (except for what I like, what I don’t, what ionic and doric columns are and the fact that I would live in any building that has exposed brick walls … well, almost any building) … but I think this is a pretty damn good idea.

What I really like about this plan, other than the skyPath, which I personally think is brilliant and would be envied the world around, is that according to Gutierrez, the project would cost very little next to the plans adopted by the official report and would not cause traffic mayhem during construction. It also, and this is what really got me excited about this project, would open up all the land currently used by the Gardiner for commerical or residential, park or other waterfront related development and would utilize the stretches of land that currently are taken up by the train tracks. It didn’t even occur to me that these tracks are in fact the barrier between downtown Toronto and its waterfront.

Toront's skyline forever changed

The skyline would be changed forever, and what a magnificent change it would be. Imagine being on the island and gazing out across the harbour and feasting your eyes on an architectural wonder! I bet you anything that tourists from around the world would come to see something like this … and what better way to drive into the hear of a city than on a suspended bridge flanked by massive futuristic pillars welcoming you to this innovative and risk-taking city.

I’ve written to my city councillor and others about the plan to hear what they think of the proposal … but alas, there was no response. I would like to state, right here, right now, that I dare Mayor Miller, the councillors of this city, and in fact, the citizens who live here, to think way outside the box just for a moment and see the potential for this city. The Toronto Waterfront Viaduct is one of those proposals that I hope isn’t just another dream by a citizen of this City that never sees at least some discussion about it. This proposal needs to have some life given to it.

Let’s show the world what we’re really made of!

(Cue dramatic music score)


Great wine, perfect atmosphere

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I moved into Cabbagetown in April and immediately fell in love with the area. Being born in the Beach (or Beaches – I won’t digress as that’s a whole other post all together), I loved the small town feel of the community but the closeness of downtown. Cabbagetown is the best of both worlds – but almost feels like it’s a hidden gem in a way. Everyone seems to know about Cabbagetown but doesn’t seem to know it.

It was an adventure moving in and exploring the area.

Over the summer, another new tenant moved into the area and I dare say I’ve fallen in love. It’s not a person (I don’t want my partner to think I’m cheating), but rather a new wine bar at the corner of Winchester and Parliament, The Cobourg.

I didn’t notice it until I walked past one evening and noticed people sitting inside a dim lit room, candles glowing and glasses of wine on the antique tables. The chairs in front window were of a different era and seemed to hug the patron sitting in it. There was no signage inside or out – nothing to say what one was to expect upon entering.

I was intrigued.

It wasn’t until a few weeks later that friends and I decided that we must try out this new haunt, so on a rainy autumn evening we ventured to the unknown, unassuming, mysterious little secret that had quietly nestled itself into our neighbourhood. My first reaction was a calm one. This wine bar, as we soon discovered, was something of a time machine. It was a mix of the 1930’s and present day modern chic. The high ceilings gave it that olde Cabbagetown feel, the walls were adorned with massive paintings of ostrichs (hence the reason my friends and I still refer to it as the Ostrich – which is not the name, but should the owners decide to change it one day, I would vote for such a title), a beautiful wooden bar with high stools to perch oneself on and a massive mirror reflecting the life of the room back to itself hanging on the wall behind the bar. The music perfectly matched the room, Ella’s voice soothed your worries away, Nina and her soulful voice, Louis and that trumpet – all the greats, it was magic! The furniture all looked like it belonged in an old Victorian home, very comfortable, very stylish, and very eclectic. This was fast becoming a favourite in the neighbourhood … and we hadn’t even sampled the wine yet!

John, owner, actor and wine connoisseur, is very personable and loves describing the types of wines that are on his list. In fact, there are a few that one cannot buy at the LCBO, nor at any wine store, but come directly from the vineyards in the Niagara region. Wolf Ass is a fine example of a delicious red wine, not too heavy, very tasty and a perfect way to begin your evening of wine tasting. I’m no expert, but I do enjoy my wine and love a good red. The wine list is very reasonably priced and there are some delightful choices to choose from.

But almost better than the wine choices, and why else would one go to a wine bar, is the little-known fact that The Cobourg has the most delectable little cheese plate this side of Yonge Street (and probably west of Yonge as well!). Everytime I have been to The Cobourg, I have been delighted by various cheeses that I’ve never seen before with a side of fruit to enhance the experience and a selection of breads to spread them onto. The last time my friends and I were there, we were treated to a delicious cheddar with caramel injected into it, a sort of goat cheese with cranberries as well as two others that were equally as scrumptious, but I was unfamiliar with the type of cheese and therefore can’t give you an accurate description of them (it was about 2 weeks ago, so I hope you will forgive the lack of investigative reporting!). A good cheese is the perfect companion to any good wine. John is obviously aware of this and has done a wonderful job at providing the right samplings of cheeses.

The Cobourg has turned into a bit of a weekly tradition with a group of my Cabbagetown friends. It’s the perfect place to leave the real world behind and indulge your taste buds and engage in good conversation for a while … something I look forward to doing.


Let’s see lower Bay!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

TTC Map

As posted on Steve Munro’s website (a great site by the way – all about transit in Toronto), the TTC is going to be diverting subways along the Bloor/Danforth line at Bay south to Museum by-passing St. George and reconnecting back up on Spadina.

This, my friends, is thrilling.

I’ve always heard of the ellusive lower Bay station. It’s been used for years as a movie set that can be made up to look like a Manhattan subway station. For the longest time I thought it had been built, but never used, but it wasn’t until recently that I discovered that when the line first opened, there actually were subways that used this system. The trains running east / west could also change to lower Bay and run north south … go figure. This also explains those signs in all the older stations that say “Next Train” – usually with Kipling as the next station. This never made sense to me as I always thought the train only went to Kipling if going west and only went to Kennedy if going east. But it makes sense now that the option for the trains to go north / south has come to light.

I think there should be a party … someone (like newmindspace maybe?) should organize a sort of tour for people with handouts about the history of this hidden subway station and then we all get on and take the train and ooo and ahh over as we turn down the tracks and pass through a little bit of history.

The diversions will happen for six weekend starting February 18 and lasting until March 31.

A part of me wished they still did, purely for the fact that I always wanted the subway lines to be more integrated than they are, just a little more complicated like New York’s subway or London’s … but not really because I like the simplicity of our system … although I wouldn’t complain if it was more extensive.

There is a lot to say about my love / hate, but mostly love, relationship with the TTC … so I will leave this here and continue on later with more thoughts and comments.


First post and I’m not even in TO

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Strange that I would find myself outside the country and starting a blog about my home town, Toronto. Maybe I needed to be away from Toronto to write about it. Maybe reading uTOpia has pushed me to put my views online about the city where I live. Maybe … maybe, I just wanted to start a blog and see if I could maintain it.

Other failed attempts have come before, but this WordPress thing looked too good to pass up, so I thought – hey, why not give it a whirl and see what happens!

I’m currently in Watermill, New York just outside of Southampton visiting my grandmother and some extended family before Christmas. I like to say that I was doing Sex and the City before Sex and the City was doing Sex and the City (try typing that ten times fast). This is my second home … the house in which my grandmother lives was built the year I was born (easy for her to keep track of my age!). I feel a special connection to this place and love coming down as often as I can.

But this blog wasn’t put up to talk about Long Island … no, this blog is about Toronto – but it’s also about Toronto in relation to other cities – like New York.

It’s not fair to compare the two cities in my opinion – they’re apples and oranges. I hated New York when I was a kid. Perhaps it was my anti-American sentiment setting in … being half American was not something I was particularly proud of as a child – I was a staunch nationalist to my Canadian heritage. But growing older and wiser now I’ve come to appreciate New York. My thoughts on America in general would require another blog completely, and I’m not going to get into those politics right now – no offence to my family of course. 🙂

But Toronto seems to be striving to be like New York now – why is that? Yonge and Dundas are looking more and more like a cheap rip-off of Times Square! And now that the monstrosity known as Metropolis is finally being built after eons of hoarding covering up the north-east corner of Yonge and Dundas, we will soon be subjected to even MORE advertising blaring down on the citizens who just want to relax on Yonge-Dundas Square – if that is at all possible. We even have our own discount ticket booth on the Square (T.O.TIX) like in Times Square. That’s not such a bad thing – at least there’s a bit of culture infiltrating the tsunami of advertising.

On a side note: it’s interesting to me that in the midst of all the talk of energy crisis’ happening in Toronto and the fact that we’re going to need more power in the coming years and the Province decides to build a coal-power plant right smack dab on our waterfront (brilliant idea) … that developers are allowed to push for more signage and more electronic screens to blast nothing but Loreal cosmetic ads at us from above …

Times Square grew organically. Yes it’s an assault on the senses now, but it all started way back when. It didn’t pop up out of nowhere. To me, Yonge and Dundas now seems like it’s a hydroponics greenery plopped into the middle of an organically grown garden … if that makes any sense. I’m not against what’s happened to the area – I think it’s great that we have an open square like YD Square, and I think it’s finally finding its feet and weaving itself quite nicely into the fabric of downtown. But I believe Toronto could have done far more interesting things with the architecture, integrated the surrounding culture in better, created something really worth visiting. At least in Times Square there is always something going on. Walking up to Yonge and Dundas on any given night results in bright lights blinking banal information at you … and not too many people particularly caring about it. Where are the comfortable cafes to go and grab a quick coffee in? Think about it – there’s no where around that area that one can take a load off in – relax for a bit. It keeps you moving and effectively moves you out of its core because its sterile and uninviting … or pushes you into a store like the good consumerist society we are.

Having said all that … I don’t want you to think that I don’t like Toronto. I’m an avid fan of it and am becoming more and more engaged by it and the potential this young city has. It’s a frustrated teenager trying to find its place in the grand scheme of things – a bit schitzophrenic at times, but underneath it all, there’s a layer of good that’s just waiting to surface again when the hormones die down a bit. Like patient parents, we’ll just have to coax it and guide it a bit along the way.

Update: On a side note, I’d like to draw your attention to a great press release by the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) in regards to the Portland Energy Plant proposed by the McGuinty Government and a more sustainable and greener plan.