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Viva fleet gets outfitted with bike racks

Just under four years ago, York Region Transit (YRT) added front-end bike racks to its fleet of over 300 "conventional" buses.

Just recently, the same bike racks were added to each bus on the Viva system, York Region's bus rapid transit service.

The result, says Christine Terin, marketing and communications manager with YRT/Viva, "all of the region's buses are now bike-friendly."

"People have wanted these [new] bike racks for a while, they've been witting for them," says Terin. "People have been seeing them on our conventional fleets for years...on the first day the Viva racks were in use, I saw people using them right away."

The YRT/Viva system (unlike the TTC) offers users a time-based transfer that allows unlimited travel on any YRT/Viva vehicle for up to two hours, in any direction, with a single cash fare. Now that each of the more than 400 buses is outfitted with bike racks, cyclists can combine multiple bus and bike trips with a single cash fare. There is no extra charge for transporting a bike.

"The great thing about this program is that people can take their bikes on local and longer trips," says Terin. "There is now bike infrastructure not only on buses but at every Viva station."

Bike 'N' Bus, as the rack program is called,  is Metrolinx funded initiative and part of the Region's larger strategy to increase residents' use of active transportation. 

The launch of the new Viva bike racks strategically conicides with this year's York Region Bike Month; a series of events running from May 26 to June 26 promoting cycling and healthing living across southern Ontario. 

Throughout the month--as well as at scattered events throughout the year--Terin and her colleagues will be demonstrating for residents how to use the front-end bus bike racks.

"We do a lot of outreach, we want to make sure people know about and understand the program," says Terin. "We're at over 200 events a year and we also make sure information is on our website and getting out there through social media. All of our drivers are also trained on how to use the bike racks so they're also able to assist riders."

Now that the racks are integrated across the whole system, Terin anticipates they will become even more widely used. The system is more convenient then ever - any rider using any of the over 120-routes YRT/Viva routes can travel throughout all nine municipalities knowing they can switch between bike and bus at any point during the trip. 

"We know that we have a  young audience on our system,  a lot of high school and university students," says Terin. "This is really convenient for them because it makes getting around that much easier."

Writer: Katia Snukal
Source: Christine Terin, Manager of Marketing and Communications, YRT/Viva

Art festival in Todmorden Mills turns heritage site into a summer destination

"Todmorden Mills is such a wonderful Toronto site - it's got great trail access, it's a city run property, it's a great heritage site, and it has all these existing art components, including an art gallery and theater," says Andrew Davies, executive director of the environmental art charity No. 9 Contemporary Art: Contemporary Art & the Environment.

It's these existing site features, says Davies, that made the site an ideal location for No. 9's newest project, a three-month outdoor eco-art festival. The festival, which No.9 is presenting in partnership with the City of Toronto, runs all summer at Todmorden, from Sunday, June 22 through Sunday, September 21.

"We approached the City and Todmorden with this idea for a temporary arts festival and they were really receptive," says Davies. "At Todmorden, they just wanted to make sure we incorporated the heritage of the site into the projects, which was great because that was very much our interest as well."

Located off Pottery Road in the midst of the Don Valley, the Todmorden Mills site is home to a number of hertiage buildings, relics from the site's early 19th century industrial history; it is also a bit of an urban oasis, directly adjacent to a 9.2 hectare wildflower preserve and a number of trails that run throughout the Lower Don.

No. 9 commissioned seven contemporary public works for the festival, works that incoporate the site's particular geographical features as well as its historic specificity.

"And of course all the work we do is geared towards bringing awareness to pressing environmental issues," says Davies. "So the works in this festival reflect that as well."

But the festival, he stresses, is about more than just the artwork.

"Our mission is to use art as a catalyst for discussion of issues involving the environment. That's why were also running activities [including pizza-making and design workshops], providing site tours and, on weekends, selling organic beer and organic sausage.

"We really want people to make this a stop as they tour the ravine system this summer. We wanted to create another place, in addition to the Brickworks, where people could come and hang out and enjoy their summer in the city."

More infomation about the festival available at No. 9's website.

Writer: Katia Snukal
Source: Andrew Davies, Executive Director, No. 9 Contemporary Art & the Environment

No Flat City, a photo exhibit celebrates Toronto's unique terrain

Earlier this month, Harbourfront Centre photography exhibit NINE RIVERS CITYToronto’s Extraordinary Waterwaysclosed after a full year on display.   
On June 20th, the follow-up exhibit will be installed. The new photography show, NO FLAT CITY: Toronto's Incomparable Terrainexplores many of the same themes, but this time, instead of focusing on Toronto's hidden waterways it focuses on its variegated topography.   
"Both these shows--NINE RIVERS CITES and NO FLAT CITY--are trying to dispel some common ways we look at our city by bringing in some new insights," says Patrick Macaulay, Harbourfront Centre's director of Visual Arts. "So, for example, we often think about Toronto as a 'lake city,' but NINE RIVERS brought attention to our rivers. In the same way, with Toronto being so built up we can forget about its distinct topographical features. NO FLAT CITY sheds light on our city in new ways. It's ultimately about bringing attention to things that are really important but are sort of hidden and out of the way."  
NO FLAT CITY: Toronto's Incomparable Terrain, like NINE RIVERS before it will be housed at the Harbourfront Centre's Exhibition Common - Harbourfront Centre's impressive outdoor photography display area. The Exhibition Common, the largest outdoor photography display space in Canada, consists of 40 large steel structures that can house 72 large scale photographic images. The exhibition will feature works by six handpicked emerging artists, artists who Macaulay and his colleagues worked with closely throughout the project.  
"Like last year, we were looking for artists that have recently graduated school and started their practice," Macauly says. "We selected a balance of photodoc photographers and those that are shooting more artistically." 
Each artist, he says, was asked to work within four themes areas: Historic Landforms, Reshaping the Land, Living in the Landscape, and People and the Land.  
Given the nature of the exhibition--outdoor, public, and financially and physically onerous to install--NO FLAT CITY: Toronto's Incomparable Terrain) will also remain on display for the better part of a year. 
"I think this type of show lends itself to a longer run," says Macauly. "Normally exhibits run two to three months maximum but this one, because it's public and put on at such a large scale, we just want a lot of people to see. I think it's a wonderful opportunity for people to come down to the Waterfront and see an aspect of their city that they wouldn't normally be aware of."  
NO FLAT CITY: Toronto's Incomparable Terrain is the second installment of Harbourfront's two-year partnership with the Toronto Region and Conservation Authority and real-estate company Menkes to put on public photography exhibits that "helps to give the public access to complicated social or ecological issues." 
Writer: Katia Snukal 
Source: Pat Macaulay, Visual Curator, Harbourfront Center 

Honouring Toronto's greenest organizations

How do you "live green" in Toronto?

Judging by the recently announced winners of the Live Green Toronto awards, start with resource-sharing ethic.

That was certainly the prevailing theme among the three organizations recognized last week for contributing to "a greener, more sustainable Toronto."

Fresh City Farms was recognized for its scale-able city-farming, Baka Mobile for its free publicly-accessible solar charging station, and the Toronto Tool Library for establishing Toronto's first tool-sharing program.  

The winners of the annual City of Toronto contest, were chosen, in-part, by Toronto residents who voted for their favourite entries on the Live Green Toronto website.

To enter, each applicant submitted a video of up to 90-seconds accompanied by text of 500 words or less explaining to viewers their claim to being "Toronto's greenest." By the time voting closed on May 12th, entrants videos has amassed a total of 200,000 views.

The online votes counted for 49 per cent of entrants' scores, and jury selected by Live Green, the remaining 51 per cent.

Like the online voters, the judges gravitated to those projects changing the way we use our resources. 

"[It's about] challenging our perceptions of ownership and reducing our impact on the plantet," said Toronto Tool Library co-founder Ryan Dyment in his submitted video. It's a sentiment that could describe all the winning initiatives. 

In addition to the three organizational winners--the Toronto Tool Library for the "group" category, Fresh City Farm for "small business" and Baka Mobile for "corporate"--the contest also recognized city residents living green in their daily lives. Lucy Wang, the "youth winner," won for her green-living lifestyle and Vytautas Bruzga, the "individual winner," won for his sophisticated backyard farming.

Each winning project and individual was presented with an award last week at City Hall and provided with $2,500 courtesy of award sponsors.  

"I am delighted to see such enthusiasm for the greening of Toronto – from youth to large corporations," stated Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly at the City Hall event. "On behalf of the City and the thousands of residents who voted to help select the winners, I thank you for your leadership and for sharing your inspiring stories."

Writer: Katia Snukal

New signage on DVP and Gardiner reminds motorists to use shoulder

Motorists on the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway have some new signs to glance at when stuck in traffic. 

The signs, erected late last week by the City of Toronto in partnership with the Toronto Police Service, each have the same straightforward message: when in a minor accident, move to the roadway shoulder.

The campaign, called "Steer it, Clear it," was launched to remind drivers that the law requires that, in most instances, after a minor collision drivers must "clear" their vehicle from moving traffic.  It's also one of the safest actions they can take.

According to the Traffic Services department of the Toronto Police Service, this seemingly simple gesture not only saves time and fuel, but can also potentially save lives. Moving cars involved in minor accidents reduces the otherwise high risk of a second collision by up to 20 per cent. 

Based on successful efforts in other cites, the signs along the Gardiner and DVP will remind motorists that, so long as their vehicle can be driven and there is a safe turn-off point, the very first step after an accident should be getting the vehicle off the road. The rule does not apply however, in cases where there is more than a minor injury and/or where there is significant debris on the roadway.

"Preventing a collision is everyone's responsibility," says superintendent Gord Jones of Toronto Police Service, Traffic Services of "Steer it, Clear it" rule. "All it takes is one second for your life or someone else's life to be lost because of a traffic collision."

Writer: Katia Snuka
Source: Toronto Police Services
Photo: Hal Jackey on Flickr

New partnership helps families navigate developmental services

For Ontario adults with intellectual disabilities and their families, finding and accessing much-needed resources is often a confusing and challenging process.

READ MORE:Yonge Street reports on the province's developmental sector

This challenging process, according to two Toronto nonprofits in the sector, is often compounded for families from ethno-culturally diverse backgrounds.

According to Community Living Toronto and Developmental Services Ontario - Toronto Region , a one-size-fits all model to supporting adults with intellectual disabilities is not sufficiently responsive to the diverse backgrounds of the many people with whom they work.

In order to address this disconnect, the Ontario Trillium Foundation has provided a $115,100 grant to the two organizations for a two-year project aimed at making navigating the services "easier and more inclusive."

The new program--Diversity in the Developmental Services Sector: Increasing Capacity and Sustainability Initiative--is billed as a project that "recognizes the urgent need to support adults with intellectual disabilities and families of various cultures, faiths, backgrounds and beliefs."

The grant will help both umbrella organizations train staff at specific member agencies on how to better assist people with intellectual disabilities from all communities. The hope "is to increase the sector's capacity to respond to diversity while removing barriers to service access for ethno-culturally diverse families."

"Given the growing needs of culturally diverse families with children who have an intellectual disability, we are very thankful to the Ontario Trillium Foundation for providing us with this grant," says Sue Lynch, regional executive director at Community Living Toronto.

"This partnership will enable us to increase capacity to 37 member agencies to respond to diversity, as well as to improve access for families to developmental services through culturally-sensitive information, outreach and education.  We will be working directly with Developmental Services Ontario - Toronto Region, which coordinates access to all services and supports in Toronto for all individuals with an intellectual disability over 16 years of age."

Writer: Katia Snukal
Source: Community Living Toronto

Centennial College launches campaign to tackle youth unemployment

report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives made headlines in 2013 when it found that five years after the global economic crisis, Ontario was the worst province outside of Atlantic Canada for youth unemployment. Ontario's youth unemployment rate, the report found, was between 16 and 17.1 per cent, significantly higher than the average Canadian range of 13.5 to 14.5 per cent.

And while the outlook is slightly brighter, it's still a bleak job market for young Ontario graduates. It's not surprising then, that youth employment has become both a provincial and municipal election issue.

It's also an issue championed by a group of dedicated Centennial College students. Coming together under the banner "Ready Aim Hire," a coalition of Centennial students recently rolled out a multi-platform campaign to bring a student voice into the pressing conversations. 

The campaign, organized by Centennial students enrolled in programs at the college's Story Arts Centre (formerly Centre for Communication, Media and Design), leverages the skills of student volunteers in over 10 different disciplines--from film-making, to PR, to graphic design. 

The sophisticated campaign used a host  of platforms--social media, video documentaries, and an interactive website--to highlight students' personal and "transformative" employment stories. 

"The campaign reflects the importance of student participation in finding a solution," says Nick Cahill, student co-chair of the campaign. "These issues affect us directly...we hope to demonstrate to employers that it is youth's determination to succeed and the ability to learn new skills that make a valued employee."

By having students share the story of their first job, Ready Aim Hire emphasizes the very real hurdles many face finding work, as well as ways they've achieved success despite them. 

The campaign pays particular attention to the challenges of young people facing multiple barriers. The message: while finding meaningful employment is difficult for many young Ontarians, it is especially so for those faced with additional challenges; challenges that can include lack of support systems, racial discrimination, homophobia, and low economic status.

The "first-job" stories of Centienal students are now being shared through the campaign's website, twitter and facebook pages and other young people are being encouraged to add their own.

The campaign culminates in June 6th talk hosted at the Story Arts Centre's Carlaw Avenue campus. Ready Aim Hire: the Talk, invites a panel of experts to discuss the work of the Centennial students, and highlight the importance of the issue in time for the upcoming election.  The panel will feature, among other CEO of CivicAction, and Sean Geobey a researcher at the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience. 
Writer: Katia Snukal
Source: Ready Aim Hire

Toronto launches cycling app to collect data on cyclist habits

The City of Toronto spent $20,000 commissioning a new app that traces local cyclists' habits.

Devloped for the City by Brisk Synergies, the recently released app collects cyclist data with the goal of eventually using the information to help develop a new cycling network plan.

Cyclists are encouraged to download the app to their smartphone devices, to activate it before hopping on their bikes, and to turn it "off" once their journey is complete. 

While activated, the the app tracks cyclists' routes, average speed, maximum speed, trip distance, number of calories burned, and the trip's total greenhouse gas offset. This information, along with each users demographic profile, is then be transferred to database for later analysis. 

Lest cyclists still have privacy concerns, the City insists that all collected data will be sent anonymously, and that data will be withheld for the first and last thirty second of each trip.

The app, Toronto Cycling, is free to all users and available for both Android and Apple devices. 

"This app will be an effective and inexpensive way for cyclists to provide us with their route information, which is useful for planning the cycling network," stated Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34 Don Valley East), Chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. "It will help us determine what routes in the city are well travelled by cyclists and what linkages may be missing to make cycling trips safer, easier and more convenient." 

While Toronto's record of following through on cycling infrastructure projects is spotty at best, a new plan to expand the existing cycling network is scheduled to be presented at Toronto City Council in 2015.

Writer: Katia Snukal
Source: CIty of Toronto

Doctor-authored report says building healthy communities is a city planning issue

Earlier this month, the four medical officers of health for the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area (GTHA) congregated at Union Station to mark the official launch of their collaborative report.

The report, Improving Health Care by Design--co-writtern by Dr. David Mowat (Peel), Dr. David McKeown (Toronto), Dr. Charles Gardner (Simcoe Muskoka) and Dr. Ninh Tran (Hamilton)--examines connections between urban lifestyles and health.

The results: if we want healthy people, we need to build healthy communities. This means, the doctors suggest, that our communities need to made more conducive to walking, cycling, and public transit. The report concludes with calls for "major changes" in community design across the GTHA.

These are not perhaps particularly novel observations, few would argue that more opportunities for physical activity leads to better overall health. But the report, written as it was by doctors, adds leverage to these ideas by attempting to quantify more specifically, the health effects of good community planning.

The authors estimate, for example, that traffic-related air pollution is responsible for more than 850 premature deaths in the GTHA annually, and that physical inactivity costs the region as much $4 billion a year.

Better community design, the authors argue, could sufficiently influence individual behavior to the effect of preventing hundreds of premature deaths and saving billions in health costs.

"While improvements are occurring in community design, considering the rate of population growth, chronic disease trends and the pace of change in land use and transportation planning, it is clear that more needs to be done," said Dr. David Mowat at the report's launch. "We have built our communities around the automobile and this approach poses a serious risk to public health."

Photo: Robert Taylor

YMCA study suggests GTA parents struggling to help young children with developmental delays

"The YMCA really sees itself as being in a partnership with parents in raising healthy kids and in fostering healthy families," saysJennifer Holmes Weier, vice president of YMCA Regional Development.

That’s the impetus, Holmes Weier says, for the recently released YMCA study that looks at the needs of parents raising pre-school aged children. Commissioned in partnership with the YMCA of Hamilton/Burlington/Brantford, the Healthy Kids Research Report outlines data gathered from a survey of 650 parents. Parents across Southern Ontario were asked a series of questions relating to their perceptions of their children’s developmental milestones. 

The study’s most significant finding, says Holmes Weier – "More than a third of children in southern Ontario are described by their parents as behind in one or more key areas of early development [social, emotional, cognitive, language and physical]."

"Parents really want to help their children," she says. "That’s across the board, regardless of age or income. But, as the survey showed, parents don’t always know where to go for that information and they are often unsure of the best way to help their child."

Almost 60 per cent of respondents said they were unsure what information is best for their kids.

Dr. Olaf Kraus de Camargo, associate professor with the Department of Pediatrics at McMaster University, was asked by the Y to comment on the findings. He called the results an "eye-opener."

"As a pediatrician, I see children who already have a delay or have a diagnosis, so to see that so many parents perceive their children as being behind and aren’t sure where to go, that’s something we need to explore," he says. "This study is really useful in that it allows us to generate hypothesis to generate future studies. And that will help us better able to help parents and children. It’s great that the Y is sharing this information."

Both the YMCA GTA and the YMCA  Hamilton/Burlington/Brantford plan to use the study, and future studies, to fine-tune their programs and services for the young families they serve.

"The YMCA has a long history of working with parents towards the healthy development of their kids," says Holmes Weiers."This study was one way to help us see what’s on the top of the mind for them and what the challenges are they’re facing.

"Because we really want be a partner to parents, we need this additional insight into the needs of the families we serve. Our programs and services need to continue to be relevant."

Writer: Katia Snukal
Sources:Jennifer Holmes Weier, Vice President of YMCA Regional Development, YMCA of Greater Toronto.
Dr. Olaf Kraus de Camargo, McMaster University

Correction: an earlier version of this article attributed quotes from Jennifer Holmes Weier, vice president of YMCA Regional Development to Linda Cottes, senior vice president, Operations Child and Family Development.

New research looks at who votes in Toronto

A lot of people don’t vote in Toronto elections.

To figure out how to mobilize the disengaged electorate, a new Maytree commissioned study sought to get some intel on Toronto’s eligible voters.

The research, conducted by Ryerson professor Dr.Myer Siemiatycki and geographic analyst Sean Marshal, analyzed voter turnout at both the ward and neighbourhood scales for the City of Toronto’s 2003, 2006, and 2010 elections. The results were then compared with key socio-economic characteristics of each ward and neighbourhood.

"The question we’ve asked in this data gathering and data collection is ‘what do we know about who votes in Toronto municipal elections and what do we know about who doesn’t vote in Toronto municipal elections?' " said Siemiatycki at recent Maytree conference.

"These are hard questions we’re trying to answer….there are about 1.6 million eligible voters in the city of Toronto...we're trying to get a handle on a huge number of people. No other constituency or electoral race is this country comes close to the gigantic number of eligable voters we have in the city of Toronto given the at-large mayoralty vote."

While Siemiatycki and Marshal are still continuing to delve into the data they've collected, some preliminary findings have emerged.

The most troubling of these, according to Siemiatycki, is the low voter turnout among the city’s immigrant population. 

"One of the alarm bells from our research," he says "is that the highest negative predictor [of voter turnout] is areas with the highest immigrant population."

Siemiatycki also noted a strong spatial dimension to voter turnout - the lowest area of voter turnout is in the inner suburbs of Etobicoke, North York and Scraborough, the highest is in the core city of Toronto. 

But while these demographic and spatial concentrations of low voter turnout point to a systemic problem, Siemiatycki notes, there’s still a lot of work to do figuring out why these patterns emerge and what policy makers can do to change them. 

But, he says, the initial findings give some important clues. By tracking changes in neighborhood voter turnout over time, Siemiatycki and Marshal have discovered that campaigning, candidates, and community engagement can make a huge difference. 

"Turnout is not forever fixed. Flemington Park, for example, was 125th [in voter turnout] in 2003, it was 19th in 2006. This was all thanks to a very strong community-based candidate.

 "None of this is fixed and internal and changeable--the nature of the election race matters to voters."

Writer: Katia Snukal

Families and the future of Toronto's "vertical neighbourhoods"

What does family-friendly city look like? How do you plan it? Build it? Foster it? 

And what does it all mean for the future of Toronto?

These were some of the broad and hefty issues recently on discussion in a crowded committee room at Toronto City Hall.

The event, which took place late last month, was the year’s first (and the seventh to-date) Chief Planner Roundtable. The topic: Planning Cities for Families.

"There needs to be intention when we think about children and the role of children and how children can thrive in urban environments…" said chief planner Jenneifer Keesmaat, in her introduction to the Rountable. "We know we’re going through a substantive transition in terms of where we see growth in our city… [and] thinking about how children thrive is a critical part of the work we need to do"

Like past Roundtables, April’s session began with a short presentation by invited panelists followed by a discussion moderated by Keesmaat. 

While the speakers came from different sectors—ranging from the public library’s chief librarian Jane Pyper to Sybil Wa, associate with Diamond + Schmitt Architects—they spoke on a common theme: accommodating families in a city of condominiums and high-rises.

As city planning manager and roundtable speaker Lynda MacDonald put it, the future of Toronto is "vertical neighbourhoods."

The challenge is to figure how those vertical neighborhoods can accommodate family-life.

Among other topics, panelists spoke on designing more family friendly condominiums, creating accessible playspaces, and leveraging the community-building potential of public schools and public libraries.

The Roundtable presentations, highlights and video are available through the City of Toronto website

Launched in 2013, the Chief Planner Roundtable is billed as "a public forum for Torontonians to discuss key city-building challenges, and to identify innovative ‘drivers for change’."

Torontonians can participate in all Roundtables conversations (which are always live-streamed) either by attending in-person or through twitter, comment cards, or e-mail.

Writer: Katia Snukal 

New documentary training program explores newcomer experiences in the GTA

A new documentary training program will provide 25 participants with two years of fully-subsidized filmmaking training.
The initiative, Documentaries for Change, has been designed for a very specific student cohort: certified language interpreters. And more specifically, certified language interpreters registered with Toronto social enterprise the Multilingual Community Interpreter Service (MCIS).
"It seemed like a crazy idea at the time we first started coming up with it,” says Eliana Trinaistic, executive assistant and special projects coordinator with MCIS. "We really haven’t seen anything similar to this in Ontario."
The idea, which was developed in partnership with the DOC Institute, was to create a program that empowered MCIS interpreters to use documentary filmmaking to "encourage community dialogue, inspire civic engagement, and combat isolation in newcomer communities across the GTA."

Together, both organizations submitted a proposal for funding to the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
"Amazingly enough, we got the funding," says Trinaistic.
"I remember clearly when I found out we got the two-year grant. I was so so excited because I had thought 'this was way off' but [Ontario Trillium] said 'we are looking for new ideas across nonprofit sectors and this fits perfectly.'"
MCIS, which is recognized by governmental and educational institutions as having one of the most rigorous and comprehensive interpreter training programs in Canada, has over 6000 interpreters in their database and offers interpretation services in over 200 languages (or 330 if dialects and variations are included).
"We have an unchanging mission of providing access to language services to vulnerable segments and of developing affordable training programs," says Trinaistic. "And at the same time, we have this huge database and a huge alumni group that we want to keep engaged.
"The Docs for Change program is about keeping people engaged and allowing newcomers to share their stories."

And, adds Trinaistic, though she expected a strong response from the MCIS interpreters for whom the program was created, their enthusasim exceeded her expectations.

"We had over 80 people come to the orientation session. I organize a lot of events and I know how hard it is to get people to come out and this was really a lot of people. We had this hope that this was an idea that people would be excited about but it was even more than I thought. You got the sense that night that people were really hungry for this chance to express themselves and be heard."
Most MCIS interpreters, Trinaistic explains, have experienced being a newcomer to Toronto, which give each a unique story to to tell.
"Many interpreters are immigrants. They are first generation and come from very different backgrounds both professionally and educationally and now are negotiating their new life here in Canada.
"And you always change in the process.You come and you have to learn this new language and new culture and so you get to know both cultures much better, and to see the good in both. This process, as someone in the audience at the orientation pointed out, means you can interpret both cultures much better."
Documentaries for Change received 46 applications, the list of selected fellows will be released on May 9th. 
Participants will attend workshops in the evenings, will have access to filmmaking equipment, and will meet with, and learn from, experienced documentary filmmakers. They will present their first mini-documentary at a public conference on November 5, 2014. 
Writer: Katia Snukal
Source: Eliana Trinaistic, MC

Report on Toronto's air quality: We're all breathing easier, but congestion still a problem

Thanks to aggressive public policy, Toronto’s air quality has improved significantly over the past decade. Yet, while air pollutant levels remain below what they were a decade ago, pollutant levels have stopped decreasing, and have actually been rising incrementally since 2009.

That’s the gist of the new Toronto Public Health study Path to Healthier Air: Toronto Air Pollution Burden of Illness Update,  presented to Toronto's Board of Health last Monday.
The study, presented to the board by the city's medical officer of health Dr. David McKeown, shows that Toronto has experienced a 23 per cent decrease in air-quality related premature deaths and 41 per cent decrease in air-quality related hospitalizations since 2004. These significant decreases are the the result of two major government policies: the provincial phase-out of coal-fired power generation and the City of Toronto's low sulphur fuel purchasing.

But, cautioned McKeown, despite these encouraging numbers, air pollution in Toronto from all sources still gives rise to 1,300 premature deaths and 3,550 hospitalizations annually. 

Not surprisingly, the study showed that the city’s most significant source of air pollution is currently motor vehicle traffic. Without significant policy changes, the level of pollutants in Toronto’s air - stagnant since about 2009 - will begin to increase.

"With over half of the health impact from Toronto's local air pollution attributed to motor vehicle traffic, expanding transportation options so that more people walk, cycle and take transit is a prescription for better air and better health," Dr. McKeown told the board. 

"Healthy public policy can make a difference in saving lives. This report shows that we are better off than we were, but air pollution still has a serious impact on health. More work is needed to reduce emissions and reduce health risks."

After Dr. McKeown's presentation last Monday, the Toronto Board of Health approved a number of recommendation to improve the city's air quality. Among those recommendation was the creation of a series of round-tables to design a collaborative air monitoring strategy for the city. 

The recommendation will be considered by City Council this Tuesday.

Writer: Kat Snukal
Photo: James D. Schwartz

Second annual Scarborough Film Festival announces line-up, prioritizes community engagement

Even before the first screening of the inaugural Scarborough Film Festival last June, festival founder and co-director Sergi Petrov knew he wanted it to become an annual event. 

He also knew it might be difficult. Not only did Petrov have to convince sponsors to take a chance on a then-untested project, he also had to build a program, secure venues, and get people into cinema seats. And he had to do it all with volunteer staff.

But though he was uncertain of what form the festival might take, Petrov, a filmmaker and 15-year Scarborough resident, believed it was "something that Scarborough needed."

The efforts, it seems, have paid off. Not only is the Scarborough Film Festival back for a second year, it's also got the backing of two significant new sponsors: the Toronto Arts Council and the University of Toronto.

"It was very, very tough approaching sponsors last year," says Petrov. "There was definitely a lot of hesitation and we were a first-time festival so basically we had to say 'trust us.' 

"Thankfully though, our first year went well which is why, I think, we have all these new partnerships. We've had partners and sponsors approach us, ask us to be involved. This is a big change from our first year when it always us asking them to join. People inside and outside of the industry have become aware of us. There's information and pictures [from the 2013 festival] on our website and in the news. And the people that came out last year really enjoyed it."

Thanks to the new funding, Petrov says, the festival has been able to expand its programming even quicker than he had hoped was possible.

"I know from experience that new businesses or new projects like this usually take about three years to really get going and I really didn't expect to expand so much so soon. It's very exciting."

Last year, the Scarborough Film Festival screened 17 films, including features and shorts, at two venues over six days. This year, the festival will screen more than twice that number, showing between 35 to 40 films at five different venues across the Scarborough area. 

In addition, Petrov says, this year will include significant community programming. Something that was always important to organizers but, in their first year, they didn't have the resources to pull off. 

Among other initiatives, this year's festival will include free film screenings for young adults in the weeks leading up to the festival, filmmaking workshop drop-ins at the Scarborough Town Centre, and free outdoor evening screenings. 

"What we want to do is to make a film festival that is really inclusive and affordable for all residents of the city and gives people access to films they haven't seen before, that haven't been shown before in Ontario, in Canada or North America."

While the festival's only official selection criteria is "great film," Petrov and the selection team are working on a program that will showcase local Scarborough talent alongside a diverse range of international shorts and features. 

"The submissions coming in this year have almost doubled, last year we had about 300, this year it's more than 500. Because we have so much to choose from and we're expanding, we're able to bring great films that represent many different ethnic groups and filmmakers of different backgrounds. Given how diverse Scarborough is we really focus on showcasing a diversity of cultures.

"We need to celebrate Scarborough culture, it often has a lot of negative attention in the media this is about doing something positive. It's about engaging people from Scarborough to come and watch films, but also encouraging people from the GTA to come into Scarborough."
Of the more than 70 film festivals that take place annually in Toronto, the Scarborough Film Fest is the first to take place outside the downtown core. 

This year's festival runs from June 3rd to June 8th. The official program will be made available online on May 15th.

Writer: Katia Snukal 
Source: Sergei Petrov
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