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Have your say: tomorrow's the deadline to comment on the future of the east Gardiner

Tomorrow is the deadline to communicate your thoughts on the future of the east Gardiner.

About 200 people showed up to the third and final public meeting for the environmental assessment of the 2.4 km stretch of elevated highway on Feb. 6, which was also streamed live.

The section in question runs from Jarvis to just east of the Don Valley Parkway. The options being evaluated are to maintain it, "improve the urban fabric" while maintaining it, replace it with a new expressway of some sort, or remove it and build a boulevard. The options, as developed by the city and Waterfront Toronto, are on view here.

According to the environmental assessment, the four goals of the project are to reconnect the city with the lake; balance various modes of travel, cycling, walking and transit along with the previously favoured cars; achieving greater sustainability; and generally creating value, letting the project act as a catalyst for future development of the area.

After taking a look at the proposals, and scrolling through the Twitter conversation hashtagged #GardinerEast, you can send in your thoughts by filling out the form here before the end of the day tomorrow.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Waterfront Toronto

Toronto officially one of the 7 most intelligent cities in the world

In proof that a city is more than its political parts, Toronto has been named one of the world’s 7 most intelligent communities.

The designation comes from the Intelligent Community Forum, the 13-year-old international organization that rates communities based on "policies and practices that are creating positive economic, governing and social activity."

The 2014 shortlist is the most geographically concentrated in the ICF’s history, with two cities each from Taiwan and the US, and three from Canada.

The list includes Hsinchu City and New Taipei City in Taiwan, Arlington, Virginia, and Columbus, Ohio, and Kingston, Winnipeg and Toronto.

According to the ICF, Toronto is cited specifically for its "renowned waterfront development that will provide Internet at 500 times the speed of conventional residential networks."

Representatives from the ICF will be visiting the shortlisted cities over the next several months, and the final decision will be made in New York City in June.

According to Kristina Verner, Waterfront Toronto’s director of Intelligent Communities, the importance of this designation "is largely economic development, in terms of brand recognition that there is the technological capacity, as well as the innovation and workforce capacity, for emerging businesses."

Last year’s winner was Taichung City, Taiwan. Toronto was also on last year's shortlist.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Kristina Verner

Developer proposes laneway community for Bloor and Dufferin

What might be Toronto’s biggest laneway housing project is being proposed for a small Bloordale street with residential and industrial heritage.

With the architect behind Chase, and designers from a young firm with Yabu Pushelberg DNA, the development, if approved, has the potential to add momentum to the slowly changing neighbourhood between Dufferin and Lansdowne north of Bloor.

The centerpiece of the development, as proposed by Curated Properties, is the former Pendell Boiler, a light industrial concern tucked away behind Bartlett Avenue.

"The site was originally marketed to demolish the existing building," says Curated principal Adam Ochshorn. "When I walked onto the site, while the Boiler room was functioning, I felt like I was in Soho, and I realized this is not the kind of thing you demolish."

The proposal incudes the new construction of three units on Bartlett, and 13 in the laneway behind.

Audax Architecture, who also worked with Woodcliffe on the Toronto North Station that became the Summerhill LCBO, has designed units from 1,000 square feet to 2,000 square feet, ranging in price from $500,000 to just under a million. All of them have been designed with outdoor terraces.

On the permit front, Ochshorn is hopeful.

"One lucky thing with this site," he says, "is that we meet the criteria for site serving. Other situations where people have had problems with laneways is how are people going to get in and out of the property physically, and how they’re going to service the property."

If approved, Ochshorn, who is also president of Grand Metropolitan Homes and the man behind Edition Richmond, hopes to start construction in early fall with a view to early summer 2015 completion.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Adam Ochshorn

Alexandra Park is being demolished now

Phase 1A of the reconstruction of Alexandra Park began yesterday, with the demolition of the first of 44 townhouses.

You can get an idea of how big a job this is going to be from the fact the first step is designated 1A.

According to Toronto Community Housing's taciturn spokeswoman Sara Goldvine, the timeline for the entire redevelopment of the poorly designed 1960s low-cost housing project will be 12-15 years, with just this initial demolition phase, being executed by Pro Green, taking as much as four months.

The replacement rental townhomes were designed by Levitt Goodman Architects, chosen in consultation with the current residents. The new Alexandra Park will also have market-priced condominiums, the first of which was designed by Teeple Architects.

Tridel, the developer, will ultimately be building 61 rent-geared-to-income townhouses and two condo towers in the projects first phase. Considered a revitalization project, it will also be replacing street that was eliminated in the 60s, as well as extending another, to allow people to actually walk through the neighbourhood.

According to yesterday’s press release, further phases will include a park, a community centre, almost 6,000 square metres of retail, as well as an “incubator space for local social enterprise and business development” on the south side of Dundas.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Sara Goldvine

Architect David Sisam talks about replacing time and space with "place and occasion"

Space and time are all well and good, but they’re not the most human of concepts.

Toronto architect David Sisam, principal with Montgomery Sisam, prefers "place and occasion," the title of a wide-ranging talk he’s giving on Thursday as part of Ryerson’s architecture series.

The concept comes from the late Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck, who said, "Whatever space and time mean, place and occasion mean more, for space in the image of man is place, and time in the image of man is occasion."

To illustrate, Sisam’s talk will cover four concepts basic to his firm's philosophy, using their Toronto-area projects to hammer the message home. The topics, which are also the titles of essays in a 2013 monograph on his firm, are "Light and Air," "Economy of Means, Generosity of Ends," "Transcending Expectations," and "The Space Between."

By "light and air," Sisam means the integration of indoor and outdoor space, "We do a lot of healthcare work," he says, giving the John C. and Sally Horsfall Eaton Ambulatory Care Centre on Cummer Avenue as an instance, "where the floor plates are very big, and we try to make them narrower to give more access to daylight and view."

Limited budgets are to architecture firms, in Sisam’s view what sonnets are to poets: a limitation that tests the mettle and can bring out some of the best work. "It's a rigorous exercise to stretch a limited budget to produce something of worth," he says, describing what he means by "economy of means" and "generosity of ends," and offering the Island Yacht Club and Greenwood College School as examples.

"When you get a programme for a building," Sisam says, referring to the technicalities of an assignment or brief from a client, "you get something called gross-up: corridors, duct shafts, and so on, space which s typically regarded as something the client wants to reduce, but which is actually an important part of the program. Corridors can become galleries, and so on,” he says. “In planning, public space are planned first, and the buildings are filled in later. With buildings, it’s often the opposite."

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Sisam will talk about the relationship between any given building and the place it’s built, a relationship that’s defined, in his view, by 'the space in between," whether it's in a city, like his firm’s Humber River bicycle and pedestrian bridge, or on a riverbank in the countryside.

The talk is at 6:30pm in Pitman Hall at 160 Mutual Street on the Ryerson campus.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: David Sisam
Photos: Tom Arban, courtesy of Montgomery Sisam Architects.

City's chief planner to talk about her favourite subject: the value of walking to school

Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto’s chief planner, will be talking about her favourite subject, walking to school, at Walk Toronto’s annual general meeting next Wednesday.

"We're generating a culture change in our school system and in our communities around walking," Keesmaat says, "recognizing walking to school as being a fundamental part of creating healthy, happy communities."

Her thinking on the subject, which she has laid in several TEDx talks, is that walking to school benefits children's health, creates communities that are pedestrian friendly, and increases the chances parents will send their children to local schools, discouraging the development of what Keesmaat calls mega-schools.

"In downtown Halifax, they closed a series of schools and opened a mega-school," she says, "and guess what that mega-school needed? A huge parking lot. Part of the connection I would like to make is that there is a public policy implication in the academic performance of our children and the cohesive strength of our communities that is unrelated to the financial efficiency of having one building instead of five."

Keesmaat believes that walking and pedestrian issues are a fundamental part of a city’s transportation planning. "Thinking about walking is a part of how we learn about our community. It’s not a design question, it’s a choice question and a cultural issue.

"We have a culture where we've become inverted in just one generation from being communities, back in the 1960s, where 70 per cent of our children walked to school, to now, when 70 per cent of our children are driven to school. Schools are still centrally located, they’re still within walking distance, and the choice is being made to drive.”

Keesmaat says our communities are safer than ever but, ironically, our perception of their safety is lower than ever. She says there’s a direct correlation between this perception, having children walking on the sidewalks, employing crossing guards, and generally populating the streets with people instead of cars.

Keesmaat will be speaking and taking questions from 8pm to 9pm on Wednesday, Feb. 12, at the University of Toronto Schools auditorium at 371 Bloor St. W.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Jennifer Keesmaat

Hamilton creates artist studios, housing in core

The City of Hamilton's decided it needs a place to house all its relocated Toronto artists, so starting this week, they’ll be moving into some of the most affordable downtown lofts in the GTA and Golden Horseshoe.

Construction was completed on 95 King--previously a strip club called Bannister’s--in November, and the first tenants started moving in Feb. 1.

The 150-year-old building with a 1923 façade has been many things over the years. Architect Bill Curran, whose firm Thier and Curran designed the project, says it likely started out as a dry good warehouse, evolved into a well-known 1960s night club called Diamond Jim’s, and had been Bannister’s for a couple of decades until it shut down two years ago, since which time the building’s been vacant.

"Because it was a dilapidated strip joint, we had to remove a lot of…," Curran paused, until he landed on the mot juste, "… unsympathetic materials and peel back the building to its core. We discovered a lot of problems, things that were concealed behind layers and layers of ceilings and walls."

The idea was to create a building that would be of interest to artists--tenants for both the loft and the studios on the ground floor and basement must supply some proof of being artists--while offering monthly rents low enough to suit their budgets. The result is 12 lofts between 550 and 750 square feet, all with en suite laundry and high-grade finishes, for $800-$1,000 a month.

The rent is subsidized by the developer, the City of Hamilton, who figured they’d kill two birds with one stone by renovating a blighted downtown building while inviting the sorts of people Richard Florida and others think can give urban centres a kickstart.

Their and Curran, specialists in residential architecture, is also the firm behind an affordable housing project just beginning construction now in Richmond Hill.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Bill Curran

Developer announces new neighbourhood on the site of the old Globe and Mail

If Steve Diamond has his way, the dead zone along Spadina between Wellington and Front will soon be unrecognizable.

The 7.7 acre site, home for years to a car dealership and the Globe and Mail, has the potential to be a neighbourhood unto itself, a mixed-use development like the Shops at Don Mills, but downtown, and therefore part of the urban fabric.

"We're coming forward with a project that’s innovative and unparalleled, not only in terms of product but of the partnership behind it," says Diamond, president and CEO of Diamond Corp.

He’s calling it The Well, a play on Wellington, but also because the well is the traditional communal gathering place. With Riocan REIT handling the retail, Allied REIT the million square feet of office space, and Diamond the million square feet of residential units, both condos and townhouses, Diamond hopes this will be a fully functional urban community.

"People will be able to live, work and play within the same area," Diamond says, "but the retail is not a mall, it’s more of a traditional pedestrian way, open to the sky, neither heated nor enclosed."

When asked if the concept was similar to the Smart Centres that have touted a similar outdoor approach to shopping, Diamond’s answer was unequivocal.

"Oh my god, it’s completely different," he said. "There’s no above-grade parking on the site whatsoever. The majority of the uses are small retail uses We are not interested, for example, in Wal-Mart or Target. Everything is oriented in terms of the street and along pedestrian walkways. We believe there’ll be a population of 60,000 within a five-minute walk of the site, and that the majority of our visitors will be walking to the site."

Diamond went further and distinguished what he hopes to do – the permit applications are going in next month – from what Concord Adex did in the railway lands just to the south pointing out that the lack of retail has hobbled it as a neighbourhood.

Asked for a point of comparison, Diamond points to Butler’s Wharf in London, which he took the entire team to visit during the planning of The Well.

If built as planned, the site will have one 34-storey office building, with several smaller towers stepping down going east to six storeys. The parcel of land incudes a sliver of heritage-protected Draper Street next door, a slice Diamond says they’ll be turning into a "pocket park."

The master architect for the project is Hariri Pontarini, with landscaping by Claude Cormier.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Steve Diamond

Architects gather at Ryerson to discuss their changing role

As anyone who looks at Toronto's new skyline will be able to tell you, architects are not what they used to be.

"Architects used to be a profession that was all encompassing, from the broadest formal and aesthetic things down to technical details," says Alex Bozikovic, the Globe and Mail’s new architecture critic. "Architects are no longer in the driver seats, even on projects where their input is valued."

Architects are now just members of committees, Bozikovic says, along with developers, engineers, and often whole groups of consultants on things like acoustics and lighting. Though we praise or blame the architect when the building is complete, she can be as much a victim of circumstance as we bystanders.

Understandably, students of architecture are concerned. Which is why the master's degree class of 2015 has organized a rather nifty talk, not on the future of architecture but on the future of architects, which Bozikovic will moderate.

Speakers include practitioners and teachers from Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and U of T, as well as Jonathan Mallie, a principal at Shop. Bozikovic is especially impressed with how Shop put together the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

"The façade is a very complicated series curving steel panels," he says. "These were made in a shop somewhere else, fabricated using digital specs that Shop created. Each panel was given a specific ID and they were able to track production and delivery using an iPhone app Shop built for this purpose."

By pursuing such avenues, Bozikovic thinks architects may be able to get back the care that used to go into every aspect of a building, from plaster work to pilasters, while maintaining the efficiencies created by the current Mechano-set system of mass-produced modules being put together in limited numbers of ways across increasingly generic buildings.

"The current era in architectural design is a real paradigm shift," says Lee-Ann Pallett, the lead student organizer of the symposium. "I think that really not since architects came into power has such a paradigm shift occurred. The advent of digital technologies is affecting not only the delivery of materials but the organization of firms. They’re creating a change in the industry, which is something we want to discuss from a critical standpoint."

The symposium, which is aimed at students and building professionals, will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 28 at the Design Exchange from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Writer: Bert Archer
Sources: Alex Bozikovic and Lee-Ann Pallett

Five St Joseph draws nearer to reforming Yonge

The 48-storey tower at the centre of what will be a model development in a city overrun by build-and-bolt condos has reached its halfway point.

"I'm not sure exactly where it is today, but we're in the 20s," says Gary Switzer, founder of MOD Developments. "The steel framing is off the façade of the old warehouse, and as soon as the weather gets better, the front will start getting the brickwork restored and the windows replaced."

Though 40+-storey towers are nothing new in this city, whose skyline has been reshaped over the past decade, Switzer's sense of responsibility to the property around it is.

As we've remarked before in these pages, Switzer isn’t just building a tower, he's reconstructing a neighbourhood, refurbishing five storefronts on Yonge Street, and attempting to re-establish St. Nicolas lane, which runs south of St. Joseph between the tower and Yonge, into a commercially viable and locally attractive strip.

Yonge Street has for decades, possibly forever, been a street of great potential, but has had some trouble realizing it. The city tried to spruce things up a bit of a decde or so ago with its façade improvement funding scheme, but only a couple of businesses took advantage. But now that there’s someone with condo money looking to contribute a bit of spit and elbow grease to the noble but tired and put-upon three- and four-storey early-century buildings that form Yonge’s frontage, there’s a possibility of some positive contagion.

"As soon as that shrouding comes off, we'll be demonstrating how amazing some of those buildings can look with a little TLC," Switzer says, saying the hoarding will probably come down in the next couple of months.

As for the commercial tenants, on Yonge, St Joseph and St Nicholas, though the only tenant announced so far is the Royal Bank, it’s Switzer’s aim, and that of his broker, Jane Baldwin, to stay away from the usual anchors.

"The rents are relatively high on Yonge," Switzer says, "but they’re lower on St. Joseph, and definitely lower on St. Nicholas, so you don’t have to go to somebody like a chain. You can get an entrepreneur when the rents aren’t so high."

Switzer expects the tower and the Yonge Street buildings to be finished sometime in 2015.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Gary Switzer
Photos: Constuction image courtesy of Atlantis at Urban Toronto.

Toronto Jail to be replaced by a park

The official handover was Dec. 31, they got the keys on Jan. 6, and if you go down to Broadview and Gerard today, you may see the windows coming off. It’s the end of the road for the Toronto Jail.

According to Shawna Curtis, a spokeswoman for Bridgepoint, the medical operation that runs the nearby hospital and has already occupied the old Don Jail building, the place should be gone by April, May at the latest.

In its place? A park.

"It will be knocked down and made into green space," Curtis says of the red brick building built in 1958 as an addition to its more famous predecessor, "with Blue Rodeo Way between that little piece of land and the old Don Jail."

Blue Rodeo Way, named for the band with strong Riverdale connections (their studio is nearby, and lead Jim Cuddy is a longtime Riverdalian) will link up with Jack Layton Way and Bridgepoint Drive.

The old Don Jail next door, which shut down in 1977 and was scheduled for demolition after it was deemed too dank and cold to be used for anything else, is now home to the offices of, among other Bridgepoint corporate employees, Shawna Curtis. Apparently, it’s a fine place to work.

"They've really paid a lot of attention to the inside o the building," she says. "It's an incredibly workable building."

Landscaping of the old Toronto Jail site is expected to start in May. PCL is in charge of the demolition.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Shawna Curtis

Ontario Place considering new park

The first step in the reimagining of what was once Ontario Place is underway, and the province is presenting its initial ideas to the public on the 22nd.

This is the second of four planned public meetings on the subject. The first, in early December, introduced interested folks to the design team.

The first phase of a multi-year redevelopment, according to an announcement the province made in June, will be a new park and waterfront trail.

"The new public space will be open and accessible to Ontarians, creating much-needed green space and access to the waterfront," says Charles Millett, a manager with the communications branch of the Ontario government. "The new park and trail will serve as an anchor for future development on the rest of the site."

The consultations will continue through the spring, at which point a decision will be made as to what, exactly, will be done.

"Engaging with Ontarians on the park design is a priority for us," Millet says. "The design process for the park will be collaborative to ensure that Ontarians’ ideas and comments are reflected in the final design."

The current goal is to have the park and trail completed by 2015.

And what then?

"The scale and complexity of this project means that it needs to be completed in phases to ensure the transformation is done in the best possible way," says Millett. "It is too early to say what the next phase of revitalization will include. The new public park and waterfront trail will serve as an anchor for future development on the site."

Writer; Bert Archer
Source: Charlene Millett

Photo by Tanja-Tiziana.

Public gets its say on the future of street food

You wouldn’t think street food would be this difficult.

After years of mayonnaiseless hot dogs being pretty much the extent of what’s legal to sell on Toronto streets, and several recent attempts at something different – including the failed A La Cart program and last summer’s pilot project -- the city is holding a public meeting on the subject to ask for our advice.

According to Tammy Robinson, who works in the city’s communications department, the issues include how permits are issued, whether the moratorium on street food should be lifted from wards 20, 27 ad 28, how much space a vendor can occupy on a sidewalk, and how close they can be to restaurants.

Presumably you'll also be able to raise your voice for your favourite food. Been dreaming of street spaghetti since the first time you saw Lady and the Tramp when you were five? Now's your chance.

The meeting is being held Jan. 20 from 6-8 p.m. at City Hall’s Committee Room 2.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Tammy Robinson

Scarborough's Parkway Mall LCBO grows by 50 per cent

A new LCBO opened in at the Parkway Mall on Ellesmere Road in Scarborough, roughly 50 per cent larger than the one it's replacing.

At 12,000 square feet, the new shop will have 1,875 drinks of various sorts, including 300 Ontario wines, and the walk-in beer fridges, with 650 linear feet of shelved beer. These fridges are becoming standard in the new shops to compete with the foreign-owned Beer Stores.

According to LCBO spokeswoman Lisa Murray, the store serves a population of about 60,000 in the Ellesmere/Victoria Park area, a number that the LCBO expects to grow by about 3 per cent in the next decade.

The LCBO, which turns more than a billion and a half dollars in profit annually, bases its decision to add or expand stores on extensive demographic research, which makes new and expanded shops good bellwethers of change, growth and often economic iprovements in a neighbourhood.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Lisa Murray

Food court tenants start moving into Aura as it nears completion

The nation’s tallest condo is slowly filling out.

Madonna’s gym, Hard Candy, was the big news in November, and the woman herself will be showing up in February to give it her four minutes or so. In the meantime, the first two restaurants opened in the food court underground, Sushi BBbop and Kaiju, with several more in the offing, joining the 50 or so vendors that have moved into the 130-shop space downstairs from Bed, Bath and Beyond and Marshalls, and the 300 residents who have already moved into the lower levels of the 78-storey tower while work continues up above.

"We have poured the top residential floor, and now we're working on the mechanical rooftop, which is going to take a little while because there's about four or five floors of that," says Riz Dhanji, vice president of sales and marketing for developer Canderel Residential.

That top residential floor is going for $18.3 million for the, five-bedroom, 11,370 square foot unit.

According to Dhanji, work is just starting on the park Canderel is collaborating with the city on, and giving $3.5 million towards the development of under the city’s Section 37 stipulations.

Dhanji expects the building, with its 985 condos and 180,000 square feet of retail, will be completed by June or July.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Riz Dhanji

Photos by Bert Archer.
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