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Landscape architects to discuss master plan for Toronto's ravines

Toronto's ravines take up 10 times the amount of acreage of Manhattan's entire park system. And given that Manhattan and Toronto have roughly the same daytime population - about 3 million — we have a lot of grass to frolic in.

But the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority doesn't think we're taking full advantage of this aspect of the urban ecosystem.

"We have all these wonderful ravines running through our city and a lot of people don't know they're there," says Steven Heuchert, the TRCA's senior manager of planning and development.

Though he thinks the city's done "a pretty good job" of keeping the system reasonably natural, Heuchert thinks the next step is incorporation the ravines into the city, and the city into the ravines.

"For example, a lot of entrances to these ravines are nothing more than a little pathway put there to accommodate some sort of infrastructure," he says. "There may be a pipe there and maintenance people need to get in to work on the pipe, but we don't make these things generally accessible to the public."

Heuchert gave a talk on Oct. 9, hosted by the TRCA, on his thoughts about where the ravines have come from, and where they ought to be going to. It was part of a series of talks in the Ravine Portal exhibition that will be continued tomorrow night by the landscape architects of the Lower Don Master Plan, which Heuchert says puts into practice on a relatively small scale the ideas he thinks should be extended to the entire ravine system.

"The Lower Don Master Plan and the work that Evergreen is doing to try to connect their site into the city a little better are good examples of what I was speaking to in my presentation," Heuchert says, "looking at design solutions to make people recognize that the ravines are there, getting them in in a co-ordinated fashion."

Tomorrow's talk, titled "Possible Futures," will include Seana Irvine, Chief Operating Officer of Evergreen, with Bryce Miranda and Brent Raymond, landscape architects and partners at DTAH.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Steven Heuchert

New planned community to take advantage of Kipling station hub

A major new transit-friendly development is almost ready to go ahead near the Kipling subway station and the future Metrolinx Kipling mobility hub.

The Kip District, being developed by Concert Properties, is a re-imaginging of a large site originally owned by Canadian Tire, who got the initial approvals for 1.1 million square feet of density back in 2005, equivalent to a 4.23 density.

And Concert thinks that will still work fine.

"We want to move the density around," says Andrew Gray, vice president of Vancouver-based Concert Properties' eastern region and former vice president of development with Waterfront Toronto, "but we don't want to increase the density."

The original Canadian Tire submission envisioned much of the ground covered in relatively squat buildings. Concert is planning to squeeze them upwards into higher buildings that allow for more green space, including a central square.

They also intend to build a two-level parking garage underneath the entire site, and include retail at the ground level of the buildings to encourage local activity.

"We really wanted to emphasize a quality public realm," Gray says. "You can leave your car, walk around the site at grade, and in the winter walk through the parking garage, because it'll be heated. It's a five-minute walk to Kipling station."

The first phase of what Gray figures will be a 10-year project will be going before the city's Committee of Adjustment on Nov. 13 for approval of, among other things, the initial 90-metre tower designed by IBI Page and Steele.

Given its proximity to the planned mobility hub, which would include a new regional bus terminal, Gray says that, over the decade it will take to build, the development's planned parking facilities may be reduced.

The old Canadian Tire store is being demolished now, in expectation of some form of approval in the offing.

The Kip District, if it goes ahead, will join developments by Tridel and others centred on Kipling station, all looking to take advantage of the area's access to the subway system and western-bound roads, as well as its relative proximity to Pearson airport.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Andrew Gray

First Gulf breaks ground on transit-friendly workplace in Mississauga

Great Gulf is in the middle of two developments of great significance to the GTA, one high profile, one less so.

Great Gulf, who just received five OHBA awards, are the people behind One Bloor East, the curvaceous condo tower going up at the corner of Yonge and Bloor. In addition to its location, One Bloor is the first residential tower to make use of a curtain wall, a non-structural way of building windows that is popular with commercial buildings, allowing a sealed interior environment while letting in a lot of light. It’s due for completion in the summer of 2016.

The other just broke ground on Sept. 24 in Mississauga. It’s a commercial building, constructed to LEED Gold standards, that will bring hundreds of jobs onto the GO Transit line, offering direct access to the Meadowvale station. It’s being developed under the Great Gulf Group’s commercial and retile arm, First Gulf.

This is the third phase of the Meadowvale Centre, which is also a 15-minute drive to Pearson airport. Once completed, phase 3 will be 100,000 square feet, available to tenants at $22.50 per square foot per month.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Madeline Zito

Minto named builder of the year for the second time in three years

The Ontario Home Builders Association has named the Minto Group the builders of the year. It’s the second time they’ve been so honoured in three years.

“Builder of the Year is presented to the company that demonstrates the highest levels of performance, creativity and ingenuity based on judging criteria in the areas of sales and marketing excellence, floor plan design, community service, support of the industry and its ability to adapt to changing needs,” says OHBA president Joe Vaccaro.

Minto, whose current developments include the Westside, Yorkville Park, Minto30Roe and Oakvillage, were recognized for the way they do business rather than the specifics of their work.

“The Home Builder of the Year award is not associated with one particular project,” Vaccaro says, “but rather with their  overall company initiatives within their community and their support of the association (locally, provincially and nationally). One example of of this can be seen through Minto’s environmental initiatives.”

The Ontario Home Builders Association has about 4,000 member companies accounting for about $44 billion worth of Ontario’s economy and employing about 325,000 people.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Joe Vaccaro

Fort York park named for June Callwood

She attended the ground-breaking nine years ago and now there’s officially a park in Fort York to help us remember the remarkable contributions of June Callwood.

Though it’s a regular-sized park in city-wide terms, June Callwood Park, at 0.4 hectares, may seem a little small in an area with such parks as Coronation (12.7 hectares), and Garrison Common (3.32 hectares). But with a reflecting pool, granite and bright pink rubberized benches, a hedge maze, ornamental gardens and soft surfaces for what the city parks department calls “unstructured play,” not to mention 300 trees, it’ll seem much larger than it actually is. A little like Callwood herself.

Callwood herself was hard to categorize. A journalist, she spent a good deal of her life putting more effort than most into issues she believed in. She wrote one of the first books to deal with AIDS on a personal level, in 1988, and helped found a hospice for people with AIDS, a shelter for abused and otherwise endangered women on the city’s east side that’s still running today, having helped hundreds of women out of otherwise impossible circumstances. (She was also one of the motive forces behind the writer's organization PEN Canada.)

Callwood’s work was very much of the moment. She wasn’t a city builder, she didn’t work to build a legacy. She worked to fix what was in front of her. She’s the sort of person, in other words, who has a tendency to fade into history. But a park in her name goes some way to ensuring people will continue to look up her name and see that there are Torontonians whose force of character and sense of purpose make the city, bit by bit, a better place to be.

Jill Frayne, Callwood’s daughter, and her family attended the opening ceremony.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Karen Fulcher

One Bloor East takes shape

The corner of Yonge and Bloor was known for decades as Canada’s main intersection, where two of its biggest streets meet in its biggest city.

But things haven’t been good there for a long time, and even in Toronto, its centrality has been usurped by Yonge and Dundas, Bay and Bloor, and even Queen and Spadina.

But looking at One Bloor East go up, I wonder if things aren’t snapping back to where they should be.

It was meant to be Canada’s tallest condo, but that fell apart. Aura, a little bit south on Yonge, took that honour. But it doesn’t relate to the street well at all. At least not yet. It’s out of scale, its mass overbearing, more appropriate to a much bigger street in a much bigger, and darker, city. Give it 20 years, maybe it’ll fit right in.

But One Bloor, designed by Hariri Pontarini, looks good already, its curves a welcome relief from the rectilinearity that has beset this city’s condo boom.

This week, it reached the 26th floor, and the curtain wall is going up, giving us a better sense of how it’s going to look.

The tower-and-podium show City Hall has imposed on all development has resulted in an almost unbearable degree of homogeneity in our buildings. But Hariri Pontarini show here how it can be done better. Working within restrictions and guidelines has always been a boon to the more talented, engaged artists and designers of every generation, ones who are also not constrained by unreasonable, unworkable budgets. It seems like Great Gulf decided to make a showpiece. I’m glad someone finally did.

We’ll check in with this one a little later. It’s been going up at roughly a storey a week, which would put the topping-off right about this time next year.

Writer: Bert Archer

Retail front of Five St. Joseph begins to emerge

Five St. Joseph is a big project, and an ambitious one.

We’ve written about it several times in this space as an example of the sort of civic responsibility, enthusiasm and creativity a developer can evince.

A big part of that is the Yonge Street frontage and what the developer has chosen to do with it.

If you walk up or down Yonge Street south of Bloor these days, you’ll see a lot of those black and white signs alerting you to development applications. Most of them are for towers, and most of the towers are proposed to be quite big. It’s a safe bet that in a decade or so, Yonge Street will be well on its way to becoming the sort of canyon we tend to associate with cities like New York and Hong Kong. How that canyon is constructed, however, is still up in the air. And we have in front of us two models: Aura on College and Five St. Joseph.

The developers of Aura on College chose to demolish the old two- and three-storey structures that have characterized Yonge Street for the past century and more to up the scale ante, replacing them with a massive podium and a sort of super-awning that, at the moment, looms over the street. That mass, which includes a Bed, Bath & Beyond and one of Madonna’s Hard Candy gyms, could either just be darkening a strip of the street. or pointing to a new model for the Yonge Street of the future.

A kilometre or so north, Gary Switzer of MOD is going another route. He’s not only keeping the facade of the old building at 5 St. Joseph that he’s building a tower on top of — that’s become fairly common in this town — he’s keeping the buildings on Yonge Street, too, both in structure, and purpose. It’s staying small-scale retail.

A sign went up on the Yonge Street hoarding recently indicating that one of the first tenants to sign up is Aroma, the Canadian-owned branch of the Israeli cafe chain that’s been sprouting up all over the city.

Aroma spokesman Daniel Davidzon thinks it’s all “amazing.”

“There is enormous density and significant residential growth in an already bustling neighbourhood,” he says. “The restoration and heritage components are stunning, as is the scope of construction. The engineering needed to bring this project to fruition is especially brilliant.”

Though Aroma has received no word on timing yet, Davidzon figures the cafe, complete with corner patio, will likely open in 2015.

Councillor Wong-Tam, whose ward this sensitive Yonge Street trench is in, is currently shepherding all those development applications through council, making deals with developers to forge the new Yonge Street. If the Aura model wins out, we’ll be in for a massive shift, our kids not quite believing our quaint stories of a small-scale commercial strip. If Switzer’s notions take hold, however, the Yonge Street those kids grow up with will have a comprehensible and visible link to the one we did. It’s revolution versus evolution. Stay tuned.

Women's College Hospital's fašade joins the streetscape

Women’s College Hospital was, geographically speaking, always the outlier, tucked away up Elizabeth Street way, several blocks from University Avenue’s hospital row.

Then it raised a lot of money and started rebuilding itself in 2010. It’s still not on hospital row — its street address is still the same, in fact: 76 Grenville — but its presence in the city has skyrocketed, due mainly to its striking concrete College Street facade by architects Perkins Eastman Black and the IBI Group.

It’s not quite done yet, though the facade in its full neo-brutalist splendour is just now emerging. Though facilities moved into the new spaces in May, the work on the new 630,000 square foot complex is not due to be finished until 2016.

If CEO Marilyn Emery has her way, the new Women’s College Hospital will not only be more visible, it’ll be much more part of the community.

Due to what can only be called extreme consultation measures, including 25 focus groups and 35 online forums, the hospital’s interior design is looking to accommodate the women who live in the city now.

“Like seniors,” she told Yonge Street earlier in the development process, “and lesbian and queer women, lesbian and queer youth, the transgendered, women with addictions, abused women, women with disabilities, women living with HIV-AIDS, street workers, women with mental health issues, lower-income women, recent immigrants, Tamil women, Bengali women, Caribbean women, Mandarin-speaking women.…”

Emery trailed off, acknowledging that the list of Toronto’s diversity, at present and in the 30-year future she’s currently envisioning for the hospital, is more extensive than a single quotation can encompass.

Fort York's lauded visitors centre finally opens

The Fort York visitors centre officially opened last week, and with it, a new era in the career of one of the country’s most significant historic sites.

After playing a major role in the defence of the city of York during the War of 1812, the new city of Toronto rather overtook it, and in recent decades, it’s been in real danger of disappearing from the municipal consciousness.

“Until now, Fort York National Historic Site was invisible to passersby,” says Jonathan Kearns, principal at Kearns Mancini Architects, one of the two firms behind its design. “Altered by two centuries of lake fill, it is now 500 metres from the shoreline of Lake Ontario, below the elevated concrete canopy of the Gardiner Expressway and geographically landlocked by rail corridors. The Visitor Centre establishes a prominent front door to the Fort where none previously existed. As the area is growing with new residential developments, an opportunity was identified to make Fort York a focal point, urban amenity and cultural anchor to the neighbourhood.”

The 22,000 square foot, $25-million building, carved into the landscape so as not to overwhelm the low-lying site as well as to create the impression of the promontory the place once was, is the opening gambit in a long-term development plan for the 43-acre site.

“The façade asserts a strong physical presence from Fort York Blvd, anticipating future use of the space below the Gardiner as a wonderful ‘city room,’” Kearns says. “Behind, the building emerges from Garrison Common as an illuminated wedge clad in backlit cast glass channels, allowing the low-slung buildings of the Fort to remain the architectural focus. Environmentally, the earth-sheltered architecture allows for more efficient humidity and climate control and allows control of natural light without compromising the artifacts.”

According to Kearns, the intention is for the new building not only to welcome visitors to Fort York, but to the broader area of old York/Toronto, and ultimately becoming a new urban amenity.

“The Visitor Centre will act as a interpretative hub for the entire historic area, including not only the seven-acres within the Fort's walls but also the archaeological landscape, the Garrison Common, Victoria Memorial Square, the Fort York Armoury and Garrison Creek parkland being developed to the east.

“The Visitor Centre will include visitor and information services, galleries for permanent and temporary exhibitions, spaces for meetings and educational programming, a café and administration offices. The Centre will extend beyond its primary purpose to become a new venue for events and community gatherings within the city.”

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Jonathan Kearns

Weren't we supposed to be getting a tunnel for the island airport?

A passenger who has just missed the Marilyn Bell to Billy Bishop airport and has to wait as much as 15 minutes for it to return from its 121-metre journey may well wonder, Whatever happened to that pedestrian tunnel they were building?

Turns out, tunnel-building’s a slow business, though you get some indication of how it’s going when you get across to the island and can peer down into a very large hole beside the gangway from the ferry into the terminal.

According to the Toronto Port Authority, who are doing the dig in a public-private partnership with Forum Equity Partners and contractor PCL, “The mainland terminal structure is progressing vertically as insulation, waterproofing, reinforcing steel and concrete continue to be placed. Within the tunnel, the motors that will drive the moving sidewalks have been installed and work has begun on the tunnel wall framing, as well as architectural finishes. The escalator bank roof slab on the island is complete and walls in the elevator shaft are nearing completion.”

It is also, apparently, still on budget, which was set at $82.5 million, which is coming from the partnership, as well as portions of the improvement fee departing passengers on Porter and Air Canada pay.

"The tunnel will be the only fully pedestrian, underwater tunnel in the world that connects travellers from a mainland to an airport island," says Ken Lundy, director of infrastructure, planning and environment for the TPA, "and is a key component of our traffic management strategy smoothing out the flow of passengers and alleviating congestion stemming from travellers arriving and departing in four ferry ‘waves’ per hour."

There was a glitch last April, when the diggers discovered metal sheeting and pilings from an abortive 1935 attempt at building pretty much the same tunnel, minus the Minority Report-style digital proximity-sensitive advertising the TPA and Black have planned for airport pedestrians. But in spite of that, it is still on schedule for completion early next year.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Erin Mikaluk

High Park's new bike park officially opens

Toronto officially got its third bike park this past weekend, as Councillor Doucette cut the ribbon on Sunnyside Bike Park.

Designed by Vancouver mountain bike rider and designer Jay Hoots, and built by Ferdom Construction, the park is the city’s largest.

“Bayview Bike Park is a smaller all dirt bike park and Wallace Emerson is also a smaller park with a dirt pump track and metal riding features replicating a more 'urban' riding experience,” says the city’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation spokesman Scott Laver. "The design of Sunnyside offers more progression and a wider variety of riding features for all levels and experience of riders.”

The off-road park’s wooden skills zone was constructed out of wood salvaged after the 2013 ice storm, and the clay used for the tracks came from the excavation of a development site near College and Spadina.

The park has been in the works since 2010, and cost $500,000.

According to the city’s press release, “This new bike park will address the lack of off-road cycling venues in the west end and ideally will reduce or eliminate the creation of informal bike parks in ecologically sensitive areas of the High Park neighbourhood.”

The city’s currently planning a fourth bike park, for Marie Curtis Park in Ward 6.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Scott Laver

Toronto gets some of its first aboriginally named streets

This citywide lane-naming project is turning out to be more significant than it seemed at first.

For the most part, downtown streets were named ages ago, by people whose priorities and frame of reference were often quite different from ours. Two major aboriginal roads were kept as Toronto developed, for instance, but named for an ale Etonian buddy of John Simcoe’s who was an expert on Roman roads (George Yonge) and a house that was named for an army buddy of the guy who built it just north of Bathurst (Major Davenport).

But these lanes are all about us, and a good number of them are looking to redress some of the oversights of those original street namings. Like Wabenose and Chechalk lanes in the Church Wellesley neighbourhood, named a week ago Friday.

When Connie Langille, chair of the Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association’s heritage committee, was given the task of coming up with names for local laneways, she made a call.

“I contacted Carolyn King, past chief of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations, for name proposals and permission,” she says. “Each request needed the approval of their council.  Wabenose and Chechalk were the names submitted. Garry Sault, an elder, kindly explained the meaning of the names. Wabenose means the one that greets the morning, as when you lift your face to the sun for morning prayers. Chechalk is of the Crane clan. They spread the word of the people, tell the stories.”

Both men were signatories of the Toronto Purchase, by which the British acquired the land Toronto is built on. It turned into a contentious claim that was finally settled in 2010 for $145 million.

Until this month, there were a total of five streets named for aboriginal people, according to Brian Hall with the city's engineering services: Doctor O Lane; Oskenonton Lane; Sloping Sky Mews; Tom Longboat Lane; and Longboat Avenue. There are also 19 streets named more generally along aboriginal themes, but these include one ceremonial sname for part of Lower Jarvis (Warriors Way), and seven that include the word "Indian."

A closer look at the signs reveals something no other named lanes have.

“The banner above the names is very significant,” Langille says. “Banners are reserved for districts, etc. only. The first answer I heard to my inquiry was ‘No’.  Ultimately to have the banner read ‘Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation’ I needed to request the exception and have it approved at city council.”

There aren’t many streets or lanes with aboriginal names in this town, and locals were querulous.

“Neighbours were a little unsure at first,” Langille says. “Why native names? How do you pronounce them? But after getting a brief history, they are proud to have our lanes named after two great figures in history.”

Another lane in the district have been named for architect Macy Dubois, and one in the offing will be named Biscuit Lane for Brown’s Bakery, which used to be on the associations strip of Yonge, where Mr Christie first started baking cookies.

“Every lane we name adds to the stories of our neighbourhood. People are connected by the telling of the stories,” Langille says. “It is good.”

Langille also works at Oolagen Community Services, itself re-named two years ago for the Cree term for "where the flowers grow."

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Connie Langille
Photo: Heritage Toronto

Tiny Home an alternative to the tiny condo

When we think of the future of Toronto housing, we often think in terms of cities that got big before we did, and those of which we follow. So, like New York, Paris, Moscow, we’ll slowly evolve into a place where only the very rich own single family dwellings, and the rest of us will live in apartments and condos of various levels of spaciousness and luxury.

Anthony Moscar would like to offer another option.

“Our current housing system presents an environmental, affordability, and economic growth threat,” Moscar says. “Rising income inequality, soaring housing costs and the shortage of new affordable housing have all resulted in an affordability crisis for many low- and middle-income households.”

The kind of house Moscar, a naturopath, is building now, for himself as well as to present the concept to the public, will be 11 metres long and between 2.5 and 3.7 metres wide, and costs between $20,000 and $60,000 to build, either yourself, or having builders do it for you. (Land sold separately.)

But Moscar isn’t just concerned with the price barrier.

“The greater Toronto area housing system is failing to meet the region’s needs,” he says. "Trends in land use have encouraged inefficient sprawling development and energy-inefficient construction that is ecologically unsustainable and costly for municipalities, landlords and residents alike.”

So his building materials include Vicwest metal for the roof, which maintains heat in the winter stays cool in the summer, and is 100 per cent recyclable; naturally occurring, organic insulation called ROXUL, Marmoleum flooring is made from 97 per cent recycled material, 72 per cent of which is renewable, as is itself 100 per cent biodegradable.

How does it look?

“To keep costs low,” Moscar says, “it was designed as simplistic as possible. The fewer bends and edges, the less construction costs and potential challenges.”

The result: It looks a little bit like a trailer. So much so, in fact, that the city has had trouble giving him all the permits he needs, given the fact that it's illegal to live in a vehicle (it's got wheels) in this city.

But Moscar is confident he'll be able to figure it all out.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Anthony Moscar

Waterfront Toronto declares a new era of transparency

Waterfront Toronto is changing the face of the city, attempting to reclaim its lakeshore from centuries of misuse. But because we’re still not in the habit of spending much time there, much of what’s going on down there — and it’s a lot — is happening without most of us noticing.

Waterfront hopes to fix that in a number of ways, primarily by building up areas people are naturally drawn to. But in the meantime, it’s decided to institute a new policy of transparency, so that whoever’s interested can have easy access to whatever facts and details there are about what’s going on down there, and how. They’re letting us follow the money.

“The change in how we disclose contract values is driven mainly because other public sector organizations – the city, in particular – are moving to disclosing actual contract values,” says Waterfront Toronto communications director Andrew Hilton. “Waterfront Toronto want to ensure we keep pace with any accountability measures and best practices from the three levels of government.

“As well, we think it is important for us to contextualize how we spend and what we spend it on, so that anyone can understand what we are trying to achieve in, for example, building a park or public amenity. For us, it is critical that Torontonians are able to get the information they need to form an opinion on Waterfront Toronto’s activities: our mandate, what we do, why we do it, how much it costs, and the benefits that waterfront revitalization bring to the city.”

There is a lot of money being spent down there. The East Bayfront, just one of several neighbourhoods being constructed out of what is largely former industrial and shipping zones, has been estimated to cost $1.1 billion.

The new transparency initiative is called Get the Facts. Though Hilton says there was no immediate motivation for Get the Facts, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong did express some public outrage in June over expenses related to Sugar Beach, accusing the organization of secret spending.

“We certainly hope that Torontonians pay attention to the revitalization of the Waterfront and why it is being done,” Hilton says. “The lack of progress on our waterfront for generations was why Waterfront Toronto was created, so we feel that informing and engaging the public on the progress we’ve made on one of the most significant parts of the city is important.”

The first fact released by Waterfront Toronto under this new programme was Hilton’s salary. He makes $130,000 a year.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Andrew Hilton

City gets tough on construction disruption

The city’s decided to get tough on developers who, city-builders though they be, take too many liberties with our roads.

“This is part and parcel of the City's overall congestion management plan whereby we are increasing enforcement of construction activity taking place on city streets,” says Andre Filippetti, Toronto-East York’s guy in charge of right-of-way management. “We consider this important because maintaining construction sites in a proper way is critical to ensure the safety of all road users.”

With constructions sites numbering in what Filippetti estimates to be the thousands around the city, most pedestrians, cyclists and drivers will have run into messes and other forms of encroachment into our rights of way. It’s hard to keep on top of it all, and even harder to do something about when you do encounter infringements and infractions, but the city figures it's up to the job.

“We employ staff who are certified as Provincial Offences Officers (Transportation Standards Officers) who are able to issue notices to the constructors and/or to lay any appropriate charges under the Municipal Code related to any violation within the City of Toronto road allowance,” Filippetti says.

If you want to report a case, call 311.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Andrew Filippetti
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