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New citizenís panel brings fresh perspectives to the planning process

Reviewing the city’s Townhouse and Low-Rise Apartment Design Guidelines, Jason Wong offered some suggestions about locating gas and electricity meters where they could be readily inspected, but not so visible as to be eyesores. Though it remains to be seen if Wong’s ideas explicitly become part of the guidelines, the issues raised by the engineer from Scarborough will become part of the broader discussion about and evolution of the planning document.

“The writer of that guideline was sitting in the room with us, so there was active feedback,” says Wong, one of 28 members of the inaugural Toronto Planning Review Panel, a new body designed to bring a wide range of perspectives to the city’s planning process. Last year 12,000 households received an invitation to serve on the panel for a two-year term. The city chose members from more than 500 people who accepted the offer, using a civic lottery system that considered factors like age, geographic location, gender, household tenure (owner or not) and ethnicity to achieve diversity and bring in voices beyond the people who usually show up for planning meetings.

“We have a process that’s about improving our engagement process across our division and it has identified three population groups we’re not reaching as well as we could be, including youth, newcomers and renters,” says Daniel Fusca, chair of the Toronto Planning Review Panel and lead of stakeholder engagement in the Office of the City of Toronto’s Chief Planner.

Though other cities have various kinds of citizen-engagement planning processes, the panel is an especially made-in-Toronto solution meant to be cost-effective and relatively red-tape free. Members agree to attend six meetings a year and attend a series of orientation sessions to help them understand the broad strokes of the planning process. Fusca has been impressed so far. “They are eager, curious, progressive and sophisticated in their approach. They even insisted that meetings be longer than we had originally planned, so that they could have a greater opportunity to sink their teeth into the projects we brought to them. It is both inspiring and humbling to work with them.” Their feedback will be made available in a summary report so people can see how the feedback has been used.

Irv Raymon, an architect who lives in North York, is something of an insider on the panel, but sees the process as very worthwhile. “It’s an amazing effort on the part of the city to educate a group of randomly chosen people and then to get knowledge back from them on how things might be done in a better way for the city,” says Raymon.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Sources: Daniel Fusca, Jason Wong & Irv Raymon

Next step of LGBT sports and recreational facility gets green light from city

City Council has voted to strike a steering committee to look into the feasibility of a new sport and recreation facility with an LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender) focus.
 
The project, which emerged out of The 519 Community Centre’s work on PrideHouse for the Pan Am Games, would redevelop Moss Park, including the John Innes Community Centre, a two-storey structure built in 1951, and Moss Park Arena, a single storey building housing an ice rink.  Current centre amenities include a pool, games room, gym, weight room, craft room, kitchen, dance studio and wood shop, while the park already has a softball diamond, two tennis courts, two basketball courts and community gardens.
 
The feasibility study and community consultations are expected to cost between $1 million and $1.6 million, with the whole project costing as much as $125 million, though that estimate will likely change as the process unfolds. “The determination of final contribution amounts by partners has yet to be formally negotiated,” states the city backgrounder. “This project will not displace other capital projects currently identified in the City of Toronto 10-year capital plan.” The 519 has secured a private donation expected to cover the costs of the feasibility study and will fundraise to cover capital costs if the project goes ahead.
 
The Moss Park location has moved forward after the first proposed site, the Wheel and Foundry complex located at Eastern Avenue and St. Lawrence Street, was determined to be unsuitable.
 
Despite the LGBT focus, the project will also be expected to serve the local community. “The 519 is well positioned to lead the delivery of inclusive sport and league programming, particularly for the communities of common bond and create new employment and economic benefits within the neighbourhood,” states the city backgrounder. “Moss Park is a unique neighbourhood that is home to a diverse range of communities including marginalized and vulnerable people, and agencies that provide services for these communities. Many of the immediate communities are experiencing homelessness, living with substance use and mental health issues, Aboriginal and First Nations peoples, youth from diverse ethno-racial communities, as well as those experiencing poverty.”
 
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: City of Toronto

Condos for artists keeping Toronto honest

Among the several serious concerns born of our condo boom, the most vexing is class. Even though most towers offer lower-priced units, they’re usually tiny, unsuitable for anyone but singletons who will eventually buy more expensive digs.

One of Toronto’s strengths has long been its class mixture. The Annex is an excellent example, where $5-million homes but up against houses split into six apartments that go for under $1,000 a month. But even in Forest Hill and Rosedale, there are apartment buildings that ensure people with a wide range of incomes can live there.

Artscape, among others, saw the danger to this equilibrium the explosion of downtown development posed, and has begun doing something about it.

Pace and 210 Simcoe are two below-market condo complexes, subsidized in the form of perpetual second mortgages that give buyers their down payment. Though similar to Options for Homes, about which we’ve written here in the past, the Artscape plan differs in two significant ways. First, the second mortgage plan applies not only to the first buyer, but to all subsequent buyers of the units in question. “We’re interested in permanently retaining affordable space,” says Artscape’s executive vice president Celia Smith.

The other is that these homes are only available to artists, as defined by the Canadian Artist Code.

The reason for this, Smith says, is to transform communities.

“You’re buying into the concept of community. You’re participating in that community, but you’re also contributing to it,” she says.

This isn’t the first time they’ve done it, though the scheme has changed slightly. Five years ago, they sold 48 units in the Triangle Lofts. What these two new projects — which are mostly built — represent is Artscape’s ambition to expand the project city-wide.

“We’d love to do this in every ward in the city,” she says, recognizing that art is not just a downtown phenomenon.

The deadline for applications is January 30 — that’s this week — for occupancy between late summer and the first part of 2016.

You can apply here.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Celia Smith

Aroma to open first kosher location

This spring, fast-growing coffee chain Aroma will open its first kosher shop on Bathurst just north of Wilson.

“As you know, Aroma is very popular with the Jewish community, given its roots,” says Daniel Davidzon, marketing manager for the Canadian company with Israeli origins, “and we thought there was a segment of the population that wasn’t able to take advantage of our menu items.”

Both inside and out the kosher location will look the same as other locations, and since they’ve decided to go dairy there will only need to be one kitchen, though this means the menu will have to be changed to eliminate the meat.

“A whole host of sandwiches has dropped off the menu,” Davidzon says, “as well as some salads,” though he says the prices will mostly stay the same.

The address, at 3791-3793 Bathurst, is in a disused Shoppers Drug Mart, just a few blocks north of where Daiters, the 78-year-old Jewish deli, will be closing in April.

“We’d like to use it as a permanent experiment,” Davidzon says, saying the company is not sure whether it will roll out the concept more broadly. “So far, we’ve had a very positive reaction online.”

With other, non-kosher locations opening at Yonge and Sheppard, downtown Markham and in the RBC Waterpark building around the same time, there will be 30 Aromas in the GTA by summer.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Daniel Davidzon

 

There's an appetite for urban living in Burlington

There may be something to this urban design and density trend.

As Toronto’s core intensifies by the day and condos, rather than single family dwellings, become the norm, it seems the thinking behind it is leaking outwards.

Like Markham and Vaughan before them, Burlington is now showing signs of urbanization.

Link, a four-building, two-phase development by the young Adi Development Group, has just launched its second two buildings, set for construction next spring on the edge of Bronte Creek on Dundas Street.

“We took that urban movement that was happening in Toronto and plopped it down in Burlington,” says Tariq Adi, who runs Adi Development with his brother, Saud. “It was a huge success," he says, referring to their first such project, Mod'rn. "Link was a little bit more of a departure, we used RAW Design and Roland Rom Colthoff. We instructed him to do something different.”

When completed in early 2017, the four buildings will be linked by lit bridges made of glass and structural steel. The informing metaphor for the project, according to Adi, is connection: buildings to nature, people to their homes, and people to other people.

“There’s a paradigm shift happening in Burlington,” Adi says, referring to things like Money Sense magazine finding Burlington the most livable mid-sized city in the country in 2013, and stats that put Burlington’s per capita income among the highest in Canada. “It’s a very educated, well informed crowd.”

Link 2, as it’s being called, will feature two-storey lofts with 18-foot ceilings, ranging from 852 to 1,650 square feet, with prices starting at $352,000. Smaller, single-storey, one-bedroom units will start at $190,000, with other units featuring family-friendly three and even four bedrooms starting at under half a million.

In addition to its urban-style density and aesthetic, Link will be close to public transportation. There’s a bus stop in front of the site now, with a new Metrolinx Bus Rapid Transit station slated for 20 metres from the site, and a GO station about 10 minutes away. It’s also about 300 metres from highway 407.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Tariq Adi

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

Senior nuns' residence wins international design award

The Sisters of St. Joseph, who once ran much of the Catholic school system in Toronto, are a dwindling breed, but they've decided to dwindle in style, and the commission they gave to Shim-Sutcliffe Architects to build a home cum hospital for the older nuns in need of care has just won the World Architecture News Healthcare Award.

The project included a renovation of their existing residence, built in the 1850s on the Don Valley, and an addition in the form of a private hospital for 58 nuns along side it.

As the jury described it, “Forming a sinuous line between the Don Valley to the north and the low rise urban fabric of the city to the south, the Residence for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto articulates both individual contemplative life and the community engagement of the Sisters ministries, making relationships to Nature and City to reinforce public and private aspects.”

The new structure includes geothermal heating, green roofs, solar panels and a storm water management system.

The project was completed in April, 2013. Shim-Sutcliffe is one of Toronto's most awarded firms, with 12 Governor General's Medals since its formation in 1994, and is best known for Integral House (2009), Weathering Steel House (2001), and Laneway House (1993).

Writer: Bert Archer

Double Dwelling presents new option for multigenerational living

"It's an instrument for living."

That's how architect Donald Chong describes the so-called Double Dwelling at the corner of Huron and Howland in Chinatown, a house that's been raising eyebrows while under construction in the mostly Edwardian and post-war neighbourhood.

It seems like it doesn't belong, but given the living situation of many people in Chinatown, it couldn't be more apposite.

"If there's anything that's particularly Toronto that's apparent here," Chong says, "it's that any sort of social stigma that might have been there since WWII of living with your parents seems to be slowly eroding."

Formerly two houses on two lots, Chong was commissioned to design a house that would accommodate three generations of a single family, allowing them to benefit from living together, without living on top of each other.

"Really good design is an expression of a culture that's ready to change and evolve," Chong says, "and I think this city is ready for it. We're in the post-honeymoon of the Jane Jacobs era; it's starting to taper out as we're maturing and we can now embrace it without apology. It's the foreground now, not the background, with people pretending not to notice it.

"It's not about eyes on the street so much," he continues, referring to a basic Jacobs concept, "as the fact that we can see a city within the house. You could live like a village not just beyond your doors, but within your doors."

Chong, the man behind Blantyre House, Galley House, and the concept that small fridges make good cities, sees the Double Dwelling as a natural extension of Canadian multiculturalism, circa 1968, and a potential prototype for future designs catering to clients who see family differently from the Anglo tradition.

"There were two dilapidated homes that were barely rentable, more squats. The parents didn't know what do with them as they were aging. Their kids came to us and said our parents are part of it. It was a large enough property because it was on a corner, we have two faces to take advantage of for separate entries, which makes it possible to be rentable, should the parents move out or die."

Chong says the main challenge for the house was to "manage the paths of living," allowing the three generations to share what they wanted to share, but also maintain their own space. So the kitchen is shared, but the living quarters are separated by stairwells and sliding doors.

Chong says there's ample opportunity to alter existing Toronto homes along these lines, given how many of them were designed with alley entrances and smaller, separate spaces for servants.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Donald Chong

Artscape's Daniels Spectrum wins international design award

Toronto has two more award-winning buildings.

Daniels Spectrum, the Regent Park community centre designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects and run by Artscape, and the Rotman School of Management at U of T (KPMB) have won Architectural Record's Good Design Is Good Business Award, which according to the journal is given out to "demonstrate how embracing design can benefit an organization’s bottom line."

It was one of 10 given out internationally this year, and Toronto is the only city represented twice.

An award for design and business is perhaps not so surprising for a business school. But a community centre is a little less intuitive a choice.

But Daniels Spectrum, developed by the Daniels Corporation, is in the business of community outreach, and according to Seema Jethalal, who heads the place up for Artscape, it makes good sense--business and otherwise.

"Daniels Spectrum has a modular design that lends itself well to users with different needs," she says. "The 6,000 square foot Ada Slaight Hall, for instance, has been set up in dozens of configurations thanks to its partition walls and a retractable seating system."

In any given weekm Jethalal continues, the space can be divided to suit simultaneous events with different needs--from dance performances, to cinema-style film screenings, to art shows, banquet-style gala fundraisers, and 10-piece band performances.

But what sets it apart is the involvement Daniels Spectrum's tenants had in the initial design. 

"Each of the tenant organizations at Daniels Spectrum worked with Diamond Schmitt Architects to design their studios with their respective audiences in mind. Native Earth Performing Arts has a unique ventilation system to allow smudging in Aki Studio (a 120-seat black box theatre), ArtHeart Community Art Centre has a built in kitchen in their art studio so they can provide free meals for drop-in participants, and COBA Collective of Black Artists' drumming and dance studios have been built with a unique sound design to limit sound bleed."

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Seema Jethalal

Condo core to get some three-bedroom options

It looks like by 2015, a family may finally be able to live in a Bay Street condo.

The Cresford tower, compellingly named 1000 Bay, that's going up where Bistro 990 used to be is prominently advertising the availability of three-bedroom units in a market where such things are still rarities.

The work of councillors Adam Vaughan and Kristyn Wong-Tam, both of whom are strong proponents of what they call family-sized condos, has played a large role in this, though one would hope that so, too, has some recognition on the part of developers that occasionally people with children wwant to live downtown for under $1 million.

You wouldn't have thought it would take them quite so long to catch on.

The 32-storey tower, designed by glass-tower-cobbler Peter Clewes, will have 458 units, of which 33, according to Clewes' firm Architects Alliance, will be three-bedroom.

The site, which also included a parking lot bordering on the University of St. Michael's College at U of T, is in the centre of the condo core and across the street from several of the 1980s condos, including 1001 Bay, that minted Bay Street as the city's premier condo strip.

Writer: Bert Archer

 

Mizrahi build biggest new synagogue in decades

Construction is underway on the Spadina Road site just north of St Clair that will soon be the biggest newly built synagogue in Toronto for 45 years.

"It’s a very detailed building," says developer Sam Mizrahi. "The architectural style is a replica of the synagogue in Jaslo, Poland that was destroyed in the war by the Nazis."

The Orthodox synagogue and community centre, to be known as the Temmy Letner Forest Hill Jewish Centre, is being built with complex zinc roof structures, designed by architect Wayne Swadron, and will include banquet facilities, a learning centre, a Holocaust library, a shul, and a rooftop sukka.

The funders have been largely Ashkenazi families who were in some way affected by the Holocaust.

"It's actually been quite pleasingly well received," Mizrahi says. "We've done many custom homes in Forest Hill, and this has the same set of values and concerns in terms of neighbours and the community, including keeping the site clean, and building in a very tight space."

Mizrahi, who is also building 181 Davenport, expects the Letner centre to be finished by November.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Sam Mizrahi

Architects, social innovators gather to discuss social-interest design

A discussion among three architects and a community organizer managed, if just for a morning, to shift the focus away from condos toward what architecture can do for the city and its people, and how.

Janna Levitt, Marianne McKenna, and Michael McLelland joined Rosalyn Morrison of the Toronto Community Foundation to discuss various ways architecture and architects can contribute to the city’s social health.

"We're a firm about ideas," said Marianne McKenna, the "M" in KPMB. "How do we restore our position in society as advocates?"

"Other people make things," said McLelland of ERA Architects, picking up the theme. "Architects, like artists, are generally about ideas. Part of that means solving complex problems. I don’t love anything better than a fantastic problem."

And though some of those problems are problems of design, many of them aren’t. Levitt, of LGA Architectural Partners, spoke of her firm's work helping non-profit clients raise funds to get their project done. McKenna spoke of working with Manitoba Hydro on their zero-footprint building in Winnipeg to ensure the 3,000 newly consolidated employees would both benefit and integrate into their new neighbourhood by leaving out any cafeteria space, ensuring a large new client base for cafes and restaurants in the area.

The talk was hosted by the Design Exchange and sponsored by Shimmerman Penn accountants.

Writer: Bert Archer

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

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

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
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