Weston Cultural Hub – the issues, Part 1.

This is the first of a three-part series on the proposal to build a cultural Hub in Weston.

The idea of an artistic community sparking gentrification is an old one, well documented in many cities. The idea is that artists move into a run-down community, attracted by low rents. They enrich the area causing young professionals to move in, attracted by the cool vibe. Demand boosts property values and the area revives and gentrifies. Unfortunately, the artists are then priced out of the area and begin the process elsewhere.

Brewing for quite a few years has been the idea of a Cultural Hub that will spark an upturn in Weston’s fortunes. Like many good ideas it has several parents but a few individuals have been key in pushing the ideas along. More on that tomorrow.

Artscape is a ‘not for profit urban development organization’. It specializes in partnerships with the City of Toronto and (sometimes) developers to convert vacant or underused properties into cultural hubs. These are places where artists can live in subsidized live / work studios and at the same time, cultural organizations can rent space at a reduced cost.

Toronto City Council recently endorsed the plans to have our very own Cultural Hub in Weston. Let’s look at an Artscape project that is seen as a model for Weston.

Wychwood Barns

Wychwood Barns is in the affluent Bracondale or Hillcrest community of Toronto. It was built in 1913 as a streetcar maintenance and storage facility. After it was abandoned and sold to the city for one dollar, plans were made for its demolition. Councillor Joe Mihevic initiated the idea of re-purposing this heritage building. As always with such ideas, the process was long, involved and controversial but eventually with funding of $19 million the new Wychwood Barns Community Centre, including a greenhouse, beach volleyball court, leash free zone for dogs, artists’ housing, offices and green space emerged in 2011.

The old Barn building that originally stored street cars.

The old Barn building that originally stored street cars.

Inside the main building.

Inside the main building. There is community rental and office space upstairs.

One of the community organizations using a subsidized space.

The Children’s Art Studio. One of the community organizations using a subsidized space.

There is a well-attended year-round farmers market every Saturday that focuses on organic and sustainable produce. A waiting list of vendors applying to operate there is needed because of demand.

Outdoor Farmers Market stalls on Saturday May 23.

Outdoor Farmers Market stalls on Saturday May 23.

As mentioned, the project cost $19 million and was funded entirely by Artscape, the Federal Government, the Provincial Government, and the City of Toronto. Not one penny of developer money was needed for the project. The area around Wychwood is quite affluent with many streets of million dollar plus homes and but a single apartment building nearby.

The lone apartment building near Wychwood Barns.

The lone apartment building past Wychwood’s grounds and across the road at 580 Christie. As a co-ownership building, it cannot be converted into condos in order to preserve the rare affordable housing it provides for the area.

The impression of Wychwood Barns is one of purposeful activity. The place is a magnet for the area and affluence seems to be the order of the day. It is well attended with hordes of upwardly mobile young professionals, many with children in strollers. Outdoor market stalls sell what you might expect but also esoterica such as fancy mushrooms, sheep yogurt and hemp drinks (all organic of course). There is an art gallery, crafts stalls and even a theatre group engaging in loud, enthusiastic rehearsals in the main barn.

Could something like this work in Weston?

Tomorrow: Artscape’s plans for a Cultural Hub in Weston.

Water main break shuts down Weston businesses

Yesterday a water main broke sending water flooding down John Street. Metrolinx is working to install a pedestrian bridge in that area and repairs took about nine hours. Businesses along John Street were affected. Because waterman repair is a function of the City, unfortunately, the notification that residents and businesses would have no water for several hours fell between the cracks.

Water flowing from the main break on Wednesday May 6.

Water flowing from the main break on Wednesday May 6. Photo: Weston B.I.A.

This should have been where either the City or Metrolinx’s Community Office swung into action to notify long suffering residents and businesses (such as Pizza Pizza who were forced to close).

It’s surprising that nobody saw this coming. Let’s hope further interruptions can be avoided.

UP Express opens June 6.

With great fanfare, Premier Wynne today rode the UP Express from Union Station through to Terminal 1 at Pearson Airport. The Premier, pronouncing the much discussed train as the ‘up express’ (rather than U.P.), stated that this is the beginning of a new era in infrastructure investments. She also suggested that public transport becomes widely used if it is a more convenient way to move from one place to another than driving. No doubt many people will sample the new service for the first time out of curiosity but whether the train is viable in the long term is a highly contentious point. Time will tell if our new transit link will be more convenient for Torontonians, airport workers and tourists (and therefore successful) or if it will end up as a commuter rail line with additional stops along the way.

The Premier also referred to the doubling of GO train service by 2020 which is part of a $16 Billion Liberal infrastructure spend designed to get people out of their cars and onto public transit. Metrolinx President, Bruce McCuaig claimed that in its first year, the UP Express will result in 1.6 million fewer car trips. Former federal Transport Minister David Collenette who got the ball rolling back in 2000 tagged along for the ride. Sadly, there was no invite for WestonWeb to sample the new line.

In its early inception, the train was called Blue 22 and tragically, with the addition of a stop in Weston and three minutes of extra travelling time, nobody in the government could come up with a brief rhyming couplet that ended in twenty-five; hence UP Express. As readers are aware, the stop in Weston was a testament to the political clout of residents who forced the government to offset the negative repercussions of about 150 extra trains through Weston every day. Hence we ended up with a stop along the route, new respect from politicians and a beginning to the end of the decline of Weston.

Arrive in 25.

Don’t Drive – Arrive in 25™

Let’s hope that the same fighting spirit hasn’t left the station as there are fresh battles coming (more on that later).

For extra credit, here is an article that extolls the merits of vastly expanding our current (slow and very tentative) link to Kitchener (Incidentally, there is considerable interest among Kitchener residents, some of whom would like to change at Weston onto the UP Express).

30 Storey tower concerns residents

There’s some good news and bad in the latest development proposal unveiled in last week’s information meeting hosted by Councillor Frances Nunziata. Well over 100 people packed the York West Active Living Centre where terms such as podium as it refers to the base of a tall tower and Woonerf were tossed around.

Since the move of Weston GO Station south of Lawrence, the parking lot has remained the home of Weston Farmers Market but is a bit of an eyesore and has lost its primary function. Over the last few years, residents have been involved in brainstorming the future of Weston and responding to subsequent ideas brought forward by developers and the city.

The Good

People power in Weston pushed the addition of a stop along the UP Express line. From that one act has come political respect for Weston residents, a commitment from politicians to spend money, quality planning for the future that involves residents and the unavoidable attention of developers who want a piece of the action. A business plan has been approved by the city for the development of land in the centre of Weston.

Lands to be developed not only include the old GO Station parking lot but the recently expropriated adjacent vacant land. Tied in with this will be an agreement with the owners of 35 King Street (late lamented home of Andrew McLean), Artscape and the City. The betting is that 26 subsidized living / work spaces plus creative programming and outdoor public space will encourage businesses and institutions to invest in Weston. Artscape will be given a lease to run the spaces for 50 years.

There will still be outdoor space for the Farmers Market which has been a diminished attraction in recent years, losing both customers and vendors. Hopefully the new digs will boost attendance.

A lot of ideas from the charette are still alive and the city feels that creating high quality public spaces is important as people walk through Weston to the UP Express. This pleasant environment will encourage them to linger and support local businesses.

place

The layout of the proposal – the footbridge and rail tracks are at the top right. Artists’ accommodations (brown) are along two sides of the existing building to the left. The original tower footprint is the dotted line.

 

place

The new tower footprint is the small blue square. The Farmers Market will be located near the footbridge ramp (stalls are dark red). Parking spaces for the Farmers Market will ease the parking on Weston Road at other times.

The Bad

Crowning the whole development like a single birthday candle will be a 30-storey residential rental tower. Apparently this kind of height is needed to make enough money for the developer the project worth while. Responding to a resident’s question, Rockport Group C.E.O. Jack Winberg, stated that a condominium development instead of a rental building would not sell in the current market. When asked if there is another tower of similar height in the locality, he mentioned the co-op building at 2100 Weston Road (it’s closer to 20 storeys).

The tower.

The tower.

As a sidenote, Mr Winberg’s company built Scarlett Heights retirement home along Lawrence and handily smacked down residents’ objections when the development was inevitably taken to the OMB.

The not so bad.

Chief City Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat mentioned that the original tower proposal was wider and had no podium. The latest version will have less of a shadow and a podium cuts down on the wind that tall buildings generate.

What Now?

There will be further opportunities to have input on this project and others but it is up to every Weston resident to get involved, attend consultation meetings and ask questions. Community input and the hard work of people and groups such as the Weston Village Residents’ Association have resulted in good things happening but vigilance will be needed to make sure that developers don’t cut corners or maximize their profits at the cost of a liveable community that we can all be proud of.

Media Manipulation?

To the casual observer, sometimes a media storm can seem large and when a story appears in several media outlets, it gains credibility. For a couple of days, the media has been full of news about the partisan use of NDP MPs offices. Our own MP, Mike Sullivan even got a mention.

Looking more closely, it seems that far from being a media storm, it is a single article put out by Joan Bryden of the Canadian Press and faithfully reprinted for example, herehere, here and here… My esteemed colleague Adam rightly covered it because it is news with a local ingredient. Ms Bryden is also the source of other stories about the NDP – concerning the use of satellite offices.

It would be improper to suggest that the Tories and Liberals are feeding Ms. Bryden story ideas. It is also an unfounded suggestion that Mr. Mulcair’s recently improved polling numbers are giving the back room boys in Canada’s traditional ruling parties unwanted bowel movements.

Mulcair - on the rise.
Mulcair – on the rise.    (WestonWeb file).

This month, both the Tories and Liberals are about to be battered by a political tsunami courtesy of their colleagues in the Senate. There are no NDP Senators so the Libs and Cons will be feeling the full wrath of the people. Voters, who have no patience with the concept that Senators are easily confused by forms and may have been tricked into filling them out fraudulently. With more than 100 from the ‘Chamber of Sober Second Thought’,  being asked to justify their claims, hearing about Nancy Ruth enduring deprivations such as cold Camembert and broken crackers is a prescription for high blood pressure.

While such a callous lack of understanding on the part of the public they so selflessly serve must hurt, Mike Duffy’s trial will be in the headlines this month and unless Nigel Wright can perform witchcraft, lots more pain will be inflicted, hence the need for artificial public outrage.

Allegedly, Mr. Sullivan used his constituency office to gather people for a rally. Having been inside Mr. Sullivan’s poky headquarters, it might be easier to have gathered them into something more spacious such as a phone booth.

There is no doubt that partisan activities occur in riding offices. Does the public expect that an MP step outside the office to discuss party strategy? Regardless, is doubtful that the NDP are any better or worse than the Liberals and Tories. The latter two have had more experience in hiding it. One is left to wonder, was this strategy on the part of the Tories and Liberals concocted in a riding office or in the PMO? No doubt that would be illegal too.

As the old saying goes, the first casualty in any war is the truth.

A tyraid

On the state of cycling in Weston

Toronto was voted a “Gold” city for cycling-friendliness yesterday. Weston lags behind—sad, given that CCM built bikes here for decades, and especially sad since we have enormous potential.

The problem is simple, even if the solution isn’t: our most bikeable routes lead to nowhere. The very things that make Weston and Mount Dennis so attractive to polluting commuters  (our GO Train and proximity to arterial roads and highways) prevent us from attracting cyclists.

This is significant. We are surrounded by lovely areas of town Nice thingsthat we can’t get to. York University and Humber College are important campuses and employers that should be only a short bike ride away. There are dozens of great restaurants on Albion Road. Feeling a bit more swisha bit hipper? The Junction is very close. Just past it are two bike superhighways to downtown, the railpath and Davenport.

But you can’t get there from here. To bike on AlbionWeston 3 is to hasten immortality. On Wilson someone leaned out of the passenger side of his car to try to kill me.

It’s not just the main roads. For reasons lost to memory, the subdivisions in and around Weston have roads that run predominantly east-west. Few residential roads run north-south for long distances. TBlockedinhe river gets in the way, as do a golf course, Black Creek Drive and the railway.

Weston riders are, in effect, blocked in.

A lost opportunity

It’s not impossible to escape, but it is tricky. Getting to the southeastern bike highways and downtown is easiest. There are dekes and moves to get there.

Any other direction is tricky, but we are sitting at the intersection of much opportunity. The most valuable piece of bike infrastructure Weston 5--the escape!is on Wendell Ave. The bridge creates a rare passage under the highway. It is the only one west of Keele (and that crossing at Keele is deadly). The tunnel at Wendell is like a fish ladder that lets cyclists bypass the tricky—and deadly—narrows over the 401.

Yet very few cyclists use it. This is a lost opportunity. Just north of us, there are straight roads and river paths all the way to Finch, where one of the city’s great bike paths begins. The Humber River bike path ends in Weston, giving a beautiful, if long, ride down to the west end of town. All that remains is to join the two paths in Weston.

But instead of a hub or a link, we get a six-lane, bare-knuckle battle royal on Wilson. It is potholed, busy, fast, and under construction. Not having a bike path is crazy, even unconscionable.

IMG_20150402_103216

Wilson, the lost opportunity

There are two other problem areas near town, to the northwest and southeast. The Junction is essentially inaccessible unless you are willing to ride along Jane (so it’s inaccessible except to the insane or armed.)

Albion Road, with the restaurants, is missing one, simple link. The Humber bike path forks just north of town, but it takes a meandering route. The left fork runs to Humber College; the right fork runs to the middle of nowhere. But getting to the left fork is nearly impossible; to Weston10do so, you have to ride along Albion (and therefore die) or take a very long detour.

There are solutions. Some might even happen

We can fix this. Some of the solutions are easy:

  • A bike path on Wilson is just a matter of paint and political will (which, in Giorgio Mammoliti’s riding, is in short supply).
  • Making the left fork of the Humber River Trail accessible is even easier. The sidewalk there is quite wide, and it looks like putting a path in wouldn’t disrupt traffic.
  • The tunnel under the highway could easily be made brighter and safer with improved lights, and it is wide enough to have a marked path.

Some of the solutions are trickier.

  • A bike path along the railway, like they have in the west end, would be perfect: a straight, fast, safe road down to the bike highways and The Junction.
  • Failing that, something, anything, could be done on Weston Road. It’s not like pedestrians want to use it with all the traffic.
  • The Eglinton bike path is an orphan. We could join up with it. Everyone would win.
  • Someone, somehow, needs to join the two ends of the Humber River Recreational Trail. This string of gems is broken in Weston.
  • And, in a perfect world, we could put a bike path along the unusable, undrivable, unridable western section of St Clair between Jane and Old Weston.

Under Rob Ford, these things would never have happened. Even under Tory, they probably won’t. But, especially on a long, quiet, long-weekend ride, a guy can dream.

Weston all together now

It’s easy to draw lines (on the screen)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shop Local – with a notable exception

Here at WestonWeb, we encourage residents to support local businesses and institutions. For example, we have a jewel of a library that is housed in a 100 year-old arts and crafts building. Squibbs, a stationers has been serving the community forever. Some of our eateries are new and some are old. Please support them.

Unfortunately, there is one establishment that cannot be recommended, and that’s a shame. It’s the Emergency department at our local hospital, Humber River Regional at Church Street. On average, for a serious issue, you will spend more than 5 hours longer than the cruel Ontario target of 8 hours between walking in the door to walking out or being admitted to a hospital bed. On the plus side, if your problem is not so serious, you’ll get in and out slightly under the 4 hour target.

Here is a graph with Humber’s wait times (top line) showing an alarming upward trend.

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 4.16.14 PM

If we can hold on until October, a new state-of-the-art replacement hospital will be opening.

Until then, stay safe.