Report on Mount Dennis Eco Group meeting.

Megan DeLaire at Toronto.com has written a report on the recent meeting of the Mount Dennis Eco-Neighbourhood group. Mount Dennis through their community association has spearheaded a drive to make Weston’s southern neighbour into a net-zero community.

What is a net-zero community? The term isn’t clearly defined but in general, it’s a place where total carbon emissions are reduced to zero through conservation, by changing energy sources and by generating a surplus of non-carbon based energy that is used to offset carbon emissions. It’s a laudable goal and a determined group at MDCA has been pushing it for several years with considerable success. The gas-powered generating station that was to supply the Eglinton Crosstown with emergency power was nixed in favour of a large battery. This was thanks to concerns expressed by the MDCA and others that not only would the generator pollute the neighbourhood, it would also be used during times of peak demand, adding to local pollution levels..

It’s refreshing that all three local politicians seem to be behind this endeavour, MP Ahmed Hussein sent greetings by video message, MPP Faisal Hassan is strongly supportive and local councillor Frances Nunziata spoke to the audience. Nunziata seems open to supporting net zero in new buildings which is a good thing. This will be more expensive up front but the cost savings and lower pollution levels will last for the lifetime of a building. Check out this building in London Ontario.

From CBC.ca.

Read Megan’s report here.

What does a good neighbourhood look like?

From City of Toronto.

Developers have returned to Weston and Mount Dennis for two reasons:

  1. There is an opportunity to make money.
  2. See reason #1

The opportunity has arrived thanks mainly to government infrastructure spending, mainly in the form of improved transit. Developers are not benevolent entities so that’s why we have planning departments and civic government to protect us from their excesses.

Why have developers come here? The city is expanding and transit links have improved. The UP Express makes a trip to the airport or downtown quick and easy. The much awaited Eglinton Crosstown line will be opening in 2021 2022 and with good transit comes increased property prices and investment opportunities. The city will gain from the increased property tax assessments that new buildings and increased density will provide.

Win Win.

Unless…

We have all witnessed first hand the results of bad development. In fact Weston could be called the poster child for corrupt and shoddy development imposed on the community in the 70s and 80s. In addition, community housing has been allowed to deteriorate through bad management and constrained budgets. When Progressive Conservative Premier Mike Harris dumped responsibility for social housing onto the city in 1998 he promised that the transfer would be revenue neutral. Last year Ottawa announced funding to help ease the $1.6 billion repair backlog.

Anne Hidalgo has been the Mayor of Paris since 2014. The city isn’t perfect and they are looking at an idea that is gaining traction. The idea is that nobody in Paris should be more than a fifteen-minute walk or bike ride to everything they need in order to live well.

Adapted from: Le Paris du ¼ heure. From Paris en commun. Click to enlarge.

Clearly, if people could live close to everything they needed, life would be a lot better. People would be healthier thanks to exercise and reduced fumes from vehicles. Is this a possibility for Weston and Mount Dennis? We certainly have the parks, outdoor exercise opportunities and fresh air (given the constraints of local highway pollution). Access to a doctor / health care is probably reasonable (readers may wish to comment). The things our community seems to lack are cultural opportunities, good produce stores, a decent bakery (mmm baguettes) and a bigger variety of workplaces.

Charlottesville Virginia has become a walkable city. From c-ville.com.

It doesn’t help that in the past 20 years the bike network in York South Weston seems to have grown at the same rate as a sloth’s fingernail. Toronto routinely fails to spend its annual budgeted allocation on bike trails and lanes. In 2016, the City’s 10-year cycling plan was supposed to create 560 km of bike lanes and cycle paths. Two years later, 33 km had been built. The City claims it’s because of the environmental and other assessments that need to be done beforehand. I think it’s a lack of will. On this side of the pond, Charlottesville has made their city walkable. So it is possible if the will is there.

Rio de Janeiro’s version of Lakeshore Boulevard (oh the irony) is closed to traffic every Sunday. File.

We need to impress on politicians that traffic-clogged streets and car-dependent neighbourhoods are harmful to our health. Developers and city planners should be working towards the day when everything is within walking or cycling distance. This is why we as a community should be vigilant and not allow poor design, rampant greed or both to be the deciding factors in what gets built here. We need to be vigilant for the people who will make Weston and Mount Dennis home over the next 50 years.

Air pollution an issue in YSW.

Megan Delaire has written an article about traffic related air pollution (TRAP) in toronto.com today and the accompanying gif is a telling reminder of why the shift to electric vehicles cannot come soon enough for the health of people living in Toronto near major highways and downtown.

The article uses a gif that rotates a series of four images showing the levels of four pollutants measured and published in 2017.

The gif showing the four maps.

Here are the four individual maps in a static format so they can be viewed more easily. York South-Weston is outlined in red. It’s clear that the greater volumes of traffic on the 401 and downtown create more TRAP. The first two maps show particulate matter in two sizes. Small particles are insidious because they can irritate the lungs. The smaller the particles, the bigger the risk to health.

Read more on particulate matter here and here

 

Nitrogen Dioxide is a pollutant that irritates the respiratory system and can trigger asthma.

More on Nitrogen Dioxide here.

 

Benzene is a particularly nasty chemical associated with gasoline. More on benzene here.

It’s clear from the maps that living near major highways provides a greater exposure to contaminants. Noise is just one of the toxic by-products of major highways. The faster we can move to electric vehicles, the better for our health. More on TRAP from the University of Toronto here.

Megan promises a follow-up article describing what can be done to reduce TRAP levels. Read the article here.

 

Jagmeet Singh promises flood relief

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh visited York South-Weston today and heard from local residents about flooding issues in the riding. Accompanying Mr. Singh were many well known NDP faces in the area including MPP, Faisal Hassan, upcoming federal election candidate Yafet Tewelde and local organizer Chiara Padovani who conducted the tour. Mr Singh, an affable and attentive man spent a couple of hours in the area.

The leader walked from Rockcliffe Court to Hilldale Road to hear some of the issues that have not been dealt with despite years of local flooding. The recent sale of 8 acres of city owned flood plain land at 200 Rockcliffe Court exposed some of the less savoury aspects of decision making in our fair city.

The contentious land at 200 Rockcliffe.

The land was sold off to a meat packing plant in spite of residents’ objections. This is an area that routinely floods after a storm and where nearby, in a recent event, two men almost drowned in an elevator as water flooded the building they were in. Read more in this excellent article here.

Chiara Padovani talks about the controversial city decision to sell flood plain land to a meat packer.
Faisal Hassan, Jagmeet Singh and Yafet Tewelde listen to the 200 Rockcliffe story.
Jagmeet Singh and Yafet Tewelde greet Hilldale Road residents.

At Hilldale Road, local resident Franco Ruffolo opened his home to show the extent of flooding he and his neighbours have faced in the past few years. Franco showed some video of the water levels and damage that his property sustained and outlined the inadequate settlements from insurance companies. Residents in the area worry that insurance companies will no longer issue policies on their homes.

Franco Ruffolo shows Jagmeet Singh video of his home flooding.

Jagmeet Sing is proposing that instead of matching funds with the city and province, an NDP government would pay the whole cost of flood remediation work so that homeowners in flood prone areas are better protected and don’t need to wait for all three levels of government to agree. He is promising $2.5 billion to respond to disasters and support communities like York South – Weston to adapt their infrastructure to withstand floods and other extreme weather events.

The tour went off well and made some strong points. Mr. Singh delivered some concluding remarks at the end of his visit and then spoke live to the media.

Local candidate Yafet Tewelde added some remarks.

Metrolinx Woes

Where to start?

Presto – Because of the ‘exclusive’ deal signed with Galen Weston’s Loblaw Inc., Metrolinx will be firing the three dozen small retailers who currently sell TTC tokens and passes in our neighbourhood.  Only the two Shoppers Drug Marts will sell TTC fares (Presto tickets and cards).  It’s a huge reduction in accessibility for our part of the city.  There’s lots else wrong with Presto, and TTC is not happy about it.

UP Express and GO fares – The previous government promised to lower GO fares to $3 within the city.  The new government told Metrolinx to lower them to $3.70.  Metrolinx left UP express fares at the old higher level, and removed the $1.60 discount for transferring to TTC, for those using UP from Weston (or Bloor).  The province gave Metrolinx money to provide the discount for both UP and GO.  I wondered if Metrolinx had returned any of the money, but the folks at the Ministry of Transportation could not answer that question.  I’ve asked Metrolinx but I’m not holding my breath.

Tier 4 Trains – The Minister ordered GO to use Tier 4 diesel trains on our line (now called Kitchener line) once they had bought some.  Tier 4 are about 8 times cleaner than the locomotives now in use.  They now have 8 locomotives.  But they initially advised they would not be using them on Kitchener.  When challenged, they said they’d check again.  Still waiting.

Noise Walls – The original Environmental Assessment demanded walls along the curve at the end of Holley where it meets Parke.  None were installed.  Metrolinx claimed it was too difficult given the size of retaining wall they built.  But their own consultant on the EA warned them to make sure they built walls strong enough to hold the noise walls.  If they didn’t that’s on them, and we deserve something.  In addition, the EA demanded a wall between the tracks and Rosemount south of John.  Nothing installed there.  No excuse given.  And they promised walls behind Brownville and Arthur streets.  Still nothing, though they claim it is due to property negotiations with landowners on those streets.

Government Regulators – It took some doing but I found persons at both the Provincial and Federal Ministries of the Environment who could speak about the now ten year old Environmental Assessment.  Provincially they didn’t think there was anything they could do to force Metrolinx to live up to the promises in the EA.  Federally they were quite shocked, as Metrolinx had recently sworn out a ‘solemn declaration’ claiming they had lived up to all the EA commitments, in order to get the final payments from the Federal Ministry of Transportation.

In addition, the Province relieved Metrolinx of its responsibility to monitor air quality.  Metrolinx claimed that the implementation of the UP Express had not seriously degraded air quality.  Trouble is, it is GO Transit operations if not Tier 4 (see above) that will adversely affect our air quality.

The federal folks are questioning Metrolinx about the noise walls.  We shall see what happens next.

Who to vote for? I choose Lekan.

If Doug Ford hadn’t screwed everything up, this would be an easy choice. But he did, and now it isn’t.

For the first time I can remember, we are spoiled for choice in York South-Weston. We have four strong contenders, and three of them are worthy choices.

The recent amalgamation of the ward brought Frank Di Giorgio and Frances Nunziata into close combat. Chiara Padovani and Lekan Olawoye are attacking their left flanks.

Me, I’m going to vote for Lekan Olawoye. I won’t pretend I have good reasons for doing so, though.

I came to this conclusion slowly—although I was able to eliminate most of the candidates quickly. I started by zapping the outside-chance contenders; I’m sure most of them are fine people, but their relative absence and small chances in this high-stakes race make them non-starters for me.

Frank Di Giorgio was next to go. He is too conservative and was too close to Rob Ford. He votes against Toronto’s interests. He attends council meetings infrequently—and opposes bike lanes—and that alone is a deal-breaker for me.

That leaves three: Nunziata, Olawoye, and Padovani.

I like Frances Nunziata, as a rule. She is an excellent retail politician. If you call her, she calls you back. She fixes problems, and she’s given her riding endless hours of underpaid service. Finally, she is an excellent tactician.

But I can’t shake the feeling that Weston has fallen on harder times under her leadership. Certainly, most of these problems are not of her making—she’s subject to decisions made above her pay grade, just like the rest of us. I think, however, that with different leadership, things might have been better. That’s because she is not an excellent strategist.

Take payday loan shops, just as an index of what I’m talking about. We have too many, and they have dubious social value. I think the job they do would be better done by our oligopoly of banks, which enjoy one side of a social contract but are allowed to ignore the other: they get a government guarantee but shirk the social responsibility. Banks are allowed to close, leaving low-income and low-mobility clients (often one and the same) in the hands of high-interest lenders.

I know Frances can’t do much about closing banks. That’s for our provincial and federal masters to tackle. But she could have made Weston, bit by bit, an environment that banks don’t want to leave, with improved streetscapes, better local businesses, and improved transit. She’s been working on these, lately, but too lately for me.

Of course, it’s not about payday loans; it’s about all the things like them—the small, strategic failures that have let Weston down. What happened the long-promised college campus? The Humber River Trail link? St John the Evangelist? Buses on Jane? All are long-term projects; none have happened. Strategy.

That leaves Padovani and Olawoye.

Lekan and Chiara are too close ideologically to fit a card between. I went so far as to create a spreadsheet, and if I recall correctly, Padovani doesn’t have a parks plan but she does want the city to tackle climate change, while Olawoye has a parks plan but says nothing about climate change. Or vice versa.

It really doesn’t matter, because I can’t imagine Lekan (or Chiara) being against the climate or parks.

So, with two equally good candidates, I would normally back the one most likely to win. It seemed, for a moment, that Chiara was in that position. Then it emerged that Lekan had been left off the poll. And Lekan had a handy lead last time… and the polls have been showing wild swings anyway, which is understandable given how small the sample is. Finally, neither Olawoye nor Padovani is likely to defeat Nunziata. So who knows?

That leaves, as far as I can tell, character. Argh. What, really, do I know about character? Nothing.

My interactions with Lekan and Chiara have been vanishingly brief, and both left me with the impression that they were excellent, principled, hard-working and ambitious people. We are lucky to have them volunteering for such a lousy job.

So I’m left peering at the sediments, trying to divine some worthy grounds on which to make a decision.

Here’s what it comes down to: I like Lekan a little more. He seems more grounded, more open, and less partisan. He seems a  little less certain, and I like that. He’s been in the community, working hard, for longer, and he’s had tough positions at MaRS downtown. I like that too.

With so little to distinguish excellent candidates, that’s all I have to work with. We can blame Doug Ford for that—it was not supposed to be like this.