For some reason, the Weston Village Residents’ Association will be holding private talks with Weston Asset Management, the developer of the mammoth project at Weston Road and Little Avenue. Both the community, and city planners have been highly critical of the project but now the developer and Councillor Nunziata seem to want the stamp of approval (or approved alterations) from the WVRA. This is much what happened with the Weston Hub. The nod from the WVRA was seen as adding legitimacy to the project and cut the legs off opposition along with a push for improvements to the public realm.
I asked to be present at the meeting but a couple of roadblocks were thrown my way. Firstly, membership of the WVRA is open to Weston residents only. Fair enough, I don’t live in Weston Village (I live 100 metres away). Secondly, only the ‘Steering Committee‘ will meet with the developer so Weston residents will not be able to attend even if they decide to join the association.
The WVRA represents a few dozen people at best. It is not a democratically elected body and should not set itself up as a self-appointed architectural arbiter behind closed doors. There was a public meeting where the developer heard from residents. Was that not clear enough? Perhaps it was too clear.
Chair Dave Bennett insists that the WVRA isn’t holding a secret meeting but if it’s unannounced and held behind closed doors by a select few, it’s quacking like a duck, it’s secret, and it’s wrong.
With a housing shortage in Toronto, there is a mentality that the only way to house more people in our city is through high-rise apartment buildings. Logically it makes sense to think that taller buildings provide more density.
Developers, planners and politicians seem to believe it too. Weston is one of the densest parts of Toronto and yet, developers only seem to be able to propose tall buildings for Weston. Politicians are supposed to look out for residents’ best interests but sadly, we don’t have adequate representation at City Hall and it’s cheaper for developers to build a tall building and walk away; especially if they’re allowed to cut corners. There are guidelines but these are often circumvented. Sadly, in the past, politicians and planners approved tall buildings in the name of efficiency. Weston is littered with reminders of this. Europe has seen the folly of high-rise buildings and is replacing them with lower and more humane housing.
Myth 1: High-rise buildings provide better density.
The centre of Barcelona achieves a density of 531 people per hectare – compare this to Weston, which has a paltry 292 people per hectare. Barcelona achieves its higher density with mid-rise buildings. Tall buildings need more floor space devoted to sway prevention, utility conduits, sprinkler systems and dry pipes for fire department regulations. Then there are elevators – taller buildings require more.
Myth 2: High-rise buildings are energy efficient.
High-rises don’t have a low carbon footprint. Glass is a lousy insulator and modern high-rises are covered in it. The best double glazing has an R-value of under 4 (R stands for resistance to heat loss). Triple glazing is better but still loses lots of energy and developers aren’t prepared to pay the extra costs involved. The bottom line: high-rise apartments are poorly insulated, have huge energy losses and are terrible for the environment. High-rise buildings have twice the carbon emissions of low-rise buildings. In fact, the taller the building, the more wasteful it is.
Street-level houses built before the recent focus on energy efficiency have walls insulated to a value of R-13. The higher the R-value of a surface, the better insulated it is). Nowadays, standards are much higher; (R-22 and up for walls) newer homes are much more energy efficient than older ones with far lower heating and cooling bills.
Myth 3: A high-rise is simply a vertical community.
Weston is still a depressed area and placing additional high-rises in areas with disadvantaged residents is not a good idea. Research tells us that even with moderating factors (higher income, larger apartments, better amenities), high-rises are isolating, depressing and poor places to raise children. Studies have shown that behavioural problems are greater in children who live in high-rises. There is also evidence that crime and fear of crime is greater in tall buildings.
Myth 4: High-rises provide more affordable accommodation.
We know that high-rise buildings are expensive to heat and cool but what about maintenance costs? Maintenance and utility costs approach $1000 per month for a two-bedroom unit in an older building. Elevators are highly sophisticated machines and expensive to maintain. They are regularly out of action in some older buildings. As buildings age, they need new wiring, boilers and air conditioners and this is expensive. Bottom line, high-rises don’t age well, or cheaply.
Because of the numbers of residents, security is often needed to monitor people coming and going. In smaller buildings, people are more likely to spot strangers attempting to enter.
Myth 5: High-rise buildings provide a safer and better lifestyle.
Talk to people awakened in the middle of the night by fire alarms or who have been inconvenienced by power and water outages. Accessing an upper floor requires a form of transit i.e. an elevator. If the elevators go out of service, it’s no fun lugging groceries to your unit on the 20th floor. To add to the quality of life issues, bugs and tobacco / vaping smoke and noise can often find their way into neighbouring apartments. Fumigating apartments because of bedbugs or other pests can be inconvenient and also puts residents at risk if the chemicals used are also toxic to humans and pets. This is less of a problem in smaller buildings.
Because residents need to take a form of transit to get outside or to fitness amenities, they are less inclined to go outside; especially those on higher floors. Psychologist Daniel Cappon writes in the Canadian Journal of Public Health that high-rises discourage exercise because of the extra hassle in getting to the ground. He says that high-rises keep people away from, “neighbourhood peers and activities.” leading to life-shortening alienation and isolation that increases with the height of buildings. Children raised in apartments above the fifth floor were found in one study to be delayed in their development.
Myth 6: High-rises add value to a neighbourhood.
There is a reason that wind and shadow studies are performed when tall buildings are proposed. Adding large vertical slabs to a landscape creates wind tunnel effects that are unpleasant for people outside. They also create shadows that can permanently eliminate sunshine from an area. Architects try to get around this by putting thinner high-rises on top of a podium so that shadows are narrower and the wind is deflected at the podium’s base rather than at street level. Thinner high-rises have a lower density (see Myth 1).
As for aesthetic value, let’s face it, many Toronto condo buildings are just plain ugly.
Lastly, high-rise buildings with large areas of glass kill birds in huge numbers, especially if they are built along a migration corridor.
As the year comes to a close, it’s probably a good moment to look back at some of the events and topics that we dealt with in 2019.
Toronto Police have had a lot to be embarrassed about this year. It emerged that traffic enforcement has been virtually non-existent since 2013. This could explain why traffic deaths have spiked upwards in recent years. Many people have died unnecessarily since that time. If you ever wonder why there are more entitled idiots on the road, the lack of police presence and enforcement is the reason.
The public is often puzzled by the actions of police. Police have told us that they’re understaffed and sometimes there’s only a handful of cops available for the whole of 12 Division. After a recent and tragic murder at 1765 Weston, 15 cruisers were reported to have appeared but cops are seemingly unavailable for anything less serious. Was every attending officer at that crime scene really doing something useful?
The police also need to stop the knee-jerk reactions when pressure to act is applied. When undesired behaviour reaches intolerant levels, policing needs to change. Chief Saunders seems to think a temporary fix with a fancy title will solve the problem. The Chief needs to understand that shootings and car deaths aren’t going to disappear once temporary programs are disbanded. We need permanent solutions that continue to work. A few extra officers on overtime won’t cut it.
Toronto’s ‘Year Of The Gun’ in 2005 had 262 shootings and 367 victims. So far in 2019, Toronto has experienced 484 shootings involving 764 victims. In 12 Division we had 45 shootings and 77 victims.
On an even less cheerful note, this year in Toronto, you are almost as likely to be killed by a car as by a gun although not so in 12 Division with one pedestrian death.
It took until 2019 for the Mayor to understand that low taxes and service reductions result in a shabby and crime-ridden city. This is widely known so why the Mayor thought Toronto would be different is anyone’s guess. Since becoming Mayor in 2014, he has followed many of the policies and ideas of his predecessor Rob Ford. During the 2018 election he ridiculed candidates whose platform suggested inflation-busting property tax increases. Now, after promising tax increases at or below the level of inflation he has gained approval from Council for a property tax ‘levy’ that will add to the City’s building fund.
Naturally, the mayor sets the tone for Council and the tone has shifted to the left.
The councillor has made some efforts to modify her stances on some issues and has moved in tandem with the Mayor’s come to Jesus moment. She pushed for and got bike lanes on Scarlett Road. She still seems unable to tell developers to tone down excessive heights of apartments and presided over continued flooding in Ward 5 along with not seeming to care about a developer putting a slaughterhouse on flood-plain land.
WESTON BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT AREA Question: How do you bring a flea market to Weston? Answer: Start with a farmers market and work your way down from there.
Late in the season, the BIA abruptly booted Joe Gaeta from the Weston Farmers Market (2nd oldest in Toronto) a week before City inspectors found that it didn’t have enough produce sellers to qualify as a true FM. It is now officially a flea market. On the plus side, the inadequate space at the new Hub location will no longer be such a big deal.
In more positive news, Weston’s Buskerfest and the Weston Santa Claus Parade are popular and continue to strengthen.
People overestimate what can be achieved when a group of retailers get together and try to attract customers to an area. On the other hand, in spite of being partially funded by property taxes, they don’t allow the public to attend their meetings. They also seem to be overly-influenced by Councillor Nunziata who tends to dominate proceedings.
VISION ZERO 2.0
This Toronto Council initiative to prevent traffic deaths has been derisively known as Zero Vision since it produced no results in its first year. Politicians are now beginning to understand that ineptitude in this area costs lives and dozens of people have died unnecessarily in recent years. Despite the urgency to improve safety for pedestrians, Council is moving with glacial speed having only recently made the connection between traffic speed and safety. Speed limits are being lowered in some places, however, the city is supplying only two speed cameras per ward (fines won’t start until they’ve been in place for 3 months – warnings will be issued until then).
Ward 5’s cameras will be at Bicknell Ave. between Juliet Cres. and Avon Dr.; Brookhaven Dr. between Fox Point and Nordale Cres.
Developers continue to propose to put the tallest, ugliest, and cheapest built structures in the most prominent areas in spite of heritage or building guidelines. This year we lost Greenland Farms whose land may be part of a huge development.
In exchange for devastating a neighbourhood, pitiful amounts of Section 37 money are given to local councillors to spend locally. Sadly the money isn’t always spent locally or appropriately and is instead used as a pseudo re-election fund.
Other huge projects are being planned for Weston. More on that in upcoming articles.
York South-Weston is a tough nut to crack for Tory politicians. The riding, both federally and provincially, has consistently elected Liberals with the occasional NDP exception. MP Mike Sullivan, MPP Paul Ferreira and current MPP Faisal Hassan are the three exceptions.
Last year, Conservative candidate Mark DeMontis came within a whisker of winning in 2018’s Big Blue Wave courtesy of Doug Ford and Kathleen Wynne. Local man DeMontis, with a compelling back-story, courted the area politically and there was speculation that had he stuck around for another campaign (namely the recent federal one), he might have been able to pull off a victory. In June, DeMontis announced he had moved on to focus on his role with the Ontario Government thus making way for candidate Jasveen Rattan.
As an unknown parachute candidate from Mississauga and without a Big Blue Wave to propel her, she faced an uphill task eventually finishing a distant second to incumbent Liberal Ahmed Hussen. In the article, Rattan frames her result as the most successful for a federal Tory in over 40 years but in reality, her vote total and share of the popular vote were almost identical to those of 2015 Tory candidate James Robinson.
TVO’s Steve Paikin has written an article dealing with the Tories’ recent loss and focusses on Ms Rattan and York South Weston. In the article, Ms Rattan states that the people of York South Weston need help. I wonder if she will be providing that help between elections (along the lines of Chiara Padovani and Yafet Tewelde), or whether we can look forward to yet another new Tory face to contest the next election.
It’s likely that Ahmed Hussen was reflecting on his spectacular political career at this week’s debate. After all, Weston Collegiate Institute was the building where he seemingly came out of nowhere to win the Liberal nomination back in December 2014. He won the seat in 2015 (the first Somali-Canadian to be elected to parliament) and was appointed Minister of Immigration in 2017. Mr Hussen could well have been wondering if the circle was complete or if he can win another four-year term as Member of Parliament for York South-Weston.
There’s a website called 338canada.com that uses polling data to prognosticate on elections. They have made a prediction on the outcome of York South-Weston’s tussle for the federal seat currently occupied by Mr. Hussen. Their four-point prediction scale ranges from ‘toss up’, ‘leaning’, ‘likely’ to ‘safe seat’. Readers may remember that Toronto went totally Liberal in the Big Red Wave of 2015. Times have changed and now only five of Toronto’s Liberal seats are considered safe. Four Toronto seats are thought by 338canada to be (merely) leaning Liberal and YSW is one of them. The latest prediction may be based on data that is a few days old and with the ongoing surge of the NDP in the polls, contender Yafet Tewelde (with a back story no less compelling) may be inching ahead enough to have a shot at unseating the incumbent. Incidentally, the predecessor to 338canada.com (threehundredeight.com) correctly predicted a strong win for Hussen in early 2015, well before the election was called.
You can bet as time ticks away today and tomorrow, the Liberal and NDP campaigns will be frantically redoubling their efforts.
This week’s debate left me deeply impressed. All the candidates were worthy of consideration. Most were more than worthy: they were excellent, and any riding would be lucky to have them. We’re spoiled for choice in York South–Weston.
That said, I’m voting for Nicki Ward, our Green candidate. She is thoughtful, smart, articulate, and fiery. She would be an excellent representative for us. She would be a particularly excellent Green candidate because she would stand out in a party of beige.
It’s taken me a long time to reach this decision, though I was able to eliminate two parties quite quickly. I won’t vote Conservative because they do not have a viable plan to deal with climate change. Their plan is nonsense on stilts. I won’t vote for the PPC because they are far-right populists.
The Liberal party has led on issues I believe in, including legalization and carbon taxes. I would gladly vote for them if Hussen weren’t our MP. However, I don’t think he is a good representative for his riding, and he has been a quite bad Minister of Immigration.
Hussen lauded and posed with Turkey’s autocrat warmonger, Erdoğan, who this week launched an invasion of Kurdish-controlled Syria.
He has mismanaged the Safe Third Country agreement. He has lied about his ministry. He has insulted other politicians. And he has consistently blamed the Conservatives for his department’s problems.
I think Hussen is the worst kind of politician: he’s a team player. We elect people to work for us, not their party. I’ve long felt that Hussen shows up every day for the Liberals.
That leaves the NDP and the Greens.
I think that Yafet Tewelde would make an excellent MP. He seems to work hard and be serious. He lives in the community, and he is smart. He also has a good ground game and support. I was going to vote NDP until I saw Ward in the debate.
Nicki Ward was very impressive. She seems to have run her campaign almost alone (and by public transit!), and she brought a well researched, zingy performance in a field of bright minds. She was brave and funny, and she held her own against better supported candidates. I would love to see what she is capable of if she had a party apparatus behind her.
Ward also impressed me very much when she said she would express only her own opinions, not her party’s. Canada needs more of that. While everyone else was standing on platforms, Ward committed to building one to represent York South–Weston.
But, I hear you say, “strategy”! “Divided votes!” “The next Harper!”. I hear you complain “the Greens don’t stand a chance”.
Honestly, I don’t care. Strategic voting is a bit of silly “I know that you know that I know…” where we all try to guess what everyone else is doing. Knock yourselves out. Really. I can’t be bothered.
I think the real strategic vote is for a person who should hold a prominent position in a party that could hold the balance of power. The real strategy is electing a hard-working, respectful, smart and principled person to represent us.