Five things that need to change in Weston / Mount Dennis: Part 3.

3. The Public Domain.

Yesterday’s article covered the state of retail in Weston / Mount Dennis.

One of the factors that makes a big difference to an area is the public domain. Anyone who has been to Europe will know how well the public domain is looked after.

A car free street in Cartagena Spain. Note the lack of high-rise buildings and overhead wiring.

Far less public domain money is spent here in Toronto and especially in Weston / Mount Dennis where spending is further suppressed as our BIAs have smaller budgets, our Section 37 money is scarce and our politicians have an unfortunate obsession with keeping property taxes (the lowest in the GTA) at or below the rate of inflation. Spending initiatives that could improve public facilities are often voted down.

From Jennifer Pagliaro via Twitter. Click to enlarge.

As a result, the things that can help iron out differences between rich and poor are suppressed. The homeless are treated with contempt. Public housing is in disrepair; cycling and walking are dangerous, our library, recreation and and parks system are underfunded and garbage and leaf litter, is allowed to accumulate. Cars dominate our streets while the TTC receives the lowest subsidy of any major city in North America. Climbing the social ladder is harder than ever because politicians worry that they’ll be voted out of office if they support tax increases. A recent study by the World Bank has discovered that when inequality goes up, there is a corresponding increase in the murder rate.

What has to change? Our political system is a shambles – more on that tomorrow. We need leaders at all levels of government who understand the connection between adequate public domain funding and helping people move out of poverty. Gentrification is often seen as a solution to our problems in WMD. It’s not. It simply forces poor people to relocate instead of helping them climb the ladder out of poverty.

The answer is more money spent on helping the poor help themselves. More money, for example,  to fix the appalling repair backlog at Toronto Public Housing, more money to properly fund our public institutions and spaces. We also need to beautify our streets here in WMD and reduce the enormous amounts of real estate given over to the car. Will it be Weston or Mount Dennis that gets the first traffic free street in Toronto? (Toronto is one of the few cities in the world without a public pedestrian / bike only street.) We also need to find ways to improve access to the beautiful Humber River that meanders through WMD.

In summary, we need to tell our elected representatives that our priority is improving the public domain and not keeping taxes low. Poverty sucks and feeds on itself. It won’t go away without heroic efforts.

From Twitter.

The constant, artificial shortage of tax dollars puts the squeeze on the most vulnerable among us; people who traditionally don’t apply political pressure and can’t make generous campaign contributions. Even more insidiously, the constant trimming of budgets is designed to make public institutions fail and the private sector look good by comparison.

Make no mistake, underfunding the public domain impoverishes us all and lowers our quality of life.

Five things that need to change in Weston / Mount Dennis. Part 2.

As we approach the year end, here are some things that seem to be holding us back locally. This is the second a five part series, which began yesterday.

As always, your comments are welcome.

Customers line up at the opening of P&M Restaurant’s new location in May 2015 (file).

2. The Retail Experience in Weston Mount Dennis

Believe it or not but Canadians only buy 5% of their non-grocery goods online. The rest is done in brick and mortar stores. Unfortunately, businesses in Weston and Mount Dennis are under-patronized as it often seems easier to jump in the car.

Retail in WMD is a bit like the old weather adage. Everyone complains about our shopping but nobody does anything about it. People use all kinds of excuses for not shopping locally but the bottom line is that if people want vibrant local shopping, they have to encourage local stores that go some way to meeting their needs. Weston and Mount Dennis will not be confused with Bloor West Village anytime soon but there are glimmers of hope that need to be encouraged. There is a symbiotic relationship between patronage, meeting the needs of customers and a vibrant shopping area.

If people don’t like the appearance of the streets or feel threatened, (More on that tomorrow : Part 3 – The Public Domain) they need to talk to the relevant parties such as 311 or Councillor Nunziata’s office. Statistically, we should understand that we put ourselves in the greatest danger when we drive our cars or cross the road.

Landlords: our empty stores need to be occupied. The tax rebate for empty stores will be ending by June 2018. This is a good thing that will provide an incentive to quickly re-let a storefront. Empty stores detract from the ambience of a shopping area and landlords with empty stores should allow non-profit groups to use the empty stores until paying tenants are found. Weston BIA and Mount Dennis BIA should get the ball rolling on this. If landlords are still happy to allow stores to sit empty, the city should go one further and tax vacant stores at a higher rate.

When Greenland Farm supermarket closes, many Weston residents will lose their only walkable source of produce. Is there another store waiting in the wings? The owner / developer of the GF site can promise that a major supermarket chain will be moving into the podium of the new development when it finally materializes on the site. It will be a meaningless and empty promise as the podium space will be leased to whoever is willing to pay. Councillor Nunziata should do all she can to encourage a seller of produce along the lines of the Royal York Fruit Market in the Royal York Plaza.

Banks are disappearing. We need walkable storefront bank branches.

Readers, what businesses would you like to see in your local shopping area? What stops you from shopping in WMD? Which stores have you patronized?

Ballard: ‘Something special’ going on in Mount Dennis

Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Chris Ballard, takes questions from the audience.

Chris Ballard’s father worked at the Kodak plant during the heyday of Mount Dennis and it was fitting that his son would return as Ontario Minister of the Environment and Climate Change to lend support to the area’s revival in the post-industrial future. Now living in Aurora, the Minister recognized that there is ‘something special’ going on in Mount Dennis. The size and enthusiasm of the crowd and organizers attested to that fact.

He was speaking in the Mount Dennis Legion to upwards of 80 people who braved last night’s cold to attend the Mount Dennis Community Association‘s AGM. Applauding the MDCA’s Net Zero initiative under way, he commented that their strong organization and forward thinking should be emulated by all communities.

After an opening invocation and ceremony from indigenous leaders, the Minister outlined Ontario Government initiatives designed to reduce energy consumption and promote conservation. He encouraged residents to visit the website greenon.ca to see the financial incentives designed to help people conserve energy. The money for such grants comes exclusively from the cap and trade system recently set up in Ontario.

MPP Laura Albanese and MP Ahmed Hussen (by recorded message from Ottawa) greeted the crowd and Councillor Frances Nunziata announced that the Pinetree Daycare Centre will become a net zero facility and will increase its capacity to 98 spaces, making it the largest daycare in the area. In addition, the Cycling Committee under her leadership will be making a number of recommendations to the community soon.

Opening ceremony led by Anishinaabe Grandmother Vivian Recollet and Mitchell George.
Mike Mattos, Mount Dennis Community Association Chair calls the meeting to order.

All in all, a very impressive showing for the dynamic Mount Dennis Community Association as their initiatives continue to gain momentum on a variety of fronts.

A banking desert in Weston / Mount Dennis?

From love money.com

Banking in Canada is pretty much a license to print money. Profits have never been higher and the big five banks enjoy a comfortable living. With the trend to computerized transactions, banks are finding that many of their customers have no need for a ‘bricks and mortar’ branch. Over the past few years, branches in Weston and Mount Dennis have been ‘consolidating’. This is banking language for closing and sending customers to the next nearest branch. As a result, Weston and Mount Dennis are quickly becoming a banking desert. At one time, we could choose from several banks but now, banks are closing their branches along Weston Road and Jane Street. While it’s true that demand has lessened considerably, many older residents need the comfort of talking to a teller and having their bank book updated regularly.

Like melting snow in a dog park after a long winter, what’s left behind after banks leave are payday loan companies that exploit the poor and vulnerable.

What does the future hold for banks and their branches? Probably more of the same resulting in less convenience for customers.

There is a possible solution to all of this consolidation and one that would be a ‘win’ for both banks and their clients. At least one storefront bank branch could remain open in each community. It shouldn’t matter which bank is represented as long as it services costumers from any of the other ‘big five’ banks without charging a fee. This is entirely possible in these days of Interac banking. Banks could consult with communities and decide which bank is represented in each locality. The banks could save a fortune with a clear conscience knowing that everyone; especially vulnerable seniors, had reasonable access to a bank.

The federal government is responsible for regulating our extremely profitable banks and their activities. Local MP Ahmed Hussen should take this on as a top priority before banks all leave town. If payday loan companies can have branches everywhere, it’s not too much to ask that one ‘big five’ branch stays open in each community. Competing brewers sell their wares through Brewers Retail. The banks need to set up something similar.

Eglinton LRT meeting tomorrow

The city will host a meeting tomorrow (Wednesday) on updated plans for the Mount Dennis section of the Eglinton LRT.  The new plans call for extending light rail to the airport area (instead of John Tory’s original plan for subways), fewer stops, and some very cool grade separations to clear busy intersections.

Image from transit.toronto.on.ca

The meeting will be Wednesday, November 15, at York Humber High School (100 Emmett Avenue)  from 6:30 until 8:30 p.m.

 

Will Weston become a food desert?

 

The Greenland Food Market property has been sold and the business was recently put up for sale. What will become of food shopping in the walkable areas of Weston? The GF supermarket building is large – it once housed a Loblaws and has an excellent selection of produce and ethnic foods and spices. It serves hundreds of people within walking distance. The next nearest supermarket is the Loblaws Superstore at Weston and the 401 which is a considerable way when carrying groceries. The term ‘food desert‘ has been applied to areas in the U.S. where there is a lack of a healthy variety and selection of food. Weston may be in grave danger of becoming a food desert when Greenland Farm closes.

Greenland Farms produce section (file).

The GF site owner and developer has shown some attractive artist renderings indicating that a food retailer may be occupying the ground floor of the proposed high-rise. The bottom line is that the attractive drawings are done purely to attract support for the project. The actual building may be completely different. Without a legal requirement, the developer has neither wish nor obligation to specify the businesses that may lease space in their building.

Let’s hope that our councillor is working to ensure that vibrant and varied food sources are available in the densely populated parts of Weston and Mount Dennis.

Why a minimum wage of $15 will be good for Weston / Mount Dennis.

Note the more than four years of no increase between 2010 and 2014

The chart above shows the modest proposal to boost the Ontario minimum wage as put forward by the Liberals:

$11.40: today’s minimum wage
$11.60: Oct. 1, 2017
$14: Jan. 1, 2018
$15: Jan. 1, 2019

How much would a $15 hourly wage be as an annual salary? Just under $29,000 for someone working an 8-hour day, 20 days a month for 12 months a year. It’s not exactly high living.

Alleged think-tanks like the Fraser Institute claim that as many as 50,000 people will lose their jobs if the MW is elevated to such lofty heights. The Fraser Institute BTW, is one of the many propaganda arms of big business, generously supported by all of us because it has been allowed to call itself a charity. There are also claims that prices will rise as a result. Even the media seems to be repeating (many false) claims of impending doom without checking the facts.

In 2015 about 1.7 million people in Ontario earned less than $15.00 hourly. Incredibly, that’s just under 30% of the workforce. In Weston / Mount Dennis that percentage is likely considerably higher since we are one of the poorest areas of the city.

What we do know is that unlike the rich, poor people don’t send their money to tax havens. They spend it when they get it and largely on local goods and services. Income and sales tax revenues will actually rise as workers will pay more income tax and many may not need to apply for tax credits – a form of government wage subsidy for employers.

A study done last year, reported in the Huffington Post investigated the effects of raising Wal-Mart wages in the U.S. from $10 an hour to $15. The study concluded that revenue for the giant chain would be reduced by $5 Billion annually. Compared to the total annual revenue of $482 Billion, that works out to a hit of about 1%. In other words, raising wages 33% would increase costs less than 1%. Why then doesn’t Wal Mart raise wages? Share prices and dividends might go down.

From: http://www.canadiansocialresearch.net/minwage.htm

Australia has a similar economy to ours and currently mandates a minimum wage of $18.29 – somehow, the universe has managed to stay in one piece. Perhaps Australians believe in fairness more than we do.

Our readers might want to tell local MPP Laura Albanese that they support increasing the minimum wage.

Use the link here: