On the first of this month, I started coughing. Fortunately, had no fever or loss of taste. It felt like a common cold. Nonetheless, I decided to stay home for a week to not spread my cold, but also because in the context of the pandemic, there was always the possibility that it could be more than a cold. A week later my symptoms went away, but after taking the Ontario self-assessment I realized that coughing can be a symptom of Covid. So, I used the Ontario website to find a nearby test location.
The nearest test location to me was not in the High Park area where I live, but rather a pharmacy on Bloor West near Lansdowne, the Bloordale Pharmacy. Only a 15-minute walk away. I called them to book an appointment, and they tested me outdoors just outside the pharmacy to be safe. They later informed me that I could visit the Ontario website to access the results of my PCR test.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, I still have the old red and white OHIP card, so I was not able to access my results online (I’m scheduled to get my new OHIP photo card in January of next year). However, the manager at Bloordale Pharmacy called me two days after the test to let me know that the results were negative.
As someone who had received two doses and works from home, I was relieved but not entirely surprised with the negative result, and thankful that the very professional staff at the Bloordale Pharmacy were able to accommodate me so quickly.
Hopefully, you have a safe and healthy Holiday season. If you have symptoms, please strongly consider taking the Ontario self-assessment to determine if you should get a test. Naturally, anyone experiencing signs of severe illness should go to the nearest emergency department, and if not well enough to take transportation call 911.
PS While the pharmacy test experience worked well for me, some may prefer to go to a hospital for a test, such as St. Joseph’s. So, please visit the Ontario Covid test locations site if you are going to take a test to understand your options. And always call in advance to book your appointment. Finally, if you have been exposed to a confirmed case you should be tested even if you have no symptoms.
The agreement where the Howard family deeded the land that would become High Park states that it would be a:
“Public Park for the free use benefit and enjoyment of the citizens of the City of Toronto forever.”
Yet, not everyone can benefit or enjoy High Park. Since even today the nearest subway station to High Park (the largest park in T.O.) is not accessible. Nor is its skating rink. People using walkers, wheelchairs, and strollers must use a separate entrance to enter the chess club, swimming pool, stage, and the tennis courts, which is contrary to the principles of universal design, where everyone should be able to use the main entrance.
None of the crosswalks near or in High Park are raised. So, when it rains or snows it becomes slippery and unsafe to cross the street due to ponding. Raised crosswalks prevent ponding of water and snow, and as an added benefit act as speed bumps that encourage drivers to follow the speed limit.
One would think having an Accessible Parking Pass might help seniors, for example, visit the park by car and go for a swim until one realizes there are no accessible parking spots near the pool.
The original deed also required the park to be kept in a natural state. So, why is there a road and a large parking lot in the middle of High Park? For some people, the only practical way to visit the park is by car. So, accessibility and inclusion are good arguments in favour of parking spaces inside the park. However, in that case, to be fair the percentage of accessible parking spots must substantially increase for High Park to be truly inclusive.
On a positive note, the Wading Pool, Splashpad and Playground at High Park do follow principles of universal design. For example, its main entrance is accessible and the four parking spots near the entrance are accessible. Nonetheless, High Park as a whole needs major improvements in this area. And every park in T.O. should be inclusive for all.
There aren’t sufficient public washrooms in our City. If we specifically look at Bloor West Village as a case study, it could be said at least Runnymede Library and High Park have public washrooms. However, one significant gap is Bloor – Jane a major intersection with a busy TTC subway station and with no public washrooms in the vicinity.
But what about the Coffee Time? It’s closed. Hoping that another coffee shop with a washroom replaces the Coffee Time in Bloor – Jane is not a strategy. Also, constantly relying on businesses to provide accessible washrooms to the public is an abdication of municipal responsibility.
In an ideal world, the TTC would have built a public washroom in Jane Station. However, the TTC board has not exactly prioritized the construction of public washrooms, to put it mildly. So, what can the City do to solve this problem?
Public washrooms can be built on parking lots. A perfect example is the public washroom in the Woodbine Beach parking lot, which takes up approximately the space of three parking spots. The parking lot at Armadale Ave near Bloor – Jane is never full. Consequently, this could be a potential location for a new public washroom.
The pandemic has exposed not only the lack of public washrooms in T.O. it has also exposed the unwillingness of the City Council to invest in public health. Because investing in infrastructure, such as public washrooms, is an investment into the health and safety of our community. Let’s not accept excuses for inaction from the City.
Please sign and share this petition for more public washrooms in T.O. thank you.
A vigil for Fatima and Valdemar Avila will be held tonight, Tuesday, Oct. 19, from 4:30 to 5 p.m. at the corner of Parkside Dr and Spring Rd.
The Southbound bus stop at Parkside near Geoffrey St is such an infamous example of poor infrastructure design it should win some type of award for bad planning. There’s no sidewalk or crosswalk with street signals near it. It’s not near any High Park entrance. So, it would seem it was designed to encourage jaywalking in a major artery.
Of course, all these problems could be solved by building a sidewalk and a crosswalk with street signals, but you know the status quo is so deeply entrenched in city hall that raising this issue will result in the usual pretexts for inaction. It takes real talent to come up with the excuses we frequently hear from the City of Toronto.
It gets worse. The intersection of Parkside and Algonquin Ave has what looks like a former or half-built bus stop on the Westside. What happened? Did the TTC get rid of a potential bus stop because the city didn’t want to build a crosswalk with street signals? No wonder TTC riders and pedestrians often feel an afterthought in T.O. a car-centric city by design.
And when you thought it couldn’t possibly get worse. The Southbound bus stop on Parkside just North of the Queensway has a “sidewalk” a dirt path where Google maps captured a Kodak moment of a pedestrian unsafely walking along with a dog. Imagine how much more treacherous this path gets during rain or winter.
Parkside needs a complete rethink, and I am not sure the folks currently in Council have the vision and initiative to undertake this work without public pressure. Often, they focus their energy on defending the status quo not on improving public safety. Otherwise, we would have seen action a long time ago.
Here are the typical status quo excuses and ways to counter them:
But Parkside is classified as a major artery and we cannot change this. Classifications can change or exemptions made to improve safety.
But infrastructure costs money. Infrastructure is an investment in safety, health, and creates jobs.
Enforcement should solve the problem. Temporarily maybe but not long term e.g., speedbumps are less expensive and more effective than constant policing.
But new sidewalks will remove parkland and affect the ecology. Not if we replace the rightmost Southbound car lane with bike lanes and a real sidewalk. Also, let’s not pretend the status quo protects the fauna frequently killed by vehicle collisions all along Parkside.
But more crosswalks with traffic signals will slow down traffic. When the 50km/hr. limit is not being respected, it is perfectly reasonable to build new safety infrastructure.
However, despite the excuses for inaction, I believe this time in consequence of recent fatal and serious collisions the pressure for change from the community is so strong we will see a safer Parkside. Parkside has been so unsafe it’s likely discouraged walking, taking the bus, and cycling. And now even drivers feel it’s unsafe. With adequate infrastructure (such as sidewalks, raised crosswalks with street signals, and bike lanes) we will see safety improvements for all, and more public transit users, pedestrians, and cyclists. Build it and they will come.
The Runnymede Theatre then and now. Picture to the left courtesy of Toronto Public Library.
I have been fortunate to live in the Bloor West area for over 20 years. The neighbourhood appealed to me even way back when I was a teenager growing up in Scarborough. One day in the mid ‘80s my high school buddy Colin, a connoisseur of repertoire foreign cinema, convinced me to skip school and take the subway all the way from Kennedy Station to Runnymede to watch a movie with him at the Runnymede Theatre. This was my first time in the neighbourhood, and right away Bloor West Village impressed me with its cafes, bakeries, restaurants, flower shops, and long sidewalks. Things which are not easy to find in Scarborough in one spot. I love old theatres and the Runnymede Theatre was beautiful.
When I moved to the Bloor West area in the early 2000’s the Runnymede Theatre had become a Chapters bookstore, where I would spend countless hours browsing with friends and eventually buying so many books. It is fair to say this building holds special memories for me. So, I cannot honestly say I was thrilled to see it become a Shoppers Drug Mart years later, but I was still happy to see this heritage building remain intact.
Who back in the ‘80s or ‘90s would have thought the Runnymede Theatre would later become a pharmacy and thus play a key role in fighting a global pandemic by providing vaccines and antigen tests? As someone with elderly parents I was strongly motivated to be vaccinated and managed to receive my two doses quickly this past summer: the first dose in a Shoppers Drug Mart in Brampton (back in May that was the closest vaccine location available for me at the time); and the second dose at the Metro Convention Centre in late June.
One of my goals this year was to meet my youngest niece who was born last year in the US. Travel restrictions made it impossible to meet her in person, so, I only had seen her in FaceTime and Zoom for about a year. When air travel to the US became possible, I got a Covid antigen test at the former Runnymede Theatre, now the Bloor West Village Shoppers. The antigen test is a requirement to travel to the US, even for those who have received two doses of the vaccine. As expected, for someone with two doses and who works from home, the test result was negative. So, I was finally able to fly, and needless to say it was a thrill to meet my niece in person.
I hope the Runnymede Theatre is never demolished. Or if it were to be demolished, I wish it lasts for “10,000 years” like the love story in the beautiful Hong Kong film Chungking Express. This wonderful building reminds me of watching classic foreign-language movies, wonderful reads, spending time with great friends, and the antigen test that allowed me to at long last meet my youngest niece.
There are many great reasons to live in the riding of Parkdale – High Park. One of them is accessibility to vaccines. Such as the Healing Source Pharmacy on Bloor West near Runnymede which now has Covid-19 vaccine walk-ins. Another one is responsible businesses such as my favourite Korean restaurant Ka Chi on Bloor West near Windermere which advertises that all their employees are fully vaccinated.
I say responsible because a vaccinated person is far less likely to contract Covid and spread it. So, while vaccination is a personal decision, not vaccinating can have serious consequences resulting in hospitalization, long-term illness and death. Therefore, it makes sense to encourage vaccination to protect the public.
Unfortunately, in T.O. not everyone has easy access to vaccines. Some people work long hours, cannot afford to take time off, or have small children to take care of. Consequently, both employers and governments could do more to promote vaccination. For example, the US is already providing tax credits to encourage people to get vaccinated. It would be great if similar policies were to be adopted here in Canada. We are in the middle of an election campaign, so, if you meet your local candidates it might be a good idea to ask them, what is your party going to do to encourage vaccination if elected?
Insurance companies are already providing discounts to those that get vaccinated. It is only fair since those that choose not to get vaccinated pose a higher public risk and therefore a higher insurance risk. Consequently, anyone getting a vaccine may receive financial remuneration, while anyone deciding to not get vaccinated will not receive this economic benefit. Furthermore, anyone not getting a vaccine will have to pay for expensive Covid tests to attend public gatherings such as a concert, sporting event, or to travel by plane or train. While those fully vaccinated will not require tests. So, it will become very expensive to not get vaccinated soon.
Those claiming that using financial incentives to encourage vaccination is somehow tyrannical should note that tyrannies take arbitrary measures, and these incentives are not arbitrary. These are fair and reasonable incentives made with the sole purpose to protect the public. It only makes sense that anyone taking an unreasonable risk should be held at a minimum financially accountable for that risk. While those getting vaccinated should receive compensation for spending their valuable time to help protect our community.
A tale of two bridges: the Wallace Avenue Footbridge and the Humber Bay Arch Pedestrian-Bicycle Bridge remind us that public infrastructure is so much more than fixing potholes. When done right public infrastructure can inspire, bring people together, promote safety, remind us of our past, serve our public and private needs, and even be artistic creations.
In 2018 I had the honour of running for Council in Ward 4, Parkdale – High Park. In the all candidates’ meeting in Parkdale, I gave our campaign brochure to a voter in the audience, who asked me about our platform. My focus was on improving public infrastructure, I replied. The voter asked further, but what are you doing for the community? My reply was that public infrastructure is for the community, such as affordable public housing buildings. Yet, the voter did not seem persuaded.
Unfortunately, many voters see public infrastructure as banal day-to-day fixing of potholes and not something that particularly helps the community. However, infrastructure can be something exciting and even visionary when it serves our public and private needs. A great example I can think of is the Prince Edward Viaduct, which during its construction in 1916 already contained a lower deck for a future subway thanks to the vision of its designer Edmund W. Burke and R. C. Harris the Commissioner of Public Works in Toronto. The lower deck ended up saving millions of dollars 50 years later when the Bloor – Danforth subway was open in 1966. Years ago, when I studied engineering at U of T while living in Scarborough, I would take the subway from Kennedy to St. George to go to class and I would admire this bridge while crossing it after Broadview station, which inspired me just before going to my first morning engineering class. For an interesting novel based on the construction of the Prince Edward Viaduct I highly recommend Michael Ondaatje’s, In the Skin of a Lion: https://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/detail.jsp?Entt=RDM2906451&R=2906451
This magnificent book tells us about the anarchists, dreamers, engineers, immigrants, and workers who envisioned and built modern T.O. during the early years of the 20th century. We could use some of that same spirit of the past to solve today’s challenges. Just to name a few challenges, for a world-class city, we lack public washrooms, sidewalks, apartment building standards, public transit options, safe crosswalks, flood prevention and mitigation systems, and a modern effective electrical grid. The lack of adequate public infrastructure has consequences: people cannot find washrooms, an ice storm results in a major blackout, stormwater sewers fill beyond capacity resulting in rapid flooding (flooding is a problem in just about every underpass in Parkdale – High Park), pedestrians forced to jaywalk due to no crosswalk or sidewalk get hit by cars, and 1,500 apartment residents find themselves without a home after a failure in the building’s electrical system causes a major fire. If these stories sound familiar it is because all of them occurred here in T.O.; here is one: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2020/03/02/residents-of-650-parliament-finally-allowed-back-home-this-morning-18-months-after-a-fire-forced-them-out.html
Yet, we can do better, and we have done better. For example, there are two fascinating pedestrian bridges in Parkdale – High Park, which are not as large as the Prince Edward Viaduct, yet serve our public and private needs very well. The Wallace Avenue Footbridge located North of Bloor and Dundas has been connecting people on both sides of the track since it was built in 1907. If you enjoy walking, jogging, or cycling the West Toronto Rail Path you have seen it several times. This pedestrian bridge encourages walking. A couple of years ago, I went to friend’s BBQ who lives in Symington Ave. I took the bus to get there since I knew there would be plenty of Sangria my favourite drink. After the party, it was easy for me to walk safely to my condo near High Park by simply crossing over the Wallace Avenue Footbridge. We sometimes take public infrastructure for granted, but that night I did not since it allowed me to completely forget about driving. For more information on the Wallace Avenue Foot Bridge please read: https://historicbridges.org/bridges/browser/?bridgebrowser=ontario/wallaceavenue/
The other amazing pedestrian bridge in Parkdale – High Park is the iconic Humber Bay Arch Bridge which is a pedestrian-bicycle bridge and part of the Martin Goodman Trail. It is not just a feat of engineering it is also a work of art with design elements inspired by the indigenous history of the Humber River. During the pandemic one of my few escapes has been to rent a bicycle from Bike Share, cycle to the lake and cross this spectacular bridge. Often the indigenous inspiration in this bridge reminds me of what is happening today with the discovery of unmarked gravesites in residential “schools”. Now more than ever we need to acknowledge, respect, and learn about the indigenous history of this land. So, the Humber Bay Arch Bridge at the mouth of the Humber can be a small reminder that this land was taken away forcibly, there was a genocide which we cannot ignore, and reconciliation and justice are a must. So, this Canada day perhaps instead of a celebration it is a time for reflection. For more information on the Humber Bay Arch Bridge please read:
Public infrastructure can inspire, bring people together, promote safety, remind us of our past, serve our public and private needs, and even be artistic creations just like the pedestrian bridges of Parkdale – High Park.
Update: an excellent comment was sent to me recently about this post, which is that public infrastructure must be accessible. This is an area where the Wallace Avenue Footbridge falls short. So, perhaps it is time to refurbish this bridge by adding elevators to it or build a new accessible bridge or tunnel in the West Toronto Rail Path.
Last week, I saw a person behind Runnymede Station urinating in a corner. Before rushing to judgment, let me tell you a fact: there are zero public washrooms open right now in Bloor West Village. As per the link below from the City of T.O. the nearest public washroom would be in High Park. Furthermore, the washrooms in nearby Runnymede Library are closed. And it is not reasonable these days to expect anyone to try to find a private washroom to use in a restaurant, since these washrooms are generally closed due to the pandemic. Finally, there are no public washrooms in Runnymede Station, and the nearest TTC public washroom would be in Kipling station.
This blog post could easily have been titled “Few public washrooms in T.O.”. However, I wanted to focus on my neighbourhood as an example, since there are no public washrooms right now open in the Junction, Roncesvalles, and Baby Point. There are only a couple of public washrooms open in Swansea and one public washroom open in Parkdale. Several of the public washrooms that are open in our neighbourhood are concentrated in one place: High Park.
Even before the pandemic, it has always been a challenge to find public washrooms in this city. Only if you are a customer (i.e. going to a movie, eating out at a restaurant, shopping at a mall, or buying gasoline) do you have access to a nearby washroom. We have accepted this reality although it is unfair.
Unfair, because if you were to travel to other countries like France or Taiwan it is easy to find public washrooms on the street or the subway. In these countries, you do not have to be a customer to conveniently find a nearby public washroom.
If we are to build back better and work towards a more inclusive and fairer T.O., we need to address the lack of public washrooms in our neighbourhood and throughout the entire city.
Parkdale – High Park includes four postal codes: M6P, M6R, M6S, and part of M6K. Only M6K is a provincially designated hot zone. Consequently, many people living in Parkdale – High Park might not qualify yet for an appointment at a City of Toronto operated vaccine clinic. However, when vaccine pop-up locations and pharmacies have extra doses and not enough appointments, they sometimes open their doors to anyone living in T.O. This means that even if you live in a non-hot zone such as M6P, M6R, and M6S you may be able to get a vaccine. Naturally, people living in any zone and are at greater risk for contagion due to their living arrangements, health condition, or work, for example, are already a priority to receive a vaccine. For more information visit the St. Joseph’s vaccine booking site or your local hospital’s site: https://unityhealth.to/how-to-book-covid-appointment/
Vaccine pop-ups are meant to ensure that those living in hot zones have an opportunity to get vaccinated easily and conveniently right in their community without traveling far. Last weekend there was a pop-up in the Woodbine Racetrack for the Rexdale community from Saturday until Monday. Not many people from Rexdale showed up on Monday. So, the wonderful volunteers running this event opened the clinic to anyone living or working in a T.O. hot zone. After those living or working in a T.O. hot zone were vaccinated, the volunteers opened the doors to anyone living in a T.O. postal code, including non-hot zones, such as M6P, M6R, and M6S. No doses went to waste. I found this out thanks to a very helpful Twitter account named @TOVaccineFinder. You could use this account to find a vaccine location for you.
Update: some pop-ups are for people living or working in specific hot zones. So, if you live in M6P, M6R, and M6S but work in a hot zone you may qualify for a vaccine appointment in specific pop-ups. Furthermore, the Twitter account https://twitter.com/VaxHuntersCan is also very helpful in helping find pop-ups. The situation is rapidly evolving and some pop-ups now accept anyone 40+ living in T.O., here is an example: https://twitter.com/TOVaccineFinder/status/1392463526388772869
For over twenty years I have been living in Parkdale – High Park. However, I grew up in Scarborough in what is now one of the Covid hot zones in GTA. So, I have great sympathy for anyone living in a hot zone and completely agree that their vaccination and that of those facing higher risks should be a priority.
Similarly, if you register to receive a vaccine at a pharmacy you will notice their website has wording indicating that those living in hot zones and facing higher risks are a priority. However, sometimes a pharmacy may have many doses and not enough appointments. So, like pop-ups, sometimes they open their doors to those living in non-hot zones and are not considered high risk. For example, I registered to receive my first dose with Shoppers Drug Mart and they contacted me last minute for an appointment noting that not enough people had booked at that location and they needed to use up all their doses before they expired. Consequently, I was fortunate to receive my first dose last Sunday. You might want to register with a pharmacy for a first dose appointment in case they have an opening for you. Here is the list of pharmacies offering Covid vaccines in Ontario: https://covid-19.ontario.ca/vaccine-locations
Update: you may have heard that 1st doses of AstraZeneca are being paused in Ontario. However, Pfizer 1st doses are available in specific pharmacies. Please check the above link for more information
If you get an opportunity to get vaccinated, you should take it. Likely, you are not taking away a vaccine from someone who needs it more, you might be receiving a dose that could have been thrown away. And you are helping the community put an end to this pandemic that has cost the lives of so many people.
On a happier note, I was very proud to see so many people of my generation X line up to get their AstraZeneca vaccines in pharmacies. It was also inspiring to see so many people in their 20’s get their vaccine now that the limit has been changed to 18+ for Pfizer. Many people of my generation wore the t-shirts of their favourite 80’s rock or New Wave bands as they lined up. I wore my favourite t-shirt, the jersey of the Peruvian national soccer team. Peru is the country where I was born, and as Eduardo Galeano, I am a “beggar for good soccer”. I am also a fan of volunteers running vaccine clinics, health care workers, and pharmacists who have given so much during these difficult times.
The evidence is clear that transmission is mostly occurring in indoor workplaces. Consequently, these new orders should help decelerate the spread of Covid.
Physically distant outdoor activities, on the other hand, should be encouraged not restricted, since they are relatively low risk. Furthermore, the rest of Ontario including T.O. needs to follow the lead of the region of Peel and close immediately workplaces where there have been Covid outbreaks. This action combined with other effective measures, such as paid sick leave, workplace health inspections, more testing and vaccinations will put an end to Ontario’s third wave. As always take care and stay safe.
First the bad news, the public tennis courts in High Park are closed. The good news is that T.O. Public Health today announced it will close workplaces to manage Covid 19 outbreaks.