Affordable Housing, Healthy Homes, Parkdale - High Park, Public infrastructure, Public safety, Safe Buildings, Toronto Election, Ward 4

Pedestrian Bridges of Parkdale – High Park

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.

Covid-19, Parkdale - High Park, Public health, public washrooms, Toronto, Ward 4

Few public washrooms in Parkdale – High Park

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 map 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.

There are few public washrooms in T.O.
Covid-19, Mental health, Parkdale - High Park, Public health, Toronto, Ward 4

Mental Health Resources at Parkdale – High Park

While we focus on bringing Covid cases down, let’s not lose sight of mental health, which is equally important as our physical health. Layoffs, lack of social interaction, financial difficulties, strained relationships, and uncertainty have consequences. So, during these difficult times it is only natural to seek help. On that note, here are some mental health resources for those living in the Parkdale – High Park area:

Finally, some insurance plans cover counselling and psychotherapy services. Laid off employees part of a group plan may still qualify for these benefits. For information contact the insurance provider.

In the event of an emergency one should always call 911.

4villages

 

Covid-19, Parkdale - High Park, Public health, Toronto, Ward 4

Covid-19 fatalities by T.O. postal codes

You may already know that both North Etobicoke and North Scarborough have experienced the highest number of Covid cases in Toronto. Furthermore, last Friday, July 10th Public Health Toronto released additional information via the City’s Open Data portal.

A look at Covid fatalities by postal code reveals that certain Scarborough neighbourhoods have suffered a higher number of fatalities:

  • As of the date of the Open Data information, there are a total of 1106 Covid fatalities in all of Toronto.
  • The postal code M1E, which includes Guildwood, Morningside, and West Hill, has the highest number of fatalities with 86.
  • Furthermore, four Scarborough postal codes are among the ten highest in terms of Covid fatalities.
  • In fact, these four Scarborough postal codes account for approximately 20% of all of the Covid fatalities in Toronto.

A look at two postal codes in Parkdale-High Park reveals that there can be large discrepancies within one district:

  • The postal code M6K, which includes Brockton, Parkdale Village, and Exhibition Place, has 34 Covid fatalities.
  • Yet, nearby postal code M6P, which includes High Park, and The Junction South, has 8 Covid fatalities.
  • So even between nearby postal codes there can be large discrepancies in terms of Covid fatalities.

The City of Toronto needs to find out what exactly is causing these large discrepancies in terms of Covid fatalities by neighbourhood.

Table: Ten postal codes in T.O. with the highest Covid fatalities.

Postal Code Neighbourhoods Borough Covid fatalities
M1E Guildwood, Morningside, West Hill Scarborough 86
M3J Northwood Park, York University North York 61
M9B West Deane Park, Princess Gardens, Martin Grove, Islington, Cloverdale Etobicoke 55
M1C Rouge Hill, Port Union, Highland Creek Scarborough 55
M6M Del Ray, Mount Dennis, Keelsdale and Silverthorn York 50
M9P Westmount Etobicoke 41
M1N Birch Cliff, Cliffside West Scarborough 41
M4S Davisville Central Toronto 40
M1L Golden Mile, Clairlea, Oakridge Scarborough 36
M6K Brockton, Parkdale Village, Exhibition Place West Toronto 34

 

Covid_fatalities_postalcode
Covid-19 fatalities by T.O. postal codes

Affordable Housing, Healthy Homes, Parkdale - High Park, Public health, Public safety, Safe Buildings, Toronto, Toronto Election, Ward 4

Apartments are Less Safe than Condos

Below, we state the case for raising apartment building standards, i.e. to make apartments as safe as condos.

My wife and I live in a condominium building close to High Park. In the vicinity, there is an apartment building in the Parkdale-High Park neighbourhood where the residents have reported the following: elevators are frequently broken down, its walkways and sidewalks are not cleared from ice promptly, frequently there is an odour in the lobby, the garbage room often is a complete mess, and those are just some of the problems reported. In contrast, our condo has none of these problems. One could argue that our condo is relatively new, but even condos built in the 70’s do not have the issues we have seen in Parkdale-High Park, St. James Town, and in many other parts of Toronto.

So why do apartment buildings in Toronto have these problems and condos do not? The reason is the law. Specifically, the laws governing safety in condominium buildings are much more stringent than the laws governing safety in apartment buildings.

How are these laws different? Our condo board members must take courses as required by the Condominium Act. On the other hand, landlords are not required to take any training in Toronto. Our condo property manager must be licensed also a requirement under the Condo Act. On the other hand, apartment property managers do not need to be licensed in Toronto. Our condo must undergo a Reserve Fund study every three years, which must be completed by qualified professionals as per the Condo Act. Similarly, apartment buildings must have a capital plan under the new Rent Safe program in Toronto. However, there is no explicit requirement the capital plan be completed by qualified professionals.

There is a two-tier system for safety in residential buildings, one for condos which have stringent safety standards requiring training, licensing and professional advice; and another one for apartment buildings with no training and licensing requirements and no qualified professional offering advice. Apartments and condos are our homes. Wherever we live Torontonians have the same right to safe and healthy homes. Consequently, we started the following petition Raise Apartment Building Standards in Toronto, which we hope you will support today.

https://www.change.org/p/john-tory-raise-apartment-building-standards-in-toronto

Apartments