The birth of the Urban Professional Series

Several months ago, I was at a crossroads with my urban planning consulting firm 43rd Parallel Planning. While I am still interested in working on small projects in the urban planning and transportation fields, I wanted to figure out a way to promote the business.

For the last few years, I had hosted several urbanist meetups held at various pubs throughout Toronto and Edmonton. I enjoyed meeting and networking with some of my Twitter followers while others made connections too. In November, I started thinking about event planning. How would it be different from other events throughout the city? While taking in some of the JCI events in Edmonton and having attended many of the chapter and professional events within the urban planning profession, a niche market could be tapped in. Why not have presenters make brief presentations while in an intimate setting of a pub. It would be easier for people to network.

An opportunity arose in February when a fellow planning colleague of mine approached me in hosting an event to discuss the new City of Toronto Development Permit System (DPS). 22 people, mainly urban planners, attended the event at Victory Café in downtown Toronto. Surveys from the event revealed it was a rousing success.
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I am definitely looking forward to the next instalment of the Urban Professional Series on April 22nd,  which will be held at the Granite Brewery. The theme will be Craft Beer Urbanism and will be a different format from the previous event.   I chose a fireside chat format because engaging the audience was critical.  I was against the conventional speaker format of the audience members being talked to/at.  Rather I wanted to create a format where people were able to engage with the speaker and other audience members.  I am looking forward to seeing how this presenatation structure plays out.   Details and tickets for the event and its format can be found here.

Although these two events have urban planning themes, I am very much interested in bringing a collaborative multidisciplinary approach to these talks.  Topic areas I would like to pursue in the future are in human resources, architecture, management, social media, transit and politics to name a few.  I am interested in hearing about future topics you would like to see.

I will be blogging after every event to give a summary of the event itself and news about the next event.  I look forward to hearing about your experiences at the Urban Professional Series events.  Please follow on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

A few words about my Global Post on Regionalism

Anne Marie Aikins, Manager of Strategic Communications for Metrolinx sent two tweets to myself regarding errors on my Global post on regionalism in the GTA

1. 15 minute service is express rail, not high speed rail as I had mentioned in the post. It can be found on movingontarioforward.ca

2.  With respect to quoting Steve Paikin’s tweet, it was up for interpretation.  Prichard did make the statement Metrolinx is not in the business of finding money to fund projects.  That is half true.  The Investment Strategy was an addendum to the Big Move outlining revenue tools to pay for projects as mentioned in Section 32 of the Metrolinx Act.  Metrolinx cannot collect funds, like Metro Vancouver, for projects.  That is left for the Province to legislate and administer. 

An addendum to the post was not mentioning and referencing Northeastern Illinois Transit Task Force on amalgamating the Regional Transportation Authority, Chicago Transit Authority, PACE, and Metra into one super transit agency.   This story initially triggered some thoughts for my post on regionalism.  Then Quarmby’s speech.  Then Wynne’s speech.  So it was a topic that kept on giving.  

The cities and regions within the Greater Toronto Area should consider studying such an idea for its transit systems.  Amalgamation of the GTA’s transit systems was proposed in the Golden Report in 1996.  Tim Hudak and the Progressive Conservatives are proposing TTC be uploaded to Metrolinx for its rail service, which defeats the purpose of local transit.  

Nevertheless efficiencies can be found, funding mechanisms can be determined and new transit route designs can be developed with such a plan.  It is worth studying. 

Regional governance model sorely needed in the Greater Toronto Area – National | Globalnews.ca

My latest blog post from Global News.

 

Regional governance model sorely needed in the Greater Toronto Area – National | Globalnews.ca.

CCA and YTZ – Different visions toward progress

Over the last few years, I have found myself intrigued by the controversies around airport expansions and closures. I see somewhat striking similarities to the controversy surrounding the closure of Edmonton’s City Centre Airport (CCA) to that of the expansion of Billy Bishop Airport (YTZ).

Edmonton’s time for change

Approximately six months after my arrival into Edmonton, there was a controversy brewing over closing Edmonton’s City Centre Airport.  It was a historic airport since World War II and an important hub for business clientele for oil companies, provincial politicians and those who wanted to save time travelling to the South Side to Edmonton International Airport.  As planes grew larger, it became more difficult to provide commuter service for passengers.  Due to constraints similar to that of Downsview Airport in North York, the runways could not be extended.  The airport ended up becoming a spot where Cessna planes and MEDIVAC helicopters could land.   It became unprofitable for the City to continue to operate the airport any longer and decided it would shut down.  Plans were made to convert the Airport into a residential community, similar to that of the Downsview Airport Lands.

I had no vested interest as to whether or not the Airport closed.  I lived about a 20 minute walk from the Airport.This was such a divisive and heated issue in workplaces (even my own) and in conventional and social media.  I thought I would get immerse myself into the debate, at least on social media.   It got so heated, even one person had included me in a blog post.  I had to laugh about it actually. 

Volunteers were handing out pamphlets and buttons wherever they could get the attention. I experienced this going to an Eskimos-Argos game.  It even boiled over into the provincial election where candidates ran on platforms that including those opposed to the Airport’s closure.  Even provincial politicians from outside of Edmonton got involved in the debate.  The higher ranks within the governing Progressive Conservatives wanted no part of it.  Even plans for a referendum failed because of forged signatures.  

There are plans to extend the Metro Line (formerly North LRT) to St Albert through the eastern portion of the Airport lands.  The community soon to be known as Blatchford would have mixed-use transit oriented development as well as build a stronger relationship with NAIT.  The tides were changing and the leadership of the City came to fruition.  On November 30th, the City Centre Airport closed.

Billy Bishop Airport Expansion – Community vs Everyone else.

The current debate is whether or not Porter Airlines will be allowed to extend the runway by 200 metres to accommodate for larger jets which will provide for increased service at Billy Bishop Airport.

A more recent debate ensued between two urbanists who I deeply respect and look to as leaders in the urban planning profession:  Richard Florida and Ken Greenberg.  Florida is pro-airport expansion because of its benefits to economic development and Greenberg is opposed because of potential hazardous effects to Toronto’s Waterfront.

The Board of Health, who would prefer no expansion to the Airport, had provided these key recommendations:

  • Plan for the most health-supporting use of the airport lands over the long-term
  • Ensure that any change to operations and associated transportation infrastructure reduces existing health impacts
  • Implement mitigation measures to reduce the current impacts on the local community

Any transportation project must be mitigated to minimize impacts on a city and community.  The airport’s runway extension is no different.  Many community groups have turned to the Board of Health report as ammunition.  I have always stood by the Board of Health and do stand by their key recommendations.

More recently within Toronto, NIMBYism has stifled progress.  Others will say developers have run amok in building higher densities in older established neighbourhoods.  Again this debate heated even to more visceral comments:

Comments such as these are not fruitful to the debate. Sounds strikingly familiar to the debates over the closure of the City Centre Airport.    As planners, we look at all avenues to come to a solution that benefits all parties through negotiation and conflict resolution.  Economic development, health, transportation, environment are all areas to be considered in this debate. Some will be winners, some will be losers.  This is on the name of progress. 

Toronto is at a point where formerly noxious light industrial and commercial areas should no longer be zoned separately but rather co-exist with residential areas.   Zoning will have to be revamped to reflect this.  Adaptive reuse with uses such as craft breweries are becoming a benefit to neighbourhoods.  Toronto’s Employment Land Strategy is looking to intensify in employment areas that there are opportunities.   This is progress.

With respect to the Airport expansion, this has been a controversial issue for years.  Then Mayor David Miller ran on a campaign for no bridge to Billy Bishop Airport for the fears that there would be expansion years later.  Now there is an underground tunnel currently under construction to save passengers from the one minute ferry ride to the airport.  This is progress.

I do not have a vested interest in the Airport expansion.  My current residence is equidistant to Pearson Airport and Billy Bishop. I have a choice as to where I would like to fly based on convenience, ticket prices and flight times.  But I am not the only person in this debate.  An extension of the runway will only allow for larger jets to land but will not take away from opportunities for business passengers and visitors to use the Union-Pearson Express.  I have been a frequent visitor of the Waterfront and have never been affected by the noise coming from the airplanes.  There are probably more effects from NOC/VOX effects from a congested Gardiner Expressway to Waterfront visitors and residents than that would be of a minimal amount of airplanes.

Although, I would be against building a parking garage where parkland and a school would be sacrificed, as suggested by the hot and cold Toronto Star reporter Christopher Hume.

Nevertheless, citizens of the Waterfront community cannot and should not stand in the way of progress that will benefit the city, region, province and country long-term. We will see how this all plays out on Monday.

The Urban Myth We Call Rob Ford

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Photo Courtesy of Toronto Star

For 20 years, I was a product of Ontario Housing, Metro Housing, Housing or whatever.  It is social housing.   My family and many of my friends were the ones who chose to leave that lifestyle.  Others are there now as a means for survival with hopes one day they will get out.  Many of those who reside in TCHC housing don’t have a choice because of social circumstances.  Then there are the select few who are part of that cycle of poverty and need a helping hand.

Rob Ford is the “people’s mayor”.  Proudly touring Toronto Community Housing complexes claiming he is a saviour.  Proudly clubbing it with 20 somethings at Muzik and watching the naive and impressionable flocking over him was a disgrace.

If you haven’t heard, Rob Ford has become a YouTube sensation again.  His latest production is his rant in Jamaican patois which denigrates the Jamaican population as well as those who aspire to live a better life.  You’ve seen it already through the news and late night talk shows, so there is no need for me to tag it.

It is already bad enough these TCHC communities have been designed poorly with inward facing isolated gathering areas, are food deserts, fail every CPTED principle which has led for these areas to be havens for crime.   Regent Park, Alexandria Park and Lawrence Heights will be revitalized.  These community regeneration plans were not under his watch.  These were drawn up by the community leaders, the politicians and planning staff alike.  Jane & Finch, Malvern, Woolner, St. Jamestown, Thistletown, Tandridge Court, Dixon Road.  So many areas TCHC communities

Instead of a mayor who provides leadership. who makes valiant attempts to be a visionary, aspires to eradicate poverty and rebuild communities from the bottom up, he provides the status quo.  In the leadership world, he is regarded as a conformist.  I wish the residents of these communities could see that Rob Ford isn’t a Robin Hood.  Rob Ford is an Urban Myth.

What I will look forward to (and hope for) in 2014

 

A few weeks ago I posted my own year-end review.  Now it’s time to look forward.  I am no soothsayer,  but here are some trends I would like to see happen in 2014.

1.  The Metropolitan Revolution starts with Rob Ford not be re-elected!  But an unknown will win the election who isn’t named Tory, Chow, Stintz or Ford.  My dream is that whoever becomes mayor will be a REGIONAL mayor.  Someone who talks to the new Mayor of Mississauga, and all the 905 mayors.  Can’t continue to talk 905/289 suburbs vs 416/647 any longer.

2.  Kathleen Wynne will call a spring election and win a slim majority.  Tim Hudak will resign as PC leader.

3.  This will not be the last that you hear of the regional transit plan and investment strategy.  Common sense will prevail.  There will be a combination of the Big Move, the original Transit City report, and the findings of the Neptis Report on the Big Move.

a Finch  Avenue will be proposed as Bus Rapid Transit.  In the meantime, there will be plans to build a regional terminal at Humber College.

b Scarborough will get transit in the form of Light Rapid Transit.  During the election campaign, Malvern residents and Centennial College students will stand up and fight for an LRT to come to them.

c My transit friends will not like this, but the “Relief Line” does not stand any ground.  As mentioned in the Neptis Report, GO Transit will finally operate similarly to SEPTA in Philadephia and Metrolink in Los Angeles where their regional rail systems are the backbone to the local system.  This makes sense and should be studied and drawn to a conclusion by 2015.

d A study must be completed to consider LRT across Highway 7 connecting the Hurontario LRT in  Downtown Brampton and Markham to be completed in phases.

e. Hamilton will finally get its BRT approved.

f The Province will approve of road tolls, land value capture and an increase of the HST.  I would prefer the later to be a regional sales tax so to avoid the confusion from residents outside of the GTHA like this article.

4.  Affordable housing will be a hot topic for 2014.   The middle class is withering away and families can not continue to drive until they afford.  New York Magazine came out with an Affordability City List for incoming mayor Bill DeBlasio, which included housing.  Whoever the next mayor will be will have to tackle this topic at all levels of government.  Mid-rise and high rise living in the inner suburbs should be affordable.

5.  Cooler heads will prevail on the Mirvish+Gehry project.  As a compromise, Mirvish+Gehry group will downsize the height of the project but will do away with the heritage aspect as a part of their project.  Debate this all you want.

6. There will finally be easing in the by-laws to finally permit food trucks to sell on city street.  Paranoid restauranteurs will finally come to their senses.  Food trucks and placemaking go hand in hand.  Food trucks benefit nearby restuarants, and because of their mobility could support arts and culture events as suggested by Edward Glaeser.

7.  I will have a new job related to strategic planning.  That’s my positive thought for 2014.

Do you have any others to add?  Tweet me or send me comments

Happy New Year to Everyone! May 2014 be a prosperous one!

Toronto can take lessons from the happiness of mid-sized cities.

I happened to go over the last two Global blog posts today and was wondering why there wasn’t much traction on the transit leadership and plenty of hits on the one I posted on Hamilton. There maybe various reasons behind this.  

1.  People enjoy feel good stories that hover around success.

A city’s success is derived from its leadership and governance, the public realm, its sports teams, and culture.  I believe Toronto is a very angry city.  It’s a frustrated city. Frustrated by its politics. Frustrated by its sports teams.  Torontonians still aren’t ready for some form of change.  The debate amongst fellow planning colleagues and several politicians has recently centred around the Mirvish+Gehry development.  The first few minutes of Anthony Bourdain’s show “The Layover” began where he was in a cab and criticized its architecture as being Soviet style, boring and outdated.   With respect to transit, passengers are increasingly frustrated with delays, overcrowding and congestion.  There continues to be debates between downtown and the suburbs. Toronto is steep in tradition and stuck on its history.  Leafs last Stanley Cup win, heritage preservation, car culture.  It’s all there.  

Hamilton on the other hand is a very active and vibrant mid-sized city.  From its food truck culture to its incoming bike lanes, there is a grassroots movement in the city which has filtered change through its planning policies.  It is on the verge of change.  It’s breaking free from its Steel City image to becoming an Ambitious City.  They’ve overcome the challenges of amalgamation.  Their downtown is coming to life.  Go through posts on “Raise the Hammer” where there are discussions on complete streets, walkability, tactical urbanism, and revitalization. 

You’re seeing revitalization in other mid sized cities like Buffalo and Detroit.  Toronto Star published several stories on Buffalo’s resurgence (here, here and here) as well as its history.  Watch the movie Detropia on Netflix  Read the book The Economics of Place.  Watch the episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown on Detroit.  

2.  Creative cities are midsized cities

You’re probably seeing a trend here.  The midsized cities I mentioned – Buffalo, Detroit and Hamilton – are all Rust Belt Cities.  Yet they are creative cities. Why? Because they’ve hit rock bottom and the only way is up.  They are cities where they are ripe for change and don’t have to worry about making mistakes.    

Richard Florida has written several books on the Creative Class, which I found very enjoyable.  Also I happened to read Charles Landry’s The Creative City: A Toolkit for Urban Innovators. The creative class is part of a regional economy, whether it is in Boston, San Francisco, Toronto or Berlin.  Cities attract that talent. But can they afford to live there?  

These large cities are pricing out talent.  Sarah Kendzior in her Al-Jazeera article takes issue with Florida’s creative class:

The “creative class” is a frozen archetype – one that does not boost the economy of global cities, as urban studies theorist Richard Florida argues, but is a product of their takeover by elites. The creative class plays by the rules of the rich, because those are the only rules left. Adaptation is a form of survival. But adaptation is a form of abandonment as well.

Very interesting.  Where has this been heard before? This is argument is all too familiar to Torontonians for all the wrong reasons. Conservatives do the bait and switch.  They play the “downtown elites” card on a regular basis and the suburban poor and middle class take the bait.  

But Kendzior’s argument targets the typical career path of those living in large cities.  Expensive cities kill creativity, as she states. How do you build cities when its citizens live on fear because they are different from the status quo.  Failure is not an option.  Midsized cities break down those barriers and move those towards success.  

Where do we go from here?

With effective leadership, there is a direction for change.  Within Toronto, that change is imminent from some of its leaders.  From Leiweke of MLSE to Jen Keesmaat, this change is occurring.  In order to be a great city, change must happen from within. But the civic leadership must be there too.  That is the last, but most difficult component for change.  

Toronto can learn a thing or two from the success or drive to change of these mid sized cities.  It comes from the grassroots, but also comes from creative talent.  Happy cities are walkable, active, have a great transportation network and an engaged citizenry.  For now, my future may lie in a place like Hamilton but will hope one day Toronto becomes a happy city.

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