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Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page

The weekly wrap for December 31, 2010

In This week in the neighbourhood on December 31, 2010 at 12:01 AM

"Then and Now" by Erik Mauer | 1 Spadina Crescent

Beautiful, poignant, historic. 1 love T.O. collects photographs from Erik Mauer’s brilliant “Then & Now” project. [1loveT.O.]

A 29-storey hotel and condominium for Dupont and Brunswick? Perry King reports that the Wynn Group is moving forward with its application for rezoning 328 to 374 Dupont Street.  [Annex Gleaner]

“He’s not sure that Burke’s speech will make any difference to the clowns who have been hissing things about his sexuality at him for years.” Mary Rogan looks at Brian Burke’s visit to Royal St. George’s College to talk about homophobia.  [GQ]

The city’s Heritage Preservation Department employs only one person to conduct heritage evaluations. Josh OKane investigates the sad state of heritage preservation in Toronto.  [Open File Toronto]

A condo explosion is on the horizon for Yorkville . Matthew Harris documents the pending construction projects.  [blogTO ]

The Alahambra Theatre stood across the street from Honest Ed’s. GBC uncovers photos of the old theatre before its demolition in 1985 to make way for a Swiss Chalet.  [Lost Toronto]

Older, whiter ridings are given disproportionate representation to the detriment of those younger and more diverse. John Michael McGrath exposes the inequities of Toronto’s unequal wards. [Open File]

In 2005, Jacobs wrote Bloomberg  “come on, do the right thing.  The community really does know best.” Jaret Murphy reviews “The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs”. [City Limits]

“The main entrance of the Heritage Mansion will be reserved only for senior staff and visitors.” Gerald Caplan uncovers some quirks in the deal Peter Munk struck with U of T for his School of Global Affairs.  [rabble]

No front door for you. The future Peter Munk School of Global Affairs | Image courtesy of SimonP/Wikimedia Commons

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Every Friday, the Weekly Wrap collects articles from around the web about or of interest to residents of the West Annex.

For columns from previous weeks, see the Weekly Wrap archive.

Visit Erik Mauer’s entire “Then and Now” photoset.

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Brave New Annex: “Toronto’s postering problem – Bloor Street West”

In uncategorized on December 29, 2010 at 11:24 PM

What we thought was free speech and a sign of vitality is apparently a scourge, according to the video below, posted to YouTube by the Rob Ford Challenge Channel.

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Selected quotes from the postering bylaw debate at City Council on May 18, 2005, courtesy of the Toronto Public Space Committee:

“Our first principle has to be about freedom of speech. This is an issue that no City Council should take lightly. The Supreme Court of Canada has said that postering is an appropriate expression of free speech.” ~ Mayor David Miller

“Posters make our city filthy and dirty. ~ Councillor Rob Ford

See more about the battle over the right to poster in Toronto on the Toronto Public Space Committee website.

Customer or citizen?

In The Maven on December 28, 2010 at 12:19 PM

image by ItzaFineDay

By The Maven | We hear a lot about customer service from our newly in favour conservative politicians lately. Rob Ford likes to talk about the provision of services by the City to its citizens as customer service. And he wants good customer service. Who wouldn’t?

I wrote in a previous post about the fallacy of trying to run government like a business. The problem is that many businesses are poorly run… more poorly run than government.  For instance, it has been shown that private health insurance in the United States is far more expensive to provide than public insurance here in Canada.

But that is not my point today. Today I want to talk about citizenship and consumership. You see, these business oriented politicians just don’t get it.

Consumers’ relationship with business is very different from a citizen’s relationship with government.  As consumers, we are offered pre-packaged items to purchase or not.  If we don’t like it, we have the option of not purchasing it or purchasing a competitive item… except for the unusual example of a licensed monopoly.

Of course, that isn’t the case with government services where we don’t usually have competing provision of services (public vs private schools might be an example of an exception).

But really there is a further and more important distinction. In a very important sense, we own government. Not on a one-to-one basis. We cannot go in to a government office and ask for exceptional consideration or new rules to our liking. But we can, through the democratic process – whether at election time, by lobbying our councillor individually or by community activism — direct the provision of services.

It is our right to help establish goals for our city/community/body politic by making our desires and needs known to politicians and others in our community.  We can and should be directing the provision of services on the planning and macro implementation level.

By defining ourselves as consumers we become passive ingestors of services and not acting directors. And this is exactly what conservative activists and politicians want.

They wish to see a diminution in government services because they are ideologically opposed to the intrusion of government into their daily lives. Why? Because they have the resources to purchase whatever services they need and they do not want to be paying the taxes necessary to subsidize the service provision to the rest of us. As well, of course, they wish to decrease the possibility of any threat to their own power.

By re-badging the political discussion from ‘what do we want our government to do for us’ to ‘how best can we purchase/consume what the government is selling to us’ conservative politicians are reducing our collective autonomy to control our environment. Only through government does the average citizen have any modicum of control over our society.

And it is just this possibility (because right now citizens’ control or input to society is only potential and not terribly well realized) that some politicians wish to deny the citizenry.

Do not accept being referred to as consumers of government services. We are not consumers, we are citizens. And we have the right and the possibility to exercise control over the bureaucracy if we choose to.  We do not have to accept mere attempts to make the bureaucracy more efficient. Rather we can alter its terms.

Having said this, I understand the anger of the average citizen over our government services. No one wants to pay more taxes than we have to. And there is waste in the bureaucracy. Much of the bureaucracy has been allowed to deteriorate in their provision of services exactly because of the rhetoric that we need to run things more like a business. Right now our government is being run like Bell Canada or Rogers Cable.

We don’t have to accept this. We can demand that government be run on behalf of us, the citizenry. We can demand that a civilized society desires a sensitive and citizen-centric bureaucratic focus. To do less is to allow the bureaucracy to whither to the point that we do indeed become simple consumers.

No one likes to pay taxes. But collective provision of community services is much cheaper –and therefore efficient—that private provision of services. This is true for health care, public transportation, schools…

Taxes suck.  But they are much cheaper than going out and buying stuff on your own.

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Visit ItzaFineDay’s photostream on Flickr.

Running Toronto like a business or why the Model T seems more contemporary than Rob Ford

In The Maven on December 26, 2010 at 8:32 PM

Photo by Sam Javanrouh

By The Maven | So our new mayor wants to run Toronto more like a business. That’s why citizens have now become customers.  And our civil servants are now customer service representatives.  Well, we shouldn’t be surprised.  This the current mantra of all conservative politicians (and a good many liberals as well).  We all want efficiency and an end to waste.  We all want to pay less in taxes — all the while maintaining a high level of services, of course.

So we figure the efficiency of the market place is the way to go.  After all, if business doesn’t cut costs they won’t turn a profit and so will go under.  So, obviously, that is the model that is most efficient.

Except, no.  Not always.  Maybe even not most of the time.

Just which business would Ford like to emulate?  Perhaps he has Nortel in mind.  That great innovative telecommunications giant that was the darling of the business community.  Oh no, wait, they went bankrupt. Perhaps he has Bell Canada in mind.  You know, the people who brought us efficient telephone lines and great internet service.  What, not happy with the service you get from Bell?  How about Rogers?

I know: the Canadian banks have done very well in these uncertain times.  We would all like our government run like a bank.  Except, maybe not all the service charges and miscellaneous fees for everything.

Just which business do you have in mind Rob Ford?

Toronto is huge.  It will only become more efficient if its provision of services is broken down in to smaller units and the bureaucrats give up on their one size fits all mentality.  Numerous studies have shown economies of scale break down when a business, government, or any organization gets so large that it sags under the weight of its own size. That is why amalgamation didn’t save money.  That is why when Parks and Recreation attempts to take over local community organizations (eg: community run hockey arenas) they become less functional and cost more.

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Visit Sam Javanrouh’s photostream on Flickr.

Bloor Street West

In uncategorized on December 25, 2010 at 9:00 AM

Ask the Bike Maven: What are the best tires for winter cycling in the city?

In Ask the Bike Maven on December 22, 2010 at 8:56 AM

Photo by Nikolas Masse

By The Bike Maven | Ah, the joys of winter cycling:  the slush, the salt, the snot; the unplowed bike lanes; the frozen fingers…and worse.

If you are thinking the Bike Maven does not enjoy riding his bike in the winter, you would be correct.  Once the snow flies, my steel single speed commuter and the carbon fibre road bike I ride for fitness and recreation are cleaned and lubed and put away until the spring.

Copenhagen Chic by Mikael Colville-Andersen

But that doesn’t mean you should put your bike away too. There are many reasons to cycle all four seasons. They do it in Copenhagen and all over Scandinavia, so why not Toronto? Cycling is still the fastest way to get around the traffic-choked streets.   It saves you money; it’s good for the planet.  And cycling’s health benefits, to relieve stress, maintain leg strength, and to build cardiovascular fitness know no season.

And  Toronto is blessed with many winter days with clear dry roads, which makes cycling a natural.  It’s when the streets aren’t clear and dry that you have to consider whether to leave the bike at home, or to invest in some winter cycling tires to help keep you safe and upright through the worst of winter road conditions.

But what kind of tire to buy?  For snow on top of pavement, a narrow tire with widely spaced treads are best.  The narrow width helps cut through the snow, and the tread gives you traction on snow’s uneven surface to stop you from spinning out.  The wide tread self clears of snow. For wet and/or icy conditions however, the recommendation is just the opposite:  a wide, untreaded slick tire is best to keep maximum amount of rubber in contact with the ice surface.

If money isn’t a concern and you own an extra set of rims and quick-release hubs, you can install a snow tire on one set of rims and an ice tire on the other, and swap them out as conditions demand.  But if you’re like most people, you don’t have the money or the space to keep multiple rims around, and you need a good compromise tire that will perform reasonably well in both snowy and icy conditions.

The inverted tread of the Continental Town & Country tire

When it comes to winter tires, my favourite multi-purpose tire is the Continental Town and Country, which sports a brilliant inverted tread design.  On dry pavement or ice, the tire runs like a slick on the continuous ring of rubber that runs down the centre of the tire (the “contact patch“).   In dirt, slush, or snow, the inverted tread provides added traction.   In my opinion, the Town and Country is the best all-season multi-purpose tire. What a shame it is available only in the 26 inch size most commonly used by mountain bikes and some hybrids.

A word here first about tire sizes.   You’ll see the size of a bike tire embossed into the rubber or printed on the tire’s sidewall, expressed as something like “26 x 1.9” or “700 x 28”.   The first number refers to the diameter of your rim, and the second number refers to the tire’s width.  So in the first example above, the 26 x 1.9 means a tire is 26 inches in diameter and 1.9 inches wide.  Most mountain bikes and many hybrids take 26 inch tires.  The tire described as 700 x 28 means it is 700mm in diameter and 28mm wide. Most road bikes, including touring and cyclecross bikes, and some hybrids take 700mm tires.  But there are many exceptions to the general rule.

For road bikes, many turn to cyclecross tires, or a combination of tires for snowy roads. Generally, the choice is a knobby cyclecross tire up front and a slick tire at the rear.   The late Sheldon Brown was an advocate of mixing tire types this way.  His classic and comprehensive article on tire and tubes is worth a read.  But remember, this particular tire set up will help you in snow, but not ice.  In Toronto, where snow is cleared reasonably quickly from arterial roads at least, snow isn’t the main concern.  Because our weather goes through repeated cycles of thaws and freezes, ice is the biggest challenge to Toronto urban cyclists.  And for ice, many cyclists consider studded tires.

I haven’t ridden studded tires myself, but my friend Richard Fink has been riding them for almost 45 years.  Richard put together his first set of studded tires in 1967 by putting  industrial rivets into the 26 inch tires of  his CCM bike when he was just a boy. “Things worked great for 50 miles” Richard says.  With the hill formed by the old Lake Iroquois shoreline standing between Richard’s home in Cedarvale and his office at Bathurst and Dupont, Richard faces some daunting bike-handling challenges when the roads are icy.  He now runs 700mm Nokian studded tires from Finland on his winter ride, a Lightspeed touring bike.  But even with studded tires, an experienced winter cyclist like Richard still reports at least one fall every winter.

The website Peter White Cycles has one of the best run-downs about studded tires that I’ve read.  If you’re thinking of investing in studded tires, devote some time to giving the entire article a careful reading. “Riding on ice with studded tires is like walking on ice that’s been lightly covered with sand” says White. “It’s pretty safe. You’re not likely to fall unless you do something stupid. You’re not going to have the same traction you would have on dry pavement. But you’re going to have far more than you would with regular tires on ice. Keep in mind that there’s ice down there and you’ll be fine.  Try to be a hero, and you’ll probably pay a price.”  And keep in mind that on clear roads with no snow or ice, your studded tires will be noisy, slow, and won’t handle as well as a conventional tire.  The studs will wear fast on pavement.  Since these tires will run you upwards of $200 a  pair, you want to get as much mileage from them as possible.

Both Schwalbe and Nokian both make good quality carbide-studded tires for both 26inch and 700cm tires.  But the narrowest studded road tire that I’ve come across is the 700 x 32 Nokian A10.  That width will fit many cycle-cross, touring, and hybrid bikes, but not a pure racing road bike;  there won’t be adequate clearance in the front fork or at the rear brakes.

Nokian A10 700 x 32 studded tires from peterwhitecycles.com

Where to source your tires?  Your first choice should be to patronize your LBS: local bike shop.  Both Curbside Cycle and Sweet Pete’s carry the Schwalbes, and the obliging Rob Bateman is always willing to order in special items.   But if you can’t find what you want in our West Annex LBS’s, try Mountain Equipment Co-Op for Continental Town and Country and Schwalbe, Duke’s Cycles for Nokian, and Urbane Cyclist for slicks and cyclecross tires.   You can also try mail order with the aforesaid Peter White Cycles.  I’ve also had good luck with  probikekit.com, a mail order company based in the U.K. which offers good selection, great prices and prompt delivery on tires, parts and accessories. But if you’re going the mail order route, take care.  If in doubt, order the same size tire that you’re now running on your bike, or seek advice from your local bike shop. They’ll help you measure the clearance in your front fork and back brakes, to make sure you can handle a wider tire.

Schwalbe studded tires for sale at Curbside Cycle

A final word, and that’s about tire pressure. Automobile snow tires improve traction in two ways:  they have an aggressive tread design that grips and then self-clears of snow, and they are made with a special rubber compound that keeps the tire soft and pliable even in sub-zero conditions, helping adhesion to snow and ice.  Bicycle tires have no such special compounds.   For each degree below zero, your bike tire becomes harder and stiffer.  To compensate, many, including the City of Toronto cold weather cycling page recommend that you release some air pressure from your tire.   Release only a little air at a time, and try out how your bike handles, until you find what works for you.  But remember, don’t go below the minimum pressure marked on your tire’s sidewall, or you’ll risk a pinch flat.

These tips, together with a modicum of common sense should keep you out from under the streetcars this winter.  Enjoy your ride, and don’t forget to wave if you see Don Cherry.

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The Bike Maven is a Serotta-certified bicycle fitter who lives, works, and cycles in the Annex.

For other articles by this author, visit The Maven archive.

Visit Nikolas Masse‘s and Mikael Colville-Andersen‘s photostreams on Flickr.

The weekly wrap for December 17, 2010

In Eating & Drinking, Heritage & History, Reviews, This week in the neighbourhood on December 17, 2010 at 1:01 AM

“Does the Annex really need another budget-friendly Japanese restaurant?”  Apparently yes. Gizelle Lau loves the fresh ingredients and home made stock at Kenzo Ramen. [Toronto Life]

Kenzo Ramen | 372 Bloor Street West

“We wanted to bring in city bikes from Holland that are upright, fashionable, and can function as your car.” Wyndham Bettencourt-McCarthy profiles Eric Kamphof, manager of Curbside Cycle.  [torontoist]

“The Green Room . . . a place so dirty that a health inspector found even its license completely covered in cockroach feces.” David Topping calls out the Green Room as one of torontist’s Villains of 2010.  [torontoist]

Beer was still 15 cents a glass and big old homes yet to be gentrified were cheap rooming houses. Jim Henshaw recalls David French and the Annex theatre scene of the early 1970’s.  [Legion of Decency]

Still looking for the perfect gift for that left-wing bike-riding pinko kook in your life? Get your commemorative T-shirts from Biking Toronto and buttons from spacingtoronto.  The buttons are also available locally at the Outer Layer, Curbside Cycle, and Sweet Pete’s.

First came the stagecoach stop in 1876. Eric Murtrie explores Brunswick Avenue at Bloor, and environs. [spacingtoronto]

They tested Model Ts on the roof. Matt Bubbers uncovers the storied history of the Faema Building (and former Ford automobile plant) at the corner of Dupont and Christie.  [Sympatico.ca Autos]

“You get to the point when you see so much pain in people’s lives, you have to do something.” Eileen Donnelly profiles Harbord Collegiate Institute teacher Michael Ericson’s work to establish a shelter for Toronto’s homeless LBGTQ youth.  [The Toronto Observer]

“One of Toronto’s oldest cinemas has been nestled in the Annex for almost a century.” Tracey Chen recounts the history of the Bloor Cinema, AKA the Madison Picture Palace.  [Heritage Toronto]

The Madison Picture Palace, now the Bloor Cinema | Courtesy of City of Toronto Archives

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Every Friday, the Weekly Wrap collects articles from around the web about or of interest to residents of the West Annex.

Arrivals & Departures: David’s Tea and Sweet Pete’s Bicycle Shop

In Arrivals & Departures on December 14, 2010 at 11:05 PM

The last week saw two new arrivals on the Bloor-Annex commercial strip, David’s Tea, and Sweet Pete’s Bicycle Shop – the B-Side.

DavidsTea | 424 Bloor Street West

David’s Tea opened December 11th at 424 Bloor Street West, just east of Howland Avenue, in the premises formerly occupied by Alex Cuts (now re-located to the second floor of  386 Bloor Street West). This Canadian chain began as a single store in Montreal in 2008 and has since exploded into 41 locations, the Annex location being the fifth to open in Toronto in under two years.

The upscale store sports a slick, modern interior with halogen lighting throughout.  There is minimal seating — one table at the front and two at the back of the shop — but there is a long bar to stand and try samples of some of the over 120 different loose teas proffered by eager staff.   The tea selection ranges from black, green, and white teas to exotic pu’erh cakes.

The tea bar

Thirty-three of the teas are caffeine-free herbal or rooibos blends.

A tea shop seems a natural addition to java junction, the aggregation of coffee shops clustered around the intersection of Bloor Street West and Albany Avenue. But All Things Tea, an independent tea shop with a similar offering of teas and tea paraphernalia recently pulled the plug on their 476 Bloor Street West shop.  They too offered minimal seating and as a result never attracted the same crowds that flock to the local coffee shops to meet, talk, and surf.   Like All Things Tea, DavidsTea lacks a patio, much-desired in local coffee shop culture.

It will be interesting to see if this successful chain’s business model translates to the Annex.

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Sweet Pete’s Bicycle Shop — the B-Side

Sweet Pete's Bicycle Shop | 517 Bloor Street West

Sweet Pete’s opened on December 8, 2010 at 517 Bloor Street West, in the former premises of The Tap Bar and Grill. In this second Sweet Pete’s location, the shop is making a strong bid to go head-to-head with nearby Curbside Cycle for the city bike/urban commuter bicycle market.  But where Curbside features mostly European bikes from Batavus, Pashley, Biomega and others, Sweet Pete’s focuses on bikes from North American companies like Kona, Trek, and Opus who have of late jumped on the Euro-style commuter bicycle bandwagon.

The interior

The shop interior is sleek and welcoming, with exposed steel beams, bare brick walls, “eco-friendly wood flooring” (according to Sweet Pete’s website) and subtle lighting.  Classic jazz plays on the sound system.

Most welcome is the large workshop in the back, where Sweet Pete’s will offer bike tune-ups and repairs.  Since Curbside stopped providing repairs to all but the bikes they sell, ex-Curbside mechanic Rob Bateman’s Bicycle Co. has been the go-to place for tune-ups and repairs in the neighbourhood.  But in the busy summer months, Bateman is sometimes a victim of his own excellent reputation, and his 29A Barton Avenue shop can get overwhelmed with work.

Mechanics' work area

Sweet Pete’s has thoughtfully left The Tap’s signature sign, a neon beer stein with animated keg tap, intact above their own sign, in a nice tip of the hat to the memory of the long-time Annex institution.

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In Arrivals & Departures we document the changes in the commercial/retails strips of the West Annex on Bloor, Bathurst, and Dupont Streets, and think about these changes in the context of Jane Jacobs’ observation that popularity on retail strips can lead to commercial monocultures, and Max Fawcett’s thesis that the Annex is un-gentrifying.

Here’s Don Cherry’s new bike

In Reviews on December 11, 2010 at 7:28 PM

Gillian Goerz, sales manager at Curbside Cycle shows off the pink Pashley bicycle intended for Don Cherry

Torontonians who were taken aback by Don Cherry’s bizarre, hate-filled screed against pinkos and cyclists during Mayor Ford’s investiture ceremony at City Hall on Tuesday, December 7 were cheered to read the open letter to Don Cherry penned by Curbside Cycle.  “We’d like to take a little egg off your face and allow you to (literally) do a bit of backpedalling” it said.  “We’d like to give you a bicycle, in a blushing shade of ironic pink.”

Curbside is giving the pugnacious hockey commentator a stylish Pashley Tube Rider — Double Scoop. Pashley is England’s longest established bicycle manufacturer, having produced sturdy, handsome bicycles for rural and urban commuters for over 80 years at their manufacturing facility in Stratford-on-Avon.

Custom bike painter Noah Rosen of Velocolour is donating a paint job* for the bike’s fenders in a suitably Cherryesque fashion.  An online poll will determine whether the fenders — now turquoise — will be painted in a pinstripe, pink floral or pink plaid design in tribute to the belligerent bigot’s sartorial excesses.  Earlier today Curbside reported that the plaid fenders are ahead in the voting. The poll closes Monday morning, December 13th so vote now.

Gillian Goerz, Curbside’s sales manager said this morning that the shop has yet to hear from Cherry to make arrangements to accept their gift.

Curbside Cycle | 412 Bloor Street West

Curbside Cycle is located at 412 Bloor Street West in the West Annex, the pinkest of the pink heart of Toronto.  The area is represented by NDP members in both the federal parliament and the provincial legislature, and its city counselor Adam Vaughan is considered Mayor Rob Ford’s number one nemesis and possible rival for mayor in 2014.

Started in a tent in front of the Brunswick House about fifteen years ago, Curbside Cycle draws a city-wide clientele with its extensive selection of bicycles, clothing and accessories geared to the needs of urban bicycle commuters.

Don Cherry is a former professional hockey player and coach.  He played a single game in the NHL, and despite coaching the Boston Bruins of the NHL during the heyday of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, never won a Stanley Cup.   Cherry parlayed this distinguished career into a now 30-year gig as the dominant hockey commentator with the national public broadcaster, the CBC.  Cherry lives in Mississauga, Ontario.

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12 Dec. ’10 | This article was revised  to add the recap of Don Cherry’s NHL career.

13 Dec. ’10 | * Noah Rosen has donated the custom paint job for the bike’s fenders.  Incorrect information appeared in the original version of this article.  Thanks to Gillian Goerz for the correction.

The weekly wrap for December 7, 2010

In Coming events, This week in the neighbourhood on December 7, 2010 at 12:01 PM

“More successful as a basher than a builder”. Allan Gregg on the PM’s Soviet-style monitoring system revealed in Lawrence Martin’s Harperland: The Politics of Control [Literary Review of Canada]

Two millionaire phonies bring their faux-joe-lunchbox shtick together today at City Hall. Don Cherry will place chains of office around Rob Ford’s neck [thestar.com]

Membership doubles, angel investor helps out. Derek Flak and Sarah Green on the progress of the Tranzac Club bailout [blogTO and NOW]

The Life and Death of the Harbord Streetcar.  James Bow traces the wandering route of the now-abandoned line. [Transit Toronto]

City dwellers emit just 30% of the carbon of their country counterparts.  Shanta Bartley discovers why it’s greener in the city than the country. [New Scientist]

The Dragon of City Hall. Susan Oppenheim profiles local hero Jane Beecroft of the Community History Project.  [Annex Gleaner]

Free Japanese film screenings at Bloor Cinema.  The Japanese Foundation of Toronto presents free film screenings at the Bloor Cinema from December 9-12, 2010. [Toronto Freebies]

Who is Toronto’s biggest embarrassment, the Leafs or Rob Ford? Toronto Mike asks you to cast your vote for our civic Hall of Shame. [TorontoMike]

Bloor Cinema | 506 Bloor Street West

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Every Friday, the Weekly Wrap collects articles from around the web about or of interest to residents of the West Annex.