News & Opinion

Posts Tagged ‘Jane Jacobs’

Remembering Jane Jacobs

In uncategorized on May 4, 2011 at 12:01 AM

Remembering Jane Jacobs is a film by Jim Epstein.


Issues for this Wednesday’s meeting with Councillor Vaughan and Royal St. George’s

In Coming events, Royal St. George's construction on February 15, 2011 at 1:34 PM

By Louise Morin | BOHICA: bend over, here it comes again.

Yes, Royal St. George’s College is back at it again; they will be resuming construction on March 14, 2011 for two weeks, then take a hiatus during the spring, resume the summer of 2011 and continue then until the fall of 2012 . . . and perhaps beyond, to complete the project Jane Jacobs famously called “bad Mel Lastman-era planning.”

And between RSGC’s indifference to bylaws and construction guidelines and the City’s inability or unwillingness to enforce them, the St. Alban’s Park neighbourhood can be forgiven for feeling abused.

But Adam Vaughan has decided to wade in where Olivia Chow wouldn’t, and has called a community meeting this coming Wednesday, February 16th at 7:00PM at Walmer Road Baptist Church  to try to address some of the more contentious issues arising from the construction.

What are the issues?

1.  Routing of construction vehicles through the neighbourhood

Of the 500-plus construction vehicles to pass through the neighbourhood, 200-plus will be tandem dump trucks | Photo credit Jack Byrnes Hill

Adam Vaughan wants our input on the proposed route for the 500-plus construction vehicles which need to travel through the neighbourhood to the RSGC construction site. The first option would bring the trucks down Howland from Dupont to the RSGC campus, the second brings them in Barton from Bathurst and north up Albany–the wrong way on the one-way street; the third brings the trucks in Wells from Bathurst–the wrong way on one-way Wells–then south on Albany. In all three options, the trucks exit south on Albany and west on Barton out to Bathurst.

In an attempt to avoid having this issue divide the neighbourhood, I’ve heard some neighbours suggest that the trucks should rotate amongst the three routes. While I appreciate the spirit of compromise that motivates this suggestion, I’m against it. RSGC has been my neighbour for 23 years, and they’ve never failed to disappoint me during construction projects: they just don’t follow the rules. If they’re given a schedule of rotating routes, they are not going to comply; instead, we’re going to have trucks on all three routes all of the time.

The red line is option 2: the fastest, shortest route in and out of the neighbourhood.

Although it will be unpleasant for me personally (I live just a couple of doors north of the corner of Barton and Albany), I’m in favour of the trucks following option 2.  It’s the shortest route in and out of the neighbourhood. It keeps the rest of the neighbourhood relatively safe and undisturbed. It will be easy to tell our kids where they can and can’t go without our supervision, to avoid trucks. And it will be crystal clear to RSGC the only route where their trucks are permitted.

2.  Protocol and compensation for interruption of services .

RSGC says that they will need to interrupt services (hydro, water, gas, telephones, Internet) for up to six hours at a time, at various times during this project. Neighbours of St. Alban’s Park–the de facto residents’ association of the West Annex–has pressed RSGC to provide a schedule of the interruptions in advance. Neighbours also asked for details of RSGC’s plan to pay compensation to those financially inconvenienced by the interruptions.

In reply, RSGC wrote earlier this month “RSGC can’t speak to compensation as it relates to third parties. If neighbours have questions, we ask that they contact these utilities directly.”

This disingenuous response won’t do. RSGC has to speak to a protocol for advance notice and compensation for us at Wednesday’s community meeting.

3. Removal of portables

The portable illegally moved by RSGC in late 2010. RSGC first promised to remove their portables in 1996, in return for permission from the Committee of Adjustments to build an addition. They built the addition, but never removed the portables.

In 1996, RSGC promised to remove the two portable from their property in return for a variance to permit them to build addition for more classrooms.  They built the addition but the portables were not removed.

In December 2010, RSGC moved the two portables, and pushed them up to the back fences of adjoining residential properties on the east side of Albany and the west side of Howland. In keeping with their philosophy that it is always better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission, RSGC didn’t get the okay from the city before making the move. The city has since told them one of the portables must go.

Neighbours of St. Alban’s Park have asked that the portable–which is used only as a judo studio–be removed entirely from the site immediately; after all, it’s been improperly on the property for well over 10 years. RSGC wants an indulgence: they want to move the portable to the tarmac, facing Albany Avenue, pleading just “three more months”.

Given the long history of broken promises around the portables, yet more promises aren’t going to cut it. The portable has to go, now.

4. Community Committees

During the construction in the late 1990’s, early 2000’s, in 2007 and again in 2010, RSGC repeatedly breached bylaws and construction management guidelines, particularly those concerning hours of construction, weekend construction, dust, mud, and noise control, and traffic and parking control.

The OMB ordered that for this project, various mandatory committees be struck, and that neighbours have a seat on these committees–the Construction Committees, where RSGC can seek permission to break the rules in special circumstance; the Community Consultation Committee, where neighbours can take complaints and problems caused by the construction; and the Neighbourhood Liaison Group under the Traffic Demand Management Plan.

RSGC has funny notions about neighbourhood representatives on committees.

Up until now, without any consultation with the neighbourhood, RSGC has chosen the so-called neighbourhood representatives. RSGC has then refused to give the rest of  us contact information for the neighbourhoods reps; they ignored Neighbours of St. Alban’s Park’s 2007 request for contact information, and mine made in the summer of 2010. And if these committees have ever met at all, RSGC has kept secret the date and place of their meetings and the results of their deliberations.

This farce can’t continue.  The neighbourhood should get to choose neighbourhood representatives.  We should be able to contact our representatives. We should be told in advance when committees will meet.  We should be able to attend the meetings.  Meeting agendas should be posted on the RSGC website in advance, and the minutes of the meetings promptly posted afterwards.

5. Enforcement of construction guidelines and bylaws

Councillor Vaughan’s office has asked someone from the City staff to come to to Wednesday’s meeting to explain to us why, project after project, RSGC has gotten away with breaking rules, and coach us on how we can get help from the city in the future.

In my many years as RSGC’s neighour, I’ve been to too many meetings where I hear RSGC’s “sincere” apologies for past breaches, followed by their lavish promises that they’re going to change their behaviour–this time.

When the next round of construction begins, we get the same disappointing behaviours–construction on weekends and statutory holidays, construction noise well before 7AM and well after 7PM, sidewalks blocked with building materials and trucks, no dust or mud control, on-street parking taken by construction crews and equipment and RSGC students.

Personally, I believe that RSGC follows a deliberate strategy of apology.  Why pay, for example, several thousand dollars on dust control when an apology later costs nothing?

6. Building on the south lawn by St. Alban’s the Martyr Cathedral

The view of St. Alban's the Martyr Cathedral from the east end of St. Alban's Square park

RSGC recently mentioned their desire to build–at some point–a small greenhouse “of less than 100 square feet” on the south lawn of St. Alban’s the Martyr Cathedral, where the RSGC environmental club wants to grow plants.

It is important that we stop any expansion of RSGC sheds and bins onto the lawn of St. Alban’s the Martyr Cathedral. The Cathedral is a designated heritage building of tremendous historic significance.

Between the brutalist gym RSGC stuck on the Albany end of the Cathedral in the 1970’s, to the big bus layby stuck on the Howland side in 2007, and the various bits and pieces stuck here and there on the Cathedral in between, there only is one unobstructed view left of the Cathedral for public contemplation, that is the view from the east end of St. Alban’s Square.

RSGC filled the the north side of their property with many sheds, bins, and portables. Now that they’re converting that space to a playing field, they’re looking to the only open space left on their campus, the lawns on the south side of the cathedral.  We must say no, and preserve what’s left of the view of this heritage site.

After 30-plus years of RSGC expansion, this the view of the historic cathedral from Albany Avenue

So as Jane Jacobs urged us, this we must remind RSGC on Wednesday night that there is a community here. If we all work together to make sure RSGC follows the rules, there’s no need for this latest project to become the same chaotic hell of those of the past.


For further articles and information about Royal St. George’s College construction, visit the RSGC Construction home page and RSGC Construction Archive.

Visit Jack Byrnes Hill’s photostream on Flickr.

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


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.

Local heroes Grassroots Albany celebrate 20th year

In uncategorized on May 1, 2009 at 7:27 AM

Grassroots Albany's annual sale of native and local plants will be held Saturday, May 16, 2009 starting at 9:00AM. The proceeds are used to fund local environmental initiatives like last year's free backyard native tree giveaway

It was 20 years ago when Albany Avenue resident Amanda McConnell returned from filming in the Amazon in despair. “It was two months of thick smoke, starving families, and destroyed rainforests” said McConnell.

But rather than let her despair paralyze her, McConnell was galvanized into action. Along with neighbour Temma Gentles and partner John Blazina “we decided we would act locally and think globally. We flyered the neighbourhood about forming a local environmental group and got about 16 people to the first meeting.”

The group never looked back. For 20 years, Grassroots Albany has lead a remarkable array of local initiatives in the West Annex, enriching the urban forest and strengthening community bonds along the way.

Foremost among these is the annual native and local plant sale held each year at McConnell and Blazina’s home on Albany Avenue south of Dupont Street.

Now in its 16th year, the sale is a circle-the-calendar social event for the entire neighbourhood. For native plant aficionados and newbies alike, it is an opportunity to buy plants and get advice from Grassroots volunteers who staff the sale. All are local gardeners with expertise in what works in the local West Annex microclimate, and from whose gardens most of the plant sales have come. Native plants, shrubs and trees have always been the emphasis of the sale: plants that have evolved here, have adapted to the local climate, soils, and rainfall, and which sustain local insects, birds, and other wildlife.

Plants from Grassroots' sale | click to enlarge

From the proceeds of the plant sale, Grassroots funds a myriad of local environmental initiatives.

Only three years after Grassroots was established, it undertook an unprecedented yard-by-yard tree inventory and study into the natural history of trees of the Albany-Howland neighbourhood. Armed with the information gathered in that study, Grassroots spearheaded countless planting campaigns over the years, from front yard tree planting in partnership with the City of Toronto Forestry Department to last fall’s free native tree giveaway, which Grassroots funded in conjunction with a grant from the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation.  Grassroots Albany planted over 40 new native trees in local backyards as a result of this initiative alone.

Delivering free tree to Albany Avenue back yard

In 2004, Grassroots once again financed an inventory of the local urban forest. The results, reported in Return to the Forest–The Albany Neighbourhood 12 Years Later were gratifying. While trees were declining elsewhere in the city, the 2004 report showed that the community planting projects had significantly increased the number and diversity of neighbourhood trees.

Bring back the toads | click to enlarge

Plants and trees are just one facet of Grassroots’ activities.  Earlier this decade Grassroots offered tadpoles for distribution to local back-yard ponds to help re-establish the toad population once indigenous to the neighbourhood.

St. Alban’s Square is graced each summer with one of Grassroots’ most famous initiatives–the spectacular display of Explorer roses stretching the entire length of the park from Howland to Albany Avenue on the north side–known as Jacobs’ Ladder. Few of the rose walk’s many admirers realize this living tribute to neighbour and urban thinker Jane Jacobs was entirely funded and planted by Grassroots, and maintained by neighbourhood volunteers organized by Grassroots.

Jacobs' Ladder, the rose walk planted by Grassroots Albany in honour of neighbour Jane Jacobs

The rose walk stretches the entire length of St. Alban's Square | click to enlarge

The rose walk is but one of the many projects Grassroots has undertaken in St. Alban’s Square, a down-on-its-luck park sliding towards dereliction when Grassroots adopted it 20 years ago. The vibrancy this verdant space enjoys today is owed entirely to Grassroots’ tireless work over the last two decades, including in the area of advocacy for the West Annex’s most important public space.

When St. Alban’s Square was threatened in 2004 by Royal St. George’s College‘s proposal to “assume maintenance” of the park and turn it into their exclusive playground for morning recess, lunches, and after school activities, then Councillor Olivia Chow turned to Grassroots to gauge the community response: a resounding thumbs down.

Again in 2008, Grassroots helped the West Annex stand up to the Annex Residents’ Association Working Group’s plan to turn St. Alban’s into the dumping ground for the Annex’s off-leash dog problem.

In 20 years, employing her great personal charm, warmth, and passion, McConnell converted an entire neighbourhood to the local and sustainable causes long before they became fashionable, and helped foster a vibrant, active, and united community. The West Annex thanks her.

Amanda McConnell, far left, at a tree planting in St. Alban's Square

St. Alban’s Square: a historical primer

In Heritage & History on May 22, 2008 at 5:21 PM


By Jane Beecroft | In about 1885, a plan of subdivision was advertised which would convert part of the farmlands of Colonel Joseph Wells into a six-block residential neighbourhood, stretching from Bloor to Wells Avenue, between Brunswick and Bathurst Streets.

St. Alban’s Park.1885 plan of subdivision | Click to enlarge and see the original lozenge-shaped park

As the entire upper central block, between Barton and Wells, Howland and Albany had already been sold to the Toronto Diocese of the Anglican Church for the construction of the first cathedral of Toronto, to be named for St. Alban the Martyr, the surrounding subdivision was named “St. Alban’s Park”.

As the Cathedral was built, it was set apart from the other blocks along its south side by a lozenge-shaped park encircled by Barton (then named Lowther) on all sides.  The intention was to provide a beautiful southern exposure of the cathedral’s architecture since the east, west and northern sides already benefited from the gardens and grounds surrounding the cathedral on those three sides.

St. Alban’s Cathedral ran into financial problems and its cathedral status was cancelled before the building was finished, demoting it to local parish church status in 1936.  The gardens and playing fields to the north of the cathedral and its other buildings were sold off.

St. Alban’s Square in 1913, courtesy of City of Toronto Archives | Click to enlarge

At the same time, the unfinished but then already beautiful cathedral architecture still merited an appropriate setting.   An arrangement was stuck between the Anglican Synod and the parish and the City of Toronto to enlarge and preserve the parkland by transferring it to the City of Toronto in return for closing the street which ran between the park and the cathedral’s south façade.  This had the effect of retaining a garden-like setting for the cathedral’s architecture and for parish activities, in what is properly understood as a “sitting out” park.  The parishioners petitioned the City, and the parkland was formally named St. Alban’s Square.

St. Alban’s the Martyr Cathedral with Jacobs’ Ladder rose walk in the foreground, planted by Grassroots Albany in honour of neighbour Jane Jacobs

In about 1990, local residents lead by the environmental group Grassroots Albany undertook a long-term project for the beautification of the parkland, some of which was to honour local resident and park user Jane Jacobs.  A magnificent rose walk was planted along the wrought iron fence that defined the northern boundary of the park, and native species of plants and shrubs were attractively set out in beds around the park.

In 2000, local residents successfully fought to prevent the conversion of the park into playing fields for the private boys school Royal St. George’s College.  In 2008, residents successfully battled again to prevent the partition of the park for the  imposition of an off-leash dog run.

St. Alban’s Square is part of a rich and important history and has a major role to play in part of a Toronto notoriously deficient in parkland. It should retain its role as a “sitting out” park and not be converted into a sandbox park, playing field, drug centre, or bathroom for street people or dogs.



Related articles:

The Cathedral of St. Alban the Martyr, 100 Howland Avenue

Local heroes Grassroots Albany celebrate 20th anniversary

Sibelius Square: history and official reopening