Toronto seeks way to temporarily stop demolitions

7 Austin Place (Photo credit: Suzanne Long)
7 Austin Place (Photo credit: Suzanne Long)

The City of Toronto, or at least one of it’s councillors, Joe Mihevc, was publicly wondering in the Toronto Star about the need for a way to temporarily stop the demolition of historically important buildings after a developer from the melodiously named 1626829 Ontario Ltd all but demolished a heritage home in that city.

The property, 7 Austin Terrace, was designed by John Lyle, a fairly well known Canadian architect, for John Maclean, founder of  a little magazine called The Business Man’s. Said magazine has changed names more recently and is now known as Macleans. Both Heritage Toronto and the Community History Project (PDF) have weighed in on the issue and apparently as late as Sept. it wasn’t even known what the owner was going to do.

Closer to home, the Oak Bay council recently used its authority to temporarily stop the demolition of a house for 90 days (PDF, page 6) after there was concern around council about the potential heritage value of the property. In the end, the demolition permit was granted after a report to council by the Heritage Comm. determined that the house had little historical value.

Demolitions aren’t exactly a new problem here in Oak Bay, with its large stock of historic homes. Excluding University Woods just north of Camosun, the last major building boom in the municipality was the 1960s. Demolitions are a particular bugaboo of Coun. Cassidy, although the whole council usually shares his opinions.

One of the problems both Oak Bay and Toronto face is the lack of a complete heritage register, listing buildings historical and heritage values, whether or not they are officially designated or not.

Also fairly unique to Oak Bay is the use of differentially priced demolition vs deconstruction permits, in an attempt to make them more attractive to developers and home owners, although the $50-$200 price difference (PDF, page 31) is more about making a statement than actual financial incentive. Interestingly, moving a building is the same price as demolishing it, even though the stated purpose of the deferential pricing is reduction of material going to the landfill and climate change.

Of course, heritage designation against a property owners wishes can get quite expensive, as the City of Victoria discovered last year with the Rogers’ Chocolates interior, although hopefully there will be some compromise there.

Vancouver embraces open standards, data and open source

City of Vancouver emblem

A few days ago Vancouver was considering becoming an open city, embracing open source, open standards and open data. This week, that idea became a reality as Vancouver City Council adopted Andrea Reimer’s proposal.

What does this mean in the short term? Likely not much. We are in the middle of a recession, which means there is probably little software aquisition going on and thus little new open source software. As open standards usually follow the software that uses them, little is likely to change on that front either.

Which brings us to open data, where we will likely see the most immediate change. Much of the data that the City of Vancouver could release they have already collected, such as geospatial or demographic data. To get a good idea of the vast amount of information that becomes avaiable when a government takes the leap, take a look at this list about, the new US Federal government website dedicated to releasing as much data as possibly freely.

In my own little part of the world, we in the OpenStreetMap community here in Canada have been collaborating with the federal government’s Geobase project to get their data imported into OSM. Sadly, much of the information there is second class, as provinces and municipalities keep their latest and greatest to themselves.

Hopefully this decision, and the City of Toronto possibly following suit, will encourage more and more municipalities across Canada to realize that the value they will get from freeing their data and adhering to open standards far eclipses the lost revenue they might have gotten otherwise.

“Winning” at the expense of pedestrians

This week the biking community “won” a pair of battles to add bike infrastructure in a pair of cities. But what did they really win? First, let’s look at Toronto:

Photo Credit: Marc Lostracco/Torontoist
Jarvis Street - Photo Credit: Marc Lostracco/Torontoist

The 5-lane Jarvis Street is being redeveloped to make it more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Sadly, rather than do the right thing and remove two car lanes to both expand the sidewalk and add bike lanes, the council decided to remove only one lane, which means they forgo widening the sidewalks in favour of bike lanes.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Vancouver City Council went far beyond that. They actually took away space from pedestrians to give it to bikes. They are closing the eastern (northbound) sidewalk to make it bike-only, while southbound cyclists will have use of a car lane. This means all pedestrians will now have to use the western (southbound) side of the bridge. This image below explains it better:

Source: City of Vancouver page - click on image to view

And in Portland, a recent crash and general pedestrian and bicycle congestion issues on the Hawthorne Bridge has created a suggestion to do that bridge what they are planning on the Burrard Street Bridge, save that they would dedicate one sidewalk to each mode.

Let me very clear: These are not wins for bicyclists, the larger community or of sustainable transportation in the longer term. All they will do is pit cyclists against pedestrians while drivers laugh all the way to their hit and run. Streets must be designed to protect the most vulnerable users first. This means that pedestrians trump bikes everytime (and bikes trump cars…). This is why we have crosswalks with lights and curb bulge outs. This is why we widen sidewalks and have ramps to allow wheelchairs and strollers to pass easily.