Archive for the ‘Toronto’ category

Invade and Document

October 7, 2009

If you’ve ever been part of a hoard of architecture students trekking across Europe and you find yourself without a camera (mine had fallen down a gorge on the way to a remote villa  on Capri) you’re bound to notice some disturbing group behavior.

Firstly I/we/them don’t actually view the world with eyes but instead and almost exclusively with cameras. Perceptions are further warped by the constant re-adjustment of the position of the picture-taker, the components of the camera and the jockeying for  prime angle in prime light. Often If a loner is seen to be feverishly snapping away from somewhere which at first seems seems odd, the group will slowly migrate there in case anyone feels they’re missing the coveted exception-to-the-rule shot.

Without a camera the only choice you have is to watch the picture-takers. Nothing  else is left unobstructed by their presence and you certainly can’t be in the way of their shots.

You’ll also notice pretty quickly that humans do not qualify as relevant subject matter. Even the bland signs of in-habitation are avoided unless  part of the point of the architect (maybe to soften the monumentality of a housing project by Aldo Rossi).

It’s not so hard to understand why we architectural practitioners (and fans) demand such purity of the objects we photograph. We have seen pictures, plans and  sometimes even models of these places but when we experience them in the flesh it’s akin to finally seeing your favorite rock star in concert. Goose bumps.

There is no place for sloppy, unpredictable humans moving about and destroying the experience of a building.

Fine. But the whole taking-pictures-of-buildings business becomes absurd, not to mention rude and insensitive, when someone’s home is involved. I have seen people tackle bushes and stomp through gardens to get a more impressive shot of a house. Should privacy be completely obliterated just because you live in a famous building? Or in a not so famous building designed by a famous architect?

Even worse are the architectural/planning experiments where the jury is still out. In these places the photo-tourists are there to evaluate and ultimately judge your home. They don’t want to actually speak to you – your opinion is not relevant – and they certainly don’t want you in their pictures.

Such is the case for the Wychwood Barns artists’ residences. They’re only about a year old. They represent a novel idea for housing in Toronto and it’s certainly no stretch to call them experimental.

All of which brings me to the following. While walking my adorable dog around the barns this morning I spotted a hoard of youngish student-types  being toured around by two elders. A series of short lectures were followed by the the group moving en mass to another spot and ever closer to the private homes of the artists. My heart began to sink.

The residences are on the north side of the project on a residential street across from older houses with tall trees. The building itself consists of the remains of the TTC barns with the residences carved out of the old facade and a colonnade acting to shelter a row of front porches each with individual entrances.

By the time the invaders rounded the corner to the residences it was a free for all – students scurrying up and down the colonnade within inches of the artists’ doors studying details and of course, snapping pictures.

One resident emerged from his home, coffee in hand and in his pajamas (?) with a  look of shock and then embarrassment.

I didn’t see anyone trampling the tiny gardens the residents had planted in front of their homes but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Instead I approached the tall, bespectacled leader and his shorter accomplice with a her perfect blond hair-do.

He said yes to everything I said while the blond smiled smugly.

Yes, He was leading this tour of the Barns.Yes, he knew people lived here. Yes, they deserved their privacy and yes he would make sure his group stoped being disrespectful. He gave no instructions to his group though. Most of whom looked like they had been caught with hands in the cookie jar.

I lingered around until the whole group had rounded the corner and beyond the residences.

How long they were able to resist the itch invade and document, I’m not sure I want to know.



April 4, 2009


Fortunately not yet a trend, some agents are nonetheless attempting to fluff up the cache of their listings by headlining their adds with “By Appointment only”.

In other words, we wont be able to view these particular properties without first making an appointment. It’s possible that a very small minority of us may believe that we can  simply walk into any home that’s for sale without warning. Of course if there’s an open house we can do just that.

So why the headline? Are we supposed to believe that a home is more desirable simply because we have to make an appointment to get in and have a look? More prestigious? More exclusive? (Is it even possible for something to be more exclusive?)

This kind of attitude by Realtors to their buying public is offensive. It assumes we’re stupid enough to fall for this kind of used-car-salesman double-speak tactic.

In Toronto’s real estate world “by appointment only” is completely tautological, redundant and, in my opinion makes the listing agent and by extension the property seem ….
Well just plain stupid.

This week’s offender:  Linda Strutt., Sales Rep Royal LePage Johnston& Daniel Division.
From The Toronto Star, classifieds, March 28, 2009.

In defense of the offense. When selling my own home, there were (very occasionally) times when I would spot someone poking around the backyard. There were a couple of folks who thought they could knock on the door and come right in for a viewing. One who didn’t even knock. *Agent Zero said this was to be expected. **The Goddess of Real Estate did something magical and this sort of thing stopped happening. Still doesn’t excuse the silly headline though.

*Agent Zero was my first agent whose utter incompetence and irrational behavior contributed to my home languishing on the market for months.
**The Goddess of Real Estate took over from agent Zero and sold the home in 5 days.

I Spy With My Little Radar

June 3, 2006

dupontsignED2.JPGI've been driving along Dupont street for years. Its a street rife with danger especially at some of the more notorious intersections like Dufferin, Bathurst or Spadina where it can be a very tricky manoeuvre if you're travelling north and want to turn left onto Dupont.

Cars emerge unseen, hurtling southbound through the intersections from under the CP railway bridges.Then there are the drivers who insist on bombing around the S curve right before the Kendal Avenue intersection.

I used to live on Kendal, only a couple of houses south of Dupont, and I always imagined a driver who's timing was just a tiny bit off allowing his car to take its natural course and ending up in someone's front yard or worse, in our someone's living room. (In fact I'm pretty sure there have been just those types of accidents).

Not that I don't understand the thrills to be had on and around Dupont street. A little G-force on the S curve or the heady drop-and-recovery from under the CP bridges. Even the dreaded left turns can sometimes feel like a game of chicken – a welcome test of reflex and driving skill in the otherwise aopressively dull, crawling traffic of Toronto. We are most of us Formula One wannabes at heart. Aren't we?

Its curious. Almost daily I see a car pulled over by police on the bottom of Bathrust street. But on Dupont? In the ten years living at various locations a stone's throw from Dupont, I cannot remember ever seeing anyone pulled over by police for anything.

Dupont has always been the Wild West of driving. Lawless – drive at your own risk – caution; this street is not supervised by lifeguards.

You can see, then, how completely bizarre it was to see what I saw the other night. Under a yellow sign reading 'YOUR SPEED' was a seizure-inducing bright red LED flashing the numbers '51'.It wasn't me travelling at 51KM/hr in a 40 zone. I was going about 45. Must have been the guy in front of me.

hammer and sickle suhsED2.jpgHow Soviet. Do they think I don't know how fast my car is going? It wasn't a camera (we have, and have had, plenty of those in various forms) so its not like they were out to covertly stick me with a speeding ticket. No, this seemed to be something much darker.Like an animal trainer repeatedly reminding his beast of its commands until it finally becomes completely servile. I wondered if the City was doing the same thing – brainwashing us into following their orders of travelling at the speed limit. I know we have a left-leaning mayor, and that's fine with me. But this new speed-mind control seemed downright totalitarian.

I suppose I should mention that I get just a little paranoid on occasion. It usually passes quickly enough and did so that night. Once it had, I jumped in my car to test this new toy out. This was around 2:00 AM, mind you, and Dupont was all but deserted. I drove down the street doing a good 60KM/hr right past the new radar machine and…

Nothing. The sign stayed blank. And has ever since.

What's going on you ask? Well first of all, as it turns out, this is not a new device. It's been in place since September 2005 as a part of the City of Toronto's 'Watch Your Speed' program which is itself part of a much broader initiative 'We're all pedestrians' to make drivers more aware of pedestrian safety.There were even some awesome posters put up on sidewalk garbage bins and TTC shelters though it could be argued pedestrians were more likely to see those than drivers.

Watch Your Speed Program
Four speed display trailers are used throughout the city in neighbourhoods with a history of local speeding. A sign mounted on the trailer reminds motorists of the posted speed limit in the area while the radar unit measures the speed of approaching vehicles and displays this speed back to the motorist.

AT first glance this seems a good idea after all. Slow people down with these display trailers on busy, speedy streets, especially near intersections and crosswalks. But the Dupont display (east of Howland Avenue) can't be more than 80 meters from a crosswalk at Brunswick and that just doesn't give speeding drivers enough time to slow down.

Besides, since first noticing it, I've watched several cars speed right past me without so much as a burp from the display trailer. Must be busted.

Speaking of busted. Though clearly this program is only at the beta stage you have to wonder if the city just might be trying to save a little cash with this technology. Wouldn't it be more effective to post some actual cops on Dupont and nail these speeders? Police are expensive I guess.

Just to be clear. In reality I'm a pretty cautious driver and besides I often have my right honourable friend backseat driving beisde me. A shout of "Cyclist!" or "Pedestrian!" can be quite useful in suppressing my Formula One aspirations.

Pedestrian Safety Statistics

* Half of all traffic fatalities involve pedestrians.
* Pedestrian Fatalities in 2004: 28
* Pedestrian Fatalities in 2005: 12 (to August 31st)
* More than 2,300 pedestrians are injured every year in traffic collisions (Average: six people/day).

News release: September 2005.


Display Trailer photograph (modified) by Joe Clark

Hammer and Sickle mock up by su'hs with no other source information.