Sunday, October 01, 2006

Chapter 6: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this here.

In chapter six of his book, Joe Fiorito explores how the native culture sees the city of Toronto. He visits some homeless natives living in a local Toronto park, a local native stonecarver and native tourists. All seemed to like Toronto's character for different reasons. But Fiorito doesn't, for obvious reasons, tell the story of how a native of two hundred years ago see Toronto.

So this particular chapter got me thinking: "What would the natives of two hundred years ago shaking the hand of the first European, say about what they see North America as today?"

Why 'North America' and not just Toronto or some other section?

North America has developed quite similarly over the years. Cities and other major population centres developed around stratigic military and trade points. For example, New York City developed on the Island of Manhatten at the strategic inland entrance of the Hudson River at the Atlantic Ocean. Toronto and Montreal grew from the fact they are major inland trading points of commerce.

But the question is, would the all native from two hundred years ago approve of what they would see today? Probably not. In the Toronto area, and this also works for other cities like New York and Los Angeles, the native would be appalled at the sprawl of cookie cutter houses spreading for as far as the eye can see.

It has been said that some of Canada's best farm land can be seen from the CN Tower. From the CN Tower, if you click on the link, you will see nothing but street after street of buildings. Sure the downtown of Toronto works with the commercial skyscrapers and condiminium towers. But if you look northward, single, semi detached residential units appear. To believe that some of the world's, never mind Canada's, best richest farm soil exists under these houses is despictable.

What should have happenned, the native might think, is the downtown should have grown as it has. The rest of it should have been either left untouched with treed lots, while the rest should have been developed as farm land to sustain the cities.

Transit of course would be a must. Mass transit terms of subways within the downtown built up areas would be a must. Single family cars would not be an option. This would keep the pollution and the congestion on the roads down. Where subways and trains (i.e. VIA Trains) could not be used due to low demand, buses would suffice.

A getaway to country for a weekend of camping? Sure, a rental electric car would be in order. These cars would be available for rental to people wishing to leave the cities and head to the rural areas.

The road alignment of Toronto would have to change as well. Instead of windy turny roads that you find in the suburbs, the grid pattern of downtown Toronto would work. However, none of the "lets just curve this road this way to miss a building" would be accepted. Hence the circles and curves in downtown Toronto would be there.

GO Transit would also be forced to put in a stations at major centres. For example, why is there not a GO Transit station at Queen & Dufferin Streets in Toronto? The Queen Street and King Street street cars are easily accessible from the train line. A slight re-alignment of the train line would provide connections with the smaller rural centres to the north and major population centres in the city and straighten out the original grid pattern the city was planned on.

This is a perfect example of "lets just curve this road this way to miss something" attitude that occurred. The train line was there before the roads. So the road builders, at the time, re-routed Dufferin street around the train line. However, as anyone who has been down there lately, congestion occurs on Queen Street. So by removing a building or two, Dufferin Street is straightened out and congestion at Queen & Dufferin is significantly reduced because transportation routes are not forced onto Queen Street in order to continue south on Dufferin for any reason. As well, the major train line is maintained and enhanced with transit connections that make sense.

Is what there is today salvagable in the eyes of the native? Sure, but there has to be some willpower on behalf of both the people and ALL the governments. Transit expansion needs to become a priority as well as the densification of condos and apartments along the major transit lines. The current agricultural farmland needs to be maintained and enhanced in every possible way. Reforestation will also occur in the areas currently sprawled out upon in the suburbs where current "cookie cutter housing" is located. By creating and implementing a plan like this, it will help to solve the effects of smog and global warming currently being felt in Toronto and other North American cities.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Chapter 5: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this here.

In chapter 5 Joe Fiorito investigates the theme of how Toronto is more like a town and not a thriving metropolis like New York City. I personally think Toronto is more made up of a bunch of little towns that just happenned to gradually grow. These small little towns eventually stopped growing, geographically, because they grew into each other. Eventually regions started up and these towns got lumped in with the main downtown area of Toronto. After a while, and the Mike Harris government, this particular region was truned into the city of Toronto as we know it today. But this city of Toronto is more of a governance requirement than a day to day living requirement.

In terms of character, each particular part of the city is different. North York (centred by the intersection of Yonge Street & Sheppard Avenue) is more of a suburban community to Downtown Toronto. Mel Lastman, the former Mayor of North York, wanted to create a second downtown for Toronto by building a commercial area along Sheppard Avenue East with the creation of a subway (Sheppard Avenue line). Toronto proper consists of the downtown core where people from the surrounding towns and cities tend to come and work during weekdays. Hence the downtown is centred by Union Station where a high number of those people coming into the downtown go through either on the subway (TTC) or Commuter Train (GO Transit). Within the city there are several ethnic groups including the Italians (little Italy) and Chinese (Chinatown).

Aurora, about a thirty to forty five minute drive north of the city is also a commuter town for those heading to Toronto jobs. Although, this is changing with the growth of the big business offices (World headquarters for Magna Autoparts and Canadian Headquarters for State Farm Insurance) and industries coming to town.

Like the Toronto example from Fiorito's book, Aurora's fire stations are easily accessible to the people. The firefighters welcome school children to either visit the fire stations or have a fire truck visit them in order to learn about fire safety. Having children and others get to know the local firefighters is especially important to fire safety. This is especially so considering in the event of a fire, chidlren are more likely to run away from a firefighter dressed in full breathing geer. Who wouldn't be afraid of a firefighter coming through the smoke looking strange and making weird breathing noises that sounds like Darth Vader? So children, at least at the Aurora fire station, get to see a firefighter in full breathing apparatus. These same firefighters are seen at local events around town both with and without the fire truck.

Local churches are also favourite places for people in Aurora to congregate. Just look at tonight at Aurora United Church where a group of all ages got together and organized an "evening of Contemporary Christian music". In the future there will be sales and other events that the community can come and enjoy. These events also help the local community as well with donations to the food bank and the local Women's Centre to name just two. I consider Aurora to be a great community of outreach both from the religious perspective (as evidenced by the church) and from a community group perspective (just ask the Optimist, Lions and Scouts organizations).

Within Aurora there is even that small town feel of a traditional downtown along Yonge Street (at Wellington Street). This small town feeling even extends to being able to go about my daily business and run into people I know. Every single person I meet is usually concerned with how I am doing and how my family is doing. That small town perspective even comes when the ups and downs of life occur considering cards, flowers and food are usually sent for weddings and funerals.

The above is why Aurora is "my kind of town."

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Chapter 4: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this here.

In chapter 4, Joe Fiorito explores the world of both drugs and sex in Toronto. He meets up with a Toronto hooker named Anita. He follows her over time to hear why she "turns tricks" for (her crack addiction). He even gets a call from Anita, from jail, after a while. He goes to the jail house and talks to her about how she ended up in the 'big house'. Joe basically documents the life of a hooker that most people in Toronto wouldn't know about but might find interesting.

Basically, Fiorito tells is a good journalist. Fiorito, notes in Chapter 3, that:

"If you get up in the morning and you make it to the end of the day, that's a story - how you got up, went off to work and came back home again is the story of what life is like here." (Fiorito 33).

Fiorito takes a look at exactly this in terms of Anita's life. She goes out and turns tricks all day in order to get her crack fix. Then she sleeps and then starts the thing all over again. However, the story changes once she is busted for prostitution and heads to jail. Also, she picks up a boyfriend and heads off to cottage country in order to live with him. But she eventually runs away from him and starts a new life in Toronto. She eventually breaks her crack habit and is now a convenience store cashier outside of Toronto. The story ends there as Fiorito has now lost contact with Anita.

Personal connection to Anita? I haven't thought of anything yet.....

But I guess I made a connection with what I have read earlier in Fiorito's own book (see quote above) and a story from a later chapter (Anita's story). I guess, I personally made the connection.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Chapter 3: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this here.

In Chapter 3, Joe Fiorito explores this quote:

Human beings have been my maps.

Fiorito explores how immigrants and visitors to Toronto rely on the those of us who have lived in and around the city for directions. People who are brand new to Toronto, and for that fact any other major city, are pretty easy to spot. These are the people who seem to wander around the downtown areas totally awstruck by the buildings.

I reflected on this thought when thinking of my past observances of new people to major North American Cities that I have lived in (e.g. Toronto, Ottawa, New York City, etc.). Those of us who have lived in and around the city for years don't take notice of the buildings anymore. The buildings, to us, just exist and the aura of these buildings has become tarnished to us. These buildings, in other words, have become familiar to us.

Wheras the new people to the city stop on the sidewalks totally awstruck at buildings like the CN Tower and Rogers Centre in Toronto, or the Empire State Building or the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. Quite often these new people cause pedestrian traffic problems on the sidewalk as they stand their gawking at the buildings.

The "regulars" of the cities are more interested in getting to where ever they are going whether it be work, the bar or home. However, these regulars make the first impressions on the visitors and other new people to the city. Toronto has become known for, and I also noticed this in New York City as well, for being friendly to newcomers. The friendliness I'm noting stems from the easyness it is to request directions from the regulars. An example might be: "Where can I find a good family restaurant?" Another example might be: "where is the Eaton Centre/Brooklyn Bridge?" These questions in either Toronto or New York City are easily answered by most people who might be walking by on the sidewalk. These directions are usually accompanied by a friendly tone of voice, a smile and/or a welcome to town! Tourists and other newcomers are more likely to return to the city after being greeted friendly like this.

Governments and others should be looking at how to make services for necomers and/or tourists more visible and easily accessible. Allowing these people to come to the town/city and have a good time may mean these same people may make a return visit. Fiorito and his people are right in this particular chapter: A way to see if a town/city is worth anything in terms of how easy is to get around is to forget the city map in the hotel room/home and go out and explore the city by using human beings as your maps.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

On the way home....

My friend James and I were on the way home from a day out in Waterloo, Ontario, after seeing a Wilfrid Laurier vs Western Ontario university football game this evening. It was a good evening to be going home as the roads were dry and traffic was steady but moving.

We were on had been driving along Highway 401 in James' car heading back to Toronto following a stop off at the McDonald's restaurant outside of the Kitchener-Waterloo area. We were full of greesy burgers and fries from this fine gourmet eating establishment (did I mention it took my server in her royal robes to 10 minutes to serve me a Big Mac, fries and fine fountain coke?) when a "bang" happenned on the passenger side of the car. We immediately pulled over about two kilometres on Highway 401 from Guelph Line near Campbellville, Ontario.

We had a hole in the back passengar side tire. James pulled the car up to the Guelph Line into parking lot near Mohawk Raceway so we could change the flat tire. Neither, James or I had ever changed a flat tire in our lives. But I figured, "hey, this can't be that hard". So James showed me where the jack and spare tire is in his trunk. I took a look under the car but I couldn't figure out if the jack went behind the wheel or in front of the wheel. I also knew I had to also take the hub cap off in order to remove the hubcap. But I didn't want to break the hub cap.

I asked James if he had CAA. He didn't but he did have road side assist as part of his warranty. So we called Toyota around seven p.m. and by seven thirty we had a fabulous tow truck driver stop by and have the flat off and the new one on. He even gave us the information of how far the spare tire is good far and the maximum speed we could go. For safety sake, we took Derry Road all the way back from Guelph Line to just the other side of Lester B. Pearson airport.

Once we got into the Toronto we headed for James' apartment. I headed to the subway from there. You would think that would be all, but that is only where the lull in the excitement occurs. I got safely along the Bloor Subway line to Yonge and all the way north on the Yonge Subway line to Finch Station.

Next, I boarded the VIVA Blue bus northbound bus at Finch Station. We must have waited five minutes before the driver got on the bus and started up. We travelled up six lane Yonge Street and, just north of Steeles Avenue, had to merge left from the curb lane into the middle lane due to cars parked in the curb lane. The bus driver stopped there and got off the bus quickly and ran around and looked at the driver side of the bus. This is somewhat unsual but I thought nothing of it. She then got back on and pulled the bus ahead and back into the curb lane just in front of the parked cars.

According to the bus driver of VIVA Bus 5212, we were sideswiped by a car who was in that lane. She said the driver of the car continued on his way. She claimed it was a hit and run. There were thirty passengars on this sixty foot articulated Van Hool bus and not one of us, except the driver, would admit to witnessesing anything unusual.

We waited about five minutes before two VIVA supervisors arrived in their two white cars. One car parked in front of the bus and the other in the back. One of the supervisors put on the orange and yellow striped vest and took a look at the bus with the driver.

Another VIVA Blue bus (Bus # 5222) pulled up and stopped in the middle lane. The other supervisor, not wearing a vest and dressed in black pants and black fleece jacket signalled for the driver to stop in the MIDDLE LANE! The VIVA supervisor then signalled for the passengars on the bus the bus that was in the accident (Bus # 5212) to disembark that one. Next, these passengars were told to walk between the bus involved in the accident and behind the supervisors car in order to board the new bus (Bus # 5222). This was taking place at between 10:00 P.M. and 10:30 P.M. on a dark and steady rain night on a major six lane arterial road just north of Toronto.

The new bus could have easily pulled in front of the supervisor's car in the curb lane and then boarded the passengers from the affected bus. For passenger safety this would have probably been preferrable. But apparently VIVA supervisors believe in passenger safety. The bus that the passengers were boarding in the middle lane (Bus # 5222) could have easily been hurt or killed if a car or truck had come up from behind that bus and rear ended it. There was less of a chance of people being hurt if Bus # 5222 had of simply pulled in next to the curb on Yonge Street. It would also been just like picking up from a regular bus stop instead of forcing people to step up onto the bus ( a difference of about an added foot in elevation) Having the new bus pulling over to the curb would have also meant that only one of the three lanes on Yonge Street would have been disrupted instead of having two lanes disrupted. But again, apparently the supervisors of VIVA don't believe in safety for their passengers.

Further north on Yonge in Oak Ridges at the intersection of Yonge Street and Old Colony Road the VIVA Blue bus (Bus # 5222) comes up to the intersection. As we arrive at the intersection the light changes from green to yellow to red. Any normal driver would prepare to stop at the red light. But three metres from the stop line, with not another car around, the bus driver doesn't brake and we continue right through the red light and the intersection.

To make matters worse, this same bus driver rides the white dotted line of the two northbound lanes as we continue northbound on Yonge Street between Bloomington Road and the construction area just south of Industrial Parkway South in Aurora. This bus is now taking up two lanes of traffic!

This morning I called into the York Region Transit (YRT) call centre to report my trip home on VIVA (the rapid transit division). The customer agent, Leslie, said she took down my story and said she would have the Operations Division look into it. She asked if I wanted to have someone from Operations call me back with a response to what occurred. I said probably the people investigating the incident would be the same two supervisors who directed unloaded us at Yonge Street just north of Steeles Avenue. I said to her I don't trust those operations supervisors because of their lack of safety conscience in this particular instance.

I then said I would report this incident to York Regional Police's Roadwatch program so that perhaps a police officer could invistiagate and possibly get the driver of bus 5222 that evening off the road. During my conversation I requested the plate number of bus #5222 and Leslie (the YRT customer service agent) said she didn't have that information.

So ununfortunately I could not fill in the licence plate number of that particular vehicle into York Region's Roadwatch Program's online complaint form when I filled it out today. But I do hope this will help VIVA take notice that customer's safety should be important. This is because, as the above examples show, neither the two supervisors or the second bus driver do and I find that unacceptable.

So all in all, I had a fun Saturday night!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

See Mom I'm not a Nerd!

I am nerdier than 9% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

I found this on another blog to see if I was nerdy or not. Apparently I'm not.

Besides, what is it with people posting these little quiz results on blogs anyway? Isn't it kind of dorky

Wait.... on second thought.... NO it is not nerdy :)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Reflections on 9/11

Today I reflect about where I was five years ago and how I felt when the World Trade Center was turned into the world's largest crypt.

I was a student at the University of Ottawa and had just started my graduation year (my last year of my program). I had just had my regular morning shower when my roommate said something had happened in New York. I didn't believe it. I saw a hole in the side of the first tower and was hearing that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I thought nothing of it as I left for work.

By nine in the morning I was already at the top of Thompson Residence at the University of Ottawa. I was faithfully performing my duties as a fridge rental representative of Coldex. Basically, I was delivering bar refrigerators to the students who were staying in that residence. The students just had to pay their fees and sign the contract. I had set up five appointments and was merely delivering the refrigerators one at a time while collecting the money and contracts as I went.

I had finished my second delivery when, waiting for the elevator, I heard loud yelling coming from within the lounge of the eighteenth floor of Thompson Residence. I walked into the lounge to see, on the television, both World Trade Center towers with plumes of smoke rising far above it. I was initially in shock at what was going on.

Later on as I thought about it, I consider myself to be a little naive for continuing my delivery of three more refrigerators in Thompson Residence. I thought later, "what was I doing in the next tallest building next to the Peace Tower of Parliament Hill?" The Peace Tower, the clock tower of the Centre Block of Canada's federal Parliament would be a major target in North America if the terrorist bastards had decided to attack both the United States and Canada. Of course nobody knew which country was a target back then.

I was a little worried that I might be a victim of a similar attack on Canada's Capital. Footnote to American readers: Ottawa is the capital of Canada. What would happen if an airplane or some other type of attack hit downtown Ottawa? Considering I was a mere ten minute walk from the House of Commons in Ottawa, I was a worried.

Later on as I watched the continuing news coverage, I felt proud as a Canadian. Eastern Canadian towns and cities like Halifax, St. John's, Cornerbrook, Gander and others were around two hundred and thirty planes that were either destined for the continental United States or further westward in Canada. The planes whose flights originated in Europe and were destined for the United States were orphaned. The United States had closed their airspace all together. These planes couldn't return to Europe as these planes did not have enough fuel to return from whence they came.

 There was a choice to be made. Canada could close its airspace and leave those on the North American bound planes parish as well, or Canada could accept those orphaned planes into its airspace and let the passengers and crew survive. It was not a simple task as many of the eastern airports were not built to accept that many planes that they did that day. I was proud that the federal, provincial and municipal officials and public got together in a time of need. I'm still proud today as United States Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, again thanked Canada for its help on September 11, 2001.

That day will mark a major day in history of my life and the world no doubt. Both the people of Canada and the United States pulled together that day to try and help their neighbours. That is why, in terms of North America, Canada and the United States should work together so that both countrys' people can live in peace and freedom both in terms of themselves and with each other. 9/11 tested each countrys' resolve of living with peace and freedom. Even five years later, this peace and freedom of each country's peoples continues to be tested.

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