No more condos, please

In the spring of 2007, Toronto was ranked as one of the best places in Canada to buy real estate. A centre for scholarship, employment and tourism, more people are flocking to live here every year, but space is getting tight. Very tight.

Downtown Toronto is stretching to its breaking point with new condominium developments sprouting up like weeds. In the last few years some 17 000 units have been built. It seems like every week, another parking lot, old resturant or struggling corner store is scrapped for the sake of another shiny glass condo.

U of T’s campus is surrounded by developing real estate, the most recent example of which is on the north side of Bloor street where construction is set to begin on a high tower, replacing storefronts and restaurants. All these units may be necessary for our city’s growing population, but how much is too much?

The architecture of condominiums is generic, and is now clogging our skyline. Construction cranes and hard hats have filled our city and coupled with garish work sites and giant pits perforating the downtown core, they are quickly turning Toronto into a concrete jungle.

Pedestrians must navigate construction blocks and parking lots, clogging traffic. Tall, dominating towers create hideous shadows and often block out natural sunlight. Moreover, in erecting all these condos we are creating residential areas devoid of natural green spaces and backyards. However, there are more than just cosmetic criticisms of condominiums in Toronto. Increasingly, condo builders are responding to a newer, larger market. Once reserved for the rich, condos are coming down in price and are being built more cheaply. Often environmental sustainability suffers on this account. Rushed and inexpensive construction sites often do not incorporate green roofs, solar power, or energy saving tools as they would increase fees for tenants, making units less and less sellable.

While Toronto has a vested interest in building more housing, city landmarks and neighbourhood hang outs are often targets of construction. Toronto landmarks are at risk of being built over to create more housing. Even our beloved CN Tower competes for attention in the skies with the bevy of condos surrounding it. Toronto must limit the number of new developments in downtown Toronto to save its cultural integrity and pedestrian traffic. Condos might be classy and sophisticated, but only in small doses.

Girl Talk and Dan Deacon get rowdy

My toes are still aching from last Wednesday night. The overzealous crowd of hipsters, club urchins, and fresh-outta-Frosh-week party kids that populated the sold-out show showed no mercy in their fight to claw/elbow/stomp and otherwise propel their sweaty bodies closer to Pitchfork-darling Gregg Gillis (a.k.a. Girl Talk).

The Philly-based mash up DJ responded to his frenzied followers with a lush and generous set, looping together a collection of samples so massive and eclectic that it’s difficult to distinguish whether Gillis is a genius or just ADD-addled. Either way, the crowd ate up his blend of Dance Cave tunes and spaz-attack beats with eager energy.

An impromptu dance party epitomized the evening, with throngs of concertgoers helping each other climb onto the Phoenix’s stage to thrash around the shirtless DJ and his glowing laptop. Not even the predictable security cleanup that ensued—which almost led to the performer himself being carted offstage by a confused guard—could put a bump in the buzz, which culminated in a communal sing along to a sample of ‘70s band Pilot’s cheesy tune, “Magic.”

Though shorter and less rowdy than Girl Talk’s frenetic contribution, co-headliner Dan Deacon’s set of bizarrely endearing electro- absurdism was arguably the highlight of the night. Deacon, a portly guy with thinning hair and grandpa glasses, had scenesters and cool kids alike clamoring to rub shoulders with him as his distorted vocals scraped against a mix of pulsing beats and cheerful synthesized tunes. Unfortunately, conditions in the stiflingly overcrowded concert hall foiled Deacon’s attempts at orchestrating a friendly dance-off, the initiative quickly deteriorated into neartrampling chaos causing toes to get stomped on and glasses to be flung off of poor, nearsighted faces.

Opener White Williams channeled Joy Division in a pleasant but otherwise unremarkable set, providing a mellow backdrop for initial beers and washroom runs before the crowd got too territorial.

Metropass hits $109

The estimated 70 per cent of U of T students who rely on the TTC for daily transit are facing yet another fare hike, the eighth in 11 years. University students who buy discount metropasses from the UTSU offi ce face a hike from $87 to $96, an increase of 10 per cent. Those buying metropasses at regular prices will pay $109, up from $99.75.

UTSU and student unions at York, George Brown College and Ryerson, and the Canadian Federation of Students— Ontario, jointly condemned the fare hike in a Sept. 13 statement. The statement urged city council to keep transit affordable and called on the provincial government to “pay its fair share.”

The University of Toronto Students Union sells up to 12,000 discounted metropasses per month as part of the TTC’s Volume Incentive Program, according to UTSU VP external Dave Scrivener. The hike is supposed to make up for a projected $100 million shortfall in the TTC’s 2008 operating budget. At U of T alone, the hike should generate between $432,000 and $1,296,000 annually.

“It makes a pretty big difference for a commuter student,” said Scrivener of the $9 hike.

Scrivener noted that the increased cost of discount metropasses could limit the number of passes UTSU can afford to buy on behalf of students. UTSU orders its VIP metropasses in bulk, paying the TTC and then making the money back by selling the passes to students at cost. Scrivener warned that the “seed” money UTSU uses to run the program will likely not buy enough passes to meet student demand.

Jiwoong Choi, a second-year commerce student who commutes to the downtown campus, hadn’t heard of the upcoming hike, and wasn’t worried.

“Nine dollars isn’t really a signifi – cant amount,” he initially said about the increase.

Choi, a user of UTSU’s discount metropass program, then remarked that the small discount was a factor in his fi nances.

“It always helps out,” he said of the VIP metropass price, which, after the hike, will be only a dollar less than the metropass’s current regular price.

Dev Saxena blamed the city’s, and the TTC’s, fi nancial woes on provincial mismanagement and competition between cities for funding. He said that even as transit becomes a less attractive option for him, it’s still the only choice.

“It’s inconvenient,” he said. “They’ve definitely got the monopoly on public transit. The alternative is taxis, which are substantially more expensive.”

Asked if student unions play an important role in the price of transit, the fourth-year Poli Sci and Economics major was blunt: “No.”

The TTC’s announcement came hot on the heels of news of service cuts city-wide, with community centres, libraries, public pools, and other services running on severely reduced hours to cope with a budget shortfall. Among these cuts was a $26.6 million reduction in TTC funding.

Toronto mayor David Miller said the cuts were necessary unless city council agrees to pass two proposed taxes at an Oct. 22 vote.

“City Council has an opportunity to put this city on a path to a sustainable future and we must seize it,” Mayor Miller said in a Sept. 13 statement.

The two taxes, on real estate sales and vehicle registration, are projected to make $350 million a year for the cash-strapped city. Some of the money raise by the vehicle registration tax was earmarked for transit.

Asked whether UTSU had a position on the Oct. 22 vote, Scrivener said that UTSU considers the city’s budget problems the result of provincial funding policies in place since Mike Harris’s Conservative government of 1995-2002. He added, however, that he had urged any city councillor he met with to approve the new taxes.

Self-publish or perish?

“When people first started thinking about what putting art and literature online might be like, they had a sort of sexier idea of the way that it would work,” says former Coach House senior editor and Wilfred Laurier communications professor Darren Wershler-Henry. “There’s a kind of gap between what the publishing world is doing and the kinds of content that people tend to get excited about.”

Wershler-Henry was speaking at a panel discussion, “Free-conomics: Free Culture and the Future of Creative Content,” on October 13 as part of BookNet Canada’s series analyzing intersections between book publishing and emerging technology. While publishing has been slower than other cultural industries to undergo a web-revolution, individuals are increasingly using avenues such as blogs to self-publish. The industry is starting to take notice.

Wershler-Henry notes that one reason the industry has yet to fully embrace the Internet as a medium is the stretched resources most small presses face: “everyone is so busy getting by doing what they’re doing, making books and publishing them and getting them out into the world, that the idea of trying to figure out how to do all this digital stuff on top of it has just seemed so daunting.”

He notes that several publishers are currently exploring different mixes of online and traditional formats. While he was at Coach House, the press began publishing books online, a move that even today could be considered ahead of the curve. But the industry has yet to reach any agreement on questions of what to sell and what to give away for free.

To help answer some of those questions, publishers are looking to other cultural industries that have embraced online media. The other speaker at the panel on Thursday, Gregg Taylor, is the founder of Decoder Ring Theatre, an independent theatre company that has moved to producing audio-dramas distributed as podcasts. Radio-dramas in the styles of the 1930s and ’40s aren’t what most commercial radio stations are looking for, yet Decoder Ring Theatre has been able to make it work through podcasts and voluntary listener- support donations on paypal. Taylor’s model could easily be applied to publishing poetry.

In much of Canadian publishing, says Taylor, the question at the heart of cultural creation remains “Would you do it if no one was paying you?” He argues that those who don’t answer to some extent, “Yes”, don’t have what it takes to become a success in the industry.

To those, Andrew Keen among them, who argue that online “amateur” culture is destroying the potential for “professional” culture (or culture that people can make a living at), Taylor and Wershler-Henry agree that publishers will continue to play the same role, as reliable filters of cultural product that consumers can turn to for expert advice. Online publishing may form a kind of “farm team” for the existing industry.

It’s an opinion directly contradicting Keen’s own. Where Wershler-Henry follows O’Reilly Media’s experiments in online publishing for potential models, Keen in his freshly-published Cult of the Amateur targets O’Reilly as Web 2.0’s main evangelizer.

Keen, founder of the now-defunct audiocafe. com, argues in his book that what is passed off as “democratized” online media is, in fact, “the noise of a hundred million bloggers all simultaneously talking about themselves.” Keen sees the end result for traditional media vastly different from that proposed by Taylor: “the free, user-generated content spawned and extolled by the Web 2.0 revolution is decimating the ranks of our cultural gatekeepers, as professional critics, journalists, editors, musicians, moviemakers, and other purveyors of expert information are being replaced.”

There’s an argument to be made for the other side though. According to Wershler- Henry, the number of amateur media analysts who provided evidence questioning the authenticity of documents in a 60 Minutes report tarnishing George W. Bush’s military record, is a counterargument to Keen’s self-described elitism.

SFSS seeks split

This spring, 78 per cent of Simon Fraser University students voted in a non-binding plebiscite to defederate from the Canadian Federation of Students-BC—at least, that’s what the Simon Fraser Student Society says.

SFSS issued a notice of withdrawal following that referendum, but CFS did not accept the plebiscite, which they claim was not conducted in accordance with the federation’s by-laws. However, the organizations have apparently agreed on a schedule to have the referendum by March 2008.

“The result of plebiscite means that students want to get out, and the SFSS is going ahead with the process under CFS by-laws,” said SFSS president Derrick Harder.

CFS alleged that the ballot was written in biased language.

Harder said that according to CFS bylaws, student societies are required to submit a petition signed by 10 per cent of the student body, after which a referendum providing enough time for student groups to respond with “yes” or “no” campaigns would be needed before a student union may quit the federation.

Harder said that he had not spoken to CFS President Amanda Aziz since March. “She is hard to get a hold of,” he said.

Harder said SFU students were dissatisfied with CFS-BC because it was “internally dysfunctional…ineffective as a lobby organization…and costing too much.”

Being federated with the CFS costs SFU students $400,000 a year, he explained, and said he believed that they were not getting any returns from it.

The current board of SFSS executives were elected after seven members of the last board were impeached in a court case involving a controversial fi ring.

SFSS has been part of CFS since 1981.

Power chords

The MTV-effect enveloped the entire world in its fearful web, leaving nothing untouched by its web of glittering glamour. Some may mourn it, others celebrate it, but witness what happened on Sept. 15, 2007 at the William Doo Auditorium.

Most of the audience was on their feet, but a certain section actually emerged from the audience and gathered on stage to join the musicians. They were inspired by the rendition of “Cholo Bangladesh,” (literally, “Let’s Go Bangladesh”) by a group dubbed the “York University Band” (for the lack of a real name) at the Bangladesh Flood Relief Concert, organized by the Bangladeshi Students’ Association as part of a response to the devastating floods, and aiming to raise money for aid. They resorted to local talent, namely Toronto rock bands with a Bangladeshi twist.

“Cholo Bangladesh” was originally written years ago by Cryptic Fate, a band from Dhaka’s young, rock-obsessed underground-music scene written to celebrate the country’s cricketing success, it quickly became an anthem for the concert- going teenage children of the higher income groups. The reaction here is a metaphor for the parallel growth of a twin underground-music culture that has sprung up recently among Bengali residents in Toronto.

Drama was flowing aplenty at the show even before the stage was invaded, with a series of auctions that brought in $1055: a miniature bat with prized signatures from several star cricketers from the Bangladesh national squad and one from the Sri Lankan team, and a pair of Jerseys actually worn during a World Cup Cricket match (which someone claimed had not been washed since), and a hotel-room for two which had nothing to do with cricket.

And then there was even some good music. A distorted, powerchord rendition of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” by Taxivision, which took everyone a few seconds to recognize, but was as interesting as you would expect from such a union of competing schools of pop-rock. Taxivision was impressive because they kept themselves comfortably rooted in Western pop music—their specialty.

Aubak (“Speechless”) landed back on solid ground after their opening instrumental based on the first line of the Bangladeshi national anthem, and produced a unique sound, fusing electric and acoustic guitars with the tabla, rounded off nicely by bass and classical vocal lines in the background.

For the most part, Bengali rock songs monopolized the show, and you really don’t know Bengali rock until you’ve seen it the way the rich punk kids do it. There was some of that too.

Better than the music is the cause. Some $7000 dollars made from the drive will go to a flood response initiative by the name of Prothom Alo, and whether or not in the end it makes a real difference to the annual cycle of devastation, it’s encouraging to see efforts where the disaster is merely a very distant reality

Holloway returns

Holloway brushed the red hair out of her eyes and smiled at me as we sat down for a chat in Robarts. As we discussed everything from the upcoming Ontario provincial elections to the proposed electoral reform, I could barely keep from drowning in charm over the Irish lilt in her voice. The Liberal incumbent, ready to talk business, explained how her change in political labels didn’t reflect a change of heart. Holloway was once upon a time a prominent Green Party national leader. She co-founded the Green Party’s Woman Caucus and ran in the 2004 federal elections as a parachute candidate against Liberal incumbent MP Derek Lee in Scarborough–Rouge River. So what prompted the switch to the Liberals?

Criticism of GPC management may have cost her much of her influence in the environmentalist party. In January 2005, Ms. Holloway was summarily suspended from the GPC Council after then-party-leader Jim Harris called an off-the-record in camera motion to remove her from the Federal Council. No reason was provided, said Holloway, who was denied a copy of the meeting’s minutes.

Nonetheless, her riding rallied around her, and in 2005 she was named the Green candidate for Toronto Centre, only to find her nomination cancelled by party organizers. She resigned her position at the GPC, along with several other prominent members, all of them citing mismanagement of the party. At our meeting, Holloway refused to discuss what her last few controversy- ridden years with the Greens had to do with her decision to turn Liberal. She did say that with Stephane Dion as party leader, differences between the grits and the Greens have narrowed.

“There are no ideological differences between the Green Party and the Liberal Party, no differences in values,” claimed Holloway. “They are both centrist, and care about social justice and quality of life. And now, both the electorate and mainstream politics have woken up to climate and environmental issues.”

“Green issues are local issues,” she said, “but the Green Party is predominantly a federal party, and the issues that are important are transit, energy, hydro, garbage, and these need to be addressed at the provincial and municipal level.

For now, transit is still in a crisis and coal-fired plants are operating in Ontario, including Canada’s largest CO2 dumper, the Nanticoke Generating Station. Perhaps Ms. Holloway’s convictions on the Liberal party’s green policies are more than just hot air.

Jane Goodall to youth: “Break through and change the world”

This past Saturday, world-renowned primatologist, environmentalist and UN Messenger of Peace, Dr. Jane Goodall, swung into Convocation Hall to give a lecture that commemorated the thirtieth anniversary of the Jane Goodall Institute. In conjunction with the U of T Centre for Environment, the discussion focused on a number of issues such as her revolutionary scientific research, the conservation of chimpanzee habitats, and the eradication of the bush meat trade, causes with which Goodall has long been associated. Her week long visit to Canada has shed light on another aspect of her work: encouraging the world, especially youth, to take action ensuring the world’s environmental survival.

The JGI’s youth environmental and humanitarian program, Roots and Shoots, strives to foster awareness and respect for all living things, promote understanding of all cultures and beliefs, and inspire young people to take action by working on one of the program’s projects. Some of these tasks may include reforestation, shoreline cleanup, care for animals, communitycentered development or simply picking up trash on the streets of Toronto. To date, Roots and Shoots has over 8000 groups in 100 countries, with over 10,500 youth participating in Canada alone.

Goodall said that she does not find it surprising that young people can feel desperate, hopeless and helpless. This is exactly why the program is so vital, she adds, because youth need to be told they can make a difference. They must figure out what they are passionate about, and then strive to make change in a positive way. “Young people, when informed and empowered, can break through and change the world.” Why is it that Goodall has such faith in young citizens? Looking over her life and work, it becomes clear that as a scientist and a human being, she has come full circle with her efforts. Goodall was once not dissimilar from youth today who desire to understand and protect the world.

Animals were of noticeable interest to Goodall from a very young age. By the time she was four, she began to observe and inquire into the scientific perplexities around her. When puzzled by the seemingly impossible task of a hen laying an egg, Goodall spent hours in a hen house until her inquiry was answered. A self-proclaimed odd child, she credits her mother as her greatest sponsor and inspiration.

As she entered into early adulthood, Goodall was determined to travel to Africa and pursue her childhood dream of working with animals, but like so many other young adults chasing a dream, the path was not clear and she needed others to help her along the way. After attending secretarial school, Goodall got a job with a London-based documentary film company. It seemed her dreams were being placed firmly on the back burner. But at the age of twenty-three, after only a short stint in the secretarial business, her years of preparation met opportunity when a friend invited her to go to Kenya.

This trip proved to be significant, for it was in Kenya that Goodall met the person that would become her mentor, Dr. Louis Leakey. Upon meeting Goodall, the already-established paleontologist and anthropologist was immediately impressed by her knowledge, and soon asked her to accompany him and his wife on a fossil-hunting expedition in Olduvai Gorge.

Although Goodall was aware of the importance of her work with Dr. Leakey, she still had a strong yearning to work with wild animals. She turned down an offer to continue her work with fossils at the Nairobi Museum because, as she put it, working at the museum or becoming a palaeontologist “had to do with dead animals. And I still wanted to work with living animals. My childhood dream was as strong as ever: somehow I must find a way to watch free, wild animals living their own, undisturbed lives.”

Dr. Leakey could not ignore his protégé’s intense desire, and he decided she was ready to take on her own research project with the chimpanzees at Gombe National Park on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania. However, Goodall faced a demoralizing roadblock when British authorities were reluctant to allow a young person, especially a woman, to go into the depths of Africa alone. Refusing to let her daughter’s dreams be quashed, Goodall’s mother offered to accompany her, and the authorities soon acquiesced.

Although it took several months for the great apes to become accustomed to her, Goodall did not let her eagerness compromise her research. Through patience, she was able to assimilate herself into the animal community. What she found altered the way anthropologists perceive our species’ closest relative. She discovered that these primates make tools, eat meat, have distinct personalities, and engage in warfare. It soon became clear how alike humans and chimpanzees are. “I think I understand people better from working with chimps, and they drive you into concern for people,” she says.

With the founding of the Jane Goodall Institute in 1977, Goodall began to make waves beyond the scientific world, into the humanitarian one. Soon, her lifelong love of nature had developed into a world-wide endeavour.

Perhaps Goodall trusts the world’s youth because she knows first-hand that one person can overcome life’s barricades and change the minds and actions of others. She sees her young self in the children, adolescents and young adults that she continuously inspires to contribute.

In a climate that seems to be plagued with ignorance, fear and thus stagnation, Goodall remains positive about the resolve of humanity. “We have at last begun to understand and face up to the problems that threaten us and the survival of life on Earth as we know it. Surely, then, we can use our problem-solving abilities, our brains, and, joining hands around the world, find ways to live that are in harmony with nature.”