New University of Toronto president Meric Gertler wasted little time expressing the university’s dissatisfaction with provincial levels of funding for post-secondary education, citing funding pressures as a key challenge for the university in his installation address. The Varsity has recently highlighted the alarming growth of deferred maintenance at U of T, as well as the interaction of provincial funding structures and donor priorities with what gets built and fixed at the university. Despite the constant talk of funding levels and priorities, questions around deferred maintenance are still rarely discussed.For many students, the first of these questions will be: What is deferred maintenance? Deferred maintenance occurs when the university spends less on maintaining its buildings in a given year than it thinks it should. The Facilities & Services department monitors how much upkeep has been delayed until future years in this manner, and their reports make alarming reading.As of 2012, the university has some $484 million in deferred maintenance. If U of T were to decide to do all that work today, it would cost them one quarter of the university’s endowment. Amazingly, that’s not the alarming part of the problem; even if U of T were to spend that money catching up on maintenance this year, we would still have significant levels of maintenance necessary next year.It is not difficult to see how the university has arrived at this point, and U of T’s administration is not doing anything that other large Canadian institutions have not done. Every year, U of T has to spend more than it earns — something that it cannot do. Many public institutions — including the ttc, school boards, and the provincial government itself — face this yearly dilemma. The province makes ends meet primarily by incurring debt, but other institutions often make up the funding gap by deferring spending on maintenance. If U of T were to defer other expenses — such as salaries, heating, or financial aid — people would notice. However, the university can easily get by unnoticed without spending millions on removing the asbestos from Sidney Smith, or other projects that are advisable in the long term but not immediately necessary.It is important to note that deferred maintenance does not pose any immediate danger to the people using these buildings. Facilities & Services monitors the university’s infrastructure, and urgent repairs are carried out before they become a hazard. The problem, however, is that while the asbestos in Sid Smith can be safely contained for now, it will eventually have to go. The same is true for every job that can, for the time being, be safely put off until next year. Deferring maintenance also provides short-term savings at the expense of long-term costs, since labour, material, and evaluation costs increase every year.Until 2008, U of T was slowly improving the situation; from 2005–2008, the amount of deferred maintenance decreased from about $300 million to less than $200 million, as U of T actually spent more on maintenance than the annual requirement. Since 2008, however, the trend has reversed. Both the rate of increase and the amount of deferred maintenance are now growing every year. Even though U of T’s contribution to maintenance has actually increased steadily since 2008, provincial funding has been declining, and total funding is not keeping pace with need.This problem of ever-increasing deferred maintenance is compounded by the fact that donors and politicians alike want to fund exciting new projects, particularly innovative or glamorous new buildings. By going along with these plans U of T maximizes the total amount of grant and donation money it receives, and continues to grow its infrastructure and enhance its reputation. All of these are positive developments, and they often lead to tangible benefits for students. The downside is that the university can’t quite afford to maintain the buildings it already has. While some donations fund renovations, which include maintenance or revival funding, new building is almost always part of the deal, leading to even more maintenance cost as those buildings age.Administrators have argued that U of T can neither tell donors what to fund nor change the government’s mind, and that it has to take advantage of these opportunities or risk falling behind its global competitors. This argument ignores the reality that, eventually, deferred maintenance will catch up with us. The university can devote more money to innovation and growth today by deferring maintenance spending. By doing so, however, administrators ensure that at some point in the future, U of T will have less to spend less on these goals as it is forced to divert funds to urgent up-keep spending.Allowing donors and capricious provincial grants to set the university’s agenda for growth also puts decision-making in the wrong hands. The university certainly benefits from exciting new buildings, but it needs money for maintenance, as well as more classrooms, residences, and student space. We expect that the provincial government will spend money where it is needed, whether it is glamorous or not. The university and its students — who donors always express a willingness to listen to — must ask that donors provide money for what faculty and students are really asking for, rather than what benefits their reputations or desires for legacy projects. Gertler is a world-renowed urban geographer, and we hope that his academic background will inform a more comprehensive and thoughtful plan for the university’s development.The Goldring family’s support for the Goldring Student Centre is an excellent example of donor funding for student space. This kind of support is very rare, and has been totally absent from the Student Commons fundraising process, which places the whole burden of funding on students.The question of deferred maintenance is a question of leadership. The university is sabotaging its long-term growth to further its short-term growth. By incurring an enormous and growing amount of deferred maintenance, and by allowing donors and grants to set a haphazard course for growth, we are undermining the university’s future. University and provincial leaders are taking credit for the university’s current strength and growth, while ensuring a weaker future.
U of T building beyond its means
University lacks infrastructure roadmap
$484 million needed in building repairs
Maintenance deferral could cost U of T much more in long term
Brad Evoy stepped out of the office to get lunch on August 1, 2012. When he got back, he found that part of the ceiling in the main lobby of the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) building on Bancroft Avenue had fallen in.“We weren’t expecting it — no one had noticed there was an issue with the ceiling at the time, from our side or the university’s,” explained Evoy, the internal commissioner for the GSU.There are over a hundred buildings on U of T’s three campuses, and many are in need of significant maintenance and renovation work. The 2012 Deferred Maintenance report estimated the university’s total deferred maintenance liability at $484 million. The report also estimated that U of T must spend $19 million a year to maintain the current conditions of its buildings. Last year, the Ontario government provided $3.2 million through its Facilities Renewal Program (FRP). in a recent interview with The Varsity.Brad Duguid, minister of training, colleges, and universities, said that the province has funded universities at record levels since the Liberals took power in 2003. “Nobody can suggest for a second that this government hasn’t been there for the post-secondary education system when it comes to capital funding. I think we’ve got very significant results out of the investments that we’re making in post-secondary education.”
Why defer maintenance?Ontario Confederation of University Associations (OCUFA), said that underfunding is affecting the quality of education and research at Ontario universities. “I think the bottom line is as these buildings age, and as they are not renewed, essentially everything that goes on in those buildings comes under threat.”OCUFA’s 2012 Ontario Budget Brief called on the provincial government to raise direct maintenance funding to Ontario universities via the FRP from the current level of $17 million a year to an annual $200 million by 2015–2016. It also cited estimates from the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) that suggest that maintaining facilities in their current condition would require $380 million in funding per year over the next decade.Duguid said those demands are unrealistic. “I think it’s a little fanciful to suggest that somehow the province can just wave a magic wand and come up with hundreds of billions of more dollars every year.”
Is there a funding problem?
Michael Kennedy, a media officer for U of T, said that the university acknowledges the funding pressures on the government. However, “the low level of funding for maintenance is an ongoing issue for the University and one that is regularly raised with the provincial government.”Naylor said that what matters is not necessarily the dollar value of deferred maintenance, but “do we have a lot of deferred maintenance that is reasonably pressing, and what are prudent and sensible responses to get it fixed to avoid a crisis that affects student, faculty, and staff, or avoids needless expenditure? The answer is, we have a lot, we know how big the level is, but for many years it has been almost impossible to get the province to engage in a serious discussion about putting in play the funds to fix those problems.”
The university’s deferred maintenance reports suggest FRP funding has fallen, from a high of $4.7 million in 2010 (see graph 3 above). Jelena Damjanovic, a media relations assistant at the university, indicated that FRP funding fell because “the entire program was reduced by the province. That is why the dollar share allocated to the University of Toronto fell.”Duguid said that’s not necessarily the case. “The funding levels haven’t changed. Different institutions will get different amounts every year, based on their project submissions. So that’s a number that will fluctuate a little over time, but the Facilities Renewal Program, it fluctuates just based on projects that are submitted.”The COU is an umbrella organization that links Ontario’s publicly funded universities and advocates on their behalf. COU president Bonnie Patterson is registered to lobby the provincial government on several subjects, including infrastructure, and the organization also retains Toronto firm Counsel Public Affairs Inc. The COU declined to make anyone available to comment for this story. Bob Lopinski, a principal at Counsel and a former senior official in the McGuinty government, said the firm does not discuss client matters publicly.Duguid maintained that the government has shown its commitment to funding the province’s universities. “In all, since 2003, we’ve invested $3.1 billion in capital funding, and one-third of that, a billion dollars, was specifically targeted to renewal, repair, and modernization across the sector. U of T got a good share of the funding for much of that capital funding,” he said.
Can it be fixed?
Duguid said there are currently no plans for more capital spending once that money runs out. “In the near future, as we’re working to balance our books in the province over the next number of years, there is no plan at this point for additional new capital dollars,” he said. However, he emphasized that the province has already made significant improvements in funding for Ontario’s post-secondary universities.U of T’s administration stressed that while funding pressures are a problem, the situation is under control. “While we are advocating for more funding, we are managing the situation,” said Damjanovic.Swail acknowledged that this year’s report is likely to see a further rise in total deferred maintenance, although he emphasized that the university has made significant progress in tackling the most urgent projects. According to Swail, the total amount of “priority one” deferred maintenance items have decreased steadily for the past seven years, from approximately $76 million to just over $18 million (see graph 5 below).
The province has announced $800 million in capital funding for the next three years, though the ministry could not provide an estimate of how much of that money would be put towards new projects, and how much to maintenance spending.
With new construction projects underway on all three campuses, Evoy said the university needs to concentrate on fixing its existing structures. “It’s extremely worrying; I think that as a university we should be trying to not just build outwards and seem impressive, but maintain the structures and capacities that we have,” he said.The next deferred maintenance report will be discussed at the Business Board meeting on January 27, 2014.
3D printers and the future of medicine
The exciting new technology opens up amazing possibilities for international access to health care
A revolution brought about by the advent of 3-D printing technology is beginning to emerge on the horizon. A brief excursion into the current state of affairs shows the countless ways in which 3D printers may have a revolutionary impact on our society. Through a clinical, industrial, or military lense, the 3-D printer has the potential to become a primary technology of the future. Two of the most transformative effects of this phenomenon, at least in my opinion, will be in the fields of medicine and industrial mass-production; in the former, a radical paradigm shift in the field of organ transplantation, and in the latter, a democratization of production.
Today, owing to the marvels of marrying tissue engineering and 3-D printing technology, we are able to construct skulls, kidneys, and even skin. Bone printing is in the works as well. The mere possibility of a world in which an ill person in need of a new organ wouldn’t have to worry about the availability of a suitable donor or the probability of a transplant rejection is fascinating. For instance, perfecting a 3-D-printed human kidney could drastically reduce the mortality rates associated with kidney failure. In addition, we can envisage a future in which cardiovascular disease is no longer a leading cause of death — provided, of course, that the field invests time and resources in engineering and perfecting a 3-D-printed human heart.Kevin Shakesheff, a professor of advanced drug delivery and tissue engineering at the University of Nottingham, reports: “I’m optimistic that people 100 years in the future will look back and see that now was when all those human structures started being created. If we work hard, and we’re lucky we could be transforming transplants so you never have to wait for a donation again.”Interestingly, one of the major challenges this field faces is not technological, but biological. Human organs exhibit a very distinct, biological complexity. Think of your liver, the powerhouse of a plethora of metabolic functions — can we mimic such biological complexity, with its state-of-the-art regulatory mechanisms? Put another way, can we reconstruct the ever-changing, dynamic character of such an organ? Let’s imagine that
we can. What’s next?According to Carlo Quinonez, a research scientist at Autodesk, another major challenge deals with the very insertion of the 3-D-printed organ. As the reconstructed organ will also be biologically alive and constantly changing (exactly like the blueprint organ from which it was derived), doctors might have only one chance to transplant it into the patient.Working with a team of interdisciplinary experts, professor Shakesheff’s current project aims at constructing a 3-D-printed liver. While the project is still in its infancy, and will undoubtedly face many difficulties along the way, it highlights a new orientation in medical research. This project, among others, has the potential to rise as a tour de force in the field of organ transplantation.Just like prosthetic arms, bionic eyes, or Google Glass, 3-D-printed organs also raise various ethical concerns. Who will have access to the benefits if they are ever perfected? Will their production be privatized; will they be a luxury only the elite can afford? Will such feats of bioengineering exacerbate the existing gap between the rich and the poor? Indeed, the questions are almost as endless as the possibilities. Omar Al Bitar studies neuroscience and sociology.
Ingenuity and endurance at UofTHacks’ marathon
Canada’s largest student hackathon brings creative coding, insomnia
Over 300 programmers camped out in the University of Toronto’s Bahen Centre for Information Technology on the September 28–29 weekend to participate in the Computer Science Student Union’s first-ever coding marathon, or “hackathon.” Participants, working either individually or as members of a team, were given 36 hours to design and code a unique project, and competed for prestigious prizes donated by the event’s sponsors.
Meanwhile, Ben Cohen, a veteran of four hackathons, says the biggest challenge is always staying focused for such a long time. His solution: “Work on something interesting that you like… If it’s interesting, you’ll want to come back.”His own project certainly qualifies. Ben attends the Rochester Institute of Technology, where one of the constituent colleges is the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. This means that about 10 per cent of the students on his campus are either deaf or hearing impaired. After three years at RIT, Ben has picked up the basics of American Sign Language (ASL), but many of his classmates haven’t. Although he has never worked with images before, he plans to create an app that will recognize and interpret finger spelling. The app will aid communication between the deaf community and the hearing community.
There is Automatic ROSI, an app that will automatically check ROSI for you after waitlists have been removed. There is Dynamit, which will merge your entire online social life into one feed. NeatChore, created by five U of T exchange students from Brazil, keeps track of roommates’ or housemates’ chores and awards points to the most helpful contributors. There is Audun and Kamyar’s project, Kinect, which wins the prize for “Most Innovative Hack.” The two are overjoyed and astonished; 36 hours before, they could never have predicted this.A panel of four judges determines the top three overall; individual sponsors have also offered specific category prizes. One of the most lauded projects is bananasundae.com, a website designed to help students find recipes quickly and easily based on the available ingredients. Type in the ingredients you have in your fridge, and Banana Sundae will promptly return a list of recipes that you can make with those ingredients — which can be sorted by popularity, price, and preparation time. The creators of the website, Will Lau and Vahe Khachikyan, walk away with no less than three separate prizes, including second place overall. Ben Cohen’s English to ASL translator places third, and the top prize goes to Cryptr, an app that will allow you to encrypt information or files and send them securely via email.
Each team shares one thing in common: they all have identified a specific need or a specific problem, and put all of their creativity, ingenuity, and perseverance towards creating a solution. It is not programming for the sake of programming. The projects of UofTHacks showcase the potential of code: the future of technology is in the hands of the hackers.
Threading our cultural roots
Reimagining Western Métis culture through couture and art
On the second floor of a tiny museum beside St. Patrick subway station, fabrics, cultures and stories are dancing the farandole together.The Textile Museum of Canada is a big-thinking little space, devoted to exploring the richness and diversity of culture through everyday materials and more specifically, fabric. TMC’s newest exhibit, Farandole: Perspectives on Western Canadian Métis Culture, features the work of two artists, Colette Balcaen and Pascal Jaouen, It blends tradition with contemporary ideas through re-invented haute couture and a sweeping art installation.
Balcaen is from French-speaking Manitoba and Jaouen from Brittany, France, the two visual artists were brought together by Alliance Française to create a collaborative exhibit. As Balcaen explained in a recent interview with The Varsity, this partnership involved a one-week residency in Manitoba, where they would both visit museums and speak with the Métis people living in the area: “It was very interesting to see the difference in the embroidery between the Native peoples [and the Métis],” she explained, “The different tribes among the Native peoples each have a specific kind of embroidery, whereas the Metis have a very European influence, with the flower embroidery being typical of them.” This mixing of Native and European cultures fascinated the two artists, and thus Farandole was conceived.The exhibit itself is divided into two halves: Jaouen’s line of revamped Métis fashion, and Balcaen’s art installation. The haute couture aspect of the display features five different outfits, each an incarnation of traditional Métis ensembles, with a distinctly modern touch. Synthetic materials, dyed fox-fur, and Celtic belt buckles make up the unconventional aspects of the piece, however, the real show-stopper is the hand-embroidered beadwork. Intricate patterns and flowers grace the clothing, echoing an old art form in a contemporary fashion.
The second part of the display is Balcaen’s art installation: a room filled with fabric hung from ceiling to floor, arranged in a maze-like pattern. On this fabric, there are many people outlined in yarn, with fainter silhouettes outlined in handwritten words, retelling myriad stories. “I use unravelled yarn because the essence of my artistic creation is that I see in a piece of fabric, a hidden text, a hidden story. Because the weaving in every fabric goes row by row, line by line, and you can just imagine the story that it would tell,” elaborates Balcaen.The stories told by Balcaen through her art were collected from 25 different people in Manitoba, telling the history of a family keepsake and how it is rooted in their culture. “What happened when they described the object, is they ended up telling me about their culture! They would say ‘Oh, my mother was Irish or my father was Scottish,’ so it’s the mixing of cultures through an object.” She describes the handwriting that forms the outlines of some of the figures as embroidery, embodying the reciprocal relationship between textile and writing. “It was also to force the people to go through the pathway I had made, who want to read these stories, to do these gestures, to be able to read,” said Balcaen. “So their movement, even if they’re just walking or stopping and trying to read, it slows them down, making my work interactive.”
What is striking about the installation is how much it plays on circular movement. Walking through, the light, transparent fabric cocoons you, forcing you to follow its curves as it meanders about the room, and to watch other people interact with the artwork as well. “I wanted people to feel like they were walking into and joining the dance,” explains Balcaen.The farandole is a traditional French community dance from the fourteenth century, involving a chain formed through linking hands and following the leader in a cyclical pattern. In a way, Farandole performs its namesake dance both through the movements of its visitors and by the full circle it creates by blending the original French and Métis roots together with stories from other cultures to culminate in a true mélange. Farandole is epitomized in one sentence, composed by Balcaen and embroidered on a dress in the exhibit — the linking thread between her installation and Jaouen’s sartorial creations: le continuum de nos histoires, de fil en aiguille trace un métissage des racines propre à notre identité. Farandole: Perspectives on Western Canadian Métis Culture runs at the Textile Museum of Canada until November 14, 2013.
University of Toronto Mississauga — A Guide
If you’re venturing to the scenic University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) campus this year, perhaps you are a new full-time UTM student, or a St. George kid taking an extra course offered from one of our 125 programs. Whatever the case, here’s a quick guide to help you navigate your way through the charming 225 acres of campus that we UTM students fondly call home.
Have classes in between Sheridan’s Davis campus and UTM, or just need a quick ride to St. George? If you’re a UTM student, your student card will allow you unlimited transport between all three locations for the Fall/Winter session. As a St. George or Scarborough student, you can buy bus tickets at the Info Booth in the Student Centre or at Hart House. To get around Mississauga in other ways, the bus station in front of the Kaneff Centre allows you to take the 110 South bus to the Clarkson Go Station or the 101 East bus to the Islington subway.
Eventually, the quiet, idyllic UTM scenery might not do it for you and your pals on a Friday night. Several bus stops away, you’ll find Square One — Mississauga’s largest mall, boasting over 100 stores — with Playdium, Chapters, and two movie theatres right next door. You can also visit a large assortment of fine dining establishments in this area. Other shopping centres near UTM include the Erin Mills Town Centre and South Common Mall, both of which are also easily accessible by bus.
Want to grab some grub before your next class, but not sure where to start? Head to the Temporary Food Court (TFC) in the William G. Davis building for a large variety of munchies — including Booster Juice and Tandoori Indian Cuisine. Not enough time for a sit-down? Snag a hot dog, among other foods, from Mike’s Dog House in front of the Communication, Culture, and Technology (CCT) building. The Instructional Centre (IC)’s Panini Fresco is great while waiting for the St. George shuttle just around the corner. If you’re sticking around for the evening, grab a few friends and head to the Blind Duck, UTM’s official pub, for some food and fun.
Get Your Groove On
Since its establishment in 2006, the Recreation, Athletic, and Wellness Centre (RAWC) has provided UTM students with a place to work out. Luckily, this facility is open to visiting St. George students as well. While the standard gym amenities are available (a track, a spacious pool, and various machines), many fitness classes are also offered for the less self-motivated, including zumba, kickboxing, and yoga. The meditation class is great for relieving stress and tension. If you’re into team play, look into joining a sports group like the Quidditch Team. For a slower pace, take a stroll on our campus trails and try to spot some deer.
Sweet Study Spots
When all you need is a quiet corner for tomorrow’s exam, the obvious solution would be the Hazel McCallion library, where you’ll find sofas, study carrels, and bookable group-study rooms. (Check out the bookshelves — they can move on their own; it’s magic!) If you want variety or can’t book a study room, various areas around the IC will provide adequate group space, like the front alcove or the second floor. Computer labs can be found across campus — such as those beside the Multimedia Studio Theatre (MiST) at the CCT Building and on the second floor of the IC.
Get your art on at UTM! Take a gander at the two art galleries found at the Kaneff Centre and the Community Culture and Technology (CCT) building. They host artwork from both UTM art students and professional artists from around the world. Various computer labs on campus host the latest multimedia programs, including Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. Creative art-related events throughout the year include the Annual Art Festival and plays shown at Theatre Erindale.
A Guide to Arts at U of T
Find the perfect outlet for your creative expression
Welcome to U of T, a school with a diversity of students who, in turn, have a broad range of interests. That may seem like a cookie-cutter statement, but the endless list of Arts and Culture (A&C) clubs and societies at our university certainly does the cliché some justice. The A&C clubs and events at U of T range from college-specific to campus-wide. Each college has at least two of the following: a dramatic society, a newspaper, or an Arts Review. This guide highlights just some of the many artsy clubs and groups at U of T, some college-related and some not. There are way too many groups to list them all here, so explore the clubs fairs and Ulife to find even more.
This student life hub houses the historic and cozy Hart House Theatre which stages both student and professional plays and musicals year-round. Hart House also holds classes in dance, photography, filmmaking and theatre.University of Toronto Arts CentreThe University of Toronto Art Centre (UTAC) and the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery are the campus’ two galleries, both of which offer a breadth of material — from artwork that dates to the Middle Ages to that of contemporary visual artists. Located in the centre of campus, it doesn’t hurt those seeking a quick foray into the art world between classes that these two galleries are closer than the AGO or the Gallery District.
Motion VicturesThis club began with a group of friends with a comedic bent, an improvisational tendency, and the good judgment to film and upload their performances to YouTube. Since its modest beginnings, Motion Victures has written and performed advertisements for the Bob — Vic’s comedy revue — and has created a feature film, all of which are on its YouTube account. (Email) Acta Victoriana
Vic’s annual literary journal, which has included the works of now-famous Canadians Margaret Atwood and Lester B. Pearson. (Website)
22 PagesA comic book club that allows students to team up with their peers to publish collaborative works. The club also gathers to discuss comic books and comic book culture, rendering it ideal for aspiring comic writers and artists. (Website | Email) The Art SocietyA forum for students engaging in artistic endeavors to meet, discuss their work, and share ideas. (Email)
Trinity College Literary InstituteAlso called “The Lit,” the Trinity College Literary Institute has been one of Trinity College’s most deeply-rooted traditions for nearly 200 years. Although it was originally a forum for serious debate surrounding current issues, it has now adopted a more satirical format — where the object of debate is often a joke and the objective is to make the audience laugh. (Email | Email) Trinity College Theological SocietyThe society meets weekly to discuss and debate theological and academic topics. The TCTS also hosts guest speakers and occasional outings. (Email)
Free Friday FilmsAs a reward for those tough weeks at school, enjoy a free film at the Innis Town Hall. The event, hosted by the Cinema Studies Student Union (CINSSU), features a diverse array of film styles — from French New Wave to
Hollywood blockbuster. (Email) Innis JamzA bi-monthly music session for both experienced and novice instrumentalists. Check out their Facebook page for more details.
Caribbean Film FestivalBesides the proverbial “sun and sand,” the Caribbean provides great fodder for documentaries and dramas. The festival is free and includes discussions with filmmakers, whose films shed light on Caribbean politics and culture. Although it is not formally a part of New College, the festival is sponsored by the Caribbean Studies Students Union (CARSSU), housed at the college, and the CINSSU. (Email) New FacesCheck out New Faces’ Facebook group for updates on events and auditions around campus.
St. Michael’s College
Kelly’s KornerHeld on the last Wednesday of every month by the St Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU), Kelly’s Korner is an open mic night that allows students to showcase their artistic talents. Finger-snapping might not be mandatory, but St. Mike’s monthly coffee house certainly warrants it. Annual MusicalA surefire way to make new friends and sing off midterm stress. Past shows include Sweeney Todd and Hairspray. Auditions begin just after frosh week.
UC ReviewA collection of students’ short fiction, poetry, and visual art. Aside from being a great forum to have creative work published, the Review also allows students to get involved in other capacities, such as graphic design and editorial positions. (Email) The Gargoyle The Gargoyle glides past the drudgery of report journalism in favour of a sometimes farcical, sometimes serious consideration of things similar to art, politics, and sharks. In order to facilitate a tasteful and truthful conversation of the world we all tenuously occupy, The Gargoyle is accepting of made-up words, meta-isms and smartassery, and averse to poor writing, meta-meta-isms and dolphins.” (Email)
Investigating the cultural implications of the sale of Mirvish Village
Honest Ed Mirvish’s eponymous temple of thrift has presided over Bloor and Bathurst for sixty five years. Bargains at this local icon are grudgingly loved by many (loaf of bread for a quarter? Holographic howling-wolf print for $7.99?), and indeed, many rely upon them. So the city was shocked in July when David Mirvish, son of Ed, announced that both his family’s stake in the store and the surrounding area was up for sale. The unconfirmed asking price was reported by the Toronto Star to be $100,000,000.Mirvish Village is so named because the late Ed’s investment in the neighborhood extended well past the gaudy dad-joke signs of Honest Ed’s (Ed attracts squirrels; at these prices, they think he’s nuts!) to encompass a small empire of seventy independent businesses and mixed-income residential units that has grown along Bathurst, Markham, and Lennox Streets.Opinions about the future of this area fly back and forth. The sale could present an unprecedented opportunity for radical change of the area — including modernization and socioeconomic shift. Conversely, many fear the possibility of radical change. For decades, this rich community has housed and provided for Toronto students and locals of diverse backgrounds and circumstances. It is insular as many villages are, and it is fighting for self preservation just as rural towns on our periphery distrust the creeping suburban sprawl.Owners of Mirvish Village shops have launched a petition to designate their three blocks a Heritage Conservation District similar to the nearby Harbord Village and East Annex; however, this area is much smaller and according to the City of Toronto’s website, is not under official consideration for conservation study.Nevertheless, consciousness of preservation is key to successful development in any historic community. David Mirvish has been quoted as saying he hopes to see future development combining retail with residential building. Surely, a project like his three Gehry towers, soon to rise 80 stories high along King West, would never work in this less central site, but something rising from behind the flashing and likely-to-be-preserved Honest Ed’s marquee is inevitable.One can only hope for something more inspired than what has become standard fare on every bare Toronto corner: a too-tall, too-featureless glass box of condos, built to a poor standard and sold at the high end of the bubble. While integrating housing into the site, a future developer should be careful of the neighborhood’s existing character, rather than mindlessly pushing gentrification.Markham Street is a welcome respite to the garish Dollarama landscape of the nearby block. Behind a rapidly developing Bloor that has recently welcomed flashy international chains like Menchie’s and Jamba Juice, Mirvish Village has retained its independent character and provided affordable space for small, quirky businesses like jewellery studios and record stores to flourish. In fact, the traditional bay-and-gable homes of the area were initially developed as galleries by the Mirvishes when a demolition permit was denied. These businesses would now be hard pressed to find affordable space in such a prime location. Ideally, future development of the site will prioritize accessibility for small businesses that lack the scale to financially browbeat opponents into acquiescence.Advocates of reinvention and preservation alike have nothing to fret about in the short term; councillor Mike Layton recently passed a one year freeze on retail development along Bathurst, including the Mirvish site. Furthermore, David Mirvish recently told the National Post that nothing has been sold — yet. We must hope that the asking price won’t put the more imaginative developers off of this amazing chance to influence the ongoing definition of our city.