Controversial residence plans continue to spark debate

Knightstone residence would benefit students as living costs in Toronto rise

Controversial residence plans continue to spark debate

A new student residence is being proposed near College and Spadina. Knightstone Capital, a private firm, is planning to build a 24-storey tower, which could house 759 U of T students on property leased  from the university. However, some members the local community, including City Councillor Adam Vaughan, oppose the project.

Many U of T students welcome the proposal. Housing costs in downtown Toronto are soaring. A decent bedroom in a Bay Street condominium often costs $1,000 per month, and many students are more than happy to pay $600 just to find a living room to sleep in. On the other hand, commuting carries implicit costs. In addition to paying $106 a month for a TTC pass, commuters also tend to enjoy fewer of the auxiliary U of T services that they pay for. After all, few would be willing to commute back to campus after dark just for an intramural soccer game at 10:00 pm.

The project also appeals to the university. The university administration has some responsibility to offer accommodation to its substantial international and out-of-province student body. For years,  however, it has been unable to expand its aging residence buildings due to ever-decreasing public funding. As the Knightstone project is privately financed, the university can better serve its students while only taking on minimal financial risks. Besides, more student residences will always foster a sense of community on campus that big universities like U of T often lack.

Opponents to the project protest that a glass-and-steel tower would be incongruous in the otherwise low-rise area, and that students would cause a disturbance in an otherwise quiet residential neighbourhood. These are genuine concerns; however, they should serve as signs to proceed with caution, rather than as roadblocks to the entire project. Indeed, some measures have already been taken to address these problems. For instance, the university stipulated as part of its lease that the operator of the new residence must obtain its approval. It is therefore to be expected that student life in the new tower will be held to the same standard as any other U of T residences.

In their stern opposition to the proposed tower, community members also seem to have willfully ignored the enormous economic and social benefits that those 759 students will bring to the neighbourhood. Existing business owners will see an influx of customers, and residents will benefit from the opening of many new businesses.

The university owns many other underdeveloped properties, such as the three blocks bounded by Harbord, Spadina, and Huron and Bloor. U of T owns all but 11 houses in the area. Building a mixture of new student residences and classrooms in the area will benefit the residents as well as students. However, if the Knightstone residence project is rejected, it will serve as a negative precedent for other future development projects in the area.


Li Pan is a second-year student majoring in economics and mathematics. 

Local institutions do more to renew independence post-disaster

Effective disaster relief depends on cultural and social context on the ground

Local institutions do more to renew independence post-disaster

Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda has killed more than 5,000 people and devastated the livelihoods of 13 million. An overwhelming majority of those affected are traumatized, hungry, thirsty, hurt, and homeless.

This is an appeal to aid, but perhaps not a conventional one. I wish to convince you to donate to local agencies that I believe have more expertise, empathy, and long-term outlook to provide a more resilient post-disaster Philippines.


Relief is complicated. It carries political and methodological baggage. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will be fighting on the field as to what, how, and to whom aid should be distributed. Cash or food? Women or men? Shelter or medicine? With limited resources come hard decisions. “The choice is to use the same truck either to distribute food or collect bodies” said Tacloban’s mayor, bleakly. There is no doubt that there is a need for resources and thus I will not discredit the efforts of larger agencies — such as the World Food Program, the UN Refugee Agency, Oxfam and Red Cross/Crescent that are well-intentioned. But with relief, intentions are never enough.

Relief is contextual. Money rarely translates into what the donor intended, more importantly, beneficiaries are rarely provided with the aid they need. The social context into which foreign aid is introduced will determine how that aid is distributed. I witnessed this first-hand when I studied a post-cyclone relief effort in India. Cultural nature, political rivalries, ethno-religious divisions, and economic stratifications are essential to understanding how to propagate a relief effort. I am not Christian, but I would not think twice about donating to a smaller, Christian organization if they are effectively getting aid through to those in need. Aid comes first, not ideology.

International aid is rarely as effective as locally tailored aid. Local knowledge is essential to effectively providing aid. It can be as simple as knowing another route in case of traffic, or completely understanding what people’s priorities are and how to deal with the various demographics. That is why I recommend donating to Filipino or regional agencies that have a robust local network. The Philippine Red Cross stands out, as do Citizens’ Disaster Response Centre, the Asia-Pacific Alliance for Disaster Management, and Community and Family Service International. You can also donate directly to the government’s Department of Social Welfare and Development — which, though facing criticism, is still one of the most effective agencies in the field.

Relief is human. Affected people always have pride, and if provided with the correct tools, they develop some agency. This is far from the conventional image of helpless, dejected, and submissive victims. Even with their houses destroyed, these people rarely submit to begging, or discarded old T-shirts. Local agencies are usually more aware of this. Because they are inherently invested in the society around them, they do more to provide agency to the affected people.

Relief is never over. This current and essential relief effort will die down. International agencies will pack up and leave when critical needs have been met; the initial crisis will have been averted, but the essential job of rebuilding livelihoods remains.

Post-disaster reconstruction efforts are achingly slow due to lack of funding, and international agencies rarely deal directly with these efforts, as there are no glamorous media-bites.

However, disasters due to climate change will only increase in frequency — we need to design our cities to be resilient, but also socially and environmentally appropriate, which can only done by locally aware agencies. Donate localy, not only will these charities provide better and faster aid but they will also be there to do the serious rebuilding that comes after the big organizations leave.


Ankit Bhardwaj is a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto

U of T building beyond its means

University lacks infrastructure roadmap

U of T building beyond its means

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.

Celebrating the art of Youtube filmmaking at the first Buffer Festival

The new wave of entertainment

Celebrating the art of Youtube filmmaking at the first Buffer Festival

On the weekend of November 9, the popular video-streaming website YouTube came to Toronto. The first Buffer Festival was a multi day theatrical event involving the best creative works from video creators on YouTube. Over 100 YouTube creators came down for the festival, including TheFineBrothers, Hannah Hart and Daily Grace. It was an opportunity to see great content normally reserved for the computer screen, on the big screen.



Corey Vidal’s ApprenticeA productions is the organization behind the Buffer Festival. Vidal gained recognition after creating a musical tribute to composer John Williams and was one of the first Canadians to join the Youtube Partnership program. He later created ApprenticeA productions a leading online video production company with over 75 million views.

Inspired by his experience at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011, Vidal, in collaboration with CFC Media lab created the Buffer Festival. The Varsity sat down with Corey Vidal before the
festival began.


The Varsity: What do you see for the future regarding the festival?

Corey Vidal: We want to be involved with similar partners and be in the same area. A lot of attendees couldn’t make so we are going to keep throwing it every year. Each year it is going to get bigger and bigger. This is our first event and we couldn’t be happier, down the road it is going to push more for YouTubers to release content that people haven’t viewed before. Using it as a launching point for some of their creative content.

I am a YouTuber at heart and my goal was to merge YouTube with big projects. I want to be a part of YouTube but I care a lot also about the film making process and Vlogumentary is an opportunity to do a traditional feature film that is 100 percent YouTube. Buffer Festival is an opportunity to be in a theatre but not go traditional, be 100 percent YouTube.


TV: Any advice for YouTube Creators who aren’t getting noticed, or just starting up?

CV: First make crap, than make your crap better. A lot of people are obsessed with making their first video good. If you look at any of your favourite Youtubers, their first videos are all crap. I hate my first 150 videos and so does every other YouTuber. It isn’t about making one video; it is about being in the constant state of video creation.


TV: How do you think it is changing our culture?

CV: What we are doing is depleting the amount of time spent watching television. Instead of sitting there watching TV we are only watch a couple of hours of TV and then we are on the Internet. People have more control on when they want to watch it and how they want to watch it. Whereas before you had to watch TV at a very specific time and if you didn’t watch it you missed it. I think it is very empowering for the consumer; we have more control than we ever had.


TV: What do you see in the future for YouTube?

CV: The numbers keep growing and growing. I always check out the stats and right now there are over 80 hours of content uploaded every minute. I remember when you could go on YouTube and check out the latest uploaded videos and you could scroll through a day’s worth of videos; that was seven years ago. It never stops more people have access to the Internet, more people have access to cameras, people have high quality cameras on their phone. We are going to see more content creators; with YouTube a lot of the viewers are the content creators. Somebody attending Buffer Festival today can be premiering content at Buffer Festival next year, because that’s how even the playing field is. That is exciting.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Mayor Ford may be on his way out, but Ford Nation is here to stay

Toronto's divisive political geography

Mayor Ford may be on his way out, but Ford Nation is here to stay

We’ve certainly had an interesting few weeks in Toronto. Rob Ford has turned our proper and polite city on its head, introducing a scandalous cast of crack dealers, gang members, and potential prostitutes into the salacious drama that our municipal politics has become. To put it in Mad Men terms, Toronto has gone from Jackie to Marilyn — and if it were television, rather than real life, I’d say I like it this hot.

Every day, there are Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail authors hailing the end of Ford as fanatically as Harold Camping preaches the Second Coming. They denounce him as “brazen and dishonest,” “shocking and embarrassing,” and a disgrace to the city.

But let’s drop the rhetoric and be reasonable for a moment. Is it really Ford’s fault that he’s a fatuous drunkard? Probably. Is it his fault that he’s a racist crack head? Almost definitely. But enough of this was obvious before he ever came into office. How can we blame him for continuing to be exactly the man he was before we elected him with a whopping 47 per cent of the vote?

When it comes to Rob Ford, the buck stops with the voters. The question we need to ask isn’t how we can get rid of the mayor, but how the hell we elected him in the first place. Thankfully, it is a question with an answer: Mike Harris.

In 1998, Harris’s PC government proposed merging the old city of Toronto with five adjacent suburbs. The move was met with stunning opposition — referendums held in the regions opposed amalgamation three to one. Yet, flying in the face of democracy, Harris forcibly created the uncomfortable and incoherent sprawl we now call Toronto.

If we look at the 2010 mayoral election results, the wards that voted Ford and the wards that voted Smitherman are divided almost exactly between the city and the suburbs. Simply, the old city said Smitherman, but the megacity said Ford.

The 2010 election is a perfect, microcosmic representation of the reality of modern Toronto: two distinct ideologies, one suburban and the other metropolitan, warring for dominance of the city. In handing the political majority to Etobicoke, Scarborough, and North York, we’ve given the suburban creed a serious advantage in that battle.

Admittedly, we need to get rid of Ford. It isn’t right to have such a man at the helm of our city. But our basic problem is much, much larger than him — and that’s saying something. Ford might leave the mayor’s office, but the people who elected him aren’t going away. Like it or not, they’re not going to vote any more rationally than they did when they called themselves Ford Nation.

The real problem is not Rob Ford, but the simple fact that the suburbs control the downtown core. Some have called for de-amalgamation as the answer — a nice idea, but probably unrealistic. The cost makes the idea politically unattractive, and somehow I don’t think Toronto wants to sacrifice its prestigious title as North America’s fourth largest metropolis.

Realistically, our best chance is to adapt to the circumstances — to stand strong as a city behind a single progressive candidate. Even if Ford were to win 47 per cent of the vote again, 53 per cent is still up for grabs. It is by no means a perfect solution — Ford Nation is an intimidating beast. But in the jumbled reality that is Toronto, it’s just about the only hope we’ve got.


Devyn Noonan is a third-year English student.

Rob Ford controversy distracts from Remembrance Day ceremonies

The mayor's appearance at Old City Hall detracted from the solemn afternoon

Rob Ford controversy distracts from Remembrance Day ceremonies

On Monday, November 11, veterans, members of the community, and politicians gathered in front of Old City Hall to pay respect to those who fought in the Canadian military in the wars and missions that have taken place since the beginning of the twentieth century. However, based on the reaction of some who attended the ceremony, attention was not fully devoted to honouring the country’s war veterans — Rob Ford’s presence was seen by many as the event’s main spectacle.

In order to continue a long-standing tradition, the mayor attended the ceremony and gave a brief speech to honour veterans on behalf of Torontonians. Despite the content of his speech, some in the crowd decided to take this time to express their disapproval of the mayor: he was greeted with boos upon arrival.

Whether or not the mayor should have attended the ceremony wearing the Mayor’s Chain is another question. In the end, Ford decided that he would put his embarrassing issues aside and take part in the Remembrance Day ceremonies, just as mayors before him have done for decades. His presence or absence at the ceremony was up to him alone.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, reporters flocked to Ford looking for answers to their questions about his personal life and his intentions for the future, in light of the confirmation of his drug use and the release of a video of him yelling vulgar and threatening slurs.

Those who attended the ceremony and decided that it was an appropriate time for them to vocalize their disapproval for the mayor were mistaken. Remembrance Day is the one day of the year where the community gathers together to honour those who have fought and fallen for the well-being of the country.

To erase the boundary between this day of honouring, remembering, and mourning and current news concerning the mayor’s personal habits blurs the meaning of the day and, puts veterans in a subordinate place to the highly-entertaining, disappointing, and controversial life of a man who unfortunately holds the position of mayor. This Remembrance Day, those who spent a solemn ceremony focusing on Ford’s behaviour disrespected veterans in an unforgivable way.


Elizabeth Benn is The Varsity‘s Sports Editor.

U of T researchers invent functional “cloaking devices”

Researchers build revolutionary device for under $2,000

U of T researchers invent functional “cloaking devices”

Two members of U of T’s Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering have invented a functioning invisibility cloak. Professor George Eleftheriades and PhD student Michael Selvanayagam used the principle of wave interference to conceptualize a thin “cloak” of atennae that renders an object invisible to radar. To accompany the research, published last week in the journal Physical Review X, Selvanayagam built a functioning model of the device for less than $2,000.

Radio devices read the appearance and position of objects by interpreting the waves that bounce off object ­— the same principle behind human sight, but in a different spectrum. The cloaking device built by Eleftheriades and Selvanayagam  radiates a field that cancels out the waves bouncing off the object it covers, rendering the object invisible in the radio spectrum. The device can also alter the appearance or the apparent location of the object when viewed through radar.

The device was created in an effort to improve upon existing research, says Selvanayagam. “The idea of cloaking an object was first proposed in 2006 or so by a group at Duke University… they were the ones who first showed that cloaking is something that you can actually do using specially designed materials and structures.” A structure of metamaterials shields the object inside from rays by bending light around the object. The problem with these structures was their relative scalabilty and complexity: early structures were large and awkward, and techniques designed to shield smaller objects weren’t very modifiable. Eleftheriades and Selvanayagam’s research has solved these problems ­— their device is scalable and flexible, and can also be retuned to work with different wavelengths.

Though for a functioning invisibility device an under $2,000 cost seems impressively cheap,  Selvanayagam didn’t view the budget as a limitation. “The reason it was a small budget was because we wanted to do everything as simply as possible,” he says. “So all the components are discrete parts, we didn’t try to integrate anything into a package, we did everything very modularly, very system level, very part-by-part, so we could switch things in and out for the ease of the experiment.” A larger budget would allow experimenters to fully integrate the device ­— or make it more reactive. Currently, the device must be manually tuned, but in the future, the device may contain a mechanism that would allow it to detect radio waves and then automatically tune itself to the approproiate frequency.

The most obvious applications for the new device are military ­— hiding or disguising objects from prying eyes. “But in general, there are some more basic, not-very-fancy, but more down to earth applications,” points out Selvanayagam. “If you think about the city of Toronto, there are antenna towers all over the city, that’s just how our wireless system works. And some of them are being blocked by various objects, there are buildings in the way.” The device could cloak buildings that interrupt cellular communications. “If you pinch around them with these antennas, the buildings disappear.”

Further applications — especially those that would require use of the technology in the visible spectrum, including medical imaging applications ­— are a matter of technology. “We did it with radio waves because the technology is mature enough that you can apply established technological ideas like atennas,” explains Selvanayagam. “At higher frequencies, as you approach the visible spectrum or the region beyond x-rays, the technology is very different, so there are some serious challenges in taking what we did and moving it up.”

Undergraduate research opportunities take learning beyond classroom

Research opportunities abound for U of T’s undergraduates

Undergraduate research opportunities take learning beyond classroom

As a science student, it can be easy to forget where all of the theories and equations encountered in class come from. The long days of trial-and-error, of running experiments, and of chance discoveries can be hidden by the passage of lecture slides. Going behind the curtain and participating in the actual research process can be extremely rewarding for an undergraduate student; thankfully, a research-intensive university provides many opportunities to do so.



Participating in an undergraduate research project is an early opportunity to be exposed to the inner workings of your chosen field. An “early opportunity where an undergrad can be exposed to research in the lab, outside the classroom, would be a good experience to understand more what [the field] is,” said Armando Marquez, undergraduate counsellor of the Department of Chemistry, “and possibly develop that interest so that … students would continue and do research, go to graduate studies, do a lot more research down the line.”

It can be hard to know if a research career is right for you unless you try it, and the wide range of opportunities at the University of Toronto make undergraduate years the perfect time to give it a whirl.

The experience can certainly boost a resume. “When students get involved with this, it gives them a better opportunity as an experience, that when they go out, when they finish their education here, it makes them a very competitive person when they do apply to graduate studies or work,” said Marquez.

Research InfoYet even if you decide to apply to work in industry, professional school, or change fields entirely, a summer or semester spent doing research provides benefits that will stay with you for years to come.

Some of these wide-ranging benefits are detailed in a document by the Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology (LMP) department, and include gaining important lab skills, learning how to design an experiment, critically analyzing data, and communicating results. Students gain a deeper understanding of course material and will also have a wide-range of work opportunities after graduation. These important skills can also be taken back to the classroom.

Not only can research enhance scientific knowledge, it can also contribute to one’s personal development. “One of the opportunities for the students who get involved in research is that they are able to network with the grad students [and] with the faculty, and are given the opportunity to do presentations,” said Marquez, adding that, “students who go through this develop a more critical way of thinking instead of just what is fed to you in the classroom.”

Ishita Aggarwal, campus ambassador for the pan-discipline Undergraduate Awards program, pointed out that doing research can affect your world view. “When you participate in research, even at the undergraduate level, you really are able to better interpret claims that are made, not only in the academic setting, but also in popular media and everyday life,” she said. “I think it’s really important not only to be a producer of research, but also to be a better consumer of research.”

U of T offers a wide variety of opportunities for undergraduates to do research, including the second-year Research Opportunity Program (ROP) courses and summer research positions aimed at second- and third-year students. Each department awards positions differently:some require an application to the department as a first step, whiles others require the interested student to email potential supervisors before applying.

In the Department of Chemistry, students submit a résumé, cover letter, and application to the department before the supervisor selection process. “The competition is so fierce that we could probably have between 150 to 200 applications for an average of 25 positions,” said Marquez, who then insisted that he encourages all students to apply, as even the application process is beneficial to them. By applying, he says, students learn how to present themselves professionally on paper, an important post-graduation skill.

If one application is not successful, students should remain positive and keep looking, even if that means investigating opportunities outside of U of T ­— Toronto’s hospital system is a great place to start, for example.

According to Aggarwal, persistence is key: “One of the things that really prevents undergrads from getting involved in research is that they don’t know how and they’re just too scared … the key is not to get discouraged … if you keep attempting to contact the people whose research you’re genuinely interested in, eventually you’ll hear an affirmative answer. But you need to keep trying.”