Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Design Amuck: ''Who's my Province, Premier McGuinty?"

The City of Toronto prides itself as promoting, supporting, and developing the 'creative class', yet Metrolinx has been given a provincial mandate to impose a diesel rail corridor eight times its current capacity through the Queen West Arts District, slated to run past the Gladstone, the Drake, Artscape, MOCCA and numerous galleries and artists' studios by 2014.  As a friend said, "they will be washing the windows at the Gladstone every 15 minutes" as the GSSE/UPRL runs a continual, noisy wall of traffic within 100 meters of its designated heritage windows.

How is it that the City of Toronto has created a consultancy seat at MaRS for Richard Florida, author of 'Who's your City?',  so that his views on developing the creative society are embedded in the urban fabric of the City of Toronto, yet Metrolinx, as 'an arms length agency of the provincial government', is intent upon destroying this creative society which adds so much to the cultural vibrancy of this city? How many events do the Gladstone and Drake host for the Toronto International Film Festival, music festivals, and visual artists? The value given to international visitors, and GTA residents, by the Queen West Arts District is immeasurable. All the venues which enable this area to thrive and grow, and for artists and filmmakers to work and live, should be protected by Metrolinx, not destroyed by the soot, vibration and noise of continuous diesel traffic. Heritage buildings will be eroded by the increased nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide, and lung capacity and quality of life of those who live in the cultural sector will be diminished in the path of these 464+ trains daily. 

Europe has been combatting the erosion of the facade of their heritage buildings by smog for years - why would a project be allowed in the GTA which will hasten our built environment's deterioration when Europe uses electric trains to protect their residents' health and preserve their historic buildings? How are the environmental and cultural policies of the City of Toronto so progressive, and those of Metrolinx, thus the Province of Ontario, so retrogressive, and actively destructive to the GTA? To paraphrase Richard Florida, "Who is my province, Premier McGuinty, and how has Metrolinx been allowed to pollute our neighbourhoods, schools and creative communities?"

As currently drafted, the GSSE/UPRL is the worst case study of bad design in urban planning imaginable, and should be requisite study for every urban planning and design student as such. There has been no intelligent design in the planning of this corridor, and no consideration for communities, or their social and cultural capital.  It appears as if an engineer sat down, drew a thick line on the pre existing corridor through neighbourhoods and communities, looked up from their drafting board 15 minutes later, and with a sigh, said 'done'. This is railway engineering - not urban planning- which puts the vibrancy and health of the cultural sector, heritage buildings and tourism at dire risk.  Metrolinx has held several design charrettes for community feedback, such as those in Weston, and has acted in bad faith by agreeing to the community's input, but not including the revised design from the charrettes in their final version of their Environmental Project Report.

I teach animation, and I think of the famous last scene of 'Duck Amuck' by Warner Brothers. Daffy Duck has been put through his paces by an unseen animator controlling his every movement. He has been drawn and erased to be made into a screwball, placed on a tropical island, and suffocated by an encroaching black hole of an iris in, which envelopes him in darkness, and through which he pokes his head to plead for mercy from his tormentor. At the end of the short, the camera pulls out from the edges of the animation cel to reveal the drafting table, and who is the animator and director of his fate? His arch nemesis, Bugs Bunny. 

Daffy Duck in this animated short reminds me of how I feel about Metrolinx.  Here is a puppetmaster, Bugs Bunny, who is engineering my demise - the loss of value in my home, the degradation of my own health, and the health and welfare of the cultural communities and educational institutions around me - to privatize our public transit system to enable SNC-Lavalin to reap corporate profit. And the only recourse I have had is to protest to Metrolinx, who has provided an Environmental Project Report so skewed in its findings, our research scientists find it unintelligible in its analysis of basic statistical data about the diesel emissions, especially as fine particulate matter below 2.5 microns is not included in their data.  How frightening is this? As scientific research is still in the process of discovering the exceptional toxicity of diesel emissions, a significant portion of its most potent toxic particulate matter is not included in the EPR as it is beyond the technical scope of current scientific measurement.

In addition, as part of Metrolinx's Environmental Project Review (EPR), only a portion of cultural venues and heritage buildings are listed in their study. Many more heritage buildings, artist run centers, and cultural venues, including those in Weston, Liberty Village and Mount Dennis, are not listed as they are not yet officially designated as heritage buildings or cultural centers of provincial importance.  

If you would like to point out this omission, now is the time to do so. Those who protect these heritage buildings, and represent cultural venues, should add their properties and venues to be preserved to the official list by writing letters to the Ministers of Environment, Culture and Tourism to contest their exclusion in Metrolinx's EPR. For heritage buildings, it is helpful to include research on the adverse affects of pollution on their architectural structure. 

Otherwise, the GTA stands to lose what is the heart of soul of its artistic and cultural life, and which is central to the vibrancy of our culture. Every urban planning and historical preservation society, architecture program, and educational institution which teaches urban planning and design and environmental science - such as Sheridan, OCAD, George Brown, and the University of Toronto - and their practitioners, professors, and students need to band together to protest this environmental travesty, which runs counter to the cultural and environmental goals of the City of Toronto, by writing letters to Premier McGuinty, and the ministers in charge of tourism, the environment, heritage and culture. 

This GSSE/UPRL project is a profoundly thoughtless and destructive design by railway engineers and businessmen, not by urban planners.There is also a  conflict of interest between an arms length provincial agency and the Environmental Assessment process.  Metrolinx has commissioned the writing of the Environmental Project Review through environmental consulting firms of their choice, yet has previously established contracts with SNC-Lavalin to provide diesel infrastructure. Therefore, it is in their best interest to aggregate and analyze the environmental data to protect their previous investment in diesel infrastructure, and provide the lowest grade materials for building this infrastructure, despite maintaining the illusion of community input through charrettes and public consulting sites. Metrolinx will maintain the diesel status quo at any cost to the community they serve, despite the moral imperative of a government agency to protect the health of its citizens as its first priority. In effect, if diesel infrastructure is implemented, tax payers will be paying to have their health jeopardized, and their property devalued, which can become the basis of a potential class action suit if this project is implemented as designed, and residents' health along the corridor is compromised as a result. 

Metrolinx has just signed the first part of the contract with SNC-Lavalin to ensure that they will build the infrastructure, but has not yet signed the second part, which determines which type of infrastructure will be used. There is still a very short time to determine that this future infrastructure is entirely electric, and that no more diesel infrastructure is purchased. 

Those intent on protecting heritage buildings and developing social and artistic capital, please make your voices heard to Premier McGuinty, the Minister of Environment, John Gerretsen, Minister of Culture and Minister Responsible for Seniors, Aileen Carroll, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, Jim Moore, and Minister of Tourism, Monique Smith, Minister of Transport, Jim Bradley, before the analysis of the Environmental Project Review ends on August 31st by hard copy letters and email, and please carbon copy for our records. Just cut and paste following email addresses into your send box, (and address the email to the previously listed names):,,,,,,

Our arts and culture community must demand 'Clean Air for Vibrant Cities'  to protect the cultural heart and soul of our city - the Queen West Art District, and all of the historic properties and cultural venues along this rail corridor.  We are very close to being too late to protect what the City of Toronto and the GTA has been determined to support, preserve and develop - our cultural and architectural identity. Please join us in asking: "Who is my province, Premier McGuinty, and why are you not interested in protecting us?"

Join the Clean Train Coalition in 'The Human Train, A March for Clean Air for Vibrant Cities', which will take place on Saturday, September 26th along the rail corridor. Details will be posted on this blog soon. 

Favourite Quote of the Week: "Why Ride the Toxic Train in Toronto, when you can Ride the Wind in Calgary?" Quote by Joanne B., as posted on the Metrolinx Consulting Site.

MaRS at, Richard Florida on the Creative Class at, and "Duck Amuck" Chuck Jones, Warner Brothers, 1953, 6:59, considered one of the greatest 50 cartoons of all times by critics at
Factual information on 'The Big Move' can be found in a brochure at Metrolinx's site at