Sunday, September 26, 2004

Back-Alley Shananigans

Despite the best efforts of city bureaucrats to the contary, residential neighbourhoods and laneways are not mutually-exclusive. In fact, laneways are becoming hot again in academic circles as we grapple with ways to deal with the impending GTA barrage. Lane houses have been thrown about as one possible solution.

Often chided as dirty and dangerous, laneways play a critical role by removing resident and delivery vehicles off the streets and front lawns and into the rear. Less curb cuts mean better streetscapes as cars and garage doors are put out back.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Roenick on the Run

Need your fix of the classic EA NHL Hockey, but left your Genesis in an old cardboard box at your parents'? No matter. EA is releasing a branded EA Sports controller that contains the entire game inside its circuity depths. Simply plug it into a TV and turn it on, and you'll be slip-slip-sliding the gigantic puck between Tim Cheveldae's legs in no time! And unlike the controllers at our place, this one has working buttons.

Speaking of J.R., could a return to the Windy City be far off?

Saturday, September 18, 2004

A Tale of Two Cities.

Now Melrose Ave in North York is not necessarily a tourist hotbed, but it - and the rest of south North York - stand as a truly horrific oddity which all of us with a planning mindset should take note of. Easily obtained demolition permits and permitted below grade garages (the only place in the GTA) have turned these once quaint residential streets into something on the other side of obscene. Deep pits leading to multi-car garages and thin, tall self-important houses with doors sometimes 7' above grade (to accommodate the garages of course) line both sides of streets for entire blocks at a time.

The boundary between the old cities of Toronto and North York should be undetectable. This mere political boundary cuts through neighbourhoods, lots and sometimes houses as it weaves its way through the neighbourhoods of Midtown. Yet, one knows exactly when they pass from one to the other. The forested, stately communities of North Toronto give way to the barren crassness that is North York in the blink of an eye. The tree canopy ends and the sight of undercarriages of SUVs become the norm as they sit downsloped in canyons leading to ugly cookie-cutter houses with their asses stuck straight up in the air for the entire neighbourhood to see.

The problem arises from the former city zoning by-laws which are still in force. While amalgamation has been on the books for over six years, the process of consolidating zoning has been a long and arduous process as planners grapple with how to fuse the diverse nature of a metropolis into one regulatory document. The interim has resulted in regulations which are stuck in time and have exasperated problems and flaws.

Contrary to North York, the old city of Toronto tried to maintain community character. Obtaining a demolition permit in the old city requires applicants to get city council approval. This onerous requirement has resulted in builders and homeowners restoring and enhancing existing facades and building non-intrusive additions. All North York requires is a mere submission to the building department.

While the Toronto by-law outlaws below grade garages, North York almost requires them on smaller lots. Toronto also required the protection of trees on private properties and the former city invested heavily in boulevard plantings. North York has no private tree protection and long ago quit planting trees on boulevards.

While never the sexiest topic in planning, zoning regulations play an immensely important role as an implementation tool in preserving - or obliterating - the stability and quality of residential communities. Their influence should never be underrated or dismissed as is so common in planning circles.

Friday, September 17, 2004


When Dane Jacob Holdt arrived in the USA with $40, he wasn't expecting to hitchhike over 100,000 miles across its breadth, visiting slums, Klan meetings, and junkie alleys. See the rest of his photos, amassed over over his thirty years of travel.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Road Trip

In preparation for an upcoming cross-country road trip in my 88' Corsica, I came across this interesting site. The excellent US-20 (Oregon Trail) section has lured me to alter my all-Canadian route into a truly continental loop incorporating such exotic locales as Wyoming, Nebraska and Iowa.

Persuaded by Travis' recent journey to Green Bay and after reading Bryson's caustic yet humourous Classic - which does for the Midwest what Leacock did for Ontario - it's time to figure out for myself exactly what the the hole in the continental donut is truly all about.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Sometimes Noise Makes the Prettiest Sound

Would you want to pity-punch me in the junk if I told you the best song Dick and I have heard in a long time -- all year long, in fact -- came out of the Canada Music Fund? Well clench that fist, stranger, because there on the back of Jim Guthrie's latest CD (Now More Than Ever) amongst the record label insignias and shout-outs and publishing notes sits the Government of Canada logo, flashing you its smarmy smile.

My actor buddy Steve-O (not the Steve-O depicted here on the Velvy but an entirely different Steve-O than you're used to [is "Steve-O" the de facto nickname for anyone named Steve now, like "Hank" to Henry?]), taking a break from inhaling cocaine from the clefts of hookers' backs and holding hands with his fellow actors in a uplifting unity circle before the big show, made me a CD that he had originally made for an actor party. The CD was clearly made by the hand of an Eye devotee, as the bands were all slated to play Toronto in the coming weeks. A Jim Guthrie song featured prominently on this disc (the song was "All Gone", not available for download here, unlike "So Small", which is good, also), and I thought to buy the album, for it was cheap, and nationally funded, and I am still one of those anachronisms who buys CDs without hearing more than two songs.

Later that week, Dick and I are on the Lounge, breathing majesterial fumes, contemplating the S.W.O., and the album-opening "Problems With Solutions" comes on. Dick's head tilts, his ear moving closer to the guitar's gentle pluck, and he said, "Now this, this, is what I've been looking for." The song swoops and swirls along, soul-bound to its infectious acoustic riff, as Guthrie relays the story of which we've all been the author... When I'm drinkin' and had a few/Lord only knows what I said to you/in a smoky bar downtown...

So we'd like to nominate "Problems With Solutions" as the Velvet Lounge's Best Song of 2004, and I'm prepared to absorb any junk-punches that such a nomination would incite.

Jim Guthrie plays the Silver Dollar tonight. We'll be there, and so will you.