Chernobylesque. For some reason, that’s the word that’s been stuck in my mind since I took this picture of the stacks rising at the beautiful Portlands Energy Centre last month. It’s not even that it looks particularly like a disaster zone. It’s just a sensation that the visual evokes. How lucky we are to have it on our waterfront.

Unlike many who are not exactly in love with the PEC, I’m glad that they didn’t use the empty Hearn Generating Station to house a new power plant. When the port lands eventually become a community, Hearn will make one kick-ass community centre, market, museum, shopping gallery, or some combination thereof.

If The Powers That Be absolutely must have a new power plant on the waterfront, I’d rather have it in some anonymous steel box that we’ll be ecstatic to tear down when the time comes. And honestly, better a new power plant than a new power centre.


A smattering of fans take in a Blue Jays game

I posted the message below to a mailing list in 2005, after attending a Blue Jays game in which seemingly everything but the blue sky itself was brought to me by some sponsor or other. It was my first game since Rogers had taken over the SkyDome.

I went to a baseball game at the SkyDome for the first time in a couple of years last night and was struck immediately by how much the experience has changed. I felt like I was sitting in a giant commercial. First off was FedEx Delivers The Game, in which a FedEx van drove onto centre field and then off again without actually delivering anything at all. That was followed by the First Ball, brought to you by a Chevrolet Corvette which, again, drove onto centre field and then drove off again without actually dropping off the first ball.

The first pitch was thrown out by the star of an upcoming movie — a commercial for which was shown later, one of two commercials shown during the game. It was just like watching on TV. The “Game Host” was some guy from Rogers Television who spent the mid- and end-of-inning breaks strolling around the SkyDome running contests — The Staples contest, the Keg contest, the Klondike Ice Cream Bar contest, the Rogers High-Speed Internet contest, the FedEx contest, the Murderball poster contest, and on it went.

There were at least two contests where you had to text message your answer to a special number in order to win. At one point, I realized that the only things not brought to me by some corporate sponsor were the national anthems and, strangely enough, the former JumboTron, which is not the Sony JumboTron or the Panasonic StadiumVision or somesuch, but just “the big screen.”

At one point BJ Birdy Ace, the mascot, ran through the stands with his little uniformed helpers and tossed empty (I assume) FedEx shipping boxes to the most boisterous fans. And believe me, the lucky recipients looked ecstatic to take possession of their newfound, uh, cardboard. It’s possible that something was supposed to be inside, but I must have missed that part. I’d estimate that I saw the Rogers logo more times last night than I had in my entire lifetime before.

At the last game I went to not quite two years ago, I don’t recall anything near the kind of corporate orgy that I witnessed last night. Back then, the highlight of the game was some guy with a grenade launcher shooting free hot dogs up into the crowd. Now that was fun, but I suppose nothing screams lawsuit like a weiner missile.

Oh yeah, the game wasn’t bad, but it detracted a bit from the commercial message.

This weekend, I went to my first Jays game since sitting inside that 3-hour commercial and can report that although things have improved marginally, the impression remains the same. Even the tribute paid to Jays great Dave Stieb was lessened by the reference to his sitting in the big easy chair in the “TD Canada Trust Comfort Zone.”

It’s more than a little sad that the singular experience of watching a baseball game unfold over 9 innings is slowly morphing into just another commercial/entertainment spectacle that has little to do with the game at hand.

Maybe I should start making my biennial baseball pilgrimmage to Christie Pits instead of the SkyDome.

Toward a world-class city

I was just thinking that Torontonians expend a great deal of energy worrying about living in a world-class city, yet we never seem to make much world-class progress up the world-class ladder. In these early years of the 21st century, Google, in a world-class of its own, is still the most reliable and impartial judge of all things world-classy, so I thought I’d see just where we rank. A simple search for “world class city” shows these world-class cities ranked ahead of us:

  1. Los Angeles, California
  2. Columbus, Ohio
  3. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  4. Delhi, India
  5. Geneva, Switzerland
  6. Mumbai, India
  7. Boston, Massachusetts
  8. London, England
  9. Cape Town, South Africa
  10. Hong Kong, China
  11. Vancouver, British Columbia
  12. Indianapolis, Indiana
  13. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  14. Johannesburg, South Africa
  15. Seattle, Washington
  16. Sarasota, Florida
  17. Atlanta, Georgia
  18. Toronto!

Including duplicates, we rank a lowly 25th in the Google world-classiness list, making our first world-class appearance on the decidedly non-world-classy third page. Seriously, who ever clicks through to a third page of Google search results but world-class losers and desperadoes Googling their own names?

Now it may seem a little disconcerting at first glance to be behind such world-class powerhouses as Columbus and Sarasota. Even Vancouver inflicts a world-class bruise on our world-class ego by placing ahead of us. It would seem that we have a world-class struggle ahead to move up the world-class list.

But world-class wannabes should actually rejoice world-classily at the above list: we’re world-classier than New York City! And really, isn’t the world-class comparison to New York all that we care about? In fact, New York is so world-classless that it doesn’t appear anywhere in the first ten world-class pages of Google results. Now that’s something to celebrate. Quietly and with a world of class, of course.

(Even Google Canada’s results only rank us 7th on the world-classiness scale — still behind Columbus, still ahead of New York.)

Operation Safe Journey

The Toronto Police issued a press release (thanks to Martino for the link) on Sunday announcing the start of Operation Safe Journey, a week-long blitz against drivers and cyclists who endanger pedestrians. Bravo! But tellingly, the press release also promises to target “pedestrians who fail to obey traffic signals or who fail to yield to traffic.”

If you believe the CityNews take on the crackdown, it’s aimed almost entirely at pedestrians. City’s story typifies the blame-the-victim mentality of the media and the police, stating, “Many of those killed last year were guilty of crossing the street in the worst possible place and at the worst possible time.” Mmm, smells like Rob Ford. Yes, it’s your own damn fault if you venture into the city without a car. You’ve got some nerve, not waiting (and waiting, and waiting…) your turn to cross the street. Don’t you know that streets are for cars?

So as a public service to the Toronto Police, I’m rewriting their press release. This is how it should read:

In 2006, there were 57 traffic fatalities in the City of Toronto. Thirty were pedestrians, with one?third of them over 65. In contrast, 38 people were killed by guns in the City of Toronto in the same period.

These were tragedies that need not have occurred.

As members of our society and as road users, whether as pedestrians, cyclists, or motorists, we share a responsibility for preventing these tragedies.

Motorists must exercise more caution when manoeuvring their 2-tonne vehicles around the city, and remember that pedestrians don’t have crumple zones, air bags, or seat belts to keep them safe in collisions. In fact, in your haste to be the last car turning through the advanced green a full 5 seconds after it stopped flashing, or make that right turn without looking where you’re going, or zip past the bus stopped in front of the crosswalk, you’re putting pedestrians’ lives at risk. Oh, and your premiums may go up a little after your insurance company pays a few thousand dollars to scrape a dead pedestrian out of your grill.

Being in a car does not automatically give you the right of way. Shaving a few seconds off your mad cross-town dash isn’t a good enough reason to endanger someone’s life. Just because a pedestrian isn’t in a car doesn’t mean that she isn’t in as much of a rush as you are to get to where she’s going.

Pedestrians should remember that many motorists don’t see you unless you’re inside a shiny metal box on four wheels. Many of those that do see you consider you to be a nuisance, serving no purpose but to delay them on their appointed rounds. The motorists who do treat you with the respect you deserve risk being rear-ended by all of the other motorists. Please look both ways before you cross the street.

On Monday, March 19, 2007, the Toronto Police Service will embark on a one?week education and enforcement campaign entitled “Operation Safe Journey”. This campaign will target motorists whose aggressive driving habits endanger the safety of pedestrians.

And next week, we’ll be running Operation Safe Shootings, a blitz targetting people who get shot. It’s their own fault, you know.

Of course, what they really wanted to write probably looks something more like this:

Hey Pedestrians! Get outta the way!

Note for the argumentative: I am a motorist, cyclist, and pedestrian, though not necessarily in that order. Of the three groups, motorists have the largest burden to act responsibly because of the amount of damage they can inflict on the other two groups when something goes wrong. Yes, there are irresponsible cyclists, and irresponsible pedestrians, but let’s be honest about where the responsibility lies.

Whither went Harry?

As recently as Thursday March 8, the Learning Annex was advertising Harry Stinson as one of the featured speakers at their Toronto Real Estate and Wealth Expo, as seen in this ad from that day’s Star:


Yes, you too can “learn where the smart money in Toronto is investing with Harry Stinson.” Ironically, thanks to the filing for bankruptcy protection of two of his condo companies on Thursday, the smart money in Toronto isn’t investing with Harry Stinson.

By Saturday, the ad in the Star had caught up with the news and he’d been replaced by Richard Branson:


Poor Harry: replaced in a day, and his substitute even gets a bigger picture. But why so hasty to exclude Stinson? After all, Trump’s companies famously filed for bankruptcy protection in the 90s and again in 2004. Is Stinson’s only sin that his companies’ financial troubles are are more recent than Trump’s? At the very least, he could probably use the speaker’s fee.

Mind you, it’s not like anyone attending this dubious expo will, well, make money fast because of it. With the exception of the Learning Annex, of course. So why not have Harry there so everyone can learn from his mistakes? Some of his investors already have.