Category Archives: Uncategorized

If a billboard falls in a forest….. (Part 2)

[note: this is cross-posted from spacing magazine]

Five weeks ago, I wrote the first installment of this saga which I described at the time as a “shocking tale of procedural inertia, bureaucratic confusion, and a broken democracy.”

I have some updates to share on this story, updates that provide a glimmer of hope while at the same time illustrating how deep the systemic problems at City Hall are.

I’ll get the good news out of the way first: The city’s Sign Unit has agreed to “re-open the investigation” into these signs. City staff are actively exploring whether the billboards are legal or not, and they are helping guide me through the entire process.

Now, the bad news: Continue reading

Our Transit Agency Shouldn’t Be in the Business of Endangering Drivers

[note: this is cross-posted from Torontoist]

Photo by Seekdes from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Metrolinx, the provincial agency responsible for developing transportation in and around Toronto, is by definition in charge of helping us all move around more effectively. Which is why it is particularly crazy—a special kind of ridiculous—that the people who are supposed to be the caretakers of our travel want to allow eight massive commercial digital billboards, at four separate locations, along the 401 and 427.

While all levels of government are making efforts to reduce driver distraction, the Metrolinx plan actually aims to increase distraction—and make money off that distraction, to boot. Continue reading

Driven to Distraction: The Absurdity of Roadside Digital Billboards

[note: this is cross-posted from Huffington Post]

Lung Cancer and automobile accidents are two of the leading causes of avoidable deaths in North America. In response, all levels of governments have introduced legislation, fines and public education programs designed to minimize risk and save lives.

Anyone over the age of 30 remembers a time when restaurants and airplanes were filled with cigarette smoke. But starting in the 1980s, regulations to reduce second-hand smoke exposure were slowly introduced eventually banning smoking in bars, hospitals, airports, workplaces, etc.

To increase road safety we have speed traps, photo radar, traffic calming measures, breathalyzers, stronger penalties for street racing, etc. More recently, the focus has shifted to reducing driver distraction. After all, most accidents are not caused by alcohol or speeding, but by distracted drivers. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that even a two second distraction “significantly increases individual crash risk.” Every year, governments across North America are bringing in new legislation and increased fines related to driver distractions.

There is no way to measure the precise impact of these initiatives, but there is little doubt that they have collectively saved thousand of lives. Public acceptance and support of these measures is nearly universal. At this point, it would be laughable to suggest that we re-introduce smoking in restaurants, or that we should allow people to text while they drive.

But there is one exception, one glaring anomaly that contradicts all other measures and efforts that have been made to save lives on our roads. That anomaly is roadside billboards. And in particular, digital billboards.

Continue reading

I’d like you to meet my son, and his two amazing moms.

chile_smaller

I’m turning 40 this year, celebrating four decades of adventure, exploration, creating, learning, growing, loving and being loved.

I’ve had the privilege of participating in countless community projects, political movements and artistic collaborations. But the most special collaboration I’ve ever participated in began ten years ago – and I’ve never mentioned it publicly, until today.

In 2004, two of my friends – Patty Barerra and Gabe Thirlwall – asked if I would help them make a baby. It was the most amazing thing anyone had ever asked of me.

Most commitments in life come with an escape clause. You can join a group, and later decide to leave. You can accept a job, and then quit. Deep friendships can slowly fade. And even marriages, allegedly the ultimate act of commitment, have an escape mechanism which we all know is used frequently. But to be asked by someone to participate in the act of creating a child… this was truly sacred. Patty and Gabe were inviting me on a journey that we would share till our last breaths, together, inextricably connected as a family. It was perhaps the deepest expression of faith and confidence in who I am, that I had ever felt.

It took about two seconds for me to decide. The answer was yes. I love children enormously. They brighten my life more than any other source of joy. I was also attracted to the challenge of being part of a non-traditional family in a world that encourages conformity in so many ways. And I have tremendous amounts of respect for both Patty & Gabe. The faith and trust that they were investing in me, was entirely reciprocal.

They were both surprised at how quickly I accepted the proposal. They told me to think about it further. A week passed, and they asked me again. My answer was the same, without hesitation.

Santiago was born in February, 2005. He’s turning ten years old next year. I love him more than anything. I’ve spent a decade watching in awe as he’s grown. I’m so proud to be his dad, and to be a part of Patty & Gabe’s family.

santiago and moms

But some of my own friends still don’t know about him, and most of my extended family doesn’t know either! I’d like to explain why, and also explain why I want to suddenly share it with you now. Continue reading

If a billboard falls in a forest… Part 1

[note: this is cross-posted from spacing magazine]

Bathurst and Davenport cross each other just below the steep shoreline of ancient Lake Iroquois. The intersection is lush with greenery and steeped in history.

On one corner lies the TTC Hillcrest Yards, where our streetcars have been repaired and rebuilt for ninety years. A recent makeover has transformed the landscape adding new shrubs, trees, interlocking brick and public benches to the corner.

TTC yard_WIDE

Across the street is a public park, the home of Toronto’s historic Tollkeeper’s Cottage museum.

tollkeepers park

Just steps away you’ll find the Wychwood Park neighbourhood, a former artists’ colony and the first residential zone in Ontario to be granted heritage status. Walking north on Bathurst, you’ll find yourself in a picturesque Toronto scene with large trees leaning across both sides of the wide street casting a broken leafy shadow on the streetcar tracks below.

And then suddenly, like one musical instrument terribly out of tune with the rest of the band, something sharply interrupts the thick green grove of trees. Steel structures protrude from the maple branches, inserting two massive commercial billboards into the scene.

two_billboards

Someone might ask themselves “Who would possibly allow billboards like this to get a sign permit?”. It turns out the answer might be: nobody would, and nobody did. In fact, I have been told by City Staff that they do not have any records of permits for these signs. This is not an isolated scenario.  It’s quite possible that dozens of billboards across Toronto, if not hundreds, are illegal signs without any proper permits.

Continue reading

‘Empower LA’ research tour • DAY TWO: Community Elections in South Los Angeles

Empower tour

I’m in Los Angeles, spending an entire week with the Department of Neighbourhood Empowerment.  I’ll be posting updates each day!

Los Angeles has 95 elected Neighbourhood Councils comprised entirely of volunteers.  Every two years they have city-wide local elections for all 95 Councils and those elections are happening right now.

I spent the second day of my research trip visiting five election polls in South LA, and interviewing candidates, voters, volunteers and community leaders.

I met a lot of inspiring people, and they all spoke highly of the Neighbourhood Council system.  Some offered constructive criticism and pointed out that there was room for improvement, but even those critics felt that the city benefits overall from having these councils.

I shot 70 minutes of one-on-one interviews, and I’ll try to post an edited piece later this week.  In the meantime, here are some photos and some quick reflections on what I saw & heard:

South LA Colage Continue reading

ACT LOCAL: Campus Democracy Project!!

[cross-posted from the Unlock Democracy blog]

Campus_Democracy_Project
Toronto UnConference • January 24th • Hart House

Canada uses a broken voting system called “First-Past-the-Post”.  It’s a terrible system because it pushes out new voices, forces voters to choose ‘strategically’, encourages negative campaigns and often delivers us the exact opposite result of what we actually voted for.

But we don’t just use this voting system to choose our national parliament, we also use First-Past-the-Post to choose our provincial parliaments and all of our mayors and City Councillors.  And it doesn’t stop there!  Every week, across Canada, there are hundreds – if not thousands – of elections:  Condo boards, residents groups, non-profit boards, labour elections, high school student councils, tenant boards, credit unions, and post-secondary student unions.  And with few exceptions, almost ALL of these groups use First-Past-The-Post.

Continue reading