5:05pm (19 notes)
Its another Wal-Mart Sunrise #walmart #suburbia #scarborough #agincourt (Taken with instagram)
5:05pm (19 notes)
Its another Wal-Mart Sunrise #walmart #suburbia #scarborough #agincourt (Taken with instagram)
9:54am (10 notes)
#dentonia #victoriapark #scarborough #apartments (Taken with instagram)
At 7:40 am on a Tuesday morning, crawling at 10 km/h speeds after exiting Highway 401 and into the Don Valley Parkway downtown-bound can be more than just a task of lane-changing, trying to get into the fastest-moving lane possible without breaking a sweat or exhibiting frustration as thousands of cars make their way from the suburbs to Downtown Toronto. I am in my car, my right hand shifting the cogs away, and feeling half-awake as I toddle down the freeway’s sloping grade navigating through the Don Valley. Affectionally called the Don Valley Parking Lot, the freeway is the only major high-speed access to Downtown Toronto, as a result of years of clashes between folks who have differing thoughts and opinions about Toronto’s transportation solutions for the next century. The moment I am on the DVP at the latter half of the hour means I get to have the opportunity to observe the drivers around me (without jeopardizing myself or anyone in the process) and to think about how they behave as they drive, how there are minute little bits like the frequency of brake lights, weaving, spurt of the moment acceleration moments, and finally the drivers themselves.
There were times where I stared at the Parkway from someone’s window, 21 storeys above that offers a commanding view of the curving belt of asphalt and concrete as it winds its way to the skyscrapers and the towers of Downtown Toronto. The above photo was taken from her house, long exposed to show the beauty of the Parkway the way I saw it. Metaphorically, freeways are part of the arterial lifeblood of a city’s transportation system, moving cars at high speed and bogged down during rush hour as if bottlenecks in our own veins and arteries clog up our blood and increase the pressure after years of irresponsible dieting. The drivers around me during morning and afternoon rush hour are, just like myself, driving with the intention that they need to get to work, school, or play while having a plethora of emotions not many other drivers around would care for in my opinion. I see drivers with mixed emotions, rarely happy but preoccupied with thoughts about the workday ahead of them, the obligations they have at home, or as I would think most of the time, sentimental memories that create a silent and private connection between them and the freeway.
I have a sentimental connection with the Don Valley Parkway. Half of its
13 15-kilometre route are memories involving road rage and serenity at different moments throughout my history with the freeway. Somehow the archaic design of the Parkway from Highway 401 to Don Mills Road has prevented drivers from moving as efficiently as the urban planners thought ideally in the 1960s - futuristic high-speed bliss. I would take a shortcut to skip this, but nevertheless it can be jolly fun if you are patient enough to go through it. The other half, downtown-bound, is with that friend of mine who lives 21 storeys on an apartment building where the above photograph was taken. Somehow, the latter experience is a huge contrast; traffic flows faster, and simply having someone to carpool with, let alone someone as a great friend, makes the driving experience to school so pleasant and, as I mentioned, sentimental.
Other times, when the traffic flows and volumes are light, that 15-kilometres is spent in just 15 minutes moving at speeds above 100km/h or more (I tend to speed and enjoy the meandering curves, though I should slow down and enjoy more the luscious green scenery). Simply navigating through it safely with a few lane changes and great appreciation for the natural and man-made beauties drivers can see as they wind their way up or down the freeway can either be a white-knuckle experience, or just similar to a stroll in the park. The sentimentality I have had with the DVP is what makes it all so meaningful for the consideration of studying psychogeography and how it has created a special connection between myself and the built environment.
At this point, there are so many things I’d like to explore, such as carpooling and psychogeography and creating a signature piece through my education as as a graphic designer to make the connection and having meaningful results throughout. From the 401 up north, I am more inclined on keeping my eyes on the road rather than seeing a lady talking to a colleague via her headset in her white Mercedes-Benz and making observations about it. Though I have had the opportunity to think, to observe, and to just have an almost religious experience simply standing on an overpass looking at rush-hour traffic on the DVP. The drivers - who are they, where are they coming from, what do they do for a living, why are they alone and others carpooling with someone, and if so what is their relationship with the ones they are carpooling with, and so on.
The Don Valley Parkway, to me, is not just a 15-kilometre freeway with a maximum legal speed limit of 90km/h. To me, it has sentimental value. A few hours ago, I drove a friend home, who has had a profound influence in my life during the past two years, through the DVP at evening rush hour. I was surprised that, as it is the first Monday after March Break, that the freeway flowed well and traffic volumes were lighter than usual. I expressed my amazement for this as usually the DVP at anytime during the week (even weekends) that traffic volumes seem to be consistently the same and slowdowns are expected. The northbound way up is sometimes just a routine drive up home, but when you think about it, where are all these drivers or people in automobiles, motorcycles, and buses coming from; are they driving up from a Leafs’ game, from a night out as passengers via taxi, or are they off to their lovely abodes in the suburbs, missing their families and looking forward for a nice, relaxing dinner.
There are simply thousands of stories out there, and I think just by observation they are all to be thought out and to be looked into through our freeways. Of course I won’t just try and stop traffic and ask people questions, but for me I just gotta wonder and think about it all. Especially the Don Valley Parkway.
Dec 13 - 10 Miles (16 km) Blue
Dec 18 - 11 Miles (17 km) Coney Island Ride for Neeko’s Birthday Purple
Dec 20 - 21 Miles (33 km) Red Hook to Chelsea Red
I haven’t been into Manhattan other than driving through it since I came by yesterday; Williamsburg, Brooklyn has given me a good runabout as to what the neighbourhood was all about - Hipsters and Hasidic Jews, and lots of ‘em. I spent my first full day biking in -6 degree weather, with winds whipping up my hair around the neighbourhood, and the above tracked map shows where I biked. 10 miles or 16 kilometres was what I accomplished today. And my muscles were damn aching after. At least half were done with bike lanes, and somehow my bike acted up quite a bit during the cold weather (and I must be crazy enough to bike around as I did not see Hipster cyclists proudly scouring the city in fixed gear bikes).
As well, a woman in her BMW opened her driver-side door just as I was clearing up her car, clipping me and injuring my right foot and nearly skidding my bike onto Williamsburg asphalt. I was expecting an exchange of words to the fullest emotions possible, but I simply told her to watch her mirrors next time. Though BMWs have their fancy fold-in side mirrors when you parallel-park them. She asked if I was alright, and yes, I was. If I left a dent or a scratch on her beige BMW, I wouldn’t care much of it.
Brooklyn is a strangely laid-out city, where many roads follow the orientation of the East River coastline, resulting in an interesting but difficult to navigate network of streets. I am very accustomed to the north-south grid system, especially with Manhattan and Toronto. With the aide of an iPhone app with its year-old NYC Cycling map, I was able to navigate through the neighbourhoods of Williamsburg, South Side, and Greenpoint. Despite the weather conditions described above, there came about the first theme/idea for the.sis.city. I was still unsure of my direction during the last week of school, and after meeting up with Neeko yesterday and today we talked about the use of infographics and refining the direction to take by focusing on some weird observations overlooked by most people.
Yesterday, Neeko and I biked around South Williamsburg for a bit after going to the bar, and he told me that area was heavily populated by Hasidic Jews, an ultra-orthodox sect of Judaism. With further research, New York City had the largest population of Hasidic Jews, concentrated within South Williamsburg. Further more research revealed recent tension between the increasingly gentrified, young, and diverse Hipster population north of Broadway / Williamsburg Bridge and Williamsburg proper, and the established Hasidim immediately south of the Bridge all the way to Flushing Ave at the borderline of the neighbourhood. Neeko pointed out that there was one bit interesting about this area on the streets - minivans, and lots of them.
I was told later on when I met a man named Sol, a Hasid, in the hostel that so many of them have large families, and statistically have a higher-than-average fertility rate an therefore having lots of children. Understandable as the need for minivans is a necessity. What I noticed, however, is the amount of Honda Odyssey minivans in comparison to other manufacturers in South Williamsburg. I thought the reasons why were either that they were having good deals on the Hondas by word of mouth or by demand for them, or they preferred a high-quality, reliable people-mover over, say, a domestic-made automobile. The sheer number of Honda Odysseys in any given block however, boggled the shits out of me.
I did a couple of observations while I biked through South Williamsburg in the daytime to see if I could find even more Honda Odysseys and the ratios compared to other manufacturers. At this point it hit me; I should have considered my interest in car culture and cars, which I didn’t consider when I wrote up my visual essay for Research Methodologies class. I noticed that for every street block, there were an estimated 15 cars. 10-12 of them on average were minivans, while the rest were crossovers, small cars, or trucks. For every 5 minivans on the block, 3 of them were Honda Odysseys of model year 1999 to present year. For every 2 of 3 Honda Odysseys, they were third-generation (2005-2010 MY), and 1 of every 10 were the new fourth-generation 2011 models. Many were leased, judging from the dealer plate brackets they had in the back, and the colour silver seems to be the most popular choice. As well, most of the minivans were from Japanese automakers; they were manufactured in North American plants and are North American market-specification compared to “MPVs” in Japan; the most popular American minivan was the Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager (I haven’t seen any Chrysler Town and Country vans) sibling platform models.
It is very intriguing because I have not seen a dense concentration of Honda minivans in a neighbourhood before, especially when I keep seeing a Honda Odyssey while I wait for the light or simply seeing some backing into a parking space. It was unbelievable and comprehensible at the same time. Going back to the conversation with Sol and thoughts later on during the day, I figured that with Honda’s reputation and the Odyssey having a competitive edge over other minivans on the market, there was a lot to try to understand so as to why Hasidim seemingly prefer Honda Odysseys.
But at this point I am too tired to think of it some more and I need some sleep.
You know what, this got me thinking. Of the many years I’ve been living in Toronto, and the recent observance of Toronto politics by yours truly, the new era of Mayor Fa…Rob Ford is, at least to me, the most revolutionary in terms of in-your-face, no-frills thinking despite he, an elected official of this fine city of 2.5 million, having the opposite spectrum of political thinking. It got me considering the new style of Toronto politics: fresh, with a helping of Don Cherry, a former hockey coach now CBC Hockey Night in Canada commentator and a Canadian household name when it comes to ColdFX tablets and of course, hockey. His “Pinko” speech complemented with a fine-looking pink suit (his speech transcribed by the good ol’ lefties from Torontoist) has become notorious for lefties being offended by it all, as well as come to think about it now, the new face of Toronto’s politics. No right-wing forces of leadership has ever gone this awesome since Mayor Mel Lastman became the first mayor of the amalgamated City of Toronto in 1998; he won his mayoralty for his suburban support and the first true division seen between the ‘elitist’ (arguable) downtown and the working-class suburbs.
Traditionally, the city clerk gets to give the new mayor the chain of office during the ceremonial inauguration. But in 2010, when Rob Ford won the mayoral race in the promise of ‘stopping the gravy train’ and putting taxpayers priority over council’s perks and what-nots (Rob Ford’s no-frills inauguration affair - Toronto Star), it is fitting not only to have a more conservative, less pomp ceremony, but to break tradition and bring in Mr. Cherry, a resident of Mississauga, to give Mr. Ford the chain of office, and to give a speech about the new Right-Wing Toronto. Indeed, what you see is what you get. We are given, and mind you I am a centrist-left-winger politically, a new Toronto with a no-nonsense, kind of almost Sarah Palin-esque approach to getting things done. We are now treated with less Jane Jacobs and more George W., but I am still weary as to whether things will get done, or shit will hit the fan.
Consider the first bit of what Mr. Ford will do to the city - the elimination of Transit City, a transportation solution based on light-rail transit, and Ford’s favour towards the construction of new subway lines. As a Scarborough resident, I am in favour of a subway (finally) making its rounds to the most suburban, most greenest part of my fair city. But I always ask at least, as a left-winger I ask, where the hell is the money coming from? 600,000 Scarberians would like to know (well not all of them) that while Mayor Ford would like to keep the city in the black, the cost of subways in the long run would not be fiscally sustainable unless the city can really prove that the money will be there. Transit City is a viable solution for the time being, and one can argue that Transit City may not be a good long term solution as the city continues to grow. For Scarberians, the former City of Scarborough has long been the bane of transit, where the Bloor-Danforth ends on the south side at Kennedy Road and Eglinton, and the dreaded Scarborough RT begins; by extending the subway to Scarborough City Centre, for sure it will eliminate some 15 minutes of my commuting time to school; the extension of the Sheppard Line as originally planned to Scarborough Centre would bring forth growth to the former city/borough, but that’s just my opinion.
Back to Don. At least at this point I think its best to be optimistic about the city. I told a friend of mine that even though the progressive Toronto has ended and we are now under four years of right-wing leadership, everyone should be optimistic at what Rob Ford can do and what he cannot do. I drive and I commute, and I would appreciate the cancellation of the Vehicle Registration Tax; I don’t mind paying it because it would go to the city, but you never know whether Adam Vaughan is getting some extra perks because a bunch of drivers are paying extra just by living in this fine city. It got me thinking about what sort of things and stuff I can get out of Mayor Rob Ford’s Toronto for my Sister Cities thesis project. Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his successor Michael Bloomberg of the fine City of New York has gone through great lengths to rid of crime and make New York City a very prosperous city, and they’re right-wing. Maybe Toronto’s so insecure and still needing a place in the country and the world to have a sense of political direction to nurture the city and its inhabitants.
In thinking about all this, I want to create a thesis project that will make Mayor Ford think. I’ve been a bit vocal about him through my tweets and my Facebook account and then I realized something - I’m as passionate about my views and opinions as everyone else including Mayor Ford, and that’s why I love this country and the democratic system we live in. At the same time I am inspired to put money where my mouth is. Since my group in Research Methodologies class project on Nuit Blanche thought of solutions while taking into account Rob Ford’s Toronto, I think design and everyone in their professional capacities should take advantage of the new, renewed political landscape of the City of Toronto. I am already seeing Pinko buttons from Spacing magazine (a fine Toronto institution of independent journalism) and I am more than happy to at least use my talents as part of this thesis project to show a political landscape of Toronto and many other cities in a fun, emotional, and engaging way.
Because in the end, I aim to reach everyone, to be aware of the urban environments they live in, to get involved, and no matter what your political spectrum may be, to just be critical and love the democratic system we all live in.
I still respect you, Don Cherry.
(photo from Google Images)
If there is anything similar to most cities out there it would be high-density housing.