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As the East Bayfront grows, Waterfront invests in making it cycle-friendly.

Waterfront Toronto is not satisfied to wait until the East Bayfront is finished before opening it up to cyclists. It wants them there now.

And so they’re building an interim cycling infrastructure (and one for pedestrians as well), that will serve the burgeoning area until development and funding are in place.

East Bayfront was a formerly industrial part of the waterfront,” says Waterfront spokeswoman Sam Gileno. “It lacked basic infrastructure such as a continuous sidewalk on the south side of the street. The full revitalization of Queens Quay in this area is dependent on funding for the East Bayfront LRT. The interim pedestrian and cyclists improvements will help connect the area until funding for this important transit line is in place and construction is complete.”

According to Gileno, there are two major projects getting underway.

First is a cyclist network.

“We will create a continuous off-street Martin Goodman Trail on the south side of Queens Quay which will separate cyclists from motor vehicles along the waterfront,” she says. “By spring, 2015, when both this project and the revitalization of Queens Quay are complete, the Martin Goodman Trail will be in place from Bathurst Street all the way to Parliament Street.”

The second is a continuous sidewalk for pedestrians.

“Currently the sidewalk in this area is an asphalt path,” she says. “It will be replaced with a city standard concrete sidewalk with landscaping alongside. A north-south pedestrian crosswalk will also be added along the east side of the Parliament Street intersection.”

The two will cost $1.8 million, which includes both hard and soft costs, and will remain in place until Queens Quay has been fully renovated.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Sam Gileno

New Meccano-like home-building system debuts in Toronto

There’s a new building material in town. It’s called Bone, and its Quebec-based progenitors are colourfully enthusiastic about it.

“In addition to being environmentally friendly and energy efficient,” their press release says upon the introduction of Bone to the Toronto market, “the BONE Structure system promotes the development of local economies and gives free rein to clients' and architects' creativity by making it easy to form vast spaces with variable volumes and grandiose fenestration.”

I’m guessing that was written by president and founder, Marc Bovet, based on the tone and timbre of our quick talk.

“I have been in different trades,” he says, talking about what got him into the building business. “I was born and raised in retail, probably even conceived behind a counter.

“I'm not an engineer, not an architect, not a handyman, I do not wear a tool belt on the weekends. In 2004, I bought a property, a 1942 house, the paint was original, even the phone was Northern Atlantic. People tell me I'm compulsive. I hired a master carpenter. It went way over schedule and I ended up in a hotel room with my wife and four kids for two weeks.”

He says the experience left him “pissed off,” and he went in search of a better way to fix your home.

After reading and travelling and consulting with his old colleagues at Bombardier, where he used to work in management, he came up with Bones, made of recycled materials, and put together in what he compares to Meccano, for those old enough to remember it, or Lego for those who aren’t.

Standardized parts, made of 40- to 60 per cent recycled steel into 11-gauge galvanized steel, mean as much as 1,000 square feet of home can be put up per day by four or five builders using a single tool (an impact drill). “There’s no cutting, no piercing, no welding, no garbage on our construction site,” Bovet says. There are also no load-bearing interior walls, meaning houses built with Bone are easily alterable.

“Your kids, they leave home at 28 if everything goes well,” he says. “You can knock down the walls, and put them back up when they come back at the age of 32.”

The system, he says, has been patented in 42 countries.

As a showcase, Bovet’s had a show home put up in Don Mills, open to the public Sept. 27 and 28, in conjunction with an information session at the Shops at Don Mills, from which there will be shuttle service to the site. (You can register by emailing jmcaffee@budmanpr.com.)

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Marc Bovet

Bayview development looks to replace "outdated" concept of a "room"

Toronto is a grandly livable city. One of the world's most livable, in fact. And a big part of what makes it so livable are its neighbourhoods and its Victoria/Edwardian houses.

The flip side to this is a certain monotony. If it ain't broke, don't fix it seems to be the approach of developers and architects behind even the newest single-family dwellings, all of whom hew to some version or other of the classic Toronto look.

Andrew Sorbara figures it's time for a change, and he's calling his north Toronto contribution to that change Crafthouse.

“We've created a beautiful collection of contemporary homes that will comprise a highly unique urban subdivision,” the developer says. “Each home features well-proportioned and open spaces, with livable floor plans. Inside, we've removed the walls that typically separate formal and informal spaces.

“I think the most significant design element in Crafthouse, and the aspect that I'm most proud of, is the connection between interior and exterior spaces. We've successfully integrated courtyards into each of the homes, capturing light throughout. This is really unique to our Toronto subdivisions.”

Built on the site of an old public school, the subdivision of 20 houses was designed by architect Peter Vishnovsky. The houses are all fairly large, ranging from just over 3,000 square feet to just over 5,000, and starting at $1.8 million.

The first closings are slated for mid-2015.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Andrew Sorbara

City's Idea Space looks to engage the community beyond the public meeting

Public meetings are great democratic tools in principle. But in practice, they tend to attract a narrow demographic, consistent in both the nature of their concerns, and their attendance. The result can be an equally narrow glimpse into the mood and opinions of the city.

So the city's decided to expand its ambit.

“Over the last year, the city has been exploring ways to enhance our capacity to inform, engage and consult with the public including through the use of online tools,” says Fionna Murray, the city's director of corporate policy. The city commissioned a company called Mindmixer to develop consultation tools it could deploy online to get a truer insight into what the city thinks.

They're calling it Idea Space.

“Each discussion is created for a specific purpose,” Murray says. “City divisions can use the new Idea Space as one of their consultation tools – likely they will use a combination of traditional and online methods. Depending on the purpose or goal of that consultation the comments would be considered alongside other input. This online tool has the advantage of creating a record that can be shared and passed along to other staff as well.”

In slightly circular fashion, the first issue up for discussion via Idea Space is called Growing conversations: Making engagement work, organized by the city's planning division to get a handle on people's thoughts as to how public consultations can be improved.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Fionna Murray

Ace Hotel-inspired condo rising at Richmond and Spadina

Inspired by the Ace hotel chain in the US, and influenced by its neioghbourhood's garment district history, Fabrik is about to begin its rise on Richmond at Spadina.

“Excavation is well underway,” says Menkes Development Ltd.'d VP of high-rise residential Jared Menkes, whose baby it is, “and we are approaching the bottom of the hole. Soon people in the neighbourhood will see our crane go up, for the start of concrete pouring, when we begin working on the parking garage.”

Designed inside and out by Giannone Petricone and Associates, the 17-storey just-above-midrise tower will fit in well with the similarly massed existing buildings along Spadina.

Giannone “were incredibly thoughtful in their design approach,” Menkes says. “All of the common areas incorporate small details and features that nod to the local area's history as Toronto's garment / fashion district. Giannone Petricone is responsible for the design of the Terroni restaurants in Toronto, and anyone who's been to Terroni would understand their great design aesthetic.”

The development is part of what may be a trend in next-generation condos in the city drawing their inspiration from, or being influenced by hotels.

Fabrik is being built on the site of the old King Textiles.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Jared Menkes

New Arc'teryx store opens at Queen and John

When you go to Gstaad to learn to ski, you'll notice something about the instructors. They all wear the same orange ski jackets. They look pretty cool in them, and if you ask, they'll sing the jackets' praises, telling you how you can mold the hood in any number of ways depending on the visibility and wind conditions, how the bright orange makes them visible in even the worst conditions. They love these things. And they're made by Arc'teryx.

You've been able to get them at all the more serious outdoors shops, but on Friday, the company finally opened a 2,700 square foot standalone store on Queen at John, at the site of the old Quicksilver shop, conceived and executed by the Arc'teryx design team.

Like Canada Goose, Arc'teryx – an abbreviation of the name of the earliest identified bird fossil discovered at the time of the company's foundation in 1989 -- was conceived and founded in Canada, the sort of company the country could be proud of, that reminded us that we are indeed a Northern nation and know a thing or two about the outdoors.

And like Canada Goose, Arc'teryx, founded in North Vancouver, sold out to a French firm in 2001, which was then bought by Adidas, and then sold to a Finnish company. Its headquarters are still in Burnaby, B.C., though much of its stuff is now made in China, Vietnam, and elsewhere. It currently employs 600 people.

Queen and John is its 13th standalone shop, with immediate future plans to open numbers 14 through 16 in Portland, Minneapolis, and Washington D.C.

As its Toronto communications person says, though Arc'teryx products will continue to be available in shops aorund town, "Our brand stores are the only location where customers can experience the complete Arc’teryx offering."

Arc'teryx may not be Canadian anymore, but like William Shatner and Jim Carrey, we can still be proud of them.

Writer: Bert Archer

Senior nuns' residence wins international design award

The Sisters of St. Joseph, who once ran much of the Catholic school system in Toronto, are a dwindling breed, but they've decided to dwindle in style, and the commission they gave to Shim-Sutcliffe Architects to build a home cum hospital for the older nuns in need of care has just won the World Architecture News Healthcare Award.

The project included a renovation of their existing residence, built in the 1850s on the Don Valley, and an addition in the form of a private hospital for 58 nuns along side it.

As the jury described it, “Forming a sinuous line between the Don Valley to the north and the low rise urban fabric of the city to the south, the Residence for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto articulates both individual contemplative life and the community engagement of the Sisters ministries, making relationships to Nature and City to reinforce public and private aspects.”

The new structure includes geothermal heating, green roofs, solar panels and a storm water management system.

The project was completed in April, 2013. Shim-Sutcliffe is one of Toronto's most awarded firms, with 12 Governor General's Medals since its formation in 1994, and is best known for Integral House (2009), Weathering Steel House (2001), and Laneway House (1993).

Writer: Bert Archer

Fifty-five storeys going up at University and Dundas with indoor connection to subway

The hotel/condo thing did't work for Toronto – see 1 King West – so developer Amexon is trying out a more likely model: a condo that behaves like a hotel.

Construction has begun on 488 University, a 55-storey condo tower being built on the site of the old 480 University at the northwest corner of University and Dundas, and when it opens in November, 2017, it will include something called Sky Club. It's a bit of a shtick, but it may also move the bar on condo amenities in the city. Sky Club includes the regular social space and a fitness centre. They've got a pool too, but it's saltwater, and they throw in a spa, a restaurant, a bar and a concierge, all open to residents and their guests.

It doesn't go as far as it might in staving off the grand privatization of the downtown core – condos with bars and restaurants and rooftops open to the public would be much better – but by explicitly inviting guests to take advantage of what's essentially a gym/spa, it goes a little further than most.

Fifty-five of the 453 units will be three-bedroom – also a step in the right direction – but families looking for space to raise their children in condos will still have to come up with a minimum of $750,000 to do it in this building.

The tower was designed by Deni Poletti of CORE Architects, with interiors by Dan Menchions of II x IV and will be incorporating everything but the façade of the old structure into the new tower. Along with the RCMI down the street at 426 University, 488 could very well liven up University Avenue and encourage more retail along what's now just hospital row. Amexon is planning on signing up a restaurant, a cafe and what spokesman Jason Shiff refers to as a “gourmet food store” to occupy the base of the building.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Jason Shiff

City's app-assisted bike research nears 3,000 riders, 40,000 rides

Toronto's aptly named Toronto Cycling app is now approaching 40,000 captured trips in its mission to map the city's most popular cycling routes.

The city's current cycling routes total 570 km, and it's looking to expand along what some have called desire lines, routes that get used whether they'e promoted or not.

Created by Waterloo's Brisk Synergies, Toronto Cycling was released in May on Android and IPhone. Since then, about 3,000 people have downloaded the app, which uses GPS to track the routes cyclists use. A visualization the city has produced using the data collected so far, with recorded trips rendered in red as an overlay on a map, reveals veinous and arterial routes breathing two-wheeled life into the city.

The city will continue collecting the data until at least November, when they will compile it into a report to present to council in 2015. 

"At the end of the year we will be evaluating the value of continuing the data collection into 2015 and on," says Sibel Sarper, assistant planner. "The data collected in 2014 may provide a good baseline to monitor the change in cycling route choice after new cycling infrastructure is introduced yearly."

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Sibel Sarper

Roots opens new flagship shop on Bloor

It's summer, but there's a breeze coming in off the water, and in a small Austrian town on Lake Constance, a Chinese tourist walks through the old Corn Market wearing a red Roots sweatshirt.

Roots was never entirely Canadian. Founded in Toronto in 1973 by two Michigan natives, Don Green and Michael Budman, the brand has always been Canada as seen by Americans who like Algonquin Park, a vision of roughing it, Canadian style, through the patina of New England nostalgia.

What started as a binational hybrid has become global. The company announced that 2013, the year of its 40th anniversary, was its best ever due in large part to its success in Asia. 

So it's appropriate that their new flagship store, which opened on Friday, was built by a student of Mies van der Rohe, whose modernist aesthetic was known in its heyday as the International Style.

Eighty Bloor West was designed by Peter Carter, built in 1972, and once was the address for architect Arthur Erickson's Toronto office. The new Roots space is 6,500 square feet on two levels.

That's a little more than a third the size of the Bloor store it's replacing, which was 18,500 square feet. And that's a reflection of the other reality of Roots circa 2014. It may be expanding in Asia, but its physical retail operations are beginning to take a back seat to its online business.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Robert Sarner

New report reveals plans for Lower Yonge Precinct

Yesterday, Waterfront Toronto and the City of Toronto gave the public an update on what's going on with the plans to develop the 12-hectare chunk of the city known as the Lower Yonge Precinct.

The parcel goes from Yonge to Jarvis, the Gardiner to Queens Quay, and includes the Toronto Star tower, the big LCBO, a Loblaws, and a lot of parking.

As the presented report says, “Since this waterfront precinct is so centrally located, its skillful and appropriate revitalization is critical to the waterfront’s success.”

The plan involves extending Harbour Street all the way to Jarvis, building a new street between Cooper and Lower Jarvis, and putting in a park. While “acknowledging its contextual relationship to the downtown core to the west and the St. Lawrence community to the north,” the proposed density doesn't seem to be learning much from St. Lawrence, long acknowledged as one of the city's most successful bits of planning. 

The most important aspect of the development of this precinct, however, is likely to be its role in connecting the centre with the eastern port lands, like the Canary District and the Distillery.

If you would like to offer your own feedback – and a good deal of this planning has been based on previous comments from interested Torontonians – you can do so here.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Samantha Gileno

City unveils new road-closure site

The city has just made it a little less infuriating to drive around.

As of this month, there's a city website listing all the road closures that might hamper you in your commute or daily errand-running.

It's just a list, but a useful one, compiled by city staff from information sent to them by workers in the field. It lists the name of the road, what intersections it's closed from and to, when the closure starts and ends, and what the extent of the closure is (one lane, all lanes, etc.).

As of the July 21 update, there were five closures on the site, which lists only “main roads,” which the city defines as those roads which are not “local roads.”

“Our staff in the field make a determination if construction on the roadway will be particularly impactful to the travelling public,” says Steve Johnston, who works in the city's communications department.

I say “a little less” infuriating because the city at the moment has no plans for an app, which would make it easier to check into such things when one is already on the road.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Steve Johnston

Short film highlights chief planner as a creative mind

Chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat is the star of a new short film by Freeman House Productions, a Toronto firm doing a series about creative people called The Guild. The project does Keesmaat, and the city, a big favour. In the seven-and-a-half-minute black-and-white film, Keesmaat  makes urban planning sound like fun.

“I believe we are inherently creative as a species,” she says at the outset. “I'm a city-builder. I build cities every day. That's my job.

“It's really tricky for me to walk down the street without looking at the shape of a building, the way the entrances are shaped, the width of a sidewalk.”

Though people looking for Toronto specifics will be disappointed – this little film is all blue-sky, big-picture stuff – the way Keesmaat thinks about her profession, as a mix of engineering and art, should make us all sleep a little better at night as our city, as dreamt up by her, coalesces around us.

Writer: Bert Archer

Condo market, especially rentals, continues strong in second quarter

Condo sales were up 10.4 per cent over this time last year, and listings 4.4 per cent, which is great news if you're in the condo business.

But a quick comparison with single-family, semi-detached and townhouses means this could be good news even for those not yet in the market.

According to Jason Mercer, the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) senior market analyst, all this could end up meaning families may finally start moving into condos.

“Currently, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units (including “+ den” variations) are the most popular, “ he says, “both in terms of ownership and rentals. Moving forward, it seems reasonable that an increasing number of families will look to the condominium apartment market to meet their housing needs. Over the past few years, we have seen competition for low-rise homes increase as listings for singles, semis and townhomes have been constrained. This has made it difficult for some households to find a home that meets their needs. Some of these households, who were initially focused on low-rise home types, may expand their search to include condominium apartments.”

At the moment, the fact that 2+-bedroom and 3-bedroom condos are averaging over $400,000 has been an obstacle, but if the single-family dwelling market gets more and more rarefied, the larger condo inits may start to look more attractive, even at those prices.

But there will also be increasing opportunities to get around those prices, as the condo market is also showing signs of robustly stepping in to fill the rental property void.

“Over the past decade, we have not seen a lot of purpose-built rental buildings come on line,” Mercer says. “As a result, the market for higher-end rental units has been served by investors choosing to rent their units. As new condo apartment completions have trended upwards, so too have rental listings and rental transactions.”

According to TREB's report, 27.6 per cent of Toronto's condos are rentals, with a vacancy rate of just 1.7 per cent. It was 1.8 per cent last fall, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), and 1.2 per cent in fall, 2012).

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Jason Mercer

Midrise at Queen and Pape may have found its final developer--or not

You'd think a mid-rise condo at the corner of Queen and Pape would be a no-brainer.

You'd be wrong.

In 2012, the half-built structure was bought by the Rose and Thistle Group, a little-known Yorkville developer, after the original developer--whose name is lost in the mists of time but who confidently called the project the Film Studio Lofts--threw in the towel after beginning the project in – get this – 2006. Rose and Thistle then got embroiled in a fracas with diet doctor Stanley Bernstein.

The property, still unfinished, passed quietly into the hands of the similarly quiet, but somewhat more sinister sounding Kartelle Corporation. Work picked up again, and a new rendering was released, which seemed to picture the Queen streetcar driving north up Pape, which didn't bode well for the troubled property.

The 12-unit disaster doesn't look like it'll be going anywhere fast even now, however. After a month of trying to get a response from Kartelle, Yonge Street Media had to throw in the towel itself, unable to get a word out of anyone but the receptionist, who assured me in June that someone would get back to me. Several emails later and: silence.

So, no word on completion date, no word on sales, and no word on whether it wouldn't be a good idea to just blow the thing and start again with another developer. Streetcar, are you listening?

Writer: Bert Archer
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