Time to rethink the way we build cities

About this time last month, IBM Canada, a company not known for taking a keen interest in housing, decided it was time for all stakeholders in the future of this country to start talking about the issues we face when it comes to building cities that will maintain top quality of life as they grow, wrote The Globe And Mail Dec. 4.

It conducted a cross-Canada survey about the issues surrounding cities that people are most concerned about. Not surprisingly, about half rated traffic and public transit as No. 1. Almost one-third said their city was not on the path of long-term liveability and nine out of 10 said we have to change the way we manage cities.

James McKellar, professor of real estate and infrastructure in the Schulich School of Business at York University, says hats off to IBM for wanting to generate discussion, but he thinks the company is placing the focus in the wrong direction. “Talking about roads and traffic is the wrong paradigm,” he says. “That places the focus on the old way of growing cities in North America. To ensure liveability, we have to embrace an entirely new model.”

City opens door to election reform

A door previously closed to provincial election reform has swung open in Ontario with a bold push from Toronto, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 4 in an editorial.

Voting 29-12, an impressive majority of city councillors confounded the cynics this week by banning union and corporate donations. They put service to democracy ahead of their own self-interest. In the interest of fairness, equity and consistency, the province should now follow the principled example set by its largest municipality.

Corporate donors, in particular, “tend to focus on winners,” notes York University Professor Robert MacDermid, an expert on election financing in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. “They tend to focus on candidates who are incumbents.” That undercuts challengers and limits the success of newcomers in municipal politics. By banning corporate and union donations in Toronto, “candidates who come from underprivileged groups now have a fighting chance to win an election,” says MacDermid.

  • MacDermid spoke about the Toronto decision to ban union and corporate campaign donations, on CBC Radio Toronto’s “Here & Now” Dec. 3.

Miller calls debt plan ‘brilliant’

Toronto’s new debt strategy is “nothing short of brilliant,” according to Mayor David Miller, but critics fear it will lead taxpayers down the road to paying untold millions in extra interest costs on the city’s $2.4-billion debt load, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 4 in a story about a plan to extend the length of its loans from the traditional 10 years to 30-year repayments on one-quarter of the city’s debt.

Miller said the strategy is fair because longer-term borrowing will be used to pay for a long-term asset, the extension of the Spadina subway from Downsview station [through] York University. It means citizens using the extension in the future will help pay for it.

Attacking tension over pensions

Hamilton New Democrat Paul Miller raised the Nortel pension issue in the legislature this week, wrote the Toronto Sun Dec. 4. He wants this province to follow Quebec’s lead and invest the Nortel pension fund in managed funds to raise the money they have lost from 70 per cent to 90 or 100 per cent of their pension.

Miller wants the government to beef up funding for its Pension Benefits Guarantee Fund (PBGF). That was a recommendation of former York University president Harry Arthurs in his report to the government last year.

Bay’s one-day specials pull ’em in

Loss leaders, which bring shoppers into the store for a bargain with the hope they’ll buy something else, are as old as advertising itself, says Alan Middleton, a professor of marketing in the Schulich School of Business at York University, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 4 in a story about a series of recent sales events at the Bay stores.

He recalls last Christmas, when stores faced a glut of leftover inventory, a situation retailers don’t want repeated this year. Middleton has also observed that the Bay is pushing products not usually associated with Christmas giving, things other than perfume and toys.

“What they are hoping for is that people will come in for a really good deal on sensible regular purchases, then go on to buy something more seasonal at full price. That’s the game.”

Technology puts students at head of class, award-winning teacher says

Nathalie Rudner, a winner of this year’s Prime Minister’s Awards for Teaching Excellence, overflows with enthusiasm about how technology is changing the way teachers teach, wrote the Thornhill Liberal Dec. 3. She rattles off the pluses of Moodles and Googles and Wikis and Smart Boards, all teaching tools she is convinced will help educators reach the millennial generation.

A teacher since 1998, she became involved with ABEL, a program led and funded by York University and the York Region District School Board, piloting new technology in the classroom.

Teacher describes experiences in Peru

Holy Martyrs of Japan Development & Peace Ministry provided parishioners with something special last week, wrote Bradford West Gwillimbury Topic Dec. 3. They were taken to South America when they listened to a well-organized presentation from York grad Tanya Trevisan (BA Hons. & BEd ’08).

A dedicated parishioner and teacher, Trevisan travelled to Peru in August. Working with children and their families in the most impoverished areas of Lima, Peru, Trevisan was part of a mission trip sponsored by Solidarity in Action.

Dancing in the shadow of the flame

Lauren O’Neill White saw The Nutcracker, and fell in love, wrote The Collingwood Enterprise-Bulletin Dec. 4 in a story about the York student’s upcoming participation in the opening ceremonies for the Vancouver Olympics.

She was six at the time, and decided all she wanted to do was dance. “My mom was a dancer, and she didn’t want me to do it,” she said with a laugh as she sat cross-legged on the studio floor at the Fleet-Wood Dancentre. “I had to fight with my parents to be put into dance.”

White is now 22, and she’s about to dance on the biggest stage in the world. The Collingwood woman, who is taking fine arts at York University (a specialized BA in dance) will be one of about a thousand dancers performing in the closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

His minimalist work had maximum impact

The art world is a fickle beast at the best of times, and Peter Kolisnyk was one who knew that well. A bright star who won critical acclaim in the 1970s with his groundbreaking minimalist work, he began to fade from view as his style of working fell from favour, wrote The Globe and Mail Dec. 4 in an obituary.

He taught workshops in southern Ontario, served on boards and juries, and continued to show in regional galleries, but the intense creative spark of his earlier years was nearly extinguished by the lack of public acceptance. Years later, in his 60s, he was able to find it again.

Friends and family are still a bit baffled about what caused Kolisnyk’s long creative dry spell. They say changing tastes in art and a lack of public acclaim explain only part of it. “There was definitely a phase where he did feel bitter,” Peter Jr. said.

All of this took a toll on both himself and his family. He and Anne moved back to Toronto in 1988, and she found work in the city; they separated in 1989. Kolisnyk moved into a small house in the east end, a two-and-a-half-metre-wide sanctuary that had been a coffin storage unit for the funeral home next door. He set up a studio. He also continued to teach, at the Koffler Centre of the Arts, Glendon College and other places throughout the area.

Peter Kolisnyk was born on Nov. 30, 1934. He died on Oct. 22, 2009. He was 74. He leaves Anne, his son Peter, his daughter Beth and his grandchildren.

On air

  • Terry Goldie, English professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and author of Queersexlife: Autobiographical Notes on Sexuality, Gender & Identity, spoke about the portrayal of a gay couple on the TV show “Modern Family”, on CBC Radio’s “The Current” Dec. 3.