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Toronto’s Chief Planner on Suburban Mobility at CUI/NRU Event

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“Land use is the best transit resource you can buy. We must continue to align land use and transit planning.”

That was a key message that Gregg Lintern delivered to attendees during the recent Canadian Urban Institute / Novae Res Urbis annual panel discussion with the City of Toronto’s Chief Planner. Lintern and other expert guests were gathered to speak about how to address the challenges around transit and mobility in Toronto’s suburbs as part of the 21st edition of the event.

Transportation can be a challenge in areas within Toronto’s limits that are far from the core, particularly for low-income families. Travelling to work, school or recreation is difficult and time-consuming. Lintern and the panel considered ways to rethink how to approach transportation planning in the region to make suburbs more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable, while offering a high quality of life and design.

DiamondCorp’s Laurie Payne moderated the event, image, @CANURB

Laurie Payne, vice-president of Development and Special Projects for DiamondCorp moderated the event. She set the stage by asking rhetorically, “How can we engage communities going forward to positively affect access, livability and mobility in Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough? How do we make good use of the infrastructure we have now? And how do we promote mobility in places designed for cars, not people?”

She pointed out that many of the people living in these areas are isolated—often having to commute two hours or more by public transit to and from work. Seniors are especially isolated, relying on infrequent local transit to get to where they are going, or crossing dangerous streets with multiple lanes of traffic that are unfriendly to pedestrians just to reach the bus stop. Moreover, access to frequent transit is not available to suburban areas that also have some of the lowest-incomes in the city. Lower incomes mean many residents do not own a vehicle.

She then introduced Lintern to address the audience. He told the crowd that, while Toronto has a vibrant and dense urban core, it is primarily a suburban city. He said he was very familiar with Toronto’s suburbs—he grew up in the Kipling Heights neighbourhood of north Etobicoke.

GTHA residents face an average commute of 85 minutes daily, Lintern said, image, @CANURB

Much of the suburbs were designed during what Lintern called “The Age of Convenience”—the 1950s and 1960s—and with the idea that residents would mostly get around by car where they wanted to go. In this age, he explained, planners did not conceive that residence and employment could be in the same neighbourhood—work was always some place where you had to travel to.

“What was convenient in the 1950s in now inconvenient in the 2020s”, he said. Lintern noted that many suburbanites face an average commute of 85 minutes daily. However, that may be changing, he said. Sixty percent of the projected growth for Toronto is in the suburbs. If that growth occurs with good land-use planning, Lintern said, that may mean greater mobility for the suburbs. Greater mobility, he explained, results in greater housing choices, which, in turn, produces greater equity.

Land-use planning is the best transit resource you can buy, Lintern told the audience, image, @CANURB

Lintern echoed Payne’s introductory question: The challenge for the City is how to retrofit the suburbs to improve mobility. The answer, he suggests, is to align land use and transit planning, so that transit infrastructure is in place before building takes place. Lintern noted that a large number of major transit projects are currently in design or under construction in Toronto, but also pointed out that, despite this, 70 per cent of the transit trips in the city are by bus or streetcar. He said that the city must plan transportation options to make sure that people can use all modes of transportation—from walking and cycling to local surface transit—so that it can also make sure that those major transportation projects succeed.

An even more important challenge, Lintern concluded, is this: How do you bring people along for the ride? “We have to connect people with the solutions to the mobility issue, by consulting frequently, listening carefully and redesigning new development and new transportation projects by adopting their input.”

Payne then introduced the members of the panel, each of whom made brief presentations. First up: Lintern’s colleague, Barbara Gray, the City’s General Manager of Transportation Services. She talked about work on the City’s Vision Zero plan to reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities on streets. She reminded attendees that we must talk about building networks for connected trips within communities when planning transit. A connected cycling network, for trips to downtown and in the suburbs create better and safer mobility options for suburbanites.

Communities are ecosystems, Ajeev Bhatia said, image, @CANURB

Ajeev Bhatia the Manager of Policy / Community Connections for the Centre for Connected Communities started his talk by stating that communities are ecosystems and transit planning processes must build off the community wisdom that’s already available to planners. Bhatia currently works on community engagement with local grassroots leaders. For example, Bhatia is working on a project to engage the community as part of planning for the future Eglinton East light rail transit line. As a result of this work, he’s encouraging planners to listen to local residents so they can better understand what’s happening in communities and what’s useful to the residents of those communities.

Eric Miller, Director of the University of Toronto‘s Transportation Research Institute spoke next. He focussed on Scarborough as typical of Toronto’s suburbs. He explained that even though politicians promote grand schemes to move Scarborough residents to and from downtown Toronto, the reality is that the city’s core is not where most of them want to travel. Miller displayed statistics that revealed that just 11 percent of them travel daily to and from downtown, ten percent commute to neighbouring York Region, and three to Durham. Eight percent travel to and from the rest of the city, and just two percent to the rest of the Greater Toronto area. The key take-away from these statistics: Nearly 70 percent of Scarborough residents commute only within Scarborough.

According to Eric Miller, the vast majority of Scarborough residents commute only within Scarborough, image, @CANURB

Of that 70 percent, 43 percent travel between north and south Scarborough. They don’t travel downtown or to North York. They don’t even travel for work to and from Scarborough Centre, which is where Toronto’s next subway will go.

Miller expressed concern about politicians emphasizing major transit projects over developing the nuts-and-bolts of a transportation network. “Building subways is not helpful”, he said, unless you also build basic transit services to carry people to and from that subway. He presented a slide with a layered triangle to illustrate how transit planners must build a successful network, step by step. On the base, buses (and streetcars) serve local communities, bringing them to high-order transit lines. Next, you can build bus-rapid or light-rail transit lines to link with the buses and connect passengers within a district. Subways are the next level of transit, linking BRTs and LRTs and passengers across the city. Finally, frequent commuter rail connects the subways and the entire region.

* * *

After the panellists’ presentations, Payne asked  the panel to respond to a series of questions.

“If you had to choose one move to improve mobility in areas not well served by high-level transit, what would it be?”

Lintern: I would make sure to link land-use planning with transit planning. The City’s Avenues project is a good illustration, where we’re encouraging higher densities along streets with transit services. Currently, many of these streets only have low-rise retail or residential.

Bhatia: Improve walkability. For example, the Mornelle area of Scarborough near U of T has a high number of seniors without cars who have to walk uphill to reach a distant grocery store. Adding frequent rest spots with benches and trees to local streets would help make those walks less onerous.

Gray: Focus on the first and last mile – develop strategies to improve walking, cycling and other ways that passengers travel to and from transit stops and stations. And, use pilot projects to test the plans and tweak them after the pilot period when necessary.

Miller: Continue doing what we’re doing, but improve frequency and reliability so that people can trust transit providers to be available to take them where they want to go.

The panel, left to right: Miller, Lintern, Bhatia, Gray, image @CANURB

“What would be your strategy to engage communities in developing tactics to improve mobility?”

Bhatia: Listen to the grassroots because officials will always learn things they didn’t know before. And, encourage “cross-silo” communications so that different sections of the government talk to each other!

Lintern: Professional planners and other experts need the humility to understand that they don’t have all the answers. The need to learn from communities.

Miller: Continue to build “last-mile” solutions to transportation issues. Running forty-foot buses on low-density residential streets is seldom successful. Consider “microtransit” – for example, smaller buses or demand-responsive services.

Gray: Support walking and cycling throughout the city to improve access for everyone, especially those without cars.

* * *

The event attracted a full house of planners, municipal officials and students at the University of Toronto’s Innis College. Among the audience were former Toronto chief planners, including Paul Bedford and Robert Millward, the City of Mississauga’s Commissioner of Planning and Building, Andrew Whittemore, and that city’s Commissioner of Transportation and Works, Geoff Wright.

What do you think of the issues that the Chief Planner and the panel discussed? Leave your comments in the form below this page.

* * *

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The cost of renovating your bathroom in Toronto in 2021

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Home renovations can be a big task, especially bathroom renovations where you have to work with either an awkwardly shaped space, or one with lots of pipework and very little natural light.

Nonetheless, getting a bathroom renovation by Easy Renovation to change your existing bathroom layout, improve the ambience or add more natural skylights can be worth all the trouble. But determining how much a bathroom renovation would cost is important while setting a budget.

The pandemic has changed a lot of things with social distancing rules, working from home, and for some, being made redundant. Therefore, having a complete grasp of the financial implication of a bathroom innovation is very important.

Owning your dream bathroom can be made a reality and the good thing is, regardless of your financial situation, there are always available options. If you also decide to put up your property for sale in the future, a bathroom upgrade would be a great investment—as it would add significant value to the property. Your bathroom renovation project, like every home renovation, can either be very affordable or extravagant, but one thing is certain, you’re bound to have a more refreshed, stylish and modernistic space.  

Looking through detailed sketches of luxurious and expensive bathrooms can be quite tempting, especially when you’re on a budget. However, your bathroom can be equally transformed into something that looks just as modern, stylish and refreshing but without the heavy price tag.

Conducting a partial bathroom renovation means you only have to change a little part of your existing bathroom rather than tearing it down and starting from scratch. If you intend to carry out this type of bathroom renovation in Toronto, depending on the size of your bathroom, you can spend between $1,000 – $5,000. With a partial bathroom renovation, you can save money by tackling smaller problems that exist in your present bathroom—or you can just upgrade a few of its features.

Partial bathroom renovations are quite affordable and would leave your bathroom feeling new and stylish without being time-consuming or a financial burden—which is important considering the economic impact of the pandemic. Repainting the bathroom walls, replacing the tiles on the floor and in the shower area are examples of partial bathroom renovations which is the cheapest to accomplish.

A more expensive and popular bathroom renovation is the standard 3- or 4-piece renovation. This renovation type involves a lot more services that are not covered by a partial renovation budget. To execute a standard bathroom renovation in Toronto you need a budget of about $10,000 – $15,000.

Unlike with a partial renovation, you would have to make a lot more changes to various elements of your bathroom without the hassle of changing the overall design. You can easily restore your current bathroom into a modernistic and classy space that fits your existing style. Making changes to more aspects of your bathroom is quite easy since there is more room in your budget to accommodate it.

A standard 3- or 4-piece renovation includes everything in a partial renovation plus extras such as revamped baseboards, installing a new bathroom mirror, buying new lights, installing a new vanity, changing the toilet, and buying new shower fixtures.

If you’re one of those looking to make a complete overhaul of your existing bathroom, then the option of a complete bathroom remodel is for you.

Unlike a bathroom renovation, remodelling means a complete change of your current bathroom design and layout for one that is newer and completely unrecognizable. The possibilities when remodelling a bathroom are endless especially when you have a large budget of over $15,000. That way, you can get the opportunity to create the perfect bathroom for yourself.

In addition to all that’s available with a standard bathroom renovation, bathroom remodelling allows you to make bathtub to shower conversion, relocation of plumbing, relocation of the toilet, reframing the bathroom and even relocating the shower.

In conclusion, a bathroom renovation can be a very important upgrade to your home and depending on the features that you decide to include, in addition to the size of your bathroom, this would influence the total cost of the project.

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7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary

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Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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