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Why urban planners were not surprised by Toronto’s packed public park

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TORONTO — Urban planners across the country weren’t surprised with the images they saw Saturday of a packed public park in a central Toronto neighbourhood.

And while those experts didn’t condone the gathering of what looked like thousands of young adults seemingly defying physical distancing measures on a sunny afternoon, they could understand their behaviour — to an extent.

Nina-Marie Lister, the graduate program director of urban planning at Toronto’s Ryerson University, says the scenes from Trinity Bellwoods Park illustrate how much we need green spaces in populated cities, especially now during a global pandemic.

“Maybe the best thing we could say, or the kindest thing we could say, is that people are desperate to get outside,” Lister said. “They’re desperate for a place to go in the downtown of Toronto.

“And where density is high and people are primarily living in condos, they are likely to congregate in a limited number of spaces.”

Lister said the pictures she saw of the crowded park on social media were “very upsetting,” and it was “unfortunate to see such dangerous behaviour” on display.

But as long as public parks are one of the few options available for people to enjoy the outdoors in a densely populated city, they’re going to get crowded.

The trick then, becomes learning how to use them safely.

“We can’t blame people for going outside on the nicest day of the year, but we just have to have them be a little bit more responsible,” said Jason Gilliland, the director of the urban development program at Western University in London, Ont.

“People are coming off 10 weeks of being told what not to do. And for some of these younger people living in high-density condos or smaller units, they’re used to their backyard extension being a cafe, or a bar, or a restaurant, or this park.”

Gilliland said one option to help ensure physical distancing in a park setting would be to paint lines or circles in the grass — some New York City parks have done this — so people could have a visual bubble that’s two metres away from anyone else.

Another short-term solution would be opening up more roadways to pedestrians, or converting some parking lots into temporarily green spaces.

“We have to rethink what a park is,” Gilliland said. “This is a bit bold, but maybe all the public realm, that space in a city that is publicly accessible — roads, sidewalks, basically anything that’s not private property — maybe we can start thinking of all of that as park space, as place for human beings in these times.”

Lister suggested a time-zoned approach, where neighbouring apartment buildings would have their own set hours to use a specific park. Deploying measures to keep parks as a space to walk through rather than congregate may also work.

Lawrence Frank, a public health and urban planning expert at the University of British Columbia, says people may start getting more reckless outdoors because they know the chance of exposure to novel coronavirus droplets is lower than in an enclosed space.

Creating a “social norm,” where it’s understood that gathering in groups is not acceptable, is a potential solution to help steer people away from unhealthy behaviour, he said.

“What we don’t want to do is have an overconfidence, like ‘oh I’m outside so it’s all cool,”‘ Frank said. “You want to have a collective awareness.

“We need to look at it the same way as if we saw someone throw a bottle out the window of a car — it’s not responsible behaviour, it’s harmful to others.”

While some experts believe fines could work, Frank says that type of enforcement would be hard to regulate. Gilliland added that fines would need to be doled in an equal manner, making sure some communities aren’t being more “over-policed” than others.

What won’t work is closing off public park spaces entirely.

“We have to provide green space, we have to provide open space, and we have to provide ways for people to use those spaces safely under this condition,” Frank said. “That’s our responsibility or mental health problems will get worse, other chronic diseases will grow.”

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Covid-19 altering Canadians’ housing needs: RBC

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Amid a pandemic-driven shift in demand as well as a surge in new listings, the Canadian housing market remained strong in August, RBC Economics reports.

Citing preliminary data from local real estate boards, RBC said that markets in many areas of the country remained “red hot” in August.

“But the bigger story might be that Covid-19 is now prompting more people to sell,” the report said, noting that new listings surged in urban centres such as Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver.

“We think this in part reflects the pandemic altering the housing needs of many current owners — who are opting to move, something they might not have considered just a few months ago,” it said.

RBC noted that the Toronto market saw new listings jump 57% year over year in August, powering a 40% increase in home sales.

Sales were up more than 20% from July’s near-record levels, it said.

“Clearly, [that] market has fired on all cylinders this summer, making up for the major disruption caused by Covid-19 in the spring,” RBC said.

The primary drivers of sales activity and higher prices were low-rise homes, including single-detached homes, RBC reported.

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RBC’s customer base makes it a favourite of cyber attacks – security experts

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Royal Bank of Canada is among the most targeted institutions by cyber attacks due to its broad customer base, according to an analysis by Palo Alto Networks.

From December 2019 up to present, cybercriminals have been establishing malicious pages disguised as websites by major companies to conduct phishing attempts and other similarly invasive attacks.

RBC ranked third in the most spoofed domains list, more than streaming giant Netflix and professional networking portal LinkedIn. PayPal and Apple ranked first and second, respectively.

“When you look at the broad customer base that RBC has, it makes sense, especially when you compare it to some of the other big names,” said Jen Miller-Osborn, deputy director of threat research at Palo Alto Networks. “These attackers are going after [domains] where they can make the most money, so they’re focusing on these organizations that have really broad customer bases because that really ups the number of potential victims.”

In an interview with BNN Bloomberg, Miller-Osborn outlined what consumers should be looking out for to filter our fraudulent emails.

“Typically, the ones that are going to be scam-related are trying to invoke some sort of emotional response,” Miller-Osborn said. “So they might say something like ‘Someone tried to change your password, click here to say whether or not that was you,’ or ‘Click here to confirm this charge on your statement,’ or ‘We’ve locked your account for strange activity.’ Essentially, things that will make people anxious and will make them want to click first, and not take a step back and pause to think, ‘Is that really the kind of email that my bank would usually send?’”

Other red flags include misspellings and basic grammar errors in the message, especially the sender line.

“Attackers try to closely mimic domain names, so you might see the number zero substituted for ‘o’, or a one substituted for the letter ‘l’. Little thing like an extra ‘s’ or ‘c’ in the name. These things, people tend to glance over very quickly and not notice.”

Miller-Osborn said that these measures should be done in concert with the most effective step in deflecting a spoofing attempt: Calling the bank and asking them if the email that they supposedly sent was legitimate.

 

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Queen confirms new home at Windsor Castle with Buckingham Palace for ‘selected events’

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The Queen will be returning to Windsor Castle in a matter of weeks, with Buckingham Palace only used for ‘select events’.

Her Majesty and her husband Duke of Edinburgh will first spend time privately at Sandringham when they leave Balmoral next week, Buckingham Palace confirmed.

She had been spending summer at her retreat in Aberdeenshire amid speculation that she would not return to the capital amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A spokesperson said: “The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh will depart Balmoral Castle during the week commencing September 14 to spend time privately on the Sandringham Estate.

“Subject to the finalisation of the autumn programme, Her Majesty’s intention is to return to Windsor Castle in October and to resume the use of Buckingham Palace for selected audiences and engagements.

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