Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times
John Ameroso at a farm he started on Governor’s Island.
By TRACIE McMILLAN
May 18, 2010
JOHN AMEROSO didn’t hoe the rows of vegetables that help feed the Bronx at the Padre Plaza Success Garden in the borough’s Mott Haven section. He didn’t pick any tomatoes from the vines at the Brooklyn Rescue Mission’s farm. And he didn’t turn the composting bins that kept East New York Farms! fertile ground for collards, cilantro and chard.
But he’s responsible for all of it, along with the rest of more than 18 tons of produce grown in city lots for market last year.
You have most likely never heard of Mr. Ameroso. Yet from a rubble-strewn vacant lot in Brooklyn where he showed New Yorkers how to grow food in 1976 to a three-acre stretch of Governors Island that he’s helping to sow now, he has been behind nearly every organized attempt to grow and sell food in the city, as well as many of the city’s best-known food organizations.
He was New York City’s first extension agent focused on farming, and now probably its last one. Mr. Ameroso formally retired in March and will spend the 2010 growing season removing himself from the daily work of city farms and making sure his colleagues — many of whom he’s trained — can carry on without him.
“Anybody doing urban agriculture today should thank him personally,” said Michael Hurwitz, director of Greenmarket, the system of farmers’ markets that began the same year that Mr. Ameroso started tilling Brooklyn soil. As a founder of Added Value, a group that has coordinated an urban farm in Red Hook since 2003, Mr. Hurwitz got advice from Mr. Ameroso about crop plans and starting a farm stand. “If there hadn’t been a John Ameroso,” Mr. Hurwitz said, “they wouldn’t be doing what they are today.”
Mr. Ameroso’s work, as a Cornell University Cooperative Extension agent, started in 1976, when Representative Fred Richmond, Democrat of Brooklyn, — a gardening enthusiast who’d installed a vegetable plot outside his Capitol Hill office — got money for an extension office in New York City, to show that urban food gardens could help feed inner-city neighborhoods. By 1994, the project, called the Urban Gardening Program, had expanded to 23 cities and was producing $16 million worth of food each year.
Its progeny have continued in all five boroughs.
On Decatur Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the Brooklyn Rescue Mission’s managers were recently looking for help transplanting a fig tree.
“We’ve got to move this,” said the Rev. DeVanie Jackson, gesturing at the potted sapling. “You’ve got to recommend a spot.” Ms. Jackson and her husband, Robert, have enlisted Mr. Ameroso’s help since 2005, when they began growing vegetables to make up for the poor quality of food being delivered to their food pantry. By last year, they were supplying the neighborhood’s weekly farmers’ market (which they helped found) and an upscale pizza spot, Saraghina, with herbs, vegetables and figs.
“Which way is your sun going?” asked Mr. Ameroso reproachfully. “It goes that way,” he said, drawing an arc tracing the sun’s likely path through the sky. The best location would be wherever the tree would get the most light — something Mr. Ameroso clearly thought should have been obvious. “How long have you been here?” he asked. Ms. Jackson laughed, and asked his advice on handling slugs. She’d heard she could put out a pan of beer, which would attract and then drown the pests.
“You use Pabst Blue Ribbon,” Mr. Ameroso replied. “It’s been proven. It was a long-time study.”
Ms. Jackson raised her eyebrows.
“I’m not making it up!” he said.
In Far Rockaway, Queens, Mr. Ameroso and his colleague, Robert Lewis, special assistant for market development of New York State’s Department of Agriculture and Markets, pulled up to the Culinary Kids Urban Farm at Beach 31st Street and Seagirt Avenue. The corner lot held urban farming paraphernalia: a rounded greenhouse, a narrow chicken coop, wood-framed vegetable beds. But what caught Mr. Ameroso’s attention was a crew of volunteers building a roofed structure.
“Oh, please, why are you making gazebos?” he muttered. “Why do they build structures on these things that take away growing area?”
Marion Moses and Malisa Rivera, who started the farm last year, greeted Mr. Ameroso and Mr. Lewis and took them on a tour. The structure, with its pitched roof, they explained, would harvest rainwater. Mr. Ameroso looked relieved and later offered a small mea culpa: “I didn’t realize they didn’t have a hydrant. I thought they were going to build a stupid gazebo.”
His response to frippery like gazebos isn’t surprising, given his rugged training grounds.
The son of a welder and supermarket cashier, Mr. Ameroso has spent little time in tranquil settings since getting an agricultural degree from the University of Georgia in 1968. After college he worked for the International Voluntary Service teaching farmers to grow hybrid rice in the Mekong Delta during the war. Returning to the States in 1972, he took odd jobs for four years until he went to work in Brooklyn.
Albert Harris Jr., the extension office director who hired him, said that Mr. Ameroso could talk to anyone and persuade them to grow almost anything. He got the Latino and African-American families to grow bok choy. “Nobody knew what bok choy was,” Mr. Harris said. “I guess he got it from Vietnam, but I guess it grew well in the soil we had.”
Growing food was always what Mr. Ameroso cared about, though beautification efforts would insinuate themselves. “To me the exciting stuff was, people are producing food to produce it, not, ‘Oh, look at how pretty my flowers are,’ ” Mr. Ameroso said, trundling along the Gowanus Expressway in his two-tone Ford Ranger pickup to a farm he helps manage in Staten Island.
In 1994, federal money for New York’s urban food production dropped by 80 percent, forcing the extension to cobble together a salary line for Mr. Ameroso from various projects. To qualify for economic development money he began growing food for sale, an impetus to New York’s contemporary food movement.
Mr. Ameroso and a group of other food activists — Mr. Lewis, Peter Mann, Kathy Lawrence and Joan Gussow — embarked on project after project, while Mr. Ameroso handled the dirty business of actually growing food.
In 1995, they helped found Just Food, a nonprofit group that now offers technical assistance to urban growers and cooking and nutrition education, and is an advocate for the use of local food. Mr. Ameroso still sits on its board and helped start its first big program, City Farms. Then came the New Farmer Development Project, in 2000, to find land upstate for farmers from the city. In the early 2000s, he helped found the city’s two largest urban farm projects, East New York Farms! and Added Value.
Now that Mr. Ameroso is retiring, what will the city’s farmers do without him?
Cornell will probably transfer some of Mr. Ameroso’s duties to other agents, said Don Tobias, executive director of the cooperative extension in New York City. And Mr. Ameroso may consult on a part-time basis. Without a program or funding line dedicated to urban agriculture, however, the era when one phone call could bring time-tested food-growing advice to your doorstep may be ending.
But Mr. Ameroso has trained a steady stream of interns, who today help run urban agriculture efforts across the country. (He’s married to one of his first interns, Linda.) And with Mr. Ameroso’s help, Just Food’s City Farms program has trained 29 gardeners as urban agriculture experts so they can operate as an informal extension office. Mr. Ameroso hopes that will be enough to let them continue without him.
The farmers aren’t so sure.
There are other horticultural programs, Ms. Jackson said: “You call them, you get the intern. You know what I’m saying?” But without Mr. Ameroso, she added: “Who’s going to actually come when you call them? I don’t know where we’re going to go for answers.”
STARBUCKS SUED OVER INJURY IN REST ROOM
By SALVATORE ARENA DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Tuesday, November 30th 1999, 2:11AM
Coffee beans are not the only thing Starbucks is grinding these days, a suit alleges.
A Canadian man says his penis was crushed by a faulty toilet seat at a Manhattan Starbucks and yesterday he sued the java giant for $1.5 million.
Edward Skwarek says the injury permanently damaged his sex life and ended hopes that he and his wife could conceive a child naturally.
Skwarek, 37, and his wife, Sherrie, were vacationing in New York in August when they entered a Starbucks at 684 Sixth Ave., near 27th St. After they placed their order, Edward Skwarek went to the men’s room.
“After sitting down, he realized that the toilet paper was not in its place but on the tank behind him,” said Skwarek’s New York attorney, Richard Robbins.
“As he turned around, the toilet seat suddenly shifted from side to side, causing his penis to be caught and crushed in between the seat and the bowl.”
The lawyer said the seat apparently moved because the plastic bolts holding it in place were loose.
His wife took him to Roosevelt Hospital, where he was treated and released.
The permanent damage was not diagnosed until he returned home to Toronto, according to Robbins.
The Manhattan Supreme Court suit seeks $1 million in damages for Edward Skwarek and $500,000 for the loss to Sherrie Skwarek.
Starbucks spokesman Alan Guilick said the company does not comment on pending litigation.
Imperial House, center, on East 69th Street, is one of about 140 white-brick apartment buildings in the city.
By JOANNE KAUFMAN
WHEN Lori Berger began looking for a Manhattan pied-à-terre three years ago, she came armed with a list of priorities. The West Side was preferable to the East because it would simplify the drive into the city from her family’s primary residence in Fairfield, Conn. She wanted outdoor space, which took most prewar buildings off the table. And because she and her husband had lived through kitchen and bathroom renovations at home, they wanted an apartment that they could move into right away.
It wasn’t unbridled love when Ms. Berger first saw 165 West 66th Street. But then she remembered her father’s pet saying: “You live inside the house, not outside.”
Which is how Ms. Berger came to buy a one-bedroom in a white glazed-brick building. Long seen as a consolation prize in the real estate sweepstakes, with neither the time-burnished details of prewar nor the sparkling newness of the latest glass-walled condo, boxy white-brick structures were built for the striving middle class in the ’50s and ’60s, when about 140 inserted themselves into the brick and brownstone fabric of the city. But these days, their more-for-less prices are attracting wallet-watching buyers, and their less-is-more-aesthetic is drawing fans of midcentury design.
“I knew it didn’t have the allure of a prewar or a modern glass building, and it kind of harked back to the days of harvest gold and avocado kitchens,” Ms. Berger said. “But I kept thinking about my father’s advice.”
And the apartment itself had what she wanted: closet space and a small balcony where she could sit comfortably with a cup of coffee and the Sunday paper.
Oh, yes, and because of moisture issues with the white-bricks, the building is in the process of swapping them for a taupe facade.
“I’m going to like it a lot better now that it doesn’t look so 1960s,” Ms. Berger said. “I think for resale it’s an asset as well.”
Pity the poor white-brick buildings. With a few exceptions, notably Manhattan House, Gordon Bunshaft’s sleek, tidy slab at Third Avenue and 66th Street, they don’t get a lot of respect. Ms. Berger’s co-op board is far from the first to have gone for a facade lift as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
In the past decade when moisture afflicted 35 East 85th Street and 400 East 85th, both buildings elected to ditch their white bricks, choosing red-brick facades that alluded to Georgian architecture.
“As we went through the design process, the boards got unanimous feedback from brokers that a change to red would increase the value of their apartments,” said Craig Tooman, a partner at Cutsogeorge Tooman & Allen, the architectural firm that handled the two projects as well as the recladding work at 900 Fifth Avenue, another white-brick, that was finished last year.
“We explored going with taupe there,” Mr. Tooman said of 900 Fifth. “But it’s on a landmark block, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission objected.”
Proponents of white brick — and they do exist — find the redos disheartening.
“When buildings replace white brick with red brick and a full historical limestone base, I see people who are defeated and don’t believe in the future,” said Françoise Bollack, an architect and an associate professor at Columbia University. “They want something that looks historic because they think it’s classy. In 20 years, they’ll regret it.”
Like other fans of white brick, Ms. Bollack and Chris Fogarty, also an architect, talk approvingly of the buildings’ simple lines and unadorned exteriors, the trim gray window frames, the rooftop towers enclosed with decorative brick, the setbacks lined with terraces, the glazing that was supposed to have made the buildings self-cleaning.
“White brick is such a nice simple material,” said Mr. Fogarty, a partner in the architectural firm Fogarty Finger, who has incorporated some of that “simple material” into his design for a largely glass condominium tower that is to be built at First Avenue and 51st Street in the next two years.
“White-brick buildings have gotten so maligned,” Mr. Fogarty said. “People say — aside from Manhattan House — how awful they are, and it’s true that a lot of them are sloppy copies. You’ve got a lot of that happening today with sloppy copies of the glass structures that Richard Meier built.”
In fact, white glazed-brick buildings have been dividing opinion ever since the mortar began drying on their shiny facades 60 years ago.
“They were kind of a fresh start after two decades of hell,” said Fredric M. Bell, the executive director of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects. “White brick represented the new the way massive amounts of glass are now seen as progressive. It was welcoming, light and a reaction against the limestone piles on Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue. It spoke to the future of New York.”
That future didn’t seem to include families. The apartments in white-bricks were mostly studios, one- and two-bedrooms. “They would not have been places to stay permanently,” said Katherine Husband, a graduate student at Columbia University who is writing her master’s thesis on white-brick buildings. “One advertisement,” she added, said, “ ‘This building is perfect for young marrieds, businessmen and businesswomen.’ ”
For all those who saw the buildings as brightening the skyline, others thought they were out of place. In Greenwich Village, for example, white-bricks were seen as destroying the area’s signature raffishness, Ms. Husband said.
Then, as now, the buildings had something of an identity crisis. They were trumpeted as luxury residences, but many had stripped-down layouts with small kitchens and few hallways. They did have the latest amenities (central air-conditioning!) and conveniences (many had garages). But they often had English names like Townsend House and Westminster House, which suggested a grand history. “They were trying to cover both bases,” Ms. Husband said, “offering modern amenities while evoking the past.”
Kathy Braddock, a real estate consultant, said: “They’re not sexy, but they’re functional. They’re like a good, solid person. The windows are a nice size, the lobbies are clean and a nice size.
“Nobody walks in and says, ‘I can’t wait to buy an apartment in a white-brick building.’ ” she continued. “But after they see the entire marketplace, the white-bricks start to look interesting. You get more bang for your buck.”
A studio at white-brick 301 East 69th Street, for example, has an asking price of $349,000 and a monthly maintenance of $641, said Stuart Moss, an associate broker and a vice president of Corcoran, which has the listing. A comparable studio in a prewar building at 205 East 78th Street is listed for $389,000 with a monthly maintenance of $879, Mr. Moss said.
On the West Side, Mr. Moss offered a two-bedroom two-bath at 150 West End Avenue, built of white brick in 1961, for $1.199 million with maintenance of $2,398 a month. That compares with $1.399 million and a maintenance of $2,569 a month, for a prewar two-bedroom two-bath at 260 West End.
It often becomes a tradeoff, say brokers. The ceilings may be lower in white-bricks than in prewars, but the bar may also be lower in getting past co-op boards. Apartments in white-bricks may not have wide hallways, dining rooms or maid’s rooms, but “they have generous-sized rooms and tremendous closet space,” said L. Elese Reid, the senior vice president /director of Edward Lee Cave, a division of Brown Harris Stevens. “In a prewar at the same price point, the bedrooms are sometimes minuscule.”
Another selling point of white-bricks, said Tami Shaoul, a senior vice president of the Corcoran Group, is the relative ease in combining units and of renovations. “The walls are thicker in prewars,” she said. “And you don’t know where the pipes are.”
Elayne Reimer, an executive vice president of Halstead Property who has lived in three different apartments in the white-brick 303 East 57th Street, said she found prewar buildings “dark and depressing.”
“I like the happier, brighter feeling of a white-brick,” Ms. Reimer said. “This building was built with incredible foresight. It’s set back in such a way that you have views all over Manhattan.”
While Howard Weitzman and his wife, Arlene Blatt, would have preferred a prewar, what they really wanted was a view and good bones. “We were looking for an apartment we could renovate, an apartment that allowed us to create a loft feeling,” said Mr. Weitzman, a real estate developer. So in 2007 the couple bought a 1,400-square-foot apartment “with closets everywhere” at 25 Sutton Place South, a white — well, actually, pale-pink — brick building.
“My design focus is midcentury modern,” Mr. Weitzman said. “This provided me with a cleaner canvas than I would have had in a prewar building, where I would have felt I was destroying something beautiful.
“I wish we had high ceilings and bigger windows,” he added. “But life is full of compromises.”
Of course, white-bricks aren’t all created equal. There are stars like Manhattan House and Imperial House, at 69th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues, an Emery Roth project, as well as more modest buildings like 250 East 65th, 201 East 66th and 200 East 74th, said Mr. Moss, adding that location often shapes the way white-bricks are perceived — and priced.
“When they’re on Park Avenue, Fifth Avenue or Central Park West,” he said, “they seem inconsistent with neighboring architecture. I think their value is significantly hurt in environments like that. But when someone is a Third Avenue buyer, you almost expect to be showing them a white-brick, and the buildings look better in that context.
“Then,” Mr. Moss said, “it’s the prewars that seem out of place.”
Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver – how planners managed, or failed to manage, sprawl in each
Kelly Grant and Anna Mehler Paperny
Monday, May. 17, 2010
It’s a tale of three cities, and three very different models of urban growth.
An in-depth Neptis Foundation study of expansion in three Canadian supercities – Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver – shows density is an art, and sprawly metropoles get what they planned for.
While Vancouver sits smugly as a dense urban planner’s dream, Calgary’s Wild West growth has seen it sprawl into southern Alberta’s foothills. And, when it comes to urban density, Toronto the Good is Toronto the in-between.
VANCOUVER: URBAN PLANNERS’ DREAM
Lotus Land has one more thing to be smug about: It’s grown up and in, not out, focusing on getting denser as its population has grown. Out of the three cities studied, it’s the only one that sprawled less between 1991 and 2001.
How it grew
Avoiding sprawl is easier when you’re hemmed in by mountains and ocean. But Vancouver’s relative density is no accident: It’s largely the result of a series of public policy decisions dating back to the late 1960s and early 70s, when the city was considering building freeway extensions of Highway 1 over the Burrard Inlet and the downtown peninsula.
“That was a key turning point,” says planning consultant and economist Eric Vance. Decisions like that, and the creation of the Lower Mainland’s agricultural land reserve, put developable land at a premium: It only made sense to leverage that limited supply by building as many units in as small a space as possible.
Where it’s growing
Vancouver’s plans verge on the utopian: Mayor Gregor Robertson has adopted his predecessor Sam Sullivan’s “EcoDensity” strategy and aims to make Vancouver the world’s greenest city by 2020.
Secondary suites? Check. Laneway houses? Check. Now Vancouver’s challenge is working with 21 other municipalities in the Lower Mainland to check sprawl across the region.
The Bottom line
Vancouver’s a model of how public-policy choices can foster dense growth or curb sprawl. The missing piece, says Simon Fraser University’s Gordon Harris, is making it affordable to live there.
“If we can’t create housing that the people who work in the city can afford, pretty soon the city stops working so well. You start to see economic decline that is directly related the to cost of housing: People will choose to live and work elsewhere.”
TORONTO: THE IN-BETWEEN
A bipolar metropole, Toronto has evolved into a Jekyll-and-Hyde combination of a hyper-dense downtown core and sprawly bedroom communities.
How it grew
In 1991, Greater Toronto was actually denser than Greater Vancouver. But in the decade that followed, the Toronto region – which in this study includes Hamilton and Halton, Peel, York and Durham – grew out more than up, and fell behind its West Coast rival.
Chalk it up to haphazard planning in a megacity that wasn’t amalgamated until 2000. Leapfrog growth hasn’t been a major concern; lack of co-ordination has.
Where it’s growing
The Toronto area has made strides in the past decade. The province has stepped in as the area’s de facto planner, erecting barriers to sprawl such as the Greenbelt Act in 2005, which protects about 730,000 hectares of environmentally sensitive and agricultural land, and the Places to Grow Act, which encourages intensification on land that’s already been urbanized.
“In Toronto, I think we need to take a wait-and-see attitude,” said Zack Taylor, co-author of “Growing Cities,” released Monday. “There’s a more stringent planning environment than there has been in a long time and it’s being closely managed by the process in a way that was not true for a long time. Whether that will be able to continue as priorities change, as there are changes in government, is an open question.”
The bottom line
Toronto’s downtown is a collection of vertical cities, and government emphasis on intensification aims to increase that. Ambitious transit plans are projecting huge increases in density along in-progress rapid-transit corridors. In the meantime, try living outside the downtown core and getting around on foot. We dare you.
CALGARY: WILD WEST GROWTH
Welcome to big-sky country. Except by “big-sky,” we mean “big, sprawly spaces.” Throughout the 1990s, Boomtown Calgary also became Canada’s Wild West of urban sprawl, with nearly 80 per cent of growth eating up green fields.
How it grew
Rolling prairies make it easy to spread out, city-wise. But Calgary’s growth has been no accident: The city has had a strong planning culture since the 1950s – the 1963 Calgary General Plan was the first statutory municipal plan in Western Canada. The city functioned as a de facto regional government, gobbling up the land on its borders through annexations, often at the urging of developers who’d already purchased those plots.
“We talk about geography as destiny,” said Noel Keough, a professor of environmental design at the University of Calgary. “But in a place like Calgary where it is easier to expand and sprawl into prairie land I would argue that obligates you to be even more pro-active in your public policy and planning. It’s going to cost you anyway.”
Where it’s growing
In the past decade, Calgary has started checking its sprawl, motivated in part by a looming water shortage.
“There is an increased emphasis on urban redevelopment and infill for increased density,” said Mike Quinn, also an environmental design professor at the University of Calgary.
The Bottom line
Brent Toderian, who has worked as a planner in both Vancouver and Calgary, points to such initiatives as McKenzie Towne – a transit- and pedestrian-centric residential development in the city’s southeast – as examples of Calgary’s new “smart growth” communities. But make no mistake. As anyone on the Deerfoot Trail will tell you, Calgary remains a spread-out city of drivers.
Written by Simon Critchley
Monday, May 17, 2010
There are as many definitions of philosophy as there are philosophers – perhaps there are even more. After three millennia of philosophical activity and disagreement, it is unlikely that we’ll reach consensus, and I certainly don’t want to add more hot air to the volcanic cloud of unknowing. What I’d like to do in the opening column in this new venture — The Stone — is to kick things off by asking a slightly different question: what is a philosopher?
As Alfred North Whitehead said, philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato. Let me risk adding a footnote by looking at Plato’s provocative definition of the philosopher that appears in the middle of his dialogue, “Theaetetus,” in a passage that some scholars consider a “digression.” But far from being a footnote to a digression, I think this moment in Plato tells us something hugely important about what a philosopher is and what philosophy does.
Socrates tells the story of Thales, who was by some accounts the first philosopher. He was looking so intently at the stars that he fell into a well. Some witty Thracian servant girl is said to have made a joke at Thales’ expense — that in his eagerness to know what went on in the sky he w
as unaware of the things in front of him and at his feet. Socrates adds, in Seth Benardete’s translation, “The same jest suffices for all those who engage in philosophy.”
What is a philosopher, then? The answer is clear: a laughing stock, an absent-minded buffoon, the butt of countless jokes from Aristophanes’ “The Clouds” to Mel Brooks’s “History of the World, part one.” Whenever the philosopher is compelled to talk about the things at his feet, he gives not only the Thracian girl but the rest of the crowd a belly laugh. The philosopher’s clumsiness in worldly affairs makes him appear stupid or, “gives the impression of plain silliness.” We are left with a rather Monty Pythonesque definition of the philosopher: the one who is silly.
But as always with Plato, things are not necessarily as they first appear, and Socrates is the greatest of ironists. First, we should recall that Thales believed that water was the universal substance out of which all things were composed. Water was Thales’ philosophers’ stone, as it were. Therefore, by falling into a well, he inadvertently presses his basic philosophical claim.
But there is a deeper and more troubling layer of irony here that I would like peel off more slowly. Socrates introduces the “digression” by making a distinction between the philosopher and the lawyer, or what Benardete nicely renders as the “pettifogger.” The lawyer is compelled to present a case in court and time is of the essence. In Greek legal proceedings, a strictly limited amount of time was allotted for the presentation of cases. Time was measured with a water clock or clepsydra, which literally steals time, as in the Greek kleptes, a thief or embezzler. The pettifogger, the jury, and by implication the whole society, live with the constant pressure of time. The water of time’s flow is constantly threatening to drown them.
The freedom of the philosopher consists in either moving freely from topic to topic or simply spending years returning to the same topic out of perplexity, fascination and curiosity.
By contrast, we might say, the philosopher is the person who has time or who takes time. Theodorus, Socrates’ interlocutor, introduces the “digression” with the words, “Aren’t we at leisure, Socrates?” The latter’s response is interesting. He says, “It appears we are.” As we know, in philosophy appearances can be deceptive. But the basic contrast here is that between the lawyer, who has no time, or for whom time is money, and the philosopher, who takes time. The freedom of the philosopher consists in either moving freely from topic to topic or simply spending years returning to the same topic out of perplexity, fascination and curiosity.
Pushing this a little further, we might say that to philosophize is to take your time, even when you have no time, when time is constantly pressing at our backs. The busy readers of The New York Times will doubtless understand this sentiment. It is our hope that some of them will make the time to read The Stone. As Wittgenstein says, “This is how philosophers should salute each other: ‘Take your time.’ ” Indeed, it might tell you something about the nature of philosophical dialogue to confess that my attention was recently drawn to this passage from Theaetetus in leisurely discussions with a doctoral student at the New School, Charles Snyder.
Socrates says that those in the constant press of business, like lawyers, policy-makers, mortgage brokers and hedge fund managers, become ”bent and stunted” and they are compelled “to do crooked things.” The pettifogger is undoubtedly successful, wealthy and extraordinarily honey-tongued, but, Socrates adds, “small in his soul and shrewd and a shyster.” The philosopher, by contrast, is free by virtue of his or her otherworldliness, by their capacity to fall into wells and appear silly.
Socrates adds that the philosopher neither sees nor hears the so-called unwritten laws of the city, that is, the mores and conventions that govern public life. The philosopher shows no respect for rank and inherited privilege and is unaware of anyone’s high or low birth. It also does not occur to the philosopher to join a political club or a private party. As Socrates concludes, the philosopher’s body alone dwells within the city’s walls. In thought, they are elsewhere.
This all sounds dreamy, but it isn’t. Philosophy should come with the kind of health warning one finds on packs of European cigarettes: PHILOSOPHY KILLS. Here we approach the deep irony of Plato’s words. Plato’s dialogues were written after Socrates’ death. Socrates was charged with impiety towards the gods of the city and with corrupting the youth of Athens. He was obliged to speak in court in defense of these charges, to speak against the water-clock, that thief of time. He ran out of time and suffered the consequences: he was condemned to death and forced to take his own life.
A couple of generations later, during the uprisings against Macedonian rule that followed the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.E., Alexander’s former tutor, Aristotle, escaped Athens saying, “I will not allow the Athenians to sin twice against philosophy.” From the ancient Greeks to Giordano Bruno, Spinoza, Hume and right up to the shameful lawsuit that prevented Bertrand Russell from teaching at the City College of New York in 1940 on the charge of sexual immorality and atheism, philosophy has repeatedly and persistently been identified with blasphemy against the gods, whichever gods they might be. Nothing is more common in the history of philosophy than the accusation of impiety. Because of their laughable otherworldliness and lack of respect social convention, rank and privilege, philosophers refuse to honor the old gods and this makes them politically suspicious, even dangerous. Might such dismal things still happen in our happily enlightened age? That depends where one casts one’s eyes and how closely one looks.
Perhaps the last laugh is with the philosopher. Although the philosopher will always look ridiculous in the eyes of pettifoggers and those obsessed with maintaining the status quo, the opposite happens when the non-philosopher is obliged to give an account of justice in itself or happiness and misery in general. Far from eloquent, Socrates insists, the pettifogger is “perplexed and stutters.”
Of course, one might object, that ridiculing someone’s stammer isn’t a very nice thing to do. Benardete rightly points out that Socrates assigns every kind of virtue to the philosopher apart from moderation. Nurtured in freedom and taking their time, there is something dreadfully uncanny about the philosopher, something either monstrous or god-like or indeed both at once. This is why many sensible people continue to think the Athenians had a point in condemning Socrates to death. I leave it for you to decide. I couldn’t possibly judge.
Simon Critchley is chair of philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York, and part-time professor at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. He is the author of several books, including “The Book of Dead Philosophers,” and is moderator of this series.
May 14, 2010
The amount of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico is far greater than official estimates suggest, according to an exclusive NPR analysis.
At NPR’s request, experts analyzed video that BP released Wednesday. Their findings suggest the BP spill is already far larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska, which spilled at least 250,000 barrels of oil.
BP has said repeatedly that there is no reliable way to measure the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by looking at the oil gushing out of the pipe. But scientists say there are actually many proven techniques for doing just that.
Steven Wereley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, analyzed videotape of the seafloor gusher using a technique called particle image velocimetry.
A computer program simply tracks particles and calculates how fast they are moving. Wereley put the BP video of the gusher into his computer. He made a few simple calculations and came up with an astonishing value for the rate of the oil spill: 70,000 barrels a day — much higher than the official estimate of 5,000 barrels a day.
The method is accurate to a degree of plus or minus 20 percent.
Given that uncertainty, the amount of material spewing from the pipe could range from 56,000 barrels to 84,000 barrels a day. It is important to note that it’s not all oil. The short video BP released starts out with a shot of methane, but at the end it seems to be mostly oil.
“There’s potentially some fluctuation back and forth between methane and oil,” Wereley said.
But assuming that the lion’s share of the material coming out of the pipe is oil, Wereley’s calculations show that the official estimates are too low.
“We’re talking more than a factor-of-10 difference between what I calculate and the number that’s being thrown around,” he said.
At least two other calculations support him.
Timothy Crone, an associate research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, used another well-accepted method to calculate fluid flows. Crone arrived at a similar figure, but he said he’d like better video from BP before drawing a firm conclusion.
Eugene Chiang, a professor of astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley, also got a similar answer, using just pencil and paper.
Without even having a sense of scale from the BP video, he correctly deduced that the diameter of the pipe was about 20 inches. And though his calculation is less precise than Wereley’s, it is in the same ballpark.
“I would peg it at around 20,000 to 100,000 barrels per day,” he said.
Chiang called the current estimate of 5,000 barrels a day “almost certainly incorrect.”
Given this flow rate, it seems this is a spill of unprecedented proportions in U.S. waters.
“It would just take a few days, at most a week, for it to exceed the Exxon Valdez’s record,” Chiang said.
BP disputed these figures.
“We’ve said all along that there’s no way to estimate the flow coming out of the pipe accurately,” said Bill Salvin, a BP spokesman.
Instead, BP prefers to rely on measurements of oil on the sea surface made by the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Those are also contentious. Salvin also says these analyses should not assume that the oil is spewing from the 21-inch pipe, called a riser, shown in the video.
“The drill pipe, from which the oil is rising, is actually a 9-inch pipe that rests within the riser,” Slavin said.
But Wereley says that fact doesn’t skew his calculation. And though scientists say they hope BP will eventually release more video and information so they can refine their estimates, what they have now is good enough.
“It’s possible to get a pretty decent number by looking at the video,” Wereley said.
This new, much larger number suggests that capturing — and cleaning up — this oil may be a much bigger challenge than anyone has let on.
Private investigator Derrick Snowdy arrives at a Commons government operations committee in Ottawa on Wednesday.
Ottawa — Globe and Mail Wednesday, May. 13, 2010
The man whose warnings to Prime Minister Stephen Harper led to the political downfall of Helena Guergis acknowledged on Wednesday that he never had evidence of wrongdoing against her.
Private investigator Derrick Snowdy said he was worried about the possibility of blackmail if pictures ever emerged showing Ms. Guergis in the company of Nazim Gillani, a controversial businessman facing fraud charges who had dealings with her husband, Rahim Jaffer.
However, he told a parliamentary committee he never saw any evidence linking Ms. Guergis to drugs or prostitutes, or ever had any concerns about her behaviour.
“The concern here is optics,” Mr. Snowdy said.
Mr. Snowdy raised his concerns with Conservative Party lawyer Arthur Hamilton late in the day on April 8. Government officials confirmed that Mr. Harper reacted to the warning the following day by forcing Ms. Guergis’s resignation as minister of state for the status of women and expelling her from the Conservative caucus.
A few days later, Mr. Harper said he acted after receiving “serious allegations about the former minister’s comportment.”
Mr. Snowdy, however, said he was surprised when he was contacted by the Office of the Ethics Commissioner and heard how his allegations had been represented in a letter written by Mr. Harper’s chief of staff, Guy Giorno.
“I said [to the Office of the Ethics Commissioner], no, I did not say that,” Mr. Snowdy recounted.
He said he then had an angry exchange with Mr. Hamilton, which included “a number of profanities.”
“I was not very happy with the characterization of that conversation in that context, and Mr. Hamilton was sympathetic to my call,” Mr. Snowdy said.
After the hearing, opposition MPs expressed concerns over Mr. Harper’s treatment of Ms. Guergis, with NDP MP Pat Martin saying her career was ruined based on “flimsy allegations.”
The government reacted by insisting that it had information from more than one source. In particular, the Prime Minister’s Office justified Mr. Harper’s actions by pointing to evidence that subsequently emerged suggesting that Mr. Jaffer sought government funds on behalf of other companies in Ms. Guergis’s office, or using one of her office’s e-mail accounts.
“All revelations have made it clear that was the right decision to make,” PMO spokesman Dimitri Soudas said about Ms. Guergis’s ouster.
Mr. Snowdy called himself an “unwilling” player in the month-long controversy, but he drove up to Ottawa in a red Ferrari and gladly showcased it for television cameras. His focus during the testimony was Mr. Gillani, whom he had been hired to investigate last year on behalf of frustrated investors.
Mr. Snowdy accused Mr. Gillani of running a “shell game” involving companies, making money on “pump and dump” stock manipulations. He said that Mr. Gillani was using his contacts with Mr. Jaffer, a former Conservative MP, to create the impression with potential clients that they could get “special considerations” in getting federal funds.
The Conservative MPs on the committee sought on numerous occasions during Wednesday’s hearings to point out the fact that Mr. Gillani once hired lawyer Alfred Apps, the president of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Mr. Apps quickly issued a statement saying that the dealings with Mr. Gillani were short-lived, lasting less than two weeks, and that a retainer cheque was returned.
Mr. Gillani also fought back, issuing a statement and taking to the airwaves to defend his reputation.
“Mr. Snowdy has taken full advantage of immunity afforded by the House of Commons committee hearing to offer a mix of innuendo, political attacks against the Liberal Party, misinformation, insults to the committee and to me, and only a few facts that add a veneer of credibility,” Mr. Gillani said in a statement.
May 11, 2010
By OLIVIA JUDSON
Olivia Judson on the influence of science and biology on modern life.
The past comes to us in tantalizing fragments — a bone here, a footprint there. But of all the fragments yet discovered, perhaps none is so tantalizing as the one published in the journal Science last week: the Neanderthal genome.
Neanderthals have perplexed and intrigued us ever since the first bones were discovered in a cave in what is now Germany, in 1856. Who were they? Why did they vanish?
James Estrin/The New York Times A reproduction of a Neanderthal skeleton, left, and the original modern homo sapien skeleton, right.
Over the past century and a half, our picture of them has become less blurry, more distinct. From their bones we know that Neanderthals were bigger and stronger than us “anatomically modern humans,” and they had larger skulls that boasted prominent eyebrow ridges. They appear to be the descendants of a lineage that separated from ours around 400,000 years ago, wandered out of Africa, and lived across Europe and central Asia. The last of the Neanderthals lived on the Iberian peninsula, dying out sometime between 37,000 and 28,000 years ago.
(Anatomically modern humans, in contrast, evolved in Africa, arriving at recognizably modern skeletons between 130,000 and 200,000 years ago. Some time later — 65,000 years ago or so — a group of them left Africa, wending their way through the Middle East and across Eurasia, the Pacific and the Americas. These were the ancestors of today’s non-African populations; and in Europe and central Asia, they coexisted with Neanderthals until the Neanderthals disappeared.)
What else do we know about Neanderthals? They may have decorated their bodies with ornaments; they certainly used tools like axes and spears. They hunted. Indeed, they mostly seem to have eaten meat — they are sometimes described as “top carnivores” — and because of their bigness, probably needed more calories per day than we do.
As our ability to retrieve and sequence ancient DNA has developed and improved, we’ve been able to paint in further details. Some Neanderthals may have had pale skin and red hair. Some of them could taste bitter flavors. They may have had a capacity for speech, though we can’t tell if they had much in the way of language.
And now, with the full genome sequence, we can start to answer many more questions, both about Neanderthals and about ourselves. The idea is that if you line up the sequences of humans, Neanderthals and chimpanzees, you can start to trace which genetic changes occurred when. Unsurprisingly, the data suggest that by far the bulk of our genetic evolution happened in the millions of years before humans and Neanderthals separated; the handful of known differences between us and Neanderthals occur in a motley ragbag of genes. (There’s no obvious stamp of rapid brain evolution, for example.)
The sequence is an amazing accomplishment. Yes, it’s preliminary and contains plenty of errors. But think of this: the DNA was extracted from bones that are tens of thousands of years old. Whereas the DNA in your cells is present in nice long strings, in ancient specimens it’s broken into tiny fragments, if it’s preserved at all. Then there’s the problem of DNA swamping. Which is to say that more than 95 percent of the DNA extracted from the bones belongs to microbes that lived on the bones in the subsequent millenia; this had to be stripped out. Ditto, the DNA from any humans who have handled those bones. As one of my colleagues remarked, the “methods” section of the paper reads like a molecular obstacle course. To have any useable DNA at all, let alone a full genome, is astonishing. Hats off.
And the results stoke the imagination, for they provide more evidence for something that has long been suspected: Neanderthals are not just a quirky sideshow in human evolution, but an intimate part of our own story. Many of us have Neanderthals in our family tree, just as some of us have Hottentots, or Aztecs, or Genghis Khan.
Which isn’t surprising. To be sure, Neanderthals were more genetically distinct from us than any living humans are from one another. But they are still our close relatives — kissing cousins, if you will—and when closely related beings meet, they often take a shine to each other. Coyotes, for example, sometimes cavort with dogs or wolves. Geoffroy’s cat, a south American pussy, sometimes gallivants with another local wildcat, the oncilla, even though their lineages separated a million years ago — much longer ago than ours split from Neanderthals. And ducks of many kinds seem to like mating with one another. Our ancestors, it seems, were no different.
All the same, the idea of Neanderthal ancestry brings a vividness to the distant past. Were the men exotic and sexy? What were half-Neanderthal, half-human children like? Were they extra-beautiful, as people with mixed ancestries often are? Did they have an unusual hungering for red meat? Did we learn Neanderthal customs, or languages?
And it brings a greater poignancy to that other mystery — why did the Neanderthals vanish?
Here, lots of ideas have been put forward — a sure sign that no one knows. Perhaps they died of mad Neanderthal disease, owing to a habit of feasting on one another’s brains. (This has been put forward as a serious hypothesis.) Perhaps they were victims of a changing climate. Perhaps they were “inferior” beings, unable to match our capacity for innovation in the face of adversity. Perhaps their populations became too small, and too sparse, for them to find mates. Or — and this is the most haunting possibility — perhaps they were eventually murdered by their puny cousins. That is, us.
For the Neanderthal genome (and a complex lesson in how to extract Neanderthal DNA), see Green, R. E. et al. 2010. “A draft sequence of the Neandertal genome.” Science 328: 710-722. This paper also provides evidence for human-Neanderthal interbreeding. For a more detailed look at human-Neanderthal differences, see Burbano, H. A. et al. 2010. “Targeted investigation of the Neandertal genome by array-based sequence capture.” Science 328: 723-725.
For a fascinating account of Neanderthal bone structure, see Sawyer, G. J. and Maley, B. 2005. “Neanderthal reconstructed.” Anatomical Record 283B: 23-31.
Working out what happened when in human history is a complex and approximate business. I took the date of 400,000 years since the separation of humans and Neanderthals from the Burbano paper mentioned above. Exactly when Neanderthals disappeared from Europe is disputed. For the 28,000 years ago claim, see Finlayson, C. et al. 2006. “Late survival of Neanderthals at the southernmost extreme of Europe.” Nature 443: 850-853. For the claim that the real date is 37,000 years ago, see Zilhão, J. et al. 2010. “Pego do Diabo (Loures, Portugal): dating the emergence of anatomical modernity in westernmost Eurasia.” PLoS One 5: e8880. The dates I give for anatomically modern humans are approximate, but within the range that is generally accepted; see, for example, Fagundes, N. J. R. et al. 2007. “Statistical evaluation of alternative models of human evolution.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 104: 17614-17619; see also the references listed therein.
Whether or not Neanderthals wore jewelry is vigorously contested; for evidence that they did, and a discussion of why some people think they didn’t, see, for example, Zilhão, J. et al. 2010. “Symbolic use of marine shells and mineral pigments by Iberian Neandertals.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 107: 1023-1028. For evidence that Neanderthals mostly ate meat and count as “top carnivores,” see Richards, M. P. and Trinkaus, E. 2009. “Isotopic evidence for the diets of European Neanderthals and early modern humans.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 106: 16034-16039. (These authors also suggest that an inability to switch diets might somehow have led to the Neanderthal extinction.) For Neanderthals and tools, see for example SantaMaría, D. et al. 2010. “The technological and typological behaviour of a Neanderthal group from El Sidrón Cave (Asturias, Spain).” Oxford Journal of Archaeology 29: 119-148.
For red-headed Neanderthals, see Lalueza-Fox, C. et al. 2007. “A melanocortin 1 receptor allele suggests varying pigmentation among Neanderthals.” Science 318: 1453-1455. For their ability to taste bitterness, see Lalueza-Fox, C. et al. 2009. “Bitter taste perception in Neanderthals through the analysis of the TAS2R38 gene.” Biology Letters 5: 809-811. For a possible linguistic capacity, see Krause, J. et al. 2007. “The derived FOXP2 variant of modern humans was shared with Neanderthals.” Current Biology 17: 1908-1912.
For earlier suspicions that Neanderthals and humans interbred see, for example, Trinkaus, E. 2007. “European early modern humans and the fate of the Neandertals.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 104: 7367-7372; and Herrera, K. J. et al. 2009. “To what extent did Neanderthals and modern humans interact?” Biological Reviews 84: 245-257.
For coyotes cavorting with wolves, see Kays, R., Curtis, A. and Kirchman, J. J. 2010. “Rapid adaptive evolution of northeastern coyotes via hybridization with wolves.” Biological Letters 6: 89-93. For coyotes and dogs, see Adams, J. R., Leonard, J. A., and Waits, L. P. 2003. “Widespread occurrence of a domestic dog mitochondrial DNA haplotype in southeastern US coyotes.” Molecular Ecology 12: 541-546. For hanky-panky in south American cats, see Trigo, T. C. et al. 2008. “Inter-species hybrization among Neotropical cats of the genus Leopardus, and evidence for an introgressive hybrid zone between L. geoffroyi and L. tigrinus in southern Brazil.” Molecular Ecology 17: 4317-4333. A an overview of similar goings-on in ducks can be found in Muñoz-Fuentes, V. et al. 2007. “Hybridization between white-headed ducks and introduced ruddy ducks in Spain.” Molecular Ecology 16: 629-638.
The suggestion that mad Neanderthal disease caused their demise has been put forward several times; see, for example, Cooper, J. H. 2000. “Did cannibalism and spongiform encephalopathy contribute to the demise of the Neanderthals?” Mankind Quarterly 41: 175-180 and Underdown, S. 2008. “A potential role for transmissible spongiform encephalopathies in Neanderthal extinction.” Medical Hypotheses 71: 4-7. The notion that Neanderthals were culturally inferior to us — and that this caused their extinction — is pervasive; see, for example, Klein, R. G. 2003. “Whither the Neanderthals?” Science 299: 1525-1527. For the possibility that small, sparse populations was the eventual problem, see Hublin, J.-J. and Roebroeks, W. 2009. “Ebb and flow or regional extinctions? On the character of Neandertal occupation of northern environments.” Comptes Rendus Palevol 8: 503-509. (This paper is also my source for the claim that Neanderthals needed to eat more calories than we do.) For other hypotheses, see Herrera, K. J. et al. 2009. “To what extent did Neanderthals and modern humans interact?” Biological Reviews 84: 245-257.
Many thanks to Thiago Carvalho, Mike Eisen, Gideon Lichfield and Jonathan Swire for insights, comments and suggestions.
The ghostly aurora surges in waves across the sky, dropping curtains of blue, red, and green. It appears without warning, grabbing our attention from the still dark sky as if trying to warn of us impending danger. The light show can retreat as quickly as it emerged, leaving viewers dazzled and wanting more.
In our modern world, science has revealed most of the secrets of the northern and southern lights. We now understand that aurorae form when solar particles collide with Earth’s upper atmosphere. Larger solar storms cause a greater influx of particles, which can cause aurorae to reach lower latitudes and appear to more observers. March and September generally afford the best opportunities to observe the northern or southern lights. The colors of the aurora are determined by which gases are excited by the solar plasma.
All of this scientific knowledge slowly started accumulating more than two and a half centuries ago. Prior to that, people made up their own stories about what the lights were and what they meant to humans. The folklore begins with the name of the northern and southern lights. Aurora is the name of the Roman goddess of the dawn. For Europeans, the lights, usually starting as a subtle brightening on the northern horizon, appeared to be an out-of-place and untimely arrival of morning. Other stories about the lights ran the gamut from evil omen to helpful spirits to weather forecasts.
- The Ottawas on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron thought an aurora was a sign of good will from their creator, Nanahboozho.
- The Chuvash of Siberia believed it was their heaven god helping women in childbirth.
- East Greenland Inuits viewed the lights as children who died at birth.
- The Vikings thought aurorae were reflections from shields of the Valkyries, maidens who take dead warriors to Valhalla (heaven).
- Iroquois believed they were seeing the entry point to the land of the souls.
- The Inuit of the lower Yukon River, the Salteaus of Eastern Canada, and the Kwakiutl and Tlingit of southeastern Alaska all saw dancing souls in the flickering sky.
- Fox Indian tribes of Wisconsin feared the lights as ghosts of their slain enemies, trying to rise up again. For this reason, aurorae were regarded as an omen of war and pestilence.
- Contrary to the great numbers of legends revolving around the deceased, the Lakota Sioux interpreted the lights as spirits of generations yet to be born.
- Many Inuits’ myths involve the dead playing ball with a walrus head.
- Unlike other Inuit groups, Point Barrow Inuits consider the northern lights evil and carried knives for protection.
- The Koyukuk Indians in northwest Alaska banged on metal pans to attract aurora.
- In Lapland, people were warned not to mock or whistle at aurorae or they may come down to harm them.
- A number of stories involve the actions of unknown communities farther to the North. The Mandan of North Dakota told of fires that people of northern nations used to simmer dead enemies in enormous pots.
- In Washington state, Makah Indians also saw fires of those in the far north, only they spoke of a tribe of dwarfs boiling blubber.
- Menominee Indians of Minnesota and Wisconsin thought the aurorae were torches of friendly northern giants used in spearfishing at night.
- The Mauri of New Zealand interpreted their glimpses of the aurora australis as reflected light from torches or campfires.
- Scandinavian fishing people saw the lights as a sign of rich catches, believing them to be caused by sunlight reflecting off large schools of herring in the North Sea.
- Finnish and Estonian myths were also aquatic in nature, involving a whale or ocean monster splashing the water with its tail.
- Another story from Finland claims that foxes made of fire lived in Lapland and flung sparks into the air with their tails.
- Farther south on the globe, in China, the monster responsible for auroral displays was a fire-breathing dragon.
- Even in the far south of the United States, aurorae were spotted often enough to grow legends. The Creek Indians of Georgia and Alabama, along with the Cheyenne of Wyoming, said the northern lights were a sign of changing weather. The Penobscot Indians of Maine were more specific in their meteorology, foretelling windy weather.
- In Scotland, aurorae were called “merry dancers”. If the “dancers” moved quickly, unsettled weather would be expected, but if the dancers moved slowly and gracefully, the weather forecast was favorable.
While we no longer blame aurorae for a turn in the weather, they are a part of “space weather”. A geomagnetic storm can come your way at any time, triggering another round of magnificent auroral displays. Watch the next event and decide for yourself what the northern lights mean to you.
Read more at Suite101: Legends Behind the Northern Lights: What Past Societies Saw in the Sky http://astronomyspace.suite101.com/article.cfm/legends_behind_the_northern_lights#ixzz0ngFemsn3
Five and a Half Things about the Guergis interview
Scott Feschuk Tuesday, May 11, 2010
1. It probably doesn’t help Helena Guergis’s case that whenever I hear her voice I think of the littlePoltergeist lady. Now clear your minds. It knows what scares you. IT HAS FROM THE VERY BEGINNING!!
(This isn’t a joke. I am deeply unnerved by her Soft Voice. At points during last night’s interview, it was as though she was trying to tuck Peter Mansbridge into bed. “I guess I could be naïve, Peter. Yeah. <softer>Yeah. <softer> And then the baby unicorn and the fairy princess were bestest friends for all time. The end.”)
1.5 When Guergis made reference to watching her career implode on “the news hour at 11 o’clock,” I admired Peter Mansbridge’s restraint in not tearing off his microphone and hollering, “Why don’t you go cry to your best friend Lloyd Robertson then?”
2. Allowing Mansbridge to view the videotape of her alleged meltdown at the Charlottetown airport was smart – no boot throwing? WHAAA?? –because it allowed her to begin the interview with a demonstration of credibility. Two obvious questions: Why didn’t she do this sooner? And more important, can we all go to CATSA head office and watch videotapes of ourselves going through airport security? Because I’m pretty sure that tape of one of the screeners at Toronto island airport “accidentally” knocking me in the nuts with his handheld wand would be a hoot.
3. The credibility that Guergis built up eroded when she talked about her husband, Rahim Jaffer. She came off here as overly coached, relying on wounded sentences that (I’d wager) were crafted for her by an advisor. “I have no reason to believe my husband would lie to me, my husband would not want to hurt me or harm me in any way.”
Little of what she said about Jaffer was convincing. In one breath, she stated that she knew with absolute certainty that Jaffer never used her office or resources to exploit his Conservative connections to try and score government grants and financing. In the next, she said she has little clue what her husband’s job actually entails. “I know he works in green technologies. I know he knows a lot of people.” I know he’s a biped. I have a strong hunch he owns several pairs of pants.
And then this: According to Guergis, Jaffer has “no idea” how the cocaine ended up in his pocket on the night he was arrested. Permit me to help you with that one, Helena: He put it there. Did I just blow your mind?
4. Guergis was pretty adamant that she’s never done cocaine or any other drug. Ever. Don’t we have to believe her? I think we do unless someone comes forward with something other than rumour and hearsay. Like maybe an HD video of her with coke and strippers – but you know, classy-like.
5. The part where she cried made me uncomfortable. I briefly switched the channel to CSI: Miami. A murdered soccer Mom? I guess the killer got a <removes sunglasses> real kick out of this.
May 8, 2010
When you were a child, did you have some special, magical place in the outdoors: a tangle of woods behind the house that was your own personal Narnia, a hill that you climbed as if ascending Everest, a cottage bay that seemed as secret as a pirate’s cove?
For me, that place was the Rouge Valley. In the 1960s my father took my younger brother and I there for weekend adventures. We would drive beyond what were then the farthest suburbs and park near a farmhouse, descending into the valley by way of a trail used by weekend horse riders. At the bottom were open fields with tall brown grass, small woods and the ruins of old homesteads, all of it criss-crossed by the rushing milky waters of the Rouge River and Little Rouge Creek.
My brother and I built a fort in a cedar grove out of old split rails from a farm fence. We roasted hot dogs over a fire that we ringed with river stones. On one birthday-party outing, my pals and I spent hours trying to dam the river with logs and rocks and mud – a failed engineering project, but glorious fun.
Dad discovered the Rouge as a boy in the 1930s, riding his bike all the way from his home in the Beach with his best friend Al. Later he carved his initials beside those of his future wife in the bark of an old tree near the river. The Rouge awoke his love of exploring, and, through him, mine.
The valley today is a different place than it was. Bland subdivisions crowd up to its very edges. The 401 roars over it. But descend into it, as I did the other day, and you can still experience the feeling of apartness that long ago aroused my sense of wonder.
In the part I know best, just north of the 401, you can explore a network of trails that cover the sides of the valley and follow the river below. Sprays of trilliums lined the path I took: the Mast Trail, where foresters once felled great trees to supply the British Navy with spars. Trout spawn in the river below, turtles lay nests in its sandy banks and bald eagles sometimes perch in the trees that hang over it.
That the Rouge survived at all is something of a miracle. The march of urban sprawl was encroaching from all directions when the Save the Rouge movement persuaded the government of Premier David Peterson to protect it, putting a halt to plans for garbage dumps and highways.
It became a park in 1995 and now covers 47 square kilometres, 13 times the size of New York’s Central Park, in a triangle spreading from the lake to the verge of the post-glacial Oak Ridges Moraine. It is such a treasure that mayoral candidate George Smitherman wants it declared a national park.
The magnificence of the Don Valley was compromised by the parkway decades ago. The Humber Valley is squeezed by development. Only the Rouge remains. It is the single significant break in the great wash of subdivisions, malls and industrial parks that spreads from Scarborough to Pickering, Whitby and beyond. One minute you can be grabbing a sandwich at Subway, the next walking alone in a fragment of rare Carolinian forest.
Places like this have a special pull. Since discovering the Rouge, I’ve learned to love exploring fragments of wildness in big cities. In Mexico City, I took a bus through choking traffic to a mountain park where I glimpsed a red warbler in the underbrush. In Port of Spain, Trinidad, I left a busy suburban road, walked across a golf course and found a trail to a perfect tropical pool fed by a waterfall. It always amazes me how few people you find in places like these.
For all its wonders, the Rouge is unknown to most Torontonians. Tens of thousands people traverse it every day without a second thought. They are missing something.
When my first child, a son, was born, I knew I had to introduce him to the Rouge. With my dad and brother along, we went to look for that old horse trail, but the farm where we used to stop was long gone. We searched down one suburban cul de sac after another. We had almost given up when we saw a wild-looking thicket at the end of a street. We pulled apart the brush and, lo, there it was: the path to the hidden valley. Despite the onrush of the spreading city, the magic of the Rouge remains.
Even though she’s ‘so damn ancient,’ the director still defies Hollywood convention
“You know,” I said in a phone interview this week with Nicole Holofcener, the writer and director of the new film Please Give, “from Hollywood’s perspective, you do everything wrong. You make small, smart films that are dialogue-heavy and character-driven. The emotions are subtle, not super-sized. You focus on female characters, usually well past the ingénue stage, who are prickly and discontented. You use –”
“ – the same actress [Catherine Keener] over and over,” Holofcener jumped in, way ahead of me. “I write ensemble films, so I can’t get a huge star because there isn’t one clear lead character. My movies are too dark, or the humour’s too weird. They’re hard to market, because they don’t have a hook – they can’t be reduced to one line.”
I tried to come up with a few. For Walking and Talking (1996), Holofcener’s debut feature: Amelia (Keener) can’t manage to be happy that her best friend (Anne Heche) is getting married. For Lovely and Amazing (2001): Despite their closeness, a mother (Brenda Blethyn) and her two daughters (Keener and Emily Mortimer) continually baffle one another. For Friends with Money (2006): Four women (Keener, Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack and Jennifer Aniston) feel empty in lives that appear full. And for Please Give, which opened in select cities yesterday: When married Manhattan furniture dealers (Keener and Oliver Platt) buy the apartment next door but allow its elderly occupant to live there until her death, strange and complicated relationships arise between the couple and the woman’s granddaughters (Amanda Peet and Rebecca Hall).
“You’re right, it’s pretty tortuous,” I said. “The movies are so much fuller and funnier than a tag line can convey.”
Holofcener sighed. “I have no idea why I can keep getting movies made,” she said. “I write a script on spec – which means nobody pays me – and then shop it around. Mostly I hear, ‘Great script,’ or even, ‘One of the best scripts I’ve ever read.’ And then I hear, ‘But we’re not going to make it.’ It’s always the same. Studios will say, ‘We want to make your next one, but notthis next one.’ It’s always the script I haven’t written that they want to make, not the one that’s in their hands. It’s really hypocritical and so full of shit. Or they want, I don’t know, some Nicole Kidman vehicle about a woman crossing the desert. It’s like, ‘What? That’s not what I do!’”
I thought I should tell her that she’s not supposed to be this honest, at least not to a journalist. But I didn’t, because I really wanted to hear what she’d say next.
“But somehow eventually I can convince the right people,” Holofcener continued. “For Please Give, Sony Classics first said, ‘This movie is so sad, I think I’d want to kill myself after seeing it. Why should we make it?’ So I went through it page by page and said, ‘This scene’s gonna be funny.’ They said, ‘You’re joking. It’s tragic!’ I said, “It’s tragic, but it’s also funny.’ That’s what the process of trying to get financing has always been like.”
In between features, Holofcener is in demand to rewrite other people’s scripts, or to direct episodes of smart-talky television shows, including Sex and the City, The Gilmore Girls, Six Feet Under and Bored to Death. She’s just adapted her first thriller, Every Secret Thing, for producer/star Frances McDormand, which they’ll soon be shopping around.
Almost every profile of Holofcener – who is 50, recently divorced, and the mother of twin 12-year-old sons – mentions that she grew up in New York and spent time on Woody Allen’s sets. (Her stepfather, Charles Joffe, was Allen’s long-time producer.) At Columbia Film School, her peers called her “the female Woody Allen.” But she says her connection to him was slight: “I was so young when I was on Woody’s sets. I worked as a production assistant on one when I was 19, but I was with the bagels and cream cheese. And Woody whispers to his actors, so the very few times I was allowed on the set, I couldn’t hear what he was saying. The only thing I picked up is what everybody picks up from being a huge fan of his early movies and watching them over and over: His long takes, and the dolly shots, and the natural performances. And his brilliance.”
What most profiles don’t mention is that Holofcener’s first professional gig was as a writer on the hit Canadian tweener TV series Ready or Not, for creator Alyse Rosenberg. “I have wonderful memories of us sitting on living-room floors bashing out ideas and memories from our own tween lives,” Rosenberg told me.
The intense female friendships, the long and winding conversations, the delicate calibrations of emotions – all the characteristics of Holofcener’s movies were nascent in Ready or Not. “It’s all the same, yeah; I think it’s all exactly the same,” Holofcener said. “You try to put your feet in someone else’s shoes and go. I tend to like things that, I don’t know, tell the truth.”
I’ll say. Holofcener boldly strides into conversations that others would consider minefields. She admits to “freaking out” prior to turning 50: “It just seems so damn ancient, and it’s the unsexiest number, in our culture anyway. We should be dead, right, because we’re useless to the population. But I would never lie about my age. I think women especially have to stop that.”
On money, the focus of her last two films, she says: “I feel it’s one of the last taboos, like race. It evokes such strong feelings of shame or greed or envy, whether you make too little or too much. My screenwriter friends might make $700,000 for a script, which of course is obscene – and not even the highest amount. When I ask, ‘How much?’ you should see the embarrassment on their faces. I feel ashamed of the amount of money I make, compared to normal people who have normal jobs.”
And on Please Give’s opening credits, which show a panoply of older breasts being squished in a mammogram machine, she says, “I’m aware of being shocking, and that a lot of people might not like it. But I think it’s funny. In French movies, women are topless, and they have these big hanging boobs. But in this country people say, ‘Oh, that’s disgusting.’ That’s sad.
“I guess I like to be shocking sometimes,” Holofcener sums up. “When I was younger, it came from a more immature place. At least now when I’m doing it I’m aware of it.” I’d say hyper-aware. And thrillingly so.
A jury, bolstered by public comments, will pick one of five proposals in June
Councillor Pam McConnell and Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone stood shoulder to shoulder in the ballroom of St. Lawrence Hall on Friday, together drawing back a large black curtain to unveil what many in the room had waited years to see.
Behind it — Pantalone admitted he had peeked — were five architects’ submissions chosen as finalists in the competition to replace the bland St. Lawrence north market with a combined market and courtroom complex.
A jury of seven, including architects, heritage consultants, and a novelist and newspaper columnist, will choose the winner to be announced June 7.
Among the five respected firms represented are Adamson Associates, who designed the MaRS building, and Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg, who were involved in signature projects such as the revitalized Gardiner Museum, the National Ballet School and George Brown College’s waterfront campus, currently under construction.
But at the moment, the designs are anonymous and identified only by colour. The public is being invited to vote and comment on the submissions, either online or at the hall, which was slated to be open Friday until 8 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“What strikes me is the diversity. Everything is different,” said Anne Milchberg, the city’s facilities and real estate manager of development and portfolio planning, as she surveyed the displays.
Designs range from a glass-fronted structure that one spectator compared to the new opera house, to an angular plan described in the accompanying notes as a “shed form.”
Another has curved east and west walls sheathed in copper, a modern nod to the cupola on St. Lawrence Hall just to the north and the nearby spire of St. James Cathedral.
A group of students from Havergal College were clustered at the back of the room around a palatial design that appears to be two separate glass buildings joined by a glass courtyard.
The artist’s rendering of a see-through view to the north frames historic St. Lawrence Hall, where Sir John A. MacDonald stumped on his way to becoming Prime Minister and where Lieutenant Alex Dunn received Upper Canada’s first Victoria Cross in 1854.
“I like the view of St. Lawrence Hall,” said student Erica Jewitt, 14, as she considered the building. “Yeah, that’s really cool,” said her cousin Carter Jewitt, 13.
The winning design will be chosen based on factors such as environmental features, how it fits with nearby heritage buildings and its functionality for court and market users, complete with underground parking.
Public comments will be compiled by city staff and read by the jury, although it will not be bound by the votes.
However, said Milchberg, “We’re strongly encouraging people to give their opinions. We’ve always posited this as a community building and hopefully the jury will take their opinion in to account.”
Lena Horne appeared in “Jamaica,” a musical that ran on Broadway from 1957 to 1959.
May 9, 2010
Lena Horne, who was the first black performer to be signed to a long-term contract by a major Hollywood studio and who went on to achieve international fame as a singer, died on Sunday night atNew York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York. She was 92 and lived in Manhattan.
Her death was announced by her son-in-law, Kevin Buckley.
Ms. Horne might have become a major movie star, but she was born 50 years too early, and languished at MGM in the 1940s because of the color of her skin, although she was so light-skinned that, when she was a child, other black children had taunted her, accusing her of having a “white daddy.”
Ms. Horne was stuffed into one “all-star” musical after another — “Thousands Cheer” (1943), “Broadway Rhythm” (1944), “Two Girls and a Sailor” (1944), “Ziegfeld Follies” (1946), “Words and Music” (1948) — to sing a song or two that could easily be snipped from the movie when it played in the South, where the idea of an African-American performer in anything but a subservient role in a movie with an otherwise all-white cast was unthinkable.
“The only time I ever said a word to another actor who was white was Kathryn Grayson in a little segment of ‘Show Boat’ ” included in “Till the Clouds Roll By” (1946), a movie about the life ofJerome Kern, Ms. Horne said in an interview in 1990. In that sequence she played Julie, a mulatto forced to flee the showboat because she has married a white man.
But when MGM made “Show Boat” into a movie for the second time, in 1951, the role of Julie was given to a white actress, Ava Gardner, who did not do her own singing. (Ms. Horne was no longer under contract to MGM at the time, and according to James Gavin’s Horne biography, “Stormy Weather,” published last year, she was never seriously considered for the part.) And in 1947, when Ms. Horne herself married a white man — the prominent arranger, conductor and pianist Lennie Hayton, who was for many years both her musical director and MGM’s — the marriage took place in France and was kept secret for three years.
Ms. Horne’s first MGM movie was “Panama Hattie” (1942), in which she sang Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things.” Writing about that film years later, Pauline Kael called it “a sad disappointment, though Lena Horne is ravishing and when she sings you can forget the rest of the picture.”
Even before she came to Hollywood, Brooks Atkinson, the drama critic for The New York Times, noticed Ms. Horne in “Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1939,” a Broadway revue that ran for nine performances. “A radiantly beautiful sepia girl,” he wrote, “who will be a winner when she has proper direction.”
She had proper direction in two all-black movie musicals, both made in 1943. Lent to 20th Century Fox for “Stormy Weather,” one of those show business musicals with almost no plot but lots of singing and dancing, Ms. Horne did both triumphantly, ending with the sultry, aching sadness of the title number, which would become one of her signature songs. In MGM’s “Cabin in the Sky,” the first film directed by Vincente Minnelli, she was the brazen, sexy handmaiden of the Devil. (One number she shot for that film, “Ain’t It the Truth,” which she sang while taking a bubble bath, was deleted before the film was released — not for racial reasons, as her stand-alone performances in other MGM musicals sometimes were, but because it was considered too risqué.)
In 1945 the critic and screenwriter Frank Nugent wrote in Liberty magazine that Ms. Horne was “the nation’s top Negro entertainer.” In addition to her MGM salary of $1,000 a week, she was earning $1,500 for every radio appearance and $6,500 a week when she played nightclubs. She was also popular with servicemen, white and black, during World War II, appearing more than a dozen times on the Army radio program “Command Performance.”
“The whole thing that made me a star was the war,” Ms. Horne said in the 1990 interview. “Of course the black guys couldn’t put Betty Grable’s picture in their footlockers. But they could put mine.”
Touring Army camps for the U.S.O., Ms. Horne was outspoken in her criticism of the way black soldiers were treated. “So the U.S.O. got mad,” she recalled. “And they said, ‘You’re not going to be allowed to go anyplace anymore under our auspices.’ So from then on I was labeled a bad little Red girl.”
Ms. Horne later claimed that for this and other reasons, including her friendship with leftists like Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois, she was blacklisted and “unable to do films or television for the next seven years” after her tenure with MGM ended in 1950.
This was not quite true: as Mr. Gavin has documented, she appeared frequently on “Your Show of Shows” and other television shows in the 1950s, and in fact “found more acceptance” on television “than almost any other black performer.” And Mr. Gavin and others have suggested that there were other factors in addition to politics or race involved in her lack of film work
Although absent from the screen, she found success in nightclubs and on records. “Lena Horne at the Waldorf-Astoria,” recorded during a well-received eight-week run in 1957, reached the Top 10 and became the best-selling album by a female singer in RCA Victor’s history.
In the early 1960s Ms. Horne, always outspoken on the subject of civil rights, became increasingly active, participating in numerous marches and protests.
In 1969, she returned briefly to films, playing the love interest of a white actor, Richard Widmark, in “Death of a Gunfighter.”
She was to act in only one other movie: In 1978 she played Glinda the Good Witch in “The Wiz,” the film version of the all-black Broadway musical based on “The Wizard of Oz.” But she never stopped singing.
She continued to record prolifically well into the 1990s, for RCA and other labels, notably United Artists and Blue Note. And she conquered Broadway in 1981 with a one-woman show, “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music,” which ran for 14 months and won both rave reviews and a Tony Award.
Ms. Horne’s voice was not particularly powerful, but it was extremely expressive. She reached her listeners emotionally by acting as well as singing the romantic standards like “The Man I Love” and “Moon River” that dominated her repertory. The person she always credited as her main influence was not another singer but a pianist and composer, Duke Ellington’s longtime associate Billy Strayhorn.
“I wasn’t born a singer,” she told Strayhorn’s biographer, David Hajdu. “I had to learn a lot. Billy rehearsed me. He stretched me vocally.” Strayhorn occasionally worked as her accompanist and, she said, “taught me the basics of music, because I didn’t know anything.”
Strayhorn was also, she said, “the only man I ever loved,” but Strayhorn was openly gay, and their close friendship never became a romance. “He was just everything that I wanted in a man,” she told Mr. Hajdu, “except he wasn’t interested in me sexually.”
Lena Calhoun Horne was born in Brooklyn on June 30, 1917. All four of her grandparents were industrious members of Brooklyn’s black middle class. Her paternal grandparents, Edwin and Cora Horne, were early members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and in October 1919, at the age of 2, Lena was the cover girl for the organization’s monthly bulletin.
By then the marriage of her parents, Edna and Teddy Horne, was in trouble. “She was spoiled and badly educated and he was fickle,” Ms. Horne’s daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, wrote in her family history, “The Hornes.” By 1920 Teddy had left his job with the New York Department of Labor and fled to Seattle, and Edna had fled to a life on the stage in Harlem. Ms. Horne was raised by her paternal grandparents until her mother took her back four years later.
When she was 16, her mother abruptly pulled her out of school to audition for the dance chorus at the Cotton Club, the famous Harlem nightclub where the customers were white, the barely dressed dancers were light-skinned blacks, Duke Ellington was the star of the show and the proprietors were gangsters. A year after joining the Cotton Club chorus she made her Broadway debut, performing a voodoo dance in the short-lived show “Dance With Your Gods” in 1934.
At 19, Ms. Horne married the first man she had ever dated, 28-year-old Louis Jones, and became a conventional middle-class Pittsburgh wife. Her daughter Gail was born in 1937 and a son, Teddy, in 1940. The marriage ended soon afterward. Ms. Horne kept Gail, but Mr. Jones refused to give up Teddy, although he did allow the boy long visits with his mother.
In 1938, Ms. Horne starred in a quickie black musical film, “The Duke Is Tops,” for which she was never paid. Her return to movies was on a grander scale.
She had been singing at the Manhattan nightclub Café Society when the impresario Felix Young chose her to star at the Trocadero, a nightclub he was planning to open in Hollywood in the fall of 1941. In 1990, Ms. Horne reminisced: “My only friends were the group of New Yorkers who sort of stuck with their own group — like Vincente, Gene Kelly, Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen, and Richard Whorf — the sort of hip New Yorkers who allowed Paul Robeson and me in their houses.”
Since blacks were not allowed to live in Hollywood, “Felix Young, a white man, signed for the house as if he was going to rent it,” Ms. Horne said. “When the neighbors found out, Humphrey Bogart, who lived right across the street from me, raised hell with them for passing around a petition to get rid of me.” Bogart, she said, “sent word over to the house that if anybody bothered me, please let him know.”
Roger Edens, the composer and musical arranger who had been Judy Garland’s chief protector at MGM, had heard the elegant Ms. Horne sing at Café Society and also went to hear her at the Little Troc (the war had scaled Mr. Young’s ambitions down to a small club with a gambling den on the second floor). He insisted that Arthur Freed, the producer of MGM’s lavish musicals, listen to Ms. Horne sing. Then Freed insisted that Louis B. Mayer, who ran the studio, hear her, too. He did, and soon she had signed a seven-year contract with MGM.
The N.A.A.C.P. celebrated that contract as a weapon in its war to get better movie roles for black performers. Her father weighed in, too. In a 1997 PBS interview, she recalled: “My father said, ‘I can get a maid for my daughter. I don’t want her in the movies playing maids.’ ”
Ms. Horne is survived by her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley. Her husband died in 1971; her son died of kidney failure the same year.
Looking back at the age of 80, Ms. Horne said: “My identity is very clear to me now. I am a black woman. I’m free. I no longer have to be a ‘credit.’ I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”
Ms. Horne and Cab Calloway in “Stormy Weather.” The title song became one of her signatures.
Peter Keepnews contributed reporting.
A man plays with his dog near Wallace Avenue on the Toronto Railpath, a 2.1-kilometre narrow road that runs beside the railroad north from Dundas Street West and Sterling Avenue to Cariboo Avenue and Osler Street.
When finished, the corridor could function as a bike commuters’ superhighway
So far, it’s an off-road bike trail to nowhere, a stub of a path along the side of a rail line in the west end of Toronto.
But if plans to extend the two-kilometre-long West Toronto Railpath to its full six kilometres come to fruition, it could become a veritable bike commuter’s superhighway running all the way from the Junction neighbourhood directly into the downtown core.
A completed trail “would be amazing,” said Daniel Egan, manager of the city’s cycling infrastructure and programs. “What’s in place now doesn’t really go anywhere, but you can get a sense of what’s possible. … You don’t need much imagination to understand how important it could be.”
But the completion of the trail into downtown is likely several years off, and still faces significant design and construction hurdles.
The path currently runs in a diagonal slash, starting from just north of the Dupont and Dundas intersection and running alongside the rail tracks that roughly parallel the southeast trajectory of Dundas Street West. It abruptly ends, however, dumping the commuting cyclists who use it near the dangerous confluence of Dundas, College and Lansdowne. Those cyclists – along with joggers, rollerbladers and people just out for a quiet stroll – can’t wait for the day that the trail is completed further down the rail corridor to the eastern edge of Liberty Village, a stone’s throw from the centre of Toronto.
“Everybody who has used it absolutely loves it and is anxious for it to be completed,” said Yvonne Bambrick, executive director of the Toronto Cyclists Union. “It’s always great to get off the streets that are at times hostile, and always busy and smelly.”
The initial northern portion of the path that opened last fall took almost a decade to come to fruition. It occupies an unused railway right-of-way that the city bought back in 2001, adjacent to the GO train tracks that carry passengers to Brampton and Georgetown.
On the six-minute bike ride – or 20-minute stroll – down the completed portion of the railpath, the sculptures, signage and planted greenery aren’t the most arresting features. Much more impressive is the industrial landscape lining the route – factories and warehouses built decades ago. Riding along the path gives a perspective on the city that is hard to find elsewhere.
But if it is to become more than just a recreational trail, and open up a new commuting route for cyclists, the southern portion of the trail down to King and Strachan needs to be completed. That depends on whether room can be carved out alongside the rail corridor that is being expanded to provide more frequent GO train service and a rail link to the airport.
With the GO expansion set to be finished by 2014 – ahead of the 2015 Pan Am Games – the full railpath could be in place by then as well.
Fortunately, everyone who needs to be involved to make it work seems to be on side.
Metrolinx, the government agency planning the GO expansion, says it will try to make room for the railpath alongside its tracks. The city is willing to pick up the tab for construction costs, and will accommodate the trail on adjacent land or streets in the sections where it can’t be accommodated on rail land. And the grassroots group Friends of West Toronto Railpath, which pushed for years to get the path under way, is lobbying hard and helping with the design of the extended path.
There are still some substantial stumbling blocks, however, and they could be expensive to overcome. Four existing railway bridges – at Lansdowne, Brock, Queen and King streets – aren’t wide enough to allow the bike path to be squeezed in alongside. That may mean the city will have to pony up for new bridges, along with the cost of building the trail itself. Since the existing portion of the trail – which needed no new bridging – cost about $4-million, the price tag for the southern section could be steep.
Despite the costs and potential engineering headaches, the city, Metrolinx and the “Friends” all see the extended route as a huge gain for Toronto’s bike-path system. And it carries none of the controversial baggage of building street bike lanes on car-heavy routes such as University and Jarvis.
Mike Foderick, one of the founders of the Friends of West Toronto Railpath, emphasizedunderlines how important it is to make use of Toronto’s underused industrial corridors for recreational purposes. The part of the trail that is already in use “takes a forgotten side of the [city] and just turns it into a place you want to hang out,” he said. “The [factories] were all built to orient away from the tracks, and now they are unboarding their windows for the first time. They are opening up doors onto that land. … It’s a beautiful thing.”