Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Olympic Torch Comes to Milton!

Today was the big day! Your faithful reporter actually managed to get up at gawdawful in the morning and walk up to Main Street in the freezing cold just to bring you this footage.

I hope you appreciate it.

Seriously, it was a lot of fun and very exciting. I even got to sing Christmas carols and a rousing rendition of 'O Canada' with the Milton Choristers.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Clean, Green & Prosperous in Milton

I just got back from the "Clean, Green & Prosperous" meeting, which was hosted by our two young Liberal delegates to Copenhagen: Ashley Bigda and Matt Juniper.

It was a fun event, with two guest speakers and about 20 people attending. The presentations were interesting, although a lot of it was pretty familiar to anyone who has seen 'An Inconvenient Truth'. But the unfamiliar material was pretty shocking.

The first speaker was Lee Norton from The Climate Project Canada. Using the now familiar Al Gore PowerPoint format, he showed us some of the updated climate modelling that is both more precise and more ominous because it's taking into account feedback effects like reduced glare from polar ice and methane release from permafrost and now the arctic seabed. On the bright side, sulphur ajavascript:void(0)nd soot released into the atmosphere as plain old air pollution are having a slight cooling effect (great - smog will save us!)

The second speaker was Prof. Jay Malcolm from U. of T. He's an ecologist specializing in biodiversity, and he had some pretty disturbing things to say about exactly what effect even just a two or three degree global temperature increase would have on bioregions here in Ontario. The optimistic scenario would have southern Ontario looking like Georgia. The pessimistic scenario involves our climate changing too fast for plant and animal species to shift north, resulting in mass extinctions and the destruction of nearly all of our forests.

At that point, Matt and Ashley opened things up to the floor. It was a pretty lively discussion, with people talking about everything from local urban planning to green economic incentives to the relative effectiveness of traditional political engagement vs. environmental activism. Lots of smart ideas, lots of interesting perspectives.

It was really a terrific event, and I'm pretty sure everyone in that room will be following Matt and Ashley's Excellent Copenhagen Adventure very closely.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Halton Does Copenhagen!

We're all very excited here in Halton that two of our Young Liberals have been selected as youth delegates to the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

Ashley Bigda and Matt Juniper were recently featured in the local papers, and now they have their very own blog to share their adventures with us:

Halton Does Copenhagen

Drop in and say hi! Or better yet, come on down to their "Clean, Green, & Prosperous" event on Wednesday night here in Milton, where you can talk to them about what you would like to see accomplished at the conference.

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

From Town to City: Milton's Infill and Intensification Plan

Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to participate in the second of two public meetings discussing plans to increase development and population density in central Milton - otherwise known as 'Infill and Intensification'.

The Province has mandated that, in order to accommodate increasing populations and to avoid sprawl into agricultural areas, that certain towns increase the population density of their built-up areas to reach (in the case of Milton) a minimum of 200 people + jobs per hectare by 2031.

In practical terms, this means allowing for taller buildings, and developing 'brownfields' and underutilized spaces. The plan has resulted in predictable resistance from some members of the community who are envisioning crops of high-rise condo towers springing up in the downtown core, but the reality, thankfully, is much less terrifying.

To start with, the area where they are talking about doing most of this development could definitely use a facelift. I remember when we first came to Milton 15 years ago to look for a house, the first impression we had driving west along Main Street was of a dingy, haphazard collection of industrial units, strip malls, vacant lots - even an abandoned paint factory. The paint factory was torn down a few years later, but the sizeable lot it sat on remains an empty eyesore.

When the Loblaw's Supercentre and the attendant retail complex was built a few years ago at the corner of Main and Thompson, it was literally in the middle of nowhere. But with the residential developments now fully established to the east and southeast of town, the continued existence of this industrial wasteland between 'old' and 'new' Milton has become even more detrimental to the integrity of the town.

Filling that gap with high density housing and retail will (hopefully) create a larger, continuous downtown centre that will be accessible, walkable, and integrated with the older and newer parts of Milton. Additionally, increasing population densities in an area which, fortuitously, includes the GO Station will make in-town, commuter and intra-regional transit far more efficient and cost effective.

Concerns were raised about the loss of parking space at the GO station, but apparently there are several plans in the works that should make that less of a problem. In addition to making it easier to walk or bike to the station, there are plans to add two new stations at Trafalgar and at Tremaine which should ease the pressure on the downtown Milton station considerably. Also, at some point the line is going to be extended west. This should help a lot because a significant percentage of people using the Milton GO station are actually from Guelph, Cambridge and Kitchener.

Other interesting plans in the works include:
- moving the GO parking lot to south of the tracks, leaving the Main St. frontage for retail and apartments / condominiums.

- extending Main St. to Trafalgar, giving access to the 401 and the future GO station there, thus relieving traffic congestion downtown.

- incorporating a park / trail corridor parallelling Main Street to the north, thus allowing an alternate east-west route for pedestrians and cyclists.

- additional intensification to the west of the historic downtown core to create a western 'gateway' into both the old and new downtown areas.

I'm personally pretty excited by all this. Short of stuffing the whole town into a time machine and sending it back 20 years, I see this approach as being the best way of counteracting the sprawling, uncontrolled, unbalanced residential development that has been going on for the past decade, and transitioning Milton from a medium-sized town to a small city.

It's a shame they couldn't have done the infill first, but it is what it is.

(There's lots more information about the Town's plan on their website.)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Bike Routes in Milton: Bronte and Beyond

Thanks to the efforts of Regional Councillor Colin Best, Bronte Street will have real, on-road bike lanes by the end of the year, all the way from Main to Derry.

Anyone who has ever tried to ride a bike on Bronte knows how terrifying it can be. The speed limit may be 50 for most of that stretch, but the road is so wide that people (and trucks) frequently drive much faster. So these bike lanes are going to be a welcome change - especially since they are going to connect up with future bike lanes on Derry Road going west.

Also welcome is the (re)installation of a pedestrian crossing over Bronte at Barton St, even though it's not quite what it was. The original crosswalk at that location - leading from two large apartment buildings and a townhouse complex on the west side of Bronte - was idiotically removed during the Great Crosswalk Purge of '07. Now it's been replaced with a "school crossing", complete with a crossing guard and zebra markings, but not the more expensive (and far safer) type of pedestrian-actuated crossing with the real traffic lights that they installed on Ontario St. But since that little enclave is really the only residential area on that side of Bronte, the numbers apparently didn't warrant the expense. I guess rental units don't generate enough property taxes.

I took a ride out there to check it out and... wow. I sure as hell wouldn't want to cross there - not even with a crossing guard. I wouldn't even want to BE a crossing guard there. They said the regular crosswalks were too dangerous, but at least they had overhead lights. And if you're just a regular pedestrian, it seems you're out of luck.

I won't even start on the idiot in zoning who decided to allow someone to build apartment buildings on the west side of Bronte in the first place.

But back to the bike lanes. A subsequent editorial points out that Bronte is just about the easiest and cheapest place in town to put bike lanes because it is so excessively wide. Extending the network to other existing roads, on the other hand, is going to take a bit more money and political will, but is necessary if we are going to have a truly usable network of bike routes.

For example, Ontario St. could really use some bike lanes, and is plenty wide enough to do it with some re-jigging. Although apparently the south end of Ontario St. already has what they call "multi-use trails" for bicyclists. Too bad I've never once seen anyone ride a bike on them. Can't imagine why.

Actually, I'm not sure if this sad, narrow strip of bumpy paving is supposed to be the 'multi-use trail', or if they are actually referring to the sidewalk. Which looks exactly like... a sidewalk.

(UPDATE: Confirmation from Colin - yes, those are what they are calling 'multi-use trails'. Sigh.)

Even more useful would be bicycle access to the GO station and the Supercentre at Main and Thompson. This particular corner of Milton is completely cut of from side street access to the south and west due to the train tracks, leaving only the major arteries. And Main in particular is considerably more terrifying that Bronte - so much so that I don't remember ever seeing a cyclist between Ontario and Thompson who wasn't riding on the sidewalk. Myself included. And yet, that section of Main is designated as a "suggested on-road cycling route" in the town's 'Trails and Bikeways Guide'.

Go ahead. Try it. I dare you.

Now that the town is getting serious about developing and 'intensifying' that area, it shouldn't be too hard to get the road widened enough to put bike lanes in. Why they didn't do that when they were reconstructing Thompson is beyond me.

Life isn't all dismal for Milton cyclists, however. One recent project extended a beautiful wide paved trail down the whole length of my favourite secret park-with-no-name (ok, apparently it's David Thompson Park). This park runs parallel to Commercial St. and will take you from Parkway in behind Milton District High School all the way down to Tonelli Arena on Laurier. It runs along a swale with two pretty little bridges over it, and is my favourite shortcut to La Rose and long-cut to work.

View David Thompson Park in a larger map

And now it appears there is another trail going in right across he street from me, along the west side of Sixteen Mile Creek from Sydney maybe right down to the footbridge. This particular stretch of woods has always been one of the favoured 'party spots' for local teenagers (I know, I have one), so they may just end up having to find somewhere else to go.

So there you have it. A quick tour of Milton's bike trails - the good, the bad, and the unfinished.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Storm Aftermath in Milton

I love tornadoes. I've always wanted to see one, especially after I just missed seeing the ones that tore through Orangeville and Barrie in '95. I've memorized most of the dialogue from 'Twister'. When a big storm comes, I'm always the one idiot standing outside, scanning the horizon for a funnel cloud.

Last night, I was in my basement.

Not that I would have been able to see much anyway. My house is surrounded by about half a dozen tall trees, and the rain was so torrential that I could barely see across the street. Still, I was actually considering braving the storm to see if I could get a glimpse of something, anything... until I started seeing leaves and debris flying sideways. And then upwards.

Did I mention the big trees?

Surveying the damage afterwards, it looks like either a tornado or (as my husband insists) merely a funnel cloud blew through town about three blocks from my house.

(the red 'x' is my house)

My son was even closer. He was working in the kitchen at Bryden's at Main and Commercial when a huge chunk of the roof peeled off the top of the building another two stories up and came down on the roof right over his head. The lower roof flooded and water started pouring in. Everyone was ok and the interior damage is relatively minor, but the place hasn't been doing well lately so I hope this doesn't prove to be the final nail.

At least they're open again today. Pints at Bryden's tonight, anyone?

As bad as the damage looked there and at the Lawn Bowling Club (yes, we have one) and all up Pine St., I didn't see the worst of it until I took a walk along Oak St. this afternoon. Wow.

The broken trees took out most of the power lines down there, so nobody's been able to do things like cook. So the guy who owns the "All Fired Up" mobile BBQ set up on Oak St. and has been handing out free burgers and hot dogs all day. I made sure to stop and thank him and shake his hand. Many others were doing the same.

I love this town.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

June/July Garden Update

Sorry the blogging's been a little light, but hey - it's the lazy days of summer!

I thought I'd share some of the updated photos of the veggie garden, or at least updated as of a couple of weeks ago. In general, I can report that the newspaper/straw mulch plan has been a HUGE success! Weeds are at a minimum, I haven't had to water nearly as often, and the plants are healthy and happy.

The only failures so far seem to be the Bok Choy and the beans and peas. I think I'm just going to have to give up on Bok Choy altogether - the stuff starts bolting almost as soon as I get it in the ground and nothing I do can dissuade it.

As for the beans and peas, the only ones from the first planting that sprouted were the Broad Windsor beans. There was no sign of the snap peas or the string beans, so I planted a second round. Two weeks later only a couple had come up, so I tried French beans instead. I'm told beans and peas need a lot of heat which we just haven't been getting this year. We'll see. Interestingly, the bean row is the only area I didn't cover with newsprint.

First two plantings of Broad Windsor beans, a few weeks ago...

And the Windsor beans today - flowering!

The only pea plant to come up so far

The string beans are starting to come up,
but something's been chewing on them

And I don't even especially like tomatoes. Want some?

Bok Choy FAIL

Happy cabbage!

Mesclun lettuce mix in the middle, Swiss chard to the right


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Arts Centre Funding Announcement

After failing to appear at two scheduled media events last weekend and indefinitely postponing a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Oakville set for next Friday, Lisa Raitt has finally surfaced - just in time to sign a Really Big Cheque for $14.9 million in front of Milton's lovely new Town Hall.

The cheque is for joint Federal and Provincial funding for the oft-delayed Milton Arts and Entertainments Centre and Library. It's also for the expansion of the Milton Sports Centre, which is where I get confused. Originally, the Town had asked for 7.5 million dollars from each of the Provincial and Federal governments for just the Arts Centre / Library. They were also going to be asking for $13 million for an expansion of the Milton Sports Centre

So I'm looking at that giant cheque and thinking, "Shouldn't there be two of those?"

Raitt's speech didn't clarify things any. She referred to the $14.9 million as "federal funding", even though the Giant Cheque was signed by both herself and Oakville MPP Kevin Flynn. And she specifically stated that 6.7 million of this money was going to the sports centre expansion (which, BTW, she seemed considerably more enthused about).

So is there another Giant Cheque out there, or did Milton get screwed out of half the funding we asked for? Sprawlville TV is on the case - I'll let you know.

(Appearing in this video: MP Lisa Raitt, MPP Ted Chudleigh, MPP Kevin Flynn, Mayor Gordon Krantz, and Milton CAO Mario Belvedere.)

UPDATE: I spoke to Councillor Colin Best at the Farmer's Market this morning, and he says that the $14.9 million is just the first instalment.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Life in 'The Mattamys'

My teenaged son called me this afternoon to inform me that he'd be home late because he was at a friend's house working on a project. He expressed some concern about how he was going to get home because, as he said,

"He lives out in The Mattamys"

I don't know why, but I found that utterly hilarious.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Garden: Let's Try this Again...

As I mentioned, I'm taking a different approach with the vegetable garden this year. The oregano and the lemon balm are history, the few remaining strawberries are restricted to the perimeter, and the plants are planted in nice neat rows.

I'm also experimenting with newspaper and straw mulch this year which, while quite a bit more work at the outset, will hopefully cut way back on the weeding later in the year.

Planted: bok choy, cabbage, Romaine lettuce, mesclun mix lettuce, Swiss chard, red shepherd peppers, Romano beans, purple string beans, sugar snap peas, and 7(!) different varieties of heirloom tomatoes. I don't even like tomatoes that much!

Anyone want some tomatoes?

Stage 1: Lots of digging. Grass should be declared a noxious weed.

Stage 2: Hoe rows and plant. I was going to lay the newspaper first and poke holes, but that doesn't really work for seedlings.

Stage 3: Strips of newspaper, with topsoil on top. Make sure the ground is well soaked first, and wet it more afterwards.

Stage 4: Straw. Not sure how good an idea this will ultimately be - it might all blow away if it dries out. But we'll see. The screen is my husband's contraption, for sifting weeds, roots and rocks out of the soil. It worked pretty well.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Milton Street Festival, Part 2: The Highlight Reel

See? Now don't you wish you'd come?

Milton Street Festival, Part 1: Dance, Dance, Dance!

I spent a lovely afternoon at the 2nd Annual Milton Street Festival today, enjoying the music, the vendors, and the tantalizing smells of just about every kind of food imaginable. Plus the pleasure of bumping into just about everybody I know in town.

Yes, as big as Milton has gotten, it's still like that.

This year there were a number of added attractions, including a climbing wall, a bouncy tunnel for the kids, and skateboard and BMX bike demos. Oh, and a very special surprise event which I was made privy to by my secret inside source...

More video to come.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Springtime in Sprawlville

The problem with having multiple blogs, as with multiple children I suppose, is that somebody always ends up not getting enough attention. Which is probably why I only have one kid. But now that I'm back from the Liberal Convention, hopefully I'll find the time to do some more substantive posts to poor, neglected Sprawlville.

Spring should also inspire more frequent updates. I've got about half the garden dug up, and I have a couple of ideas that I hope will make things go a little more smoothly this year. One is to give up on my haphazard layout working around existing plants, and just go with straight rows. The oregano was nice, but by August last year I was having to hack my way through it with a machete just to get at the tomatoes.

The other idea is to lay down paper mulch in the form of newspaper. I first ran across this in conjunction with the no-dig method, but it's apparently just as effective on its own or under a layer of hay or other traditional mulches. In theory it's supposed to keep the weeds down, keep heat and moisture in the soil (or maybe not heat?), and then rot away by the end of the season. They actually have paper mulch at Lee Valley Tools, but at ten bucks a roll I figured newsprint would do just fine, thank you.

I picked up four different varieties of heirloom tomato seedlings from my Willow Creek friends at the Farmers' Market last weekend, and a bunch more seedlings from La Rose yesterday: mixed lettuces, swiss chard, bok choy, basil, and in a fit of optimism, a sweet red pepper plant. Now I just need some kale and an assortment of bean and pea seeds and a proper trellis, and I'll be ready to go!

BTW, the heirloom tomatoes came with an incredibly informative pamphlet with tips and tricks for growing tomato plants. Stuff a noob like me would never have known like pruning them back, or planting them deep to generate more roots. I'll ask Crystal and Kelly if I can post it here. Any other suggestions in the 'Vegetable Gardening for Dummies' vein are always appreciated.

I also wanted to share a couple of new blogs on the blogroll. Well, new to me.

openalex is a blog by Alex Aylett, who has some serious academic creds in the urban redesign and sustainability field. He currently lives in Durban, South Africa, so he comes up with some fascinating articles like this one about the Durban water & sanitation utility generating power from biogas and micro-hydro from excess water pressure.

The New Resilient is a group blog put out by some of the bright lights in the food security / sustainable agriculture / re-localization movement, like Jon Steinman of 'Deconstructing Dinner'. Always interesting stuff - and one of the nicest looking blogs I've seen in a while.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Pedestrian Fail

As seen on Mary Street by the new Town Hall expansion in February:

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

There's still no sidewalk on the other side, nor apparently any plans for one.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Home Farming In Guelph... and Washington!

A couple of friends of mine went to an open house over the weekend for an organization called Backyard Bounty, a group which turns people's backyards into 'micro-farms'.

The deal is this: you give their crew access to your backyard, front yard, side yard, wherever. They dig it up, they plant the vegetables, they do all the weeding, watering, etc. You sit back and watch it grow, and as the vegetables become ready for harvest, you get free food. But since you can only eat so much, the remainder is sold to local restaurants and markets.

Unfortunately they only operate in Guelph for now, but if the program becomes more popular, who knows?

And in a curious case of serendipity, I found this item in The Star this weekend:

Garden scores green thumbs up
Grow-your-own-food movement hopes patch of vegetables, herbs at White House to inspire others

WASHINGTON – Twenty-six elementary schoolchildren wielded shovels, rakes, pitchforks and wheelbarrows to help first lady Michelle Obama break ground on the first day of spring for a produce and herb garden on the White House grounds.

Crops to be planted in the coming weeks on the 102-square-metre, L-shaped patch near the fountain on the South Lawn include spinach, broccoli, various lettuces, kale and collard greens, and assorted herbs and berries. There will also be a beehive.

"We're going to try to make our own honey here as well," Obama told the Grade 5 students from Bancroft Elementary School yesterday. The youngsters will be return to the White House next month to help with the planting, and in late April to help harvest and cook some of the produce in the mansion's kitchen.

Obama said her family has talked about planting such a garden since they moved to the White House in January.

My only quibble: Obama's outfit wasn't exactly appropriate to the task at hand. Maybe I'll send her a Lee Valley Tools catalogue so she can get a sweatshirt, hat, knee pads, and a pair of decent gloves.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Breaking News: Sobey's Warehouse Shutting Down

I'm still waiting for verification and more details, but word from my source is that Sobey's warehouse in Milton is transferring all of its operations to the company's new distribution centre in Vaughan, putting its 300 or so remaining Milton employees out of work.

This comes less than a week after two of our manufacturing plants closed their doors, and brings the butcher's bill up to 700. Next up: Magna?

UPDATE: It looks like this one might just be a rumour. According to one person, it's still business as usual at Sobey's warehouse - although everyone there is understandably worried.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Another One Bites the Dust

Bad, bad news for Milton this week. Two of the town's major employers have announced that they are shutting down - first SKD, and now Meritor, both of which supply parts for the auto industry. Between the two they employed fewer than 400 people in town, but the implications are far more dire.

About 35 per cent of the private sector jobs in Milton are in the auto sector, with up to a fifth of residents working in the industry. Five of the town’s 10 largest employers are auto parts manufacturing plants, including SKD and two facilities owned by Magna.

Those two Magna plants alone employ 1,700 people - and Magna's been having a rough few months.

All of this inspired the increasingly impressive Tim Foran to write an op-ed that was... could it be?... maybe just a little.... critical of Our Lord Mayor Gord.

I know. I was shocked too.

Through his 43 years on council, 28 as reigning Mayor of Milton, Gord Krantz has picked up pithy phrases for virtually any situation.

Asked about averages, he’ll warn, “If your head’s in the freezer and your feet are in the oven, then the middle of your body — the average — is warm.”

Asked about capital projects, he’ll tell you one has to decide if it’s a want, a need, or a nice-to-have.

It’s a communication method the conservative politician uses to stress an attitude of cautious consideration, and it’s certainly calming. It’s especially salient when compared to uber-councillor Colin Best, he of the constant presence around town, who has not yet learned to translate his work ethic and diligent examination of political affairs into an ability to communicate a message clearly.

Since the global recession began, the Mayor’s message has been consistent with the middle path he generally takes: Milton is not immune to the gathering storm but the Town will do well weathering it.

Under the circumstances, it seems like the most politically astute position. Panic and you sound like Chicken Little; ignore it and you look like Nero fiddling while the Town burns.

“This is what happens when you’ve been around a day or two as I have. You’ve been through those peaks and valleys,” Krantz recently said at a Milton Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

But now, the cyclical trough Krantz speaks of has become a widening chasm in Ontario, with manufacturing jobs being lost by the thousands.

Already this winter season, three of Milton’s largest employers have received protection from creditors, and it appears one of them, the local plant of the auto manufacturing company SKD Automotive, is on the verge of shutting down — resulting in hundreds of lost Milton jobs.

The Mayor had previously predicted the local auto industry would be affected, “but not greatly”, with some layoffs, “but not major.”

His optimism though seems based on his tried-and- true method of staying on message rather than recognition of current realities.

Trust me - for the Champion, that's positively damning.

I sure hope Tim still has a job next week.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Leslieville Wins OMB Ruling vs. Wal-Mart. Why Not Here?

OMB rejects big-box plans in Leslieville

Plans for a $220 million retail "power centre'' south of Eastern Ave. in Leslieville have been turned down by the Ontario Municipal Board, a decision that has city officials celebrating.

"This is a total victory for the city of Toronto," city lawyer Brendan O'Callaghan said yesterday.

"It's not every day that we're that happy with an OMB decision," exulted Paula Fletcher, the councillor for the area.

No kidding.

The property in question, in the heart of burgeoning Toronto' film district on what used to be the site of Toronto Film Studios, has been the subject of furious debate ever since Smart!Centres bought it and proposed a Big Box retail development. Local residents howled, local councillors took up the cause, and the OMB actually listened. Because any idiot could see that it was a bad idea.

In a 55-page ruling, OMB vice-chair James McKenzie sided with the city's experts, who in effect said the SmartCentres/Toronto Film Studio application didn't constitute good land use planning and would probably "destabilize" the designated employment district south of Eastern Ave.

Professional planning consultants and real estate advisers the city hired as experts had warned the OMB hearing that the application risked causing "retail contagion" in the area. Allowing the large centre would make it easier for subsequent retail applicants to get a foothold, argued real estate expert Jeffery Climans.

This would rapidly bid up the market value of the industrial and commercial properties in the district, leading to lease terminations and limiting the ability of existing businesses to renew their leases, Climans said. That would result in a general disruption of the area's business fabric.

Sound familiar? Contrast that with the attitude of Our Lord Mayor in this 2007 Toronto Star article on the demise of Milton's downtown core:

Mayor Gordon Krantz, a former small business owner, sees the downtown decline as a simple by-product of capitalism.

"Businesses locating on the outskirts could locate right downtown if they wanted – but they don't," he said. "That's called free enterprise.

"So businesses have to adapt. You have to continuously reinvent yourself. You can't survive on sentiment and emotions, that's for sure. It might sound hard-hearted, but that's the hard reality of it."

I will never, ever understand the affection people in this town seem to have for Gordon Krantz. I'm sure he's a nice guy and all, and maybe he did good things for Milton in years past. But whether it's greed, hubris or encroaching senility, his words and actions over the past ten years have been short-sighted, ill-informed, and ultimately destructive to this town and our way of life.

Time to retire, Gord.

My Two Cents on the Boyne Survey: Part 1

After explaining why I never go to those public consultation meetings in my last post, I decided to go to one of those public consultation meetings tonight. Just to check it out.

The project in question was the Boyne Survey / Education Village development, which is to extend across the south of town from James Snow Parkway to the far side of Tremaine, and all the way down to Brittania Road. The area involved is larger than the entire town of Milton was when I first moved here fifteen years ago.

This was the second public consultation meeting, so we are well enough along in the process that the issues discussed were more a matter of how rather than whether the subdivision was to be built. Still, it was an interesting exercise, and the folks running the show did indeed seem interested in what we had to say.

Before going to the meeting, I took a drive around some of the new developments to check out the good, the bad and the ugly. In this way, I had a better idea of what some of the features being discussed actually looked like in a new development setting.

This is what they call 'Mixed Use Retail'. These are made to be similar to traditional storefronts with apartments above and parking in the back, and are a welcome change from the now ubiquitous 'big box' retail development. The problem with this particular one on Holly Ave. is that it's only on one side of the street. Maybe they just haven't gotten to the other side.

This is a bad retail / residential design. This retail complex includes the only grocery store in the area, and yet it's about as unwelcoming to the surrounding houses as it can get because all the stores have their backs to the street. You could walk into the complex between the buildings, but it really doesn't look like they want you to. They want you to drive in off of Thompson like a good little commuter.

This is what they call a 'community park'. It's a nice idea - a central gathering place with a roundabout and houses facing onto it. I went to a Christmas tree lighting there once. Only two problems: it's huge (almost as big as the Milton Fairgrounds), and there's pretty much nothing in it but grass, saplings, and a couple of wooden structures at either end for the mayor to stand on and flip a switch.

This is one of the two buildings that comprise New Life Church. They sit on a huge lot which is, as you can see in the background, completely cut off from the surrounding houses by a fence.

This is an interesting and different approach to townhouse design, again emulating older urban plans with garages in the back facing onto an alley. But the scale is wrong. It doesn't look like an alley - it looks like a street.

The issue of scale is something that came up more than once in our discussions, and I think it may hold the key to the fundamental difference between new developments and older ones. Driving through Hawthorne Village and (worse) the Sherwood Survey, I noticed that almost everything is bigger than where I live. The houses are bigger, of course. The streets are wider. The parks are bigger. The stores and parking lots are bigger. About the only things that are smaller are the house lots and the trees.

The result is a certain... wrongness... that is difficult to quantify or even really complain about. After all, if a park is good, a really really big park is better, right? Except that it'll take you ten shadeless, featureless minutes to get from one side to the other, so screw it - let's drive.

I'll tell you more about what we talked about at the meeting tomorrow.

Monday, March 2, 2009

John Ralston Saul on the OMB and Municipal Impotence

I've been reading 'A Fair Country' by John Ralston Saul, an extraordinary book that is starting to produce a seismic shift in my perceptions on a whole range of issues. I plan to write a great deal about this book and its implications on my various blogs in the coming weeks, but this one passage caught my eye as being particularly relevant to the denizens of Sprawlville.

... the core of the problem has been the willingness of political parties and property developers to combine their interests, as if the cities were not real places. Toronto has suffered most. In urban affairs columnist Christopher Hume's words, it is "a city of vast private wealth, and civic impoverishment." While London is announcing a new $33-billion rail link across the city and Madrid is building "tens of kilometres of subway", Toronto is cobbling together a few bus lines and can't even build a rail link to the biggest airport in Canada.

If you were to look for an example of the heart of the Toronto problem, I would point to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), a body of developer-friendly provincial appointees. Their power to overrule the city's planners has made it impossible to develop any physical strategy for the city. Instead, the largest metropolis in Canada is held hostage by the unpleasant relationship between developer influence and provincial political parties. The city's official plan may set building heights at fifteen stories on a street. The developer simply comes in and says he wants sixty. The city knows the OMB will back him. So after an expensive fight, they settle for fifty-five and even then the OMB may insist on sixty. And, if the complainant is a citizen body of volunteers, the OMB may insist that they pay the costs, just to teach them a lesson for trying to interfere.

Now, take that situation and magnify it tenfold and you have some idea of the situation in Canada's fastest growing municipality. A few examples:

- Town Council approves a condo development, not because they support it, but because they know the OMB will make it happen regardless.

- The appeals court upholds an OMB ruling against the Ministry of Natural Resources and Halton Region's efforts to prevent a Campbellville quarry from potentially contaminating Escarpment groundwater with imported fill. The MNR and the Region also have to foot the bill.
The issue was briefly discussed at the Region's planning and public works committee meeting Wednesday by Halton Hills Mayor Rick Bonnette.

He said he's glad the Region is pursuing an appeal of the premium fee and went on to express his displeasure with the OMB's decisions.

"We're trying to protect our well water and not only do we get criticized by the board, we get slapped with a $60,000 premium in costs," he said. "That really ticks me off."

- A citizen's objections to new developments at the foot of the Escarpment are dismissed by town councillors on the basis of how much it would cost the town to fight them at the OMB.

The list goes on and on.

In that last article, one councillor asks the citizen why he didn't voice his objections when the Town was first holding public consultations on the proposed development. One wonders what the point of that would be, given that between the OMB and the province's 'Places to Grow' plan, the Town of Milton claims to have no control whatsoever over the size, the placement, or the design of housing developments in this town.

I don't show up at those meetings either because I know they will say exactly what they have always said: "We appreciate your input, but it's out of our hands. What can we do?"

In the words of J.R. Saul:
The argument of a colonial elite is always about control and domination. It always insists that choices are limited, that the pie is of a fixed size. Less is power. More is anarchy.

The result is a local council that views itself as impotent, and therefore is. So why would anyone want to talk to them?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

That's a Little Better

Word in the Champion yesterday that our municipal leaders have awoken from their slumber and decided to accelerate the nascent Arts Centre project in order to qualify it for the next funding application opportunity.

The Town is pushing ahead to develop a concept plan for the proposed $40-million arts centre and new central library to make it “construction- ready” and eligible for a portion of the $12 billion in temporary infrastructure funding announced in the federal budget in late January.

Council voted Monday night to speed up detailed design of the facility after the Town received word two weeks ago that a previous application for $15 million in combined provincial and federal funding for the project had been rejected.

“Staff were advised by various government officials that, while the project ranked well in terms of qualifying under the “Cultural Infrastructure” category, the time- lines proposed weren’t advanced sufficiently to ensure the project was ‘construction ready,’” states a staff report submitted to Milton council.

Staff proposed and council approved several measures to move things along, including finding and hiring an architect and reducing the notification time required to terminate the lease with Milton Hydro (the current occupants of the proposed property). This is all excellent news, and I think they may actually be serious this time.

There is one item in the article that puzzles me, though.

Council hasn’t approved the construction of the arts and entertainment centre, though it did approve in principle a business plan for the facility in 2006. At that time, it also approved $100,000 in annual funding for five years to go toward the project from the Milton Community Fund, paid for by Mohawk Racetrack slot revenues.

That was two and a half years ago. What, if anything, has that $200,000 plus been spent on? Not on an architect, apparently, nor on any of the other parts of the process that would have moved the project forward from the vague concept they had in 2006. Now, suddenly, they are in a hurry.

That's what you get for procrastinating.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Call To Arms

As if the news that federal and provincial funding for Milton's long awaited Arts Centre has been denied wasn't bad enough, now it seems that the $32 million Phase II expansion of the Milton Sports Centre will be going ahead at light speed, and is expected to be completed by the fall of 2011.

Milton's Town Council announced its intent to build both the Arts Centre and the Sports Centre at the same time, in the spring of 2000. From that point, Phase I of the Sports Centre was designed, built and opened within three and a half years, and now it seems that Phase II will be proceeding even more quickly.

Another major capital project, the Town Hall Expansion, also went from planning to completion in record time. After proposing the $24 million expansion in the summer of 2005 and going through at least one complete redesign, the project is nearing completion and town staff are already moving in.

Again, that's three and a half years from proposal to completion.

By contrast, it took six years from that original announcement of the intention to build an Arts Centre just to get a site chosen and a development budget approved. And that was two and a half years ago. Since then... nothing. Not even a drawing.

I, for one, am fed up. I'm fed up with holding concerts in drafty churches and crowded school auditoriums. I'm fed up with the biggest venue in town being a barn. I'm fed up with having to drive to Mississauga or Oakville to see shows that we should be able to host right here. I'm fed up with hearing about the great galleries in Dundas and Unionville, while our one privately owned gallery is bursting at the seams. I'm fed up with delays and excuses, and politicians who seem to think that a photo-op with a hockey jersey will buy them more votes than one at a concert or a play.

Most of all, I'm fed up with sports funding trumping arts funding every single time.

Artists and performers of Milton, rise up! We need to start making demands. We need to be heard. It's time to take to the streets.

Stay tuned, and keep April 1st open on your calenders.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Funding Priorities: Milton-Style

Call it a tale of two headlines.

Yesterday's Champion has two stories about what Milton can expect to receive from the federal government's infrastructure stimulus funding package. First the good news:

Raitt, Krantz discuss funding program for centre repairs
By Tim Foran, Canadian Champion Staff

There will be no stickhandling necessary to play in this RInC.

That was the message from Milton Mayor Gord Krantz following a recent meeting with Halton MP Lisa Raitt at the Milton Sports Centre.

The two officials privately discussed the federal government’s two-year, $500 million Recreation Infrastructure in Canada (RInC) funding program announced in the recently passed federal budget.

Though the application process hasn’t been finalized, Krantz said he was confident there wouldn’t be bureaucratic red tape that might hold up the flow of funds.

“I don’t think there’ll be much stickhandling; it’s pretty straightforward,” said Krantz of the RInC program’s application process. “It’s a slapshot.”

Whether the Town scores though won’t be known for a while.

Milton has already identified $1.6 million in repairs to the John Tonelli Sports Centre and the Milton Leisure Centre as possible projects eligible for federal funding, but the Town is waiting for application details before submitting its requests.

And then there's the bad news:

$15-million library, art centre funding application denied
But projects not dead: Krantz

By Tim Foran, Canadian Champion Staff

The Town of Milton’s application for $15 million in federal and provincial funding for an arts and entertainment centre and central library has been rejected.

The two upper levels of government announced Friday a combined $667 million in funding for 289 infrastructure projects in Ontario communities with less than 100,000 people, but Milton’s November funding application wasn’t included in the list of successful projects.

Milton had applied for $7.5 million in funding from each of the two upper governments, money that would have been used toward the construction of the $26 million arts and entertainment centre and the $14 million central library.

“It would go without saying that I’m a little disappointed,” said Milton Mayor Gord Krantz of the unsuccessful application.

Sure. Sure you are, Gord.

Just to give you some idea of what the priorities are in this town, we currently have three hockey arenas (including the giant, multi-rink Milton Sports Centre), a curling rink, a massive Leisure Centre, two public pools (one indoor, one outdoor), and multiple baseball diamonds, soccer pitches, tennis courts, etc. We even have a lawn bowling / croquet field.

Our town's many music and theatre groups, on the other hand, do not have a single dedicated venue to perform in. Instead, they have to make do with either the high school auditorium, the Senior's Centre, or one of the dozen or so churches in town - none of which have appropriate acoustics, lighting, or anything else needed to put on a proper, professional production.

When the Milton Choristers had their 35th anniversary gala a few years ago, they had to do it at the Mississauga Arts Centre.

One possible reason given for why funding was denied for the arts centre and library are that the stimulus is specifically geared towards the ubiquitous "shovel-ready" projects, and the arts centre in particular isn't slated to break ground for a least another two or three years. But why is that? The arts community has been screaming for this centre for at least a decade, and Town Council approved it.. three? four years ago? And yet it hasn't even reached the design stage.

But hey - at least the new Town Hall Expansion is going lickety-split. Complete with its million dollar imported British glass wall.

Isn't it lovely? I wonder what the acoustics are like in there...

(cross-posted from HaltonWatch.)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Milton Transit: Change is Coming!

I grew up in Toronto, which probably has the best transit system in the country. No matter where you are in Toronto, you are rarely more than a few blocks away from a bus, streetcar or subway stop. More importantly, even if you are unfamiliar with the specific TTC routes, you can generally find your way to where you're going because the routes are all on a grid system. So if you know you want to go southwest, you just get on a westbound bus and then onto a southbound.

It doesn't quite work that way in Milton.

Back when we had one car and my husband was commuting to Toronto, I got myself a short-lived job doing layout for a graphics company up on Steeles Avenue. It was too far to walk, so I used to take the bus. Back then they only ran once every hour, but I was fortunate in that there was a bus stop right across the street from me, and that bus went straight up Commercial and Martin Streets to Steeles and then back again.

Today, getting to that same location would involve a 15 minute walk, two different buses and a rather extensive scenic tour of Milton.

The current Milton Transit system is a classic case of "you can't get there from here" - unless, of course, "here" is one of the new housing developments and "there" is the GO Station. If, on the other hand, you live in 'olde Milton'* and want to get to the Wal-Mart or the movie theatre or the grocery store, you're better off taking a cab. And you really, really don't want to take a cab in this town.

Happily, a Strategic Plan Study has been underway for some time now, and proposals are now being made for an overhaul of Milton' beleaguered transit system. As reported in today's Champion, draft recommendations were presented at a public meeting on January 19th (which I missed because of work), and are now available online for public comment until Feb. 2nd.

The new routes proposed still aren't perfect, but they're a significant improvement.

With this I could get to my old workplace using only one bus and a considerably less circuitous route, although there'd still be a 15 minute walk involved. And although it's still a radial system, they do seem to have more two-way routes and fewer complex loops, making the whole thing easier to navigate.

All this will cost more money of course, but as luck would have it, Milton is about to get a big boost in the amount of gas tax revenue it receives from the federal government as a result of our growing population. Perfect timing!

Just as long as they don't blow it all on another million dollar imported glass wall.

* yes, the realtors actually call it 'Olde Milton'.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Local Food Bandwagon: Loblaws vs. La Rose

2008 seems to have been the year when the mainstream clued into the local food movement. The Province of Ontario dusted off their old "Good Things Grow in Ontario" jingle, and Loblaws ran a series of ads promoting their "Grown Close to Home" campaign showing Boy Wonder Galen Weston walking the fields with various generic "local farmers". They even put out a press release boasting that 25% of the fresh produce purchased by Loblaws in 2007 was grown in Canada.

Even if that is true (and of course, 'grown in Canada' doesn't necessarily mean local), is 25% really anything to brag about? And how does Loblaws stack up against other grocery stores when it comes to local produce?

I decided to find out.

I chose four Milton grocery stores - Loblaws Superstore, A&P, Food Basics, and La Rose - and started counting. I counted the number of varieties of fresh produce they carried that could normally be grown in Ontario (i.e. counting different types of apples and peppers separately), but leaving out things like tropical fruits and certain exotic vegetables. Then I counted all the items marked "Product of Ontario". Then I counted all the items that were mis-labelled as being from Ontario or Canada on the sign, but were in fact from elsewhere - usually the U.S. or Mexico - according to the sticker. If there was no sticker, I gave them the benefit of the doubt.

The winner, by a landslide, was La Rose. They have a relatively small produce section compared to the big stores with only 86 varieties, but over a third of those were from Ontario. And this was in the dead of winter!

The biggest loser? Loblaws, with a paltry 14.6% of their produce varieties from Ontario. Not only that, but a staggering 40% of all the produce marked Product of Ontario or Canada was actually imported. My husband and I have noticed this problem before and complained about it, and have gotten excuses ranging from "we're understaffed and can't keep up" to "the signs are really expensive".

I'm willing to bet the prices are always correct, though.

Some other interesting stats:

- La Rose also had the highest number of types of locally grown produce at 16. Food Basics was last at 9.

- The apple winner was Food Basics. Two thirds of their apple varieties were local, including both bagged and loose apples. La Rose came in second with half their apples grown locally (and all loose - none in bags), and Loblaws was dead last again at a third.

- All four grocery stores had some items mis-labelled as local or Canada grown, but Loblaws was by far the worst offender at 40%. The other three ranged from 12.5% to 18.5%.

- La Rose actually has a surprisingly large variety of produce in stock, despite having a produce section crammed into an area maybe 15 by 30 feet. I counted 86 varieties (again, not including tropicals), which is impressive when compared to the 105-165 varieties spread over at least four or five times the square footage in the big supermarkets.

If you are thinking that I'm a big fan of La Rose, you're right. The store started off over 20 years ago as a family-run Italian bakery in a little strip mall off Bronte in the SW corner of Milton. When the grocery store in that same mall closed down (I think it was a Dominion), La Rose moved into the much larger space and began expanding their offerings to include a large Italian deli and lunch counter (always packed at lunchtime), speciality groceries, a fantastic cheese section, and their growing produce section. Most recently, they purchased a bank of new freezers where they have everything from local ice cream to frozen pastas to gluten-free products.

If they had a meat department, I'd never shop anywhere else.

Despite my bias, though, the numbers don't lie. Here's what these stores have in stock right now. I'll take another look in the summer and in the fall to see how things change.

Loblaws Superstore
   Total produce varieties: 164
   Total Ontario varieties: 24 (14.6%)
   Mis-labelled Ont. or Can.: 16 (40%)
   Ontario produce types: 11 (cabbage, potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, garlic, onions, squash, apples, radishes)

La Rose Italian Bakery & Delicatessen
   Total produce varieties: 86
   Total Ontario varieties: 30 (34.9%)
   Mis-labelled Ont. or Can.: 5 (14.3%)
   Ontario produce types: 16 (cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, garlic, onions, apples, radishes, lettuce, celery, beets, brussel sprouts, beans)

Food Basics
   Total produce varieties: 106
   Total Ontario varieties: 28 (26.4%)
   Mis-labelled Ont. or Can.: 4 (12.5%)
   Ontario produce types: 10 (cabbage, potatoes, mushrooms, carrots, onions, apples, beets, celery root, parsnips, rutabega)

   Total produce varieties: 157
   Total Ontario varieties: 35 (22.3%)
   Mis-labelled Ont. or Can.: 7 (18.6%)
   Ontario produce types: 15 (cabbage, potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, onions, squash, apples, radish, lettuce, beans, celery root, parsnips, rutabega)