Category Archives: land development

5 surreal wonders to explore near Toronto

Bruce Peninsula Grotto

Ontario is a province packed with natural wonders and surreal places to explore. Alas, for many of us, the drive way north to Thunder Bay and beyond is too daunting for a mere weekend trip. Fortunately, there are some out-of-this-world places within a reasonable drive of Toronto. From waterfalls to grottos, there’s plenty to astound within a short trip of the city.

Here are five surreal wonders to explore near Toronto.

The Grotto at Bruce Peninsula Park
It takes a bit of work to access the Grotto at Bruce Peninsula Park, but is it ever worth it. Carved out over Millenia by the waves of Georgian Bay, the cave is one of the most beautiful places in the country. Sunlight illuminates the interior water, which takes on an impossibly cerulean tone. Go early in the morning to avoid the crowds.

natural wonders torontoCheltenham Badlands
Access to the Badlands themselves was restricted last spring as a plan is hatched to protect this natural wonder while also allowing the public to enjoy it as much as possible. Even though you can’t walk on them for the foreseeable future, the drive around the Badlands remains breathtaking. At less than an hour from Toronto, it still very much worth the trip.

Tews Falls

Tews Falls
The Hamilton area is blessed with numerous dramatic waterfalls, but my top choice is always Tews Falls. Not only is it just 10 metres shy of the height of Niagara Falls, the dome-like setting makes for a surreal setting that feels more Amazonian than it does Hamiltonian. You can also check out the nearby Webster Falls while in the area.

Bon Echo Park

Bon Echo Provincal Park
The Mazinaw Pictographs are located on a soaring 100 metre cliff at Bon Echo Provinicial park that’s stunning enough in its own right. Close exploration reveals over 260 pictographs spread across the rock face, which make it one of the largest collections of its kind in Ontario. There’s also a dedication to Walt Whitman carved into the rock almost a century ago.

Bonnechere cavesBonnechere Caves
Ontario isn’t exactly short on caves, but few match Bonnechere for pure aesthetics. This is a photographer’s playground, with layered rock walls shaped by millions of years of erosion. The cave system is quite extensive, which allows you to explore the fossilized passageways for hours.

Source: Derek Flack / FEBRUARY 26, 2016


Architecture for the ages

Architects Janna Levitt and Dean Goodman designed a house that could easily shift to accommodate children, future renters and, one day, their golden years.

Architects Janna Levitt and Dean Goodman designed a house that could easily shift to accommodate children, future renters and, one day, their golden years.

Young adults are getting squeezed out of the housing market. Their parents, meanwhile, want to downsize without leaving familiar neighbourhoods. The solution couldn’t be simpler to a growing group of designers: Rethink (and rebuild) the family home to suit several generations for the long haul.

When a strange young man entered her bedroom, Kelly Rossiter wasn’t entirely surprised. “He had had a bit too much to drink,” says Rossiter, who lives in Toronto, “and had gotten lost on the way to the front door.”

On the way, that is, from a party at her daughter’s place; Rossiter and her husband Lloyd Alter live below their daughter Emma, now 28, in a 1913 house that’s been split into two apartments. The door that links the suites in their home is usually left unsecured. “But after that night, I began locking the door whenever she had a party,” Rossiter says.

That incursion was a “rare hiccup” for the three family members, who occupy the same house that Alter, 63, and Rossiter, 57, have inhabited since 1984. Recently, instead of trading it for a condo in another area, they hired David Colussi of Workshop Architecture to divide the rambling building into a duplex. Now they live in a suite in the first floor and basement; Emma is upstairs with her fiancé and a roommate.

Janna Levitt and Dean Goodman designed their family home so that part of it could be converted into a rental when their children moved out.

Janna Levitt and Dean Goodman designed their family home so that part of it could be converted into a rental when their children moved out.


Janna Levitt and Dean Goodman designed their family home so that part of it could be converted into a rental when their children moved out.


Like a growing number of Canadians approaching retirement, Alter and Rossiter have taken a creative approach to the architecture of the “empty nest.” Rapidly rising housing prices – particularly in Toronto and Vancouver – are squeezing the middle-class expectation of home ownership for young adults. At the same time, their parents, people such as Alter and Rossiter, are not always eager to move into apartment living or to give up on the advantages of a familiar neighbourhood.

Rather than moving house, why not reshape our houses to fit us?

Such adaptability can be built into a house’s architecture. One example is the Grange Triple Double, a house by Williamson Chong Architects: Their clients, a Toronto couple in their 30s with a young son, decided to move in with the husband’s parents. They built a bespoke house that would accommodate them all together with rental income – and then change, multiple times, as the family’s needs evolve through the decades.

“The ingredients for this kind of house,” explains partner Betsy Williamson of Williamson Chong, “are spaces that are discrete yet flexible.”

The Triple Double, at about 3,200 square feet plus basement, sits on a corner; it is a three-bedroom, three-bath home which spills across three levels – and abuts rental space located on the ground floor and in the basement. The tenant space can be configured as one or two apartments; half or all of it can also be joined to the main house with the removal of cabinets or wall sections. In addition, one of the house’s bedrooms can be closed off as a semi-private area for the older residents. In time, the architects imagine that the house could take many different configurations; for instance, one or both of the grandparents might move into the main floor rental space.

The Grange Triple Double, a house by Williamson Chong Architects, was designed and built to change, multiple times, as the owners' needs evolve through the decades.


The Grange Triple Double, a house by Williamson Chong Architects, was designed and built to change, multiple times, as the owners' needs evolve through the decades.


The Grange Triple Double, a house by Williamson Chong Architects, was designed and built to change, multiple times, as the owners’ needs evolve through the decades.


From the architects’ point of view, such adaptability is fairly easy to design. The house’s heating and ventilation systems can be separately controlled in each of three potential units; extra sound insulation provides a buffer of privacy. But the biggest consideration is, as Williamson explains it, a matter of space. “You need rooms,” she says. “You need rooms that are closed off that can be opened up to each other.”

This logic can be applied to houses that don’t have the scale or the unusual geometry of the Triple Double project. Janna Levitt and Dean Goodman of LGAArchitectural Partners, who are married and have two children, designed their own house a decade ago, when they were in their early 50s. “When we moved in, we had teenagers,” Goodman explains, “so we tried to figure out, what kind of house would work for that age of our family and what would work after that?”

‘It’s important to think about what you’re building for,’ Goodman says, ‘not just right now, but in the longer term. And how much longer?’

‘It’s important to think about what you’re building for,’ Goodman says, ‘not just right now, but in the longer term. And how much longer?’


‘It’s important to think about what you’re building for,’ Goodman says, ‘not just right now, but in the longer term. And how much longer?’


The first need was privacy: Their kids wanted their own space, and they got it in the basement, which is high (the windows start three feet off the ground) and has two bedrooms, a bathroom and a living room, plus generous windows.

That basement has room and the plumbing rough-ins for a kitchen; it also has a space for a front door and staircase which is, for now, buried under soil in the garden. (“We thought, if we give the kids their own door when they are 14 or 15 years old, we’ll never see them,” Goodman explains.) Now the kids have moved out, and the couple is preparing to rent that space out, providing a source of income.

And the upper levels, with about 1,600 square feet, two bedrooms, are still larger than the average Canadian house of 50 years ago. Goodman says he and Levitt are happy to reduce their ecological footprint, and simply don’t need any more space.

There is a lesson in this: Design matters. Levitt and Goodman are excellent architects, and their house is efficiently planned to be comfortable and adaptable despite its relatively modest size. “It’s important to think about what you’re building for,” Goodman says, “not just right now, but in the longer term. And how much longer?”

The upper levels of Levitt and Goodman's house, with about 1,600 square feet, are still larger than the average Canadian house of 50 years ago.

The upper levels of Levitt and Goodman's house, with about 1,600 square feet, are still larger than the average Canadian house of 50 years ago.


The upper levels of Levitt and Goodman’s house, with about 1,600 square feet, are still larger than the average Canadian house of 50 years ago.


That raises the question of old age and a potential loss of physical mobility. Levitt and Goodman will live, still, on two levels; this goes against the emerging wisdom of “retirement communities,” in which people are choosing to retire to houses that are often on one level and wheelchair-accessible. Kelly Rossiter and Lloyd Alter have likewise chosen to live on two floors.

But is that even a problem? Alter, who is a writer on design and sustainability and an adjunct professor at Ryerson University, argues passionately that being located in a walkable neighbourhood, served by transit and connected to neighbours, is what matters as one ages.

“Older people, when they move into single-family houses in subdivisions, they’re setting themselves up for failure,” he says. “It’s a hell of a lot likelier that they’ll lose their keys before they lose their ability to walk up the stairs.

“This is one solution: this re-intensification of our neighbourhoods.”

Levitt and Goodman plan to live on two levels into retirement.

Levitt and Goodman plan to live on two levels into retirement.


Levitt and Goodman plan to live on two levels into retirement.


As Alter correctly points out, the conversion of houses into apartments (and back again) is nothing new – especially in Toronto, where such ad hoc adaptations have always provided a major portion of the city’s rental housing. But for upper-middle-class families, they now make sense. “Now we’re going into a generational change where the kids don’t have enough money,” Alter says, “and the parents have the house and don’t need it.

That idea drives much of the business for the Vancouver design-build firm Lanefab, which specializes in energy-efficient laneway houses. Since the city made zoning changes in 2009 to allow such projects (small new houses in the backyards of existing houses), the firm has worked with clients who are house-rich, aging, and ready to simplify their lives.

“If you’ve got an 80-year-old house in Vancouver, being able to move into a new building that’s energy-efficient – that’s appealing,” says Lanefab’s Mat Turner. “They can stay in their neighbourhood, in a house that’s custom-designed for them.”

This sort of promising equation may be enough to break some middle-class expectations about dwelling and family. Alter and Rossiter, with their upstairs-downstairs living in Toronto, are finding that their friends love the idea. “People come, they see it, and they say, ‘I’d love to do this,’” Alter reports. “‘If I could ever get my kids to go for it.’”


Source: ALEX BOZIKOVIC The Globe and Mail: Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016

Janna Levitt and Dean Goodman designed their family home so that part of it could be converted into a rental when their children moved out.

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Do you know the biggest cost of your new home?

New road construction is one of the infrastructure costs built into development charges.

Development charges are making it more difficult for young families to afford new homes.

So what are development charges? Ontario’s cities and towns pass bylaws to set development charges. They use these charges to collect money from new homes and businesses to pay for critical infrastructure: sewers and water pipes, roads, transit, parks and community centres. There is no doubting their importance.

The Development Charges Act is the over-arching provincial legislation that allows municipalities to collect them.

These bylaws are accompanied by a background study, which outlines the estimated amount and location of development within a municipality, and the related calculations of how the new services will accommodate the new population.

The topic of development charges (DCs) is part of the province’s 80-day public consultation on improving the land use planning and appeals system. I have been writing about the consultation in this space over the past few weeks and will continue to discuss it until the consultation ends on Jan. 10.

BILD and the Ontario Home Builders’ Association addressed DCs during a recent meeting held at our office that sought input from both associations’ members. The province is our partner in economic growth, and we have a lot to say about DCs’ effect on this growth.

In 2012 alone, the industry estimates that more than $1 billion was paid in DCs by new-home owners across the GTA.

But at the end of the day, DCs and other taxes represent one-fifth of the cost of a home in the GTA, according to a study of six GTA municipalities by Altus Group Economic Consulting. That is too much for a young family to take on.

The study involved Toronto, Markham, Oakville, Bradford West Gwillimbury, Ajax and Brampton.

Since 2004, those municipalities have increased DCs between 143 and 357 per cent.

Let’s look at the Town of Oakville, as one example: for a new single-detached home, Oakville charges $23,503 in DCs; Halton Region charges $36,778; Oakville’s school boards charge $4,175 in educational DCs to allow them to acquire land for schools. In total, that new-home owner is paying $64,456 in DCs.

Those DCs are added to new-home owners’ mortgages, and they must pay the interest on those charges for decades.

When DCs are the biggest charge on a home, they pose a threat to the affordability of homes and even the health of the home-building industry.

It’s important to note that our industry employs about 202,700 people and generates $10.8 billion in wages.


During the current 80-day provincial consultation, now is the time for citizens ton tell the province about what they think is fair and reasonable to be charged by the municipalities.

Municipalities do have other alternatives to raise revenue. And it’s time they looked at their other options.


This column has been updated from a previous version.

Bryan Tuckey is President and CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association and a land-use planner who has worked for municipal, regional and provincial governments. Follow him at , , and

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Cities outside Toronto cannot charge land-transfer tax, Ted McMeekin says

Ontario Municipal Affairs Minister Ted McMeekin: "It is clear that there has been no call for a municipal land transfer tax."

Homebuyers outside Toronto no longer have to worry about paying thousands of dollars in local land transfer taxes.

Municipal Affairs Minister Ted McMeekin shut down speculation Tuesday that cities and towns would be given permission to bring in their own such levy in addition to the provincial land transfer tax.

“There has been no call, at all, for a municipal land transfer tax, nor is there any legislation before the House that would allow this,” McMeekin said in the legislature’s daily question period.

Toronto will remain the only Ontario city allowed to charge a land transfer tax, he added, but offered to look at “what possibilities exist” for other new sources of revenue to help strained municipal budgets.


McMeekin’s surprise announcement followed a push against a local land transfer tax by the Progressive Conservatives and the Ontario Real Estate Association’s “don’t tax my dream” campaign, arguing it could push house prices further out of reach for many families.

“I’m glad the minister made the right decision,” said Conservative MPP Steve Clark (Leeds-Grenville), blaming the government for floating the idea earlier this fall and crediting a “grassroots” efforts with stirring up opposition.


McMeekin had said earlier this fall during consultations with local governments that any new revenue powers for them would be optional and did not rule out a land transfer tax.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario said it wants local councils to have “discretionary authority” just like what Toronto enjoyed in levying its own land transfer tax to raise revenues for services, transit and other infrastructure.

“Ontario municipalities face significant fiscal challenges, just like Toronto,” AMO president Gary McNamara said in a statement after McMeekin’s announcement.

“In many communities, property taxes are poorly suited to the burdens that communities face. We all need to look at new solutions that will work.”

McMeekin suggested local governments could do more in the way of development charges as “a potential significant source of revenue.”

Clark and the Ontario Real Estate Association had warned home buyers would have to dig much deeper into their pockets if local land transfer taxes were authorized.

“This is a huge win for Ontario’s home owners and those who dream of one day owning a home,” said Patricia Verge, president of the real estate group.

In Toronto, the buyer of a $450,000 home pays a total of $10,200 in land transfer taxes: $5,475 for the provincial levy and $4,725 to the city. The city tax was added in 2006.

Source: Toronto Star  Queen’s Park Bureau, Published on Tue Dec 01 2015

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How transportation impacts real estate prices

Being around public transportation wasn’t always a good choice when it came to real estate. After World War II, downtown living was frowned upon and people flocked towards the suburbs in order to find larger and greener land. As a result, real estate prices rose outside the city.

Fast forward to today and we’re seeing the opposite effect. People want to live in the downtown core and public transportation is at the forefront of political debate.

Billions of dollars are being spent on new subways and streetcars in cities like Toronto and Vancouver. Calgary and Ottawa are also beefing up its public transit service in response to a higher demand from residents.

In fact, every major city across Canada has plans to focus on public transportation. It’s a response to increased population demands, and on minimizing the cost of economic and environmental resources.

Increased housing prices are a result of higher demand. In terms of housing near public transportation, this demand has increased because people want the convenience of walking to a subway or streetcar. This is an advantage because there is no requirement to pay for parking.

The millennial generation (those under 30 years old) also prefers to live close to public transportation. This generation of the population has made a conscious decision to drive less and walk more, thus, making them more dependent on public transportation.

This is especially true in the rental market where many renters opt to live in housing that is walking distance to a subway or streetcar route.

Transit is vital for building communities. It’s an essential service that provides mobility, creates jobs and takes cars off the street. As a result, congestion is reduced, fostering economic growth in the economy.

In terms of real estate prices, property values that are located close to public transit increase at a higher rate and have been shown to be more resilient to economic downturns.

A study created by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) concluded that “property values with good access to public transit remained much closer to their pre-recession levels than properties without access, even within the same city.”

This can also be seen in the short-term rental market. Properties listed on AirBnB and VRBO yield a higher return when they are located close to public transportation and to the downtown core.

As cities across Canada become more developed, it will be more and more difficult to commute downtown via car. Thus, properties that are located closer to the downtown and have good access to public transportation will continue to see growth in real estate prices.

Michael Rix is a co-founder of TurnKii, a Toronto-based company providing an all-in-one tool and service to support everyday landlords/real estate investors.

Source: Canadian Real Estate Wealth 25 Nov 2015

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Islamic Centre in Meadowvale gets go-ahead from Council

After 13 years of controversy and four hours of public discussion, City Council approved an application to build an Islamic centre in Meadowvale.

The decision was met with a mixed response of applause and shouts of “shame” following hours of emotional debate at Monday’s marathon meeting.

At one point Mayor Bonnie Crombie accused one opponent of “hate mongering.”

Crombie asked former mayoral candidate Kevin Johnston to return to the podium after he raised concerns about traffic congestion and noise. The mayor asked him if he is the author of the Stop the Mosque pamphlets and website, to which he replied yes.

“Then there are a few concerns you didn’t raise tonight that are on your website,” Crombie said. “You are concerned about vandalism increases, about the loss of freedom of speech, about the massive increase of sexual assaults on our parks and streets.”

Johnston said he does believe that but was not at the meeting to discuss those points.

Crombie then asked residents if this is what they believe in and are applauding. Some in the gallery responded with applause.

“This is heinous,” Crombie said to Johnston. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

A steady stream of residents marched up to the podium in Council Chambers at City Hall to raise their concerns about the proposed mosque, including increased traffic causing safety concerns, not enough parking, that the building is too large and that it doesn’t fit in with the surrounding community.

The meeting was so well-attended that there wasn’t enough room in Council Chambers so people were sent to one of several committee rooms to watch the proceedings on television.

The audience heard at last night’s (Monday, Sept. 21) meeting that several changes have been made to the project to address community concerns. The height of the building’s minaret has been reduced from 27 metres to just less than 20 metres and the height of the dome has been reduced to about 15 metres from the 18.6 metres first proposed.

The two-storey building will be 9.5 metres tall, not counting the minaret and dome. Staff have determined there will be no shadowing from the dome or minaret on neighbouring buildings.

Increased traffic is one of the most frequent concerns from those against the project use when speaking against it. However, according to staff, “significant” traffic isn’t anticipated and that Winston Churchill Boulevard should be able to accommodate the cars heading into and out of the centre.

Parking, or a lack thereof at the site, was also raised numerous times by residents as a reason to turn down the application. However, the centre will have 115 parking spaces, one more than what’s required by the municipality.

Staff did determine that, during peak periods on Friday afternoon for prayer sessions, the demand may outnumber the available parking spots. Peak parking demand is usually for about 30 minutes on Friday afternoons. A few ways to solve the issue were proposed in the report, including on-street parking, increasing the number of prayer sessions and sharing parking with another nearby facility, among others.

Glen Broll, a partner with Glen Schnarr and Associates, the legal representation for the Islamic centre, told councillors that his clients have entered into an agreement with the nearby Meadowvale West Church Centre to accommodate the overflow parking.

The location of the proposed centre, near homes, isn’t out of the ordinary, according to the report.

“Places of religious assembly have been historically viewed as complementary to residential uses allowing individuals to practice their faith and participate in activities without travelling long distances,” read the report. “There are a number of examples within the city where places of religious assembly have located on corridors adjacent to residential homes and are viewed as compatible within the neighbourhood.”

Saito tabled an alternate recommendation that called for the application to be refused but she found little support for it amongst her colleagues as she cast the lone vote in support of it.

The councillor, who earlier this month had sent out an email newsletter to her constituents where she said it appeared likely that the application would be approved, asked Amir Syed – the Islamic centre’s board of directors president – point blank if he would be willing to once again try and work with her and the community to alleviate their concerns.

Syed replied that, after waiting 13 years for the building, it was time to move forward. He told the committee they have tried to find another location but that wasn’t successful.

“You have always said you want to live in harmony with your neighbours,” said Saito. “How is this living in harmony?”

Islamic centre officials have previously told The News the organization has been forced to rent space in Mississauga to host their prayer and religious services or if they wish to have classes or activities for their members. They want to build the centre so there will be a location in Meadowvale for their community to use.

Meadowvale resident Cheryl Pounder, who has bordering on tears when it was her turn to speak, begged the councillors to not approve the project.

“We can live in harmony but it’s just not the right location,” said Pounder.

** This story was updated on Sept. 23 to include information about an exchange between Mayor Bonnie Crombie and Kevin Johnston

Source: Mississauga News Mississauga News By Chris Clay

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Nunavut’s social housing faces billion-dollar shortfall – Half the territory lives in social housing, and newly built units cover only a fraction of the need

Palluq Chouinard has been temporarily house-sitting at a friend's place in Iqaluit with her daughter and two grandchildren. The 53-year-old has been homeless for the past 14 years.

By nightfall, her only thought was where she was going to find a place to sleep.

When she had no other place to turn, she would find her way to the bathroom floor of the hospital.

“I ended up sleeping on the floor, wherever I could to find a warm place,” said Palluq Chouinard.

“That’s what I’ve done.”

The 53-year-old has been homeless in Iqaluit for more than a decade. Fourteen years ago she separated from her husband and was kicked out of her home.

“In the daytime it’s okay. But when it’s dark, around 6 or 7 at night I have to start thinking, who’s going to be kind, and who’s going to [welcome me] to their house?”

“Even though when I’m sick or I’m in pain, I don’t show it because I’m homeless.”

More than 3,000 households in Nunavut are estimated to be homeless and waiting for g​overnment-assisted housing, according to the Nunavut Housing Corporation. Under the government agency’s definition, a household can mean parents with children, a single person, or some other family arrangement.

Getting through the backlog can take years.

Chouinard has been waiting for the past five. But last month, she learned her wait will soon be over.

IQA graphic


Half of Nunavut lives in social housing, many of the units overcrowded.

“I’ve seen as high as 22 people staying in a three-bedroom unit that was 1,200 square feet,” said Lori Kimball, the president and CEO of the Nunavut Housing Corporation.

Right now, there are 2,313 households on the waiting list to get into social housing, though Kimball estimates the need is much higher. Many don’t bother applying, she says, because of the severe shortage.

‘I’ve seen as high as 22 people staying in a three-bedroom unit that was 1,200 square feet.’– Lori Kimball, president and CEO, Nnavut Housing Corporation

“They just don’t exist,” she said.

“There’s not enough roofs to house everybody in Nunavut.”

She estimates that meeting the demand will take more than $1 billion.

The executive director at the men’s shelter in Iqaluit sees many come through the doors who have spent years waiting.

“We’ve had clients here for as long as 10 years who have been on the waiting list for housing as long as that,” Doug Cox said.

The shelter has 20 beds but usually sleeps 25. The hallway is crammed with bags of clothing and other belongings of the men who frequent it.

“Most of them have become uncomfortably satisfied to just wait, knowing that the chances are very slim that they’ll ever get a place,” Cox said.

Not enough money

In 2013, the federal government announced $100 million to add to the more than 5,000 public housing units that already exist in the territory.

“We’re just wrapping up those units now,” Kimball said. The 213 units are expected to open within the year.

“We didn’t get an announcement last spring. We were hoping to. Which means next summer there’s really nothing going to be built other than what the Government of Nunavut can afford to build, which is a much, much smaller number of units.”

This year, the territory committed $10 million towards building public housing units. With an average cost of a unit $400,000, it’s only enough to cover a fraction of the need.

“You can’t build it if you don’t have the money to pay for it.”

The ideal scenario says Kimball is a long-term funding commitment from the federal government to develop a 20-year plan that would see the territory build 200 housing units a year.

“We can build that many units per year, logistically. We need the money,” Kimball said.

Moving in

Since the spring, Chouinard has been temporarily house-sitting at a friend’s place, living with her daughter and two grandchildren.

Last month she found out she’ll soon have a place of her own.

After years of battling drug and alcohol addictions, suicide attempts and years without a home, this woman who owns almost nothing is finally going to get an apartment.

“I don’t mind about the furniture,” she said.

“I just want my house keys. That’s it.”

Source: By John Van Dusen, CBC News Posted: Aug 15, 2015 5:00 AM 

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How Hamilton’s Collective Pursuits Are Creating Canada’s Brooklyn


In case you haven’t heard, you can do anything in Hamilton. We even have a t-shirt to prove it. That place known as “steel town” is no more.

We have had the opportunity to experience this renaissance over the last 11 months, and see it now not as a fad, or a moment in time.


Hamilton is for real and we should all take notice and learn from the movement that is driving this perfect storm.

What do you create when you combine a fusion of artists and culinary mavens priced out of some of our countries larger cities, the willingness of a local government to enable innovative place making and cultural/culinary collective happenings, some forward thinking developers and creative entrepreneurs and a galvanized social media push around one hashtag called #hamont?

Meet Hamilton 2.0. A city that is organically and strategically turning into what some are saying could be Canada’s answer to the movement that inspired a modern Brooklyn.

What seems consistent, and could be the very insight that continues the growth of this city and why we should all take notice, is a genuine sincere will to work together. There is this common feeling that collectively, anything is possible.

The city is showing us that if you celebrate and create a collective atmosphere, everyone wins: local businesses, the culture and food mavens, communities, tourism and development.

Add in the stunning historical architecture and a “re-invention of large heritage buildings into active hubs of commerce and culture ” seen through examples like theCannon Knitting Mills and you have a setting where magical transformation can take shape.

They are creating a place where people want to come live and visit.

And the proof is there.

Hamilton now attracts 4.5 million visits that spend $359.5 million annually and in 2014, it welcomed 57 conferences and 76 sporting events.

The city has welcomed various festivals over the summer to date including Hamilton Kicks It Up which animated the city around TO 2015 Pan Am Games, the Because Beer Festival, a great new-ish waterfront event and part of Hamilton’s evolving local craft beer scene, along with favourites such as the Hamilton Fringe Festival and theHamilton World Music Festival.

We had the opportunity to sit down with two of the change makers that are driving the transformation of Hamilton. Tim Potocic (TP), Co-owner of Sonic Unyon and one of the founders of Supercrawl, and Jason Cassis (JC), one of Hamilton’s most innovative hospitality and real estate entrepreneurs, shared their thoughts on what is driving this transformation and the exciting things to come.

There seems to be a growing movement around the arts and food in Hamilton. What triggered this?

TP: This has been triggered by community. People working together and supporting one another.

JC: I believe growth was organic for the most part however when the trends emerged, the city did not take long to back them both. In the case of arts, they have committed to organizational assistance and some funding and in the case of food trucks, they have removed barriers to growth that allow that culture to thrive.

One can see there is authentic collaboration happening. What’s the secret other cities can learn from?

TP: Hamilton has transformed in the last 10-15 years into a community that thrive on working together. Egos are checked at the door – people willing to help others are now in turn thriving.

JC: The change agents actively work together across multiple industries from food to arts to development, with the end goal of a better city in mind – ultimately the city at large wins in this case. Other cities should see the end product of improved neighborhoods as its most important goal, not individual interests.

What are the top three culture or food trends that are thriving in your city?

TP: Music, galleries and small business restauranteurs.

JC: Really big free festivals like Supercrawl or Festival of Friends, shared community office space and the reincarnation of the corner store/corner market such as Dundurn Market, one of my new passions.

Can you compare the city to another city in the world?

TP: Brooklyn.

JC: Brooklyn, New York a decade ago.

In one sentence, tell us why someone should visit? And live?

TP: Hamilton is an open, affordable and accommodating city, with lots of hidden gems ranging from culture to architecture to the nature surroundings.

JC: “Because you can do anything in Hamilton.”

Where do you see the city in five years? 10 years?

TP: Massive growth, rebirth of a downtown, downtown living, thriving core one of Canada’s cultural hotbeds. In 15-20 years — the most talked about city in Canada.

JC: Five years — I believe Hamilton will continue on its path of creating vibrant communities and will be home to wonderful homespun amenities. Those amenities created almost exclusively by the citizens that call it home. Ten Years — Hamilton will become one of the top three cities to live in in Canada. This will be a result of a city hall that acts as a conduit to lead and engage its change agents to listen closely to its neighborhoods.

As the summer hits its midpoint, there are still many happenings for the public to attend.

Highlights include Greenbelt Harvest Picnic (August 29), co-founded by legendary music producer Daniel Lanois (originally from Hamilton), Supercrawl (September 11 to 13), and the AGH BMO World Film Festival (October 16 to 25). If you have kids, do not fear, the Telling Tales, A Family Festival of Stories (September 20) is a popular family event celebrating children’s stories.

There are many lessons here for those who look to how to build successful communities. And for those of you who just want to go to a place filled with authentic, fun, collective experiences, you can now add Hamilton to the list. And if you want to be part of the movement, they are no doubt looking for big thinkers who are authentic in what they do.

Source: Huffington Post  Culture & Experience Producer, Artrepreneur

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Canadian towns offer free land to lure new residents

Christian Martin stands on the land given to him by the municipality of Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, Que.

Large parts of Canada were settled thanks to a government policy of giving away land to anyone willing to show up and farm it.

And although the federal government largely stopped giving away Crown land in the 1930s, some small towns are continuing the tradition by giving their land away.

Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, a community of 900 about an hour southwest of Quebec City, decided to take a creative approach to increase its population. The town purchased a large tract of land and subdivided it into 40 lots that they began giving away in 2013 to anyone willing to move there and build a house.

“The problem faced by towns of our size is devitalization that happens quietly as young people move to cities,” Mayor Gilles Marchand told The Canadian Press. “We figure this will be an incentive for the young and the less young who want to put their money toward home-building.”

The town’s policy requires buyers to put a $1,000 down payment on a lot and commit to building a house worth $125,000 within a year. The municipality then refunds the down payment.

‘In a city, just the land would have cost as much as the entire house.’– Christian Martin, Saint-Louis-de-Blandford

Saint-Louis-de-Blandford isn’t alone with the idea. Reston, Man., implemented a similar plan a few years ago to essentially give away land for $10.

Tanis Chalmers, the economic development manager for the Rural Municipality of Pipestone, which includes Reston, says the program has been a success.

Of the 24 available lots, 19 have been given away and the municipality has expanded the program to the neighbouring towns of Pipestone and Sinclair. About 20 homes have been built in the last two years in Reston, Chalmers said, a population increase of 50 people or a 10-per-cent increase in the town of 500.

Small communities have to compete for residents by offering something special, Chalmers said.

“The towns that surround us are larger centres,” she added. “They may not be able to offer the same incentives we can but they have their size and the services they offer. This is our way of competing with these communities.”

Taking the long-term view

Both Chalmers and Marchand believe their towns will profit in the long run by collecting property taxes on the homes. They say a larger population also reduces the cost of services per capita, and could lead to increased commercial development.

Several small towns in Saskatchewan have experimented with a $1 lot policy in recent years, while Kings Point, N.L., posted on social media earlier this year that it was considering a land giveaway as well.

Most research examining the long-term returns … indicates that residential land use ends up costing communities more than it provides returns.’– Concordia University Prof. Bill Reime

Each town does things a little differently. Some offer lots that are hooked up to sewer and water, while others are on unserviced land. Some also have conditions on the type of construction.

There is also still a little free Crown land available — mostly in the Yukon for people who are tough enough to develop Arctic lands for agricultural purposes through the territory’s Agricultural Lands Program.

Giving away land may not pay off for small towns in the long run, cautions Concordia University Prof. Bill Reimer, who specializes in rural issues. He said the property tax revenues generated by new residences often aren’t enough to cover the costs of roads, city staff and services.

“Most research examining the long-term returns for various community land-use strategies indicates that residential land use ends up costing communities more than it provides returns,” he said by email.

Luring businesses crucial

The key, he said, is to attract businesses as well.

Both Reston and Saint-Louis-de-Blandford offer incentives ranging from tax breaks to cash grants to attract new commerce — something Marchand and Chalmers admit is a little more difficult than luring residents.

Despite the note of caution, they both say their programs have helped their towns as well as residents such as Christian Martin, who recently moved back to the Saint-Louis-de-Blandford region after 10 years away.

He received a free 5,500 square-foot lot — big enough that he was able to excavate a lake on his property in addition to building himself a spacious home.

“In a city, just the land would have cost as much as the entire house,” said Martin, 51.

‘Unexpected success’

Marchand said the program has been “an unexpected success.” All of his town’s original 40 free lots have been spoken for and the town is currently planning another phase of giveaways.

By offering lots big enough for a home with a backyard, he’s managed to attract several young families, a prize demographic he hopes will ensure his town’s future.

The young population has gone up so much, he says, that the town is looking at bringing in a subsidized daycare in the coming months.

“We took a guess, a chance that it might work,” he said. “So far, it’s exceeded our expectations.”

Source: The Canadian Press Posted: Jun 29, 2015 4:01 PM ET

Canadian Red Cross admits that ‘permanent’ homes in Haiti only have 15-year lifespan

Natasha Dumolas and her three children, aged five, seven and 11, at their home in Haiti, which was built by the Canadian Red Cross.

The Canadian Red Cross is easing off previous claims that it helped build 7,500 “permanent homes” in Haiti following the devastating 2010 earthquake, acknowledging now that the homes likely have a life span of “approximately 15 years.”

The relief agency can’t say for certain how many of the homes are still standing or inhabited as it doesn’t plan to do a comprehensive assessment until 2017, officials said.

Scrutiny of how charities allocated money in the quake-ravaged Caribbean nation has intensified in recent weeks following a damning investigative report that found the American Red Cross — which raised a half-billion dollars — failed to follow through on key promises. One of the most startling revelations in the report by Pro Publica and NPR: While the relief agency claims to have provided housing to more than 130,000 people, it actually built only six permanent homes.

The report has sparked calls for a congressional hearing into the charity’s finances.

Earlier this month, the Canadian Red Cross told reporters it raised $222 million in donations for Haiti and that $65 million went toward the construction of 7,500 “permanent homes” in the coastal areas of Jacmel and Leogane.

That drew immediate skepticism from the Canada Haiti Action Network, a watchdog group. “I frankly doubt the Canadian Red Cross claims to have constructed 7,500 houses in Haiti,” spokesman Roger Annis said in an email. “I suspect that … it is speaking of semi-permanent structures.”

A review of the Canadian Red Cross’ own publications shows that the agency has previously described the 18-square-metre homes as “transitional shelters.”

Asked for clarification, Canadian Red Cross spokesman Nathan Huculak said the wooden shelter design evolved in 2010-2011 and the homes were constructed with “more robust specifications than considered at the outset of the project.”

The homes were built to withstand hurricane-strength winds and constructed using rot-resistant treated lumber and insulated metal roofing.

“As a consequence and subject to individual circumstances, the structures should remain in good condition for many years,” he said. “CRC projects the lifespan to be approximately 15 years.

Huculak was unable to connect the National Post with someone on the ground in Haiti to discuss the current status of the homes. Previous surveys conducted in 2011 and 2012 showed the homes had 90-per-cent occupancy, Huculak said. An analysis of the physical condition of the homes and another occupancy survey are scheduled for 2017.

Architect Tom Carnegie, who oversaw the design and implementation of the housing project, said in an interview that the homes were built with sustainability in mind and the Canadian Red Cross was “generally known to be providing one of the most durable structures” — ones that could be modified or expanded down the road.

Rather than building the shelters “stick by stick” on the spot, officials decided it would be more efficient to assemble parts of the homes in Canada and use local crews in Haiti to erect them. Quebec-based company Maisons Laprise was contracted to do the prefabrication.

Paralegals worked to get permission from landowners to build the new homes on their properties. The Canadian Red Cross ensured families — roughly 80 per cent of whom rented before the earthquake — were provided with titles of ownership allowing them to move with the homes in the event that relationships with landowners soured.

The new homes were designed so they could be easily disassembled and unbolted if they needed to be moved, Huculak said. “It’s as permanent as those people will ever know.”

The wisdom of building transitional shelters after a major disaster has been the subject of much debate, according to a 2013 research paper published by Oxford Brookes University in England.

Critics say transitional shelters may suit the budgets, time frames and marketing needs of NGOs but fail to meet long-term needs and may remove political incentives for governments to assist in reconstruction. A lack of planning can cause transitional shelters to turn into poor-quality permanent housing, the paper said.

But, in the case of Leogane, Haiti, which saw 80 to 90 per cent of its buildings destroyed, the transitional shelter approach may have provided “the best possible solution for the worst possible situation,” author Avery Doninger wrote.

“The approach may have been stop-gap, but it is difficult to imagine that any other strategy would have provided the same kind of protection.”

Source: National Post Douglas Quan | June 12, 2015