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OMB Rulings Threaten the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood

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The frantic Downtown building boom continues. Three new, tall and very dense Downtown projects are in the news. One is a large office development close to Union Station along Bay Street; two are condos in the sensitive St. Lawrence Neighbourhood.

The Bay Street project by Ivanhoé Cambridge is two very tall office towers with a connecting landscaped bridge spanning the railway tracks between them .The 48-storey southern tower at 45 Bay will include a relocated GO bus station closer to the Gardiner Expressway. This is good for traffic.

Apart from GO buses, other long-distance buses are today farther north close to Bay and Dundas. They are not well connected to city public transit. They add to centretown traffic congestion. There is now a possibility these other buses may also be included in 45 Bay cresting a real central public transit hub. This location will also be connected to the future East Bayfront Light Rail Transit (LRT).

The 58-storey northern 141 Bay St. tower will be on the present GO bus station between the railway and the fine Classical Front St. federal office building. This tower will have a deep, 5-level underground public parking garage for 440 cars and also trucks serving the tower.

The garage access on Yonge Street is a problem. It directly faces The Esplanade leading into the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood. This stable, successful, mixed-income neighbourhood must be protected from more and heavy traffic.

New traffic lights on Yonge will control the garage access. But tricky means must be found to prevent or severely limit garage traffic from entering the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood via The Esplanade, the main street tying together the unique neighbourhood along the linear David Crombie Park.

The wide, landscaped bridge linking the Bay Street office towers seems innovative at first sight. Lush landscape drawings are seductive. But how will trees and plants grow in soil not well protected from winter freezing by the cold underside of the bridge? Also, how will the public be attracted to use the bridge far above pedestrian street level?

Another issue for the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood is a huge condo project by the Pemberton Group. The new project occupies a whole city block formerly occupied by Sobey’s and Acura Motors between The Esplanade, Front, Sherbourne and Princess streets.

Even as revised, this project is totally out of scale and density with the existing low- and mid-rise, well-planned, mixed-income neighbourhood. The project will have four tall towers of 33, 29, 27 and 25 storeys on a 10-storey podium base. This is higher than even the nearby area tallest-yet-to-be-built two 26-storey towers along Front at Sherbourne recently approved by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) against city and community objections.

The developer has successfully used the now common developer tactic of filing an early threatening appeal with the developer-friendly OMB. This appears again to have achieved the desired effect of intimidating overworked city planners and the community to basically accept the ever-so slightly reduced project still not fitting the unique neighbourhood.

Another proposed project threatening the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood is 75 The Esplanade on the south side of the street on the Church Street parking lot. The north side of The Esplanade in this area has heritage designated, 4-storey original waterfront warehouses. They have attracted lively bars and restaurants with busy summer outdoor patios on the wide sidewalk.

The tall, new project of 34 storeys by Harhay and Carttera will shadow The Esplanade for part of the day. Adjoining it is the unusual Novotel Hotel built some years ago according to the then but no longer enforceable city zoning bylaw.

The hotel rises six storeys before sloping back for three storeys to keep sunlight reaching the street. (Novotel’s attractive sidewalk arcade, reminiscent of old European cities, will not be continued along 75 The Esplanade.)

Condos on the back, southern side of 75 The Esplanade will stare across a narrow, busy lane right into the 8-storey city community housing residence built on top of the high, 6-storey open and 24/7 brightly lit city public parking garage.

A better solution would be to replace the lower condos facing the garage with internal parking in its 8-storey podium. Such parking is much less expensive for the developer than a deep 3-level underground garage for 126 cars. Condos in the podium can still face The Esplanade and Church St. The incessant push for more density and height in downtown continues. The question remains: Will the boom continue or bust?
Stig Harvor is a retired architect

Clarification and corrections of Stig’s February profile in The Bulletin:
Stig was born 1929. He spent World War 2 in German-occupied Norway. He came to Canada in 1945 and moved from New Brunswick to Ottawa in 1959.

His Ottawa architectural firm Harvor and Menendez worked in association with Schoeler and Heaton on some notable projects. Later, Stig was involved in the design management of Place du Portage IV in Hull. He moved to Toronto in 1993 and took over retired architect and professor John Flanders’ column in The Bulletin in 2003.

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Editorials

Our Love-Hate Relationship with Gimmicks

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When Jennifer Egan’s novel “A Visit from the Goon Squad” won the Pulitzer Prize, in 2011, much fuss was made over its penultimate chapter, which presents the diary of a twelve-year-old girl in the form of a seventy-six-page PowerPoint presentation. Despite the nearly universal acclaim that the novel had received, critics had trouble deciding whether the PowerPoint was a dazzling, avant-garde innovation or, as one reviewer described it, “a wacky literary gimmick,” a cheap trick that diminished the over-all value of the novel. In an interview with Egan, the novelist Heidi Julavits confessed to dreading the chapter before she read it, and then experiencing a happy relief once she had. “I live in fear of the gimmicky story that fails to rise above its gimmick,” she said. “But within a few pages I totally forgot about the PowerPoint presentation, that’s how ungimmicky your gimmick was.”

The word “gimmick” is believed to come from “gimac,” an anagram of “magic.” The word was likely first used by magicians, gamblers, and swindlers in the nineteen-twenties to refer to the props they wielded to attract, and to misdirect, attention—and sometimes, according to “The Wise-Crack Dictionary,” from 1926, to turn “a fair game crooked.” From such duplicitous beginnings, the idea of gimmickry soon spread. In Vladimir Nabokov’s novel “Invitation to a Beheading,” from 1935, a mother distracts her imprisoned son from counting the hours to his execution by describing the “marvelous gimmicks” of her childhood. The most shocking, she explains, was a trick mirror. When “shapeless, mottled, pockmarked, knobby things” were placed in front of the mirror, it would reflect perfectly sensible forms: flowers, fields, ships, people. When confronted with a human face or hand, the mirror would reflect a jumble of broken images. As the son listens to his mother describe her gimmick, he sees her eyes spark with terror and pity, “as if something real, unquestionable (in this world, where everything was subject to question), had passed through, as if a corner of this horrible life had curled up, and there was a glimpse of the lining.” Behind the mirror lurks something monstrous—an idea of art as device, an object whose representational powers can distort and devalue just as easily as they can estrange and enchant.

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Stakeholder vs. Shareholder Capitalism: What Is Ideal Today?

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Haywood Kelly: At Morningstar, we’re proud that our research teams not only operate independently but that our analysts are encouraged to explore ideas and raise contrarian viewpoints. The enemy of any research organization is groupthink. A research organization needs to hire people who aren’t afraid of challenging the status quo and who are always thinking about how to foster a culture where people feel comfortable speaking up and encouraging us all to think harder and sharper.

And we debate just about everything. Is the market overvalued? Should private equity be allowed into retirement plans? What categories are most suited to active investors? How much should an annuity cost? And I’d say one of the hottest areas of debate these days is ESG. Does ESG help or hurt investing performance? What ESG risks are truly material to cash flows? What should be included in a “globe rating,” and on and on.

Within the field of sustainable investing and with it evolving so rapidly, there is really no facet that we don’t debate. And today, we’ve asked a group of researchers from across Morningstar to represent opposing sides of a particular ESG argument. But we didn’t have to look far for one that’s taken centerstage in 2020. 

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Editorials

HILL: The Great Reset

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If you haven’t heard about The Great Reset yet, you will. 

Soon.

Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” slogan, of which no one knew the meaning or purpose, is a direct lift from The Great Reset Manifesto, let’s call it, concocted by the dreamy-eyed elites of the world who attend annual ritzy, star-studded winter retreats in Davos, Switzerland under the auspices of the World Economic Forum.

“In short” the wealthy elites of the world proclaim to the rest of the world, “we need a ‘Great Reset’ of capitalism.”

To save the world, these elites demand “the world must act … to revamp all aspects of our societies and economies, from education to social contracts and working conditions; …every country… must participate, and every industry, from oil and gas to tech, must be transformed”.

In other words, these elites demand that the entire world embrace socialism; impose much higher wealth taxes, which they will avoid paying, that’s a given; promulgate onerous regulations on banking and industry; and pass massive Green New Deals, which would “only” cost U.S. taxpayers and consumers $93 trillion to implement.

Liberal socialists never say anything about cutting government spending, lowering government regulatory burdens on business and people, getting rid of archaic government programs that have been proven ineffective, or removing legal barriers for people who want to start a business and provide a better life for their family.

Liberal socialists simply believe a lot more government is good. Conservatives don’t. It is pretty much that simple.

Every command issued by Great Reset/One World Government proponents strikes at the core of American individualism. American individualism and self-initiative led to the creation of such ground-breaking innovations as the IPhone, Amazon and Google, nothing close to which has ever been invented under socialist or communist regimes. Wait until the Great Reset dries up American innovation; Millennials and liberals will then see the adverse side of too much governmental control of our economy, then they will be ready for more free market capitalism.

Americans should understandably feel a little queasy when they hear Prince Charles or Canadian PM Justin Trudeau gush about how the COVID pandemic provides the “perfect opportunity” to change everything. Only totalitarians at heart think a pandemic or crisis is “a great time to impose their will on the world.” Hitler took power during the post-WWI economic depression in Germany to “restore the Fatherland,” to name perhaps the worst case in recent history.

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