On Wednesday, Canada Lost Two Sons

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. Photo from his school's yearbook (CBC).

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. Photo from his school’s yearbook (CBC).







This week, thousands of Canadians lined the Highway of Heros in honour of Nathan Cirillo, Canada’s son, and victim of Wednesday’s shooting. With attention focused on Nathan’s life and sacrifice, we might forget that Canada lost a second son this week – Michael Zahef-Bibeau.

Michael, the shooter, was a child of our own.

As a victim of addiction and isolation, Michael experienced a long, slow mental breakdown. He became reliant on drugs and turned to extremist thoughts. In his greatest time of need he lacked support from his family, friends, community, and government. As a last resort, Michael turned to violence.

Like Michael, there are hundreds of people in Canada that are emotionally distressed and mentally cornered. We may be tempted to pass extraordinary measures to ‘secure’ ourselves from future events like this, but we should be wary. If history can provide any insight, it is that ‘safeguards’ such as these never achieve lasting peace. They placate with a false, temporary sense of security.

Instead, let us reach out to our marginalized and isolated. Let us remind them that they are loved, and let’s give them the tools they need to succeed.

At the end of the day, we Canadians judge ourselves in two ways:

  1. How we treat our marginalized and our voiceless minorities
  2. How we overcome our struggles

Let’s show ourselves and the world that positivity and humanity can, and will  prevail.


Fusing the TTC and GO into One System

Fantasy Map: Toronto’s transit network assuming the electrification of GO corridors and better integration between GO and the TTC.

Fantasy Map: Toronto’s transit network assuming the electrification of GO corridors and better integration between GO and the TTC.

Imagine a network of speedy electric trains servicing every neighbourhood in the Golden Horseshoe.

Traveling from Port Credit to the Danforth? Simple.
Venturing from Unionville to Roncesvalles? Easy.

What if I told you that this dreamy network is affordable to build because it harnesses the city’s existing rail infrastructure?
Amazing, eh?

The Vision
Jonathan English, of the blog Transit Futures, is trying to promote this vision with a revolutionary concept called CityRail, which consists of two parts. First, it calls for the electrification of GO’s existing rail lines. Currently, GO relies on large diesel engines to tug a long line of cars, one direction, every hour. An electrified network with upgraded signaling would allow for smaller, self-propelled trains to navigate the system- providing for a more predictable and frequent service. Second, it calls for more integration between the new routes and existing transit services, allowing passengers to travel freely and seamlessly across the region. Yes, this vision will require time and capital, but it’s a better investment of our current resources, then many of the initiatives we are wasting them on now.

Using English’s initiative as a point of departure, I created a fantasy map of how Toronto’s rapid transit system could look. For the purpose of the map, I’ve called the prospective system “Metrorail,” partially to encourage the co-operation between Metrolinx and CityRail, but mostly to avoid any copyright infringements from either side.

The Map
The Metrorail System Map above displays subways, LRTs, and the surface rail lines suggested by CityRail. The look and feel incorporates an appropriate mix of the New York City subway’s Helvetica typeface with the London Underground’s route and station symbology to create a uniquely Torontonian map. Though I am a fan of the TTC’s custom typeface, I decided not to use it in this endeavor. It is better reserved for station names on subway platforms, not for wayfinding signage or route maps. Too much of an iconic font can be a bad thing; I’m sure you’ll agree with me when you see the TTC’s newly designed system map.

It is common practice for transit companies to take liberties in preserving scale and proportion in visual representations of their networks. To avoid a very large and mostly bare portrayal, the Metrorail System Map does the same, to achieve a balanced effect. By contrast, Toronto’s present subway map stretches horizontally and compresses vertically, overly distorting the proportions of the city. Sydney’s rail system-which also happens to be electric-does a much better job at presenting its sprawling transit network. Their Newcastle and Central Coast line stretches 150km, connecting Newcastle to Sydney’s Central Station. This is not unlike the western leg of Line 8 on the Metrorail System Map that connects Kitchener to Union Station, a distance of about 100km.

I deviated slightly from CityRail’s plans. I named stations after districts rather than streets, in part to foster a sense of neighbourhood identity as well as ownership of the transit service. I extended Line 7 to include Galt (Cambridge) and Uxbridge, and also extended Line 6 through the Niagara Peninsula to Buffalo Center… yes, Center. Establishing a reliable transit service between Buffalo and Toronto would mean Buffalo can play a bigger role in the Golden Horseshoe’s Economy.

Given the plenitude of proposals, I found it difficult to decide which additional transit expansion ideas should transfer onto the map. The most controversial line I included is the extension of Line 2 (the Bloor-Danforth subway) through Scarborough. Secondly, I expanded Line 1 from Finch Station to Richmond Hill Centre, a priority of the Ontario government. Finally, I made the assumption that Toronto’s Island Airport will remain, and expand, justifying a stop on the Queens Quay LRT line. Would you like to be able to walk to the airport and catch a flight to the west coast?

By making this map I hope to stimulate conversation about a more practical, more holistic, and more cost-effective regional transit system.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to join the conversation! Here’s an ice breaker: What’s your biggest pain point in getting around your city? Enter your comments below.


York University’s failed attempt at accessible design

Yesterday, my partner and I found ourselves at York University, waiting for a connecting bus during our return trip to Guelph . Since neither one of us attend York, we decided to explore the campus. I have to say that I was thoroughly impressed twice on this journey. The first time, by York Lanes – what Ontario university has an entire mall on campus? The second thing that captured our interest was William McElcheran’s sculpture, Encounter, located in the courtyard next to the Student Centre. Encounter shows a very uncomfortable, and quite satirical interaction between two businessmen. The men seem to be narrowly avoiding collision as they approach each other. Additionally, they awkwardly acknowledge each others’ presence with a half-hearted wave. The animated sculpture is placed in a tree-covered enclave and distanced from the surrounding walkways, exaggerating the closeness and thus uncomfortableness of the men’s interaction. I’ll leave further observations to my fellow blogger at Performing Things.

Anyway, this post isn’t about pleasantries. This post is about York’s failed attempt at accessible design. York already has a rotten reputation among the city’s academic community, but what I saw yesterday was simply appalling. Here is the proof.


This accessible table was found in the common area, next to the theatre and serviced by a single Starbucks outlet. This was not the only accessible table of its kind- there were many more around campus too. You’ll notice that this table can only be used by those who wheel their own chairs around. The other chairs in this space are fixed to other tables, meaning if the non-wheelchaired want to sit with their wheelchaired friends, the non-wheelchaired couldn’t simply drag over a chair. No wonder these tables aren’t being used. The choice and application of accessible furniture at the university is a quintessentially York-style mistake to make.The wheelchaired have been battling social stigma all along, and by lack of thought, York is perpetuating the problem. Instead, York has two options. They could remove one or two of the chairs from a couple of the fully-chaired tables. Or, they could remove all the fixed-seating and allow all the students to remove the chairs between tables as they please. Either option would encourage social interaction and integration- providing for truly accessible design.

I’m sorry to say that I’m not entirely surprised by York’s accessible design standards. It is a university plagued by thoughtless architecture and defined by a bamboozled administration. York has failed its students, faculty and staff living with physical disabilities. Further, this mistake illustrates York University’s disconnectedness from the needs of its diverse student body. I plead to the students of York to demand more from your institution, otherwise, York will stomp on… business as usual…


Diversity our Strength

Why have I decided to blog about Toronto? Well, Toronto is the most exciting city in the world right now. Okay, I may have a slight bias- I was born and raised here. But seriously, Toronto’s social and ethnic diversity is unmatched the world over- I think that is something worth celebrating. Take a look at the table below; it shows the ethnic identities claimed by the residents of Toronto. The data was compiled by Statistics Canada in the 2006 census.


Ethnic Identity

Share of Pop.


Ethnic Identity

Share of Pop.

















Sri Lankan


















British Isles (general)


















































In addition to this table, there are dozens of ethnic groups with significant communities, yet they represent less than 1% of Toronto’s population. This list includes Afghans, Arabs, Barbadians, Bengalis, Brazilians, Bulgarians, Colombians, Croats, Ecuadorians, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Grenadians, Haitians, Macedonians, Mexicans, Romanians, Salvadorans, Serbs, Somalis, Tibetans, Trinidadians, Vincentians and Venezuelans. The data testifies to Toronto’s true diversity.

As amazing as these findings are, I wasn’t entirely surprised. Statistics Canada probably would have found their results to be similar if they surveyed my high school. This is the Toronto that I grew up with. A Toronto whose identity is intertwined with multiculturalism and diversity.

I’ve largely used ethnicity to prove the point of the city’s diversity simply because it’s the easiest to perceive. I must point out that, peoples of all ages, languages, religions genders and orientations are welcome here. Toronto has the largest Pride and Caribana (Caribbean Carnival) celebration in North America. The city also has some of the finest mosques, hindu and buddhist temples, synagogues and churches in the country. As a result of not being dominated by a single ethnic or social group- the Toronto experience is a shared experience where everyone is an equal player- where cultural differences are not just respected, but also celebrated. Still don’t believe me? Check this out…

Toronto’s social and ethnic diversity leaves its impressions on every aspect of city life- so much so that it has become enshrined in the city’s motto, ‘Diversity our Strength’. As Toronto grows, diversity is playing a defining role in transforming the city’s identity and its built environment. I will use this blog as a journey through Toronto’s social and built environments, highlighting areas where we live up to our virtues of diversity and equality, and underscoring areas where we must improve. Toronto may be the most socially and ethnically diverse city on the planet, but we’re not perfect- there is room to do better.

Feel free to join the conversations, and visit again soon!