Monday, 18 February 2008

Time Is A Bouncing Ball - more Renfrew stories

The article printed below is not new. I think I wrote it in the eighties. It was used in a now long-gone magazine called Valley. It was published by General Store Publishing House in Burnstown, Ontario. The faded clipping has been pinned to my corked lined office wall for over a decade and half. I wanted to post it on my website before the clipping (my only coply) fell apart and the story returned to be just a fading memory. I figured out the Optical Chararcter Reader on my printer this weekend and so Presto Chango ... another story in my ongoing series about Renfrew in the sixties is now on

Title: TIME IS A BOUNCING BALL by Stephen Weir

It's too long ago now to remember how we got on to the roof of the Howard Haramis restaurant. I can't imagine climbing up the fireescape, but 25 years ago there was only one building on Renfrew's main street with an elevator, and that was the O'Brien apartments, three blocks down the street.

Some of us felt queasy up there fear of heights? No, it was the fumes from Howie's BeatIe Burgers wafting out of the exhaust fans that hung between us and the street below.

A Beatie Burger, for those who missed Renfrew in the '60s, was a "special" designed by Howard Haramis, owner of the town's finest restaurant: a braised burger covered with frilly melted cheddar and curly leaves of lettuce, trimmed outside the bun to look, with a lotta poetic licence, like a mop-top haircut. A few months after he put the burg on the menu, Howie was elected mayor, probably due in no small part to the statement his hamburgers made to the community: Howard is Hip!

There were four of us leaning over the edge of the building, iooking down on Raglan Street, three storeys below. Ignoring the noxious vapours of John, Paul, George and Ringo rising in our faces, we cased the situation. We were concerned about the street action taking place around the two buildings we were looking down upon: the post office and The Renfrew Mercury offices.

The post office, with its stone walls and clock tower, was a picture-perfect landmark. On Friday nights it was a magnet, dragging bored teenagers out of their homes and onto its steps. From there they watched Renfrew's lone set of traffic-lights in action, and gawked at the bumper-to-bumper Highway 17 cottage country traffic crawling past.

The Mercury building was to the left of the post office. Editor Norm Wilson (another future mayor) knew his market well- he placed classified ads and the latest obituaries in the front window; On Fridays the "young" lads (anyone over 65) stood in front of the window or hours reading and discussing Norm's notice-board.

In the interest of science we were going to conduct an experiment and we wanted to avoid detection' by the teenagers who were busy making faces at passing motorists, or by' the young lads wa.iting for the latest death-notice to be posted in the Mercury's window.

A new toy had hit the market and we all wanted to test the truth of its advertising. The ad went something like this: Kids! We DARE you to Send this BALL into ORBIT!! SuperBall, Built With SPACE-AGE TECHNOLOGY, bounces HIGHER and FARTHER than any ball in history OR YOUR MONEY REFUNDED!

This Superball was something different: it lost so little energy when it bounced, it would almost return to your hand if you dropped it. If you threw it at the ground, the ball wouldzoom upwards seemingly towards the stars. We wanted to find out how far the ball would travel if we threw it from the roof of the restaurant.

The timing had to be just right.

Four things had to happen: the traffic had to be stopped, the truly young lads had to be occupied mugging at motorists, the truly old young lads had to be studying the obits; and there had to be enough light in the sky so we could track the flight of our round rubber missile.

We figured that if the ads were correct, the ball would clear the roof of the post office without a hitch.

I can remember the moment vividly: the traffic stopped, all eyes at ground level were looking the other way, our chosen strong man, standing with fist raised in the light of the setting sun, looked like a monument to struggling humanity in Red Square, the gigantic shadow of our roof-top blackened the wall of the post office across the street.

Whoosh, the Superball went screaming towards the pavement. It hit the street with a sickening splat, like a peach pit landing in a high-speed food processor, and zoomed upwards again. As it gained altitude we realized it wasn't travelling straight. It was arcing towards the post-office tower.

Time stood still. In unison, we slowly twisted our bodies to the right trying to steer our missile, like a curling skip wiman errant stone. It didn't work. With a plop and a tinkle of glass, the ball went straight through the clock's face, leaving a neat, round hole between the six and the seven.

We froze. We could hear the ball demonically bouncing around inside the clock tower, its space-age technology reluctantly surrendering kinetic energy. The driver of the car at the lights hit the floor thinking he had been shot at. The Mercury crowd started banging on the paper's front door, yelling for Norm to come out and scoop The Advance (the other local newspaper). The teenagers were cool: knowing instantly that vandals were at work, they started scanning the rooftops looking for someone to congratulate. The tedium of their lives had been briefly broken.

Before the ball stopped banging around the tower we had scattered. Each of us ran in a different direction, and to this day we have never been together again. Soon after, one went east and was jailed for bank robbery. Another moved north (if Pembroke is north) and became an artist. I headed south to pursue post-secondary studies and number four did likewise in the west.

The town took its own sweet time repairing the damage. The hole in the glass was still there when I left town in 1969. It was years before I could look at the post office without blushing.

Former Renfrewite Stephen Weir is an author, scuba diver and freelance writer.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

New Toronto Condominiums Cast Shadows on City

Sub-Title: Photo at left: Rendering of a proposed downtown Toronto condo: One Bedford

The Toronto Star, like every publication I write for, edits and rewrites my copy. Don't mind, always amazed at how many mistakes I make. I send in what I think is a bullet proof story and then the questions from the editor begins (I call it death by a thousand questions). My answers/changes, are one of the reasons that the story gets modified. I also hand in copy that it is too long ( hey, we freelancers are geared towards being paid by the inch). So, to make a short story long, the Toronto Star ran a story yesterday: that I wrote after a month of research. The story was about how new buildings in Toronto are casting long shadows over the city and rate payers are unhappy. Anyway, check out the link above to see the Star's version of my piece. Below is the original text -- mistakes and all.

Star headline:
The shadow factor
Shedding light on the darkness cast by towers is a science with many angles

sweir proposed headline:
Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt
New tall condo buildings will darken the city, for awhile
By Stephen Weir

The operators of a Toronto daycare centre pray that a proposed condominium will cast a shadow over their playground so that their young charges won’t overheat in the glaring noonday sun. Just down the street homeowners bemoan the fact that if the building goes up their daily quota of sunshine will plummet.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, as an increasing number of developers are issued building permits to construct tall condominiums, large sections of Toronto will be bathed in moving bands of darkness. Property owners who will be left in the dark -- albeit for part of the day – are now raising concerns about building heights based on what they see as their municipal right to have their place in the sun. For their part, developers are using sophisticated computer programs and shadow reducing techniques to lower the light-blocking footprint their new buildings will cast.

“The most important thing for me is to spend a Sunday afternoon at home. There is nothing nicer than coming inside and enjoying the sunlight as it shines through the window,” said Greg West, a downtown film producer. “We get a lovely sun in our house on McGill Street. It is only about 3 hours a day and now developers are going to be taking away an hour of light from us.”

West lives in a very unique part of downtown Toronto. The McGill-Granby Village (just south of Maple Leaf Gardens) was granted “Special Identity” status by the city of Toronto 30 years ago, because it is an oasis of small Victorian-style single and semi-detached homes in a neighbourhood of towering concrete and glass.

His neighbourhood residents’ association, like many other groups in the city, is raising concerns about shadows when fighting to limit the height of proposed new condos. The McGill Granby Village Ratepayers Association recently fought unsuccessfully to limit the size of the proposed Aura. Canderel Stoneridge Equity is preparing to build the 75-storey Aura tower at Yonge and Gerrard Streets that will noticeably darken the Village across the street.

“ Our residents’ association was formed to deal with crime, in-fill development and all the other problems that you have with living in the city core,” continued West. “Now the issue is shadowing and we are up against a huge development machine. For a large part of the day we won’t see the sun and neither will the students using the (nearby) Ryerson University park. This is bad business. We don’t have slick Bay City lawyers to win this one for us.”

In 2006 the Aura was to be a 50-storey condo, the tallest of three buildings proposed for a site adjacent to the historic Eaton College Street complex. The city opposed the project, in part because the condo would block sunlight from city streets, cause shadows to fall on the Village and Ryerson University, and create wind problems at ground level.

The project was taken to the Ontario Municipal Board and through a series of rulings the developer was given the go-ahead to revamp the project upwards and inwards; the Aura jumped from 50 to 75 stories and the proposed condo reduced its upper level girth to become a thin point tower.

“It all depends on the shape,” explained Ralph Bouwmeester, Canada’s shadow guru. “The majority of the new tall buildings are point towers (needle shaped). They tend to cast thin shadows, and for a very short time. Depending on the season, a 70 to 80 storey point tower will cast a shadow on any given address for a very limited time (as the sun moves through the sky).”

“ Now if you are speaking of slab-type condominiums (monolithic structures) aligned in a north-south direction, this style of building has a significant shadow effect to the east and west in the morning,” continued Bouwmeester. “When the slab building - like the Delta Chelsea on Gerrard – is aligned east-west, it casts, in a big way, to the north.

Bouwmeester is a sun and shadow position specialist who has developed computer modeling software which, among other things, accurately demonstrates at any given time in a year the size and shape of the shadows that will be thrown by new buildings. He operates a Barrie based civil engineering firm that provides shadow modeling to builders and rate payers alike.

“I think that ratepayer groups have become aware and educated,” Bouwmeester said. “People know they can’t be protected forever (from new buildings go up near them) but they want builders to prove that what they say about shadows is accurate. They want to be shown that everything is okay.”

Shadow issues are not unique to Toronto. However, in urban centres closer to the equator, property owners are less inclined to fight a building project that might block the hot, damaging rays of the sun. Direct summer sunlight on a building raises temperatures, accelerates the aging process of roofing material and blisters paint.

A study by the US Rogers William University recommends that higher urban densities in Egypt, the Gaza Strip and other desert countries “create building shadows and shade and more comfortable spaces for people.” In Arizona, shadows studies are run to find the optimum building size and shape to block out the sun.

“For the most part people who live and work in the downtown area know that there are always going to be new buildings,” said Mark Mandelbaum, Chairman of Lanterra Developments. “Problem occurs when the city decides to increase the density. Buildings get taller and suddenly the skyline has changed.”

“There are shadows and then there are shadows. Toronto’s Annex is a very sophisticated place, there are big trees that cast shadows over the neighbourhood, and that is seen as a good thing. Buildings, well, that can be different.”

Lanterra is building One Bedford, a luxury 32-storey condominium at the edge of the Annex, across the street from the Royal Ontario Museum. Architect Bruce Kuwabara has designed a building that is, as much as a skyscraper can be, neighbourhood friendly.

The bulk of the building will be on the first 8-floors. Fronting on Bloor Street, the condo’s podium will include both high-end shops and tree-filled gardens. The residential units rise out of the centre of the structure, away from surrounding buildings. The building is terraced so that top floors are in a thin tower of exclusive suites.

“We are very sensitive to the concerns of the community. We have designed a building that has terraces and layers to minimize the effects of the shadow. At times during the year the building may cast a long shadow, but it will pass by very quickly.”

“Once we determined the design on a new condo site, we will actually contract a shadow firm,” said Lino Pellicano, Monarch Construction’s Director Land Development for High rises. “They create a report based on the position of the sun at four different times of the year.”

“We look at the shadow impact at the time of the Equinoxes (March 20 and September 22) and the two solstices (June 20, December 21). In the summer you will always get the sun and in the winter there can be long shadows. We do shift the building, to avoid shadows in certain situation.”

For city councilor, Michael Wilson, changing the angle of a high rise condo to reduce the shadowing effect, does little to attack the real problem new building are causing in the city – density.

“ The whole exercise about shadowing isn’t getting to the root of the problem,” he explained. “ You make a building tall and thin, so what? Once a builder is able to make the shadow thinner, he suddenly has a free reign to build upwards.”

“The Minto Tower fight (two 50+ storey condos that have been built in Walker’s Eglinton riding) was a benchmark battle about shadowing over a residential neighbourhood. The ratepayers were concerned about how they were going to lose sunlight in a traditional family neighbourhood. For Minto though, it was all about density – the higher they build the more money they make.”

“ We are being taken for a royal ride, all we seem to want to do is negotiate with the developer who minimizes the shadow on impact, but gets a taller building. My eyes glaze over and my heart races. Point towers, have come to Eglinton and it is only a matter of time till we see that Yonge and Lawrence and beyond …”

“I think that the time is coming where Toronto, the city council, its planning staff, and the building industry has to establish the degree of impact that shadows are allowed to cause, “ said Bouwmeester. “ Should condo dwellers now living in 20 storey building, get protection from new, taller buildings at the same level as people living in homes with backyards, gardens and BBQs. Are we going to protect one taxpayer more than others?”

The irony of the issue of shadowing is that while the people who are loose sunshine complain about the dark. Meanwhile the people buying these condos snap up the suites that get the least sunlight.

“West facing suites tends to get a lot sun,” explained Lino Pellicano at Monarch. “East is much more desirable and sell first, often at a premium.”



Made in the shade

» Shadows can be healthy. Toronto City Council has a shade policy committee, which is expected to issue a report by summer. The committee has heard from the board of health, which is in favour of increasing shade in "areas where children are most likely to be in attendance."

» The shade policy committee reports that from 2002 to 2004, 238 Toronto residents died from skin cancers. Of these, 186 were attributed to malignant melanoma. Shade, especially in public areas, helps protect people from the harmful ultra violet rays.

» The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that in the summer, about one-third of a home's heat enters through the roof. This ages shingles, blisters paint and robs a house of moisture.

» Some experts say shade can reduce homeowners' air conditioning costs up to 30 per cent.

» Some garden plants thrive in the shadows. Begonias, hosta, lobelia and Japanese anemones like shade.

The sunny side

» City of Toronto planning staff require developers to submit reports on the expected shadow effects of proposed buildings, in addition to other documentation. The city is working on formal guidelines regarding shadoweffects from new buildings.

San Francisco, Seattle and Boston have regulations in place that govern emerging shadows from proposed new buildings.

» A New York Times article reports that "The sunny sides of busy avenues are always more crowded with pedestrians on winter days."

» In winter, direct sunlight melts snow and helps cut heating and lighting costs for homes.

» Some people feel physically and mentally better when there is more light in their life. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which causes symptoms of depression and fatigue, is linked to a chemical imbalance resulting from a decrease in sunlight hours.

» Most grasses need four to six hours of direct sunlight to produce for healthy-looking lawns.

Stephen Weir