Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Jazzing up the McMichael. Fundraiser in Kleinburg


Classy Friday Night Fund Raiser at the McMichael
A Celebration of Canadian Art, Music, Cuisine and all that Jazz

background info/article for Vaughan Citizen, Corriere Canadese (Toronto daily Italian newspaper) and Vaughan Today

The woods, the hills and even the galleries of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection were alive with the sound of music. Jazz at the McMichael, an annual fund raising celebration of art, music and cuisine, was blessed with picture perfect weather and a large supportive crowd, the evening of Friday May 22nd.
Attending and speaking at the Jazz concert was the Honourable Aileen Carroll, Ontario’s Minister of Culture. 200 people joined the Minister, who enjoyed an exceptional evening of fusion jazz with the Vaughan based VSM Trio. The trio featured popular musicians Vito Rezza, Shelly Birger, and Mario Romano. The three musicians were joined on the McMichael stage by violinists Valentina Romano and Leonid Pejsahov.
This unique fundraiser benefits ongoing exhibition projects, educational and community programming at the McMichael. Organized by Vaughan Regional Councillor and McMichael Canadian Art Collection Board Member Joyce Frustaglio, the $500 seat event was, for the second year in a row, a sold-out affair.
“A very personal thank you must go out to our small but dynamic event planning committee,” said Joyce Frustaglio the chair of the event. “ Our committee; Maria Cortellucci, Ada DeGasperis, Marcella Di Poce, Dolores Franco, Elena Micallef and Felice Sabatino organized this exceptional gala event.”
The evening included a fine scotch and cigar lounge, with world-class scotch courtesy of Felice Sabatino and the award-winning Via Allegro Ristorante. The Big Smoke Cigar Company of Kleinburg supplied the Cuban cigars. Guests dined on rabbit and seared Chilean sea bass prepared by Via Allegro.
Silvio DeGasperis, Jack Eisenberger and Eddie Weisz were the evening’s Honourary Patrons. The Nashville Landowners Group sponsored the unforgettable Jazz Performance. Event Patrons included: The Atlas Corporation, Bazil Developments, Brampton Brick Limited, Mario Cortellucci &. Family, The Di Poce &. Micallef Families, Hokim Canada Inc., Malone Given Parsons Ltd. Maystar General Contractors, Molise Kleinburg Estates, PowerStream Inc., Schaeffer & Associates / KLM Planning Partners. Marita Simbul-Lezon, Noreen Taylor and York Region.
The McMichael Canadian Art Collection is an agency of the Government of Ontario and acknowledges the support of the Ministry of Culture. It is the foremost venue in the country showcasing the Group of Seven and their contemporaries. In addition to touring exhibitions, its permanent collection consists of more than 5,500 artworks, including paintings by the Group of Seven and their contemporaries, First Nations and Inuit artists.

The gallery is located on Islington Avenue, north of Major Mackenzie Drive in Kleinburg, and is open daily from 10 am to 4 pm.
CUTLINE: Bassist Shelly Berger performs on stage in the Great Hall of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario.
People paid $500 a ticket to attend the concert. Above right, guests enjoyed champagne on the patio outside the public art gallery.
Top Photo: Vaughan Citizen photographer Susie Kockerscheldt takes a picture of event organizer Joyce Frustaglio (right) and three members of her hard working committee (Maria Cortellucci, Ada DeGasperis, Marcella Di Poce, Dolores Franco, Elena Micallef and Felice Sabatino). Picture by Stephen Weir

Thursday, 7 May 2009

The BEST places in Florida and the rest of the world to take pictures underwater


Five Great Places To Dive and Take Underwater Photographs in the Florida Keys

1. Biscayne National Park - 95% of this park is underwater. Outstanding reefs covered in picturesque elk horn coral. Shipwrecks abound. Northern tip of the Florida Keys.
2. Wreck of the USN Speigel Grove. 155m. (510ft) retired warship scuttled to create artifical reef, 10 kms (6 mi) offshore of Key Largo. Ship originally lay on its side but after Hurricane Dennis (‘05), the ship is now upright 40m (130 ft) down. Experienced divers only.
3. Jules’ Undersea Lodge. La Chalupa Underwater Research Lab has been converted to world’s only underwater hotel. Two hotel rooms have glass picture windows onto the reef, air-conditioning, hot showers, a fully stocked galley, and unlimited diving for divers! Key Largo
4. Ten-Fathom Ledge - Unusual coral caves and dramatic overhangs provide refuge for both lobster and grouper, while pelagic life frequently cruises by. Key West
5. Tortugas Bank, 70 miles west of Key West (near Fort Jefferson) is the largest an ecological reserve in North America. The ulitmate south Florida dive. The reef has large coral overhangs, caverns and large swim throughs. The water depths range from 45' to 80' with an average visibility of 50' to 120'.

Five Great Places To Dive and Take Underwater Photographs in the Rest of the World!

1. Great Barrier Reef. Australia
2. Red Sea. Jordan. Egypt. Isreal
3. Bloody Bay Wall – Little Cayman Island
4. Palau, Micronesia
5. Fresh Water Shipwrecks – Lake Superior, Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River

Five Great Places To Snorkel and Take Underwater Photographs in the Florida Keys

1. Statue of Christ of the Abyss - The bronze statue rises so close to the water's surface that snorkelers can easily view it. The statue is nestled between the coral formations of Key Largo Dry Rocks Reef in just 8m (25 ft) of water.
2. Coffin's Patch - This is not a single reef but a conglomerate of six patch reefs, each with a unique identity defined by a predominant coral species. Snorkelers head for the shallow elkhorn forests found in less than 7m (21 ft) of water. Marathon.
3. Bahia Honda State Park – Snorkel boats leave the park daily for the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary approximately 8 kms (5 mi) offshore. The sanctuary marked by majestic slopes, ledges and 7000 years of coral growth. Swim down to a cave in 4-m (12 ft) of water. Coral reef nursery inhabited by young coral recruits, juvenile fish and green conch.
4. Sand Key – Key West’s most popular snorkel reef destinations. This islet, (look for a large iron lighthouse) has an abundance and variety of coral and marine life over a 16km (10-mi) stretch of shallow coral reefs.
5. Dry Tortugas National Park boasts some of the best snorkeling in North America. Colorful tropical fish live amongst the pristine living coral. Directly accessible from the brilliant white sand beach are the shallow Fort Jefferson snorkeling areas make this area perfect for beginners and experts. 113 kms (70 mi) west of Key West.

Five Great Places To Snorkel/Photo in the Rest of the World

1. Bonaire. On this desert Caribbean island snorkelers outnumber divers by a wide margin. Walk in from shore and see unblemished coral reefs covered in sea life. Night snorkeling (bring a waterproof light with your camera) popular here.
2. Heron Island, Australia. Southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. Coral Island surrounded by reefs. Just minutes from shore snorkellers are surrounded by 800 species of wildly covered fish. Swimmers often see benign white-tip reef sharks cruise by.
3. Grand Cayman Island. Walk in from the shore, or take a boat to see shallow coral reefs, hand-feed stingrays and see shipwrecks.
4. Hawaii Oahu’s Hanauma Bay is protected from the open sea making for safe snorkeling. Healthy reef teeming with butterflyfish, raccoon, millet-seed and the state fish of Hawaii, reef triggerfish.
5. Galapagos Islands. Underwater life here is just as strange as what you see on land. Snorkel at the equator with the Galapagos penguins; or swim with dolphins, sea lions and marine iguanas.

CUTLINE: Stephen Weir (me) takes a picture of the wreck of the Benwood with a nuew Olympus Tough 8000. Waterproof camera is inside a waterproof housing (double protection). Watching the process is Olympus camera marketing manager John McGuire. McGuire is also a recently certified dive master.
CUTLINE (lower): With an eye out for crocs, writer Stephen Weir (me), snorkels, camera in hand, inside this Florida Keys’ mangrove swamp

Monday, 4 May 2009

The Condo Generation ready to raise their families in downtown High-Rises

Mathew Rosenblatt, a principal with Cityscape Development Corporation (Distillery), plays with his daughter in the Distillery area's daycare - photo by Toronto Star.


Published in the Toronto Star, May 2, 2009.

By Stephen Weir

A new high-rise trend led by the Condo Generation, is pulling into two downtowns. A small but growing number of Gen-Con parents are forsaking dreams of family homes … you know, the one with the white picket fence and the swing set in the large backyard … for condos in the city. There are already family-friendly buildings in downtown Toronto, and Mississauga, with more on the way.
Builders, architects and realtors agree that over the next decade an increasing number of parents will decide to raise their children in high-rise condominiums within the city core. Urbanization, a Toronto condo think tank, isn’t so sure. They believe that as long as units are small, prices are high and monthly fees mount, the suburbs will continue to be a beacon to most Moms and Dads.
In downtown Toronto, the Aura (College Park), and Distillery (Parliament and Front) projects have successfully been selling 2- bedroom with den units and three bedroom condo suites to people who have infants and school-aged children. While there are few if any condos in downtown Toronto that have swings and slides on their rooftop terraces, builders in downtown Mississauga have hit pay dirt by doing just that.
An aversion to commuting, a desire to live in a community that is relatively crime free and wanting all the amenities that downtown has to offer are the three big reasons why bringing up baby now takes place 55-storeys up! Trading backyard lawns for roof gardens has a growing appeal to the current generation of new parents.
“There is a trend, a wave coming," says Mark Cohen, a senior executive with The Condo Store Realty Inc. “It is not because families don’t want that backyard and 21/2 kids. It is just that the low-rise opportunities in the GTA are small. The Green Belt has frozen the last of the available land for affordable new housing. Milton and Bowmanville are now THE place for starter homes, and, for many that makes a 21/2 and 3-bedroom downtown condominium attractive.”
Condo Store Realty Inc is a real estate marketing and investment company that will be launching four condo projects this year. Two of the proposed buildings are in the downtown core and their plans include a few large family sized units.
“I have been following condo selling patterns for 25 years. People are changing their minds about where they want to live their lives and more significantly how they want to live their lives,” he continued. “At the same time we are still a Mecca for immigrants. New Canadians, be they from Europe or Asia, don’t have an aversion to bringing up children in multiple unit dwellings. And let’s face it, downtown Toronto is a very safe place to raise a child.”
In the condo world, families don’t necessarily conjure up that traditional picture of Mom and Dad and a couple of kids. For companies selling units, families simply means at least one adult and at least one child living in the suite some of the time.
“ Many of the so-called “families” in our buildings are single parents, their children aren’t living with them all the time. It could be the father with weekend custody or the mother who has them during the week. You might even have the mothers and fathers in the same complex but on different floors or in separate towers,” said Debbie Cosic, sales director for Amacon’s The Residences at Parkside Village in Mississauga
Vancouver based Amacon, is planning to create a de facto downtown for Mississauga over the next decade. Its Residence at Parkside Village will include over 6,000 condos (16,000+ people) in a dozen buildings on a 30-acre empty lot adjacent to the Square One Mall, the YMCA, the Living Art Centre, Library and City Hall in Mississauga. Construction is expected to begin this fall on their first building, the 36-storey Tower One – The Residence.

CUTLINE: Mark Cohen
“We analyzed what people want and as a result we have put family sized units into our first three building,” continued Cosic. “It is not just families with infants who are moving in, we are expecting tweens and teens too. We have it all. There is a school, a public park and, of course Square One, within sight of our (soon to be built) condos.”
“ The Tower One building is 95% sold already,” continued Cosic. “25% of the units have been purchased by families (single and dual parents). The same is true with our second building (Tower Two – The Grand Residence) and that is already 75% sold.”

CUTLINE: Model Suite for the proposed Grand Residence includes a child's bedroom

The units being snapped up by parents tend to be 21/2 bedroom suites – homes that have two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a walk-in kitchen and a windowless, door-less den. The 6’ x 7.5’ den can be converted into a small nursey, or spare bedroom simply by adding a door. These 1,020 sq. ft condos sell for about $320,000, less than what a new Mississauga house costs.
The amenities for families include a Wifi gaming area, a swimming pool and even an outdoor children’s playground, complete with apparatus on top of a multi-storey glass podium. It should be noted though, that the apparatus area shown on the Amacon scale model has a smaller footprint than the building’s proposed dog run!
Parkside is still a few months away from breaking ground. Also on Burnhamthorpe Road, Smith Davies Developments is building Onyx, its fourth tower on the street. The three completed towers - 375 units Solstice, and 669 unit City Gate Phase I and II – have a mix of condo sizes including 21/2 bedroom units, lofts and townhouses.

CUTLINE: A rendering of the rooftop common area to the Solitice Project

“Onyx Condominiums and Lofts is a 36 storey spire currently under construction in the heart of the Mississauga City Centre, says Renee Bourgon, marketing director for Davies Smith Developments. “ Most of the available suites are one and two bedrooms, and probably too small for a family. But, what is causing a stir, at least with hip parents, are the two storey lofts which span the entire north face of the tower.”
“Solstice and City Gate have far more parent appeal. We have put garden homes on the ground level. These units feel like a house on the inside and from the outside they are part of the building,” she continued. “The main floor has the kitchen, living, dining and bath and upstairs there are two-bedrooms and a convertible reading nook. They are good for people starting a family.”

CUTLINE:Renee Bourgon, marketing director for Davies Smith Developments

“My personal belief is that, given the changing demographics in Mississauga, people raising children in condos will become the norm. Multiple starts have outsold single-detached here and I believe this will continue in the future. We will see more people moving to the city core.”

CUTLINE: 10,000+ people will live in an area that is now an empty field. The multi-building complex will include family unit condos. The field is adjacent to the Square One Mall and Mississauaga City Hall, in Mississauga, Ontario.

In Toronto’s core there are pockets of families living in high-rise condos and their numbers will increase as purchased, but not yet built projects, are opened. The largest is Aura, a Canderel Stoneridge project.
The Montreal-based condo builder is poised to begin construction of the 75-storey condominium tower just south of College Park at the corner of Yonge and Gerrard. The residential skyscraper will create a vertical community of close to 3,000 people … many of whom will be under the age of 18.
“What we have done is for the first 55 floors we have created a stack of 3-bedroom units on the southeast corner of Aura,” explained Riz Dhanji, Canderel Stoneridge’s vice-president of sales and marketing. “These have sold very quickly. We weren’t surprised; we could see there are a lot of people (who already own smaller condos) wanting to move up to the 3-bedroom. These are people who have two kids or they are planning to have kids.”
Most of the building’s suites have been sold, but with the remaining inventory Canderel Stoneridge has rejigged some of the units. “We have created larger 2 bedroom with dens and they are being picked up too,” continued Dhanji. “People are either downsizing or upsizing and the 21/2 has a real appeal.”
Aura is the third phase of a massive project that is rejuvenating the Eaton College Park Block. The people, who are moving into the recently opened buildings on Bay Street, are, for the most part, coming alone.
“ The units in Phase One and Two are smaller, and as a result attract singles and couples, which is typical for downtown” he continued. “ The reason for this is that developers tend to build small. They feel there is a price point that consumers won’t go past. For families $400,000 for a larger unit can be a tough sell.”
However Dhanji is finding with Aura that old adage – if you build it they will come – holds true. The appeal of the larger suites coupled with a desirable location out trumps price point concerns.
The company’s gamble to create larger units has paid-off because of life-style reasons. Parents are choosing to live in the Yonge and Dundas district because it has it all – entertainment, restaurants, schools, world-class health facilities, and a large police presence. Whether it is budget driven or for environmental reasons, people moving into Aura are bringing their offspring but not their cars … the building has upped the number of bike racks available for residents.
A 1068 sq ft 3-bedroom suite on the lower floors of Aura sold for about $620,000 (all are sold out now). A 1,393 sq. ft 3-bedroom suite on the upper floors (+55), sold at $960,200 with parking and a locker. The condo price without a parking spot and storage was $917,700.
Including the size of the balcony the 3-bedroom units that are on floors 6 to 55 are about 1,100 sq ft. The units have two modest sized bedrooms on one side of the curved unit and on the other wall there is a large master bedroom with en suite bath. Indoors and outdoors meld in the living area – kitchen, dining, living room and the door to the balcony are all in one large 16.6 x 7.6 area.
City councilor Adam Vaughan wants to see more new family-friendly condos buildings in the downtown core. The Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina councilor tells condominium developers to commit to building three-bedroom family units in 10 per cent of all new condos.
Core Architects, an award winning downtown firm, is being innovative, to abide by Vaughan’s 10% rule in the design of a two new condo projects in his riding. Concerned that 3-bedroom units will not sell, Core has come up with a Transformer style building, that creates family sized suites only when there is a Gen-Con demand.
Working with Freed Development, Core has designed an 11-storey building that will be constructed at Portland and Niagara Street (near Bathurst and King St W) in Toronto. Most of the suites in Seventy5 are geared to singles and childless couples and are sized small. However, there are a few 2-bedroom suites strategically placed adjacent to 1-bedrooms. Side-by-side, the two units can be converted into 3-bedroom suites.
“We couldn’t design a building with 10% (family sized) because they won’t sell – the cost for most people is too high. That is why we came up with the convertible,” explained Core architect Charles Gane, “That means we put a 400 sq ft single condo beside an 800 sq ft one and half or two bedroom condo. If someone wants to purchase both at the same time, we can simply knock out a panel and they have a larger suite.”
“5% of the suites are full size and a further 5% are convertible, which fits what councilor Vaughan is pushing for,” he continued. “It is very flexible. You could buy both units and keep the one-bedroom as an investment unit and when a child comes along, the wall can come down. Or conversely, when a child leaves home, the wall can go back, and you have a rental unit.”
There is no concrete in the wall between the two convertible units, making the expansion relatively simple. However, the newly constructed condo will have two front doors, two kitchens and two taxable addresses. One of the kitchens can be removed and stored for when the extra unit is no longer needed, unfortunately one can’t warehouse taxes.
“I don’t think we are the first to do this, but, I think we are the first in this city. It was done out of necessity.” Core has designed two convertibles buildings in Toronto, the aforementioned Seventy5 and Six50King, a two-building complex near King and Spadina.

CUTLINE: Model of proposed Distillery District condo which will include family sized units

“ There are different parts to the family market, based on the age of the children, the number of parents and the number of children,” said Mathew Rosenblatt, a principal with Cityscape Development Corporation, owners and developers of the Distillery District. “There is part of the family market we call specifically, full family.”
“ That is our niche within that family market,” he continued. “I would say we seem to attract young couples who are pregnant and who see that this is a good place to have a child. We see people with children (touring their model suites), probably up to the age 5, and some with older children as well.”
Cityscape Development Corporation acquired the historic 13-acre Distillery District 8 years ago. Since then the company, along with its partner Dundee Realty, has turned a century old liquor factory into a tourist destination complete with theatres, art galleries, restaurants and public spaces. It is also building condominiums, some of which are larger sized family friendly units.
“What attracts families to the distillery? Well for one thing, all of the roads are pedestrian only. The air is clean, it is urban park,” said Rosenblatt. “ In the summer you see mothers’ groups -- moms with strollers – coming to the Distillery to take it all in, knowing that their children are safe.”
“There is an early learning centre on the second floor (of a building off Parliament Street) that children living in the Distillery are attending. My daughter is enrolled in the daycare,” he continued. “For older children there is a non-denominational, co-educational private school on the property.” Voice Intermediate School is housed in the historic Cooperage Building. The 8,000 sq ft school teaches grades 4 through 8 and specializes in the arts.
“We market the fact that there is an early learning centre and a private school here,” said Mathew Rosenblatt. “The Cityscape partners have always viewed that it is the mix of the tenants that makes a neighbourhood. If we only went for the money we wouldn’t be selling family suitable suites at all.”
The company has already built and opened Pure Spirit, a loft and condominium community within the Distillery District. Most of the suites are sold, but, their website lists a 6th floor 1,109 sq. ft 21/2 bedroom loft for $550,000. There is also an empty 21/2 bedroom on the 31st floor suite for sale for $687,000.
Their on site sales office is now marketing condos in the second and third phase of the of the project. The 40 storey Clear Spirit Courtyard and Tower will have 21/2 bedroom units ($627,000) in the Courtyard section of the building and 21/2 ($925,000) and 3 bedroom ($999,000) on the penthouse levels of the Tower.
The Gooderham, the final tower in the Distillery will be a 35-storey glass 310 unit building. It too has family suitable 21/2 ($1,033,000) and 3 bedroom ($1,415,000) suites on its penthouse levels.
Is this Gen-Con movement to the centre of cities a real force or just wishful thinking? According to Urbanation’s Jane Renwick, if there is an incoming wave of family buyers, it hasn’t made much of an impression on the overall sales figures in Toronto.
“ I hate to be a naysayer, but I think we’re trying to cultivate a trend here. We’re not seeing a lot of three bedroom units being built, or in the pipeline. If families were demanding larger condominium units, then developers would be building them. We looked at data from 2002 to 2007 and about 1% of the suites were three bedroom layouts,” said Renwick the executive vice-president of Urbanation Inc. The consulting company tracks the Toronto high-rise condo market and regularly publishes a condo data report.
“ A lot of families who are in the market for a place to live are still wanting a single family home… yes the one with the white picket fence,” she continued. “There are some major lifestyle issues that are just not attractive to families when it comes to condo living. If you consider a typical condo layout, it has a very small entrance way – once you park a stroller at the front door and create a play area in the living room, getting in, out and around becomes problematic.”
“ It is also a case of simple economics (that has stopped the Gen-Con downtown wave). Dumping the car will save you money, but if you get out a mortgage calculator and look at the numbers, you’re paying about $474 a square ft for a condo in the former City of Toronto. Multiple that by 1,230 sq. ft – the average size of a 3 bedroom unit – and you are looking at $583,000, or $2,436 a month in mortgage payments (based on 20% down, a 25 year amortization period and a 5-year fixed mortgage rate of 3.9%), plus $554 in condo fees and you’re pushing $3,000 a month – about the same mortgage payment as a $700,000 house.
“Of course, this simplified comparison does not consider the additional carrying costs of property taxes, utilities, and insurance. However for single parents, or couples with a baby who can live in a 700 sq. ft one bedroom plus den unit, condo living is an affordable option.”

Family Condo Factoids - sidebar NOT used in Toronto Star story May 2, 2009


In the United States the National Association of Home Builders Multifamily Council regularly issues information on the Multifamily (Condo) Outlook. Among its findings is that:

• In multifamily buildings renters have more children than condo owners, but the magnitude of the difference varies by structure type. Fewer school-age children are found in buildings (rented or owned) with 20 or more units
• The highest number of children per 100 households is 90.8, which is found among households that have recently moved into newly constructed single-family detached rental units. The lowest number is 3.2 for newly constructed condominiums with 20 or more units.
• The National Association of Home Builders found that in hot metro markets - American cities that have retained a vibrant core -- investment buyers now account for 15 percent of purchasers of multi-family condominium units. Speculators are prone to flipping condos, even before the suites are completed.
• How long do new condo owners stay in their suites? The NAHB quote a 2009 study by Dr. Paul Emrath ( which says that in the United States "move-out rates tend to be considerably higher among the condo buyers ... over 16% of condo buyers with children move out the very first year.”
• The same study shows that half of homebuyers in the US live in their house for over 15 years while half of the buyers of condos stay for just 6 years

Families moving into downtown condos around the world. Sidebars NOT used in May 2nd Toronto Star story


What are downtown condos projects offering parents in other cities?

• Singapore's Capital Land builder has constructed over 40 family friendly condo projects. Their new 420-unit Clearwater Condominiums has: a children's playground, family fitness corner, children's pool, karaoke room, rooftop BBQ, a kid's space net and outdoor maze. Their Waverina has an outdoor wave pool.
• The downtown Denver 42-unit Zocalo Condominiums opened in 2006. The building includes a small city police station at street level.
• Daniels Capital Condominium in Mississauga has two 30-story high-rise condo towers and a few three-storey family friendly villas. It has a Hollywood style home theatre, barbecue patios and indoor pool. At street level there is a dental practice, a walk-in medical clinic and a pharmacy (which delivers to your condo door). Mississauga Living Arts Centre right across the road.
• Craig's Ranch, a planned community in Texas includes, homes, soon-to-be built condominiums, recreational complexes (baseball diamonds, soccer fields, riding trails and golf courses) and a state-of-the-art medical clinic and a 24-bed boutique hospital. Condo residents as part of their monthly fee will are to receive annual physicals and 6-month home doctor visits.
• Daikyo Incorporated, one of Japan's largest urban centre condominium builders proudly displays its company motto on all brochures and webpages. The motto roughly translates as: "Families First."
• Kuala Lumpur's luxurious Festa project (1,099 units) are offering suites with 5-bedrooms and 6-bathrooms for large families. The development includes a community hall, a kindergarten, playgrounds, BBQ areas, convenience shops, and a library.
• The upscale 202-suite Vancouver condo complex Atelier on Robson includes, a rooftop garden, a fitness studio featuring a "yoga patio", and a 37-space child-care centre.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Condo Toronto Star Story about bringing up children in downtown condos
I have received feedback from readers (which is very very rare for my condo stories) already. These four emails were posted on the Toronto Star site. Don't disagree with any of them!

mf123, Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah, familyof3, Saime: You miss the point. Condo markets attract a certain kind of customer with a particular mindset. This kind of customer wants only a condo, regardless of the deals on homes with yards or other opportunities out there. These condos attract people with money (and these people are clearly, at least monetarily, not an "average family"), and they don't mind the prices. There will always be people out there who will scoop these condos up.

Submitted by Sherry119 at 5:41 PM Monday, May 04 2009
A million for a 2.5 bedroom or...
how about some acreage with a big home just on the outskirts of Burlington? Even $400 000 for a 2 bedroom plus den is ridiculous. Again, in the 905 you could pick up a nice 4 or 5 bedroom house with a nice yard for that price. Once you are able to let the kids out to run around in the yard, you could never actually move into one of these condos.
Submitted by mf123 at 9:51 PM Sunday, May 03 2009

I hope these parents have secure high-paying jobs because I don't want to be bailing them out when they realize the cost of raising children. I suspect by the time these children are toddlers, they'll be looking for convenient green spaces in the 905 and the city will be left with oversized, unaffordable condos sitting empty.
Submitted by BlahBlahBlahBlahBlah at 1:14 PM Sunday, May 03 2009

Article contradicts itself...

"The lowrise opportunities in the GTA are small", but for a million bucks, there are a lot more opportunities than this writer is letting on.
Submitted by familyof3 at 11:02 PM Saturday, May 02 2009

Is it just me......
..or has anybody noticed that the prices of any and most all of these family-friendly units, are out of the reach of anyone even two or threee tiers above the "average family" designation?
Submitted by Saime at 9:24 PM Saturday, May 02 2009

Friday, 1 May 2009

Here's How - Stephen Weir multi-story feature, published April 2009


Olympus Puts The Bite on Underwater Digital Picture Taking Market
For divers, swimmers and snorkellers

By Stephen Weir

3 May 2009 …By Man-Eating standards, this was a very small shark. She was as big as my two fellow underwater photographers swimming hell-bent-for-rubber towards her. But, what with the cameras in their waterproof housings, aluminum scuba tanks and chewy neoprene wet suits, there was far too much bulk approaching even for a hungry 2-metre long Ginglymostoma Cirratum.
After my strobe (underwater flash) fired, the grey Nurse Shark shook her large dorsal fin and leisurely swam through a cut in the living Florida Keys reef and headed into the gloom. Probably in Havana by now.
With only one large fish shot to show for an hour of diving, and my air supply dwindling, I quickly scanned the lush shallow reef for something - anything – big to shoot. There! Up above, hovering around the coral-encrusted bow of a WW2 shipwreck, were a dozen 2-metre long Great Barracuda.
Slowly rising, the Olympus Stylus Tough 8000 Digital Camera in front of my dive mask, I began to approach the school of predators.

As I neared, the pack, seemingly without moving a fin, drifted out of range of my camera. I kicked with my own set of fins in effort to get closer.
No matter how hard I worked, I couldn’t close the gap. The barracuda are long thin muscular fish with too many teeth for their powerful jaws. They have a perpetually toothy derisive grin, which is irksome, especially when you have to give up and return to your personal underwater photography teachers with nary a picture to show for all that kick-ass swimming.
“No way you were going to get those shots,” said John McGuire, Product Manager for Olympus’ underwater and outdoor products. Sitting on the stern of the Key Largo scuba boat after our dive he explained.
“ The secret of taking underwater pictures is patience. Work a spot. Lot of ocean out there, but you do not have to try to photograph it all on one tank of air. We want to stay in one spot, and work it. Take as many pictures as it takes. No point in spending our energy (and our air swimming to A to B and back again), when there is a dive’s worth of pictures in one or two spots under the boat.”
“ What works best in taking critter pictures is to find a place where you see a lot of fish and set up an "underwater photo studio". Once you pick a spot, figure out the best composition for the pictures you want to take, patiently wait for the fish to come back into your "studio" (their home up to that point) and then take your shots,” continued McGuire. “ Let them come to you, it beats chasing sharks!”
Confession. I have been taking camera lessons for 30 years. I have taken courses below the water, on land and once in a plane full of skydivers dressed a la Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. No matter where I am on the planet my pictures are universally substandard. They are so bad (how bad are they?) that even the clerk at our local driver’s license office takes better pictures than I do.
I have also destroyed four expensive underwater cameras; three of them were actually mine. I accidentally dropped an underwater camera into the abyss off Nevis and I flooded a supposedly watertight Nikonis V while feeding stingrays near Grand Cayman Island. A just-out-of-the-box loaner’s strobe (for the review I never wrote) flooded the moment I stepped into Georgia’s monster-sized Whale Shark aquarium.
The last camera I ruined was at the ScotiaBank Caribana 2008 festival in Toronto. Walking down the parade route taking photos of costumed revellers, I was suddenly hit by a freak horizontal rainstorm -- my camera was soaked – toasted by fresh water in just 2-seconds. Ironically it was an underwater camera, taken out of its housing for the parade.

Now, Olympus has a camera for me. In fact two, and they came with a pair of the world’s foremost experts in underwater cameras to show me how to use them properly. These are cameras I can accidentally drive over. Cameras I can use in a torrential rainstorm. A waterproof stainless steel unit that even out of their housing will still work the next time I fall out of a fast moving boat. And yes. These are cameras and housings probably strong enough to withstand the bite of a nurse shark or a big barracuda that might object to me and my flashing strobe being up close and personal.
Andrew Bausk, Olympus’ Sales and Marketing Specialist -- Outdoor Products and his boss John McGuire, met Here’s How Magazine late in February in the Florida Keys, to demonstrate their revolutionary new underwater cameras and housings. They also promised, once and for all, to teach me how to take a good underwater picture, even if it meant swimming with the sharks. The results accompany this article, and, were for me, literally a religious experience.
“This is our Tough 8000 and the Tough 6000 digital cameras. We released them to the North American market only a few weeks ago,” said Andrew Bausk, holding up two palm-sized cameras. He was sitting on a park bench beside a Key Largo dive boat, getting a table full of camera gear ready for two-days of underwater adventure.
My eyes are drawn to the Tough 8000, a shinny silver metal covered digital camera. Although the camera experts will not tell me what it is made of or how it is built, I know from attending a seminar in Toronto that it is constructed out of a stainless steel alloy.
“ You don’t need a housing with it. It is waterproof and is good to a depth of 33 ft (11 metres). Snorkellers will love this camera because they can take pictures as deep as most of them can swim on a breath of air. You can also play with it on the beach and not have to worry about getting sand in it,” explained Bausk.

“ Our dealers like to throw one onto the floor in front horrified customers, just to show them why we call it Tough,” he said. “We were contacted by a television station that wanted to see just how tough the Tough 8000 is. They drove over a camera with a truck, picked it up and took a picture with it. It worked. Show me any other dive camera you can do that to.”
The Tough-8000, has been designed for adventurous people, it features an impressive 12 million pixels of image resolution. It can survive a 2.3-metre drop, withstand 100 kilos of crushing pressure – like me accidently sitting on it -- and function outdoors in winter in most Canadian cities (Winnipeg in January doesn’t count) to a temp of –10 C.
Don’t slam the Stylus Tough 6000 onto the pavement or make it into a Firestone sandwich on Breakfast TV. It is not as tough as the 8000, but it is not as expensive either. The 6000 can be fully submerged to a depth of 3.3 metres and is impervious to sand, dirt and salt water. The 10-megapixel camera can take a drop from almost 2-metres and withstand temperatures to -10 C.
“Both cameras come with a built-in flash and a 2.7 inch liquid crystal display,” explained Bausk. “We call it the HyperCrystal III, it displays twice as bright as previous versions so that you can see the details more clearly, in direct sunlight and underwater too!”
“ The mega-pixel race is over between the camera companies. The face detection race is finished. So is the battery life race for that matter,” said McGuire. “Olympus has gotten into niche markets, producing cameras that no one else makes but everyone wants. Our competitors don’t make a waterproof camera that is this tough, or this good looking. We are marketing heavily to the adventure market … kayakers, hikers, skydivers, cyclers, water skiers, scuba divers and snorkellers. People who play hard in the great outdoors.”
Snorkellers will not have to buy many of the accessories that come with both the 6000, and 8000. Divers, on the other hand should consider purchasing a housing, a strobe light and a tray to put it all on.
“ On scuba we recommend putting the 6000 and 8000 into underwater housings,” continued Bausk. “All of our camera housings (they build a different housing for each of their compatible cameras) are rated to 140 metres … far deeper than sport divers go.”
Think of an underwater housing as an Iron Man Suit for a camera. It is waterproof, strong and custom fit for the specific camera placed inside it. The camera, with a myriad of control buttons and a LCD screen, performs the same dry inside the housing as it does above water.
The housing has the exact matching buttons on its exterior that line up perfectly with the camera. In the case of the crush proof PT-045 housing (used by the Tough 8000) and the PT-047 (Tough 6000) there is a large hooded port so that you can review your pictures in any light.
Olympus has built two underwater strobes -- the UFL-1 and the UFL-2 to be used in conjunction with the housings. No surprise, UFL stands for underwater flash and while their primary job is to provide enough light to take great shots underwater, they also bring colour back into the picture.
Our subsurface camera seminars were conducted in the waters around Key Largo’s protected John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. We dove and took pictures on shallow reefs eight to ten kilometers off the east coast of the Keys (A necklace of islands that begins just south of Miami and stretch to Key West). On one occasion we dove the 72-year wreck of the Benwood at a depth of 13 metres.
Now that isn’t very deep. Most snorkellers can free dive close enough to take a snapshot of the disintegrating iron hulled Victory Ship. But, at depth many of the colours of the spectrum can’t be seen. Water absorbs colours, on the Benwood the only way to capture the blood red of the sponges that have fixed themselves to the deck, is by illuminating the animals with a strobe.
“ One of your biggest problems is how you use the strobe,” said Bausk, lifting his head out from under a big fluffy brown towel. We were back in the boat again after the Benwood dive, and he was blocking out the burning Florida sunlight so that he could critique my wreck shots.
“You did the right thing by setting up your Tough 8000 in a wide underwater mode (there are four underwater scene choices), and you are also correct in having the strobe set for TTL (through the lens) but you didn’t consider dialing back or checking the angle of the strobe.”
What Bausk was talking about is the power setting on the underwater flash. Both units have various settings that allow you to reduce or increase the intensity of the flash. I had been using it on high and bleached out the colour of the soft corals I had been photographing (lime green became ghost white). A simple dial back would have solved the problem.
The UFL-2 I was using was attached to an articulated arm that let me adjust the angle that the light hit the stuff I was pointing at. My flash was too close; a photo of a twisted piece of metal looked like it was emerging from a red-hot volcano.
“Don’t forget, if you are getting back-scatter (the flash illuminating particles in the water) you have to back off with the strobe and play with the angle,” advised Bausk.

“You are great diver, but did you know keep your head down when you move through the water?” asked John McGuire. “ Keep your head up and try to always shoot upwards, that allows whatever sunlight there is into the picture.”
“Underwater the lens of the camera magnifies everything by about 20% (the physical nature of how light refracts in salt water). Trouble is when you look at your pictures things are smaller,” continued McGuire. “Once you have set up your shot and you think that you are the proper distance from the subject, cut the distance by 20% and you will get what you are after!”
“One last recommendation. The great thing about these digital-cameras is instant gratification. You camera has a high-capacity media card. Practice and Shoot, Shoot, Shoot!”
Discouraged? Never. In the Keys there are hundreds of mooring sites where you can go to follow McGuire’s pearls of wisdom.
In fact the Florida Keys is the most popular snorkel and dive destination in the world. And, many of the 600,000 people who annually get into the warm salt water here, make at least one underwater pilgrimage to the planet’s most famous underwater works of art - the Christ of the Deep statue.
Created by Italian sculptor Guido Galletti, the statue stands on a 20-ton concrete base in 8-metres of water. 3-metres tall, the bronze statue has become the most photographed subsurface sites in the world and is a to-drown-for spot for underwater weddings.
The Saviour stands amongst the living coral with His hands raised towards Heaven. At times during the day, when the sun is high overhead, a natural halo of light appears around His head. Visited daily by snorkel and dive boats, it is not unusual for people to describe their swim to the statue as being inspirational and uplifting.
For me, a visit to the statue was an assignment; another chance to follow the advice my teachers.
Frame the picture. Shoot upwards. Make sure the flash is positioned carefully. Get close. I think I prayed to remember all the directions shouted to me when I strode off the stern of our dive boat.
After taking 60 images of the statue, I returned to the surface to show my instructors what I accomplished. I think there might have been some divine intervention-taking place. For the first time in my diving career I was able to get pictures that looked honest-to-God inspired. Olympus has a new convert.
CUTLINE: Christ of the Abyss, Florida Keys, Cruising the Reefs, Key Largo low reef, Andrew Bausk sets up cameras

Here's How - Stephen Weir multi-story feature, published April 2009



More people have taken pictures from inside the International Space Station than have dove down and taken photographs of the wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald. Lake bottoms, rivers beds and the ocean floor are truly the final frontiers.

If you use scuba gear to take pictures you must be a certified diver (there many levels and types of certification). It is estimated that there are about half a million people in this country who are active scuba divers … a growing number of them own cameras.

So, what does one need to know to join the growing rank of Canadians who live to spend time breathing air from an aluminum cylinder?

1. Age. Some scuba training agencies begin teaching students at the age of 10. Last year, Bert Killade, the self-styled “Last Pirate of the Caribbean”, died at the age of 94. Killade claimed to have been the oldest active sport diver.
2. Ability. You should know how to swim and be comfortable in the water. There are agencies that help non-swimmers with disabilities (from blindness to paraplegia) experience scuba.
3. Fitness. Divers come in all shapes, sizes and weight. However, a certain level of fitness is required to become a sport diver. You should be fit enough to get in and out of the water wearing a full scuba diving gear and be able to maneuver underwater.
4. Health. People that have severe health conditions or are taking certain medications may not qualify and should have a physical before taking lessons. There are a number of medical conditions, from epilepsy to severe asthma, that preclude diving.
5. How. Dive shops, scuba clubs, schools, pools and resorts around the world offer regulated scuba classes. Courses involve both classroom and in-water (usually a pool) instruction. You can take a weekend intensive training course, most however last one to two months and are taught on a weekly basis. New divers must complete up to six outdoor dives to receive certification.
6. How (part 2): The most popular agency is the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI). Other agencies include: National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI), American Canadian Underwater Certifications, Inc. (ACUC), British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) Scuba Schools International, (SSI), World Underwater Federation (CMAS), and the Quebec Underwater Federation (FQAS).

7. When. Courses are offered year round anywhere there is a pool nearby. In winter many students take their course work here and take their open water tests at resort destinations.
8. Why. There are health risks associated with diving. Scuba schools give new divers the information and skills they need to avoid problems. Health risks range from decompression sickness, to lung expansion injuries to inner ear damage.
9. How Much. Scuba classes are affordable. Dive gear is not. Scuba classes in Toronto and Vancouver are less than $500 per person. A complete diver outfit, from flippers to wet suit, to tank will cost about $3,000.00.
10. Where. Divers seek out locations where the visibility is good underwater and there are things to see. Both the Pacific Coast and the Eastern Coast offer world class diving. Shipwreck sites in the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes are wildly popular. Canadian dive spots are typically cold-water sites and special suits may be needed to stay warm. Many Canadians avoid the cold by restricting their diving to tropical locations.

Here's How - Stephen Weir multi-story feature, published April 2009


Snorkeling is a gentle sport that is safe, fun and healthy. Unlike scuba diving, one doesn’t need a course before getting wet. Snorkeling leaves no carbon footprint, doesn’t harm the underwater environment and requires little gear beyond a mask, a set of fins, and of course the snorkel. Depending on where you are, a wet suit and a weight belt (to neutralize the buoyancy of the suit) should be worn.
While there are advantages to taking pictures underwater using scuba gear (you can stay up to 90 minutes underwater to get a good photograph and you can go deep to take pictures), there are many photographers and videographers who prefer snorkeling and free diving.

Interested in snorkeling? Consider the following:

1. Only David Blaine can stay underwater for more than 15-minutes (and we aren’t sure he didn’t have a secret supply of air). Some free divers can stay underwater for 10-minutes (and reach incrediable depths) the rest of us mortals can only stay underwater for about 1 minute. So snap that shutter fast.
2. Size, when it comes to flippers, matter. The size and shape of a flipper effects how deep you can swim on a breath of air and how much strain you put on your leg muscles. Serious free diving and snorkeling photographers shouldn’t buy their gear their Canadian Tire.
3. Weight. Humans are inherently buoyant. When you are propelling yourself underwater, the force of kicking keeps you below the surface. Stop to take a picture, and you will pop back to the surface, usually before a good photograph is had. Professionals wear weight belts and a kilo of lead to fight the bob.
4. Tube talk. The size and design of the snorkel determines how much fresh air can be easily drawn into the lungs. Skinny little snorkels make breathing difficult.
5. Ouch. Snorkelers swim through the water facing downwards looking for good shots. That leaves the back, neck, legs and heels exposed to the sun. The water cools the heat but not the damage of the sun’s rays leading to painful snorkel burns. Make waterproof sunscreen part of your kit even in Canadian waters.