Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Job Worth Doing is Worth Doing Right

The only issue of note that was raised at last night's council meeting was the proposal to build family housing for students at SIAST. Again, a good idea in principle, but we seem to have a great need to rush toward a solution without considering all of the potential problems that are just waiting to happen.

I'm a great believer in student housing - that's where Andrea and I lived for the first four years of our marriage. We lived in a high-rise residence across from Ryerson in downtown Toronto, about six blocks from the university where Andrea went to classes. It was relatively cheap, in a complex geared toward single people and couples, the vast majority of whom were students, either at Ryerson or the University of Toronto. There were some amenities for when you weren't studying - a fitness room, a darkroom, a sauna, a couple of larger common rooms if you wanted to party, but it definitely wasn't intended for families. A couple of times there were families with one or two children - it didn't work well for them, because it wasn't intended to meet their needs.

And that's my concern with the current proposal. The proposed location is just north of SIAST, in an area that is now used for overflow parking. The proposal doesn't appear to realize that a student residence is more than just a place to sleep, particularly if it is intended for families. Just as there were amenities in our Toronto high-rise, a housing plan needs to consider that people will be living there, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. There needs to be space to play outside - the play area outside the SIAST daycare is intended for a small day-care - it's not enough for school-aged children. The two closest schools, Riverside and Princess Margaret, are several blocks away, and there are no sidewalks down 10th Avenue, which is quite busy with students driving to school. The parking planned for these residences is far below realistic levels. Inadequate parking is bound to lead to problems - for example, if residents are then forced to park in student parking areas, which will already be at a premium due to the loss of the overflow parking area, conflicts are going to occur.

The response to my questions was merely that these matters had been discussed in meetings with some individuals. I don't find that particularly reassuring - if there were such meetings, and these topics were discussed, then there should be a written report with answers that can be evaluated properly. To depend on hearsay, with nothing to back it up, is irresponsible. However, council has voted to move ahead with this. No doubt, once again, at some point in the future, city taxpayers will have to pay for the necessary amenities that, in my opinion, a well-thought out development should include from the start.

I don't deny that additional student housing for families is badly needed. I just wish that we would have the common sense to think it through, to prevent problems in the future. My daughter lived in a student apartment at the U of S for three years. One of the four high-rise buildings was reserved for families, with a large playground behind it, loads of green space, and adequate parking. Even so, I heard on the news tonight that U of S will be building better family-oriented townhouse residences on some of the space that is available, recognizing that high-rises and children aren't the best combination. It sounds as though they have developed a plan, discussed the issues, and are preparing to act in a way that seriously considers the long-term impact of their decisions. I wish that we could do the same.

Also at last night's meeting, as seems to be the norm, council once again allowed itself to be distracted by an innuendo raised by a member of the public, and spent an inordinate amount of time discussing this issue, which is based on rumour and assumption, before deciding to spend more taxpayers' money trying to find an answer to a question that will likely end up having absolutely no effect on the city's future. I really have to wonder why so many members of council persist in reacting this way, instead of focusing on the many real issues that we could (and should) do something about. We don't have money in the budget to fix water lines that are causing businesses serious problems, but we can find the money to fritter away on unnecessary investigations, on cushy new chairs in council chambers that are only used once a week, on half-painted light standards. When did our city's priorities get so screwed up?

"It is better to sleep on things beforehand than lie awake about them afterward." - Baltasar Gracian

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