Refuse to be Passive

Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

Downtown Dark Horse

In Uncategorized on March 28, 2012 at 8:27 pm

If you don’t know it’s there, you’re liable to miss it. The awning to the small coffee shop only draws the attention of those who already know the name, who know the wings with a star in the middle. It’s Dark Horse, and it’s take up residence on John St. between Adelaide and Richmond.  Walking down the steps and into the dimly lit café, it’s almost like walking into a pub for hipsters. There’s a red brick wall, a tin roof, vintage looking lights, the hipster mix of rustic, vintage, and modern. It’s a long narrow room, with seating primarily at counters along the walls with stools. Only one tiny corner can boast a table, and even that table is barely two feet wide. Actually, maybe it’s closer to one and a half—just enough to fit your notebook and a coffee.

Although the location may be different, and even the feel in that it is darker than other locations, the staff is friendly and helpful, just like the other Dark Horse locations I’ve frequented. And, as usual, they do an excellent coffee. Today’s drink was a Rwandan Bufcafe pour over (yes, I realized the picture is of a french press, thanks to YYZtech, as I forgot my camera today). It was truly well done, the water not poured to quickly, the grounds kept appropriately moist, but not drowning. The result? An intensely flavourful coffee. Really lovely.

The playlist is a mix of everything from modern pop/rock to classics of the sixties and seventies.  The sound is neither too loud nor too soft. You can hear the music to the point of understanding the words or bopping along to the beat, but it is not so loud as to inhibit conversation.  And if you’re like me, and are taking the time to enjoy your coffee, write a letter, and then type a while on your laptop, you won’t be shunned or given the evil eye. This Dark Horse is a downtown haven, a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of downtown and all those people walking by with their Roll Up The Rim cups. Who needs to roll up the rim to be perpetually disappointed when you can be guaranteed a satisfying cup of dark, steamy, goodness just blocks away at Dark Horse? Brewing Detour Coffee, you can even give yourself a pat on the back for going local, as it’s roasted right in our backyard in Dundas, Ontario. So next time you’re tempted to go for that drink at Timmy’s, opt to go just a block or two further and get yourself a quality drink crafted with both skill and love.

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Food, Judgement, and Obsessive Eating.

In Uncategorized on March 16, 2012 at 5:38 am

“Did you try the scones?” I asked. 

“No,” he said. “After all there’s only so much room in my stomach!”

This is an actual excerpt from a conversation i had with a friend yesterday. It was such a simple thing he said, and not particularly profound, and yet it hit me like a ton of bricks. 

The past few months I’ve been eating like a starved man presented with a buffet. I’ve been sampling everything in sight, and then going back for seconds. Whenever I’m not eating, I’m thinking about what I’ll eat next. When I’m lonely, bored, sad, or happy, I eat. I eat much past satisfaction, sometimes even to the point of feeling ill. Food is my obsession. So when Jono said that simple sentence last night, it stopped me in my tracks. I looked back on where I was coming from and how my weight has ballooned over the past few months.

When did I lose sight of the fact that one eats to live, and not the other way around. While food is there to be enjoyed, it is not the be-all and end-all. Once your hunger is gone, it is acceptable to stop eating and simply enjoy your surroundings and the people you’re with. There is no rule that says you have to try the banana chocolate chip muffin and  the Black Forrest Cake. There is no reason to go for firsts, followed up by seconds, and then some fruit salad just to top it off. While I may be in culinary arts, and I may still be one of the thinner ladies in the kitchen (gents seem to come in all sizes), that shouldn’t be my license to abuse my body and my health simply to shove food down my throat. It’s like I’m a duck being fattened up for fois gras. Now that’s a disturbing mental picture. 

How did I go from little miss healthy to eating cream cheese icing out of a mug? Once again, disturbing but true. For a long while I’ve felt guilty about healthy eating habits due to the increased stress they seem to put on the household grocery budget. I decided to ease up on the health aspect and simply eat smaller portions to control the calories. However, the combination of increased salt, fat, and sugar has turned me into a total failure in  both the realm of portion control and healthy eating choices. But it’s time to turn the tide. It’s a resolution I feel I’m making daily as of late. But for today, I’m choosing to make good choices. I’ll worry about tomorrow when it comes. Remember this, regardless of where you are in life, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” If you want to eat healthy, don’t feel guilty about it. You need do what is going to work for you, regardless of what others may say or think. You worry about yourself, and let them worry about themselves. It’s tough, but it’s possible. Today I will not worry about if others are judging my eating habits, I will simply eat to return to who and how I want to be. The truth is, the better you eat, the better you are physically and mentally. Carpe diem. Goodbye crap.

A March Morning– This Is Life Pt 2

In Uncategorized on March 11, 2012 at 7:24 pm

She takes  a break from her  walk up Ronsconsvales, plunking herself down on a wooden park bench after a quick scan to ensure she won’t be sitting in anything unsavory. She looks around, taking in her surroundings. People are out en masse, some walking their dogs, others walking themselves. Jackets are removed and slung over arms. The day is bright, sunny, and very nearly warm. It’s the first day of Spring, although winter is likely to rear its head a few more times before the spring weather is here to stay. She loves to people watch, noticing the different styles of dress, walk, and emotion. But it also makes her notice that she’s on her own, just like always. She has no significant other, no kindred spirit with which to walk, not even a dog for companionship. To be honest, she doesn’t want the dog. Dogs are pretty to look at, but a pain to live with. They’re needy, they slobber, they crap on the floor if you don’t take them out often enough, they’re not usually terribly well behaved and have a tendency to get terribly loud. It’s like having a toddler perpetually. At least with actual toddlers they grow out of it. And even if she had a dog that was exquisitely behaved, the entire concept of picking up their crap is off-putting.

A well groomed woman walks past the bench on which Aurora is enjoying the sun. The woman has some sort of poodle crossbreed with her. Clearly there is some form of attraction to having a dog. What it is she cannot fathom. And then there are the vet bills, the feeding bills, and the general expenses dogs incur. If you’re going to have  a pet, why not opt for a cat? They’re independent, walk themselves, are noble looking animals, tend not to be overly loud, take great pride in cleanliness, and yet still provide companionship. They still sense when you’re blue and need some comfort, just like a dog. They’re just not as high maintenance.

Enough of that, though. She gets up from the wooden bench and pulls out her cell phone to check the time. 12:52. The family should leave in about two hours, that means she’s still got some time to kill outside in this glorious weather before she heads home to read a book in the quiet of an empty house for the evening. And then cleaning her room also needs to be done. She grimaces. She’d forgotten about that. It’s a disaster between the excessive amounts of paper that seem to bloom in that space and the clothing that is piling up on the floor due to a broken washer and lack of a laundry basket. It looks like shopping for laundry baskets may be taking the next couple hours of her sunny afternoon. Maybe she can find a local place. It’s always better to go local when possible. Oh, and she needs letter writing paper for writing her grandparents. She starts mentally making a list—laundry basket, stationary, organizational folders for her copious amounts of paper. She feels like something is missing. It’ll come to her in time, probably once she gets home again. She heads north, in search of the items on her list and mulling over the best way to drag them home with her.

Ngi Ne Themba

In Life in General on March 10, 2012 at 6:47 pm

The past couple of months I’ve been struggling with stress and exhaustion which has led to some depression. For the past few weeks I’ve been an emotional mess. I’ve stopped caring about what I eat, and my weight has quickly ballooned. I’ve been in a bad place emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Today I was reading a friend’s post on Facebook about choosing your attitude, to which I responded that in general that may be true, but some days just suck. She said that as long as that only happens occasionally and not consistently  that’s fine, but we still have a choice. If it’s happening consistently we have bigger problems.

Then, this evening I was at dinner and I was chatting with a woman who is still on Weight Watchers– something I’ve basically given up on while I’ve been depressed. There’s no point in standing on the scale and making it worse. Anyway, she gave me hope for the future. Evening is usually the worst time of day for me, and yet this evening ngi ne themba. That’s Zulu for “I have hope.” I’ve forgotten the truth of life, and that’s that for every problem you face, the solution is found in you. So tonight I’ll enjoy a bath, read a book, and go to bed on time. Tomorrow, I’ll get up and seize the day with hope. I’ll start making the changes that will bring about the change that I want to see. At the end of the day, only you have the power to change your life and anything is possible. To quote one of my favorite songs, “What if old Ben Franklin would have been frightened by lightning? If he would have stayed inside then we’d still be in the dark.” Well I for one refuse to let darkness rule.

Re-resolved?

In Life in General on March 9, 2012 at 8:49 am

The crappy thing about resolutions are how easy they are to forget.

“I’m not going to watch TV for a year.” Remember that one? Gigantic fail.

“I’m going to eat healthier.” Another gigantic fail.

“I’m going to read all the books on my reading list.” Okay, so I didn’t actually ever say that, but I’m sure I’d be horrible at the as well.

Or how about, “No more eating in my room.” Fail!

“I’m going to do my devotions every morning and give this year over to God.” Once again, you guessed it, fail!

I’m really good at failing and forgetting. Actually, I’d wager that we as a human race are really good at making resolutions and forgetting. Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to create. It’s much easier to make resolutions and then let them slide. Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes it’s not. But regardless of whether it’s intentional or not, the question becomes, do we give up or start again? Sometimes I feel like I’m starting over so often that giving up does seem to be the better option. But true failure is falling down and refusing to get back up again. If you’re going to stumble, stumble forward. Even if you can’t see the progress you’ve made, even if you feel like you’re backsliding, looking back, you’ve moved forward, maybe not as far as you wanted or in the ways in which you’ve wanted, but you have progressed. Hind sight is 20/20. Hopefully in the future, when you look back on periods of treading water, you’ll see you were actually doggie paddling forward. And in periods when you feel you’re trying not to drown doing the front crawl, remember that you’re still moving toward the end of the pool and not the bottom of it.

On a totally different note, when I walked to the coffee shop this morning, the air was crisp and clear and the sun was shining. Now, snow is falling in big flakes, big luscious flakes that make me think that they’re like the supermodels of the snowflake world. It’s like the minority that all snowflakes wish to be. It reminds me of mascara adds promising luminous, volumous lashes. That’s right, with the right product, you, regular snowflake, can be like the big fluffly flakes currently falling from the sky. Okay, so maybe it’s a bit of a stretch, but that really is what popped into my head.

Anyway, back to the topic. To give up or re-resolve? Well, I’m about to head into school, and we’re doing a beet root salad with goat cheese, thyme chicken, and a honey chocolate cookie with vanilla ice cream and suspended sangrias. All of this is being done via molecular gastronomy. It’s great fun, but resolving on the food when you have food like this in front of you is hard. But the truth is, it’s not school that makes me eat like crap or gain weight, it’s my evenings and my weekends when I get sad, bored, or lonely. Then I really down the sugary crap. Then I really gain weight. And sometimes it seems like no end is in sight. I don’t know how to deal with these feelings, and so rather than taking them on, I hide them under another layer of food. Do I re-resolve? Honestly, when I started writing this post, I was ready to re-resolve, but now, once again, it seems pointless. Why try? Even the thought of my evenings fills me with guilt and stress. I just don’t know anymore.

This Is Life — Part 1

In Life in General on March 9, 2012 at 8:29 am

Note: In an effort to get back into writing again I’ll be making a series of posts cumulating in a short story. It will be partial fiction, partial reality. Names will be changed as no character will be completely accurate to any originals they may be based on.

 

She steps through the old wooden front door of the brownstone and breathes in deeply. She pulls the brass doorknob and the door’s glass rattles in its pane as the latch clicks shut. Immediately she feels better. The sun is shining, the air is crisp, and a chorus of birds are chirping from the tree tops. It never ceases to amaze her how simply leaving the house can improve her mood. She crosses the road and starts heading down the alley that separates her from her local coffee shop, an alley that is a mosaic of patched potholes and speed bumps. Although its march she scuffs her shoes through the remainder of yellowed leaves left by autumn that winter has failed to demolish. As she walks she reflects on the number of dogs that seem to live in her neighbourhood. For every person walking on their own, there seems to be two or three walking a wide variety of breeds, from Labradoodles to Bulldogs. She smiles at a gentleman with a poodle who passes her. “Good morning,” she greets him.

“Morning.” He reciprocates her smile.  It’s nothing big but in this city, it’s something. Although she’s only lived in Toronto for nine months, she’s noticed it to be a cold and hard city, where people avert their eyes when you pass rather than meeting and greeting. After taking specific notice of that, she’d begun to make a concerted effort to greet passing strangers with a smile. Sometimes her smiles are returned, other times, she’s greeted with looks of confusion or distrust.  She mulls it over as she continues to pace toward her morning caffeine fix and the muffin that will compliment it.

She approaches The Abbott, the local hole-in-the-wall neighbourhood coffee shop. The Franciscan has good espresso and lovely moist muffins and scones, but it’s really the ambience and staff that keep her coming back.  Just a few blocks away there is another coffee shop with truly excellent espresso and muffins that are things of neighbourhood legend, but she still prefers The Abbott, for its atmosphere, bright décor, and lack of pretention.

As soon as she enters she’s greeted with a cheerful “good morning” from Rita, the local owner, who treats you like an old friend, even if you’re coming in for the first time. The atmosphere manages to be a good mix of rustic and hipster, but unlike so many coffee shops popping up in Toronto, it rejects the dark wood, dark walls, and dark paints. Instead, the vintage brick walls are covered in a calm cream, the original red brick making its appearance underneath in a way that enhances the shops vintage feel. The cream tin roof, tile honeycomb black and cream flooring, and rustic tables, combined with classy, simplistic light fixtures make it feel like the type of place she could just sit and stay all day, typing on her laptop, reading her book, and sipping on Americanos.

She grabs a seat at the communal table and brings out her laptop, allowing it to boot up while she waits for Rita to clear the order of four drinks she’s currently working on. The door opens and two more customers walk in. Rita glances at the newcomers and then to her and says, “Do you know what you want? If you’re waiting for a lull it might be a while, so I can get your order started for you.”

“Sure. I’ll have an Americano and one of those lovely looking muffins.”

“Single or double on the Americano?” Rita asks.

“Single is fine. And what kind of muffins do you have this morning?”

“We’ve got pumpkin, blueberry, cranberry, banana chocolate chip, and a blueberry bran.”

“Well, how about I go for the blueberry bran? At least I can pretend it’s healthy that way.”

Rita smiles. “If it makes a difference, they’re made with honey rather than regular sugar.”

“Sure. We’ll give it bonus marks for that.”

Rita makes up the Americano and the muffin. “There you are Aurora.”

“Thank you.” She picks up her Americano and muffin and heads back over to the corner of the communal table containing her laptop. She sips the Americano and it burns her tongue. “Fool me once.” She thinks to herself. “But it sure tastes good.” She rips off part of the muffin top and tastes it. Moist, but not too sweet. Lovely.

She sits and stares at her laptop screen for only moments before her fingers begin to move across the keyboard. She starts writing a new short story. It’s about the hundredth short story she’s started writing, but she hasn’t finished more than a handful. Maybe this time will be different. No, not maybe, this time it will be different. This time, she’s doing what L.M. Montgomery has Gill suggest to Anne in Anne of Green Gables, “Write about what you know.” This is what she knows. This is life.

 

Schedules or lack there of

In Life in General on March 5, 2012 at 10:10 pm
I stood up to get out of the bath. Water dripped from my hair. I glanced in the mirror at my body and noticed the changes that three months of poor eating had brought about. My first thought was, “I’m starting to look like a fertility idol.” Unfortunately, the fertility idol I was thinking of was this one:
I seem to have been born in the wrong era. I live in the era of thin– not to mention that fertility isn’t high on my priority list right now. Thankfully I was able to follow that thought up with a smile.My thighs have become thick and are rubbing together again, my waist is beginning to disappear into one single mass of a torso. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it is where I am at. I’ve been spending less time exercising, more time at school, and more time indulging in foods that I can’t even pretend to be proud of consuming. But, as I was commenting to one of the female chefs at school, tomorrow is another day. 
And tomorrow really is another day.
This evening I was reading about living a life of contemplation, and one thing I noticed was that my days have very little structure aside from the fact that I have to be at school for four hours per day during the week. Usually that’s from 11:30-3:30, but tomorrow it will be 10 until we’re finished, and the next day is likely to be 7:30 until 3pm. There is really little rhyme or reason to my days, and I think that makes it harder to live an intentional life. So, I’m aiming to add more structure. How that is going to work, I’m not yet sure, particularly because I’m working on recipe development for a number of competitions, which gives me extra hours at school, but with little concept of how many extra hours. But here is what I am currently thinking.
I will aim to give myself one hour to get ready for school each morning. I will also get up an additional 30 minutes early to allow for time of reflection and contemplation. I will walk to school if the weather is suitable (which will take roughly another hour). That means that on the average day with no extras, I need to be up by 9am, but the kids will have me awake by 6:30 or 7. But if I have nothing else on the go in the morning, I’ll aim to hit the pool and swim for 45 minutes.
After school, I’ll head to the gym for an hour of strength training on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Monday evenings I cook and Fridays tend to be days I have baking to bring home with me.
Evenings when I am at home (so not Wednesday), I will aim to spend until 8pm in community time. After that, it’s homework, and bed by 9:30, with time for devotions. Asleep by 10:30. I have to stay rested to avoid overeating. The community aspect can be a real struggle for me at the end of the day as I wind up getting a  bit surly with those who appear inconsiderate, or children who are just too darn loud. I love the kids in my community, but the little boy in my house is loud from the time he gets up to the time he goes to bed.
On Weekends, I’ll spend my Saturday mornings at the coffee shop with my laptop, writing. I think that’s something I’ll really enjoy, and it will get my day started off on the right foot. From there I may head to the library and do a bit of reading. I don’t enjoy reading at home terribly much, and it’s not yet nice enough to go and read out on the lakeshore. Sundays will consist of church in the morning, followed up by reading or exercise, and then time spent with community, finishing with time in contemplation.
That’s the thought for now, although I am great at making plans, but my follow-through tends to need a bit of work. Ah well. C’est la vie. For now, I implement my plan by going to sleep.

Hope and Intentionality

In Life in General on March 4, 2012 at 10:28 am

Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in one aspect of life that you completely lose track of all others. That’s been my life the past few months. I’ve been so wrapped up in school that food has become a near obsession, both in class and at home, and not in a healthy way either. It’s lead to exhaustion and stress which has manifested itself as mild depression these past few weeks. My weekends have been a write-off, and I’ve been living on refined sugars, and all sorts of crap that is no good for my health or my waistline. But today, for the first time, I feel like I’m back. Yesterday was okay. I had more social interaction within the community than I’d had in weeks. I painted with the kids, and just spent time chilling with the household. It felt odd, and exhausting. By 2pm I wanted a nap. I didn’t take one, although I probably should have. I need to learn to sleep more. It keeps me in a better head space.

Today is the first time I feel like I’m back at full steam in months—since before Christmas actually. I’m getting my head back on straight. I’m starting to recognize that there is more to life than food and school. Things I used to be passionate about are coming back to me, things like urban renaissance and redevelopment (see previous post), as well as writing, and board games. I had truly forgotten how much I love to write. It’s a form of therapy for me, a way to get out my feelings and thoughts. It’s strangely soothing, particularly when I can do a bit of learning along the way. I’ve never been much for academic research, but when it can be take and put to practical use, I’m all for it.

The other thing I’ve really learned about myself is that I need to get out of the house more. I don’t know what it is, but it seems to be a toxic environment for me. I get down if I can’t get out. That leads to a form of masochism known as gluttony. That might be why all my jeans are currently on the tight side.  Also, it leads me to focus inward instead of outward and onward. It seems that when I focus on the now, I lose track of the future, and the future is what gives me joy. I love to plan, I love to think of possibilities. It’s a family trait to some extent. I know that at least one of my sisters joins me in that love, which sometimes drives the realists around us a bit nuts. I believe I’m defined as a “possibilities thinker,” always looking forward. I’m often a few steps ahead of the rest of the pack, who are still focused on the here and now. That’s not me. When I get into that space, it is to my detriment.

Now that I feel like I’m back at full-steam, my inspiration has come back as well. I’ve picked up my knitting needles again, although I’ve forgotten how to cast on. I picked up a paintbrush yesterday and rediscovered the joy of covering a canvas with colour. I have yet to pick up a novel again, but I’m looking forward to that as well. This afternoon I get together with friends to play some board games. Tomorrow I get back into the pool.  And this afternoon I have every intention of writing my grandparent’s a letter, something I haven’t done in weeks due to the fact that I didn’t want my depression to manifest itself in my letter. I don’t want to worry them and make them think I’m miserable. But today is a day filled with hope and promise.

I’ve plopped myself down in my local coffee shop. I’ve often wondered how it stays open, as I’ve never seen a line of more than two or three people and often the shop seems empty when I wander past. However, today I’ve discovered that a steady stream of clients are what keeps this place in business. Although it’s never as busy as a Starbucks or Second Cup, it also doesn’t have the lulls that those places have. Their primary business is coffee to-go. The staff is lovely, helpful, and friendly. Today’s staff member also happens to be a rather attractive late 20-something, who has the great mix of scruff, wavy brown hair, and excellent fashion sense that is neither metrosexual nor hipster, but is just excellent in a mixed between a classic look and hipster.  Because he fits no stereotype, his look is rather hard to define, but it is rather lovely. He also pulls a decent shot and makes a lovely almond milk Chai latte.

I kind of wish I could I had a camera today so I could show you shots of the shop, and if it happened to include a snap or two of the barista, that wouldn’t be so bad.  Also, he whistles to Beach Boys while he works. It’s rather endearing.  The only downside to the coffee shop this morning is that they don’t carry Licorice tea. So sad. I’ve actually only come across one shop in this city that does carry it, but for the life of me I can’t remember the name of it.  It’s up by Honest Ed’s and Snakes and Lattes, both places I will write of at a future date. But enough for now! Time to go live life with hutzpah, gumption, and a good dose of intentionality.

Recapturing the Dream: What Kind of City Do You Want? — Transit

In Life in General on March 4, 2012 at 9:58 am

Every city has its pros and its cons, its ups and its downs—some literal, some metaphorical. Many cities in North America are currently going through a cultural renaissance, trying to figure out how to survive in a world that looks little like the world for which the city was originally built.

For example, many North American cities were built out, not up, as land was abundant and the prices relatively cheap. That gave rise to the concept of the American dream complete with suburbs of independent dwellings and white picket fences. As populations grew, so did the suburbs and the infrastructure required to maintain these neighbourhoods. Commutes into work became longer, but that wasn’t much of a problem, as gas prices were, for decades, so low, that it was the least of people’s worries. Population density was low enough that things such as environmental pollution and smog were a non-issue. But what about now?

The challenges facing cities in North America today have swung in a different directions. Smog, and all forms of pollution have become a very real problem. Don’t believe me? Try driving up to the basin that LA is settled in and look for the layer of haze skimming the skyline. But it’s not just LA. It’s almost every large city in North America, and around the world.

Gas prices are also rising. The biggest concern about commute used to be the amount of traffic on the freeway. With the rise in gas prices though, more people are finding it prohibitively expensive to keep their house in the suburbs , and still drive in to work everyday. More people are opting for public transit, as the cost is considerably cheaper than driving. But due to public transit systems failing to develop at the speed they’re needed, commutes can become tediously long. Some people spend 4 hours a day on the train just to get to and from work. My friend Alicia spends an hour and a half to get into school, which is in downtown Toronto. The sad things is, she lives in Toronto proper. What if she lived a little further out?

The truth is that most cities in Canada, and North America as a whole, were built for the car. They weren’t based around a system of public transit as the city developed—although there are a few exceptions, such as New York. Now, to go back and try to build a proper transit system is a daunting task—it’s costly, time consuming, and disruptive to the citizen of a city. People want the change, but don’t want the taxes to rise. The city, inevitably, goes over budget and the government is known for it’s poor track record in spending funds in a fiscally responsible way, but that’s a rant for another time.

As a result, in Toronto, high rises are going up all over the place. People want to live closer to the core so that their commutes are shorter and they have easier access to the amenities of the city. People are opting out of the American dream and are creating a new dream for themselves closer to the heart of the city. This has led to increased housing prices and condos in the downtown core go for a premium. For the average working individual, it is nearly impossible to live near the city center without at least one flatmate.  But housing prices may need to be discussed another time. Back to transit.

People in Toronto are lucky in that there are bike lanes on some of the major roads, and more and more people are taking advantage of the relatively mild weather, and will aim to bike as much of the year as possible. There seem to be few thoroughfares without the famous ring-and-post style bike stands that allow for bikes to be safely locked up without the traditional cramming together in a bike rack. These stands were introduced in 1985 as a way for cyclists to safely lock up their bikes on parking meters, which kept the bikes from sliding down the posts and blocking the ability of cars to park (Tammy Thorne, First Past the Post, Spacing, Fall 2006).

While there is always room for improvement, and the cyclists in Toronto are certain to points out the areas in which development is needed, compared to some cities, they’ve got a smooth ride (although some of Toronto’s roads certainly provide a bumpy ride). In cities such as Edmonton, the concept of a cyclist is almost novel. While they do exist, sightings of cyclists in Edmonton rank up there with that of Big Foot.  During my time in Edmonton, I certainly knew of the cyclists. I counted many of them as my friends. However, their devotion to cycling was something I simply couldn’t fathom. Not only is the city of Edmonton divided by a rather massive river valley which creates some brutal hills for bikers, they also spend significant portions of the year covered with snow. This is to the extent that many cyclists in Edmonton opt to get studs for their bike tires for the winter season. Those who try to bike without them in the winter months will find it a slippery ride and may wipe out many times during a ride.

Unlike Toronto, Edmonton boasts no bike lanes, and motorists are uncertain of how to treat cyclists. In Edmonton pick-up trucks are fully understood, but the small segment of those opting to walk or bike in favour of driving gas guzzlers is still fairly limited. This group is growing however, and a very real environmental movement is alive in Edmonton. But as far as public transit goes, Edmonton is lacking. There is only one line on their light-rail transit system, and as previously mentioned, bike lanes do not exist. Although I must acknowledge the boons of the bike racks on the front of the bus that will ferry both you and your bike across the river valley, as well as to other parts of the city.

Edmonton, like many other North American cities, was built out, and not up. Urban sprawl is a very real issue in Edmonton. Due to the Alberta economy, people are still flush with money compared to many other parts of the continent, and as such the single detached dwelling and white picket fence dream is still very much alive. People are still driving their cars, as it’s widely acknowledged that unless you live along the LRT line, public transit in Edmonton is a bit of a joke. I remember it taking me two hours to get to my optometrist last July. And here’s the kicker, it wasn’t even across the city. My commute could have been much longer.

So now the question for cities examining transit requirements becomes, “Now what?” Some cities are opting for the ostrich approach, and are plunging their heads in the sand, hoping the issues will go away. Other cities, are grabbing the bull by the horns and are embracing the future realities of the world we now live in with an eye on the future. Others, are trying to fix their systems for now, and forget to look forward, meaning they’re always about a decade behind.

All of this comes back, however, to the citizens of a city. It is the people, people like you and I, who have the real say in what happens in the development of the cities we live in. We have the say in the officials we elect, and in our constitutional right to make our voices heard. The sad truth is, many of us feel like a drop in the bucket and never exercise our rights to make our voices heard. “What is one voice?”, we ask. Well, one voice may not be much, but never underestimate the ability of a group of like-minded individuals to influence change. Indeed, a group of individuals with a cause is the only thing that has ever successfully brought about change. Be the change you want to see in your city.

What is your dream for your city? Grab hold of that dream, and make it happen. Get involved, do research, be a savy citizen. Be the change you want to see in your city.

The Inspiration for this post came from the Fall 2006 issue of Spacing:What kind of a city do you want? Understanding Toronto’s Urban Landscape.