We like our Pizza like we like our Wards: evenly populated and able to meet everyone’s needs.

We like our Pizza like we like our Wards: evenly populated and able to meet everyone’s needs.

Ward 23, Willowdale

Pizza Shab aka “Night Pizza”

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“Night Pizza” special at top, Rolling Pizza below.

 

 

Ward 23

The largest ward in Toronto by population, thanks mostly to the rapid development of new condos and townhomes – especially at Sheppard and Yonge. Willowdale proper is mostly encased in Ward 23. Major landmarks include North York Civic Centre, the TDSB HQ, and Mel Lastman Square. The population is diverse, with a lot of Chinese, Korean and Persian communities making a significant showing, bringing a very wide variety of delicious opportunities for hungry Willowdalians. Bubble Tea to cap off Persian Pizza, anyone?

 

John Filion

Filion has been a councillor since pre-amalgamation Toronto, serving as a councillor in North York from 1991 to 1997. He first held office in the North York Board of Education before moving up through the ranks to become a councillor. He’s been an advocate of redrawing the ward boundary lines in Toronto, as well as advocating for child care, parks, recreational facilities and when he was Chair of the Board of Health he introduced a restaurant rating system and a ban on smoking in restaurants.

 

Pizza

Most of the pizza joints in the area were chains, as far as we could tell. But when we found Pizza Shab, and started to learn more from friends about Persian Pizza – there was no way we were going to miss out! Our server, Amin, tells us that they have been around for 5 years and are named after a popular pizza place in Tehran. We talk about the area, very car-centric, and how most of his customers order for pick up often parking their cars and running in to grab a slice. He directs us to the “one bar” of the area after we are finished with the za, and we watched a steady stream of cars park, hop out, grab their pizza, and drive off – no walk ins.

The pizza scorecard:

What we ordered: The Night Pizza, Rolling pizza

Why we ordered: We asked for the most popular pizza (The Night Special), and the Rolling pizza caught our eye as something different from what we’ve had before.

The score:
Service 4/5
Sauce 2/5
Topping selection 2/5
Freshness 2/5
Crust 3/5
Dough 3/5
Bang for your buck 3/5
Instagram-ability 2/5
Meets Expectations 2/4
Total: 23/44

We are fairly torn, the rolling pizza was amazing. Something great to try, different from your usual pie, with a great Avishan spice mix and special sauce on top. The night pizza however was underwhelming. We recognize that there is a cultural difference, Persian pizza (according to our server) is supposed to have a very thick crust with lots of toppings and no sauce. As girls who lean towards thinner crusts and love a good dough to sauce to topping ratio, we recognize our bias. But, regardless of this difference, the toppings were not very fresh, the meat appeared to be simple lunch meat and there was not a lot of flavor.

 

What’s on the menu for Ward 23?

The “Night Special”, like Ward 23, was just too populated. Too many toppings on one pizza, too many constituents in one ward – a problem of quality.

It is difficult for one councillor to be able to deal with that many constituents on their own, and assuming the system is as fair as it claims to be (LOL, it’s not) – there must be people not getting the service they need from their municipal government.

Constituency work done in Councillors offices is a lot more than just relaying calls to 311. Case work can range from neighbourhood disputes over fence height and dog parks to the implementation of youth outreach programs and other critical services in priority neighbourhoods. Councillors need to balance being able to serve the needs of their community, while also connecting with residents enough to have an idea of how to reflect their needs and challenges honestly within their role.

We have both knocked on a lot of doors in our time. Literally, thousands. Claire has worked, volunteered or both in some capacity on campaigns in every single major election since 2007 – including a bunch of by-elections, too. Terra has done civic engagement work, and knocked on doors for multiple campaigns in the last couple of elections. Between the two of us we have been in all different communities across Toronto, from North Etobicoke, Mimico to South Scarborough, and most recently Claire was knocking on the doors of Upstate New York! We both have shared that the one thing we’ve learned is that people are far more likely to bring up local issues at the door. Consistently, folks will talk your ear off about potholes, speed limits, their Hydro bills, transit (mostly lack there of), parking spaces, noise, TCHC, day care subsidies, cycling infrastructure, and the sorry state of the parkette down the road. Plenty of these topics can be linked back to other levels of government through longer, more in-depth discussions about funding, downloading and all that, but it doesn’t generally go the other way.

Talking to people from ward to ward, constituents will dive into broader issues when brought up – and likely around the dinner table or at a pub. But understandably, when given the chance to talk to canvassers the topics that they will want to discuss are what’s top of mind, the visible issues that they see and come up against in their own backyard every day – these issues are municipal. Regardless of canvassing for a municipal, provincial, or federal candidate, municipal issues are more top of mind for constituents. And if you talk to municipal constituency assistants, they’ll tell you about all of the provincial and federal issues they discuss with constituents (in addition to their municipal duties!).

The moral of this story is that municipal issues are extremely important. So how many councillors is enough to effectively represent the needs of a constituency?

Consider Ward 23, which has seen an overwhelming about of condos go up, had a population of 88,435 people as of the 2011 census. For context, Ward 19 which is downtown had 57,240 citizens, and Ward 14 had 53,765. Each with only one councillor. Have you ever taken a class with an outrageous teacher to student ratio? Multiply that by a few thousand and you’ll quickly see how overwhelming this problem can be, and why the city’s current Draw The Lines Ward Boundary Review is so important.

 

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North York Centre

A Councillor is supposed to represent the interest of their constituents in the broader decisions made by Council at large. Their job is also legislative. When one ward is so disproportionately large, the influence of their one councillor, with his or her one vote is diluted in comparison to that of a councillor with a smaller ward. This is a problematic aspect of municipal democracy.

 

Obviously, it’s not going to be perfect all the time. The city does not grow at the same rate evenly. And it would be costly, confusing and time-consuming to change the ward boundaries by population every single election. This is why it’s so important to forecast trends ahead of time.

Right now the City has commissioned the Canadian Urban Institute to help with the redistribution of ward boundaries. The last time the city reviewed the Ward boundaries was in 2000. And Ward 23 Councillor John Filion has been a big advocate in bringing the new reviews to reality.

The Draw the Lines process started back in 2014, it included an impressive series of public consultations and the final report – which will be discussed in council – will be presented in May. It`s important to note, that the research and report process is being done independent of the city.

Draw the Lines is currently proposing 5 different options which you can find here.

The TL;DR version is as follows:

  • Option 1: Minimal Change
  • Option 2: 44 Wards
  • Option 3: Small wards (focused on keeping population at 50,000)
  • Option 4: Large wards (focused on keeping population at 75,000)
  • Option 5: Focuses on natural and physical boundaries

It will come as no surprise that we are hoping the city passes an option that provides citizens with more access to their councillors. And no, we don’t just feel that way because more wards will equal more pizza for us!

When this comes to council and is debated, it will be important to pay attention to the motivations of what councillors are arguing. Does the option that they fight for happen to include not cutting out areas where most of their supporters live? Will they vote for the ward options that their constituency prefers? We’d urge everyone to pay close attention, make your voice heard, and hold your elected representative accountable. Ask questions, meet with your councillors, look at the options and see what option feels best for you.

We sincerely hope, that as the city reslices our Wards, every citizen gets their fair share of democratic representation.

Hot Docs Contest!

Hi Pizza Lovers,

We have a special treat for you!

Three free tickets to the April Doc Soup screening of Jim – The James Foley Story. This powerful documentary is playing tonight (Wednesday April 6th) twice, or tomorrow night at 6:45. The tickets are good for any of the three screenings.

Here are the rules:

  1. Follow @PizzaPoliTO on Twitter
  2. Tweet using #PizzaPoliTO with a link to your favourite post AND/OR a pizza recommendation for us to check out in the future
  3. BONUS ENTRY: comment on your favourite post and include your name

The winner will be announced today at 8PM on Twitter, and will be chosen at random from all entries. We will notify the winner by direct message on Twitter.

Good luck!

C & T.

The Proof is in the Pizza: Joe Mihevc and Public Space

Ward 21, St. Paul’s

Ferro Bar Cafe

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Ward 21

St Paul’s is located in Midtown, between Winona and Spadina; and Eglinton and Dupont. The ward is home to many residential neighbourhoods and a haven for small businesses. It is a hub with interesting urban issues; both as a ward featuring the notorious “St. Clair Disaster” (more on that later) and a ward that currently has several mid-rise developments popping up. Probably the hottest spot in St Paul’s though, is Wychwood Barns. The Barns, formerly an abandoned TTC yard, act as both a tourist destination and a community hub. An event space, a farmer’s market, public space, gardens, community services such as The Stop, and more all in one convenient location.

 

Councillor: Joe Mihevc

Councillor Mihevc has been representing the St. Paul’s community since 1991, serving as Deputy Mayor of York prior to amalgamation. He is a fierce progressive, known for championing anything social justice related, especially children’s nutrition programs. He has also long been an active voice on the TTC Commission, where he served as Vice Chair from 2006 – 2010 – toward the end of the completion of the (rather controversial) St. Clair right-of-way streetcar. He fought back against swarming negative political commentary on behalf of his residents, after opponents began referring to it as the aforementioned “The St. Clair Disaster”.

Fun facts: Mihevc parents were born in Slovenia, he was born in Toronto, and has a PHD in Theology.

 

Pizza: Ferro Bar Cafe

What we ordered: Veggie pie Buratta with rapini (we note that the one on their site is a seasonal difference and we cannot speak to it), and Iano with tomato sauce.

Why we ordered: To be honest, our process here was more impulsive than previous posts. We were having such an engaged conversation with local councillor Joe Mihevc and his partner that our waitress had to come back a few times to see “how we were doing with the menu”, in the end we ordered a white pizza and a red pizza that jumped out at us.

 

The Pizza Scorecard: IMG_20160327_153407

The score:
Service 3.5/5
Sauce 4/5
Topping selection 4/5
Freshness 4/5
Crust 5/5
Dough 5/5
Bang for your buck 4/5
Instagram-ability 4/5
Meets Expectations 4/4
Total: 37.5/44

If we solely rated pizzas on taste alone, Ferro would beat the rest by far. However, we fully stand by rating pizza as an experience including things like service and instagram-ability (sharing your food can be hella fun). The ingredients were fresh, the combinations were tasty, and this was easily the best dough and crust we’ve had so far – maybe ever. You get all of the toppings you want without suffering soggy dough in the middle of the pie. And yes, it absolutely aced the reheat test; baking sheet, hot oven – perfection.

We had high expectations for this joint, as we had more than one suggestion and we ran a tight twitter poll to decide. In a neighbourhood known for its food, and bordering Corso Italia, the pizza happily lived up to its hype. PS. Reheat went great, best reheat pizza so far!

 

What’s up with Ward 21?

When it comes to public space, Joe Mihevc is going in for seconds.

The Councillor was kind enough to join us for pizza to talk about his ward. While we dined, him and his partner shared their experiences in the political and urban development of the community. As the conversation progressed, Mihevc let it slip that he had big plans for a space just around the corner from the restaurant.

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Joe showing us the space’s potential.

A local church has been struggling with falling congregation numbers. The space, in a prime location, boasts a beautiful stage, which is often used by many community groups currently unaffiliated with the church itself. Mihevc, understanding that eventually the space will likely be transformed, is already devising a plan: more dynamic public space. His proposal is bold: child care, multi-faith programs, theatre organizations, affordable housing – all right on St. Clair Avenue. In addition to public space, St Clair is notably in need of some new cycling infrastructure, which Joe also discussed with us.

His plans for this church are not pie-in-the-sky – he’s done this before, just a few short blocks away.

After the successful 2008 transformation of the Wychwood streetcar maintenance facility into a vibrant, multi-use community hub, Mihevc watched as the neighborhood come alive. People gather from all over the city to participate in activities year-round. Artscape, a non-profit that runs the space, has proven to be a worthy host; arts programs and a community gallery make The Wychwood Barns unique.

IMG_20160327_154550What makes it so special is how much there is going on in one place. A daycare shares the office space with environmental organizations and Not Far From The Tree. The outdoor gardens and community pizza oven (!) sit outside The Stop’s HQ. Around the corner, dog owners enjoy a fenced-in dog park, where canines and their respective humans get to know one another as they take in an unseasonably warm Saturday in March.

Seeing the space now, it would be hard to imagine that anyone could possibly deny that this was a dream scenario, but in 2002, a small and group of locals attempted to halt the project. “Neighbours for 100% Park” argued that the historic barns should be torn down, leaving them the green space they desired. Clearly not just about “green space”, the group was concerned about the increase in traffic (heaven forbid!). So concerned, they attempted to raise $50,000 to fight the project at the Provincial level. Despite this, Councillor Mihevc helped to move the project forward, knowing even then, that dynamic public space was needed for his community.

On our way to visit The Barns, we spotted a cyclist – Dave Meslin – long-time advocate of public space, bikes, and a bunch of other progressive initiatives. After a brief recap of our conversation with Mihevc, he exclaimed “This used to be a wasteland! Matthew [Blackett] and I used to do guerrilla gardening here!”

There’s something to be said about the how welcoming it is to walk into a building like Wychwood Barns. Just walk in. Public space is asking only that you enjoy it. All are welcome and there is no need to buy anything. It’s an extension of the sidewalks.

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Note the bike infrastructure right outside the barns?

As a self-identified data nerd, it pains Claire to spout this hypothesis without sufficient research, but she couldn’t help but notice the cycling infrastructure lining the front of Wychwood Barns. Could there be a connection between the development of more community public spaces and increases in cycling infrastructure? If so, Mihevc is certainly on the right track.

During Claire’s last round of apartment hunting, she was advised not to look north of Dupont, because that would be the end of her cycling love affair. The sharp hill does leave many disheartened, but Mihevc has a plan: increase Bike Share access to the area so more commuters opt to cycle south, and take transit home at the end of the day. This is not to say that the hills aren’t totally bikeable, but less experienced cyclists/tired folks are often deterred, making Mihevc’s plan that much more brilliant.

Ward 21 has a Councillor who gets them. He was right about St. Clair, right about Wychwood, and we can say with confidence that this new space has the potential to be another winner. Just like the pizza at Ferro, we can’t get enough of the multi-use public space in St. Paul’s.

Development That Doesn’t Deliver

PizzaQuest: Ward 6 Etobicoke – Lakeshore, FBI Pizza

Ward 6

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Occupying the southwest corner of The 6ix is Ward 6, home to Humber College, Humber Bay Park, and hungry patrons that swear by FBI Pizza. The lake makes for a picturesque view, and developers can’t resist jumping on the opportunity to take advantage of changing trends. Historically, the area by the lake was a busy industrial hub, and previous home to the Mr. Christie cookie factory. Today, students pack themselves into the frustratingly unreliable 501 streetcar, one of few transit options in what is a geographically large ward.

Councillor: Mark Grimes

Mark Grimes is a sports enthusiast, serving his fourth term as Councillor for Ward 6. He is a character, known for his kitschy bow ties, and disdain for speaking extensions; he is a firm believer that the 5 minutes given to Councillors to speak on a particular item should be diligently respected. Grimes believes this so much, that he prides himself in having never voted in favour of a colleague’s request for an extension.
Many would suggest that it was due to this strong alliance with Rob Ford, that Grimes found himself in a close race last election. His primary challenge came from local community health centre executive director, Russ Ford, whom only coincidentally shares a last name and first initial with the former Mayor. In terms of politics, Russ Ford presented a progressive, more left-leaning alternative, and despite a crowded field of 12 candidates, trailed Grimes by only about 2500 votes (or 10 percentage points).
While many in the area know him as a hockey fan and family guy (he has 5 children), he has also been spotted in superhero mode, as he once helped save the life of a women in crisis. However, even superheros have their flaws; Grimes has faced no shortage of controversy at City Hall. Whether it’s a murky trip to Las Vegas or appearing in condo development ads, his integrity has been brought into question more than once. Grimes also voted against extending watchdog Toronto City Ombudsman Fiona Crean’s term in 2014.

Pizza: FBI Pizza

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FBI was hands down the most recommended place to us in Etobicoke-Lakeshore. Coincidentally, Terra used to live down the street from this joint and was fairly familiar. Attesting that the pizza was indeed delicious, but with the caveat that the service was usually sub-par (there is never enough staff and too many orders), we were wary. Interestingly enough FBI has been named “The Best Delivery in Toronto” which caused us to raise an eyebrow, knowing what we know, we couldn’t resist testing their delivery.

The pizza scorecard:

What we ordered: Margherita Extra, Diavola, Capricciosa, and Nutella Pizza (because, hello?)

Why we ordered: Upon first glance at the menu, Claire was taken aback by the variety of toppings. Aside from having outstanding offerings (porchetta!?), FBI notes that their proscuitto is DOP, an official designation given to products that guarantees they are actually from Italy. Keeping with the system of white and red, and taking into account there would be a few other mouths joining us, we opted to get a bunch. This ensured we would have a well-rounded understanding of the pizza quality. We decided to keep to the “Chef’s Creations” section of the menu, as this was Councillor Grimes’ recommendation when he wrote to us on Twitter.

The score:

Service 2/5
Sauce 4/5
Topping selection 4.5/5
Freshness 3/5
Crust 4/5
Dough 4.5/5
Bang for your buck 3/5
Instagram-ability 2/5
Meets Expectations 2/4

Total: 29/44

If you’ve voted for FBI Pizza as Best Delivery please raise your hand. While it’s certainly a cut above a chain, it started with 15 minutes of trying to get through on the phone during a weeknight, and getting disconnected twice. They were clearly understaffed and very busy, and you could sense the stress from the person on the other end of the line. They were out of porchetta (ouch!), and the delivery time given was an hour. After an hour and 20 minutes (we debated how long one should wait before calling to check in on an order) we needed an update. Luckily the pizzas were still warm when they arrived.

The crust was impressive. Soft and light, thin, with a satisfying bite. Best of all, it held up right to the centre without getting soggy. The topping selection was great – but they do lose points for being out of porchetta – and the freshness was quite good. However, with expectations so high, it didn’t quite stack up. The standout by far was the Diavola, which Claire was in love with due to the level of spice.

We all agreed we wouldn’t order the Margherita again. Surprising, as the menu clearly states “fresh fior di latte” as the cheese, this was the biggest let down. It had a bizarre cheddar-like taste, which does not work with the rest of the za.

All in all, the pizza was good, but not good enough to deal with the delivery headache. Would highly suggest visiting them if you’re in the area, and save deliveries for a joint you know is reliable.

Plus, reheating was a no-go. The pizza became chewy and rubbery – would not recommend.

 

What’s up with Ward 6?

It will come as no surprise that when Terra lived in this neighbourhood she was into the nitty-gritty of on the ground city building. 

From Terra:

“Living in Ward 6 is when I started a passionate relationship with my bicycle. I spent hours on the Humber Trails with my bike; after work, on weekends; I’d bring a book and bike out to the farthest points on the lake, sit on a rock and read. It reminded me of growing up in my home town of Innisfil where I lived on Big Bay Point. So obviously when The City asked me to come on a site walk for trail improvements I jumped at the opportunity.

When I got there (on my bike obviously), we were situated by the condos and there was a group of people who seemed to be condo owners looking at the reading materials under the City of Toronto tents. I dismounted my bike and took off my helmet to overhear ‘We need to do something about these cyclists, they’re destroying the community, they kill dogs and run into children and none of them live here anyways! They don’t care who they kill, so why not shove them onto the road, who cares if they get hit by cars – it’s their choice!’.

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I was mortified, I knew there was tension around cycling but I though the rhetoric I heard was mostly hyperbole, I wasn’t expecting to hear this with my own ears especially when they could see I was a cyclist. These are the people I was about to spend 3 hours with discussing multi-use trail improvements. I debated whether to continue in such a toxic environment, but I stuck with it and it was a huge learning experience.

The anti-bike brigade did not stop while we were walking. One woman’s goal seemed to be removing cyclists entirely from the trails, while another merely wanted to make them disinterested from using them. It was also strange that within the entire 3 hours, not once did we see a cyclist behaving the way they claim all cyclists do. They questioned why I was allowed to be there, outright asked what street I lived on, and one thought that because I don’t own property that I shouldn’t be considered a community ‘stakeholder’.

The City staff, ever graceful, had my back when I pointed out it was a public park. The vibe was still very tense when – of all things to debate – a condo owner called me a liar for pointing to a bush that overgrows in the summer which impedes the line of site for cyclists. Constantly being told “Well I live here, I own property, I’m in this condo”, I couldn’t help but ask myself, who owns a neighbourhood? Who builds it? Whose voices get heard? These are questions I’ve never stopped asking myself. If the answer is that only older, affluent, white folks get to have a say in city-building we’ve got a huge problem.”

These questions are hugely important in Ward 6. As the “cranes in the sky” development thirst shows no signs of slowing down; huge infrastructure, community, and city-building initiatives will need to follow in lockstep.

As a neighbourhood traditionally considered more affordable than the downtown core, many newcomers to Canada, students, young professionals just starting out, new families, and families with lower-incomes can afford to rent in Mimico and build communities. Those voices need to be heard at the table, and they should not be be drowned out by those insisting they have more rights because they have higher incomes and the ability to own their home. We all have a part to play in building better communities.

The term “taxpayer”, as we’ve stated in previous posts, is divisive by nature. And as this story shows, can be used to feed the false notion that renters do not contribute to property tax. They do (we do!), it’s just a matter of how the bill is payed.

Good development, like good pizza, should serve many purposes, palates, and price points. In the planning process, our city needs to order enough so that everyone at the table gets a slice to call their own.

#BeachZa

Pizza Quest: Ward 32, Casa di Giorgio

Ward 32 sits between the Danforth and Lake Ontario, cutting of at the eastern end at Nursewood Rd and on the west side down Coxwell and Gerrard. For Transit wonks, this is where Neville Park exists, the end of the 501 streetcar line (the longest streetcar route in the world). The Beaches is diverse, beautiful neighbourhood – not without its challenges – that has benefited from a sense of community. It’s not without it’s friction. For example, there is an infamous paper distributed called Your Ward News, which claims to be the world’s “largest anti-marxist” paper which aims to “hold city councillors responsible”. In reality it is a sexist, racist, homophobic, poorly written, divisive paper that most of the community vehemently rejects. There is currently a petition about the paper, and it has been investigated for hate crimes before. So, how does this ward bring communities together? More on that later!

Councillor: Mary Margaret McMahon

Mary Margaret has has faced her fair share of controversy when it comes to elections. She won her seat in 2010, during the wave of anti-incumbency that also brought us Mayor Rob Ford. Ward 32 had previously been held by Sandra Bussin, and the community was hungry for change. McMahon faced Bussin again in 2014, however the controversy came from self-proclaimed Doctor, James Sears, who berated her constantly with horrendous misogynistic vitriol. His obscene community newspaper (Your Ward News) continues to lurk around the neighbourhood, spouting hatred.
On Council, McMahon is considered part of the “middle” wing, as she is far more conservative than the “progressives”, but is often strong on environmental issues.

Pizza: Casa Di Giorgio

We had heard many great things about Casa Di Giorgio going into this Pizza Quest, but it seemed appropriate to ask around the community, and so we did a Twitter Poll. Needless to say, Casa Di Giorgio did win, however the data geek in us fears “other” made a strong showing due to a lack of clarity in ward boundaries.

The pizza scorecard:

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Photo cred: Elizabeth Beddall

What we ordered: Arugula Pizza, Pavaroti (reco’d by waitress as most popular), Firenze

Why we ordered: As with Maker pizza, the options are divided into red and white sauces so we wanted to get one of each. We had a third person with us (because who doesn’t want to get in on pizza?) and the waitress helpfully suggested getting another one, as you can only order one size in house and it is more of an individual size. However, you can order other sizes for takeout and the bang for your buck goes a lot farther on the larger sizes. We had already picked the Arugula and Firenze, so for our third we asked for the most popular pie in the house and she immediately suggested the Pavaroti.

The score:

Service 5/5

Sauce 3/5

Topping selection 4/5

Freshness 4/5

Crust 4/5

Dough 3/5 

Bang for your buck 4/5

Instagram-ability 3/5

Meets Expectations 4/4

Total: 34/44

The service here was amazing, friendly, the complete picture of a charming mom and pop shop. There was good variety in the types of pizza you could order; something to satisfy every craving. The topping combinations went well together and they were fresh with a good sauce-to-dough-to-cheese-to-topping ratio. Unfortunately, the dough did get soggy towards the center, and the sauce was a bit salty for our palate. Our friend who accompanied us, however, is vehemently pro salt and gave it two thumbs up.

Reheating was a challenge with this pizza. The toppings are quite wet, which led to some soggyness out of the package. Attempts were made to mitigate this by using a very hot oven, and placing the pizza on the bottom rack. Ultimately, the top was still quite cold, while the bottom had just begun to warm up. A minute under the broiler helped. Ultimately re-heatable, but too much work.

 

#BeachZa: A Trip to the Winter Stations

This Ward’s destination was the Winter Stations down by The Beaches. Putting up Public Installation Canadiana Art in an area far from the downtown core and inaccessible by subway is a brilliant way to get foot traffic to your ward. On a beach in the winter no less! Other wards in Toronto should be taking notes, because with foot traffic comes those consumer dollars (in our case, pizza dedicated) to local business.

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Inside the Belly of the Bear, one of this year’s Winter Stations.

Toronto is a city full of creative types, bursting with talent, but with so much underwhelming condo art from section 37 money, and a lot of focus on international talent at places like the AGO, the Winter Stations are BEYOND refreshing. Naysayers may not always “get” installation art, but this type of art is incredibly accessible since it exists where you live and not in a gallery (oh, and not to mention that there were wheelchair accessible boardwalks leading towards the stations themselves!). And Toronto seems to agree; there was a huge, diverse crowd lining up just to experience the art. Many of which had ventured to an area of Toronto they would otherwise have no reason to visit. A whole other column could be written on the art itself, but its core purpose seems to be placemaking and bringing people together. In that case, the Winter Stations meet their mandate.

As luck would have it, visiting the Winter Stations on this day turned out to be incredibly relevant to our blog goals, as Mayor John Tory and Ward 32 Councillor Mary Margaret McMahon were making a public appearance, TV crews in tow. Basking in the glow of public space done right, we were excited to hear about the initiative from the policy-makers themselves. However, after throwing platitudes towards how great the project was at bringing together the community, Mary Margaret was very quick to assure the Beaches residents that this was done, “completely privatized – don’t worry, no taxpayer dollars were spent on this art you’re enjoying!”. Immediately disheartened, we left in favor of pizza.

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Enter a caption

Let us preface our next bit with this: we know that some private partnerships can be beneficial and work well. However, this “taxpayer” rhetoric being placed front and center is very damaging. Telling a bunch of residents that they can get something amazing in their ward for nothing sets a dangerous precedent. Just think about the Scarborough Subway, or the conversations dominating the last two elections. What is the logic behind spoiling a nice afternoon in public space by making it political? And worse, doing so with such divisive and harmful language? Councillor McMahon may not have realized it, but what she is really implying is that arts and culture are not, and should not be, priorities for City Council. That we are a city without the means to have a thriving arts community, and that the Winter Stations are simply just “gravy”.

Let’s face it, the ward we were in and the crowd being addressed were fairly affluent compared to other areas of our city. Having to add an asterisk to such a great initiative completely downplays its impact, and assumes that Beaches residents have accepted the false claim that their municipal tax dollars are constantly being squandered with reckless abandon. It does not look at the nuance around the urban issue, it’s a lazy way to appeal to potential voters.

It was especially disappointing to hear this kind of rhetoric from a councillor who knows what this kind of conversation can lead to, considering the recent upsetting NIMBY-led fight against a homeless shelter in the very same ward. Councillor McMahon even wrote a fantastic op-ed about that battle which you can read here. Taxpayer dollars took a minor role in the homeless shelter resistance, while the main conversation was not wanting the homeless as neighbours. At the heart of it all, is an unsavory brand of divisiveness. We can only speculate around motivations of politicians in the language they use and, the pressure they may be facing. And outside of Ward 32, and outside of this specific councillor, the whole “taxpayers can get something for nothing” rhetoric is rampant and systemic in Toronto. It’s time to shift the conversation. As people who brought our dollars to your ward, we would love if our tax dollars went towards making the Winter Stations, and other public art initiatives, even bigger and better in 2017.

UPDATE: After posting this article, yet another case of NIMBYism reared it’s head in the ward. The City downsized Afrofest, an annual music festival celebrating black culture due to ‘noise complaints’. “We kept trying to get them to comply, and they didn’t. Everyone else seems to behave.” said Mary Margaret McMahon. The ward also hosts Jazz Fest and is about to welcome Bestival this year. Read more here.

It isn’t easy to Maker changes to the City Budget

Pizza Quest: Ward 20, Maker Pizza

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Ward 20 is absolutely massive. It will likely be cut into pieces during the upcoming ward boundary review, so stay tuned. It is densely populated, with a large number of U of T students, and an even larger number of condo dwellers. Ward 20 is very walkable and bikeable. In general, transit needs are well met, at least when compared to the suburbs. Crowding during rush hour is nightmarish, as the core fills and empties.

The pace of development has out-run the city’s ability to catch up, and so density is putting major pressure on infrastructure, transit and traffic, while also affecting access to green space, and community services.

Check out the great community work happening at Scadding Court Community Centre, and in Alexandra Park where they did an incredible job bringing local voices to revitalization.

Neighbourhoods: Annex, U of T, Chinatown, Kensington Market, Queen West, Harbord Village, Alexandra Park, Queens Quay, Maple Leaf Square, City Place, Entertainment District, Baldwin Village, Grange.

 

Councillor: Joe Cressy

Elected in an open seat in 2014, Joe Cressy, 31, made his first Council appearence in utero, as the son of Joanne Campbell: first Councillor to give birth while in office. His father, Gordon Cressy was also a City Councillor. After losing a Federal by-election to Adam Vaughan, Cressy used his experience running a successful 2010 municipal campaign to go back to his roots. That campaign was for best friend, Councillor Mike Layton, and their bromace is not only adorable, but makes for a powerful partnership in Chambers.

Pizza: Maker Pizza

Maker has been tempting us on Instagram and it was really just a matter of time before we finally got our hands on a pie or two. With added shoutouts from Munchies sensation Matty Matheson, we needed to know whether Maker really made the hype.

The pizza scorecard:

What we ordered: Apocalypse Cow and Frank’s Best

Why we ordered: Maker has a menu that is split between Red and White sauce pizzas, we thought it was important to try one of each. The Apocalypse Cow is meaty, cheesy, and spicy, but the flavor is subtle enough that it has high multislice chow down potential – so we ordered a medium. Frank’s Best is a sweeter pizza, with caramelized onions and goat cheese, it’s full of flavour but you would only want one or two slices in one go – so we ordered a small. The flavours in each pizza played off each other nicely.

The score:

Delivery 4/5

Sauce 5/5

Topping selection 5/5

Freshness 5/5

Crust 4/5

Dough 3.5/5

Bang for your buck ⅘

Instagram-ability 5/5

Meets Expectations 3/4

Total: 38.5/44

While there’s room for improvement (mainly the dough which was too soft towards the centre), we were fairly impressed by the freshness of the ingredients and the marvel of having a thin dough and large fluffy crust. Maker lives up to its hype, but its price point and long wait time make it more of a “special occasion” ‘za.

How did it handle a re-heat? Moderately well in the oven, except the basil, which is to be expected. The meatball makes it tricky on the Apocalypse Cow, as you need enough heat to ensure the centre is warm, but the cheese and other toppings don’t burn.

Mak(er)ing Changes Ain’t Easy

We ordered this pizza the same week the budget was being finalized in council. Having hosted a budget explainer event the week before, we were eager to dive into what the budget was setting out for Toronto in 2016.

Rob Ford may be remembered by most for his “recreational activities”, however he left many other less high profile impacts on our city’s processes. When City Council meets, the mayor has the power to choose a specific item from the agenda to bring to the front of the line, to be debated right at the start of the meeting. In an effort to stop opposing Councillors from making changes, Ford made his chosen item the property tax increase. With the rate of increase locked in at the beginning of the meeting, Council members will have no opportunity to argue for expanding funding.

While we may have a new mayor, we have the same problem. John Tory has kept this tradition alive.

With the property tax rate set, the deliberation of how to fund our $10.04B tax supported operating budget must take place within the limits of the outlined budget proposals from the different City departments.

This year, two Councillors dug into the notoriously inflated Police Budget, that is now running over $1B. Councillor Michael Thompson, with extensive experience on the Police Board, put forward motion to cut up to $24M in spending. Thompson was met only with support for his more suggestive motion, requesting urgent action be taken on the cost-cutting measures outlined by KPMG, a consulting firm The City paid a hefty fee to, during the hunt for Ford’s supposed “gravy”.

Ward 20’s own Councillor Cressy managed to successfully pull $220,000 out of the police budget, and have it redirected to crime prevention programs. It can be so difficult to make these changes, as the police are allowed to make a legal argument that if cuts are made to their budget that impede their ability to do their jobs, Council’s decision should be overturned.

Motions to address the lack of childcare subsidies mostly fell by the wayside, save for $1.25M, after an unwavering push to address the mounting issue by Councillor Janet Davis.

The budget is a complicated political beast, and while we have small wins, it’s important to have a critical eye on the process itself so that citizens can successfully advocate for budget allocations next year.