Spiders of the Western Waterfront

If you follow my Instagram you’ll see that I spend most of my spider-watching time on the western waterfront. There’s an abundance of diverse spider habitats all along the Martin Goodman Trail, but there are several parks that are worth dedicated visits. Here’s a tour…

Continue reading Spiders of the Western Waterfront

Spider Excursion: Corktown Common

So last month, as part of my goal to find spiders in more locations around the city, I took myself on an outing to Corktown Common. The land, once belonging to a hog slaughterhouse (hey, Toronto’s called “Hogtown” for a reason), was reclaimed and redeveloped as part of the West Don Lands revitalization. Continue reading Spider Excursion: Corktown Common

Hot Take: Private parks set a perilous precedent

Look. I love nature and public space and all, but parks funded by private donors set a very bad precedent.

First, it reinforces the idea that parks are “extra”, not something that the City itself should invest in. It makes the creation of new parks (and the resources allotted to them) dependent on the whims of wealthy donors and not solid urban planning principles. It’s unpleasantly reminiscent of local improvement charges, i. e. rich homeowners paying to spruce up their own neighbourhood.

I’m afraid this will continue to marginalize places that aren’t tourist hotspots, scenic landscapes, or up-and-coming neighbourhoods. Not every park can be as exciting as the Don Valley or Rail Deck Park or whatever they’re calling Under Gardiner. Not every park has to be. Parks shouldn’t just be attractions people visit on special occasions, like the zoo. They should also be a part of everyday life.

Green space is an urban amenity as essential as libraries and clean water. Aside from parks’ importance for health and the environment, they are valuable in their own right as public space. They’re places where you can loiter, sleep, relax, exercise, cool down, picnic, socialize, drink covertly, collect beer cans…all without having to buy anything. For many city dwellers, parks are our backyards.

Public-services-as-philanthropy leaves less glamorous needs by the wayside. Currently playground equipment is only replaced every 30 years (up from 60). Not to mention other things than parks, as Danny Brown notes on Twitter. No one is donating to reduce the TTC or TCHC SOGR backlog.

The whole thing is part of a larger trend towards valuing public services only insofar as they make money. Financial worth may seem more tangible, but it is not the only kind of worth. There are many things—public transit, parks, and more—whose value can’t be measured in dollars. They should not have to turn a profit. People freaking love parks and libraries. It should be possible to fund them sustainably, by increasing the City’s main source of revenue—property taxes—instead of relying on occasional windfalls.

In this pared-down vision of city government, services that cannot pay for themselves must be shuffled off to beneficient private donors, corporations, charities, or non-profits. It’s not because these things would be better off in someone else’s hands. It’s just an attempt to make it Someone Else’s Problem. “Screw you, I got mine.”

It’s a small, mean, insular way of thinking and I hate it. Enough said.


Refined from Twitter. Thanks to Ed Keenan for the shout-out!

Pardosa update

So I went back to the meadow where I found all those wolf spiders in the hopes of finding a few Pardosa in various stages of motherhood. Enjoy!

Jumping Spiders I Have Known

Most wild animals are either indifferent or fearful towards humans, preferring to run away when they realize a human has noticed them — or attack when they cannot escape. Spiders are no different in this regard. Many of them are too short-sighted, or live on too small a scale, to recognize humans as other animals and not, say, unusually mobile parts of the landscape. If they do, they deduce that we are neither food nor fellow spiders (for spiders, generally antisocial creatures, these overlap considerably), and they try to get out of our way.

All this means that watching spiders is generally a one-sided relationship. Jumping spiders (family Salticidae1) are an exception — spiders that watch back. Continue reading Jumping Spiders I Have Known

7 Things To Name-Drop In Your “Laudato Si” Thinkpiece

Pope Francis’ much-hyped encyclical drops today. Are you prepared to sound smart? Here, in no particular order, are 7 references that will convince your readers you didn’t find out what an “encyclical” was yesterday. THANK ME LATER, PUNDITS. Continue reading 7 Things To Name-Drop In Your “Laudato Si” Thinkpiece

Spring Spiders

Well, after a seemingly eternal winter, flowers are blooming and birds are singing and everything is crawling with life. I’m looking forward to a summer of spider-watching. Most of the orb-weavers (Araneidae) have only just started hatching, but in the meanwhile there are plenty of other kinds of spiders out and about! Meet a few of them after the jump. Continue reading Spring Spiders

The Cheat Sheet: Committee Meetings, May 19-25

I have been falling behind on my committee-agenda-reading agenda, I’m afraid. Better late and slightly half-assed than never. Coming up in the next few weeks: the final 2014 budget variances; extreme cold-weather drop-ins; misuse of TTC fuel credit cards; wildlife encounters; and more. Continue reading The Cheat Sheet: Committee Meetings, May 19-25