Green with envy

Hey, look: we actually beat New York at something! Here’s an infographic, of how Toronto’s parks compare to a bunch of other North American cities, that I made for an insert in Toronto Life's June issue. (We trump New York City by having twice as much parkland per resident as they do. That counts!) It's a few months old, but it's not online anywhere, which is why I'm putting it here. Click here to see it closer-up.


For the Globe and Mail this week, I figured out that since the mid-’80s, the percentage of Toronto kids walking to school has slipped (in terms of number of trips taken that way by 11-to-13-year-olds, it’s gone down by 21.6%) while the percentage of them being driven there, by car or school bus, has nearly doubled (up by 79.3%). There wasn’t space for it, but here’s the full set of data, from the Transportation Tomorrow Survey, which was graciously prepared for me by Gordon Hui at U of T’s Data Management Group:

(The two rows with the yellow background are mine.)

What’s really amazing is that, if you look—and you don’t have to look too closely—pretty much every way of getting to school other than being driven there is slipping: transit’s been cut in half, and even biking is happening less than it was in 1986 and 1991. And if you leave school buses out of it and just focus on private cars, the increase for just that way of getting to school for that age group is 114.0% for Toronto, and 121.8% for the GTA.

Kids these days

There’s been a bit of talk lately about Toronto’s youth unemployment rate—with an election on, it’s come up in mayoral debates, and in a Metro Morning interview with Rob Ford. I don’t find it all that useful of a measurement of how the city is doing, though, for a few reasons. First, “youth” means 15-to-24-year-olds, and a high school student who can’t find a job is a lot different from a university graduate who can’t. Second, having a part-time job, or several of them, is a lot different than having a full-time one, and that number doesn’t really tell you much about that. Third, the youth unemployment rate is being used a lot lately on a month-to-month basis (like: youth unemployment in the City of Toronto has gone up 8% since last month!), when the data is based on a small enough sample that it might not be that accurate—as I got told when I went looking for more information on the rate, the month-to-month data is volatile, and the city’s number-crunchers, at least, don’t recommend comparing one month to another one; year-to-year’s a better way to go about it.

What you’ll hear a lot less about is something else that Statistics Canada tracks alongside the youth unemployment rate: full-time employment. And that’s where things are, I think, more interesting, and more telling. For this week’s edition of my thing in the Globe, I found out that percentage of Torontonian twentysomethings with full-time jobs has slipped over the last quarter-century: from 68.1% to 33.3% of 20-to-24-year-olds between 1989 and 2013, and from 82.0% to 61.3% of 25-to-29-year-olds in the same period. Basically, being a twentysomething and having a full-time job used to be the norm, and now it’s slowly but steadily becoming the exception.

Here’s the year-by-year data, going back to 1987:

Obviously, more and more kids go to university or college after high school now than they did in the late ’80s, and it’s tough to hold down a full-time job and do that. But that doesn’t explain away the change in the group in their mid-to-late-20s, and it’s hard to tell how many people are going to and staying in post-secondary education because they feel there aren’t full-time jobs out there for them if they didn’t.

And what about everyone else? Well, things have been a lot more stable over the last twenty-five years for the other age groups:

It’s a messy graph, I know, but you can see that in the more middle-aged groups, where the percentage of full-timers has trended down, it hasn’t been as pronounced as it has for younger people. Between 1987 and 2013, 30-to-34-year-olds went from 78.3% full-timers to 70.6%; 35-to-39-year-olds went from 75.8% to 71.7%. And all of the older age groups (50–54, 55–59, 60–64, and 65+) are all trending up slightly over time.

I don’t want to say that all this necessarily means things are worse for young people: not everyone wants a full-time job. But, if you’re in your twenties in Toronto, they’re vanishing for you whether you want one or not.

So, how about that weather?

For The Grid this week, I went up on the roof of the Canada Life Building to get an up-close look at their sixty-year-old weather beacon. I write in the story that, after the beacon was switched on in 1951, the Canada Life Assurance Company mailed little pocket-sized cards explaining what the lights meant to every household in the city. “We feel it should create a real interest besides being a useful service to the people of the city,” the insurance giant’s then-president told the Star at the time. “For most people the weather provides a topic of conversation at all times.” For most animals, too, apparently—throughout the following year, the company also ran these great ads in the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star:

You couldn’t see it in the black-and-white papers, of course, but the cube that topped the tower would’ve been blinking red if rain was in the forecast. Just don’t ask how those horses—who "cannot distinguish red"—knew.

Making it on minimum wage

Every Saturday in the Globe and Mail now, I’ve got a weekly look at how Toronto is measuring up—each week, the idea is, I crunch some numbers to try to find just a few that say something about where this city’s at and how it’s doing. Because it’s teeny, though, there’s a lot I can’t show. This week, for instance, the provincial government announced they were bumping the minimum wage in Ontario up to $11 this year, and tying it to inflation thereafter, which is either good or bad depending on who you ask. The Globe thing I came up with is pretty straightforward—how many hours at the new minimum wage you’d have to work to pay rent on the average-priced one-bedroom apartment in Toronto, versus how many hours you’d have had to work had the minimum wage been raised to $14, which is what the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage had been pushing for. (It’s about twenty hours less over the course of a month.)

There’s more to those numbers, though.

First, there’s inflation. In the past, the minimum wage actually hasn’t been as low as you might’ve thought, once you take inflation into account—it actually peaked when it was $2.40 in 1977, which is $10.67 in 2013 dollars, and has nearly always landed somewhere between $8 and $10. But you can also see how quickly the minimum wage’s value slides when it’s stuck, as it was for nine years starting in 1995. (It took a newly elected Liberal provincial government to finally bump it in 2004 to $7.15 from $6.85.)

And then there’s how far the minimum wage actually goes in a city like Toronto.

There are lots of different ways to show this, but I like using the average-priced one-bedroom apartment as a metric, because: i) people know what that is in a way they might not with, say, the Nutritious Food Basket; ii) if you use the right data—the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation keeps track, and has for decades—you can get it specific to Toronto; iii) and because other Toronto-specific measurements you could use (like the TTC Metropass) might feel tangible but have their costs established not by the market but by a group of public servants.

Watch what happens in the mid-’90s now (oh, and note where the y-axis starts this time, as I only have rental-rate data going back to 1990):

It might not look like a lot, but in practical terms, it’s huge—all of a sudden, by the early ’00s, affording the average one-bedroom apartment on minimum wage meant working thirty-five more hours a month than you had to in 1994. Those groups pushing for a higher minimum wage or even a living wage may not have gotten everything they wanted this week, but boy, could they have they had it worse.

Data comes from the Government of Canada and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and I used the Bank of Canada inflation calculator to figure out inflation. Two notes: first, none of these charts include taxes, which means that the amount of hours it’d take to make rent is actually a little higher in most—but not all—cases; and second, for each year, I’ve charted whatever the minimum wage was by the end of that year rather than the beginning, since the rental information comes from each October.

Where the bodies are buried

In the National Post this weekend, I’ve got an infographic of Toronto’s other population: the dead people. (Well, at least the ones whose remains have been buried in, scattered at, or otherwise interred in the city’s cemeteries, mausoleums, and columbaria.) You can see it here, but I also made the interactive map, embedded above, for fact-checking purposes, and figured it could be of some interest, too. It’s significantly less beautiful than what the Post's designers pulled off, and if you zoom way in, some of the dots aren't located precisely where the cemeteries are, but you get the idea. It also does include something there was no way to fit in the print infographic, which are the variations of cemetery names—something that's especially common with older sites. Victoria Memorial Square, just off Spadina downtown, has sometimes been called any one of St. John’s Garrison Cemetery, Old Military Burying Ground, Garrison Cemetery, Military Memorial Park, St. John the Evangelist Cemetery, and St. John’s Square.

You can view the full-size map here. It’s up to date as of a few months ago, when my research on it started; it’s unlikely I’ll keep the thing updated, but if you’re someone who could use my work in some way, I’m happy to turn over a spreadsheet of all of my research. As far as I know, no one’s ever done a count like this before, and in the course of putting it together, I heard from researchers and archivists and historians who asked to see my work when it was done. Email me and I’d be happy to share it.

Six short poems excerpted from the Toronto Sun

Face to face

What would you do if you saw someone randomly attacked on the street?
Do you support mandatory minimum sentences?
What do you think of capital punishment?
Have you ever been face to face with a thief?

- - -

Do you?

Do you think Charles Manson should be allowed to marry?
Do you think doorknobs should be banned?
Do you think George Zimmerman will ever stay out of the headlines?
Do you think there is more to learn about the JFK assassination?
Do you think Harper is telling the truth?

- - -

Rob Ford

Are you tired of the media coverage of Mayor Rob Ford?

Do you think Rob Ford is “good for Toronto”?
Do you think Rob Ford should have given all of his staff $5,000 raises Friday?
Do you think Mayor Rob Ford should have lost the bulk of his office staff?
Would you watch a movie about Rob Ford?
If you saw Barry Neelin on the street, would you think he was Rob Ford?
Do you think city council is capable of conducting business as usual despite the scandal surrounding Mayor Rob Ford?
Should the provincial government give Toronto council more tools to sideline Mayor Rob Ford?
Do you believe Rob Ford when he says he won’t drink again?

Are you tired of the media coverage of Mayor Rob Ford?

- - -


Will humans eventually live on Mars?

Have you ever taken a selfie or twerked?

Do you wish you were able to fly like Superman?

Have you donated to relief efforts in the Philippines?

Is 50 per cent enough?

- - -


Can Barack Obama save ‘Obamacare’?
Should the pastor be suspended?
Have you been a victim of red tape at city hall?
Do you think Ornge Air Ambulance is safe?
Do you think Melissa Bachman was sacked unfairly?

Which scandal is worse?

- - -


Do you remember to check your lottery tickets?
If you won the lottery, would you keep working?
Would you hire John Edwards?
Would you eat kangaroo meat?
Would you give a hug to a stranger on the street?

- - -

All lines come from polls accompanying Toronto Sun news stories published over one week (from Saturday, November 15 to Friday, November 22). Repeated lines were questions asked more than once. I’ve corrected any typos in the original, but they’re otherwise reproduced here as-published. Thanks to Jon Medow for suggesting I turn a stupid joke into this even-stupider one.

I guess you could say that Video Killed the Radio Star

There may be no greater threat to the illusion that we are all not just funny but uniquely funny than Twitter. (At least this one is a pretty good joke.)