Category Archives: Health

Ontario Architects Support Healthy Workplaces

On Wednesday May 24th, 2017, the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) gathered together at their annual general meeting and showed their support for ensuring healthier workplace standards. A motion brought forward by John MacDonald called his fellow architects into action by asking them to stand up to solve issues of equity and fairness within the architectural profession. The motion specifically pertains to exemptions in the Employment Standards Act that exclude architects, among other professions, from certain employment standards such as entitlement to minimum wage, overtime pay, and vacation. The motion was received with resounding support from members of the OAA.

John was inspired to spearhead a grassroots movement among architects in Ontario to prove that architects are willing and able to take the lead to ensure better working conditions. “Not everyone in this profession has enjoyed the support and respect from employers that I have, in my journey from student to Intern to Architect and finally Principal of my practice”, says John. “Architects are leaders in our communities, and we need to lead on this issue as well. Ours is a fast-paced deadline-driven environment that may not always support the work-life balance and opportunity that is key to a healthy 21st Century workplace. We can be better.”

John’s motion has quickly gained traction, receiving an astounding approximate 160 votes in favour and only 7 votes against at the OAA Annual General meeting. When asked about the success of his motion John says, “I feel extremely gratified. This is a huge endorsement of the ability of our profession to lead on these important issues.” The motion has sent a strong message to the OAA and to other professions that those who contribute to our success and the public good must be treated fairly, with proper compensation for overtime and recognition of good work-life balance. JMA invites all like-minded professionals to join us in the effort, regardless of profession. While it’s true that the Province and many professions are studying these issues, the time for study is long past. Self-governing professions need not wait for others to act for them. Now is the time and place to move forward. #architectslead

Listen to John discuss healthy workplace standards with CBC’s Craig Norris: http://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/the-morning-edition-k-w/episode/12745774

Team Working

JMA office, Kitchener Ontario

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#architectslead

architectslead

Architects lead in so many ways: co-ordinating and leading complex projects on the journey from idea to performing facility, advocating for healthy communities and planet, and caring for the built environment. It seems fitting that our industry should step forward to lead once again, by advocating for ever-healthier workplace and employment standards.

For some months our firm has been looking into issues of equity and fairness in how architecture is practiced. Employment standards, respect for everyone’s efforts and contributions, and healthy workplaces are key to our success. As professionals, we want to lead in these areas, and where better to start than with our own industry? Good can always be better, and less than good should never be acceptable.

Exemptions to Minimum Employment Standards in the Professions

It’s not generally well-known that some professionals are exempt from certain employment standards: entitlement to minimum wage, entitlement to overtime pay, or even vacation. Practitioners of architecture are one of this group, which includes practitioners of law, medicine, engineering, and others.

Why is that? Well, I’d say that’s because the practicing architect owes a duty of care to the public good, and has professional obligation to society and clients. This can’t be inhibited by how hard it is, or how long it takes, to get the job done right. Fair enough. We are a self-regulating profession that must meet the standards of the Architects Act, to preserve and protect the public interest.

That doesn’t mean this exemption should apply to everyone in the office though.

Unfortunately, the interpretation of employment standards in our profession seems to be that all architects, even the Interns, are not deserving of protections regarding hours, pay, and conditions. To my view, this is unfair. While I understand the reasoning that the practicing professional who is responsible for a design is exempt, the intern, the non-practicing architect, and the remainder of the staff, are performing their duties under the direct supervision of that practicing architect. They do not bear the same responsibility, and in our industry they are vulnerable to long hours, poor work-life balance, and sometimes little or no pay for extraordinary hours and efforts.

So we are aiming to change this situation, in the interest of fairness and equity.

#architectslead

I have submitted a motion to the 2017 Annual General Meeting of the Ontario Association of Architects for consideration by the membership, in Ottawa on May 24th. We hope that architects can make a strong statement to our Council and to the public that as a self-governing profession we are capable of higher standards, and do not fear to be measured by them.

We invite all like-minded professionals to join us in the effort, regardless of profession. Ours is a fast-paced, deadline driven environment, but that is true of many other industries and workplaces in the 21st Century. We can all benefit from healthier workplaces and respect for everyone’s contributions.

For many years we’ve carried the following quotation from Jane Jacobs on our website, from her book Canadian Cities and Sovereignty-Association:

“All of us, if we are reasonably comfortable, healthy and safe, owe immense debt to the past. There is no way, of course, to repay the past. We can only pay those debts by making gifts to the future.”

In our own practice we strive to uphold principles of fairness and equity. We reach beyond a carefully contrived minimum duty within or below the law, to a more equitable place for all of us. We don’t believe that all who work in the profession of architecture are so lucky. There are and will continue to be pockets of activity and behaviour in the professions that must be improved. Jane’s message resonates with us as a goal for everyone. So we’ve set our sights on a gift to the future, to build upon the Healthy Workplace initiative that the Ontario Association of Architects is already considering.

The Motion

Click to view Equity and Fairness in Our Profession for specific discussion of the issues and the motion I am bringing forward for the consideration of my colleagues in architecture, and some personal points of view on the Employment Standards Act.

Visit http://www.oaa.on.ca/ and https://www.raic.org/ for more information about what a practicing architect does.

Your comments and discussion are most welcome, about how best to make this gift to the future. It’s a gift that is timely and needed.

– John MacDonald, OAA, MRAIC

#architectslead

 

Enter for a Chance to Win!!

As part of our firm’s commitment to community outreach, and the Pedestrian Charter’s mandate for promoting walkable cities, the two organizations have teamed up to create the ‘name the turtle contest’ in conjunction with our upcoming Jane’s Walk May 8th.

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Over the next week, leading up to the May 8th Jane’s Walk, you can submit an entry with your name for the turtle, for a chance to win a free pair of Converse shoes from Nigel’s Athletic Direct. 
Entries are being accepted by email to cailin@johnmacdonaldarchitect.ca or in person at Nigel’s Athletic Direct, Market Square, Kitchener.
Here are the rules:
– Anyone can enter, 1 entry per person (unless you are a relative of an organizer of this walk, as you are ineligible) 
– your name choice must be submitted by Friday May 6th at 12:00 noon 
– your submission must clearly state your name choice for the turtle, your name and your contact information
– there will only be one winner
– if we are unable to contact you within one week, another name will be selected and that person will win the contest
– you must be able to pick up the shoes from Nigel’s Athletic Direct,  by May 31, 2011 during normal store hours
– the winning turtle name will be selected by representatives of John MacDonald Architect and the Pedestrian Steering Committee
– we are not liable for late, lost, illegible or incorrectly submitted entries
– we will not keep your personal information

The winner will be announced at the Jane’s Walk May 8th, and posted on our blog Monday May 9th
The turtle will lead the upcoming Jane’s Walk, and will act as the mascot for the Pedestrian Charter Steering Committee here in the Region.
Join us for the walk, rain or shine, next Sunday May 8th at Hibner Park as we walk with the turtle to city hall, the Silverspoon and then to the Victoria Park Clock Tower as we explore our city!

A New Year of Tax Fraud

 

Municipalities will be ringing in the New Year by ringing the cash registers, once again collecting their revenue from one slice of citizens, and using it to subsidize another. Their New Year’s resolution should be to stop this fraudulent practice, and bring tax fairness to forms of urban development that are economically and environmentally sustainable.

This practice was highlighted at a recent conference held in Toronto, called “Retrofitting and Planning Sustainable Suburbs”. Although the conference was short on answers, a presentation by Peter Katz (Director of Smart Growth for Sarasota Florida) on long-term fiscal stability for communities was most revealing. In it, Katz compared tax revenue to urban density, with surprising results.

Both our regional and local governments generate their revenue, and incur their expenses, across a specific geography. A local comparison of three different properties in this landscape shows the subsidy from higher density to lower.

The three properties?

1) A 14 storey Downtown Kitchener condo (66 units, .7 acre including its associated street area, located on a street corner used by many of us)

2) a 7 storey historic and well-kept rental property (36 units, .5 acre including its street area, 90 feet of frontage along a street used by many of us)

3) a typical suburban home (1 unit, .12 acre, 45 feet of frontage, along a street used by only its inhabitants)

The typical suburban property is valued at about $200,000, and generates $2,250 of revenue for City and Region (ie., provincial education taxes excluded).The condo property carries $9.9 million of assessment on the municipal rolls, and generates $110,000.The rental building is valued at $2.55 million, but by virtue of its more than double tax rate relative to condo and single family home assessment, that $2.5 million generates $55,000 of revenue for the City and Region.

By comparing the revenue to the area of property and street necessitated by each, we can begin to see the enormous disparity, and the size of the suburban subsidy. The suburban home sends about $14,000 per acre to City Hall. Astonishingly, the condo sends $160,000 per acre even when the corner streets are used in the calculation. That’s more than 10 times the revenue of suburban development. The rental units cough up $115,000 per acre, taken in large part from citizens with little or no savings or net worth.

Multiply these numbers over and over, and you get the picture. Katz, in his presentation of numbers for his community, shows a similar effect on the commercial side. Strip malls and local suburban malls, with their massive parking and wasteful use of adjoining streets, generate about the same tax revenue per acre for Sarasota as suburban residences. No more.

What do our local condo owner or renters get for their tax bill? Garbage and recycling pickup, like the suburban homeowner? No. They pay extra for that, on top of their tax bill. Given that about 50% of municipal expenses are dependent on response times and density (25% of Kitchener’s costs are related to fire coverage alone over its network of streets), the tax bill could be seen as a fraud perpetrated upon sustainable development by suburban voters. Worse, the 36 unit rental property requires snow plowing, police drive-by, asphalt repairs and replacement, for only 90 feet of street. Its equivalent in the suburbs, on a dollar for dollar revenue basis, requires 1200 feet. Worse, that thirteen times length of infrastructure, paid for with utility rates common to all electricity, water and gas users, is maintained by all users equally. In addition to that subsidy, the renters must maintain their private pipes common to the units within the building, through their rent.

We’ve known for a long time that municipal property taxes transfer money from those without the means to pay to suburban voters with net worth, and the Ontario Government has directed municipalities years ago to end this practice. This directive has for the most part been ignored. Now, to grind salt into the wound, let’s add the subsidy: from sustainable, walkable, transit-friendly existing or new development to unsustainable existing and the suburbs-to-come, paid year after year. Properties generating $100,000 or more per acre are paying for municipal services for other areas of the city that incur the costs, yet generate only about $14,000 per acre. In business terms, it makes no sense whatsoever.

And what is the attitude of suburban voters to this largesse? On transit investment to support densification, or quality downtown urban infrastructure? Don’t do it. On taxes? We need relief. On municipal services? We don’t get our fair share. On change to allow density and a greater variety of uses? Don’t touch us!

Given that “Smart Growth” apparently means 40% residential development within built-up areas, and 60% outside it, and given that commercial and employment development can go where it wishes to chew more farmland, our municipal leadership will continue to massively subsidize low density development with capital and operating dollars, while talking a good game.

For this New Year, let’s resolve to end this fraud. It’s not enough to promote sustainable development. We’ve got to stop penalizing it.

Healthy Cities Help Raise Children

A few years back, our neighbours across the street in our downtown Kitchener neighbourhood (Victoria Park) proudly announced the impending arrival of their firstborn. “Fantastic!”, we said. “A playmate for our own children. More laughter up and down our street!!!” Alas, it was not to pass. The parents-to-be had another plan: a quick getaway to the outskirts of town. “We can’t raise children here. It really would be better for them in the suburbs.” Ouch! We waved goodbye through the exhaust of their moving van, and slunk back to our front porch to ponder our failure as parents. We knew as well as anyone the litany of evil that permeates our culture’s notions of “the City”, in stark contrast to its healthier and morally superior country setting. What were we thinking in exposing our offspring, their minds tender and not yet made up, to straight streets named after citizens, mature trees, and schools with two floors? While we weren’t swaddling them directly in unspoilt nature, couldn’t we at least procure the safety of pastoral scenes but a few subdivisions yonder?

As early as the 1950’s, that prescient urbanist Jane Jacobs lamented the geographic cleaving of North American cities along the lines of age and gender. Communities designed as a daily pattern of break-up, with breadwinners commuting each day to the concrete jungle, leaving the women and children safely ensconced in a more predictable, healthier, and “natural” setting. The gains we have made since those times (for women, for instance) have largely been about participation in this model, not as a fundamental change to it. If anything we have further reinforced the geographic isolation through public school closures and the relocation of high schools out of our downtowns, so that a teenager’s exposure to “life on the streets” is first minimised, and then redefined as a fearful dead end. Our children visit Downtown Toronto more than their own community cores, and they are now a second and third generation removed from any experience of the healthy hustle and bustle of a 1950’s main street.

We have planned our cities to reinforce a perception of urban streets as inherently dangerous. Our media dutifully report and dramatise this state of affairs. Statistics and facts are skewed in support of a powerful piece of urban mythology: Downtown is where the crime is! If we cannot eliminate it, then we should at least contain it geographically. Our hopes for the young and vulnerable are that they be protected from this den of iniquity, only bearing witness to the carnage through the flat screen of NYPD Blue, Cops, and sundry reality shows: the prime-time line-up from which our potential assailants are stereotyped.

Urban districts that do not include for children must surely be condemned as inadequate. The active presence of children is a fundamental measure for the health of our streets. Where they are absent, our design has failed. It is unfortunate that we have so few examples in North America for the integrated design of schools, shops, work, entertainment, recreation space, cultural experience, and accommodation within one geographic district. The City of Vancouver and other municipalities that lack a farm belt into which they might endlessly expand are leading the search for this new city form, and a return to a sustainable urban model for living. In the words of Larry Beasley, former Director of Planning for the City of Vancouver: “without its comprehensive ‘living first’ strategy, Vancouver would be lightyears behind where it needs to be. Most of all, the city would not have realized its dream for an urban lifestyle that will draw people back from their 50-year romance with the suburbs, bringing with them their resources, energy, and creativity to build the kind of remarkable city that an extraordinary natural setting and the city’s people so richly deserve.” Sound appealing? This weekend, why not explore a new frontier.  Bring your kids downtown.