Best marijuana activist
The bubbly project coordinator for the Toronto Compassion Centre is a medpot ambassador extraordinaire. Founder of the glittery Bud Babes - seen on weed-wonderful floats wherever anti-prohibition activists parade - Curley networks conferences, organizes promo parties and sells the compassion cause wherever there's an opening. "Boys, I'm taking control here,' she likes to say in the midst of guy-heavy movement mayhem. Her fave catchphrase is "well-behaved women rarely make history.' No prob, she ain't one.
Best queer activist
Imagine you're young, queer, brown, new to Canada and speak no English - in other words, almost completely isolated. If you're lucky, you'll encounter Suhail AbualSameed. AbualSameed coordinates Express, the newcomer/ immigrant youth program at Supporting Our Youth. He's also - among a ton of other things - a co-founder of Salaam, the group that supports queer Muslims. And he works on the Youth Migration Project to explore issues related to LGBTQ refugee youth and HIV/AIDS. Smart, committed and a brilliant speaker, AbualSameed makes T.O. a safe haven.
Best defender of the city
PIER GIORGIO DI CICCO
As T.O.'s poet laureate, Di Cicco, a Catholic priest, is supposed to open conferences and direct the public gaze to the glories of art and literature. What he's done, however, is far grander. He's turned city planning ethereal. In his many speeches and writings, Di Cicco's provides a spiritual language for that elusive relationship between urban design and the social good. His book Municipal Mind: Manifestos For The Creative City theologizes against any act that "discourages human encounter in the interest of expediency" or breeds "entitlement without patience, tolerance without empathy and a civic mandate to mind your own business.' No planner should start a survey without inhaling Di Cicco's little benediction.
Best activist group
URBAN REPAIR SQUAD
This anonymous group of bike-loving vigilantes, a modern-day posse on two-wheelers, is taking back the streets from smog-causing cars one bike lane at a time. And all through the nozzle of a spraypaint can (no worries, it's easy-off). Part graffiti, part guerrilla theatre, URS's unofficial bike lanes have sprung up on Bloor, Ossington, Dundas and Queen, much to the delight of sometimes bewildered passersby. The city says it's too broke to build bike lanes. The Urban Repair Squad will fix it, no charge.
Best activist campaign
STREETS ARE FOR PEOPLE'S LIBERATE A TREE
With sledgehammers and crowbars in hand, Streets Are for People make like a band of merry eco-warriors circa Rebellion of 1837, scouring the city for street trees to liberate from the suffocating slabs of concrete that prevent rainwater from getting to their roots. These tiny acts of guerrilla streetscaping are giving our otherwise neglected street trees a chance to survive - hey, the city's not watering them!
Yes, it's true. DiNovo once smuggled LSD across the border in a hollowed-out Bible. A one-time street kid, Marxist-Trotskyist, corporate headhunter, United Church minister and perhaps the next leader of the provincial NDP, DiNovo's got a packed resumé. Now as MPP from Parkdale-High Park, the radical rev has turned her Tommy Douglas-like social gospel to waking up the dozy NDP caucus. Her private member's bill for a $10-an-hour minimum wage was more than an occasion for fine speechifying - DiNovo turned her campaign into an extra-parliamentary mission. We're counting on the Jesus-lovin' former Trot to win us back some social dem faith.
Best city councillor
We were a little ambivalent about Vaughan at first - like what was he thinking when he mused on gated alleyways anyway? But this eloquent iconoclast has turned out to be a superb defender of the public realm. Fearless and unrepentantly independent, he's one of the few to publically question police spending. And no one's a better warrior against anti-taxer idiocy. Some may call the primacy he places on his ward parochial, but we're big fans of the way the councillor is leveraging community consultations against bad development. Who else are we going to trust the future of Kensington to?
BAILEY BRIDGE, OLD FINCH AVENUE
Constructed by the 2nd Field Engineer Regiment of the Canadian Military Engineers after Hurricane Hazel washed out most bridges in Scarborough in 1954, this Bailey bridge spanning Rouge Creek kept the burb going. It's one of only two Bailey bridges still in use in Toronto (the other crosses the Lakeshore). Legend has it that singing Happy Birthday there will rouse the spirit of a young girl who was murdered on the bridge on her birthday.
Best tourist attraction
GRAFFITI ALLEY NORTH OF QUEEN FROM GLADSTONE TO DOVERCOURT
The laneway north of Queen from Gladstone to Lisgar was a bleak place to get mugged a decade ago. Today, if you get accosted on your way home from the Price Chopper, at least you'll be in the most impressive graffiti-lined alley in town. Artists beautified the laneway in June, and for several years prior. Much of the work was part of Style in Progress's ReSurface event, which attracted more than 50 artists to work on walls, garages, fences and doorways along the whole stretch. The best part is this off-Queen outdoor gallery is free, cameras are certainly allowed and you won't hear some slick snob snorting "But is it art?!"
Lakeshore Asylum Cemetery Project
Here,in a sparsely-treed greenspace off the Gardiner at Evans and Horner in Etobicoke, 1,511 former patients of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital, were buried and forgotten between 1890 and 1974. A revitalization project, the brainchild of Ed Janiszewski, a former employee of the hospital, has transformed this former meadow of 3-foot-tall grass, overgrown shrubs and fallen trees into a place where friends and family can remember.
Best new building
This year's Urban Design Award co-winner in the low-scale category, this stunning Drew Mandel Design creation offers a fine example of how a risky development form - infill housing - can be simple, elegant and moving. A contemporary structure that announces itself subtly within the streetscape.
CNE grounds www.explace.on.ca
For the 50 weeks of the year it's ignored, the old fairgrounds are still packed with some of the most interesting architecture the city has to offer. Modern marvels like the Queen Elizabeth Building and Better Living Centre - the Food Building is pretty funky, too - sit coolly amid early-20th-century charmers like the Press and Horticulture buildings. The grounds also lay claim to some of the most important events in our history. It's where the Americans landed during the War of 1812, where Scadding Cabin, one of the oldest buildings in the city (built in 1794), stands and where our first wind turbine was erected.
Best social vision
YWCA Elm centre
Come next spring, the YWCA will be breaking ground on T.O.'s largest affordable housing project for women. There's still $34 million to raise, but all three levels of government have already committed cash. Once the centre's completed in 2010, it will stretch a city block and offer 300 new units for single and elderly women and those with disabilities and mother-led and Aboriginal families. No big hope for the 70,000 folks waiting for social housing in the city, of course, but, hey, it's a start.
Best historical landmark
Gibraltar Point Lighthouse
The oldest landmark in the city that's still in its original place (no one knows for sure when it was erected, 1808, is the best guess), this symbol of early seafaring days put old York on the map and used the first rudiments of green power - a cable tied to a drum and dropped down the shaft of the lighthouse revolved the light that guided trading vessels. The 25-metre-high structure is essentially the same as it was 200 years ago - it was raised by 3 metres in 1832 - except for the iron balcony, which replaced a wood one in 1878.
Best new development
West Don Lands
Twenty-three acres of parklands, transit within a five-minute walk of all residences, 1,200 units of affordable housing, pedestrian and cycling connections to the downtown core - West Don Lands is simply the most ambitious development plan in the city's history. It's also promising to transform the lower Don River into a usable waterway anchored by marshes of the kind that used to breathe life into the river before the industrial age laid it to waste. The first in a long line of waterfront proposals, West Don Lands will set the tone for all other development to follow along the lakefront.
Best free hangout
401 RICHMOND West
The former Macdonald Manufacturing warehouse is Toronto's template for good downtown workspaces. Crediting Jane Jacobs's writings, the current owners reinterpreted the old lithography company to house a vibrant mix of galleries, non-profits, designers, healers and dancers. You don't even need to walk into a studio to check out something cool - just wander the halls. Once you're done, pull out your packed lunch and head to the 6,500-square-foot rooftop patio, admire the biowalls and green roof gardens and critique the city's flawed urban spaces. Bonus: free wireless thanks to Wireless Toronto.
Best public space
Toronto Sculpture Garden
Considering how many Toronto public spaces are masquerading as vacant lots, it's refreshing to see a perennially successful destination. The Toronto Sculpture Garden has been an incubator for expressive public art since 1981 thanks to a deal between the city and philanthropist Louis L. Odette. Those keen enough to see the tiny parkette across from St. James Cathedral on King are rewarded with contemporary installations like Ludwika Ogorzelec's Mist: From The Space Crystallization Cycle, a plastic web creeping across the park through the summer, or the current exhibit, Kelly Jazvac's Upgrade, a kind of DIY Porsche.