Oh, Dear God.


What you are looking at is the proposed north wall of Dundas Square at the intersection of Yonge and Dundas in downtown Toronto. Years ago, the City of Toronto began work demolishing two city blocks on its main strip that had been home to down-at-the-heels stores, pawn shops and discount establishments. To try and cure this resistent area of urban blight, the decision was made to create a public square, very like Times Square in New York. This image, displayed at the Urban Toronto forum, seems to take that suggestion a little too literally.

I am not opposed to the idea of creating a new public space in the heart of Toronto, and I frankly think they did a good job with the south end of Dundas Square. It will also be good to see the something — anything! — emerge from the longstanding hoarding around the north side of Dundas square. However, if this is carried out, I would have to say that its effect on Dundas Square would be to render it as gaudy as the run-down stores it replaced.

The proposed north wall of Dundas Square, also known as the Metropolis development, is an assault on the senses. Look at the structure, and you will see that it is a four storey building, topped by an equally tall mass of billboards. It is out of scale and intimidating. It would certainly drive me away and keep me from staying in Dundas Square for any length of time, and if my reaction is typical, then it would render Dundas Square a failure in meeting its stated ambition of being a people place.

I’m with Spacing Magazine on this one. The people behind the Dundas Square project don’t seem to get it. Fortunately, there is still time to stop the monster billboards. The billboards violate city bylaws (gee, ya think?!) and the advertising agencies have to get special variances in order to get this project passed. Torontonians interested in this project should contact their local councillor to express their opinions before the final meetings take place.

Kitchener is still going through its own battle to save key blocks of its downtown. The Forsythe saga continues to come to a head. Yesterday, a bomb threat emptied out City Hall before the Heritage Committee could meet on the demolition application for the Forsythe.

As controversial as the Centre block discussions are, and as frustrating city hall’s actions can be, it goes without saying that this sort of hooliganism is more than unwelcome in this community. For all of my concerns about how city hall has handled some things in this city, I greatly appreciate the fact that the city hall building remains an open public space well into the night, every night. I don’t want to lose that access. It would further separate city hall from its citizens.

I find it disturbing that the city is bulldozing ahead with the plan to clear significant sections of the Centre Block and then give the property away to some developer. Since we’ve learned that plans to use this project to improve the central library’s collection have fallen by the wayside, there is even less reason to rush ahead on redeveloping the Centre Block with an expensive new library building. It’s frustrating, but it looks like the city is going to act first, and ask questions later (and for a very, very long time later).

It’s worth noting that this is an election year. This November, this council goes before the voting public to be held accountable for the decisions they made over the past three years. Will city council’s attitude, as represented by the Forsythe saga, be an election issue? I can only hope so.

Crossposted with the Transit Toronto blog:

An interesting new addition to the Canadian blogosphere is a website by Steve Munro. Steve Munro is a longtime transit activist who has fought for improved transit service for the City of Toronto. He is one of the people responsible for the fact that streetcars still ply the streets in my hometown, but he’s not one to kowtow to the TTC when it comes to how they do their job. At times, he has been one of the TTC’s harshest critics, complaining about the cost and the design flaws of the Harbourfront LRT, and keeping tabs on how well the TTC is meeting its objectives set out in its Ridership Growth Strategy. For this reason, he has been a deserving recipient of the Jane Jacobs Prize for “contributing to the city’s vitality”.

His recent post on the proposed station makeovers is an example of the man’s tough love for the TTC.

Word of this seeped into the press as one of those grand public-spirited gestures. A foundation would raise money (tax deductible of course) and with this pool of loot would go forth and do good works. You can read about it at http://spacing.ca/wire/?p=355.

There is a catch. There is always a catch.

The foundation only pays for about half of the project and the rest has to be raised by the TTC, the City, whoever. Seed money for the project (preliminary engineering, etc.) comes out of the TTC budget. You donÔøΩt believe me? HereÔøΩs the minute from the TTCÔøΩs November meeting:

While youÔøΩre waiting for the next streetcar to show up, or railing against the penny-pinching City Budget Advisory Committee, console yourself. You, yes you, shivering in the cold while all of those warm taxicabs pass you by, are doing your bit to make Toronto a Beautiful City. At least Adam Giambrone had the good sense to insist that the City only pay one quarter of the cost of this scheme. The original proposal from the Toronto Community Foundation was half-and-half.

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