But it looks it, doesn’t it?
What you are looking at is a McDonalds outlet on the southeast corner of Danforth Road and McCowan Avenue in southwestern Scarborough. And I think it illustrates the main problem of suburban-style development, and how far we still have to go to fix the urban landscape.
I came to the intersection yesterday because I wanted to snap some pictures for Transit Toronto. Specifically, I wanted to catch some shots of the Stouffville GO train. Knowing that I would be waiting for a while, I had scoped out the area on Google Maps and noted the McDonalds restaurant as a possible place to sit, write a little, and drink something cold.
McDonalds has attempted to rebrand itself as less of a fast food restaurant and more as an urban café, serving coffee-based frothy drinks along with Big Macs and Filet-o-Fishes. It’s fooling nobody, of course, but they do offer free wi-fi and the drinks are good enough in a pinch, so I thought it would be a good base.
(As an aside, did you know that some McDonalds no longer offer milkshakes? This one didn’t. Only smoothies were available. That said, the vanilla-chai smoothie was actually quite good).
But when I got to the corner, and stepped off the Cliffside bus, I was at the door of this McDonald’s. And my first thought was: is this place closed? There was trash strewn everywhere. There was no sign of life behind the blackened windows. The door looked locked.
That’s when I realized that I was looking at the back door, which just happened to open out onto the sidewalk. The place was part of a strip plaza, and the front end of the McDonalds was on the other side, facing the parking lot.
Once I figured this out, I walked around the other side, and encountered windows that weren’t blacked out, and a patio where people from the ethnically diverse neighbourhood were sitting. Early on a Thursday afternoon, this McDonalds was providing a vital service to its neighbours as a meeting place. But it speaks volumes that Midland Avenue and Danforth Road, two major streets around which this neighbourhood is centred, are not the focus of this restaurant’s attention. At all. In spite of the fact that most people coming out to this McDonalds early that afternoon were arriving on foot or on transit, in this part of Scarborough, the car is perceived to be the king, and the pedestrian its humble servant.
Which is a shame, because it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. This McDonalds has a streetfront which it has turned its back on. And the image it presents to the street, and the image it lends to the street, is one that isn’t welcoming. Or particularly safe, in my opinion.
I did get my picture, though. You can see it below.