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Old 02-21-2008, 06:30 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Toronto: The death of a historic city block (Queen Street West)

6-Alarm Fire at Queen & Bathurst

This is something worth noting. This week, 15 buildings in a historic part of Toronto were either damaged or destroyed by a huge fire. (At one point, there were 50 emergency vehicles involved.) Some of these buildings were as old as Canada (mostly dating to the mid-1800s).

Those who know the Queen West area, what are your responses to this? I think it's a terrible thing to lose such things as historic buildings and 90-year-old bicycle shops, but the other concern is what will replace these things. Will this be a continuation of the gentrification of Queen West?

Is gentrification a good thing or a bad thing for the neighbourhood?
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Old 02-21-2008, 07:28 AM   #2 (permalink)
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My oh my - this is the first I heard of this, and my Lady's mom lives at Queen and Bathurst. See what happens when you rely on the internet for news and you spend the day not surfing?
As for what will replace the burned out buildings, so long as it isn't another condo development I am ok with whatever. Yes, older things are often given sentimental value beyond what they are intrinsically worth. But unless the buildings were strongly unique in some architectural or historical way then they were just another row of old burned out buildings that will be replaced with something up to code.
There is a cycle to buildings almost like breathing. We occassionally lose really wonderful old places that are full of magnificent treasures. The worst that happens here is the loss of personal property of the tenants which has value to them and can't be replaced, or the antique shop that was burned out and may have held some old wonders now lost forever.
Gentrification shmentrification. There is also an ebb and flow in where people with more disposable income and social status settle down. If this section of Queen (isn't this the intersection with the highest number of emergency response calls in the city?) gets "revitalized" and has some nice residences with socially responsible people living there and caring about the neighbourhood, or a better layout for shops and such, then there is some real good coming from this event. In another 200 years the rebuild may be considered a treasure to the future Torontonians who live around there. Comes and goes.
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Old 02-21-2008, 07:46 AM   #3 (permalink)
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I don't get down to that part of town much anymore but it's still pretty shocking. The first photos I saw with the National Sound sign being ingulfed were pretty hard to believe.

Gentrification on Queen street is a broad topic. On one hand by removing the grit, you remove a lot of the character. For example, Active Surplus just ain't the same anymore. On the other hand how much grit is good? What's the magical balance?

The Globe and Mail had an excellent article recently profiling the intersection and titled "At the Corner of Crack and Pizza". It covers the reasons that the intersection has resisted gentrification so far; notably the presence of the BigBop nightclub on one corner and The Meeting Place the on another.

You have to pay for the the online article but here it is
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servl...rce_login=true

Regardless, the momentum of gentrification of Queen St. is an insatiable force and I doubt hardly any of those businesses would have been here 10 years for now. CityTV is leaving it's iconic building and there's even going to be a Home Depot right on Queen!

So it goes...
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Old 02-21-2008, 09:07 AM   #4 (permalink)
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CityTV is moving? That's what I get for living at the arse end of the country! I always went to Queen St W whenever I was in the city. First with my parent's when I was just a boy, they'd drop me off at Bakka Books while they went on to Edwards Books. Once I got bored waiting for them at Edwards, and I wandered all the way down Queen to Active Surplus where I somehow (at the age of 11) bought a cavalry sabre! My parent's just rolled their eyes when they saw me marching back down Queen with this huge sword slung over my shoulder! Later when I was in College in Scarborough I used to buy my art supplies at that store on Queen West, and go to the Black Bull for the best ever hamburgers. Queen is always changing, that's for certain. I saw the Shuffle Demons busking on the corner of Queen and Spadina; gentrification moved out the winos and brought in some higher class clientèle, and later on, gentrification moved out Edwards and Bakka and moved in Starbucks and the Gap.
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Old 02-21-2008, 12:42 PM   #5 (permalink)
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City TV is moving into the ex Olympic torch building on the east side of Dundas Square (at Yonge). A good use for that particular building. But MuchMusic is supposed to be staying in the building.

That fire is quite shocking, I bought my bicycle at Duke's back in 1984. Now that store is destroyed, and it was at the same site for 94 years. I'm an emotional wreck over that. They had the best spokes....

At any rate, I'm right with Kramus with respect to gentrification. It's as cyclical as land fill sites.
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Old 02-21-2008, 01:33 PM   #6 (permalink)
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I have been to Toronto 6-8 times and love it. My wife actually ran the marathon this past October and we discussed moving to the city. While I consider all of the city gorgeous, I am not familiar with the area in question. Can you tell me what was in the area that burned?
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Old 02-21-2008, 02:31 PM   #7 (permalink)
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I saw this first thing yesterday and it hit me pretty hard. I've spent a lot of time on Queen West. When I was younger, I used to go there to shop at the Black Market, South Pacific and Bakka. When I was older I used to go to the Big Bop, the Bovine Sex Club and work at the Gap. Later I worked at Richmond and Spadina and spent much of my lunch hours wandering the strip between John and Bathurst.

The stretch that burned down was directly across from The Bovine. I had a close connection to Suspect Video and Dukes. The area was a bit run down, but in a good way. When I think what the area around City TV used to be like back in the 80s, and I look at it now, it makes me wince. Much of it's soul has been sucked out by chain stores and gentrification.

My worry for this razed block is what will come in its place. I don't have a problem with new. I have a problem with milquetoast or crappy new. And given the track record of development in Toronto, I will not be surprised to see shitty structures offered up as replacements.

When I have some more time, I will link in some photos.

How it looked before.


Here is a panorama of the whole block.


Some shots of the fire:



















Images from: BlogTO.com and the Torontoist
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Last edited by Charlatan; 02-21-2008 at 04:43 PM.. Reason: Automerged Doublepost
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Old 02-21-2008, 04:40 PM   #8 (permalink)
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I work at Queen and Spadina. On my way to work that morning, I saw the smoke spurting up from the skyline, but my first hint of the proximity was when I could smell smoke all the way back to Queen Station. The ventilation system had clearly sucked up the smoke and was distributing it through the tunnels.

I usually walk from University to Spadina, so I see that stretch twice a day, five days a week. Since I don't work as far as Bathurst, I rarely see that stretch unless I'm going to the Cameron or Java or something.

Charlatan's right. The stretch is rundown but in a good way. In the four years I have walked the University to Spadina stretch of Queen, I've noticed a slow progression of developers tearing down the old wonderful buildings and erecting glass monstrosities (it's as though we're moving from postmodernism back to modernism in this respect). What tends to close down are things like old bookstores, underused legion halls, and indie clothing stores, the latter of which having succumbed to the likes of what goes in their place: "trendy" chain stores such as H&M, FCUK, and what have you. I'm not against these stores per se, but how many does this city need?

The fading beauty of Queen West is its uniqueness, its indie quality. When these high-profile stores move in, they tend to choke out these little places--and then it gets worse: they attract competition (both direct and indirect), and then the whole area changes. It starts to look like other areas. (So many other areas. Do we need another Bloor-Yorkville?) The ones some of us avoid not out of discontent, but out of sheer disinterest.

That's right. I'm not disappointed in the stores or "cafes" (I use the quotation marks knowingly) or their message or image; I'm simply disinterested. This is a move toward monoculture--public experiences fabricated by large companies who pass the costs of imagemaking onto the consumer. I have no interest in these things.

When I speak of gentrification, I speak of many things. I'm concerned about neighbourhoods as a whole. (i.e. the cost of living in Queen West is undoubtedly rising. What does this do to its residents?) But the ultimate question, I suppose, is this: Where is the next "Queen West"? I'd like to think it is what has come to be known as "Queen West West," but, as we know, that stretch is eroding one block at a time.
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Old 02-21-2008, 05:21 PM   #9 (permalink)
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West Queen West (i.e. past Bathurst and all the way to Dufferin) is the new Queen West -- for now. But since the Drake went in and condo developers pounced, the area is again under the stress of gentrification.

The artists that made the area "cool" can no longer afford to live in the area. The small shops, galleries and restaurants that gave the area its "cool" can't pay the rising retail rents. Developers, unchecked (checked and then using the OMB to bypass municipal orders) are building more and uglier glass and steel (not that glass and steel is always ugly, just the much of what is being built is).

Monoculture is a good way to look at it.

The only business that can really afford the rents are the chain stores that can be found in just about any mall in North America. It has been a slow process that is picking up speed. There are community organizations that are pushing back against these trends but, frankly, I feel it is a losing battle.

I would not be surprised to find out that this fire was arson.
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Old 02-21-2008, 08:18 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Charlatan
I would not be surprised to find out that this fire was arson.

Interesting.


Over by where I live, a hardware store blew up on Christmas eve of 2002 ( i believe). It was arson. One of the perpetrators died at the scene. This was Woodbine Building Supply / Home Hardware on the Danforth at Woodbine. There is still a double or quadruple lot hole in the ground on this stretch of the Danforth.

Apparantly the owner wanted to collect insurance money in order to open a night club in Oshawa or Whitby.

Last month, the Cheers bar one block west of the above (near to Coxwell & Danforth) collapsed suddenly. Cheers was undergoing renovations at the time, and it looks like 'something' happened. This is now a hole in the ground.

Between these two sites sits a store that inexplicably closed (Comics & More) and has a 12 ft high wire fence erected around its corner lot. It appears to be abandonned since last summer.

Another block west along the Danforth sits the derelect site of the KFC restaurant which has been abandoned since the early years of this century (2001 -ish).


Add to this yet another site of abandonment: at Danforth and Greenwood, only another block west, sits the old Esso station and movie theatre nextdoor. It's been empty for about 5 yrs.


So, something tells me that there is strangeness afoot. Is it all economically driven?

Last edited by Leto; 02-22-2008 at 04:24 AM..
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Old 02-21-2008, 08:34 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Charlatan
I would not be surprised to find out that this fire was arson.

Originally Posted by Leto
Interesting.

Originally Posted by namako
Very interesting. Arson for economic reasons was my first thought.
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Old 02-22-2008, 02:19 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Arson has been a developer's tool for some time...

Remember in the early 70s when they were planning the Eaton's Centre and the Eaton's Annex burned down, making it easier to get permission to build the Eaton's Centre?

I remember the fire at the Home Hardware that Leto mentions and am not surprised to hear about the suspicious fires and closures in the area.

Another way that developers get what they want is to just let a building rot until it falls down. They did this to Walnut Hall on Shuter. A developer bought it but couldn't tear it down because it was designated a Heritage Building. Instead, he let it rot until it fell down of its own accord.

The stretch on Queen West is ripe for development, so it wouldn't (as I've said) surprise me to find out it was arson.

It will be interesting to see who (if anyone) benefits from this fire.
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Old 02-27-2008, 09:01 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Traffic is still snarled all around the intersection of Bathurst/Queen. Looks like the Big Bop is shut down, and the Bovine Sex Club is in the heart of the damaged area.
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Old 02-27-2008, 12:28 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Did you hear? Chocky's is up for lease!

(Another one bites the dust....)
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Old 02-27-2008, 04:22 PM   #15 (permalink)
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I figured they were in trouble when they moved from Spadina to Queen... they just weren't a Queen Street type of store.
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Old 02-27-2008, 04:29 PM   #16 (permalink)
 
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hmm. this sucks. I just started to enjoy visiting toronto.

they should rebuild it just the way it was.
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Old 02-27-2008, 10:26 PM   #17 (permalink)
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I definitely agree that this was a characteristic intersection in Toronto. It'll be sad to see it go... like someone took a big eraser and wiped out a corner.

Only tangentially related is how the gentrification of Queen St. will affect the Rex. The owner of the Rex could retire for several lifetimes if he sold that property, and he hasn't yet. I wonder what the future holds. Hopefully it won't burn down.
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Old 02-28-2008, 01:04 AM   #18 (permalink)
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Is the Rex protected by an historical designation? Otherwise I'd imagine it is as ripe as anything to be bought and rebuilt.
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Old 02-28-2008, 04:11 AM   #19 (permalink)
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oh, I'm sure that Starbucks or Loblaws will buy the Rex and turn it into something "respectable".
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Old 02-28-2008, 08:14 AM   #20 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aberkok
Only tangentially related is how the gentrification of Queen St. will affect the Rex. The owner of the Rex could retire for several lifetimes if he sold that property, and he hasn't yet. I wonder what the future holds. Hopefully it won't burn down.
The demographics of the area are shifting. We will be seeing people with higher incomes moving into the neighbourhood or deciding on the area as a destination to spend money. This could be good for the Rex if they play their cards right. Maybe they need to renovate? I don't know. Do rich people listen to jazz? It's now considered up there with classical music in terms of consumption trends, right? It's no longer an underground or subversive music, right? Old people listen to "alternative" now, I'm sure.

How are jazz venues in the city doing overall? It might seem risky to open a new jazz club, but, then again, people are still opening up new independent bookstores (what?!)....

I don't know, maybe the changes in the neighbourhood will bring some interesting things. It can't be all bad....
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Old 02-28-2008, 02:33 PM   #21 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by fresnelly
notably the presence of the BigBop nightclub on one corner and The Meeting Place the on another...
Ah, the Big Bop, used to go there when I was in University 20 years ago. I'd be very curious to see it inside nowadays.

It used to be quite the place to go.

Sigh......

Quote:
Originally Posted by Charlatan
West Queen West (i.e. past Bathurst and all the way to Dufferin) is the new Queen West -- for now. But since the Drake went in and condo developers pounced, the area is again under the stress of gentrification.

The artists that made the area "cool" can no longer afford to live in the area. The small shops, galleries and restaurants that gave the area its "cool" can't pay the rising retail rents. Developers, unchecked (checked and then using the OMB to bypass municipal orders) are building more and uglier glass and steel (not that glass and steel is always ugly, just the much of what is being built is).

Monoculture is a good way to look at it.

The only business that can really afford the rents are the chain stores that can be found in just about any mall in North America. It has been a slow process that is picking up speed. There are community organizations that are pushing back against these trends but, frankly, I feel it is a losing battle.

I would not be surprised to find out that this fire was arson.
Agree completely. I'd bet on Arson as well. Nothing speeds up the wrecking ball like a little fire. Same thing happened at Richmond and John where they built the Paramount Theatres. Just one day there was this fire and boom, they build another box. There was also a church that mysteriously spontaneously combusted I remember, though I can't remember the specifics.

The problem of destroying old nieghbourhoods is huge in Toronto. First of, the City has a "Densification" policy and seems to fall over itself to accomodate the developers who are building one box after another around the city.

In my area - Bloor West Village, there was an old Odeon Theatre on the northwest corner of Bloor and Jane with 2 large cinemas. One day it was there, the next day it was closed. They are trying to build an 18 storey condo on the site. (To add to all the other condos they are building on Bloor down at High Park.)

Even though the neighbourhood is totally opposed to it, they got their approval. Why? Because the issue went to council and although our Councillor sheepishly voted against it (looks good for the voters), the other councillors all voted for it in order to get the development fees.

What I love about Developers (if you've ever gone to any Public Information Centres (PICs)) is how they will stand there and tell you how they are improving the neighbourhood, or better yet, that they are taking a shitty neighbourhood and helping to turn it around.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

They want to build their ugly boxes with their spandrel glass in the best neighbourhoods where they can get the most money for them. Thinking about my own area again, there's lots of land north of St. Claire on Jane Street where they could use some improvements, but no, these self serving bastards want to build along Bloor Street.

Getting back to Queen West, you can bet your bottom dollar that you will see some faceless box go in there that looks like every other faceless box in the City. Some will call it an improvement no doubt, the NDP will try to get the developer to build some "afordable housing", however, at the end of the day, we'll be left with another box that will look like shit and in 100 years will be an even bigger pile of shit.

Last edited by james t kirk; 02-28-2008 at 03:02 PM.. Reason: Automerged Doublepost
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Old 02-28-2008, 04:50 PM   #22 (permalink)
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at the end of the day, we'll be left with another box that will look like shit and in 100 years will be an even bigger pile of shit.
JTK... the upside of this is if they build the shit, it won't last 100 years.

Quote:
Originally Posted by james t kirk
There was also a church that mysteriously spontaneously combusted I remember, though I can't remember the specifics.
I think this is the church to which you are referring.

Quote:
Originally Posted by wikipedia
St. Paul's-Avenue Road United Church was a church in downtown Toronto. It was founded in the 1870s. St. Paul's Methodist Church and its home on Avenue Road just north of Bloor Street in the Yorkville community, was built in 1877. With church union in 1925, it became St. Paul's United and in 1930 it merged with the nearby Avenue Road (formerly Presbyterian Church) and became St. Paul's-Avenue Road United.

Originally the church was that of many of Toronto's elite, but the church began to decline in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1980 the congregation merged with Trinity United Church on Bloor, west of Spadina Avenue to form Trinity-St. Paul's United Church. The congregation was based in the former Trinity building, and St. Paul's was sold to developers. An acclaimed heritage property, there were several years of debate over what could be done with the structure. The developers hoped to demolish it, but this was blocked by the community and city council. The church became a gallery for the arts and music for several years.

In 1995, the building was destroyed by fire. Accusations of arson were leveled. The destruction of the church, leaving it open for development, tripled the value of the property over night. The insurance company refused to pay for the damage after it found evidence that the fire was deliberate. The property was developed and today a retirement home known as Hazelton Place stands in the location.
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Old 02-28-2008, 05:15 PM   #23 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Baraka_Guru
6-Alarm Fire at Queen & Bathurst

Will this be a continuation of the gentrification of Queen West?
Does a bear shit in the woods?

I don't know Toronto well enough to say, but in Montreal, these sorts of fires were very often the work of arsonists. Land speculators are usually very happy to have old buildings burn down.
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Old 02-28-2008, 07:31 PM   #24 (permalink)
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Yeah, I think that is the church.

Actually, the new buildings just look like shit, they are usually built fairly well.

I'm a big believer in the beauty of the Street-scape.

Driving in on the Gardiner, or sailing in the harbour, one notices the sky-line, but walking down the street, one notices maybe the first 3 floors, after that, no.

The problem with the boxes that they build today is that they are essentially frames of concrete with glass bolted to the face. Cheap, simple, easy, UGLY.

If the developers had their way in Toronto, they'd turn the whole city into that shit they are building down by SkyDome, or the shit they already built at Harbourfront. Cold, desolate, windswept, abandonned.
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Old 02-28-2008, 07:48 PM   #25 (permalink)
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The crap at Harbourfront is really a shame... they are some of the ugliest buildings made worse by their location. Each time I would drive along the Gardiner I would just wince. I wish I had the funds to just buy and level them.

The ones next to Skydome are going to be the slums of the future.
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Old 03-01-2008, 07:53 AM   #26 (permalink)
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Absolutely.

The condos being built by Skydome are all being built by Hong Kong Developers lead by Robert Fung (who at one time was running the Toronto Waterfront Redevelopment Corporation - the pseudo City of Toronto gov't body put together to manage the redevelopment of the Portlands).

Robert and his Hong Kong buddies only know one thing....

Money.

And how to make lots of it and walk (no run) away. If you look at the shit that they are building down at Skydome and look at the shit they have in Hong Kong you will see that they are one in the same.

I agree with you 100% that in 30 years, Spadina by the Dome will be a slum. (Just like St. Jamestown.) The buildings are cheap, maximum density and are simply boxes with glass walls. There is NO architectural merit to them whatsoever. They are also laid out much like one would find in the suburbs in that they are not built on a traditional grid.

Robert Fung and the Hong Kong crew are actively trying to shift Toronto's downtown core to the west to Spadina. They commissioned a report that recommended tearing down the Gardiner Expressway and building a "Great Road" (a 12 lane wide monstrousity), but WAIT, they recommended that the elevated portion should stop at SPADINA. The At Grade portion would start at Spadina and go east to the DVP.

The effect of this would be to create huge traffic jam leading up to the current city core.

Of course, it would be so much easier to just exit at Spadina wouldn't it.

Now guess what happens to Spadina and Kensington, and Queen Streets?

That's right, here come more boxes in the guise of "improving the neighbourhood" The blight you see now at the foot of Spadina begins to creep northward until you hit Bloor Street.

The problem with the City of Toronto is that we lack politicians with any sense of vision whatsoever. David Miller has to be one of the prime examples. I firmly believe he is one of the worst mayors we have ever had. They tend to fall over themselves (always have) to accomodate the developers (and take their money).

A few years ago I was listening to the CBC when they were talking about the waterfront redevelopment and how different egg heads had their ideas on how that land could be transformed. I was naturally skeptical of each and every one of them.

But one egg head made a lot of sense. He said the worst thing that the City of Toronto could ever do at the Waterfront was to engage its planning department or any of the numerous architectural and planning firms in the City of Toronto because they tend to build areas like Harbourfont and the future SkyDome slums. He said (and I agree) that the most popular areas in Toronto (Queen West, College Street, Bloor Street, Riverdale, Beaches, Bloor West) are successful because they were never planned by planners as a huge redevelopment. They grew and evolved on their own.

If the City of Toronto is so intent on redevelopment of huge tracts of land, I suggest that they take a drive to Quebec City and see what that City built in the 80's in the "Petite Champlain" / Lowertown area of Quebec City. Now, that's a winner. There isn't one box in there and it's a testiment to someone somewhere having a vision as to a successful streetscape.

http://www.quartierpetitchamplain.com/eng/

http://www.hickerphoto.com/quartier-...7-pictures.htm


People think that it's part of the old city, but it's not. It was built in the 80's but built in keeping with the architecture and heritage of the old city.

They hit a home run. Well Done Quebec City, Toronto could learn a thing or ten from you.
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Old 03-03-2008, 08:48 PM   #27 (permalink)
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have you ever looked at Vancouver's skyline and wondered why they built such crap? I always thought that it was so that the city wouldn't compete with the magesty of the geography.

But upon reflection, i see that the runaway condo construction there is being replicated here. Maybe the same people are responsible?
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Old 03-12-2008, 04:58 AM   #28 (permalink)
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blah blah blah.... it's Mexico North, who cares? Sorry 'bout that inflammatory attempt at sick humor. Seriously where is this in reference to the Royal Fairmount. I stayed there for a conference last year and thought the city was amazing. Sad indeed.
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Old 03-12-2008, 05:07 AM   #29 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cameroncrazy822
blah blah blah.... it's Mexico North, who cares? Sorry 'bout that inflammatory attempt at sick humor. Seriously where is this in reference to the Royal Fairmount. I stayed there for a conference last year and thought the city was amazing. Sad indeed.
It's about a 20min. walk straight west from there. It's not in the downtown business core but almost right next door.
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Old 03-12-2008, 07:59 AM   #30 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by fresnelly
It's about a 20min. walk straight west from there. It's not in the downtown business core but almost right next door.
That is a terrible shame. I do believe I made it down that far or at least close. We ate and had drinks on an outside type terrace. The place was on a corner and in a seemingly "rich culteral" area/district.

Great great city.

Thanks for the information fres
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