Living in the shade of progress

Someday we’re all going to have to learn to live in the shade of tall buildings, is what I’ve been saying for the past decade, to anyone who would listen.  They tend to shut down when they hear that.  It’s the sort of silence that arises when people don’t like what you’re saying, but because they haven’t thought about it, they don’t have anything to say – until you’ve left.  Then they might start with eye-rolling.

But if we put together the arithmetic of the increased and increasing population, with the environmental need for density and ‘walkable neighbourhoods’ (a la Jane Jacobs), it’s obvious we need more mainstreets intensification.   In this 21st Century,  that means more condos.*   Especially in an ideal location like Roncesvalles Village, where several streetcar lines meet the subway system and GO trains, and a recently modernized and expanded underground infrastructure.  The latter ingredient was purposely installed with intensification in mind.  The map of Toronto tells the story – that there are few locations where such “hub”-development would make as much sense.

‘Crowded’ some would say.  But with open, creative minds, I am sure we can come up with new mixed-use developments where smaller spaces are designed in a way that makes people happy.  No doubt, that would be in the aesthetics as well as the efficiency.

“Urban hubs” are the most logical next step, at least in my mind.   At an intersection like Bloor  and Dundas West, it is easy to imagine an amazing futuristic development that integrates thousands of people with retail, transportation, school, community spaces, and an intertwining (green?) pedestrian experience few have even dreamed of.  Architecturally exciting of course.

Developing such a new and dense mixed-use community would go a long way towards creating a more “level playing field” too.  The alternative: forcing middle-income people to spend hours every day driving, because they can only afford to live 50 kilometers away.  I love that my daughter lives a 10-minute walk away.  But increasing inequality will mean eventually she has to move much further out.  I know a young woman# living alone in Mississauga, who would benefit in every way from inclusion in our community – an impossible dream now.

The alternative might mean some of the neighbours have to live in the shade of it all.  Yes this means “sacrifice”.  My experience of human beings is that they are capable of adjusting, and even eventually embracing things they once found loathsome.  And is there any justification for keeping all of this spacious, green, convenient, beautiful neighbourhood to ourselves?  Would that not be, at the end of it all, a self-destructive selfishness?  And what’s a little shade, if the result is thousands of people living happier lives because of it.  Fairness is important too, in a healthy community.

I am not imagining the homogenized vision of Christopher Hume, Toronto Star’s “Urban Issues” columnist in describing West Queen West: “The franchised forces of urban homogeneity — Shoppers Drug Mart, Tim Hortons, Subway and so on — have yet to make their deadening presence felt. They will, of course, as inevitably they must. And as Toronto’s streets are taken over by the officially sanctioned mixed-use condo complex — commercial at grade, residential above — this process of retail sterilization has reached into almost corner of the city.” *** (sic)

Hume illustrates exactly why we need to pro-actively talk about the great importance of the quality of the mix.  We also need to ‘spread the word’ about the importance of bearing “the greater good” in mind, in all urban planning – not just the individual building as a developer’s investment.

As I commented online:

“I don’t buy the “inevitability” of it all. Things only change because those who see the need for it, get organized and work at influencing change. We need dense mixed-use development to accommodate the population, but the bylaws need to acknowledge the tremendous importance of the QUALITY of the mix. We need pro-active neighbourhood groups willing to do the work of understanding the complexities of urban planning in our socio-economic context, then deciding together what kind of community they want, longterm. Last but not least, do the “politics” of it. And that would make all the difference!”****

I’d add that our socio-economic context must include the real environmental and social needs, relative costs and benefits and (wait for it) – happiness.

Imagine that!






This entry was posted in affordable housing, development, Roncesvalles Village, Toronto, urban life, urban planning, world class city and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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