Work is the curse of the drinking classes.
- O. Wilde
We work in the Entertainment district, the multivalent area bounded loosely by University and Bathurst/Queen and King Streets. It is part of an area that has been for a long time predominantly commercial, initially a result of the railway being built at its southern edge in the latter half of the 19th century. The district runs 24 hours a day, in shifts of different demographics and purpose; it is a three dimensional puzzle of spaces and use that has gotten denser in the past few years with new condominiums and boutique hotels. The (sometimes chaotic) volume of people here at any given time makes it arguably the closest thing we have to a large-scale pedestrian district.
We used to be part of the night shift here, now we do the day to evening shift. Same place, different space.
Civilization is a function of boundaries.
- Anne Carson
Cubism created an entirely new picture space, completely unlike to the perspectival space of the Renaissance and its descendants; it collapsed layers of volume and object onto a two dimensional plane, charging the space between the viewer and the picture rather than the space beyond the canvas. Cubism can be incredibly intimate. Some of the best moments in the City are similar collapses, ones where the individual can at once be alone but equal with the City - moments of temporal and spatial depth where a long swath of the City can be read at once, by one, when it can be clear that civilization is a function of boundaries, and the individual is a function of space.
The theologian may indulge the pleasing task of describing Religion as she descended from Heaven, arrayed in her native purity. A more melancholy duty is imposed on the historian. He must discover the inevitable mixture of error and corruption, which she contracted in a long residence upon earth, among a weak and degenerate race of beings.
- Edward Gibbon
The chatter and the awards these spring have been focussed on the recognizably authored buildings – the ROM, OCAD, the massive change of the AGO. More interested lately in building on the City’s history, Toronto has found 21st century-big-world-City Religion – and so developed a taste for buildings that could exist anywhere. They’re fun, flashy and are regrettable substitutes for buildings of grander and stronger civic vision. They don’t make their neighbourhoods, they make themselves. However much they may have been to our aesthetic taste at a time, over the long term they’ll be particularly loud reminders of a period that valued brand over vision.
Context is all.
- Margaret Atwood
Toronto’s distinguishing natural and built landscapes of neighbourhoods, valleys and large green spaces, its fine-grained fabric of housing – are not always fully integrated with each other but together make a very liveable and lovely city. The City has the bones to continue to grow and evolve; there is much in and about the City to build on.
When it does, Toronto builds in a variety of idioms and styles. Irrespective of these, the most urbane construction is that which has its context (historical, social, physical) in mind – built on an extraction of what has already worked well. Context is more or less factual and less about nostalgia or the production of buildings and spaces evocative of an imagined or historical idea of the good life. Contextual construction has the distinct ability to be urbane, to contribute meaningfully to the evolution of the City.
Constancy is not the goal of sustainability. Constancy is impossible.
- Richard T. T. Forman
Toronto is often called a city of ravines. In their depths, they are repositories of urban infrastructure: always densities of natural landscape, they are also often the hosts of built urban necessities. We live near the Cedarvale Ravine, once cut by the Castle Frank Brook and part of the Don River watershed; the stream’s long gone – under its floor the ravine is now home to trunk sewer lines and a stretch of the Spadina subway, Bathurst Street flies overtop. While it’s not an ideal co-existence – the fill over the buried lines, for instance, doesn’t drain properly, the ravine is a reasonably successful example of urban adaptability. Flush with wildlife and vegetation, it is the place to find a good chunk of the local residents on the weekend.
The long-term sustainability of the city depends on the co-operative existence of its infrastructural systems - layering them at both the larger regional scale and the smaller neighbourhood scale so that we largely retain the remaining corridors and pockets of nature the City was built on and around. A good number of these areas of the City were buried or cleared out in the past so that they could be (almost) completely built over – as the City is developed further, Cedarvale provides an example of how a natural and built urban landscape can be better integrated.