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2005 03 31
Barcelona on the Don
imageRailing against the design practices of suburban developers and their narrow-minded, lowest-common denominator interpretation of what constitutes a “neighbourhood” has become a familiar refrain over the years. Most of us subscribe to the new urbanist creed and instinctively recoil against the endless rows of cookie-cutter houses with two car garages facing the street on serpentine cul-de-sacs, particularly when they pop up in downtown neighbourhoods like Toronto’s new Liberty Village development. Why build what amounts to an urban monoculture, with no mixed-use development and little variety between structures in a neighbourhood that is fast becoming the creative and artistic hub of the city?

It was just such a question that the esteemed Toronto architect Thomas Payne asked himself when he was presented with a vision-poor proposal for suburban-type housing development at the other end of town, on the lower Don lands east of Cherry St. While we were working with Tom on a project to be built in the nearby Distillery district, the talk turned to the larger development plans for the area, and he pulled out the rough proposal he’d been asked to do, pro bono, in response to the Markham-ish one. Taking an aerial photograph of Barcelona, he cleverly grafted on a section of that city’s 15th century downtown, and set about demonstrating how old-world planning could benefit new world development: the bull ring would become a transportation hub, the cathedral a modern theatre centre, and the four- and five-storey structures would house, shops, apartments, libraries and community centres. It was a braveau, inspired presentation, one that brimmed with wisdom, grandeur and possibility. We can only hope that those with the power to green light such iconoclastic thinking feel the same way.
[email this story] Posted by Barnaby Marshall & Carmen Dunjko on 03/31 at 08:13 AM

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