In order to reach the foot of the city you have to find a way to mentally cross the Gardiner. And as a result, once across that line, you can rest firmly in a land of make-believe.
The downtown waterfront has been a place of dreams for as long as I can remember. The gritty socialist paintings of the 30’s. The smell of malt and sour mash and life. Boats and trains beckoning to faraway places. Goods flowing in and work being done. There was a visceral commitment to human progress and development. An unplanned vitality and exuberance even if it was ratty around the edges.
But there were other nascent dreams in the wings -mostly about how to accommodate more cars. And for quite some time, unless your average visionary was thinking about this idea, they weren’t a visionary they were a nuisance.
Somehow we were coerced into believing that a city of lively public thoroughfares was a city crammed full of cars.
Human industry, capital and street level commerce were discarded for a singular dream. Office space, condominiums and cars. What on earth could we otherwise need?
A rich and complex life gave way to a corporate shanty-town unable to reconcile itself with life on the street. Its absence replaced by carefully constructed dioramas. Public window-dressing dumped into every proposal with a promise of creating a glimpse of what real city life once was like.
No one foresaw or even cared where this was going. The sad result if you look around, is a tragic wasteland of half-baked ideas. A testament to complete inattention. A total lack of cohesive planning and the resulting desperate attempts to patch it up.
Meanwhile a little west of this district, Toronto has a rich and impressive history of waterfront development. The parks to the east are an inspiration as are the Islands, both places worth visiting for. The fantastic model of University Avenue. The original approaches to the CNE. They all could have set the score.
I don’t quite know what to say. Inspired planning is central to civic life. It’s not an individual project, it’s cohesive and human in scale. It creates space and room for things to flourish. Places where we don’t have to be reminded to walk with care, but instead can head out for a stroll.