Monday, October 15, 2012

An Autumn Walk in Toronto

Toronto - How Good A City Can Be....

Statistically Toronto is amazing. It is North America's most ethnically diverse and safest big city. Despite not having the natural beauty of a Vancouver or San Francisco, nor a perfect climate, it is wonderfully livable. 

Its biggest problem is its success - too many people want to live in it creating a struggle with housing affordability.

I always seem to leave thinking it is a city that just keeps getting better. At the end of the post, I'll offer Roadboy's thoughts why Toronto is so livable.

This visit to Toronto came with an invitation to participate in a panel discussion at an architectural symposia about repurposing buildings for public safety.

Happily, the trip allowed time to take two lovely walks. One in the morning (where I was dazzled by the kind of bright fall skies that foreshadow the onset of winter.) The other walk was at night where I just absorbed its energy.

Here are some photos of the buildings and street scene along the walks.

Arguably Toronto's Most Recognizable Icon Day or Night - The CN Tower 
(Or as an endless parade of numbskull yanks call it - the "CNN" Tower)

One of the Beloved TTC "Red Rockets" 

The South African War Memorial 
(Viewed From the Grounds of  Osgoode Hall)

The 1929 Canada Life Building and It's Weather Beacon

The Canada Life Weather Beacon has two sets of lights.

The Top Light:                                     
Steady Green = Clear                         
Steady Red = Cloudy                          
Flashing Red = Rain                          
Flashing White = Snow

The Rings of White Lights Below:
Lights Running Up = Rising Temperature Rising
Lights Running Down = Falling Temperature
Lights Steady = Constant Temperature

Yonge Dundas Square 
(Toronto's Mini Times Square)

The Banking Hall of the Toronto Dominion (TD) Bank 
(Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe's Largest Project)

Santiago Calatrava's Lambert Galleria 
(Just east of TD Bank)

Street Art at the New Shangri-La Hotel

The Shangri-La Tower
Arthur Erickson Once Commented that Concrete was: 
"The Noble Stone of the 20th Century" 
Roadboy Believes That Glass is: 
"The Design Cliché of the New Millennium"

The circumstances of this trip also afforded the chance to tour one of Canada's most revered buildings - Osgoode Hall.

Osgoode Hall is really a series of buildings that began with the Law Society of Upper Canada Building (what is now the East Wing of Osgoode Hall). Over the next 30 years various sections were added and rebuilt. The Regency structure is still home to the Law Society as well as the highest courts in Ontario and a beautiful law library. 

Osgoode Hall Center Section 
Main Entry

The Main Atrium

Spectacular Tile Floors

Floor Pattern in the Main Lightwell

The Main Lightwell Ceiling 

A Courtroom

The Scales of Justice

The Renowned Law Library Reading Room
(Books are Never Released - Everyone Comes to the Books)

The Stacks

So fast forward....

Why is Toronto so safe and so livable?

Roadboy contends that at least part of the answer is found in the post war urban planning efforts of New York City.

New York's redevelopment efforts of that era were defined by the ego of Robert Moses.

Moses was New York's "free-agent" urban planner. He wielded power by deliberately staying outside of government via establishing a series of public benefit "authorities" (i.e. the Port Authority of NY etc.) which he then used to generate revenue. By controlling the vast capital of these authorities Moses had the unchallenged power to reshape New York using Corbusian altruism. 

His programs were carried out frequently demonstrating utter disdain for any meaningful public participation.

Moses loved the automobile and left a legacy of amazing bridges, parkways and tunnels. He also left disastrous public housing projects, the headquarters for the United Nations and the twin World Trade towers. His aim was always as big as the Empire State.

While his transportation related projects modernized the city and, some argue, positioning NYC for modern industry, they also resulted in massive collateral damage. Usually in the form of widespread destruction of well-functioning neighborhoods and the displacement of tens of thousands of New Yorkers.

Eventually voices rose in opposition to his projects. Perhaps the most effective voice belonged to Jane Jacobs - whose 1961 book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" was to city planning what Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" was to the emerging environmental movement.

Jacobs became frustrated with Mose's plans for Greenwich Village and went on to challenge Moses's concept of urban design. She took on his car centric design and powerfully argued for strong neighborhoods where people both lived and worked. She demonstrated that neighborhoods that workers commuted into each morning and abandoned every night at 5 PM became dangerous and impersonal. 

The lessons Jacobs learned while living in New York followed her in 1968 when she relocated permanently to Toronto. 

In Toronto her influence became profound and today is exemplified everywhere. 

The Toronto we appreciate today is an amalgamation of dense, mixed-use, easily identifiable, neighborhoods served by a comprehensive network of public transportation. People live and work in very definable areas and take pride of ownership in their neighborhoods. 

The success of Toronto (low crime and high satisfaction in sense of place) is certainly in large part attributable to the implementation of her neighborhood focused planning. 

Now as downtown continues to explode with huge cold crystalline high-rise condominium towers all filled with little, low occupancy units, it will be fascinating to see if livability is enhanced, merely sustained or erodes.

Roadboy's Travels © 2012

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