Hello possums! How are you all? Me? I’m not too bad at all. It’s a Wednesday, which is an ok day, not a Tuesday at least - I never can get the hang of Tuesdays. Tuesdays make me feel like I’m on a little boat trying to get to the weekend but I’m never going to make it, with the sea of Monday behind me and the vast ocean of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday ahead. Wednesdays are a little closer to the shore.
I’m also still a little sunburned today from the weekend’s activities. Now this is a BAD thing because I quite like my pastiness and am proud to be an advocate of pale skin (not like in a racist way, just in an anti-tanning way, I mean I like ALL natural skin tones…you know what I mean) but the fact that I was ABLE to get sun burned is a pretty awesome thing. It was only about 16 degrees but the rays were out in force. It was beautiful. Especially since bright green leaves have popped up everywhere. Lovely Toronto has replace grey, bare, sad Toronto! Triumph!
On the sunny day in question I received a last minute invitation to participate in Jane’s Walk, or rather one of the many Janes’ Walks that happen around North America. To bring you up to speed, and this was all news to me, Jane Jacobs was an American writer who eventually moved to, and lived out the rest of her life, in Toronto. She wrote a book The Death and Life of Great American Cities and became an extremely influential activist for communities and her particular vision of urban design. In her honour, Jane’s Walk began in Toronto in 2007 and has since expanded to other cities in Canada and the United States.
This is a portrait of Jane Jacobs in 401 Richmond St W, a building in Toronto that benefited from her philosophy on the use of old buildings, and where we started our Jane’s Walk on Sunday. Now, and I know next to nothing about this kind of thing, it seems that a lot of her philosophies have come in for some criticism in recent years and perhaps have had impacts she didn’t predict but for me that doesn’t take away from the fact that this lady sounds pretty cool. She was a lady who was passionate about communities where people would want to live. Let’s all mentally high five her ghost for that!
The Jane’s Walk that I tagged along on (thanks Lara, Lauren, and Shawn!) was focused on Spadina and King (have we talked about how neighbourhoods in Toronto are mostly defined by a nearby major intersection? Note to Torontonians, we don’t do that in Melbourne). Spadina and King is one of Toronto’s - in the words of urban planners - ‘Two Kings’, which refers to Spadina and King, and Parliament and King. Again to summarise with my almost non-existent amount of knowledge, these were both neighbourhoods that were zoned only for industrial use and were home to factories and canneries and warehouses. In the 80s, for reasons I can’t be bothered going into detail about, the tenants of these canneries, factories, and warehouses moved out and headed for the burbs leaving landlords with very big buildings that no one wanted to fill. Thanks to the advocacy of some forward thinking planners, the mayor at the time, and of course Jane Jacobs, some radical zoning changes were made and these neighbourhoods became ‘Reinvestment Areas’. Basically they encouraged people to live, work, and make art in these buildings in ways they hadn’t been allowed to before. That’s - from what I could tell - the very basic story of what happened in this neighbourhood in the 90s. But of course if you create a cool neighbourhood where lots of people want to live, and then you get economic progress, and a growing population, you get lots of development. And then you have a debate about the future of the neighbourhood, and lots of apartment (condo) buildings going up, and people who love their heritage buildings and artists studios get upset, and buildings get bought by developers, and so on. That is the current climate of Spadina and King when we set off on the walk.
Sound familiar? It is. This is the debate going on in growing cities all over the place, Melbourne especially. And I’m not going to come up with a solution, if there even is one. But it’s a fascinating thing to think about. Thanks to my time working for the Department of Planning and Community Development in Melbourne, and to the slightly widened eyes of a new resident that I have in my head, I have a little bit of extra interest in urban planning and the way communities grow and change here in Toronto so the walk was a fabulous way to get back into the swing of exploring the city.
We began with the rooftop of 401 Richmond St W, which sports a sweet and slightly chaotic roof garden. The whole building, a military building, then a cannery, and now filled with artists’ studios, is just lovely. It’s everything that we love about heritage buildings. With a roastery/cafe on the ground floor. Hipster haven. Then, around 100 of us, we wound around the area looking at old buildings, new buildings, potential new buildings, all guided by former city planner Paul Bedford. It was informative and super cool. We ended up the walk a few hours later in one of Toronto’s many lovely parks, that turned out to also be a former military burial ground. Interesting and slightly creep. Then we (well the three of use did, I can’t speak for the other 97 people) washed the whole thing down with lunch and drinks on a patio in the sun. Which brings us neatly back to my sunburned nose.
I’m tempted to leave it there, lest this become an essay, but I think I should venture some half-baked ideas on the whole thing. Firstly, that this many people would turn out for an event like this - particularly when there were SO MANY other Janes’ Walks going on that probably enjoyed similar numbers - says something about how engaged and interested people are in their communities. Secondly, I totally get where both sides are coming from. On the one hand, yeah I’d like to be able to afford to live in a neighbourhood like this and I’d like it to be filled with lower density developments and artists studios forever. On the other hand, and I’m sure there are plenty of arguments against this, I don’t think people who build high density apartment buildings for middle-to-upper class buyers who want to live downtown are bad people. Nor can you move to a place and then expect it to stop. To never change. To never grow. That’s not the way the world works. Yeah, I love Brunswick and Warrandyte the way they are but they’re not going to stay that way forever. I don’t know what the answer is but both sides are kind of right. And finally, I really dig Toronto. It’s a beautiful city.
Phew, that was a long rambling one. More updates soon.
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