Friday, June 27, 2008

Toronto's urban landscape

I wish I brought my camera with me today because the city looks amazing in the sunlight. I reflected about Toronto and am discovering new reasons to appreciate the city I was born and raised in.

Having traveled extensively to other cities and seeing the urban morphology of their landscapes (the things and the places in those cities!), I feel that Toronto’s positive qualities are only improving and becoming more evolved. Sure we have tremendous diversity – we’re the most ethnically diverse city in the world and have a very high percentage of foreign born residents – and we have relatively low crime and lots of green spaces. We have some unique attractions and a gorgeous waterfront which we’re only now learning how to develop. But let’s look beyond that, those are superficial qualities of the city which are apparent to any tourist who just drove in from Pearson. I’m using Daily Dose of Imagery, a Toronto photoblog for these pics.

Toronto has fantastic clutter

A juxtaposition of urban forms, styles, ages, and functions. Look at the proximity of all our cool neighbourhoods: U of T, The Annex, Queen West, West Queen West, Yorkville, Koreatown, Kensington, Chinatown, Little Italy, and the Church Wellesley Village are all so walkable and tightly clustered together. At a micro-level, the amalgam of houses, businesses, parks, vacant lots, factories, and skyscrapers creates a liveliness that is stimulating and not always seen in other North American cities where there tends to be greater urban segregation.

Toronto has an edginess

There is no where (except perhaps York University at night!) where I feel unsafe, but the grittiness of some areas blighted by suburban industrialization (like the Golden Mile, the Junction, or the Docklands) is actually appealing. Of course it’s safe, but the spaces have a unique character and add Toronto’s urban complexion.

Toronto has beauty
I’m not just talking about the beauty found in typical vistas like the skyline from the Islands or over the Don Valley or of City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square. I’m talking about the beauty found in the manicured parks downtown wedged in between skyscrapers (Cloud Forest Conservatory is a favourite), or in the shops of a colourful ethnic neighbourhood.

But don’t take my word for it. My friend Sally is a genuine urban geographer who shares a few thoughts of her own about what makes Toronto special:

  1. "Accepting and inclusive spaces. The city planning department does a good job at encouraging diversity through their neighbourhood projects (like the street signs and business districts).
  2. Well-preserved heritage buildings. When modern buildings are built around older ones it is always tasteful and appropriate with the architecture.
  3. Tourism and lots of festivals in the summer, my favourite is PRIDE.
  4. Cleanliness and aesthetics complete the city. Landscaping is well done and there really isn’t much trash lying around.
  5. Non-smokers love Toronto. We were one of North America’s more progressive cities in getting anti-smoking legislation passed for public areas."
She also explained a few things that Toronto must improve upon:
  1. "Toronto really does need to improve upon its transit system, it’s embarrassing and a more efficient, cost-effective, and cheaper system is obviously needed. However, the larger problem associated with transit in Toronto is its utilization by the public. It is currently not a viable alternative to car travel, especially for crosstown or regional commutes.
  2. Additionally the Gardiner must be destroyed and buried by the waterfront similar to what was done in Boston.
  3. In the inner suburbs like Weston and St. Clair or Leaside, the proliferation of big box stores is a concern. While these are accessible to drivers, they occupy prime real estate in relatively central areas of the city and could have been put to better use."
So on my daily TTC commute, it’s nice to look at everyone in the subway car and pause, thinking about how we’re basically all here and getting along. Toronto’s urban condition is therefore perhaps founded in the reality that the city lives, works, and laughs together. It’s a very inclusive space which shouldn’t be taken for granted.

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