The unmaking of a city

Walk anywhere in downtown Toronto from Bloor Street south to Lake Ontario, from Spadina in the west to the Don Valley Parkway in the east, and all you can see are cranes building condominiums. In the few blocks around me, there must be ten condos at various stages of completion. The scariest is The One, an 85-storey behemoth at Yonge and Bloor. Two years along and they’re still digging. The footprint seems too small to have enough elevators. Two blocks north on Yorkville Avenue the recently laid roadway interlock is being ruined by cement trucks.

All of these monsters, stuffed into such a small area, have been approved by Toronto city council and whatever civil servants are behind the scenes making sure of – what? Has anyone done wind shear tests? Where’s the green space? Can the water and sewage services handle the onslaught? Did anybody think about parking? A multi-storey Green P lot has just been knocked down.

Toronto city planners don’t seem capable of anything other than rubber-stamping condo plans from developers. The only specific thing I can think of that shows any kind of moxie in recent years is The Bentway, the park under the Gardiner Expressway near Fort York. The last person who did anything really courageous was Mayor David Crombie who imposed a 45-foot height limit and fought for neighbourhood preservation. That was in the 1970s.

All of which is to say that I welcome the private-sector proposal called Sidewalk Labs that would put Google’s headquarters into a development embracing 190 acres of mostly derelict waterfront land. Sidewalk Labs includes numerous experimental concepts that might make city hall shudder but I like them all. Sidewalk will even share the cost of a light-rail line. It’s clear that city planners have neither the imagination nor the backbone to do something anywhere near as inventive. So, get out that rubber stamp and approve it.

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