It has been quite a year. Toronto has seen so many cranes in the sky and has heard about so many new major projects proposed for many parts of the city… that it now appears we even have the TTC's Downtown Relief Line on track! The lesson seems to be that you have to be choking on your success before the powers that be recognize that certain critical passageways have become blocked. We finally seem to have agreement to prepare some remedies. It will still be years before we benefit from new subway lines—some GO improvements are coming sooner—but in the meantime, we have plenty of other new buildings—proposed, in sales, under construction, or just opened—to keep us occupied. Toronto is rushing towards the future, and it's quite a job trying to keep up!
It's been a year of huge growth for UrbanToronto too. Presently, at one week to go before the end of 2012, we are sitting just a bit shy of three quarters of a million unique visitors to the front page of our Projects and Construction Forum alone, while on average 200,000 unique visitors come by the site every month, and we are averaging over two million page views per month. It's quite the job trying to keep up with all that traffic, so a faster server is now installed and other upgrades are coming to the site.
So, what exactly has caught the imagination of those who obsess over Toronto's ups and downs? Well, just about everything. We have over 19,000 threads which follow every building proposed, built, or demolished that you can think of, threads that discuss the best and worst neighbourhoods, what to see if visiting town, what the road test is like for getting your driver’s license, restaurant openings, restaurant closings, the viability of our Mayor, what the new streetcars look like, and where to buy Louis Vuitton knockoffs. Well, that last type we try to delete as quickly as we can.
It’s difficult to say exactly which thread was the most popular over the course of the year: we can bring up stats for page views, but none of us wants to do all the math, adding the views from every page of each thread together (threads can be as long as 643 pages, Trump's current length), and every time a thread is renamed to reflect updated info, the page counts start again. Times that by 19,000, and you know now why we don't have the exact info!
Suffice it to say we know generally which projects garnered the most attention during the year, and the busiest threads would be the L Tower, Aura, Trump, Shangri-La, Ten York, One York/90 Harbour, Massey Tower, Ïce, One Bloor East, MaRS, Southcore Financial Centre, and Mirvish+Gehry. Why start the list with L Tower in particular? For the last few months, it has easily been the busiest thread, barring when Mirvish+Gehry was announced. The Daniel Libeskind-designed building has been looking better and better as it rises and as more cladding is applied, but there has been another major factor diriving interest in the thread: UrbanToronto has been lucky to count the crane operator of L Tower, SkyJacked, as a new member. Since joining, SkyJacked has been sharing spectacular shots from his unparalleled perch with us, and we've never had it so close to the action!
It is also true though that SkyJacked is but one of many, many other photographers who supply UrbanToronto on a daily basis with countless images that celebrate this city. The most prolific of our photographers include Forum members someMidtowner, Jasonzed, drum118, udo, razz, Red Mars, urbandreamer, androiduk, caltrane, rdaner, and tomms, in no particular order, and we couldn't be happier to have them with us. Less frequent photograhphers like Yonderbean, Steveve, Lenser, current, hawc, RC8, and many more are no less important to the site. UrbanToronto would not be the same place without you!
Then and Now, a daily feature on UrbanToronto's front page which is researched and presented by Jeff Low, is consistently popular. While it often appalls its audience as we tour a Toronto that has long disappeared mostly to the wrecker's ball, some instalments like this unexpectedly popular shot of a dowdy looking Bay Street south of Front show that not everything was beautiful way back when.
Our Photo of the Day is another quotidian feature (natch) that draws a loyal following, and which relies on our fantastic photo contributors. One of the most popular Photos of the Day this year was this shot by drum118 looking up its light spire on a night in June when it was being tested. The spire was expected to be lit nightly as of September with a series of patterned shows by Toronto artist Michael Snow. The spire, or light sabre as some have likened it, remains dark at this point. Technical difficulties? Defective parts? We look forward to Trump's spire being lit up in 2013.
A more recent way for us to gauge what are the most popular projects in town is to track the number of visits made to our dataBase pages. We now feature 396 projects in the UrbanToronto dataBase, and with only one page each, they are simple to count. Here are the top ten percent, in order of most visits:
2 L Tower
5 E Condos
7 88 Scott
10 Ten York
33 Market Wharf
35 Howard Park
37 460 Yonge
39 Oxford Place
The popularity of dataBase entries frequently differs from thread popularity as some projects, like Mirvish+Gehry and Oxford Place above, which both rank lower in the dataBase list, are relatively new and have few images to peruse at this point. Our final way of tracking the popularity of projects is through the news stories on our front page, of which we published over 1,400 in 2012.
The very top news story has proven to be about the TCHC project at Block 32 in the railway lands, as the story has proven to be the chief source of information about the project for those living there, and those wishing to.
A plan for a new headquarters for the Globe and Mail proved to be interesting to a lot of people too, and several stories about the project, including the most recent one concerning the plan's surprise demise—or at least its deferral, all rank amongst our most popular of the year. We now await news on a large mixed-use project on the site which is expected to combine Globe offices with a mall and condos, headed up by commercial developer RioCan.
Our story about Apple's rumoured future store at 1 Bloor West pulled in huge numbers, drawing comments and link-backs from far afield. It may be a while before we know if there was any truth to the claim; certainly there are many in this city looking forward to an Apple flagship location somewhere along Bloor.
The redevelopment of Morguard's 50 Bloor West to improve Holt Renfrew, add more shops, and build the tallest residential tower in Canada was also quite an attention-getter. This Pellow + Associates-designed project is now proceding through the public consultation and approvals process, and we expect a bold new addition to the Bloor-Yorkville scene no matter the outcome. The area's transformation by the Business Improvement Association is a hit, and many are interested in continuing improvements to the shopping area and its retail offerings.
Another big attention-getter this year was Concord Adex's lift of something very heavy, very high into the night sky. Concord moved their Skybridge into place, a two-storey connection to link the east and west sides of Parade condos, starting on a (chilly) June night and finishing the next morning. Naturally the scale of the operation garnered the huge interest, and we look forward in 2013 to seeing the Skybridge's interior spaces. The bridge houses condominium units on the upper floor, while the lower floor contains a party room with stunning views, including those looking straight down: glass portholes in the floor peer thirty storeys down to the street below.
The Mirvish+Gehry project for King Street West and the nearby Oxford Place redevelopment of the Convention Centre both lit up UrbanToronto like it was Christmas in September. Multiple stories on these mega-projects ranked highly. With the two proposals barely two blocks from each other, and both announced within such a short time frame, public attention was focused on just how much more development the area immediately west of the core might be able to handle. Both projects still face many hurdles, but both are spectacular enough in their own ways that they have gathered many supporters. We expect these two projects to keep UT enthralled throughout 2013 as the public consultation process ramps up: through these two mega-projects we will likely learn more about what Torontonians value and what they want for the city than any others currently under consideration (and as noted at the top of the story, these two projects may just have triggered the building of a new subway line). Transportation is always a hot topic on UrbanToronto, and stories about the new Streetcars and the CityRail scheme we advocate for have never failed to draw a crowd. The highly anticipated Union Pearson Express rail project to the airport was also a big deal for many readers.
Major announcements did not end with Mirvish+Gehry and Oxford Place. One that came seemingly out of the blue was from First Gulf, corncerning the redevelopment of the industrial area at the base of Broadview Avenue into a new office/commercial neighbourhood. Not only will it add a significant new business address to the city, it will expand the road and transit network in a way that will open up the Port Lands for redevelopment. That impactful news drew many people to UrbanToronto's coverage, as did several reports on the many new office towers now rising or planned in Toronto's core. These included the start of work for Brookfield's anticipated 44-storey Bay Adelaide Centre East Tower. The Icon, a recladding and expansion of a Unviersity Avenue business tower has been more controversial, while recent reports in UrbanToronto's Forum indicate that Oxford's 40-storey 100 Adelaide Street West at the Richmond Adelaide Centre is ready to go, and its folded facades by Kohn Pedersen Fox Architects, more daring angular architecture than other office projects in Toronto, is garnering significant interest.
Stories about the Shangri-La hotel and condominiums drew lots of readers through the year, including the article announcing the unveiling of Zhang Yuan's amazing Rising, a work of public art at the base of the complex, a photo from which appears near the top of this story. Public art drew more and more attention this year as many new pieces to enliven Toronto's streets and public spaces were dedicated in many places, including in the the jewel box space at the north end of Burano Condominiums, where Milan-based artist Sandro Martini showed off his energizing Glass Memory. We look forward to the permanent public opening of this space as a restaurant, and the life it will add to this section of Bay Street. Public art will become all the more important in Toronto as more of our major streets become more canyon like, more pristine, and more sterile otherwise.
Getting a first look when renderings newly appear for proposed buildings always draws a crowd on UrbanToronto. Storeys about plans for Minto's Front and Bathurst and the Dundee Kilmer's Pan Am Village in the West Don Lands were particularly popular examples of these, as were the spectacular renderings for E Condos at Yonge and Eglinton and The Massey Tower on Yonge across from the Eaton Centre. One Park Place, Daniels' latest condo in the revitalized Regent Park neighbourhood drew plenty of attention too.
Significant openings during the year included the Trump International Hotel and Tower and the Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences. Both drew significant numbers when big names came to town for the ribbon cutting ceremonies, including the Trump family, and Isadore Sharp and Daniel Boulud for their respective projects. While all four of our big new 5-star hotel/condo projects have their supporters and detractors when it comes to the architecture of the projects, few people dispute the wealth of luxury accommodation now available for those visiting this city. We are growing up quickly in that regard.
Toronto is also growing up in general; a report from earlier this year spelled out just how we are shifting from an area that turns farmland into tract subdivisions into one that is now mostly relying on infill development. Toronto's greenbelt means that single family homes are now second in sales to high-rise ones, and Mike Collins-Williams' popular story explained how the numbers are now playing out. We are grateful to Mike and all of our guest columnists and writers for bringing the nitty-gritty details of Toronto's growth to UT.
We also had a terrific year sitting down with many people in several areas of the development industry, whether they were developers or architects, city councillors or interior designers. We know our Thursday interviews can be lengthy, but if you haven't taken the time to read them yet, consider settling down for some holiday break reading. This link will take you to a good place to start. Each interviewee has brought a different perspective and insights into how and why this city is changing. We have quite a list of interesting people lined-up for interviews in 2013, and look forward to bringing you those.
The above only scratches the surface of what happened in 2012, and I am ignoring some of the sadder stories of the year (although the loss of the Context King West project cannot go unmentioned: property issues on the site have cost Toronto one of the most exciting projects we have ever seen, and we can only hope to see something similar rise from the ashes on the same or nearby sites in the future). We did see lots of great things happen though, and I'll end with this: Ryerson University saw the start of construction of thier stunning Snohetta and Zeidler-designed Student Learning Centre, the opening of remarkable Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens, and the opening of the wonderful Ryerson Image Centre. With its translucent LED-backed skin that dances with colour every night, and with the photographic treasures that are displayed inside it, it just may be Toronto's most remarkable new building of the year. The Diamond Schmitt Architects reworking of an old brewery-turned learning facility into a cultural gem is little short of a miracle, and we hope you'll visit in 2013 if you haven't yet.
What GTA project did we not mention that was important to you in 2012? There may be many. What did we catch that you want to say more about? Leave a comment below to let everyone know!