What makes Bloor Street special? Over the course of an evening's discussion, panelists offered differing views on what the prominent Toronto artery is all about. The speakers included the Toronto Star's Christopher Hume, Lord Culture's Gail Dexter Lord, Ward 20 Councillor Joe Cressy, U of T's Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design Dean Richard Sommer, Hariri Pontarini Architects' Siamak Hariri, KPMB's Bob Sims, and DTAH's Brent Raymond, but none of them were able to distill Bloor Street down to a singular essence.

The Royal Conservatory's Heather Kelly introduces the panel, image by Craig WhitThe Royal Conservatory's Heather Kelly introduces the panel, image by Craig White

It was a testament to Downtown Bloor Street's protean nature—rather than any ineptitude on the part of the panel—that the east-west artery, prominent as it is, could not be boiled down to one identity. Instead, it has many. By turns a luxury shopping destination, a corridor of imposing cultural institutions, a university street, and the heart of a residential neighbourhood (in the Annex), Bloor boasts a unique collection of qualities—and a subway line. One thing that the panelists agreed on is that Bloor's variety is one of its charms.

The logo of the Bloor Street Culture Corridor, image courtesy of the BCCThe logo of the Bloor Street Culture Corridor, image courtesy of the BCC

Since 2014, the 1.6 kilometre stretch between Bathurst and Bay has been designated as the Bloor Street Culture Corridor (BCC), and it was the BCC's two-year anniversary event—held at the Hariri Pontarini Archiects-designed Alliance Française—where Patricia Guerin brought BCC instigator Heather Kelly and the panelists together to discuss this area's cultural and architectural future, and celebrate Bloor's uniqueness.

A map of the Bloor Street Culture Corridor, image courtesy of the BCCA map of the Bloor Street Culture Corridor, image courtesy of the BCC

Praised by the panel, the BCC itself was a starting point for the conversation. The group is composed of prominent local cultural institutions and destinations, either as full partners or as associates. Partners include Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, Tafelmusik, Talisker Players, Toronto Consort, (all three presenting at the St. Pauls' Centre), Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, Alliance Française, Instituto Italiano di Cultura, Bata Shoe Museum, Royal Conservatory of Music (revitalized by KPMB), Royal Ontario Museum, Gardiner Museum, and U of T's Faculty of Music. Formed to promote the prominent stretch of Bloor Street as a destination, the BCC's institutions are coordinating their efforts to make culture a vital part of the area's identity.

Hume, Lord, Cressy, and Sommer, image by Craig WhiteHume, Lord, Cressy, and Sommer, image by Craig White

Moderated by Dean Sommer, the discussion then turned to look at Bloor's future. As prominent designers who have worked in the area, Hariri (whose company is overseeing the new ROM Welcome Project), Raymond, and Sims discussed the role of good public spaces—and inviting buildings—in creating quality of place. Lord was adamant about the importance of air rights in along much of the corridor, arguing that since "buildings with protected views over the ROM [and U of T] are guaranteed to rise in value," they should contribute financially to the area by paying on an ongoing basis for the de facto air rights that protect their views in perpetuity.

Bloor St. Culture Corridor Hariri, and Sims, image by Craig WhiteHariri, and Sims, image by Craig White

Cressy celebrated public realm initiatives—particularly the Bloor bike lane pilot project—as ways to enliven the area. The panelists agreed that the City's bike lane pilot project (overseen by DTAH) represents an unusually forward-thinking initiative for Toronto, where—in Hume's words—such ideas usually get "studied to death." For his part, Hume was in exceptionally lively form, with the recently retired architecture critic speaking freely throughout the evening. 

Christopher Hume was in no mood to hold back, image by Craig WhiteChristopher Hume was in no mood to hold back, image by Craig White

Arguing that Bloor Street—and Toronto at large—would benefit from a more openminded approach to city-building, Hume lamented the City's overly cautious civic culture. "Look at what Jeannette Sadik-Khan did in New York, transforming Times Square into a pedestrian area. Why can't we do that here? It's not even a matter of parsimony or the City being broke" Hume added,"it just took a few cans of paint."

Hume also questioned the role of large institutions—like the ROM and the Royal Conservatory—in creating cultural vibrancy. Adding that urban spaces don't need to have expensively designed public realm amenities in order to thrive, Hume cast some doubt on the importance of showpiece projects—like the Mink Mile's granite sidewalks—in creating a vibrant public realm. "I mean, look at Kensington Market, it's a dump," he told the audience, "and I love it." 

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To see the Preliminary Concept Study for Hariri Pontarini Architects' public realm improvements at the Royal Ontario Museum, look for the second rendering in the ROM's dataBase file, linked below. What do you think of Bloor Street's cultural identity? Feel free to leave a comment in the space below this page.