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Is Toronto Beautiful?

You have to be patient, tail. Cities have their own timetable for change. They are complex, multicellular organisms with competing and conflicting subsets of interests/inclinations/needs... lots of undercurrents driving change and, at the very same time, offering significant resistance to change. Yet in the last twenty years this city has seen huge changes, both in the core and in the neighbourhoods surrounding it. So it's already been quite a couple of momentous decades.

A city can change only so fast for so long before a host of severe new obstacles arise to challenge its continued growth. Sometimes what we want as individuals is at odds with the requirements of the greater organism itself of which we are but a tiny part.
 
You have to be patient, tail. Cities have their own timetable for change. They are complex, multicellular organisms with competing and conflicting subsets of interests/inclinations/needs... lots of undercurrents driving change and, at the very same time, offering significant resistance to change. Yet in the last twenty years this city has seen huge changes, both in the core and in the neighbourhoods surrounding it. So it's already been quite a couple of momentous decades.

A city can change only so fast for so long before a host of severe new obstacles arise to challenge its continued growth. Sometimes what we want as individuals is at odds with the requirements of the greater organism itself of which we are but a tiny part.

hehe I know but my comment really has nothing to do with that ;) ... all I was saying was after walking through many of our great neighroubhoods a fair distance from the core ... how much nicer it would be if it was all closer together ... note this doesn't imply density at all, the areas I'm citing, Bloor West Village / Roncesvalles / ... they're not very dence by downtown standards ... yet they attract a lot of people as a retail shopping strip and have a lot of character.
 
So... why would it be nicer if they were all closer together? I'm genuinely curious. Does it really have to be that way in order to be successful?

Seems to me that half of the charm of exploring a large city is the delight in discovering one cool neighbourhood after another. They don't have to be all liked up like diamonds on a chain; you can discover them in unexpected and seemingly random clusters. A vital, living city is never finished... you need the rough gems mixed in with the high-toned, established neighbourhoods. That creates a certain dynamic tension, an awareness of potential energy. Cities don't arrive all at once, fully formed - they come together on their own mysterious timetable. Yes, we can encourage certain aspects, but in so doing we can also unleash unforeseen things too - it's not always pleasant, and the good intentions of the most skilled of city planners still often go awry.
 
So... why would it be nicer if they were all closer together? I'm genuinely curious. Does it really have to be that way in order to be successful?

Seems to me that half of the charm of exploring a large city is the delight in discovering one cool neighbourhood after another. They don't have to be all liked up like diamonds on a chain; you can discover them in unexpected and seemingly random clusters. A vital, living city is never finished... you need the rough gems mixed in with the high-toned, established neighbourhoods. That creates a certain dynamic tension, an awareness of potential energy. Cities don't arrive all at once, fully formed - they come together on their own mysterious timetable. Yes, we can encourage certain aspects, but in so doing we can also unleash unforeseen things too - it's not always pleasant, and the good intentions of the most skilled of city planners still often go awry.


Rome was not built in a day
 
Rome was not built in a day

yes, and it was also not built of spandrel panels either. The problem Toronto suffers from along with cheap cut and paste architecture is there seem to be no grand plan for how the city should look. Other great cities of the world have an overarching vision for what the whole should look like. Toronto is an almost completely incoherent mix and match of randomness and banality at the same time. Developers are clearly much more interested in maximizing profits and almost completely disinterested in building in a way that is beautiful and inspiring.
 
In general, developers are always going to do whatever they feel they can get away with - it's the nature of the beast. It's city planners, backed by politicians, who can do the vision thing, provided the political will is there. If it's not, anything goes.

Some of the greatest cities had, at one time or another, powerful leaders whose sway over the populace was verging on absolute - much easier that way to impose grand, sweeping architectural visions on the populace. Whereas democracy is a messy thing; often stuff gets watered down. You need a strong mayor and a strong team. That makes all the difference.
 
There's definitely a vision for our waterfront that is being executed wonderfully. Once the West Don Lands and Queens Quay East have been entirely developed Toronto will be a much different city.

Hazel McCallion next door had a vision for Mississauga, but it was the wrong one (and even she has clued-in since). Toronto in its free-for-all style has done much better over the past 30 years.
 
Redroom, I'm curious which cities? All the great cities of the future I can think of are even more random than Toronto.
 
So... why would it be nicer if they were all closer together? I'm genuinely curious. Does it really have to be that way in order to be successful?

Seems to me that half of the charm of exploring a large city is the delight in discovering one cool neighbourhood after another. They don't have to be all liked up like diamonds on a chain; you can discover them in unexpected and seemingly random clusters. A vital, living city is never finished... you need the rough gems mixed in with the high-toned, established neighbourhoods.

The seamless connection of great neighbourhoods to one another is not trivial. Great neighbourhoods aren't meant to be islands, but to feed and develop off of their neighbours as they bleed into one another. The transition zone from the Annex to Koreatown is an exciting thing for a pedestrian to witness.

I think this is why the west side of Toronto feels more urbane and is naturally the area people gravitate to (based on home value appreciation, etc.) than the east side. The east side has a lot of great neighbourhoods to be sure: The Danforth, Cabbagetown, Leslieville, the Beach, Little India, East Chinatown, Corktown, etc., but they're separated either by dull, grey zones or by the expanse of natural features like the Don Valley. The West side feels much more fluid.

LA is another great example. It has as many great, walkable neighbourhoods as Toronto does, but they're all isolated from one another - often a significant drive away from each other by car, let alone on foot. As a result, the city feels too spread apart and feeble in places.
 
Did I in fact say that seamless connection of neighbourhoods is trivial? Nope. I just said it takes patience for it to unfold. The timetable is measured not merely in years, but decades. Dramatic, fully built-out transitions just take what they take. I remember when College and Clinton was a sleepy backwater back in the late 70.

As for east vs. west., in many instances in cities around the world I've heard it said that the east end tends to be the poor cousin to the west end. Just one of those things. I do agree that the Don Valley works as a great psychological divide between the two sides. Though it's often been used as a demarcation point for each side to denigrate the other side, there are benefits to its existence. Green space is a great thing for any city. The Don Valley is kind of a nice buffer zone, come to think of it. It's good that it splits the city in two along the east-west axis.

But let's not forget that, for years, the west end had its own pockets of wretchedness - it's only relatively recently that the tentacles of gentrification have spread out as far as they have. Liberty Village and Parkdale come to mind in this regard - hell, even upper Sorauren had its dodgy pockets, especially the old factories that used to stand there. So fluidity is a relative thing... time will tell. I'm looking at Carlaw and Dundas and I'm seeing things I've never seen there before. I remember working in a ratty old warehouse there 12, 13 years ago in a fly-by-night feature film production office - the area was dumpy and the gritty patina of the area's industrial past clung stubbornly to it. Now that very building is about to undergo a stunning change. I bring this up to illuminate that rapid gentrification and densification is a centre-core phenomenon and that talking about the east vs. the west is beside the point. The whole centre core has been undergoing remarkable change these past several years.
 
Did I in fact say that seamless connection of neighbourhoods is trivial? Nope. I just said it takes patience for it to unfold.

Okay, not to start a 'war of the words' but you asked whether neighbourhoods have to be close to one another to be successful, and my answer is: it certainly helps.

A great neighbourhood that's detached from other great neighbourhoods feels somewhat less important and not part of a bigger whole. I would also argue that even in its days of dumpiness, the West side was far more cohesive and that's precisely what catalyzed its gentrification. Even if they were empty or underused, there was a consistent wall of street retail and storefronts along Queen west or Dundas that is conspicously lacking along, say, Gerrard.
 
I think it's a tomaytoe / tomahtoe thang. Nor is Gerrard a particularly fair choice, especially given what happens to it in Cabbagetown and then again at Coxwell. Talk about your challenged streets. As for what we now call Liberty Village, that was at one time a destitute zone, one very much detached, marooned on its own... and it still feels somewhat that way, thanks to historical realities like adjacent railway right of ways, the Gardiner and the Exhibition grounds. I just don't buy your contention that neighourhoods which flow seamlessly into one another are inherently superior. Often the arguments I hear, west or east, is where one neighbourhood ends and another begins. People still seem to put a premium on knowing that they're in a discrete zone, one with well-known areas of clear demarcation.

But I still don't agree with your contention that "A great neighbourhood that's detached from other great neighbourhoods feels somewhat less important and not part of a bigger whole-" that's your perception and I'm glad you've shared it - but it's hardly an objective fact.
 
I think one of the beauties of Toronto is that there are distinctly different neighborhoods and each one has its own feel, design and style. No great city needs to have a single one theme in order for it to be, as a whole, a "great city." Toronto doesn't really have one major item, aside from maybe the CN Tower, that gives it its identity. Its greatness really lies in the sum of its parts.
 
But I still don't agree with your contention that "A great neighbourhood that's detached from other great neighbourhoods feels somewhat less important and not part of a bigger whole-" that's your perception and I'm glad you've shared it - but it's hardly an objective fact.

I tend to agree with HipsterDuck on this one, Lenser. One only needs to compare a couple of cases form each scenario to see that point.

For example, I feel that disconnected neighborhoods, such as Port Credit, Downtown Oakville, the Beaches, or NYCC, although fairly well built, fail to impress me because they are finite destinations. There is nothing to explore beyond their immediate boundaries, so I (along with most other visitors, I would wager) tend to "use" these neighbourhoods in fairly predictable ways.

The opposite of that is true in the west end, where one can travel seamlessly between little italy, little portugal, the ossington strip and west queen west. It just feels like a larger urban experience, with a greater degree of freedom of movement. This setup beckons more exploration and engages the imagination. At least for a self-proclaimed urban enthusiast such as myself, this makes a big difference, because I'm much more likely to return repeatedly, expecting new things, and will eventually explore the well-connected neighbourhoods to a much greater extent than the self-contained, isolated destinations.
 
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I do agree that the Don Valley works as a great psychological divide between the two sides. Though it's often been used as a demarcation point for each side to denigrate the other side, there are benefits to its existence. Green space is a great thing for any city. The Don Valley is kind of a nice buffer zone, come to think of it. It's good that it splits the city in two along the east-west axis.

It also splits the city in two along commercial / residential lines: each east end residential neighbourhood folds into the next with little retail getting in the way, and one can stroll east from Broadview for hours without encountering, say, a relentlessly hip Ossington equivalent. The Danforth, Queen East, and Gerrard from Broadview to Coxwell are about all there is as far as shopping districts, and the renovated Carlaw developments are mostly condominiums. The east end is mostly residential, with a strong sense of the ravine system running throughout.
 

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