News   Aug 09, 2022
 1.9K     2 
News   Aug 09, 2022
 1.4K     0 
News   Aug 09, 2022
 602     0 

Is Toronto Beautiful?

MisterF

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Apr 24, 2007
Messages
3,518
Reaction score
2,835
Unfortunately this isn't true ! Toronto proper is not growing at just about the same rate as any other similar city you would compare it too, yes it may be growing a tiny bit faster then Chicago for example, but the growth rates are very similar. Its the GTA that is growing faster and nearly all that growth takes place outside the 416!
Actually Toronto proper is growing (at an accelerating rate) while Chicago is shrinking. Toronto grew by 5.4% in the last decade while Chicago shrank by 6.9% over the same period. The most recent official numbers are Toronto 2,615,060 and Chicago 2,695,598. I give it a year or two before Toronto catches up.

As for how much growth is taking place outside the 416, about a quarter of the Toronto's CMA's recent growth is in the 416.
 

allabootmatt

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
May 13, 2007
Messages
1,437
Reaction score
170
Is Toronto Beautiful?

In spots, yes.

When referring to the streetscapes of some, even most of our major roads, not so much.

Though, I think many of you who make comparisons do so on a rather peculiar basis.

As someone whose had the good fortune to be able to travel, I have to say, many places are not what is imagined when away from the tourist or 'showpiece' areas.

Paris, as an example is a lovely City, and on its Grand Boulevards, few could hope to compete; but I can show you far greater levels of graffiti, dog poop on sidewalks, and tree-less, paved (not cobblestone) streets, even in the heart of that great city.

Never mind its much maligned suburbs.

The above is no dig at Paris, which has among the most cared-for public spaces of any city, anywhere; but rather to point out that comparing our 'middle' or even 'worst' to another City's best is not a very fair comparison.

Even at it is, there is more to recommend the City that many here give it credit for.

Let's consider St. George Street through U of T, which is wonderful with its endless stone seating/planters, trees in superior conditions, including many oaks, exploding in growth, and wonderful floral features to boot.

Not satisfied with one street? I don't blame you; so let's consider Bloor through Yorkville; with the exception of the unfortunate decision to maintain the utilitarian streetlights, its really quite elegant, from the granite, to the trees, to the flowers.

Still bitchy, consider a more minor street, Roncesvalles, just re-done with high quality, in-ground trees, covered by grates, new pedestrian lights, while not 'grand' it certainly is quite attractive, and will be much more so as the trees mature.

Even little Moore Avenue, just west of Bayview now sports a lovely median, extensive plantings and is a lovely drive, bike ride or walk.

Of course, these are indeed exceptions.....but much more is coming...

The Entertainment District:

1) New John Street is coming
2) Peter Street is about to undergo a design charette
3) The Streetscape masterplan is exquisite, I'm quite taken by the proposed changes to the reflecting pool by Roy Thompson Hall.

See Details here: http://www.torontoed.com/plans_reports

We then have Yorkville:

1) See the streetscape in front of the new Four Seasons, it roughly matches Bloor Street, more is coming. (fronting both Bay and Yorkville)

From there, let's see Harbourfront:

1) New Queen's Quay, underway, wonderful project

How about Old Town Toronto/St. Lawrence:

1) New Front Street, Jarvis to Parliament including medians and trees, and heritage pedestrian and conventional street lights.

2) New Sherbourne, as part of general road reconstruction and the new separated bike lanes, looks for meaningful improvements.

3)New Wellington Street, Yonge to Church, coming next year (its already pretty nice)

4)Likely improvements to Scott Street, including possible narrowing/closure next to Berczy Park.

Or, perhaps we might look at the new West Don Lands:

- featuring 100% Hydro wire burial
- decorative paving and Woonerfs (roads done all in brick)
- 100% decorative street lights
- extensive street trees in upgraded growing conditions

5) Not good enough? Consider the host of improvements built into almost every major roads project

ie. When Victoria Park Avenue was rebuilt 2 years ago, from Lawrence to York Mills, each of the major cross-streets (Lawrence, Ellesmere, York Mills) got a new seating area with trees and spring bulb flower displays, along with new street trees, re-sodded bolevards and full replacement of transit shelters.

There is even more than that happening.......


And more than can happen, if people rightly scout the world for the most interesting ideas, but then devote their energies to seeing the implemented.

Our City is far from perfect; and public realm is a historic weakness.

But much has been gained; much is being gained; and more will be gained.

Toronto has a long, long way to go, but I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment that other places are not nearly what we make them out to be sometime. Vast swathes of London, for example, are really, really ugly (although they do manage to have buried Hydro wires). The same goes for Paris (outside the Peripherique), the outer boroughs of New York, and so on down the list. Sydney and Melbourne have pretty weak public realm elements in places and tons of overhead wires.

But what bothers me is that, with a few exceptions, our 'best' isn't as good. Things are improving but there's still far too much going wrong in our public realm, even in heavily trafficked central areas. I am of the view that Toronto architecture is pretty good, on the whole, but the shoddy sidewalks, overhead wires, crappy street furniture and the like distract from it considerably.
 

Tewder

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Apr 30, 2007
Messages
5,401
Reaction score
154
Agreed. Most of us understand that not all of Chicago looks like the Miracle Mile. What we bemoan is that even in our most central, shared areas we often look uninspired, if not downright decrepit.

Toronto can be ugly and often in the most unanticipated/unexpected of places... but Toronto also has some moments of enormous charm and appeal. We shouldn't forget this... but we also shouldn't forget that it is important to criticize and demand more. This is how we effect change over time.
 

scarberiankhatru

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Apr 23, 2007
Messages
5,274
Reaction score
6
The above is no dig at Paris, which has among the most cared-for public spaces of any city, anywhere; but rather to point out that comparing our 'middle' or even 'worst' to another City's best is not a very fair comparison.

Right. And we do need to compare worst to worst because let's face it: even tourists don't see/visit/experience just the famous postcard spots of a city. Our worst is possibly on par or better than the worst of any other city in the world (maybe barring something like Canberra or Astana). The solid and sensible aesthetic legacy of infrastructure and development from the Metro era is still plainly visible, though a few cracks are showing. There's a small number of rundown industrial sites but most of them are slated for change. Throw a dart at a map of the GTA and you *will* hit something fairly nice - but will it be 'beautiful'? Meh, doubt it. Maybe our postcard shots don't go punch for punch with Chicago or Paris...but that's not what Toronto is all about.

Also, a lot of cities get a pass on their crappy features because you can see mountains/ocean in the distance or because the weather is nice. Also also, everything is awesome when you're on vacation but sitting here in Toronto would what we do but complain about what we see? We can focus on how horrible a postcard spot such as Queen between Bay and York is, or we can focus like Northern Light on all the good little things scattered around the city.
 

TrickyRicky

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Apr 23, 2007
Messages
2,672
Reaction score
685
I wasn't suggesting Taal that ugly is a requirement of high standard of living, just that aesthetic concerns and standard of living are not necessarily related.

Whatever we may think about the beauty of the city, I think we should at least appreciate that there is a general trend of improvement at the moment. This trend of improvement is probably a function of the changing demographic story, where for good or bad the inner city is becoming more and more wealthy. While Toronto never lost it's core as some major US cities had, our core (and that is what we are really talking about here) was basically kept on life-support for many decades by various immigrant and low-income communities. These communities could sweep the porch but they lacked the resources to restore and enhance the urban landscape. Perhaps this is why Toronto has always been fixated on keeping things clean even if clean meant bland and dumpy.
 

Tewder

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Apr 30, 2007
Messages
5,401
Reaction score
154
Maybe our postcard shots don't go punch for punch with Chicago or Paris...but that's not what Toronto is all about.

I'm not sure it's as axiomatic as that. I look at what previous generations in Toronto built or aspired to build and see a wide disconnect between them and the Toronto of the 80s and 90s for example when everything started to fall apart through neglect. Somewhere along the way the city lost its optimism, ambition and vision, and basically stopped caring. Toronto may never have been a Chicago or Paris but it never use to demur from the odd postcard shot.
 

buildup

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Apr 26, 2007
Messages
2,208
Reaction score
294
So why is that, why did that happen? Could it be that after the CN Tower, TD Centre, CIBC etc were built in the 1960s, many cities started to focus on restoring thier old towns, but Toronto didn't have one because of the Great Fire. So we lost our way?

On the previous topic - we forgot to mention UofT right in the core contributing the the public realm. Two horrible stretches that could turn around if handled right are Front Street and Queen's Quay.

And Yonge Street has the potential to be utterly fascinating - a mishmash of innovative tall towers 1BE, 5 St Joseph, Aura, Massey connected by finely restored 2-3 Victorians. I think this will happen. All we need is some incentive to strip off the 'so ghastly artistic' street level facades. There wouldn't be another city in the world crazy enough to attempt it.
 
Last edited:

taal

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
May 19, 2007
Messages
6,702
Reaction score
181
Location
NYCC
The John and Yonge street projects, while very promising and would do wonders to help Toronto's public realm, are far from reality, at least at this point.

The report in regards to the John street project essentially states there is no planned funding in the near term future, yes some ideas were thrown out in terms of using the contributions of nearby developments but it was just an idea.

Yonge is likely just as far off if not further.


Statements along the lines of Toronto's worst neighborhoods fare well if not better then similar neighborhoods in other cities is something to be admired but the focus of the majority of tourists and residents alike will indeed be downtown.


I imagine most people pay little attention to such details, but this thread was questioning the 'beauty of Toronto' which you can chose to interpret many ways. These aren't hard changes either, its just a simple matter of ripping out sidewalks, re-paving roads, planting trees, changing lights and other fixtures ... well in theory its not difficult.

Northern Lights did point out some positives, but honestly in my opinion, these pale in comparison to other cities.
So anyway that's how I reach my conclusion that Toronto is the exact opposite of beautiful from a public realm point of view.

scarberiankhatru's comment regarding how some cities can get away sloppy public infrastructure due to the natural beauty (i.e. mountains / ... ) while I'm sure is true seemed like a shot at Vancouver, and that to me is one of the many cities does a by far and large better job of its public infrastructure ... yes, even with the mountains ...
 
Last edited:

Hipster Duck

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Apr 24, 2007
Messages
3,558
Reaction score
9
So why is that, why did that happen? Could it be that after the CN Tower, TD Centre, CIBC etc were built in the 1960s, many cities started to focus on restoring thier old towns, but Toronto didn't have one because of the Great Fire. So we lost our way?


We lost our way, all right, but it wasn't because of the Great Fire. The Great Fire just burned down a handful of blocks in the financial district which were quickly rebuilt with more ornate and grander commercial properties of their day. On the other hand, we really got taken behind the woodshed in the 1950s and 1960s. I remember reading in one of the books (maybe it was No Mean City, or maybe Dendy's Lost Toronto) that Toronto lost 25,000 buildings between 1955 and 1970, most of them in the downtown core. To put this in perspective, this is the same number of buildings lost as the German bombing of Rotterdam in World War 2! With that level of loss it's hard to form heritage districts right in our downtown core because our pre-war urban fabric is the exception rather than the norm.

The other problem with Toronto's demolition spree in the 1950s and 1960s was that it was mostly privately driven, so it affected all parts of our downtown. Cities that had mostly government-led urban renewal tore down a crap ton of buildings, but they were usually in concentrated areas. So, Boston and Montreal may have annihilated their West End and Little Burgundy neighbourhoods, but they left areas like Old Montreal, Beacon Hill and Back Bay completely intact and ripe for restoration. Boston and Montreal may have lost as many buildings as Toronto, but they are still - and I think rightfully - considered to be historically intact cities that can capitalize on their built heritage. It's hard to do that when your pre-war built heritage is confined to one off buildings here and there, and scraps of old Victorian commercial blocks nestled between towers (or, up until recently, parking lots).

scarberiankhatru's comment regarding how some cities can get away sloppy public infrastructure due to the natural beauty (i.e. mountains / ... ) while I'm sure is true seemed like a shot at Vancouver, and that to me is one of the many cities does a by far and large better job of its public infrastructure ... yes, even with the mountains ...

Vancouver is proof-positive that the built realm and the surroundings may matter more than architecture in defining a city as 'beautiful'. Vancouver is beautiful, and almost everybody who visits there thinks it is, but its architecture is at least a level below that of Toronto in every historic period. Its residential neighbourhoods are made up of wooden shanties and its commercial strips are one-storey teardowns similar to Avenue Road north of Lawrence. Despite this, its unified streetscaping and landscaping, familiar green, 1930s light standards and mountain view corridors leave a lasting impression in most people's minds. Meanwhile, we have these really ornate high Victorian commercial facades on Queen Street west complete with stained glass windows and garlands carved into the cornices, but nobody notices them because they're marred with overhead wires, backlit commercial signage, cell phone transmitters and pigeon shit (the pigeons roost on the overhead wires).
 

Thanos

Active Member
Member Bio
Joined
Mar 1, 2010
Messages
603
Reaction score
17
I don't mean to take this offf topic. I love Toronto with all its warts. However, to those who call Vancouver "ugly", they are obviously blind. There's not a single city in NA that takes care of its streetscape, public squares, parks, etc, better then Vancouver.
 

adma

Superstar
Member Bio
Joined
Apr 23, 2007
Messages
16,987
Reaction score
1,594
Vancouver is beautiful, and almost everybody who visits there thinks it is, but its architecture is at least a level below that of Toronto in every historic period. Its residential neighbourhoods are made up of wooden shanties and its commercial strips are one-storey teardowns similar to Avenue Road north of Lawrence.

I might make an exception for the post-WWII period: "Vancouver Modern" had a way of pointing out Toronto's comparative stodginess, despite the best efforts of Parkin, Dickinson, et al...
 

TrickyRicky

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Apr 23, 2007
Messages
2,672
Reaction score
685
I wanted to put a business spin on this topic for a second. Anyone who actually lives on the ground in the old City of Toronto knows that there is a massive amount of investment going into upgrades and new construction throughout the area. I'm talking about everything from private residences, to commercial store-fronts, to public spaces.
Of course like a new piece of furniture, sometimes improvements do more to highlight other deficiencies when you forget how bad things used to look.

This investment I think is being driven by reduced returns on investment. Toronto, for a city it's size and with it's standard of living has been used to third-world levels of return on investment for decades. It wasn't too long ago that investors would balk at anything less that a 7% return on investment. I'm familiar with Switzerland for example and you would be lucky to get 2-4% return on anything. Why reduced rates of return matter is that the lower your return the greater the incentive to maximize the potential of property under your control. Essentially, you have no choice. If you are getting 8% return and you don't have to do anything why bother with aesthetics or proper maintenance at all?

Additionally, as prices rise there is a psychological effect where people feel richer and feel their surroundings are worthy of upgrades and investment. I can see this on my own street as well, probably 25% of the houses on my stretch of street have been actively improving and enhancing their curb appeal over the last number of years. This kind of activity does more in my opinion to enhance the city than any public realm infrastructure we speak about here. Particularly when you consider that Toronto is primarily a domestic garden city.
 

nrb

Active Member
Member Bio
Joined
Mar 26, 2009
Messages
411
Reaction score
89
imo no matter how much investment goes into sidewalks, lights etc.. the city is still over run with hideous condo buildings and it's only getting worse.

Toronto was a lot prettier even 5 years ago when you could go more than 5 blocks without seeing an incredibly cheap, shoddily constructed tower emerging from a poorly designed podium that the middle class 'professionals' with poor taste have swarmed to. Vancouver is a poor comparison because their buildings meet the street much better due to their superior building codes and design practices.
 

jje1000

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
May 19, 2007
Messages
4,844
Reaction score
2,342
The other problem with Toronto's demolition spree in the 1950s and 1960s was that it was mostly privately driven, so it affected all parts of our downtown. Cities that had mostly government-led urban renewal tore down a crap ton of buildings, but they were usually in concentrated areas. So, Boston and Montreal may have annihilated their West End and Little Burgundy neighbourhoods, but they left areas like Old Montreal, Beacon Hill and Back Bay completely intact and ripe for restoration. Boston and Montreal may have lost as many buildings as Toronto, but they are still - and I think rightfully - considered to be historically intact cities that can capitalize on their built heritage. It's hard to do that when your pre-war built heritage is confined to one off buildings here and there, and scraps of old Victorian commercial blocks nestled between towers (or, up until recently, parking lots).

Not quite true in all senses- the Provincial Asylum, Chorley Park and the old Trinity College were torn down by the government, and a typical mid-century 'Centre of the Arts' project ended up tearing down a large portion of the St. Lawrence neighbourhood and never truly materialized (with the exception of the Sony/Hummingbird Centre).

The question now would be: "How do we preserve the remnants of our historical fabric and how do we enhance them? Certain areas like the Warehouse district on King and Queen Street do not need flashy new buildings, but buildings designed to fit into the area and further weave cohesion into the urban fabric (e.g. red brick, proper proportions), while other areas like Jarvis Street require the preservation of the remaining heritage structures and entirely new patches woven in to repair any damage done (e.g. new condominiums and institutions).

Another question that needs to be asked is: "How do we keep owners from defacing their buildings?" Because I have seen many old brick structures on Yonge and St. Clair possibly permanently defaced with EIFS, beige paintjobs and other 'repairwork'.
 
Last edited:

Top