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Shabby Public Realm

junctionist

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As much as I hated those ancient poles with the wooden horizontal bars and at least a dozen wires, I've come to realize living away from Toronto that few cities even have them anymore. When you see them next to restored Victorians and sleek glass buildings, they're like the cobblestone streets of Europe--ancient infrastructure that still serves a core function of urban infrastructure. They're this interesting and perhaps even romantic holdover from centuries ago.

With that said, I'd be all for removing overhead wires and investing in ornamental street lighting throughout the city. But I'd leave those poles and wires intact in a few select places.
 

junctionist

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That's what happens when you live away for a while. You gain a new perspective. You see sterile and banal streets everywhere throughout North America beyond the fancy waterfront or tourist traps that every city has, and then you see an ordinary downtown Toronto street with those ancient poles but with boutiques, amazing restaurants, restored Victorians, new streetcars, luxury cars, gorgeous women, fixies and buskers. It's wonderful the way it is.

In 50 years, people will want to recreate this prosperous and vibrant era. There will be new money and style, but they'll like this era. They won't look back at the city as some boring place playing second fiddle to another city that did the cool stuff. We drank in Trinity-Bellwoods Park, the mayor smoked crack and everything just worked. The ancient poles must be preserved in some locations because there are places where nothing could be better. Like the cobblestones that can be quarried for millenia, so too can the timbers be shipped from the west coast forever.
 

beemicha

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That's what happens when you live away for a while. You gain a new perspective. You see sterile and banal streets everywhere throughout North America beyond the fancy waterfront or tourist traps that every city has, and then you see an ordinary downtown Toronto street with those ancient poles but with boutiques, amazing restaurants, restored Victorians, new streetcars, luxury cars, gorgeous women, fixies and buskers. It's wonderful the way it is.

In 50 years, people will want to recreate this prosperous and vibrant era. There will be new money and style, but they'll like this era. They won't look back at the city as some boring place playing second fiddle to another city that did the cool stuff. We drank in Trinity-Bellwoods Park, the mayor smoked crack and everything just worked. The ancient poles must be preserved in some locations because there are places where nothing could be better. Like the cobblestones that can be quarried for millenia, so too can the timbers be shipped from the west coast forever.

I really hope you're right :) you paint such a wonderful view!! We need to preserve our 'heritage' !!
 

pman

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I really hope you're right :) you paint such a wonderful view!! We need to preserve our 'heritage' !!

Knowing Toronto, we'll have 1905-vintage wooden poles supporting masses of overhead wires along almost all our main streets in perpetuity. Except of course where we have the rusting metal poles which would appear to date back to the 1930's or 1940's. You don't need to worry that anything will ever change.
 

MisterF

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That's what happens when you live away for a while. You gain a new perspective. You see sterile and banal streets everywhere throughout North America beyond the fancy waterfront or tourist traps that every city has, and then you see an ordinary downtown Toronto street with those ancient poles but with boutiques, amazing restaurants, restored Victorians, new streetcars, luxury cars, gorgeous women, fixies and buskers. It's wonderful the way it is.

In 50 years, people will want to recreate this prosperous and vibrant era. There will be new money and style, but they'll like this era. They won't look back at the city as some boring place playing second fiddle to another city that did the cool stuff. We drank in Trinity-Bellwoods Park, the mayor smoked crack and everything just worked. The ancient poles must be preserved in some locations because there are places where nothing could be better. Like the cobblestones that can be quarried for millenia, so too can the timbers be shipped from the west coast forever.

What about all the cities that have dozens of ordinary downtown streets with boutiques, buskers, and everything else you listed except overhead wires? Those cities are everywhere, both in North America and elsewhere. People keep posting as if there's some sort of correlation between burying wires and the street becoming sterile. There's not.
 

salsa

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What about all the cities that have dozens of ordinary downtown streets with boutiques, buskers, and everything else you listed except overhead wires? Those cities are everywhere, both in North America and elsewhere. People keep posting as if there's some sort of correlation between burying wires and the street becoming sterile. There's not.

Yonge St doesn't have overhead wires, for example. Doesn't mean the street any less cool.
 

junctionist

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What about all the cities that have dozens of ordinary downtown streets with boutiques, buskers, and everything else you listed except overhead wires? Those cities are everywhere, both in North America and elsewhere. People keep posting as if there's some sort of correlation between burying wires and the street becoming sterile. There's not.

You're right, though I wasn't making that point. There is no correlation between how vibrant a street is and the aesthetic quality of its public realm. I'm all for improvements including burying overhead wires. But those massive timbers and with some 12 wires have a certain charm that I'd keep in a few places (if we still need those wires).
 

MisterF

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You're right, though I wasn't making that point. There is no correlation between how vibrant a street is and the aesthetic quality of its public realm. I'm all for improvements including burying overhead wires. But those massive timbers and with some 12 wires have a certain charm that I'd keep in a few places (if we still need those wires).

Yeah I know, but your post mentioning sterile and banal streets could be interpreted that way. But I don't think you have to worry - this city is in no danger of burying all its hydro wires anytime in the forseeable future.
 

mjl08

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I’ve lived in Hamilton off and on for about five years. I’ve toured many of the nearby towns on day trips – Kitchener, Cambridge, Guelph, Woodstock – and find myself bumping into a shabby public realm that makes Toronto’s look trivial. Is this a case of Toronto holding itself at a higher standard as a global city? An Ontario-centric indifference to civic design and streetscapes? Or is this disrepair a sign of a larger infrastructure and public works deficit from Queen’s Park?
 
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pman

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I’ve lived in Hamilton off and on for about five years. I’ve toured many of the nearby towns on day trips – Kitchener, Cambridge, Guelph, Woodstock – and find myself bumping into a shabby public realm that makes Toronto’s look trivial. Is this a case of Toronto holding itself a higher standard as a global city? An Ontario-centric indifference to civic design and streetscapes? Or is this disrepair a sign of a larger infrastructure and public works deficit from Queen’s Park?

It's certainly at least partly a reaction to the legion of Toronto boosters who assert that this is a world-class alpha-dog city, what with our universities on par with Boston's best (somebody actually asserted that on a UT post a while ago), our world-class condo boom, our world-class food culture (though sadly under the Michelin radar), our world-class public transit, and our world-class idea generation on par with Silicon Valley. I mean, with respect there aren't a lot of people in Hamilton comparing it to the world's most dynamic cities, because people there are sane. But in Toronto's case deluded hubris knows no bounds. Provoking howls of disbelief from people who don't hate Toronto, but maybe have travelled enough to know it's not the navel of any known universe.
 

rbt

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... our world-class food culture (though sadly under the Michelin radar) ...

I see that as a positive. It means we are out eating at restaurants instead of wasting money buying Michelin Guides.
 

allabootmatt

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I’ve lived in Hamilton off and on for about five years. I’ve toured many of the nearby towns on day trips – Kitchener, Cambridge, Guelph, Woodstock – and find myself bumping into a shabby public realm that makes Toronto’s look trivial. Is this a case of Toronto holding itself at a higher standard as a global city? An Ontario-centric indifference to civic design and streetscapes? Or is this disrepair a sign of a larger infrastructure and public works deficit from Queen’s Park?

I think there is a general indifference in Ontario to these matters--and what's weird is that it is not remotely shared by Canada's other big provinces.

Take Ottawa. It has every reason to be an urban showpiece, and in a small area around Parliament Hill a reasonable effort has been made by people who seem like they care. But walk down Elgin Street oh, six minutes south of the Chateau Laurier and it's a mess, wires and all.

I will leave any diagnoses of what drives the Ontarian attitude to public spaces to the armchair sociologists among us. My point is that there is absolutely an issue particular to the province.

Toronto is improving, certainly, and there is starting to be more of a recognition that particularly important areas -- Bloor, Queens Quay, eventually Yonge -- should be improved to a higher standard.

My thing though is raising the level of the default streetscape, such that even in places where no special measures have been taken the general standard is still OK. Both Vancouver and Montreal seem to manage that, at least in central areas, whereas too many Toronto streets *still* look like no one in charge has even considered the aesthetic effects of their actions.

No realistic amount of showpiece projects like the Queens Quay rebuild will make much of a difference until that changes.
 

Riverdale Rink Rat

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It's certainly at least partly a reaction to the legion of Toronto boosters who assert that this is a world-class alpha-dog city, what with our universities on par with Boston's best (somebody actually asserted that on a UT post a while ago), our world-class condo boom, our world-class food culture (though sadly under the Michelin radar), our world-class public transit, and our world-class idea generation on par with Silicon Valley. I mean, with respect there aren't a lot of people in Hamilton comparing it to the world's most dynamic cities, because people there are sane. But in Toronto's case deluded hubris knows no bounds. Provoking howls of disbelief from people who don't hate Toronto, but maybe have travelled enough to know it's not the navel of any known universe.

Hahahaha... MJL asks a pretty subtle and interesting question, and you go off on a 'world-class' tangent, pman. If you hate the city, don't bother to talk about it so much. It'll remain an alpha city even in the face of your silence on the subject.

FWIW, MJL, I think Kitchener/Cambridge (I don't know Woodstock or Guelph as well) has had a really hard time shaking off the car culture / strip mall ugliness that makes up their suburbs, and in Kitchener's case downtown was left to rot. But I think they're slowly coming out of it -- witness the UW Architecture school and clean up of Galt or the (somewhat) revitalization of the Farmer's Market area of Kitchener. Hamilton has done some decent things, too.

My comparison is France, and there are some really ugly downtown/car-culture regional cities there, too. The ones that took a beating in WW II and were re-built with concrete during the 50s-70s look really, really bad. (I'm thinking of Lorient or maybe Rennes (not as bad)). Marseilles took advantage of its Cultural Year to revitalize the old port, but still has some very terrible '70s crumbling towers in its tougher quarters and no-go zones around them. Those regional cities (not that Marseilles isn't a big city) are slowly doing the same as ours: burying the sins of the shiny new car culture. It's just going to take some time.

IMHO, politicians like shiny new projects and hate the boring old things like fixing the pipes. Since Toronto has aged 50-70 years after its post-war explosion in size, we're now grappling with lots of 'fixing' and not as many 'shiny new projects', but I'm not sure it's due to a infrastructure deficit, per se. Just different priorities.

Stratford does small town well. St. Thomas. Niagara-On-The-Lake, although it's a little twee. Waterloo. We've got a fair number of nice small to mid-sized towns.
 

MisterF

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It's certainly at least partly a reaction to the legion of Toronto boosters who assert that this is a world-class alpha-dog city, what with our universities on par with Boston's best (somebody actually asserted that on a UT post a while ago), our world-class condo boom, our world-class food culture (though sadly under the Michelin radar), our world-class public transit, and our world-class idea generation on par with Silicon Valley. I mean, with respect there aren't a lot of people in Hamilton comparing it to the world's most dynamic cities, because people there are sane. But in Toronto's case deluded hubris knows no bounds. Provoking howls of disbelief from people who don't hate Toronto, but maybe have travelled enough to know it's not the navel of any known universe.
Not that this has anything to do with the thread topic, but UofT was recently ranked the 20th best university in the world. That's absolutely something to show off.

I think there is a general indifference in Ontario to these matters--and what's weird is that it is not remotely shared by Canada's other big provinces.

Take Ottawa. It has every reason to be an urban showpiece, and in a small area around Parliament Hill a reasonable effort has been made by people who seem like they care. But walk down Elgin Street oh, six minutes south of the Chateau Laurier and it's a mess, wires and all.

I will leave any diagnoses of what drives the Ontarian attitude to public spaces to the armchair sociologists among us. My point is that there is absolutely an issue particular to the province.

Toronto is improving, certainly, and there is starting to be more of a recognition that particularly important areas -- Bloor, Queens Quay, eventually Yonge -- should be improved to a higher standard.

My thing though is raising the level of the default streetscape, such that even in places where no special measures have been taken the general standard is still OK. Both Vancouver and Montreal seem to manage that, at least in central areas, whereas too many Toronto streets *still* look like no one in charge has even considered the aesthetic effects of their actions.

No realistic amount of showpiece projects like the Queens Quay rebuild will make much of a difference until that changes.
I agree that it's an Ontario thing, although some towns and cities are better than others. For some reason we don't pay attention to these things here as much as they do in other provinces. Another city with a higher standard is Calgary. You don't see much clutter or overhead wires on the main streets of the Beltline, Kensington, or downtown. Even Gatineau bests Ottawa. Gatineau doesn't have a lot of urban main streets but the ones that it does have make a lot of Ottawa's look pretty bad.

I’ve lived in Hamilton off and on for about five years. I’ve toured many of the nearby towns on day trips – Kitchener, Cambridge, Guelph, Woodstock – and find myself bumping into a shabby public realm that makes Toronto’s look trivial. Is this a case of Toronto holding itself at a higher standard as a global city? An Ontario-centric indifference to civic design and streetscapes? Or is this disrepair a sign of a larger infrastructure and public works deficit from Queen’s Park?
I don't think you need to be a global city to hold yourself to a higher standard. And I don't necessarily think that Toronto holds itself to a higher standard than smaller Ontario cities. Peterborough for example has most of its central main streets built to a higher standard than a typical Toronto (or Hamilton) main street.
 

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