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Why Is Toronto Aesthetically/Architecturally Boring? Answer Needed!

junctionist

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Many US cities, especially in the midwest literally seized all development since the 50's/60's. Definitely there are cities like that today; see Cincinnati/Cleveland/Baltimore/St Louis/Detroit/Buffalo ...list goes on. Most of these cities were not victims of urban renewal unlike Toronto. As if Toronto's historical stock was not strained enough, urban renewal really made a huge negative impact in respect to historic architecture (see Eaton's Centre, Yonge/Dundas, FCP, etc... ). I suggest you check out the "Then and Now" thread on the Picture forum and just see for yourself what urban renewal did to the city.
Actually, those cities lost a lot too in those decades, but they weren't on the verge of national metropolis status. That isn't to excuse the lack of preservationist spirit in those years in Toronto or excuse choices like building an expressway next to the waterfront but the histories are quite different. Beyond the "Then and Now" thread, I highly recommend Eric Arthur's classic Toronto: No Mean City. It's a book of the architectural history of Toronto from the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 20th century. Arthur revealed to many that our architectural heritage was in fact quite rich but being quickly destroyed and argued that 19th century Toronto saw the completion of a number of buildings comparable in quality to the best buildings of the time in European capitals.

What is striking, though, is that because Arthur's research was so thorough in investigating the end of every building no longer standing, he revealed a lot about the life and death of Toronto architecture from the 19th century. The 50s/60s are demonized by anyone who appreciates the heritage before that era, but Arthur revealed that the Victorians destroyed a lot of the city as well. They razed a lot of Georgian Toronto, for instance. The Art Deco era saw a lot of demolition. Fires did a lot of damage to our stock of heritage buildings as well.
 

Parkdalian

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Many US cities, especially in the midwest literally seized all development since the 50's/60's. Definitely there are cities like that today; see Cincinnati/Cleveland/Baltimore/St Louis/Detroit/Buffalo ...list goes on. Most of these cities were not victims of urban renewal unlike Toronto. As if Toronto's historical stock was not strained enough, urban renewal really made a huge negative impact in respect to historic architecture (see Eaton's Centre, Yonge/Dundas, FCP, etc... ). I suggest you check out the "Then and Now" thread on the Picture forum and just see for yourself what urban renewal did to the city.
I think you need to actually visit these cities. Cincinnati, Detroit and Buffalo are filled with giant gaping holes in their urban fabric (Inner city Detroit is mostly grass now!). They had "urban renewal" but they never got the development that say, turned St Lawrence from a parking lot into a vibrant neighbourhood. Detroit is still tearing down thousands of buildings every year! Cincinnati has elevated walkways that cross streets and connect one building to ... nothing. They tore down the buildings but left up the walkways. It's worse than Toronto. It's some pathetic reminder of some lost urban hope.

I like heritage, but let's not get all mopey about some buildings that have been gone for fifty years. Trust me, outsiders wouldn't be more impressed with our city if we halted development - they'd think we were quaint and inoffensive and point out how all of it is "inferior" to the stuff back home. With these theoretical "what ifs", imaginary Toronto does not turn into real world Paris.
 

Riverdale Rink Rat

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Many US cities, especially in the midwest literally ceased all development since the 50's/60's. Definitely there are cities like that today; see Cincinnati/Cleveland/Baltimore/St Louis/Detroit/Buffalo ...list goes on. Most of these cities were not victims of urban renewal unlike Toronto. As if Toronto's historical stock was not strained enough, urban renewal really made a huge negative impact in respect to historic architecture (see Eaton's Centre, Yonge/Dundas, FCP, etc... ). I suggest you check out the "Then and Now" thread on the Picture forum and just see for yourself what urban renewal did to the city.
I'm going to go all Pollyanna on you, but I'm a big fan of urban renewal. I understand the desire to keep interesting architecture (the plan to raze Old City Hall was bizarre, e.g.), but how do you become a major city with lots o' new jobs/people/wealth if you don't grow? Where does CIBC put all the new employees in CC North -- doubledecker desks? No, build a modernist new building to go beside the old.

The number of people that wanted to keep the old record face of Sam the Record Man, but didn't go in to buy a CD? Screw 'em. The folks that would rather have a strip of blighted stores rather than an urban square at Y/D? Should we re-build the Consumer's Gas plants and rendering pits or move on to a post-industrial West Donlands?

Certainly, raze and reconstruct can be devastating in the hands of an unscrupulous developer -- but renewal can also be fabulous, and IMHO it's almost always better to have a humdrum building and a vibrant workforce than a beautiful pile 25% occupied because the jobs have moved to another city.
 

nfitz

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Certainly, raze and reconstruct can be devastating in the hands of an unscrupulous developer -- but renewal can also be fabulous, and IMHO it's almost always better to have a humdrum building and a vibrant workforce than a beautiful pile 25% occupied because the jobs have moved to another city.
Sure ... but there's a differene between renewal ... and abandon the city and turn it into farm fields.
 

junctionist

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I'm going to go all Pollyanna on you, but I'm a big fan of urban renewal. I understand the desire to keep interesting architecture (the plan to raze Old City Hall was bizarre, e.g.), but how do you become a major city with lots o' new jobs/people/wealth if you don't grow? Where does CIBC put all the new employees in CC North -- doubledecker desks? No, build a modernist new building to go beside the old.

Certainly, raze and reconstruct can be devastating in the hands of an unscrupulous developer -- but renewal can also be fabulous, and IMHO it's almost always better to have a humdrum building and a vibrant workforce than a beautiful pile 25% occupied because the jobs have moved to another city.
Even you acknowledge that building new beside the old is great. Commerce Court was an exception in its preservation of the old tower, though even it saw some demolition. The trend by the 1960s was to progressively demolish most of the old buildings. That was renewal. A lot of it was completely pointless when the new towers could have been built beside the best of our oldest districts. Some demolition would still be necessary, but it didn't have to be some of the best heritage architecture we had. Urban renewal should have been better guided.
 

HHC

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Even you acknowledge that building new beside the old is great. Commerce Court was an exception in its preservation of the old tower, though even it saw some demolition. The trend by the 1960s was to progressively demolish most of the old buildings. That was renewal. A lot of it was completely pointless when the new towers could have been built beside the best of our oldest districts. Some demolition would still be necessary, but it didn't have to be some of the best heritage architecture we had. Urban renewal should have been better guided.
This is exactly my point... Demolishing heritage structures is not necessary at all, especially since the city was relatively mid-sized at the time and they weren't necessarily strapped for space like they are now. They could simply have chosen an empty lot or cleared some of the low-end residential which was available in abundance. We lost 90% of the buildings you see in this picture for FCP. What a loss the old Toronto Star building was.

 
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TrickyRicky

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I want to bring the discussion back down to the human level. Most of the buildings in a city are not there because of great men and big name architects. The story of how our streets got the way they are is the story of small business people, family drama and dynasties, regular people moving up and down the economic ladder. It's a story of people becoming emboldened by small successes financially in terms of means, experientially, and psychologically in terms of giving themselves the permission to expand their horizons of what they possibly can accomplish. The point at which considerations about design and context enter into the equation we should recognize that this is largely a 2nd order consideration. We must first survive and thrive before we can extend our reach and scope. Honestly what would you do? Say you were starting out and you had a piece of land on queen street and you are you and everything about buildings you had to learn from scratch. What would you do? Would you build something like what other people have built? Would you build an ugly building if it maximized profits, so that one day maybe you could afford to care about design? Would you build an architectural wonder with all your money and livelihood tied up in its success and slim or no possibility of return on investment? These are the kinds of decisions that build cities. The city-builders are not architects and engineers and urban planners, they are guys who were renovating bathrooms at 18, women who started running the family business in their 20's, a couple of party-guys who get together and open their own bar. People who take these small scale experiences and expand on them and amplify them until the point were they can hire professionals like architects and designers to help them realize their visions and bring them to the next level. This takes time and often multiple-generations where each must stand on the successes of the past. You also need to have a period where external forces like economic or political climates are stable enough to allow this stepping up of success. History shows that you can have huge periods of instablity where the progresses of the past are wipped out and all that a generation can do is try and survive.
 

enrigue8

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Because there is no lifestyle at all.Developers only build bland box without style and beauty and bring no lifestyle with it.
We lack too a big strip mall like dix30 in Montreal or ICE district in Edmonton.
 

Euphoria

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Except that there is a history which partly explains Toronto's haphazard design and planning. Unlike New France, the colonial government at the time of Toronto's settlement, Britain, invested very little in its colonial possessions, though it took money out. That was what the American Revolution was about, the protection of property (liberty and the pursuit of happiness are built on this fundamental). That's why Toronto has been built by private capital, with few exceptions. The British Navy, Upper Canada Law Society, Landed Gentry, and United Empire Loyalists from the U.S. brought people, money, and institutions to Toronto. But make no mistake, Toronto is a business city, New York on a smaller scale. However, it is growing and deserves a higher level of attention to design, planning, and transportation.
 
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Johnny Au

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Except that there is a history which partly explains Toronto's haphazard design and planning. Unlike New France, the colonial government at the time of Toronto's settlement, Britain, invested very little in its colonial possessions, though it took money out. That was what the American Revolution was about, the protection of property (liberty and the pursuit of happiness are built on this fundamental). That's why Toronto has been built by private capital, with few exceptions. The British Navy, Upper Canada Law Society, Landed Gentry, and United Empire Loyalists from the U.S. brought people, money, and institutions to Toronto. But make no mistake, Toronto is a business city, New York on a smaller scale. However, it is growing and deserves a higher level of attention to design, planning, and transportation.
Toronto is designated as an "industrial city state" in Civilization VI even: Toronto makes its Civilization debut in Civilization VI as a city
 

Euphoria

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Cool, but I'm more interested in the built environment than the digital one. We need to get out and participate in the city, to create the ultimate environment. Don't get me wrong, virtual reality has its merits as escapism. McLuhan said we live in the electric environment. It's hard to know anymore where media ends and reality begins, but we're not the Borg yet (thankfully), though we are cyborgs because our devices are so integral to our lives. Let's work on city building, though these games can help us to vision a better city/world.
 

pman

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Certainly Boston, NYC, Philadelphia and DC have a glorious heritage of Beaux-Arts buildings dating from the late 1800's to the early 1900's. These buildings were the result of a confluence of taste and money, that Toronto never had. Of course, if we had a stock of that kind of architecture, we probably would have torn most of it down. Toronto was a small, poor city for most of its history, and our building stock reflects this. .
 

Euphoria

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I'd agree that the highs aren't as high or as ubiquitous in Toronto as in some major U.S. cities (or even Montreal and Vancouver), but the lows in terms of 'bad neighborhoods' in the U.S. are lower and more widespread than what we have in Toronto. We don't seem to have that 'other side of the tracks' phenomenon to the same degree as U.S. cities, which I think relates to the more individualist, less communitarian culture south of the border. It also explains why there are more gated communities and greater economic disparities in the U.S. We level the playing field a bit better up here, though our cost of living is putting the squeeze on us.
 
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