Toronto's impressive urban development, typically characterised by the rapidly morphing silhouette of the downtown skyline, is not limited to sky-high office buildings and luxury condos. In older Toronto neighbourhoods revitalization projects are cropping up to align community infrastructure with changing demographics and to pay tribute to the literal building blocks of our now-sprawling metropolis.

Boston Avenue Preliminary Concept Plan, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

In Leslieville's Carlaw and Dundas community, a project of his type is underway. The Carlaw+Dundas Community Initiative (CDCI) began in 2014 when the City Council adopted the plan which was initiated by Ward 30 Councillor Paula Fletcher in 2012. The plan focuses on the area northwest of the Pape and Queen Street intersection, and as far as the railway line. The area is home to dozens of the heritage buildings, parks and significant thoroughfares which are being incorporated into the revitalization project.

Scheduled to begin in summer 2017 and to complete in 2018, the initiative's key goals include improving streetscapes and public spaces, strengthening the community as a hub for small business and cultural activities, and to maintain the historic industrial character of the area. In the vein of the latter goal, a jury of community members, City staff and consultants chose "Brick Obelisk" to serve as the neighbourhood's signature marker.  

Rendering of Pierre Pousin's Brick Obelisk, image courtesy of Pierre Poussin

Poussin's Brick Obelisk is a three-sided pyramid which will responds to the shape of the Carlaw Dundas Park where it will be erected. It will be 9.2 m high ensuring that all traffic, pedestrian, bicycle or car, will be able to see it as they enter and explore the neighbourhood. The obelisk is made with corten steel onto which historic maps of the neighbourhood spanning from 1851 to 2016 are etched through. The structure will be illuminated from within by LED lights so that the details of the etched steel are visible in the dark. 

Rendering of location of Brick Obelisk in Dundas Triangle Plaza, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

UrbanToronto had a conversation with Poussin about this recent artwork and the state of public art in Toronto. Poussin's interest in applying for the CDCI call for artists comes from his personal links to the area. Poussin used to live near the projects' location, and took an interest in the industrial heritage of the community dating back to days of George Leslie's Toronto Nurseries greenhouses. His idea to show the historical development of the area was partially inspired by the submission package he received which featured maps of the neighbourhood at different times.

The maps that Poussin chose for Brick Obelisk are dated 1851, 1899, 1923, 1960, and 2016. They wrap around the obelisk in bands with the earliest map at the base and the current one at its tip. Poussin showcases the neighbourhood's development by using rusted corten steel to give the obelisk the appearance of a modern industrial smokestack—a sibling to the two in the area that date back to Leslieville's industrial days.

Rendering of Pierre Pousin's Brick Obelisk, image courtesy of Pierre Poussin

This artwork represents a break from the artist's earlier work which was more utilitarian and design-centric, while this piece focuses on evoking an emotional response rather than providing a solution of some kind. In conversation, he said that he hopes that his artwork can pay homage to that industrial past even after all relics are gone. 

Examples of laser-etched Corten Steel for Pierre Pousin's Brick Obelisk, images via Poussin

This combination of paying homage to the past and celebrating the future is what Poussin says is important in making public art in Toronto. His Brick Obelisk does just that and in doing so embodies the evolution and growth that Carlaw and Dundas along with many other parts of the city are experiencing. Toronto's Percent for Public Art Program helps to facilitate this growth not only in our built environment but culturally as well. Poussin, who also created the public artwork Mitosis Courtyard underneath the Gardiner and the neighbouring Variegation at Concord CityPlace, says that the various communities around the city issuing calls for artists, are often happy to provide new and emerging artists with opportunities for wide exposure. Their works now add to the significant collection of public art our city already houses created by both established local talent as well as international heavyweights. 

Aside from Brick Obelisk which highlights the overall revitalization of the area, Leslievillers have other (changes) to look forward to, as several focus areas have been selected inside the initiative's borders. These include Jimmie Simpson Park, Badgerow Parkette, Boston Avenue, Dundas & Carlaw Triangle and Dickens Street. Several proposals to fix infrastructure issues and beautify these focus areas have also been introduced and will likely be discussed at a Design Open House to follow June's in November. 

An example of more peacemaking work to be decided upon in the area, image via the City of Toronto

As this project evolves and grows, we will continue to provide updates.