At the end of June I had the privilege of visiting Chicago with my family. What a city. It’s changed for the better since I was last there. A skyline of beautiful stone and metal structures, a waterfront that functions as a green, cultural, uninterrupted link apart from the dense towers packed in and up, with generous setbacks and skirts of wide sidewalks. It’s a city that seems to have intelligent control over how it progresses.
Chicago is miles ahead on integrated transit, including extensive commuter trains and grand public spaces. One can feel the impact of the 1909 city plan put together by renowned city planner, Daniel H. Burnham. I get that same feeling only occasionally in Toronto — the Kay Gardner Beltline Park gives me that sense of harmony, for instance, as does University Avenue when the water fountains are working.
On the other hand, take the intersection of Yonge and Eglinton. It’s the geographic centre of our city. It’s been linked by subway to the downtown since 1954. Its surrounding residential neighbourhoods are full of life and style. Its vibrant small businesses and nearby parks are some of the best. But the crossroads is unremarkable, lacking in cohesive and functional design or excellent architecture.
The intersection last got a shot of vision in 1968 when city planners agreed to a plan for the northwest corner that closed a city street and exchanged the street space for hard landscaped, open space close to the corner. This open space is still there today, but it’s the only open space the intersection has. Unfortunately, midtowners will be losing this plaza/open space forever when it is built over by the private owner’s approved plan for more movie theatres.
Mired in multiple, uncoordinated property ownerships, Yonge & Eg’s northeast corner may not be redeveloped for 10 years. The heavyset building on the southeast corner will probably stay around but again, the architecture is wanting of renewal now only 20 years after it was built.
The southwest corner is public land that is the worst example of democratic paralysis — the barren, dilapidated TTC bus station. When the Crosstown LRT is built, there is amazing potential for a new underground concourse mall linking into this property, the other corners and all the transit modes — it could be similar to a PATH System (see a great discussion of this on YouTube here: http://bit.ly/qWy3SQ). In the meantime, this former bus station is so structurally unsound that the surface cannot even support a temporary use such as a farmer’s market.
In Chicago, the best builders, architects and designers would have feasted upon an intersection like Yonge & Eglinton. The City of Toronto needs to follow through on the Urban Design Study, stalled and contemplated for years. An inspirational bold vision for the intersection is needed that serves the local residents, businesses and its thousands of visitors every day.
A visionary plan will guide developers and planners to renew this intersection with exciting imagination, led by the function and beauty that it deserves.
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