Near Manulife Financial: Bloor East citizens would like less poo in their public spaces.
With condo fever gripping the still-shabby southeast corner of Bloor and Yonge due to the future One Bloor 80-storey tower, the Bloor East Neighbourhood Association (BENA) met Wednesday night at the Rogers Centre (333 Bloor Street East) to discuss how their little stretch of street could be transformed to rival the world-class reputation of Bloor West.
BENA, representing ratepayers along Bloor from Yonge to Sherbourne, was attended by representatives from Manulife Financial (200 Bloor Street East) and Rogers, as well as several residents from condos in the area. With Councillor Kyle Rae in as guest of honour, the members proved to be an engaged, articulate group with the gumption to make significant changes to their streetscape. Too bad most of the proposed changes were almost entirely cosmetic, and unlikely to provide a sustainable identity for the area or to radically alter the rather bleak walk that is currently Bloor Street East.
One of BENA’s main goals is to get a piece of the Bloor Street Transformation Project, currently responsible for the endless blue-fenced construction work along Bloor from Avenue to Church. This project, spearheaded by local business owners, includes upgrading utilities, widening pedestrian walkways, and installing more public art.
Rae made it clear that the cost is too prohibitive to extend the project to Sherbourne, but that “elements” of the project could be carried through (for instance, replacing the sidewalks with gum-concealing black granite). Robert Mays, project officer from the Clean and Beautiful City secretariat, also provided some suggestions about how Bloor East could be reinvigorated. Trained as a landscape architect, Mays excited residents with proposals for outdoor cafes and fruit markets, as well as a significant increase in green space. Mays emphasized that these projects have to be “partner-driven,” and that they depend on local residents to keep them going. Rae added, “We’ve gotten used to not taking a role to keep our front yard clean … we need to bring back a sense of pride and responsibility in our own property.”
The residents themselves were very much of a “clean and beautiful” mindset; their biggest beefs involved the more unsightly elements of current street life. One resident complained of the “ice fishing hut” used to sell hot dogs near Rogers, while another decried ignorant dog owners who left their pets’ discarded poo on the well-kept lawn near Manulife, and another described the “bone-headed move” by the city to install a stoplight in the middle of the sidewalk.
Although many of the resident’s complaints were justified (who doesn’t hate dog owners who soil our city with poo?), some comments suggested a hidden class conflict in Bloor East. Members took issue with the “slum” apartment complex at 77 Huntley Street, as well as the low-end retail chains and discount stores in the Greenwin Square shopping centre (365 Bloor Street East).
It was suggested to Rae that the retail along Bloor East could be reinvigorated by approaching business-minded individuals from the ethnically diverse but troubled St. James Town area, thereby providing a stronger sense of identity for the mostly immigrant population. Rae responded that St. James Town was not part of his jurisdiction. While this is technically true (St. James Town is part of Pam McConnell’s ward), the patrons of Greenwin Square’s stores (like Goodwill, Bulk Barn, and Hasty Market) are overwhelmingly from that area––a far cry from the overwhelmingly white, middle-aged condo dwellers and business owners that make up most of BENA. This kind of selective observation on Rae’s part about the populace that makes use of Bloor East suggests that BENA’s intent may be less about beautification and more about gentrification.
The condo dwellers’ complaints occasionally ring hollow when considering the anti-social construction of their own buildings. Running mostly along the North end of Bloor Street East so as to enjoy the breathtaking review of the Rosedale ravine system, many of the condo buildings provide absolutely no street-level retail, are built far back on the lot, or are fenced from the street to discourage trespassers. Greenwin’s retail strip may be full of discount franchises that contribute little to the street’s identity, but they are at least providing some support to the community at large, in contrast to the condos’ vertical, gated communities. BENA should be lauded for their efforts, but if a more sustainable ground-level plan is not considered, the future Bloor Street East might be prettier, but it will continue to be bland and forgettable.
Photos by Beth Bohnert.