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What if Honest Ed’s Doesn’t Become Condos?

Imagining possibilities for the future of Mirvish Village.

Imagine you’ve been handed a large chunk of prime downtown real estate, one occupied for decades by an iconic retailer. Toss in a neighbouring street that the previous owners nurtured for half a century as a unique space for artists and retailers. If there were no restrictions on the future use of these properties, how would you reshape them to create an innovative, community-minded neighbourhood?

Around 25 people used their imaginations during a discussion on future possibilities for Mirvish Village, held at the Centre for Social Innovation’s Annex branch on Thursday afternoon. Moderated by CSI CEO Tonya Surman, participants brainstormed ideas ranging from the dreamy to the sensible.

The session evolved from discussions on CSI’s mailing list regarding both the Walmart proposal on the edge of Kensington Market and David Mirvish’s plans to sell Honest Ed’s and the surrounding Mirvish properties. The advance notice about the sale, combined with the development freeze city council recently imposed on Bathurst Street, provides an opportunity to those concerned about the future of the neighbourhood to be proactive. “Instead of just fighting the fight,” Surman observed in her introduction, “how might we get ahead and bring creative ideas into a process?”

Participants were encouraged to be playful with their suggestions, and to ignore the forces (developers, NIMBYs) any real-world proposal will face. A long list of ideas was scribbled on a blackboard. Many of them touched upon the group’s four “A”s: authentic, accessible, affordable, and at scale. There was a general sense that the site offers great potential for a new landmark, or for innovative sustainability projects.

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Photo by Jamie Bradburn/Torontoist.

Among the potential uses that emerged:

  • Vertical farming and other forms of green roofs and community gardens built into any new commercial or residential structure.
  • A collection of micro-businesses and retailers set up in the style of Pacific Mall.
  • Using Honest Ed’s as a City of Toronto Museum.
  • A satellite campus for a local college or university.
  • A theatre complex and school, playing into the promotion of Bathurst Street as a theatre corridor.
  • Urging large retailers to set up locations run on principles of corporate social responsibility, such as selling sustainable products (“reverse corporate activism,” as one person termed it).
  • Creating a Bathurst-Bloor community trust, where the neighbourhood buys the properties and decides what to do with them.
  • Low-rise buildings mixing offices, residences, and retail.

At the end of the session, some participants said they were interested in continuing the discussion by meeting with surrounding residents’ associations in the fall.

While few of the ideas raised will ever leap off the chalkboard, they provide a starting point for avoiding settling for just another condo building or large-scale retail project. It will be a long time before any developer can make a formal proposal for the site, so the community has the luxury of time.

Sure, wider community consultation will bring out NIMBYs, who will object to any proposal devised by developers, planners, or their next-door neighbours. Patterns suggest a condo is the likely fate of at least part of the plot. But who knows? Maybe somebody with deep pockets will listen to the ideas that emerge from ongoing discussions and surprise us with something out of the ordinary.


  • KRoberts

    Not only is a condo a horrible idea for this prime real estate, but as a developer, would you really want to eliminate the value of the property and the surrounding neighborhood by putting a big glass monster on this prime piece of real estate – there’s a reason why the property is so valuable in the first place – it’s a cultural hub that brings the city together and makes people flock to live and play in the surrounding neighborhood – if you destroy that, you destroy the neighborhood and in turn the value of that land plummets – in shorter terms: you shoot yourself in the foot.

    All that being said, I hope if and when the inevitable sale and razing of Mirvish village occurs, the area is kept within the three A’s this group outlines in mind by the developer to keep the culture of the area in tact.

    • HotDang

      as a developer, would you really want to eliminate the value of the property and the surrounding neighborhood

      Probably, because they don’t care. They hope to sell all the units before the building is even made, so they would already have their money before the community is substantially changed.

      • Functionalist

        That’s true. St. James Town replaced a neighbourhood similar to Cabbagetown. The former is one of the least desirable neighbourhoods in the city today; the latter is one of the most desirable.

  • OgtheDim

    “A collection of micro-businesses and retailers set up in the style of Pacific Mall.”

    You mean there is demand for another place along that stretch of Bloor where we can get DVD’s of that movie coming out in theatres next week?

    • nevilleross

      It’s a hell of as lot better idea than another condo or big-box business selling a cheap thing that will fall apart in two months.

  • JP

    Thanks for starting this discussion. Please keep thinking and visioning and dreaming so we can help turn it into something beautiful.

  • Paul Kishimoto

    These conversations and brainstorming activities are great, and I have a lot of respect for the CSI. But at the same time over-ambition (vertical farms!), or the expectation that there will be a “fight” between (condo) developers and others, in which the community is viewed as having “lost” to the extent the developers get what they want, overlook the best opportunities for people to change the outcome.

    A more sober, less sexy, but pragmatic approach is to ask questions like:
    1. What would a constructive, rather than destructive, condo development look like? [E.g. I think it should include at least as many stores and restaurants as are in that parcel of land, currently; open space; excess underground parking to get cars off Bloor; maybe a connection to the subway station]
    2. What kind of development would developers profit from most, and in what ways would that be harmful?
    3. What leverage do City bylaws etc. give planners & the community to ensure that what’s built is more like #1 than #2?
    4. What politically feasible adjustments could we bring to Council to bolster #3?

    If, like KRoberts, you start from the position that a “big glass monster condo is a horrible idea,” you exclude yourself from relevance should it turn out that the only people with sufficient capital to buy and build on the land want to build a condo.

    • nevilleross

      Paul, only you and people who love condos like you would say this. But what else is new? People like you seem to have no sense of history or any other priorities besides shiny new buildings and how cool they are.

      The influence of Ayn Rand and those prick characters of hers (Howard Roark and John Galt) are fucking up this city, province and nation something big, and we need to find a way to counteract it. Proposals like these (not yours) are what we need.

      • Paul Kishimoto

        You’re saying we need proposals that make us all feel really great about ourselves, while having very slim chances of altering what gets built. If I were to respond with a wildly inaccurate ad hominem attack of my own, I’d say that you’re a shill for some developer, who wants to misdirect the community into wasting its energies on fruitless efforts, while they quietly go about securing what they want (ie. profit).

        The way to counteract people who would make the city unlivable is to use our institutions of governance to dangle carrots and wield sticks so that development upholds priorities like density, mixed use, green space, accessibility, affordability and, yes, preserving historic character. There are far more quietly successful instances of this than there are Walmart stores that have agreed to sell only “sustainable products”.

    • Calvin_K

      I think we can definitely think bigger. “Pragmatic approach” shouldn’t automatically mean condo, or condo+different flavour of amenities. Or maximum (short term) profit for a handful before it’s obviously undeniably harmful to the many – in the long term, realized too late. The scope under the guise of “pragmatism” is often narrowed and short sighted. It sounds like we have given up dreams, and instead of feeling sorry or angry, we console ourselves that we are being pragmatic. We become robots, stuck in a narrow logic loop. We become afraid of failure, so we aim for mediocracy.

      (Btw, vertical farming is not that technologically ambitious, nor financially. It is only considered so because it is not comparatively profitable for the selected few and not practiced widely. Places in Asia have done it almost out of necessity, but we shouldn’t need to wait until it’s necessary ((at which point maybe it will be “pragmatic”)) before we implement what we know as a good practice.)

      • Paul Kishimoto

        Your second through fourth sentences show you’ve misread me, and you meant “mediocrity”.

        Ambition is fine, but we must be prepared to mitigate the worst-case scenario. If the ambitious idea fails—and by definition, there is a risk anything ambitious will—there’s still a community that has to live in/near whatever is built. What I’m talking about is raising the minimum standard to an acceptable level. If people can manage to go further and exceed that, great for them. If not, then “we tried” is not (in my view) an acceptable excuse for allowing people to suffer something crappy for the next fifty years.

        Another benefit of raising the bar is that, in lower-profile cases where there isn’t an historic site like Honest Ed’s in question, and where nobody has an ambitious alternative, the rules and procedures we establish can also act to prevent the building of unlivable communities.

  • Mark

    This is fantastic! It would be so nice to have a plan that we can get behind and support rather than some plan that we all want to oppose.
    For what it’s worth, one of the most successful arrangements (at least far as I’ve noticed) are things like the Wychwood Barns, St. Lawrence Market, or Kensington … places where there are many different sellers with unique items.

  • Dogma

    NOT become condos? Have you gone barking mad?! Toronto is facing a severe condo tower shortage. If we don’t turn this and every other available piece of space into spanking new condo towers, I don’t see how this city will survive.

    And they better have those little tiny balconies too!