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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.

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