A conference about culture-led regeneration in Toronto headed up by independent non-profit real-estate developer Artscape took place yesterday at the Joseph Workman theatre at the Queen Street CAMH. In recent days, the unpopular OMB ruling to demolish the historic Abell Street building and its 80 live-work studios has crystallized the dire need to improve methods of city planning for many citizens. This has left many people asking, how do we go forward and make things good?
Well for one thing, says architect and conference panelist Ken Greenberg, the city planning process is flawed because it operates like a criminal justice tribunal. We need to find a way to talk to each other through citizen’s committees that are capable of blending complex goals and objectives without forcing binary yes and no answers. He suggests replacing the OMB with a board composed of a respected group of peers serving overlapping terms for a small honorarium, hearing citizens, and fostering a multi-faceted discussion. There are many examples of these planning boards on other cities; it’s just a matter of finding one that works for Toronto.
Greenberg addressed the need to value and respect what an authentic community has over decades, carved out of West Queen West. He calls the neighbourhood a fine-grained place; the intricacy, its many doors, the mix of uses and small scale pedestrian networks, the access to arts-related activities and even the fact the sun still shines on the sidewalk make it precious to us despite the Drake being too trendy for some.
Greenberg pointed out an obvious and yet largely unrecognized pattern of culture-led regeneration in Toronto. From a geographic standpoint, the buildings suitable for culture-led re-use are located along the railway tracks. They are big old warehouses with lots of undeveloped land around them that basically scream out, “this place could be a beautiful Utopia.” These industrial buildings developed along the rail corridor are ripe for re-development because their industrial use has passed on. They are also huge and have tons of character.
We’re talking Brick Works, Wychwood bus barns, the Abell Street building, Distillery District, much of Liberty Village and so on. But Greenberg points out that the city has not formally recognized this pattern, and nowhere in the planning literature is it acknowledged that these rail corridor warehouses are the important spots. We need targeted strategies to defend these areas and prevent demolition of these resources.
Artscape CEO Tim Jones says it is time to stop telling the same old story about gentrification driving artists out of the very neighbourhoods that they made desirable. Twenty-year-old Artscape is behind development of the Distillery district and is breaking ground next week for the Green Arts barns, a regeneration of the TTC Wychwood bus barns. Also in the works for Artscape is Ideas Project, a 200 000 sq ft artist/creative workers professional development building in Liberty Village and the possible repurposing of the vacant Givens-Shaw school near Queen and Shaw Streets.
Our city is just now realizing that we can live the dream. Shall we as citizens of Toronto decide that any warehouse in question near railway tracks be re-purposed for artist/cultural work spaces, forests, walking and cycling paths, urban farming, beauty, frolicking, greenery and whatever plain old meaningfulness and radness people want to dream up?
Photo by okbuddy from Flickr.