These Streets Are Made for Walkin’
The Gooderham (aka Flatiron) Building, decoded. Photo by Hamutal Dotan/Torontoist.
As we reported on Friday, this weekend was the annual extravaganza of pedestrian urban love known as Jane’s Walk. With dozens of walks exploring every corner of Toronto (and many more in cities across the continent), there was a glorious medley of tours to choose from. We were there (well, not everywhere), and though we couldn’t begin to do a comprehensive survey of the walks on offer we did manage to log dozens of kilometres, and pick up a good number of fun tidbits along the way. Behold some of our favourite finds…
Photo of St. Lawrence tour by Norman Townsend.
Frank Lewinberg led a group of about thirty through the St. Lawrence neighbourhood on May 2. This Jane’s Walk explored the development, primarily in the 1970s, of the housing projects in the area. In the ’70s, Lewinberg worked on the master plan for St. Lawrence, which before that time was considered by many Torontonians to be unsafe and unwelcoming. He explained that the mixture of three-quarters low-income housing with one-quarter at-market units was a requirement that developers readily adopted and was partly responsible for the neighbourhood’s success right up to today. (Meg Campbell)
Meanwhile, over in the King and Parliament ‘hood Toronto’s former Chief Planner Paul Bedford and real estate redeveloper Margie Zeidler were explaining how a major revision in planning policy and zoning regulations in the mid-’90s allowed that area to recover as well. By abolishing requirements that lots within the area be set aside for specific purposes (commercial, residential, industrial, etc.), abandoned buildings were suddenly freed up for mixed-use redevelopment. The ability to repurpose old structures for new ends allowed many to be saved from demolition, and fostered a flood of investment in a previously troubled part of the downtown core. (Hamutal Dotan)
Possibly our very favourite discovery of the weekend had to do with learning more about the bricks out of which many of Toronto’s oldest buildings are constructed. The Don Valley, from whence much of the city’s original masonry came, contains several different varieties of clay, which produce bricks in a corresponding range of colours—yellow, orange, and red. These differently coloured bricks were valued differently, some priced higher than others, based on which veins were most readily available. If you look at old brick buildings in Toronto, we were told, there are concentrations: Annex houses are most often deep red, whereas Cabbagetown buildings are frequently more orange, and yellow brick predominates in Parkdale. Those concentrations are not incidental—the choice of which colour brick to use was dictated, not only by design preferences but by the cost of the brick itself, and so you can trace the prosperity of a neighbourhood, and the financial investment in any given building, by the colour of its brick. Even more curious, we received conflicting information as to which brick was the most expensive: on one tour we were told the red brick fetched the highest prices and yellow the lowest, but on another those values were reversed. (Hamutal Dotan, with additional reporting by Jonathan Goldsbie.)
A tree with a split personality! Photo by Jamie Bradburn/Torontoist.
Down in the Vale of Avoca, just off of St. Clair, Todd Irvine of LEAF led a group along Yellow Creek to show the variety of trees found in the ravine running southeast to Mount Pleasant Road. The few remaining specimens of native species (red and white oaks, sugar maples, hemlock) contrasted with invasive trees from afar that now dominate this green space (Norway received most of the blame). Walkers were shown the effects of years of erosion, the attempts to control the natural waterways by making them flow faster, examples of tree surgery that Mother Nature never intended (native white ash for the base, European ash grafted on top), and how areas like David A. Balfour Park were developed over cleared, buried streams. The tour ended with a stroll along Roxborough Street that showed the diversity of trees in residential areas of Rosedale. (Jamie Bradburn)
All of this, of course, represents the merest hint of the depth and breadth of what was covered this weekend. It was, however, more than enough to keep us charmed.