A new vision of Front Street.
Yesterday, there was no mistaking Councillor Adam Vaughan’s undertone for anything but indignant pride. He couldn’t quite manage to mask it, if indeed he was even trying; it was of the sort a proud uncle might exude when reintroducing to society a formerly wayward nephew who, with uncle’s guidance, has finally managed to shake the old seedy dress and manners.
Vaughan (Trinity-Spadina) was front and centre at Metro Hall on Tuesday morning to help launch the Entertainment District Business Improvement Area‘s new Master Plan [PDF]. The focus is on nurturing the evolution of the downtown area commonly known as “clubland,” from a weekday place to drive through and weekend mega-danceteria to a place of true community and a destination space in its own right; back to the future of a full, balanced, and civil neighborhood, the way it used to be decades ago. In a simple way, it is to acknowledge and develop an environment where real people actually live and work. “The era of the big box nightclub is over,” Vaughan said, nearly triumphantly. As the perceived arch-enemy of the district’s nightclub moguls, he’s forced them to shape up (through aggressive enforcement of safety and noise by-laws) or ship out—and many of them have indeed moved out, further west—in order to transform the area’s reputation as “a dumping ground for grubby, strange, behaviour.”
Top, Richmond Street as it is today; bottom, the more pedestrian-friendly version.
Some nightclubs have joined the BIA as stakeholders, but the Master Plan will insist on retail and mixed-use spaces going forward. Buildings of historical significance, distinct character areas, and current height patterns will be protected. New plazas will grow in presently unused lots. The transformation process is a broad collaboration including local developers, various business owners, the councillor’s office, and the growing number of residents in the immediate area who Vaughan points to as the real leaders behind this reimagination effort. He was somewhat sketchy on the details about financing—”culture is our business and business is our culture”—but allowed that there will be some fees to developers, and that public investment will be relatively small, considering the returns. He refrained from announcing a specific timeline for the grand project’s completion.
Top, Adelaide Street as it is today; bottom, the new vision.
Central to the plan is the remaking of John Street as the north–south spine of a new conduit for culture and celebration. It’s to be the main corridor spanning a region from the AGO all the way down to Rogers Centre and the waterfront. The new vision rebalances vehicular traffic priorities; it’s going to be more pedestrian-friendly, with wider sidewalks, transplanted greenery (similar to models imagined for new Jarvis Street) and new park spaces. From time to time, parts of the streets will be closed down so that people can take over. The mindset is to create a natural home and festival space for events such as Luminato, the Toronto International Film Festival, and other cultural attractions. In the end, this area is to be a defining space, Toronto’s cultural engine, akin to New York’s Broadway or London’s West End. To many outsiders, Toronto lacks a certain swoon-inducing grace, but the makeover’s underway. At the very least we’ll be charming.
All images courtesy of the Entertainment District BIA.