2010 Hero: The Building Boom
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2010 Hero: The Building Boom

Illustration by Brian McLachlan/Torontoist.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—Toronto’s very best and very worst people, places, and things over the past twelve months. From December 13–17: the Villains! From December 20–24, the Heroes! And, from December 27–30, you can vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

In November, notorious U.S. website Gawker listed Toronto as one of five cities Americans might move to in order to escape the Tea Party. Amidst the usual compliments of how clean and multicultural we are, they also threw in a dig that hit a little too close to home: “there’s a weird inferiority complex thing going on in Toronto that just gets a little sad after a while.” Ouch.
There are many reasons to refute the accusation, but perhaps few are as clearly visible in 2010 as Toronto’s building boom. The skyline is dotted with new buildings and cranes, and former parking lots are now hives of activity. It’s clear that Toronto is in the midst of something big.
But rather than just some fetish for tall buildings or photo opportunities for tourists, Toronto’s boom in construction is a sign of a city beginning to assert a new-found confidence. What’s more, walking around in the shadow of so much change has a kind of aspirational quality to it: as the city conspicuously grows, so too does our hope for what is possible here.
This year, with the opening of the TIFF Lightbox on King Street, we caught a glimmer of how that street may soon become one of Toronto’s most vibrant. Meanwhile, the Ritz-Carlton cut its off-kilter way into the skyline, adding some much needed variety to the area’s cluster of rectangular boxes. And as Casa on Charles Street also proved, a simple “glass box” can look elegant.
Even more encouraging is the number of major projects underway. When complete the Trump Tower will add another imposing structure to the financial core. Shangri-La will make for a striking monument at the end of University Avenue. And, after much wrangling, Yonge and Bloor will finally get its skyscraper; judging by the design concepts it will be a worthy addition to the city. These are but a handful of the buildings going up.
But it isn’t just large office buildings and high-end residences that are being built. This year’s Pug Award winner 60 Richmond East is a housing co-operative built to LEED environmental specifications, and a sign that the building frenzy need not necessarily be limited to the wealthy.
It is true there are good reasons to be wary of the boom. CityPlace seems to have brought the worst parts of the suburbs to the core, with its generic look and chain restaurants that are vacant by 10 p.m. Meanwhile, with Toronto’s urban-suburban economic split getting worse, the intensity of change downtown may make only exacerbate the rift.
Walking around the city with one’s eyes cast upwards, the growing sea of glass and concrete can sometimes be overwhelming—even alienating—and if it is, it will only become more so.
But skylines aren’t simply fodder for postcards; they are also synecdoches for a city’s soul. As Toronto intensifies and expands, so too does the city’s sense of self, as its economic, cultural, and political momentum manifests against the sky. It’s not that bigger is better, or that ostentation equals strength. It is, quite simply, that Toronto is becoming what is known as “a big city,” with all the hope and challenge that implies. And to remind ourselves of what that means, for good and bad, all we need do is look up.