Best of 2006: lists from around the continent

Did you know that for the first time in North America there are more poor residents of suburbs than central cities? Or that America’s older, inner-ring first suburbs make up 20 percent of the nation’s population and are more diverse? Or that most North American families spend over 19 percent of their budgets on transportation?

You’d know all this, and more, if you went in search of Best of 2006 lists. I thought I’d compile a few which have caught my eye over the last week. Some of these list include topics and items that are not really relevant to Spacing‘s coverage, so I’ll try to highlight the stuff that is pertinent.

NOW has a three lists that will pique the interest of Spacing readers: the most important important one is City Hall’s Worst Gaffes — ad-funded street furniture tops the list, with the no-tender TTC subway contract in second, the lack of monetary support from the City of Toronto for Pedestiran Sundays and BikeShare, the TTC’s continued lack of support for transit enthusiasts like Spacing‘s subway buttons, the Rider Efficiency Guide, and the anagram subway map. Bringing up the rear is the consultation process surrounding the new City of Toronto Act. Now’s other lists of interest are the Top 10 Highs (Miller re-elected, the City’s green policy, and the province’s announcement that they will buy locally produced renewable energy), and the Top 10 Lows (province dumps Port Lands energy Centre on Toronto’s lap, flights take-off from Island Airport, the new city council and mayor have new mega-powers, and the party ends at Cherry Beach).

Christopher Hume of the Toronto Star writes in Saturday’s paper about how 2006 became the year Toronto embraced its newfound energy for building beautiful things. Hume also compiled 2006’s top 10 Projects That Changed Toronto.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to Spacing readers that the culture of development and architecture are thriving online in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago. And each city has blogs that highlight some of the best and worst of their respecitve cities. Curbed has posted Part I and Part II of its Best of 2006 in NYC. It includes some wild articles and development gossip that even a Torontonian can enjoy — highlights include the “Most Outlandish Urban Plan”, The Daniel Libeskind Award which is awarded to the architect most notably on the receiving end of the karma boomerang, Most Threatened Landmark, the “Somebody’s Going to Pay for Fucking with God Award” (which goes to church renovations), and the worst Advertecture (their word for ad-creep). Curbed’s sister site Curbed LA has four posts about 2006: check out part I, part II, part III, part IV, while Curbed SF has one post.

Check out the Top 10 in Chicago architecture for 2006 which highlights some very interesting buildings and projects taking shape in Toronto’s sister city (for those who don’t watch the comings-and-goings of city hall in obsessive detail, Toronto and Chicago local governments have teamed up to share ideas).

Even starchitect Frank Gehry got into the “best of” craze by picking his best picks of 2006 in the Wall Street Journal.

Environmental issues have become popular end of year lists: check out the Top 10 Sustainability Stories of 2006, or the blog Springwise’s Top 10 Green Business Ideas of 2006, or the Top Green Trends of 2007.

photo by Sam Javanrouh


  1. A great reading list; Curbed’s year-ends were unusually hilarious this time around, and the bits about Chicago are refreshing as well: if Torontonians need to compare themselves to an American city, Chicago is it.

    Happy new year!

  2. That Adam Vaughan’s laneway thing made the worst gaffes shows NOW’s (a) really screwed up sense of priorities and (b) the rage at his daring to challenge the NDP “right to own” Trinity-Spadina without being a minority, a woman or both has clearly not subsided.

    Wow, Adam Vaughan had a bad idea. I think he knows it was a bad one and has moved on.

    The Globe’s list seems more on point, not least because it includes the “Ford at ACC” incident.

  3. It is always a bit annoying to read what self-appointed style-leaders have to say about what’s good and what is not good architecture. And, because they have the power of the pen and the weight of their respective publications behind them, the unwitting reader and/or members of the public are lulled into beleive what they have to say is truth. Christopher Hume keeps droning on and on and on about how wonderful KPMB is, especially about that building at Queen and University. Is he on their payroll? AS for Frank Gehry, it seems to me that he peaked a long time ago and what we are getting is well …. unspeakable, and unprintable.

  4. Personally, I find it far less annoying to read positive reviews of events in Toronto, even if they are by self-appointed-style-leaders, than I do the constant undifferentiated whining about anything new in the city. Grace’s post exemplifies this approach, because she doesn’t feel the need to actually say what might be wrong with anything, it’s enough to allude to it. Let’s hear from a non-self-appointed whatever – did anything get built in the city last year that you’re willing to endorse? Or was the last good building a Victorian rowhouse?

  5. I find the Toronto/Chicago comparison a stretch. I visit Chicago and don’t find it like Toronto at all. Outside of “the loop” there are many inequalities that make Chicago alarming to me. On the other hand Chicago has a still very visible history and pride that I hope will someday flourish here. Chicago seems like its 300 years older than Toronto in terms of its cityhood.

  6. Chicago is a decent comparison strictly because of its geography: if you took a map of Toronto – actually – a fantasy Toronto subway map, and rotated it 90º counterclockwise, you would see that the trains match up with Chicago’s almost perfectly. This is because Chicago, another lakeshore city, has similar patterns of development. You can even check it out on Google Maps satellite view: from above, the cities are quite similar.

    What is not the same, though, is the long history of racial segregation that came to characterize the “white flight” seen by many American cities. Perhaps that is why, in a city of nearly the same population, they have a homicide rate that is 11 times ours in Toronto.

  7. No offense but geography is a pretty weak factor on which to base a connection between Chicago and Toronto. I think the comparison exists mostly because people here wish we were Chicago. In reality I have always thought we were more like a funky Cleveland; another Great Lakes city.

    Chicago is nothing like Toronto in any way except that it is on the Great Lakes. Chicago has a long history of thinking big and doing big. From being the industrial gateway to the mid-west, the creation of the skyscraper, Chicago Blues, gangsters, advertising, and on and on: this was all old hat in the Second City when it was illegal to play baseball in a park on a Sunday here.

    Chicago and Toronto are not connected except in our wishes to be Chicago.

  8. Oh my God. Those Curbed posts about “advertecture” were just horrifying. Horrifying.

    In particular, this one made me gasp:

    This same shit happens in Toronto, too.

    This, however, was inspiring:

    I wish there were someone in Toronto who was responsible for lobbying Council to crack down on illegal outdoor advertising… oh fuck.

  9. I’m sure we can agree that considering the nearly equal populations within the city limits of Toronto and Chicago, it is much closer a comparison than Toronto and New York?

  10. Krawczyk needs to define “whining”. But I digress.

    There is meaning to the principle of “form following function” and to behaviour of making buildings “s[eak” and respect their context. !80 Queen Street does not do either, meanwhile the Four Seasons does, as well as the Gardiner. The pre-occupation with building tall and with building over an entire site abuses the concept of “intensification”.

    Obviously Hume hasn’t seen what light does to the dark walls of the Seasons and he might not even have not been inside to fully appreciate the pure genious of the place. Has Krawczyk been there or seen either? As for Liebskind, suggest it be demolished and begin with a new start. Take a lesson from the Gardiner (Museum that is).

    Buildings should be about context and the uses around them. It is selfish and egotistical to not consider those.

  11. I’m wary of calling people “self-appointed style leaders.” Isn’t anybody with an opinion about anything “self-appointed” to some degree?

    Columnists are supposed to have opinions — they generate discussion, esp when you don’t agree. I’d probably not read a paper that didn’t have places where opinion could be expressed, or that had personalities that you can get to know over time, even if you disagree. OK, I could have done without knowing Margaret Wente, but I avoid her column these days, so now she’s like a bully from high school who’s name I forget after all these years.

    Of course, on blogs it’s easier to disagree and debate, which can be nice sometimes.

  12. I also found it amusing that in Grace’s first post she criticized “self appointed style leaders”, and then made the throwaway comment that Gehry is past his prime. Would that be a comment from a self-appointed style leader? I also find it amusing that the unbuilt AGO that many look forward to is, in Grace’s own lack of works, “unspeakable”. Not just needing of improvement, not just perhaps disrespectful of its environment, but actually “unspeakable”. I can’t see that as anything but an extreme over-reaction to this project, especially since its not built yet.

    But to be fair, you did reply to my question both with some concerns about the building and also some comments about other buildings. The Gardiner is a gorgeous gem to be sure, and I like the opera house as well, though it’s not above criticism.

    180 Queen, I believe, respects its context by acting as a transitional building between funky Queen and corporate university. It provides a number of storefronts (unoccupied as yet) on its western half, while the eastern half has a Bay Street feel. The western facade is messier than the eastern, while the eastern view has an overhang that nicely mirrors the Four Seasons Centre at its kiddy corner. The shape and size of the windows on the University side mirror those of the older Canada Life building. On Queen Street, it presents one of the most beautiful marbles I have seen anywhere to passersby, running your fingers along its cool smoothness is an ecstatic experience. I think one could make an argument that Canada Life is, contextually, a better building than the opera house, which suffers from an overly small and exposed site and so doesn’t treat Queen Street well. I believe that Hume, and others like John Bentley Mays, and Lisa Rochon have all lamented the brush off that is the Queen Street side of the opera house, and it’s hard to disagree.

    I don’t think Canada Life is a perfect building, for my taste it has one too many contemporary design elements – the curved roof, the glassy curved mid-floor, the odd little balconies. But I think it really makes an effort to meet the street well.

    As for height, 16 floors hardly seems tall to me, whether we are talking about Toronto or any city in the world. Especially given that the building is so close to the subway, and it’s pretty much the same size as the other two Canada Life buildings nearby. The only shade I can think that the building would throw would be onto other Canada Life buildings, particularly 180 Simcoe Street. I can’t bring myself to feel too badly about that, my strongest guess is that for every person who suffers the shadow of 180 Queen, probably 5,000 will be cast in shadow by — the Four Seasons Centre. But there you go.

  13. The US city with the greatest similarity to Toronto is LA. Like Toronto, it exploded in the 20th, not the 19th century, and its development patterns are quite similar. Arguably, Toronto is an even later city than LA, because I consider LA to be very much a product of the 1930s with its Art Deco and streamline moderne municipal architecture, while Toronto is very firmly rooted in modernism.

    The other similarity is the transportation planning of the cities. The legacy of the Pacific electric system is mirrored in the large intraurban network that reached out to places as far as Newmarket before the war. The difference, of course, is that Toronto at least kept its inner city streetcar network where LA famously ripped out its entire system. That’s where the Canadian and American urban experience diverge: Canadians sort of vacillate when it comes to city building, not really sure whether to commit to a transit-oriented or car-oriented city, while Americans chase one ideology whole hog. As a result, LA went from having the largest rail transit network in the world to having no rail whatsoever and a expansive freeway system. Toronto, on the other hand, has a transit friendly core but a network of gargantuan freeways as well. The other difference is that race played a big part in American city planning, whereas the only thing the only colour that plays a part in Canadian city planning is green, as in money. Americans still are not shy about spending a lot of money on grand projects while Canadians tend to get cold feet and assign unrealistic budgets, always soured by the humdrum result.

  14. Memo to “grace”: here’s my generic take on things.

    Let’s take a pioneering piece of, er, egotistical starchitecture in town which probably fails on all counts by your estimation: Teeple/Morphosis’s Graduate House. I’m not saying it’s perfect; I’m not saying there isn’t balderdash and archi-hooey behind some of the claims on its behalf. On the other hand, if it comes under threat in, say, 30 years or so and there’s an outcry, I’d gladly support a move to have it listed or designated.

    Y’know, there gets to be a point where too much fretting over these matters is oppressively genteel–kind of like banishing a daughter for being more like Courtney Love than Margaret Atwood…

  15. For all those jumping up and down on Grace – so far as I know she doesn’t have Hume’s bully pulpit. Her opinion doesn’t cost 75c. Bit of a difference.

  16. And to be fair, she *does* have a good point about the AGO–at this point, the looming superstructure of the addition *is* startling, more so than even the ROM crystal, and I empathize with those lay persons who currently wonder if we’ve gotten (too) much more than we bargained for.

    Now, if her objection extends to a fait accompli like OCAD, then…

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