It was with increasingly incredulous dread that the news of the City of Toronto’s plan to expropriate the Matador on Dovercourt and demolish it for parking sunk in over the last few days. At first it seemed not real — impossible even in Toronto — but then like the way news that the blackout of ’03 had turned the world topsy turvy trickled in, it was confirmed as true. First it was Christopher Hume’s column in yesterday’s Star, where he used many exclamation marks, but could have probably used a few more.
The gap between what the city does and what it says is growing wider.
That became clear recently when we heard that Toronto wants to buy the legendary Matador Club and tear it down to make way for a parking lot. A parking lot! A parking lot!
No, we’re not making this up.
To add insult to injury — or should that be lunacy to idiocy — we also heard that if the owners of the 43-year-old club aren’t prepared to sell their land to the city for $800,000, it will consider expropriation.
Truly, Toronto has lost its way. Truly, whatever our aspirations may be as a civic entity, they are fast being undone by a bureaucracy so out of touch with reality it’s frightening. And where are the councillors in all this? Does their silence signal agreement? Creeping suburbanization is one thing, but this is neanderthal.
Then, the answer to Hume’s question “where are the councillors” was on Global News at six tonight when Adam Giambrone was asked about this and shrugged, saying a there is a need for parking in the area and he would support a motion to expropriate. He was repeating the position of Toronto Parking Authority president Gwyn Thomas who said as much to The Star earlier this week.
For many Torontonians, the Matador is indeed legendary, a strange and unique after-hours cowboy-booted club that seems to respect its neighbours and avoid the usual trouble generally associated with such enterprises. I’ve only been twice in my Toronto tenure, earlier in the decade, and I recall having a passionate conversation about New Brunswick with an ex-pat from Moncton while a young version of Hank Snow twanged away on stage. I recently asked a friend if he and his family who live approximately 10 houses up Dovercourt are ever disturbed by the Matador, and he said they never notice it. That’s remarkable.
But its legendary status and history (Leonard Cohen, Neko Case, etc.) are beside the point here and almost irrelevant because the city — our city — wants to expropriate and tear down a fine and sturdy piece of the urban fabric, located in one of the most desirable and valued neighbourhoods in North America, and turn it into twenty (20!) parking spots, spending $800,000 in the process (insulting to the owner, offensive to the rest of us who are enduring the current budget crunch and trying — so very hard — to believe and support the Giambrone side of things).
This is madness. Most cities would do tax-incentive back flips to get developers to build something in a parking lot — because so many cities are now a series of parking lots, without much actual city because they’ve been hollowed out over the years. Toronto is lucky by North American standards; we’ve been continually filling them in. Even if the owners of the Matador are ready to sell after 43 years — perhaps it’s a natural end for this particular operation if somebody else doesn’t want to take it over — it’s outrageous and heartbreaking that the City would move to gut this bit of Toronto for a parking lot. As Hume tells the “guileless” Gwyn Thomas in his satisfyingly incendiary column, “the 1950s are over.”
But a little poking around the Toronto Parking Authority’s Leave it to Beaver-ish website demonstrates they don’t think so:
As the Mayor Nathan Phillips summarized the situation nearly 50 years ago at the opening of the Authority’s City Hall Garage, “…business goes today where there is convenient, thrifty parking and stays clear of locations that can’t or won’t provide it”. 50 years of prosperity for various commercial areas in the City and the continued success of the Toronto Parking Authority are a testament to the enduring truth of the long-departed Mayor’s assessment.
All these years we’ve all thought the Toronto Port Authority was the public agency that is Toronto’s worst enemy, but it turns out it could be a rogue agency from within. On the front page of the TPA site there is a prominent link to one of their latest moves, tearing down a building at 663 Gerrard Street East, in the heart of East Chinatown, for a parking lot. The TPA is eating Toronto.
At Spacing, most (if not all) of us do not share the radical opinion that cars are inherently immoral and car drivers are bad people. Many people need to drive a car to survive and that isn’t going to change in the near future, so we need to find a balance between the drivers and a clean, green, walkable and beautiful city. Yet every economically vibrant and “world-class” city I’ve been to is, without exception, an awful place to try to park. It’s expected. Toronto is no different, so tearing the city down to put lots in is as backwards as some of the things Ward Cleaver said to the Beaver.
When did our bureaucracy get so out of whack that they can destroy parts of the city? When did councillors stop standing up to staff suggestions that go against what this great city stands for? Email TTC Chair Giambrone (there is, of course, a streetcar stop 20 meters from the Matador) and ask him. Email Councillors Rae and Feldman, who are on the TPA board, and ask them. Events like this can shake one’s confident belief to the core that, despite differences here and there, most of us have the general good of the city at heart. I’d like to believe the councillors just need a little political support and motivation in order to take a stand and make the right decision for the Toronto we want to live in (the one they talk about on that toronto.ca website).
Photo by Jason Michael