My psychogeography column in the current edition of Eye Weekly looks at how Toronto’s combination of new and old buildings in close proximity to each other may very well be the distinctive “Toronto look” — but sometimes that runs up against the constrained image of Toronto we have in our heads making it hard to appreciate and, more critically, puts our modern heritage at risk right now just as 19th Century buildings were lost when modernism was in full swing. Fashion, as I argue in the piece, is cruel and fickle — and if a particular kind of heritage is out of fashion for a moment, it could disappear.
I also argue that our constantly changing city makes this place considerably more interesting to live in than a city like Paris where it’s very hard to do anything “new” (either architecturally or culturally) because their civic narrative and look is set and near-impossible to find the space or cultural wiggle-room needed for innovation. Toronto seems to be able to preserve the old and make room for the new at the same time.
A sample below, but read the rest here on the Eye Weekly site:
Toronto is not a period piece, like some pristine European cities are, and we are fortunate for that. Toronto is always changing (an urban workshop more than a museum) and always has been. New things are being added all the time, making this an exciting place to live, unlike, say, the morgue of a city that Paris has become. When was the last time you heard about an interesting building or contemporary art scene that’s come out of Paris? Our lack of cohesive architectural look — what snobs might refer to as â€œuglyâ€ — means this city is tabula rasa, a blank slate waiting for us to do stuff in it without too much historical burden to smother the new, allowing cultural ferment of all kinds to happen.
While the Royal Ontario Museum crystal may have various faults that can and will be argued about, the oft-heard opinion that it ruins the classical design of the original building is deserving of a challenge. If any building in this city audaciously embodies what Toronto truly is, it’s the ROM. The same new-old combination has worked next door at the Royal Conservatory of Music and across town at the National Ballet School on Jarvis and at many other locations.
Yet when new and old come together in less high-profile locations, it’s not an easy concept for Torontonians to reconcile. The internalized image of this city — at least for a large chunk of the politically active downtownish crowd — is of a low-rise, pre—World War One city. That causes problems, because much of Toronto is distinctly not that. Our notorious fear of skyscraper height seems like an invented untruth as the view from a plane’s window flying in reveals a forest of high-rises spreading to all civic borders, the most in North America after New York City.
Photo by portfolium.