Top photo by Bitpicture.
My recent Psychogeography column in Eye Weekly had me walking down Jarvis Street from Bloor to the St. Lawrence Market. I cross over Jarvis usually twice everyday, but rarely travel up or down it. I was inspired to do so by a Tweet from Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong that seemed designed to get car drivers riled up and think there is a war against them being planned.
On February 20, at 8:02am, city councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong tweeted â€œUsed the middle lane on Jarvis St to get to work. Fast and efficient!â€ When questioned he said, â€œIt was a great way to get to work. Imagine driving to work and not having to wait in gridlock! It was fantastic!â€
The exclamation-mark-mad muckraking councillor was intentionally wading into the contentious debate about the future of Jarvis. At the same time, he betrayed the strange panic that causes car drivers to think anything taming the dominance of the automobile on urban design is somehow a declaration of war on the car.
Jarvis, once the most beautiful street in Toronto, has been reverse-gentrified and turned into a fat arterial traffic pipe between North Toronto and downtown. The City’s Jarvis Street Improvement Plan, championed by local councillor Kyle Rae, aims to return the street to some of its pedestrian-friendly glory.
Read the rest over at Eye. The two things I found most interesting about Jarvis were the sheer amount of people that live on or near the street, and how many of those old, wonderful details (and new ones) remain. This means there are both historic and present day reasons why Jarvis should be made more pedestrian friendly and tame the planning crimes that were committed in the 1960s when the car was king. As I suggest at the end of the column, Jarvis isn’t the superhighway the Minnan-Wong’s think it is (it goes down to two lanes at non-rushhour times), and the plan isn’t a declaration of war against the car at all. What follows are iPhone photos I took during my walk of some of those Jarvis details as visual companion to the column.
Jarvis begins at the Rogers postmodern Death Star.
Fine old buildings and institutions remain.
This apartment complex — one building is called Massey House — is some of the finest mid-century apartment living in the city.
Plaza 100, at Wellesley, comes complete with rooftop swimming pool and avant garde 1960s shapes. It is always astonishing to think such far-out-ness was an integral part of so many developments in Canada. As I was born in the 1970s, this kind of architecture does trigger some nostalgic feelings, but also an appreciation for the bold thinking Canadian developers and architects had during the decades after World War II. I think of this kind of stuff as the architectural equivalent of a York Wilson mural. Plaza 100 is also a fine example of the kind of wonderful places that concrete can create. When Jarvis is improved, these spaces will likely become cherished urban pocket parks.
Diagonal from Plaza 100 is Jarvis Collegiate. With Minna-Wong’s rhetorical meddling in my head, I thought this school presents an opportunity to crank up the language on the other side: when kids hear the bell and run out of the school they’re met with a meter or so of sidewalk and then a busy 5-lane arterial road. Perhaps the good councillor’s Twitter feed will one day have an answer to the question “What about the children”? Do Jarvis students, along with area residents, not deserve better?
Across the street and just south of Wellesley the Hincks-Dellcrest Centre is another modern gem. After the column was first published in Eye, we recieved a note from Toronto heritage consultant William Greer (and winner of Heritage Toronto’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007) with more information on this building and on the ones in the following pictures:
The Hincks building was by Shore & Moffat and Partners in the 1960’s and designed to fit in scale and materials of the earlier Jarvis St buildings. The Toronto Historical Board in the 1970’s-80’s encouraged the developer to conserve the four houses south of Jarvis Collegiate and build highrise housing behind so as to help preserve the original built-form character of Jarvis St.
A particularly Torontonian blend of old and new, something we do very well. In the last photo above, the amount of space a single family home takes up vs. a low-rise apartment building is somewhat surprising.
You don’t put details like these on an unloved street.
National Ballet School/Radio City/former CBC Headquarters (itself formerly the Havergal school for girls) complex.
A nondescript but perfectly urban residential building in the shadow of the more flashy Radio City. People living along Jarvis, everywhere you look.
South of Gerrard Jarvis hasn’t always been maintained the way it should, and sometimes has a beat-down or fortified look, but that isn’t contiguous and the urban bones are all still there.
The Jarvis mix.
Two modern favorites of mine are the Ontario Court of Justice building (by Peter Dickinson) and the Sears Canada headquarters. The latter is likely controversial and not universally loved –perhaps viewed by some as “Robarts East” — but if the ugly fenced in parking lot just south of it were turned into something less parking lot-like, I think opinions of the audacious Sears building would improve. So many tiny bricks make up something so huge, at once heavy and light.
While there are some holes in its urban fabric (like the Moss Park Armory and soon-to-be developed lots around Queen) Jarvis becomes an urbane street in St. Lawrence Market, the reason why I’ve never understood Jarvis’s reputation as a quick arterial. If Jarvis is such an important arterial street, it can’t end just like this because, as I’ve noticed many times, it becomes a bottleneck — so Jarvis-as-freeway is a Minna-Wong fiction. It’s about time Jarvis’s design reflects everything it is today (and yesterday), including cars. Take a walk down or up Jarvis and see for yourself.