So much for the dream of a public space at Yonge and Bloor

First of all, please stop saying “very unique.” There are no varying degrees of uniqueness; something is either one of a kind or it isn’t.  This is a pet peeve of mine, but not something I usually bring up.  After hearing speaker after speaker utter this phrase at Thursday morning’s One Bloor press conference, however, I thought it was worth mentioning.

On the other hand, it means that the project’s developers, architects, etc. appreciate the intense specialness of the Yonge and Bloor intersection where they will be building a 65-storey condo. “This is the most important corner in the GTA, and possibly in all of Canada,” said Baker Real Estate president Barbara Lawlor. While one would expect a realtor to say that about any given location anywhere, in this case the hyperbole may very well be true.  Which is why the project is so disappointing.

Certainly, it’s pretty decent as far as condos go, and in a whole other league than the edifices on the other three corners.  But that doesn’t mean that this is what Yonge and Bloor needs or deserves.

Rosenberg’s fantasy vision at left, Brown + Storey’s at right. I assure you they were both much larger and prettier in print.

Last June, the Star‘s Christopher Hume commissioned respected landscape architects Janet Rosenberg and Brown + Storey to envision what the then-in-limbo site could look like as a public square.  Their gorgeous renderings were published in the paper.

So I became curious when I found out that the very talented Rosenberg (known for, among other things, HtO Park) was involved with the new One Bloor project.  It turns out, sadly, that her contribution is largely limited to the private terrace on the seventh floor, a dazzling space that will be restricted to the building’s residents, like a great painter’s masterpiece hidden away in a private collection.

What the seventh-floor terrace of the One Bloor condo will look like.  Note the neato wide fireplace at the far end.

In that same article, Rosenberg told Hume, “Yonge and Bloor is a really important spot, and it’s completely uncelebrated. Putting up another condo there would make it invisible. We want people on the streets, not in their condos…This could be a great public space.”

I asked her yesterday if the design she created for Hume was still her ideal vision for the corner.  She laughed a bit, and said, “Well, you’re asking a landscape architect.”  She reiterated that the city could most certainly use more parks and an improved public realm but emphasized the streetscape improvements (wide, granite sidewalks, new trees) that One Bloor will bring.  Even though they don’t display her characteristic flourishes, she got to work on the elements at grade, too.

I also asked if she finds it more fun to design spaces for the general public or for private residents. Diplomatically refraining from a direct answer, she explained that she’s become more of a pragmatist, at least with regard to this corner and the realistic possibilities for it.  This, from her perspective, I understand.  But it doesn’t make me less regretful.  As I told her, the terrace looks like it will be a great space at that intersection, but I fear that I will never get to see it, except from the ground.

In a profile of Hume that I wrote for the Spring 2009 issue of POV Magazine, I observed, “A building should become part of its surroundings rather than wall them out; how a structure looks and feels to those on the outside is at least as important as what it does for people on the inside. When Hume reviews new condominium projects as the Star‘s architecture critic, he limits his observations to the exterior.  Developers, planners, and architects should ask not what the city can do for them but what they can do for the city.”

Oh well.  It’s not too late for Yonge and Eglinton.

Jonathan Goldsbie was involved with the Toronto Public Space Committee’s ultimately unsuccessful campaign to create a public square at Yonge and Bloor.

32 comments

  1. When I saw Jack Diamond speak at the Reference Library’s Salon, he was asked about what should be built at Yonge and Bloor. To paraphrase, he said “build as high as you want, but it must provide ample room on the sidewalks on Bloor and Yonge and the ground level must be (literally) transparent, inviting and somewhat public (e.g. retail).” I’m not sure I agree with everything Diamond has said or built, but I do agree with this suggestion for this corner. To that end, these renderings come up short (no matter ‘how’ unique they are!!). The building needs to back off from the street some, give room to people walking by, offer them a place to sit. It’s hard to tell, but there shouldn’t be any stairs a street level. Interesting how many of the renderings show off the terrace – great space, but only for those who live there.

  2. Wow, the most important corner possibly in all of Canada… now I know.

  3. Interesting that the top photo shows yonge street with one lane of traffic in the n/s directions with widened sidewalks. Wouldn’t that be nice.

  4. How did Yonge-Bloor become the “most important corner in the GTA”? In my “psychogeography” of the city, it certainly does not rank very high (though I suppose everyone is different). I just don’t see, other than the crossroads of two subways and two major streets, why this intersection is considered so very important.

  5. Oh for goodness sake. Let me repeat what I’ve said every time this comes up. If you want a park at Yonge/Bloor, make it the NE corner. Blowing up the concrete edifice there would not only create a public space but also open the way to a second platform at Yonge Station which is otherwise entirely precluded.

  6. The street with one lane of traffic in each direction in the top photo is Hayden St. The view is facing east.

  7. While designing the space as a park was a nice exercise, it was never, ever going to be a park. It was always going to be a large, dense private development… and at the intersection of 2 major transit lines, that is entirely appropriate (I would say it is the most appropriate).

    As for Eglinton, that, too, will not remain a private square (which it is now – an important distinction). The City will will approve that one in time, and likely will get a nice fat Section 37 payment for extra height and density. If the City wants to build its own public space in this area… it should look right across the street to the former Eglinton Bus Station that it already owns (I believe) and can do whatever it wants with it. I would bet, though, that the City won’t build a park and will sell the land off for a giant wad of cash (i.e. what it is worth).

  8. Off-topic, but regarding your first paragraph, my mother and I thank you. How do you feel about “myriad of”?

  9. 65 storeys and not a single unit of affordable housing, I’m assuming. Now THAT is a wasted opportunity…

  10. How about a public square AND a condo? Sure the condo will loom above the square on pylons but the square will be dry in summer and snow free in winter. Sure it won’t have sunlight but it could be beautifully lit.

  11. “the most important corner possibly in all of Canada” ? I could think of a few others that would rank higher for a variety of reasons but I don’t think it is even the most important corner in Toronto.

  12. This article infuriates me. Why should Yonge and bloor be a park? If the site weren’t purchased by developers – we’d still have a Popeyes and a Harvey’s on the corner – is that what Canada’s most important intersection deserves? Who knows how long Stollery’s will last (the men’s store on the south west corner) – If people want a park – they should start petitioning early for the city to go head to head with the next developer that picks up that corner for millions and millions of dollars. I’ll be happy when there isn’t a fenced off dumping ground and this project is built -

  13. I like the look of this project – the city should have more interesting buildings like this – I sort of agree with Lacsmack – given that there was never going to be a park on this corner – and considering what was there before – there should at least be a building that reflects the importance of the intersection – Much, much happier with this building on the corner than the images from the previous project that went belly-up.

  14. I like the vertical park idea, kernst. Maybe a developer will pick up this idea or the City could encourage this sort of thing with additional variance allowances for buildings that incorportate such vertical parks.

  15. Picking up on Sean – re Yonge and Eglinton – the north west corner, which is currently open space. This Wednesday City Council will consider the owners’ proposal to: add 6 stories each to two existing towers; develop (cover) two-thirds of the open space at grade, and provide $250K to the city for public art. What a (poor) bargain!!
    Come to the public gathering on Monday at noon to protest the loss of open space AND contact your councillor to request that they not support this (poor) bargain.

  16. I think it should be bigger. who cares about affordable housing. If you want affordable move to Oshawa

  17. In response to Melissa I totally agree with how asinine it is that no affordable housing is included in this project, never mind the general lack of ambition of restoring things to where they were in the 1980s with funding for affordable housing. At the very least it would give me a big laugh if all the working poor could finally somehow find decent paying jobs through an affordable and accessible academic education while those with money would be left standing scratching their heads in the big box stores and movie theatres with no one left to serve them.

  18. Mr. Chrysler’s last comment displays a common misconception about what constitutes affordable housing. The Brookings Institute in Washingon DC has done extensive research on this.

    http://www.brookings.edu/topics/walkable-urbanism.aspx Y

    In an area like downtown Toronto a typical resident pays about 60% of their income on housing and about 5-10% on transportation.

    In an area like Oshawa, typical residents pay about 50% for housing costs, while paying 30% or more for transportation. Then add on the property taxes (double that of a city like Toronto) and you quickly realize that the publicly perceived “more expensive” way to live is in fact much more economically viable.

    Certainly, One Bloor East is not meant to include market-geared housing, and is a luxury outfit. Fine. I’m more concerned with making sure people truly understand that urban sprawl is not only unattractive but also more expensive. The furhter you go away from your work place to find cheaper housing the more expensive it becomes. It may be one of the least reported aspects on urban/suburban living.

  19. “open space” is a kind way to describe the Yonge/Eglinton site.

    As for affordable housing, what if the City did deals with developers to acquire the lowest 3-5 floors of a building, with Artscape acquiring a couple above those as studio spaces, with the developer then selling those above that again? Has something similar ever been done in Toronto?

  20. Just as an add on to Monty`s comment about living in Downtown Toronto vs Oshawa this is why there should be more attention made towards developing community nodes (aka Transit Villages) around some of the TTC`s less busy and underdeveloped subway stations (Downsview?), as well as possibly around GO Transit`s Lakeshore line all day service GO train stations. With all the difficulty with getting rapid transit infrastructure built these days we could definitely benefit from drawing more people away from areas poorly served by mass transit and make alternatives to the car a real option for more people.

  21. It looks like they did do a bit to open up more space at the Bloor/Yonge corner, with the angled corner entrance – and possibly more can be opened up by indenting the ground level. Given the large pedestrian volumes, that would be a reasonable demand from the city, and it could create a sense of place that would increase the value of the retail space, too.

    The building also seems to make some allowance for letting some sunlight onto the intersection, being set back a bit from Yonge. But it’s still going to feel a lot darker and more closed than it has been.

    The city should get section 37 money from this to buy the Royal Bank carbuncle on the N-E corner, demolish it and make that into the public space this intersection needs, as I’ve suggested in the past and Mark Dowling suggests above.

  22. Building looks terrific, and a great outcome for what could have easily become Bay-Adelaide Stump II (or Circular Hole in the Ground, Toronto version). I’m frankly disappointed at all the carping.

    Might be nice though for the architect to have mentioned how heavily the Aqua in Chicago influenced the design. Maybe they should rename it “L’Eau”.

  23. The dream of public space at Yonge and Bloor was only ever a pipe dream, and I don’t think it was shared by many. Frankly it’s hard to think of a worse use of space than putting a park at a key intersection of a major metropolis.

  24. I’m sure the architect looked at Aqua – but it seems like a large departure at this point – My boyfriend and I were in chicago a short while ago – I find Aqua to be off-putting from most angles – like a decaying body. Was anyone else surprised that it one skyscrapper of the year last month! Y and B tower seems more restrained which I think is a good thing. I just wish it was affordable to live in -

  25. Hello Bueller the Oshawa comment was a joke don’t need to read exerpts from your college thesis about urban planning

  26. I love how there are groups of people who think that they have the right to tell owners of private property to develop “public” spaces on property that they have paid top dollar for. I am all for public spaces, but in this case i cant support the outcries. The only thing i can suggest for people who want to turn this corner into a park is to buy the property at market value. This is the only responsible way that anyone can make claim to this property. Should the government step in? The government cant even afford to fix what it has!! Sorry guys, this is a non starter.

  27. It’s a shame readers like “Concerned torontonian” chime in with derision and do not take the time to read the links the writer has provided. Much of the hooplah around this corner is about watching a key corner in the city sit empty for years upon years as a dead space, fenced in with no other use than to wait until the owners have enough dough to build something.

    What had been proposed is to turn the site into a temporary square in the meantime, with a long-term eye to demonstrating that this intersection deserves so good, functional open public space. Thus the reason why other readers are suggesting buying the Royal Bank corner, etc.

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