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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

NEW ISSUE: Celebrating 20 years

From our beginnings at a park picnic table, Spacing has survived, thrived, and innovated for two decades


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Dylan Reid

Twenty-one years ago, I read an article about the Toronto Public Space Committee in Eye Weekly. Intrigued, I visited their website (back in Web 1.0 days) and, poking around, came across an obscure page that mentioned starting a magazine. I wrote to the generic email address and suggested I could write about some interesting public space projects in other cities that I’d heard about. Instead, I was invited to an organizing meeting at a picnic table in Grange Park, and then just kept going to the biweekly evening meetings. Dozens of people floated in and out of those meetings in living rooms of cheap downtown apartments over the next year and a bit. By the end, there were just a few of us left, but we’d produced the first issue of a magazine we dubbed Spacing.

A lot has changed over the past twenty years in Toronto. For one thing, there are a lot fewer cheap apartments downtown – I’m not sure it would even be possible to reproduce the circumstances that enabled Spacing’s long foundation process. But there have also been some improvements – a lot more, and better, bike lanes, for example. If Spacing can take direct credit for a few things, we also like to think that our existence shifted the urban discussion, getting the public, staff, and politicians to take public space issues seriously.

Our model is possibly unique – there are international print magazines that cover urban issues, city print magazines that cover real estate, politics, and lifestyles, and websites that cover urban issues in particular cities. But there aren’t a lot, if any, print magazines that focus on urbanism, and especially public space, in a specific city-region. And that also run a retail store while they’re at it.

We usually tell other people’s stories, but this anniversary issue is a chance to tell our own story, to look back and celebrate our two decades of existence. It’s also a chance to have some fun, as we have in past anniversary issues, with features like imagined covers from a century of Spacing. This issue starts introspectively, with the magazine itself – our origins and evolution, and some of the impact we’ve had. Then we pull out to get some outside perspectives on Spacing. Finally, we look at the broader landscape, taking the opportunity to be positive, such as what has changed in the city for the better, and profiling some of the people we’ve worked with and admired.

Looking back to our foundation, we were filled with a spirit of optimism, which is recalled and captured in some of the pieces in this issue. Even at our tenth anniversary, in the midst of Rob Ford madness, that positive spirit persisted to some extent. As John Lorinc notes in his column in this issue, that spirit has sadly been deadened, both by years of a do-little mayor and council under John Tory, and also by a housing affordability crisis, a pandemic, a hostile provincial government, and other problems that seem all-encompassing. But we’re here, in part, to sustain the optimism we launched with.

Spacing too has had its ups and downs. From a small biannual initially, we expanded a lot in our first decade. Ten years ago, our magazines were thick tomes, we had expanded to quarterly publication that included national issues, and we had a blog network across Canada. Along with other print media, in the next ten years we had to scale back our size to a more standard number of pages (although we’ve expanded for this issue!) and pull back on the blogs, while the pandemic put an end to our national issues.

Despite these challenges, as they say, we persist, and are even thriving, thanks to our subscribers, readers, listeners, and customers. Our print issues still come out regularly and go to a dedicated subscriber base and the magazine racks of fine bookstores. Our blogs for Toronto and Vancouver are lively and widely read. We’ve started publishing a series of beautifully designed, award-nominated books. Our podcast series has gone from strength to strength. And the store continues to be the destination for all things Toronto.

Toronto, too, persists. Its problems are, in part, a result of so many people wanting to be here because it is an attractive place to live, work, and play. As with our initial launch in 2003, we are celebrating our 20th anniversary right after the election of a new, progressive mayor who appreciates the importance of public spaces, ending an era of penny-pinching and narrow-mindedness. Underneath the big crises, good things have been happening throughout the city. Now, as in 2003, Toronto has big problems, but also enormous potential. We plan to continue influencing the discussion and helping to realize that potential.

This issue will be available at the Spacing Store at 401 Richmond St. W. starting on Dec. 2, and at fine book and magazine stores shortly after, as well as arriving soon in subscribers’ mailboxes.

Everyone is invited to come and celebrate our 20th anniversary with us on Saturday Dec. 2 at Urbanspace Gallery at 401 Richmond St. W., from 7-11 pm.