By Ben Bull –
The east end of Toronto is on the up. And up and up. Among the many condominium developments reaching for the skies, the Time and Space tower at The Esplanade and Sherbourne Street is next in line to fling open its doors.
You should know the Time and Space tower – it occupies a whole city block. What used to be a car dealership, an abandoned warehouse, a muddy car park and a rickety rooming house will soon become home to more than a thousand residents.
As I walk past the walloping wall of glass and steel, I wonder what impact it will have on our neighbourhood. Will the new residents grab a bite at Bellissimo’s on their way home from work? Will they pop in for a trim at Linda’s across the road? Will I bump into a new face at the local community centre?
If the evidence from other Toronto high-rise developments is anything to go by, the answer is probably no. Because high-rises don’t build neighbourhoods – they blight them.
My friend lives in a 12-storey apartment block in the west end. She’s lived there for more than 10 years and still doesn’t know her next door neighbour’s name.
High-rises create virtual gated communities, with residents scurrying in off the street, tapping a card, nodding to the nameless person at the desk, then scooting up the elevator to their little cubby hole in the sky. Anonymity is the norm.
When it comes to residential housing, size matters. My son lives in a two-story block in the Junction neighbourhood. He’s only been there a few months and he’s already on nodding terms with the rest of his floor and chats regularly with the lady next door.
The residential ownership model matters too. None of the Time and Space condos have been allocated as affordable, and many will be rented out. At the co-ops along Scadding Avenue and Longboat Avenue, residents take an active role in managing the property finances, organizing events and applying the rules.
When I first moved into this neighbourhood 15 years ago, I witnessed an act of vandalism on my street and took off after the offenders. I cornered a young lad at the entrance to the Windmill Co-op and watched him duck inside.
Damn it! I thought the chase was over, but then a bloke appeared out of nowhere and asked if he could help. I explained what had transpired, at which point the man held up a hand and said, “Leave it to me.” Five minutes later he re-appeared with the miscreant in tow. The good Samaritan was on the co-op board and was able to identify the hapless vandal from my description.
The Time and Space condos will tick some boxes for density and extra property tax dollars. They will provide much-needed housing for a new bunch of ubiquitous young professionals. (Looking at the price tags, I doubt many new immigrants or families will move in.) But while these folks might be happy to have a new place to live, I doubt they’ll do much to build our community.
A neighbourhood is more than bricks and mortar. Mayor David Crombie got this 45 years ago when he sketched out what is now the Crombie Park neighbourhood. He understood that people need meeting places, green spaces and opportunities to interact.
My street is a mixture of two- to four-bedroom townhouses, duplex rentals, affordable housing units and co-ops. We have most of what we need within a 15-minute stroll, so there’s a lot of foot traffic. I bump into my neighbours on the way to work, the shops and the gym. But will I bump into anyone from the Time and Space condos anytime soon?
My wife calls Toronto a “missed opportunity.” When I look at the tower of glass at The Esplanade and Sherbourne, I have to agree.