Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Princes' Gates - Thoughts and Pictures

I had wanted to speak a bit about what I think needs to change in the civic debate for Toronto to stop fretting about its greatness and begin to recognize and enjoy that, for the most part, we are already in the promised land.

So I was going show you how a slightly different approach to reviatlizing the city points the way towards beautifying the city. I originally had quite a bit to say on this.

However, it turns out that both Christoper Hume, the architecture columnist for the Toronto Star and the Mayor, David Miller, had already said most of it here. So I'm just going to show you some of what they were taling about. Think of this as a photoblog on the simple and elegant transformation of a well-known Toronto space - here are the new Princes' Gates.

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Hmmm....anyone who lives here will wonder what I'm talking about. They look as they always have, since their Royal Highnesses opened them in 1927.

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All I can say in response is, look down.

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The asphalt is gone, and has been replaced by tiles. There are also these very attractive light sculptures, entwining their way upwards as their halogen bulbs shine downward.

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And then there are these blocks, each for each province and territory. This is the Canadian National Exhibition, after all.
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The provincial mottos are inscribed in the pavement next to the granite towards the gate. The photos I took didn't come out very well, so you'll just have to come and see them for yourself.

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What about the gates themselves? They haven't been changed, and remain their old neo-classical selves:

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A modest homage to Giornale Nuovo (I would have never bothered to look at these if it weren't for the amazing work there!)

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So despite the strange landscaping in the picture below, I don't think it's quite time to put this piece of Toronto's architectural history to rest.

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A Goildbergian final shot, nearly the same as the first, but transformed by one's knowledge of the new space.

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The downside of this transformation is that despite the city's attempts to brand it as a piazza, it will never be much more than pavement for people on their way to the Ex or the Home Show. There will be people like me who live close enough to enjoy the new space, but we will always be few and far between, so Piazza San Marco will it never be.

That's too bad, but I'm hopeful that the quiet elegance of the space will be an inspriation to citizens and city planners. This is a subtle yet dramatic transformation of a beloved public space, and a grander solution to the problems of an unattractive city than building or rebuilding galleries and roadways. This kind of solution signifies a change in mindset here, where open spaces needn't be filled with trees or nature, but can instead be home people and commerce. We've begun to realise this kind of approach with Yonge-Dundas Square, but all I can say is, we need more piazzas!

Creating piazzas (or squares if you disdain the pretension) is a way to improve local neighbourhoods cheaply and effectively. More piazzas, encircled by shops and restaurants, with people seeing each other watch each other eating ice cream on a warm summer's eve would go some way toward undermining the constant sense here in Toronto that we've really botched something.


Conrad H. Roth said...

To ask a question my father recently asked me, "Have you read Jane Jacobs?" By which he meant, and I mean, "The Life and Death of Great American Cities", where she talks about this kind of regenerative project, and in one section compares the various fates of four squares, originally identical, in Philadelphia.

I haven't been to Toronto, incidentally, but Montreal is still my second favourite city in the world. (There's some competition between you and them, from what I understand!)

Conrad H. Roth said...

Coincidentally, this, from Old Man Wikipedia:

"The book ["Life and Death..."] also played a major role in the urban development of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where Jacobs was involved in the campaign to stop the Spadina Expressway. Toronto, where Jacobs moved in 1969 and lived for the remainder of her life, is to this day regarded as one of the relatively few major metropolises in North America to have successfully maintained a large number of residential neighborhoods in its downtown core, a status which is attributed in part to Jacobs' writing and her local community activism."

Otto van Karajanstein said...

I have read parts of The Death and Life, but not the whole thing.

One of the strange effects of her recent passing has been wathcing all the local leaders and media people rush in to bury her ideas. That column I linked to over at JS is illustrative of this phenomenon.

It's as though Toronto lacked a kind of debate over its planning, for fear this little old woman would come along and tell them how wrong they were. She seems to have been feared more than loved by the powers that be.

As for Montreal, it is a beautiful place, although I prefer Quebec City myself, mainly for the people, mind you!

I believe the competition between the Toronto and Montreal has died down as of late. This is an unfortunate consequence of the seperatist movement - Montreal suffered greatly from the exodus of people and capital, and has only recently begun to recover.

Toronto has also become increasingly myopic over the years as a civic culture, hence my posts, which do nothing to reverse this trend. I suppose a trip to Montreal is in order now!