In Toronto, a huge new development plan has some big flaws


In 1958, the critic Jane Jacobs complained about the “urban renewal” projects that were remaking American downtowns. “They will be spacious, park-like, and uncrowded,” she wrote. “They will be clean, impressive, and monumental. They will have all the attributes of a well kept, dignified cemetery.”

Her contrary wisdom – that a city should be diverse and messy – still makes sense. But today’s large-scale urban redevelopment projects often fail to acknowledge it. The debacle of Hudson Yards in New York City is a case in point. Here comes another: A huge new development is shaping up in midtown Toronto that, if built as planned, would have Ms. Jacobs rolling in her grave.

The 9.3-acre scheme, announced last month, is led by Toronto architects Hariri Pontarini and American firm Pelli Clarke Pelli. It would replace the mixed-use Canada Square complex and a bus terminal, which are owned by the city and were leased to developer Oxford Properties in a 2019 deal. It would tear down more than 600,000 square feet of office space and rebuild it, adding 2,700 apartments.

The proposed development encompasses 9.3 acres of land owned by the city and leased by developer Oxford Properties. The current proposal would remove the two existing office buildings as well as the other structures, eventually constructing five towers and a new bus terminal.

Problem number one: It’s more or less a “superblock.” In the 1950s and 1960s, the Modernist fashion was to combine small blocks into larger ones, eliminating streets, and then surround tall buildings with green space. Ms. Jacobs disliked this, and the urban design profession now largely agrees with her.

Case in point: The City of Toronto has spent 20 years cutting up the superblocks of the downtown Regent Park neighbourhood, putting in an ordinary street grid. The key is that streets are unambiguously public places, which give shape to the private and public spaces that make up a neighbourhood.

The Oxford scheme ignores that lesson. It features, at the north end, a tall office building; south of that, a wide swath of green space on top of a rebuilt bus terminal; south of that, four tall condo towers organized around a cul-de-sac and a park in the corner. It’s not quite a 1960s’ “tower-in-the-park” project, but it’s close.

Read the full story with photos at the Globe and Mail website … click here.