West-enders are like Montreal Canadiens hockey.
West-enders are like Montreal Canadiens hockey fans. They walk with their noses stuck permanently up in the air, though no one is quite sure what they’re being so superior about. The Canadiens haven’t won anything in over a decade, and the west end’s losing streak? Even longer.
But west-enders won’t even read this article, so certain and comfortable are they in their superiority. And east-enders are going to be pissed at me for sharing our little secret, that the east side of Toronto is by far the best place in this city to live.
Think of the spangles, sparkles and oversized plume on some cheesy CNE midway hat, the Ex being a perfect example of the West’s overblown failings. The CNE’s largely derelict acreage cuts a huge swath through the west end that helps separate its citizens from the lake and is used only a few weeks a year. And while, yeah, it’s kind of fun when it’s open, have any of you been there lately?
That’s kind of like the west end. There’s fun to be had, but would you really want to live there? It’s Toronto’s Las Vegas, a chaotic and clumsy collection of options, but not really a home.
And there’s tons to do in the east end. We just don’t announce it the same way, more needy of good times than acknowledgement. The Danforth has been staying up late since long before west-end hipsters were born, and locals have been fine with the after-hours fun.
Nobody has ever proposed limiting bars and restaurants along this glimmering strip, unlike the uptight burghers of the West, who seem to have grown all panicky now that the long-moribund Ossington area has finally snapped to life. Further proof that it’s a good place to visit, but even the residents, it seems, don’t want to live there if the neighbourhood is finally staying up past midnight.
East-enders know that pedestrian traffic, even late at night, helps make a neighbourhood safe, not surly, and the ease with which our latest fun ‘hood, Leslieville, has sprung to life with an ever-increasing number of excellent galleries, restos and bars illustrates this.
Socially conscious east-enders fight big-box stores that kill neighbourhoods and retail, and recently succeeded at repelling the mighty Walmart’s lakeside invasion. They don’t battle restaurants, bars and clubs that add life as well as economic benefits.
The lake is an integral part of the east end. Our community helped do the impossible and tear down the eastern section of the Gardiner to open up further access to the waterfront. The follow-the-rules folks in the West call this utopian.
And what a waterfront it is. Sure, people know about the Beach, but what about the magnificent Scarborough Bluffs, Ashbridges Bay, Cherry Beach, Leslie Spit and the latent dock lands? Impressive oversized freighters still slide into the slips of the eastern waterfront, a reminder of the time when industry was actually an employer in this city.
The west end’s been a hot spot so long that all kinds of development crimes have been inflicted on it. Going back to the early 1900s, when a developer-friendly arsonist burned down the art deco Palace Pier, the son of Sunnyside, so money men could get on with building “the new,” the West’s problem has been that everyone wants a piece of it. (How fitting that the Palace Pier name lives on only as a condo.)
The once elegant streets of Parkdale used to go all the way to the water, but progress dictated that a highway had to tear through this neighbourhood. And a mad dash to develop has created a wall of lakeside condominiums that may as well as serve as tombstones for neighbourhood building in the West.
East Toronto has been the beneficiary of divine neglect, like an elegant eastern European capital, saved from the ravages of late 20th-century capitalism by stuttering socialism, free to be kick-started as more humane, green and inspired ideas of urban planning now rule.
So when the crumbling Greenwood racetrack was torn down, a real community rose from the rubble, with a mixed bag of rental and owner-occupied homes along with a naturalized park and half-pipes for skateboarders. Look for a similar community to emerge at Regent Park and the newly naturalized Don River Lands.
Divine neglect? Just check out the Distillery District and the exciting Brick Works to see what happens when redevelopment is stalled until more enlightened 21st-century thinking saves the day. The East’s industrial sites were abandoned, not bulldozed, so they were preserved when creative reuse came back into fashion.
R. Jeanette Martin
Long before the Brick Works rebuilding, the Don Valley was an east-side green gem, so egalitarian that the rich of Rosedale share this unlikely urban nature preserve with the working-class East Yorkers on the other side of the valley.
In a city that celebrates diversity, the East has plenty. Established Greek, East Indian and Chinese enclaves now welcome the latest immigrants drawn by the area’s cheap rents. An the emerging African neighbourhood growing on the Danforth from Greenwood to Woodbine is the world’s latest gift to T.O.
And there’s plenty of reason to be hopeful for the future in the East, where Riverdale offers a textbook example of tolerable gentrification. The established Greek community didn’t move out, just made some room when the yuppies came along. Community involvement, from park programs to schools and political action, remains intense, and the People’s Republic of Riverdale has been voting left wing uninterrupted since John Sewell repped the area in the 70s.
So the smugsters of the West are welcome to enjoy their soulless side of Yonge while we on the East carry on reinventing scintillating city life.