Toronto walk: Liberty Village is a hellscape

The former industrial area has been transformed into a crowded neighbourhood cluttered with condos

If Dante were writing his Inferno today, Toronto’s Liberty Village would warrant its own circle of hell. It would be populated by soulless condo developers and the 30-something sheeple living in the buildings’ box-like units. What was once a handsome west-end industrial area has had all the life choked out of it – especially in the eastern part closer to Strachan.

Start: Wednesday, 1:30 pm, Dufferin and Liberty

I figured I’d begin my walk near the official Liberty Village sign, which is so underwhelming it seems like an afterthought. At least it’s in the neighbourhood’s nicest area, which has maintained its industrial look and feel, much like the Distillery District on the opposite side of the city.

But as you walk east things get increasingly more modern… and more crowded.

Glenn Sumi

The Toronto Carpet Factory buildings are among the only pleasant aspects of Liberty Village.

What is there to do and see?

The Toronto Carpet Factory buildings north of Liberty between Mowat and Fraser are stunning. They’ve maintained their red brick exterior, and there are lanes and courtyards to wander around and appreciate details like wrought-iron railings and old-fashioned windows. There’s even an outdoor stone ping pong table within the complex. The buildings are only a few storeys high, so pedestrians don’t feel overwhelmed. There’s a helpful map of the historic buildings painted on the side of a building at Liberty and Fraser.

Along and south of Liberty are various companies like SiriusXM, Insight Productions, Kobo and Zoomermedia, which has its own complex and the MZTV Museum of Television. I’ve seen several site-specific plays in this area (Late Night, Athabasca, The Life And Death Of Fred Herko) over the past few years, and the addition of a permanent, multi-purpose theatre would add some much-needed cultural interest to the village.

North of Liberty is the massive Lamport Stadium, practice field for the Toronto Argonauts and partial home to various rugby teams. There’s so little green space in the village it’s a shame it’s not an open park. Last summer, the police violently removed homeless encampments next to the stadium; what remains is a little children’s playing area.

Glenn Sumi

Attempts at public art (like Po Chun Lau’s Spirits) and seating only emphasize Liberty Village’s ugliness.

The Liberty Village BIA has installed public art throughout the neighbourhood. Some pieces, like Po Chun Lau’s 2007 sculpture Spirits, get lost amidst the urban clutter. The painted oblong blocks also look like they’re trying too hard to be interesting. More successful is a series of painted iron benches reflecting the area’s history.

Because it’s bordered on all sides – Dufferin to the west, King and the train tracks to the north, Strachan to the east and the Gardiner Expressway to the south – Liberty Village does, in fact, feel contained like a village. Too bad it lacks character.

The main thing it needs is a centre. The Lamport could have been it. The parking lot at 15 Hanna could also be it; from there you get a nice view of everything around it, including the Liberty Market Building. Imagine if this parking lot were underground and the square were open; what a great place it would be to gather.

North of East Liberty and east of Atlantic is the neighbourhood’s second-worst feature: a suburban-seeming strip mall with shops to supply residents with stuff for their cramped condos (EQ3, Kitchen Stuff Plus), food for their pets (Global Pet Foods) and themselves (Metro) and banks to help finance their 450-square-foot palaces (too many to mention).

Although there are some unique food and retail places – Organic Garage on Hanna, Big Rock Brewery on Liberty – the neighbourhood is rife with fast-food joints: Pizzaville, Harvey’s, Tim’s, Booster Juice. This separates it from the classier Distillery. One of the saddest sights in the area is the Popeye’s beneath a historic smoke stack.

East of Atlantic, the fact that there are no exits to the south or north means you’re forced to go east towards Strachan. If this were a wide, lively street with interesting shops, that would be fine. As it exists now, traffic (both car and pedestrian) is funneled straight through to Strachan.

Glenn Sumi

Condo developments like this, on East Liberty, create a feeling of confinement.

Which brings us to the neighbourhood’s worst feature: the condo developments in the southeast. While not as tall as the buildings at City Place, the condos are clumped together and generic. And because the north and south are blocked off, you feel especially cramped.

Liberty Village Park, across from a big chunk of the development, is a sad patch of green offering nothing to look at except a brutal piece of sculpture and other condos.

Glenn Sumi

Liberty Village Park, one of the rare green spaces in the neighbourhood, provides little relief from the concrete jungle.

The neighbourhood feels so dehumanizing the city has currently posted a sign saying they’re “undertaking a study to address the need for more open space and community services and facilities resulting from significant residential and commercial growth.”

Um, good luck with that.

End: 2:40 pm, East Liberty and Strachan

After being trapped in a concrete jungle, I suddenly craved open spaces. No wonder so many hipsters congregated at nearby Trinity-Bellwoods Park during the first wave of the pandemic. l bet that floppy hat girl lived in Liberty Village.

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28 responses to “Toronto walk: Liberty Village is a hellscape”

  1. Jesus Christ this author is jaded. Who hurt you?

    This could easily be titled “I sneer and look down my nose at people who couldn’t afford to buy a home in a city where the average detached house is $1.5M.”

  2. I live here and I think it’s a dump. And you’re right, the survey won’t fix anything. LV is the epitome of what this world class city has to offer—it ain’t much

  3. Living in what you are essentially describing as a soulless shit hole for the past 16 or so years – I have seen this area go from essentially reclaimed toxic land to what we have now.
    And here is yet another ‘journalist’ doing a 15 minute pass through and jumping on the trash liberty village bend wagon for some clickbait ‘article’

    For any neighborhood or development, there will be issues, but things do change over time. It’s up to us to help shape the amenities and services we need, and that will happen over time.

    Do let us know which neighborhood you live in, so we can come in, observe with zero context, and trash your home as well.

  4. I have lived in Toronto for 40 years, in several different neighbourhoids. I have never lived in an area with the community spirit that I find in Liberty Village. The residents association is the largest in North America and community participation is excellent. We all feel, as Mr. Sumi points out, that the Market Square parking lot should be a park. We are working on it. I’m sorry Mr. Sumi failed to find the charm in LV.

  5. What kind of person walks through a neighbourhood and complains about the Tim’s and a Booster Juice? Who hurt you as a child? I’m sorry you’re so snarky and negative.

  6. “the classier Distillery”? “Too bad it lacks character.”?

    Please! The Distillery is one part Tourist Trap and one part Shops at Don Mills.

  7. I can’t wait for the next installment to see which neighbourhood you shit on next. Leave Toronto if you dislike it so much. Or at the very least walk through an area you actually like.

  8. Ok so its not as charming as the 100+ year old blocks with beautiful ivy, old trees, and dense yet intricate housing patterns and little non-chain cafés on the corner. Do we all want that? Yes, but before we wax about the booster juice and look of the condos lets consider the larger urgency of HOUSING people. Don’t get me started on the NIMBY’s of the “charming” neighborhood Sumi probably lives in.

    Character will come with time, but this article offers no real solutions beyond shitting on a neighborhood that is literally being constructed as he wrote it. Doesn’t even seem like he visited the newly built Garrison crossing which is a beautiful addition and adds connectivity east of Strachan.

    • I knew I’d find my people here! Something tells me he regards any negative feedback as the howling of an uncultured rabble on whom he wouldn’t hesitate to release the proverbial hounds.

  9. His comment “banks to help finance their 450-square-foot palaces (too many to mention)”. Well, for some people, 450 square feet to call their own would be a palace. For us, ours is 900 square feet with a 700 square foot terrace, and we are quite happy with that. The location is great, next to the lake and bike path, Gardiner, CNE, and Queen St. shops. For Glenn Sumi, if this is his version of Dante’s Inferno, then he must live in some perfect Disneyland.

  10. I’ve lived in many other, prettier places. I seriously dislike the suburban vibes, monotonous chain stores, cul-de-sacs and car-centricity of the LV in which I live. However, I’ve never lived in a condo with so much light, so many happy dogs greeting me on the elevator, such a great view of Ontario Place and so close to Queen and King Streets as well as an amazing park and unbridled view of the CN Tower such as the one at Fort York.

  11. Liberty is filled with a bunch of people in their early 30’s that grew up in the suburbs, wanted to move to the big city, and now complain that it’s not the suburbs. Complaints about new condos blocking their view, traffic, homeless people, the noise, and inability to manage the basics of shared walls and condo spaces…barking dogs, neighbours cooking smells, neighbours smoking.

  12. Whether or not the insights raised by the author are accurate, or based on opinion, the tone of the piece is bitter, and pretentious. Does this guy hate people? What a tasteless piece of writing.

  13. Take it easy please, and remember the very old adage about Rome. I’ve been living in this area since the early days when there was nothing here apart from the iconic women’s prison chapel and aggresive winds from all directions. The towers are visually horrid: agreed. The out of place strip mall area and fast food joints are strangely, well, out of place. Agree on that too. BUT, it’s only been 15 years or so. The cherished neighbourhoods in this city have been evolving for 50 years at least. Give us a chance. We’ll get there. For now though, this area is at the very least a friendly, animal loving, safe little haven by the waterfront. Isn’t that what people want? Sorry, I meant sheeple.

  14. Why are the people living in the condos sheeple? That’s not a common nickname for someone and is actually used as an insult these days.

  15. Would love to know where Sumi lives and how long it’s been since he had to slum it in a half a million dollar condo as his home.

  16. Sad that the author, so clearly just out of diapers, make no mention of the history of the area, or why it is called Liberty Village – only passing reference to a “historic smoke stack”. Pity that there is so little appreciation for an area that contributed so much to our national identity 70 years ago.

  17. Curious take. Some questions. Do you think densification in order to combat global warming is a bad thing? Are you argueing that less people should be allowed to live in Toronto? Is this a call to arms to allow development of housing in more “pretty” neighborhoods? How is the distillery district anything but a very inconvenient tourist attraction? Liberty Village at least houses people who contribute to the core’s culture. I’m sure a follow up take on City Place is next. Do you realize that the people who live here are just trying to do that…live. I don’t know what you want Liberty Village to be but your article sure feeds into a lot of generalization of the type of person who would live here and as someone who has spent a decade here I can tell you all different kinds of people live and work here. To be honest it’s a weak article without much depth. You can do better. Maybe next time try to interview some people and find out why they live here or at the very least question why we can only build housing along rail paths and not in the “sacred” single housing neighborhoods that only the wealthy can afford.

  18. I live in Parkdale and do a 20-minute walk most days to Liberty Village just to feel the togetherness they have there.
    Yes, more greenery is needed, more places to sit and chat but it’s new and the character hasn’t settled in yet.
    However, each time I visit I mention to myself how much I would enjoy living there.
    A beautiful neighbourhood that is only going to get better.

  19. Problem with Liberty Village is its east-west zoning split: East of Hanna residence. West of Hanna employment. Result: apart from retail and food and beverage (that gives the core of the eastern zone some semblance of a “village”, in spite of zip in the way of a village green) there is no employment east of Hanna. West of Hanna employment only. No residence, no green but hectares of parking lot desert for workers who are not able to live near where they work. How about dissolving that zoning, allowing employment and residence to mingle throughout Liberty Village, along with much needed green space? De-zoning – coupled with heritage conservation and regulation of scale of new build – was the solution that saved the 2 Kings (around King-Spadina, King-Parliament) after 1995. Might it save Liberty Village?

  20. I have heard that Liberty Village has a community and friendly vibe. I think most of that has to do with the demographics and not the architecture. This is a space with young professional 30 somethings from the burbs who wanted community.
    However I do agree that the place is aesthetically unattractive and architecturally uninspiring. If you see what other cities have done with their industrial spaces, Liberty Village is a disappointment. I think Toronto has squandered an opportunity with Liberty Village and this is an example where they sold out to developers rather than to create something that will stand the test of time.

  21. Hellscape it surely is not and the use of “sheeple” suggests a bad writer with a limited vocabulary, but it is true that Liberty Village is architecturally and spatially disappointing. I’ve been waiting for years for those parking lots, especially the perpendicular spots on the road, to go, but they’re still there and the green space is still sad, as is the landscaping. I wouldn’t hold up the tourist trap Distillery District as an example, but the Regent Park redevelopment is better and also-east Corktown and the East Don Lands are shaping up to be better too. And, dare I say it, even nearby CityPlace has a better street look and feel on a warm summer night.

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