Don’t write off burb’s tower wasteland
Their placement seems contradictory – an underused suburban wasteland peppered with high-?density towers adjacent to idyllic Humber River parkland. Separating them, fences and decades of planning neglect.
Arriving at the North Kipling Community Centre for the Tower Renewal Jane’s Walk, last Saturday, May 2, I know it isn’t going to be a typical Jane jaunt led by area residents. Our host is Graeme Stewart, an architect at ERA and a catalyst of the Mayor’s Tower Renewal.
“This area’s off the radar,” says Stewart as about 30 amblers assemble. He goes on to explain how mid-?20th-century farmland morphed into a pocket of Toronto that, if found in Manitoba, would be its third-largest city. “Metro [pre-amalgamation] came up with guidelines for density, and that meant building towers,” he says, adding that those targets allowed for public transit, of significant importance to a part of the city where 25 per cent of people are kids ?14 and under and the density is more than triple that of the Annex.
But what’s striking as we walk across a basketball court toward one of the buildings is the total absence of activity. Nobody’s playing hoops, nobody’s using the playground. Someone in the crowd points out how much of the space is just unwelcoming sod. Another explains that it’s prime Sunday worship time.
You couldn’t say the same about the Annex on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon. But the Annex has plenty of pedestrian-friendly retail.
That’s one reason the mayor’s approved the Tower Renewal initiative, starting with four pilot projects that include this area. The city aims to spark retail in barren spaces, enviro retrofits and community renewal.
Do a 180 from the barren park and you’re peering at the elegantly snaking Humber Valley, left largely unspoiled (if you ignore the garbage) thanks to Hurricane-Hazel-?era building regs. Well, it’s mostly open space. As we descend into the ravine, we pass a couple of those elusive youths standing near but clearly not cultivating some herbs in the community garden. Stewart warns us as we walk behind the 1960s-era towers that we’re technically trespassing. Chain-link fences, aiming to block our descent, make the same point.
To enter the ravine legally, residents of these towers must walk over a kilometre to an entrance off Steeles. “It’s about thresholds,” says Stewart of the rethink. “The fence cheats us out of this promise.”
But as we stop to admire an amazing view of downtown through the trees, a torn-down segment of said fence indicates that people around here aren’t held back by the ridiculous rules. Still, toleration of trespassing over manufactured boundaries isn’t enough.
“[The buildings] haven’t had the opportunity to change in 50 years,” Stewart says. You can tell he admires the towers, a feeling I didn’t expect to share. But I’m intrigued by his talk of geothermal retrofits and removing the impetus for people to hop into cars to get goods that could be available nearby if the residential-?only zoning were amended.
They’re all good plans, yet I recall a tour of 2777 Kipling given by the Parkdale Tenants Association in 06. That building, which isn’t getting a retrofit, was rotting from the inside. The residents wanted to talk about the water flowing through their ceilings, not how to green their souls with off-?the-?grid power.
That sort of reality makes me feel somewhat uneasy about touring a neighbourhood that isn’t mine and discussing how parts of it will be bettered by external forces. For one, will upgrades result in higher rents?
Stewart says no. “The city’s been heavy-handed with contracts. These projects won’t be counted as renovations.” Still, I want to hear from actual residents.
With around 1,000 residential high-?rises in the city, it’ll be interesting to see the plan unfold, especially alongside the Transit City initiative. No denying this space is magnificent and experts are full of great ideas. It sure beats writing off the area.