If you say "density," they will come.
An overflow crowd of 100 people filled the seats and lined their bums against the walls of a second-floor meeting room at the Gladstone Tuesday, June 6, to hear the architecture critics of three of Toronto's dailies debate the hot topics of density and height.
The occasion was the presentation of this year's Pugly Awards, which recognize the city's best and worst building designs.
Next year's awards promise to be less controversial, architecturally speaking, and more self-congratulatory, with the unveiling of gems like the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at the ROM and the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. But most of this evening's discussion centred on what to do with those pesky haters of tall buildings - aka downtown residents - who crawl out of the shadows whenever starry-eyed developers propose taller developments.
"It would be nice," said Globe and Mail scribe John Bentley Mays, "if neighbours would do something more than just oppose everything that's tall." In Mays's world, downtown residents have too much say over development.
Globe colleague Lisa Rochon directed most of her wrath at the tattered document we know as the Official Plan.
"We have a situation in the city where there really isn't an Official Plan, or certainly not one that seems to be defensible. Pretty much anything is up for grabs, so the people who are calling the shots are either the developers or citizens' groups, [as opposed to] a clearly articulated vision for the city of Toronto."
Toronto Star critic Christopher Hume offered that development fights are a symptom of skyrocketing property values that make people protective of their space.
"The idea of citizenship has been replaced by property ownership, and I think that's very dangerous," he said. "I mean, nobody - except maybe David Miller, who at the end of the day only has one vote himself - actually speaks for the city. We're not encouraged to think as citizens but as consumers and property owners, and that's a lamentable trend with bad results."
Hume, though, was loath to criticize anti-development types, invoking the name of the recently departed urban legend Jane Jacobs to remind everyone of the Spadina Expressway battle that defined the landscape of Toronto in the 1960s.
This brought a stinging rebuke from Mays, who thundered, "Toronto has been preening itself, congratulating itself, speaking well of itself for 35 years because of that one episode. I want Jane Jacobs to rest in peace, but I also want her to rest! Stop congratulating ourselves, and let's get on with building our city!"
This drew a passionate cheer from the audience, made up not of citizens concerned about maintaining their sunlight, but dapper developers and designers, most of whom sniffed about having to fork over a $10 entrance fee (some flyers advertised the event as free) before scrambling for the hors d'oeuvres table to get their money's worth.
They were the lucky ones. The latecomers, most of them common folk, didn't even get a whiff of the food. They were stuck on the stairway landing, left to wonder at the irony that a discussion on urban density would have them standing outside a roomful of developers.