On the architectural continuum, Victoria Park subway station sits between bunker and modern art. Brutalism worked well for Robarts Library - not so much for Vic Park.
It's accessible only through a skywalk or stairwell encased in concrete; there is no nearby pedestrian crossing. Only lack of funding prevented the addition of a giant electric sign reading, "Subway closed forever. Go home."
But a redoubled strategy of selling subway station land to developers may remake desolate TTC facilities, provide new housing and rejuvenate bad corners. Maybe.
In the case of Victoria Park, a planned $26 million rejuvenation of the station facade will provide on-street access, widen pedestrian space, replace much concrete with glass, plant trees and according to sketches attract coffee drinkers with purposeful strides. It would be a nice boost for the low-income residents of nearby Crescent Town a block of eight towers that Councillor Janet Davis describes as "another St. James Town."
On top of these welcome changes, plans for reconfiguring the station will leave vacant land for high-density, "transit-oriented" development.
This approach has been used occasionally in the past (as at the St. George subway), but a recent push for more concerted development across the TTC has led to projects in various stages of discussion and development at Islington, Warden, Sheppard and Eglinton stations.
It's a strategy that allows the city and TTC to work together: the stations involved will gain riders, the Commission will get money from land sales, and it's hoped that residents of the new towers will be more likely to hit the subways than the highways.
"There tends to be a domino effect," says Domenic Garisto, TTC property development coordinator. "[Building housing on TTC land] speeds up development in the neighbourhood."
In a city still often unable (or unwilling) to simply regulate where towers can and can't go, this sort of transit-fostered building is surely the next best thing. And plans to compel developers to buy residents Metropasses for a year mean the TTC stands to gain bushels of goodwill.
Density, like it or not, is our future. But if the TTC is going to make a serious try at being a land broker, caution would seem to be indicated.
Take the Yonge and Eglinton area, for instance. In so many ways, the strip has been a success story: it's got an active on-street culture that's viable and vibrant and so far, most of the businesses are local small merchants. But the tower-laden intersection itself is a gap-toothed mess, and some new, more intentional development could help it figure itself out.
Walk two minutes down Yonge from the subway and you're among many of the sort of small merchants that residents of the impending Minto towers will likely not be frequenting.
The cost of digs at Yonge and Eglinton, even on TTC land, will mean a massive influx of monied folk, and the sudden appearance of high-rises can accelerate uncontrolled change in a neighbourhood. When large-scale development opportunities pop up on previously windswept spots, corporate franchises tend to be best prepared to take them not local retailers.
In the core, at least until recently, density was built up more organically, in layers. But along Sheppard, six lanes of traffic surrounded by empty lots could quite suddenly become six lanes of traffic surrounded by gigantic towers. And while linking the new buildings to TTC stations could mean a net increase in transit culture, it could also end up being a net loss for on-street, pedestrian culture.
Then there's the big question: will revenue from new riders outstrip the costs of moving those new riders and overhauling the stations that collect them? Even some new stations have their quirks. The epic number of stairs between Bayview station's subway platform and the street is Homeric.
The extent to which developers will be expected to chip in on overall improvements is key. Land-buyers will be responsible for replacing any displaced parking underground, but other benefits will have to be funded through Section 37 (under which the city grants developers variances to density restrictions in return for contributions to local infrastructure).
Councillor Davis says there's no guarantee that concessions from the Victoria Park developer would go to anything that doesn't benefit the new residents, as opposed to the community as a whole. TTC commissioner Joe Mihevc suggests that for desired improvements beyond the budgeted $26 million, staff or councillors may want to seek help from nearby developers and landowners whose new projects will benefit.
Of course, it's early days for the new deals, and none of this is to say that planners and TTC staff aren't aware of such issues. But with a city apparatus so often playing catch-up to rampant development and a Transit Commission in dire need of funding that used to come from senior governments, pressure to stay in the black may sometimes trump good judgment.
Hopefully, the public will have a strong voice. In the case of Islington station, staff say the impending construction of an SNC-Lavalin office tower has accelerated the Six Points Interchange redevelopment, a plan controversial enough to have figured in the local election.
In contrast, there was extensive consultation on the Victoria Park development, largely because Councillor Davis pushed for the redesign.
"The TTC has said that public spaces matter to everyone, not just the wealthy," she says.
Let's hope there's also space for public involvement, or the wealthy may still get first dibs.