M+G, and what it says about Toronto

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New renders and models for the Mirvish+Gehry were released recently:

The new towers are shorter (only one is a supertall, and barely), blockier and chunkier. They’ve lost Gehry touches: the flowy podiums have disappeared, as has the “waterfall” element from top to bottom. Bigwin on UrbanToronto has written an informative post comparing both iterations.

One of the points that came up was: if an ambitious Gehry can be built in New York, why can’t it be built here? I’m sympathetic. I want to see great buildings in Toronto – and too much of what’s built is lazy tower-on-podium with uninspired architecture. But comparing Toronto to New York City is laughable. New York is the preeminent city in the preeminent country in the world. It is the world class city. We see grand, awe-inspiring and expensive buildings in New York because either the city will pay for it, or private parties will. Toronto is not in New York’s league.

Instead of comparing Toronto to New York City and wishing for something that can’t be controlled, it’s best to focus on the changes that can be made to make the city more livable, more joyous – and just better for everyone. Make Toronto a city people want to live in, want to visit, want to work in, and ambitious private developments will follow. Changes like:

  • Increasing the availability and affordability of housing by reducing planning and zoning hurdles, and allowing for multi-unit development as-of-right across the city.
  • Making it easier and cheaper to start a small business by allowing for gentle ‘mixity’ in residential neighbourhoods and pushing for better retail units in condos. (Not to mention, making the city more interesting as a result!)
  • Making streets safer and more welcoming by reducing lane width, planting trees, supporting active transportation and deprioritizing cars.
  • Reducing the car-oriented nature of how people get around by building more transit, instituting transit right-of-ways and signal priority, and increasing transit frequency.
  • Increasing the amount of green space and large parks across the city, allowing for condo/rental residents to have a ‘front lawn’ of their own.
  • And, finally, having some ambition in public architecture. Too often what is built is value-engineered and uninspiring. If we accept the bare minimum in public architecture why are we surprised when private companies don’t deliver either?

Focus on making Toronto a city people love, make it a magnet, and one day people will be talking about the next ambitious development – and it won’t be subject to “The Cheapening” ™.

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