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Toronto skyline’s ‘absolute transformation’ captured by two photos taken 13 years apart

Emily McWilliams – National Post

For Brooklyn-born Ken Greenberg, this heady era in Toronto is akin to a certain New York moment.

In New York City in the late 1920s, an explosion of people and skyscrapers, and especially the addition of iconic structures like the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building to the skyline, “drew people like magnets” from all over the world.

“People were exhilarated by the fact that we had the technology to build buildings like that, but then they came to symbolize a kind of excitement about the place,” said Mr. Greenberg, Toronto’s former director of design and architecture and the Toronto-based principal of Greenberg Consultants.

“We love the iconic Manhattan skyline, because what we’re really doing is associating that with what we know happens on the streets.”

If Torontonians have stopped noticing the cranes that have similarly transformed their skyline — and downtown itself — since the turn of the millennium, a recent Reddit post likely stopped them in their tracks.

It combined two Toronto skyline snapshots, in 2001 and 2014, and captured the quick change the city has undergone.

Comment: Which is incredible, only 13 years apart. I remember when the CityPlace sales centre first went in, around 1998 or so. There was nothing there, just empty land. Now… wow…

Toronto Skyline Change

Photo Credits: Sanjin Avdicevic, top; Ashton Pal, bottom

“The growth — the absolute transformation of the skyline before your very eyes from year to year, and decade to decade — is pretty powerful,” said Paul Bedford, a former chief planner for the City of Toronto.

“I think what draws people to a skyline is all the different shapes, the sizes, the colours, the buildings — how they all merge together into a representation of humanity.”

Population growth, represented by the numerous condominiums now clustered along the waterfront, has had a dramatic impact on Toronto’s skyline. The downtown has added more than 300,000 new residents, making Toronto a global city, said Mr. Bedford.

“People want to live there, and they want to work there.  Not only from around the region, but people want to come here from around the world,” he said.

The city’s skyline had largely been defined for decades by the CN Tower, which once dominated nearly all by itself. Now, new office towers and particularly high-rise condominiums, such as the residences at the Ritz Carlton that carve into the sky at a staggering 209 metres, offer some competition — and perhaps even a little magic.

“It may be partly, even largely, an illusion, but when you see the skyline on a clear night, especially from the air, you can believe this is the right time and the right place be alive,” said Mark Kingwell, professor of philosophy at The University of Toronto.

Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.


Stollerys and the slaying of a building

The ignominious demolition of a men’s clothing store that has graced Bloor and Yonge since 1901 doesn’t bode well for that corner’s future.

Christopher Hume – Toronto Star

If we treated people the way we treat buildings, murder would be legal.

Comment: Amen brother.

The comparison is absurd, of course; bricks and mortar are not blood and guts. But on the other hand, buildings do possess character, even personality. They are part of our lives, for better or worse. We form relationships with them. We avoid some, seek out others. Most we barely notice.

Comment: And we allow architectural holocausts on a continuous basis. Witness the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

Stollerys - old
Stollery’s, which has occupied the southwest corner of Yonge and Bloor since 1901, was in the last category. There was never anything particularly engaging about the two-storey structure, let alone exciting. On the other hand, its handsome exterior carvings, limestone cladding and large display windows were a reminder of just how urban the Edwardians were, how they valued the street and the importance of putting the best face forward.

So to see Stollery’s vandalized by its new owner, Sam Mizrahi, is enough to make a militant preservationist out of even the most indifferent Torontonian. Though the city gave the developer a demolition permit last week, and the tear down is perfectly legal, his arrogance is hard to take. To send in the wrecking crews on a weekend — before the hoardings are even up — is as succinct a way as possible to give the city the middle finger.

Comment: It is the distinct lack of giving a s**t that really gets me. The rush to destroy, why?

Would it have hurt to wait a while to see if anyone came up with something brilliant?

Stollerys - current
The misguided landlord has sent all the wrong messages and made himself the latest in a long line of developers whose contempt for the city is more than returned.

But Mizrahi isn’t the point. Stollery’s has been living on borrowed time for years. It happened to occupy one of the city’s most important corners, the intersection of two subway lines and the start of the Mink Mile. Even with its third-floor addition, Stollery’s was clearly a retail and urban anachronism. Though it was never the most important example of architecture in Toronto, the building deserved consideration and respect as a piece of heritage.

The city, as usual, arrives on the scene just after the crowbars have been brought out and destruction underway. The heritage designation process is so slow, haphazard and inadequate that it might as well not exist. The Stollery story has unfolded countless times.

Comment: Heritage is simply a joke.

It doesn’t help that the city hands out demolition permits like parking tickets. Not only does heritage not enter the picture, the city doesn’t even need to know what will get built next. It amounts to a de facto system of approval that allows demolition to proceed with few, if any, questions asked.

Stollerys - demo
The rush to reduce Stollery’s to rubble is unseemly, disrespectful and, without sidewalk protection, even dangerous. Such business practices won’t win Mizrahi any admirers.

Comment: But it won’t stop him. Few enough of us care what he did, it simply doesn’t mean anything.

Clearly, that doesn’t bother him, and in his defence, he claims to have hired British superstar architect Norman Foster to design his project. Let’s hope Foster comes through. His design had better be good, not just because Yonge and Bloor is a major corner, but because his client has a lot to make up for.

So does the city. Chances are that even if it wasn’t thoroughly inept, the city would have settled, as it always does, for the retention of a façade or two. How many condos in Toronto include the front wall of some unfortunate 19th-century predecessor? In this case, there’s nothing else to save.

But the corner demands more than a remnant of a store that has been marooned by time and the city of which it is part.

All we can hope for now is that city hall suddenly lurches back to life and does what it can to ensure that what replaces Stollery’s isn’t as tacky as its builder’s behaviour.

Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.


Meet ‘SoCo’ – Toronto’s mini-Manhattan – the neighbourhood that condos built

Joe O’Connor – National Post

Hannah Lee’s friends thought she was crazy. She was a seamstress with a dry cleaning business in the city’s east end, and a loyal clientele ensuring that all the bills were paid on time, with a little left over. And so why pick up and relocate her shop to the barren lands just west of Air Canada Centre, south of Front Street, on the ground floor of a condominium tower at 33 Lower Simcoe Street?

When Ms. Lee opened Simcoe Cleaner in 2009, she started having doubts. Her closest neighbour was a coffee and ice cream shop. It went bankrupt. Her new crop of regulars, most nights as she left work, consisted of three homeless guys that would stretch out in front of her store to catch some winks.

“It was a little scary around here,” she says. “There was nothing. But I kept thinking, they are going to keep on building — they are going to keep on building.”

And they did.

Comment: It is amazing to see these neighbourhoods come into existence. First come the people, then the retail spaces, some office space and boom – a whole new neighbourhood where once was barren industrial and railroad lands.

Toronto South Core
Ms. Lee’s neighbours now include a pharmacy, a dentist, a corner store, two sports bars, a whiskey bar, a taco joint, a gym, a sandwich shop, a grocery store, a state-of-the-art aquarium and a state-of-the-art public square where fans gather to watch games on a video screen outside the ACC, multiple coffee shops, a cluster of residential condo towers, new office buildings, construction cranes heralding more to come, plus the most recent arrival — a fully booked out, 567-room Delta Hotel that opened two weeks ago.

Comment: Some grocery stores would be nice, though. They seem to be sorely lacking downtown.

In a blink, a great swath of former rail lands — real estate Torontonians once associated with parking lots, a crumbling Gardiner and urban blight below Union Station on Front Street, running roughly from the Rogers Centre/CN Tower in the west to the Air Canada Centre in the east, and ending at Lake Shore Boulevard to the south — is a neighbourhood.

A pop-up, mini-Manhattan, known to its estimated 15,000 residents — a number expected to mushroom in the coming decades — by a Manhattan-sounding name: SoCo (for South Core).

Jack Robinson refers to it as the “precinct,” even though he is not a cop, but more like a wise old sage who has seen it all, which he kind of has from his perch as the CEO of CN Tower. The former soap salesman starting working at the tower 20 years ago when the view to the east featured railroad tracks for as far as the eye could see.

All he sees now is progress.

“It is no longer lonely at the top,” he says, gesturing out the window at the new world below. “The city used to stop at Front Street.”

Comment: Just wait for the eastern port lands to fill in. From Corus Quay to George Brown, through to the West Don Lands and the Pan Am Games site, East Bayfront… that whole empty area will turn into a vibrant new ‘hood over the next 5-10 years as well. Blows me away!

And employers used to stick to the established financial core north of Front or else shipped their workers to suburban satellite offices, marooning them in areas awash in metaphorical tumbleweeds — instead of new eateries, liveable spaces and a revitalizing-for-the-21st century Union Station.

Telecom giant TELUS would signal a reversal in trend four years ago. At the time, its 2,000 employees were scattered in 15 different locations throughout the GTA, a host of addresses that, from a business perspective, didn’t make sense. What did, however, was depositing all those workers in TELUS House, a brand new, 30-storey, $250-million tower, built to the gold standard in energy efficiency and outfitted with a wellness centre, a gourmet kitchen — and formaldehyde free furniture. TELUS’ new digs opened at York Street and Bremner Boulevard in May 2010.

The PwC tower opened next door two years later, with 2,400 employees. The financial services company selected its hip new environs as the ideal place to upset the traditional office hierarchy, and moved all the big cheeses out of the corner offices and into the fray, alongside the minions.

“Some of our less tenured staff are actually closer to the windows,” says Ted Graham, Innovation Leader at PwC. “We all have clear glass offices. Everybody can see you. It actually lends itself to collaboration.”

RBC’s WaterPark Place III has since joined the mix, right down the street, as have Kinross Goldcorp, SNC-Lavalin, National Bank, Royal & Sun Alliance and more. The former wasteland is now brimming with bankers, lawyers, engineers, techies and insurance guys and, once a month, several of the firms participate in an executive lunch. A brainstorming session, intended to cleave open new avenues of business, find common cause and, of course, spend money on lunch at a local restaurant.

Mr. Robinson, the CN Tower chief, is happy with the arrangement. He brands SoCo as the southern extension of the entertainment district. You can pay for parking once, visit the Tower, catch a ballgame, check out the Ripley’s Aquarium, grab dinner in Maple Leaf Square and perhaps meander down to the lake — using the new elevated footbridge attached to the underbelly of the Gardiner to get there. But he also looks at the area as a resident, an empty-nester, sharing a condo with his wife on nearby Queen’s Quay.

His walk to work is six minutes “on a bad day.” And his three central gripes as a Toronto taxpayer — “congestion, congestion, congestion,” — is heard echoing all around the residential/office spaces of SoCo.

“We are building a community from scratch with South Core around the remnants of a 20th century infrastructure — with the Gardiner, pieces of the Lakeshore Boulevard, as well as the railway,” says Joe Cressy, the rookie city councillor for Ward 20, the southern extent of which includes a chunk of SoCo. “But the South Core, in particular, is not a conventional neighbourhood, because it is three things at once.”

Comment: But they do need to work on infrastructure!

It is an employment centre, an entertainment hub and a rapidly growing vertical neighbourhood.

It is that last critical component, in the endless agonizing over what to do about the Gardiner and public transport at large, that often gets overlooked. People actually live in SoCo. Many want to have kids, some day, a demographic requiring community centres, daycares, schools and public spaces to play in. Meghan Coghlin, a nursing student, is one of those people. She lives in SoCo with her nuclear engineer fiancé, Calvin Kwong.

“We love it here,” she says. “We walk to get groceries, to baseball games, and the restaurants, and this is new, are opening for weekend brunch. We have a car, but we never drive it on weekends.”

Ms. Coghlin grew up watching her parents catch the GO train into the city from Oakville. She has no interest in doing the same. Neither do the 26% of North Americans between age 16 and 34 who don’t have a driver’s licence. She wants to walk to work.

“We have talked about raising our kids here,” she says. “But it really isn’t a place for families, yet.”

Comment: A school would be a good idea.

SoCo is hip, no doubt, but to achieve true community status — where families establish lasting roots — it will need to be lame, too. It needs screaming brats. Alas, even the condo salesperson I spoke with a few doors down from Hannah Lee’s store readily acknowledged that you could have a baby in one of the two-bedroom $509,000 suites above, but a family of four? Forget it.

The kid-free vibe extended to the playground at the south end of Roundhouse Park, in the shadow of the Gardiner. It was just Ms. Coghlin, her Norwich terrier, Matty, another young woman with a similarly small dog, and me. Six buses were parked in front of the aquarium — all tour groups from New York. A woman pushing a stroller did roll by but, like the bus folk, she was from out of town.

Ken Greenberg is a Toronto architect/urban planner with a portfolio of accomplishments — Toronto’s Port Lands, Calgary’s Riverwalk, Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York and Fan Pier in Boston, to name a few. He thinks big. He also lives small, in a condo just west of SoCo, and he says that, even as an insider, the pace of development in the area is astonishing.

“We are absolutely achieving what every city wants, which is this great mix of people living and working in the same area,” he says. “But where are the playgrounds — the daycares, the schools, the libraries — there is a big game of catch up going on.”

Creating a vibrant “public environment,” he says — and another park is planned for south of the old Expressway — is a transformational undertaking as urgent as solving the city’s gridlock woes. It is time to recognize SoCo for what it is, a new neighbourhood, and not just another condo canyon. The place has an aspirational, enviable pulse. The place is on the move, which is more than can be said for the poor schleps idling in their cars in front of Hannah Lee’s shop on Lower Simcoe on a recent afternoon, staring out their windows, knowing the Gardiner awaits.

Yes. Life is good in SoCo, if you ask your local dry cleaner. Hannah Lee isn’t scared anymore. Her business has tripled in five years.

“I think it will continue to grow,” she says. “It has taken some time, but my friends don’t think I am crazy anymore.”

Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.