By Jason Leach
Published August 31, 2009
The Star has a great piece this weekend about Toronto's neigbourhoods.
[N]o one would doubt that the neighbourhood provides the basic organizational unit that has kept Toronto from spiralling out of control. When urban theorist Jane Jacobs moved here in the 1960s from New York, where she had taken on and beaten uber-builder Robert Moses, she immediately found herself embroiled in the fight to stop the Spadina Expressway. It was the residents in her adopted neighbourhood, the Annex, and others who coalesced into the group that succeeded in killing the urban highway.
As Bill Davis, then premier of Ontario, so eloquently put it: "If we are building a transportation system to serve the automobile, the Spadina Expressway would be a good place to start. But if we are building a transportation system to serve people, the Spadina Expressway is a good place to stop."
Last week while on vacation I took my first ever trip into the Annex and Koreatown as well as the High Park area. One of the things so wonderful about these Toronto neighbourhoods is that one can live, shop, dine and play in one small walkable district.
Driving down Bloor St, I passed three separate hardware stores. All were spaced out accordingly to serve their own neighbourhood. I'm not talking big box Home Depot stores: these were small storefront hardware stores like Hamilton's own Arruda's on Barton at James.
I recall my first trip into the Beaches a number of years ago and noticing how every several blocks there was another grocery store/market. In Hamilton one can walk for miles and not see any.
If there is any major distinction between our two cities it is the health of the urban neighbourhoods. While Toronto had a great transit system and didn't allow parking lots and cars to dominate its neighbourhoods through the 1950s through '70s, Hamilton did the opposite.
Our one-way freeways took back valuable sidewalk space and helped move people more quickly to the new sprawlands outside of the city. How many residents do you know in the Lansdale or Stipley neighbourhoods in Hamilton who walk to do their weekly groceries or to visit cafes?
There just ain't much to walk to.
I'm always frustrated after visiting Toronto when I see patios and vibrant streets at every turn only to come home and see a city a fraction of the size with five-lane, one-way freeways, timed lights and empty storefronts.
Toronto's millions of people manage to survive on streets that are one lane each way with parking along both sides and streetcars having authority to stop traffic in the main traffic lane. Somehow, the world hasn't come to an end because a city of 2.5 million people has slow-moving, safe streets with higher order transit and two-way operation.
In Hamilton our own Chamber of Commerce and other so-called leadership groups are consistently the most anti-business groups in the city with their insistence that business owners and building owners in the entire lower city not be allowed to succeed because they'd rather have a quick freeway trip to and from The Hamilton Club.
I'm usually a proponent of moving businesses downtown, but The Hamilton Club is one that I'd roll out the red carpet for to see move to the Meadowlands or Burlington. At least it would remove one of the massive obstacles standing in our way of taking back our urban neighbourhoods so that they can once again be vibrant, safe, business-friendly places to live work and play.
Perhaps the Chamber of Commerce and The Hamilton Club could build a great new building by the airport. They'd never have to come downtown again, and therefore wouldn't be such vocal opponents to basic moves necessary to see our core succeed once again.
We can learn a lot from Toronto, but probably nowhere as much as when it comes to developing vibrant, successful neighbourhoods. They are light years ahead of us, despite the fact that the building stock on Bloor is no different from King East.
Next chance you get, head down the highway and enjoy a great, walkable, vibrant business-friendly neighbourhood in Toronto. They deserve great kudos for bucking the North America wide trend of destroying great neighbourhoods for the sake of new development.
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