April 2, 2006

‘Bright Spot on a Wasteland’

"Unless you are in search of dark thoughts, there is little reason to go and experience the public realm that lurks along Lake Shore Boulevard East. What was imagined as a green boulevard has been transformed, seemingly overnight, into suburbia," laments Toronto columnist Lisa Rochon in the Globe & Mail. She decries the ugly stretches of big-box retailers and chain fast-food restaurants -- "Sprawling, lowest-common-denominator architecture and masses of parking" as she put it (sound familiar?) -- that have grown up in much of the city's waterfront. "Any promise of livability and delight has been traded away by the city in its determination to maintain what it calls 'employment lands.' "

And the bright spot?
West Don Lands has a map, capable captains and a bright future. A sustainable community with high energy efficiency and green roofs has been demanded by the local community and promised by the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation. Six thousand new residences, including 1,200 units of affordable rental housing, will be built over the next decade. Some historic buildings, such as the Canary restaurant and the Dominion Foundry, will be saved and integrated into the plan.

A park design by Michael Van Valkenburgh, a distinguished American landscape architect and maker of bucolic, healing landscapes like Pittsburgh's Allegheny Riverfront Park, has been commissioned by the TWRC to design the eight-hectare Don River Park, which will roll over a berm and protect the neighbourhood against flooding of the Don. Van Valkenburgh, working together with Toronto urban designers Ken Greenberg and David Leinster, may also tackle other green spaces in the area. Given the city's abusive relationship with the waterfront, it's a hallelujah moment.

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