I’ve been to all the meetings concerning the Foundry District redevelopment here in South Riverdale, and have read nearly all the available information. (See my category, and do Technorati searches for Foundry and FoundryDistrict.)

And I advise everybody to take a frigging chill pill. Stop acting like this is Love Canal or Chernobyl or something.

  1. Toronto Film Studios has a huge tract of land and the right to redevelop it. What the many vocal detractors in the audience at the “community consultations” never seem to notice is that Ken Ferguson and his A-list architects are hardly the kind of no-taste bottom-line ignoramuses who would be likely to screw this up. Donald Trump they ain’t. Mel Lastman they ain’t.

    It wouldn’t be profitable for a downtown development to be shabbily done – as, for example, in Paula Fletcher’s often-repeated threat of erecting one big-box store after another. That’s just not gonna happen. South Riverdale is a quintessential mixed neighbourhood that will never attract that many big boxes. The only people who like this neighbourhood are the people who can overlook its many flaws; it isn’t a highway destination like the Warden Power Centre. (You could argue to the contrary thanks to Lake Shore, but I still think there’s no real comparison.) Nobody would locate that many large stores here.

    Yes, we’ve got too many of them already (Loblaws, Wendy’s, and Price Chopper) and another one coming (Canadian Tire), but those are located between two traffic sewers, Eastern Ave. and Lake Shore Blvd., and were developed haphazardly under the ægis of permissive city zoning. In any event, those buildings are not out of keeping with Toronto’s pockets of urban malls, like Gerrard Square – also in South Riverdale – or Dufferin Mall. We have a history of giant stores in cozy neighbourhoods. And nobody at the meetings seems to mention how extremely convenient it is to have two full-service supermarkets within walking distance yet almost completely out of sight of the main drag, Queen St. (Pedestrian access is atrocious and actually dangerous in the Price Chopper case, and all buildings are ugly. Nonetheless, they are convenient.)

    By contrast, the Foundry District redevelopment will occupy the entire space between those traffic sewers for a five-block distance. It’s a plot of land that will surely be rezoned and for which there’s already a semblance of a plan. The worst-case scenario is not going to happen.

    Think about the long-term investment prospects here. If you’re Toronto Film Studios, you’ll own an entire mixed neighbourhood. Wait twenty years and how much is that going to be worth? Probably about half as much as the whole of Cape Breton Island. Now imagine filling it with Wal-Marts. How little is that going to be worth? As a simple business proposition, mixed use earns you more money.

    We’ve all got our little pet peeves with Ferguson and his architects, but come on: This is Quadrangle they’ve got working for them. Just their retainers cost serious money. You think they’ve gone to the trouble of hiring an A-list architect (with, admittedly, an amazingly shitty and noncompliant Web site) with the intention of cheaping out and aiming low?

  2. Next, the “community consultations.” There aren’t enough of them and the news that they’re coming up doesn’t get around enough, but there have been four (with ten hours of discussion), and it’s not as though people have not been given a chance to speak.

    I see no evidence at all that the format, proposed at the last meeting, of breaking into groups to discuss preset questions was meant as a method of restricting our freedom to comment in a public forum, corralling us into a restricted range of topics, or anything else. Check the PDF minutes from May 26: They were just trying to get a few big topics dealt with. We called bullshit on that and they changed course on a dime. We then had the normal question-and-answer period that people wanted. So can you stop hollering at these people that some kind of conspiracy is underfoot?

    In fact, can you stop hollering at the meetings altogether?

    I’m sorry, but it really is true that Ferguson et al. are doing vastly more consulting than they need to, and they seem to be willing not only to do more of it, but to do different kinds of consulting. Aren’t your complaints really with details rather than fundamentals?

  3. The Foundry District name: Contrary to detractors’ insinuations, there is no proposal to replace the Studio District name with “Foundry District.” The Foundry District, while a large chunk of real estate, will be small compared to the entire Studio District. By the way, is it “Studio District” or “Film District”? Or is it Leslieville? How about the Riverside District at Queen and Broadview? Or is it simply South Riverdale? Is Chinatown East or Little India part of any of those?

    The neighbourhood has many names already. The Foundry District designation will refer solely to the new development and won’t usurp anything else.

    If the developers were proposing something derivative like SoHo or TriBeCa, or were handing out corporate naming rights (National Car Rental Center, anyone?) then you’d have reason to complain. “Foundry District,” as Ferguson explained, is historically relevant and is clearly reasonable. I certainly like it.

  4. If you’re worried about building heights, fine, worry about them. Two fourteen-storey buildings (as shown on the only credible drawing that was publicly released) are not gonna kill us. Also, stop pretending that the true character and appearance of Lake Shore Blvd. have anything to do with its dreamy and idyllic name; it’s an elongated on-ramp to an expressway that also has a bike path on one side. I rather doubt that it will be turning into the Champs Élysées at any point in our lifetimes, or even University Ave., for that matter. It is in fact the logical place to situate two tall buildings, not along Eastern Ave., where they would overpower the sad little shanties situated down the road from the Hell’s Angels.

    The third option – limited tall buildings massing inside the District – is certainly worth considering.

  5. And in all these cases, stop reacting reflexively to the concept of “14 storeys.” What if they were 14 fantastically interesting and well-executed storeys? The example I’ve given a couple of times, which is a bit fanciful but only a bit, is the Arquitectonica building in the opening sequence of Miami Vice – the one with the hole cut out of it halfway up to the cloud line. What if Quadrangle does something smart and carries out a joint venture with other A-list architects or simply doesn’t screw up?

    Perhaps you think a field full of crappy short buildings where quality isn’t regulated up front is actually better than a field of well-done short buildings and well-done tall buildings. If so, I’m willing to say that you’re architecturally naïve and backward.

    If you want to hold the developers to anything, hold them to insanely high architectural standards – that is, standards that would be the bare minimum in places that take design seriously, like Scandinavia, rather than the arse-backwards mediocrity we’re used to in this town. Hold them to erecting not a single dud of a building. Every building has to be excellent.

  6. I’d also like the members of the resentful, entitled-sounding, and peevish middle class who address the audience at community consultations to quit fearmongering about “social housing” in the Foundry District. Of course it’s not going to be wall-to-wall poor people, which is what you’re really worried about. (The claimed concerns of prostitution and drug dealing are a smokescreen. You just don’t want hillbillies living next door to you, even though you moved into what was originally a hillbilly neighbourhood.)

    Remember, Queen St. East will never resemble Queen St. West in our lifetimes due to the social-housing developments erected along Queen during the 1980s, when nobody with money wanted to live in a neglected, contaminated hinterland – whose existence they only ever noticed in the first place while driving tediously through it to reach the Beach. So the poor were warehoused here, often in buildings with mixed rent-geared-to-income and market-rate housing. (Actually, I merely surmise that. I have not interviewed the managers of all the buildings. At least two buildings are set aside for people in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse – is that who you’re afraid of? – and another is a deaf building.) Like Trinity-Spadina with homeless shelters, South Riverdale is already replete with social housing and nobody is realistically going to propose building a lot more of it.

    However: This is a quintessential mixed-use neighbourhood, I reiterate, with lots of poor people of various descriptions. And Options for Homes – headquartered on Queen East, by the way – has demonstrated that home ownership is a real option even for people making as little as $16,000 a year. Hence some subsidized housing, invariably intermingled with market-rate units, is manifestly called for and necessary in the Foundry District. They’re your neighbours too.

    I really need to reiterate my objection to the attitude of some middle-class residents who only recently moved here. (You can spot their houses a mile away – front pad parking, new windows, new air conditioner.) They couldn’t afford real Riverdale and they use South Riverdale like a bedroom suburb. They don’t really live or shop here; at best you might see them walking their dogs (in the dull, lawn-like expanses of parks they think are custom-provided for that purpose). You never see them walking along Queen St. In fact, they kind of resent and are afraid of their neighbours, because too many of us are poor, low-class, Chinese, black, or eccentric.

    Well, people, you chose to move. We want you to actually live here. It would be a good start to discontinue standing up in crowded public meetings and dissing your neighbours. You simply are not more important than the rest of us, or any less important.

Are we done yet?

So: Lest this sound like I’m some kind of unreserved booster of Toronto Film Studios, here are a few things they’re actually doing wrong.

  1. After all this consultation, they can just ignore us and go right ahead and do whatever they want – and that includes doing what they wanted in the first place.
  2. After the third meeting, I came up with a list of devil’s-advocate questions. I think they’re still relevant.

    1. If the developer could build big-box stores, skyscrapers, and nearly anything else as of right, and we’re supposed to be grateful for this opportunity to comment on their grand, inclusive plans, why don’t they either:

      1. just go ahead and build whatever they presently are allowed to build?
      2. show a commitment to the consultative process by applying to the City to have restrictions placed on them – in other words, to have the as-of-right rescinded?
      3. develop a program right now based on the existing consultations?
    2. It’s inconceivable that TFS doesn’t have some kind of detailed drawings somewhere.

      • What is the program for the site?
      • Do you not have massing models, parti drawings (in fact, any drawings), or a written description?
    3. If South Riverdale residents aren’t going to be the main client of this development (residential, commercial, or anything else), why are you making a grand show of getting input from South Riverdale residents?

  3. I know that housing remains up in the air, but along with some subsidized units, a percentage of the housing stock should be reserved for existing South Riverdale residents for a certain limited time. This can’t be a new development that only outsiders populate, because we’ll resent them and they’ll resent us.

  4. Could someone explain to us just who Valerie Dugale is, who’s paying her salary, and what precise duties and responsibilities she has as Foundry District Consultation Coordinator? (And why the wisecracks, Valerie?)

  5. Could someone explain who gets invited to the South of Eastern Working Group? I’m not saying I particularly want to go; I’m just interested in who gets to go. And don’t you think it is remiss of this Working Group not to report their actions to the “consultation” sessions? Almost nobody who goes to those sessions is aware that a parallel group meets beforehand to make decisions.

  6. Also, is it not true that, intentionally or not, the “community consultation” sessions will prove helpful in the inevitable OMB hearings? Toronto Film Studios and even Paula Fletcher will be able to make a true and factual claim that “the community” was extensively consulted before any concrete decisions were taken. The community may disagree with those decisions, TFS can argue, but the developers are in no way acting unilaterally. Convenient, don’t you think?

  7. I’m not wild about the plans for parklands inside the Foundry District. A big green lawn optimized for yuppies’ dogs to take a dump on is not my idea of urbanity. Take a look at the Maple Leaf Forever Park or the giant Teletubbyland-like greenspace at Coxwell and Eastern for examples of what not to do.

    Why don’t we have microparks (Cf. Alex Wilson Community Garden) scattered through the property? Why don’t we favour a heavily-landscaped garden like the Village of Yorkville Park, which still impresses ten years later? (My biketrials club used to ride up and down the rock!)

  8. This might just be my thing because I work in the field, but I want a high level of accessibility in this development. It could be the first neighbourhood in Canada with talking signs, for example. And no goddamned Helvetica or Arial in the wayfinding, please.

  9. I have reservations about the unavoidable fact that this development will not happen overnight. Twenty years is a long time in which to do things consistently right; the odds are against us. Moreover, Ken Ferguson told us that, once he signs a proper deal to relocate TFS to the port lands, that new studio will be his main interest. So who takes over then? And is anyone going to be an architectural champion?

  10. Ken Greenberg mentioned some intense retail uses in the District, similar to a Chicago Home Depot that has no significant surface parking. He also mentioned a convenience store.

    • First, we already have a Home Depot in the neighbourhood (or actually a genuine Homo Depot, since the manager’s gayness was deemed a newsworthy issue), and it is located up the road in Gerrard Square. You need a car to do any significant shopping at a Home Depot, and anyway, that’s a big box right there, and I thought the Foundry District was an alternative to big boxes.
    • Second, I would advocate severely limited or even nonexistent surface parking.
    • Third, I know we’re gonna need convenience stores, but they’re all so tacky.
  11. The Web site is nearly standards-compliant, but want every single document and presentation ever made public at the meetings posted there. And I have changed my mind: I’m very tired indeed of seeing plain-text documents uploaded as Microsoft Word or PDF files. If you don’t know how to produce HTML, then give us plain text. But actually, saving as PDF is harder than saving as HTML or text, and you’re already doing the former. We’ll even take Microsoft’s tag-soup HTML if necessary. (And if your Web developer doesn’t know how to do any of that, you’re wasting your money.)

    Sadly, upon reflection, I can’t do any conversion to standard formats after all, since that would indicate favouritism. Besides, I get paid a lot of money for that sort of thing in what passes for my day job.

  12. And I’m only gonna say this once: No fucking Victorian tæunhæumes.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2005.06.21 15:21. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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