TTC is holding a “competition” to landscape the surrounds of the giant new streetcar house on the fringes of Leslieville around Leslie and Lake Shore and Commissioners. In a gravely flawed process, three design firms submitted two ideas each (photos), and public “feedback” was solicited.

Fortunately, it is a qualified design panel that will make the final recommendation and not a mob of ignoramuses with master’s degrees, the largest cohort of residents who were and are opposed to the project in the first place. (For these people, the two most serious threats to their family’s health are a single molecule of bisphenol A in their babies’ sippy cups and a streetcar house miles away from where they live.) I made the following submission stating the obvious – there’s only one winner and the panel has to have the guts to say so.

There’s only one winner in this muddled “competition” to design the landscaping around the TTC LRV yard. It’s Brown & Storey. But this entire “consultation” process was set up to make a single winner as unlikely as possible – through the design of the consultation process and its the open invitation to locals to voice their ignorance.

As a design-review panel made up of qualified and informed people, you are the last hope in a failed process. You are urged to ignore unschooled “public opinion” and recommend the only design that actually relates to the site, Brown & Storey’s.

Winter scene with giant erratic monoliths and cleared path

A failed “competition” that never should have been

This whole process turned out even worse than I would have expected from the TTC, a design-hostile organization dominated by engineer lifers. The sole correct way to decide how to landscape a public square is as follows:

  1. Hire one design firm (can be done by a qualified advisory panel).
  2. Ask and pay for one solution.
  3. Take it or leave it.

There are any number of wrong ways to run this process, but the one we got stuck with is probably the worst. Allowing options to intrude into the process – that is, allowing for more than one candidate solution – tempts the unschooled and ignorant to do two things:

  1. Demand a bit from item one, a little from item two, and a smidgen from item three.
  2. Declare “I don’t like it” as though that meant something, which it doesn’t.

This process involved three companies providing two designs each. That’s six possibilities right there, sextuple the number we actually need.

Then, to make matters worse, comment cards handed out at the two public consultations explicitly asked respondents to take a little from Brown & Storey, a little from FRP, and a little from GH3: The cards asked you to list what you liked about each of the three designs. We’re not done yet: Then we were asked to rank the designs in order.

This isn’t the Olympics. There aren’t gold, silver, and bronze medals. There’s only one winner. It isn’t a popularity contest, a public vote, or a Frankenstinian kit of parts.

Unschooled opinions are worthless at best

Under the guise of “consultation,” a vacant bureaucratic buzzword, locals with no design or architectural knowledge, and usually with an open hostility to the entire project, were invited to provide “feedback.” I know from talking to people at one of the sessions that such feedback amounts to “I don’t like it,” which means precisely nothing and is actively harmful in this context.

We don’t care what you “like”; all we care about is a reasoned argument why one design works. Design is functional, not artistic; we aren’t creating public art that exists only for itself. If you can’t articulate why the option you like actually works, your opinion is useless. Your opinion is harmful if you can’t explain why you dislike one of the options.

Facts about the site

Two of the design proponents, and every civilian I talked to, were in denial of the facts about the site, which runs along Leslie from Lake Shore (not “Lakeshore”) to Commissioners. Everyone acted like we were dealing with some kind of parkette in Forest Hill. In truth:

  • The site is at the intersection of a divided highway and a six-lane street overrun with truck traffic.
  • The LRV carhouse will be built on previously ignored and generally contaminated land. It will not be situated on “parkland” or “greenspace,” hence we are not losing either of those things.
  • What’s the star attraction of this so-called greenspace? A sewage-treatment plant.
  • The giant berm that locals suddenly discovered (and then purported, in a Damascene conversion, to cherish and value) is actually a mound of contaminated soil intended to shield the city from a possible train derailment.
  • There’s a recreational trail on Lake Shore used, for seconds at a time, by cyclists; for a few longer seconds at a time by rare joggers; and, once in a blue moon and only in fair weather, by a pedestrian or two. No one visits the streetcorner as though it were a legitimate park or similar attraction. The site is not a destination that needs to be protected; the only thing that will make it a destination is this project.
  • At the foot of Leslie St. is a nature preserve created out of rubble left over from the city’s construction projects.
  • Across the street is a suburban-style strip mall anchored by the Canadian Tire. It’s never going away. Kitty-corner to that is the parking lot for an even uglier strip mall whose sole viable tenant is an aging Loblaws that isn’t going away either. But the northwest corner is by far the most important, because it features the pediments left over after the Gardiner Expressway was dismantled in 2001.

The site uses monumental scale

Ruins are part of the local context in more than one way. The LRV site is surrounded by antihuman traffic and, despite being two blocks down from a main drag, is hard to get to in anything but a motor vehicle. The site is manmade, yet it dwarfs a person. It’s dinosaur-sized, Louis Kahn–scaled, Stonehenge-like. It is a place where we observe what human construction hath wrought – usually with awe, but, in the case of the strip malls and highway, with distaste.

Above all, the site is not a genteel Toronto neighbourhood that’s a good place to raise children and let your purebred puppy run off-leash. It is not a cute, livable neighbourhood compatible with flânerie by ascotted urban theorists. The site is not “natural”; it’s artificial in ways that are, as the leftover pediments indicate, increasingly intentional. The site is a massive exurban toybox more suited to T. Rex than a mom pushing a stroller.

Only one design acknowledges these facts – Brown & Storey’s, which reacts to what Leslie and Lake Shore is really like and builds accordingly. We get a constructed park at the corner dotted by half-ruined totems that, like everything in the neighbourhood, are the size of a truck. Brown & Storey also has the honesty to show us a winter rendering, even if it is inaccurate (perfect squares of grass will not sit uncovered by snow).

Rival designs are worse than insulting

Not only do GH3’s and FRP’s designs fail to acknowledge the actual site, they’re so badly conceived they actually insult the neighbourhood.


  • All proponents’ presentation panels are horrifically written, designed, typeset, and copy-edited, but GH3’s has the added demerit of a title – “a modern day walks and gardens >> a protected green path through the city” – that wouldn’t make sense even to its writer.
  • The site is on the fringe of the city and in no way calls for a path; Leslie and Lake Shore is not the High Line.
  • What they’re offering us is a prison camp. It’s the Arizona border wall, except what it’s keeping out is the carhouse itself, not Mexicans. (GH3’s design conceals and apologizes for the carhouse, but can’t even get that right, since the carhouse sits higher up than its prison walls.)
  • The broken-up walls act exactly like unbroken walls and the only rational way to experience them is to drive past at top legal speed.
  • The walls pen the site in. That’s bad enough. But the stone walls aren’t actually stone walls – they’re prisons within prisons, chicken-wire cages filled with rocks. (Presumably not rocks broken up by concentration-camp internees, then moved from one side of the yard and back again.)
Unbroken hedge behind stone wall with lengthy gap

The whole design is offensive because, during the G20, Leslieville had a real prison camp five blocks away at the old Toronto Film Studios. Prisoner cages inside this Guantánamo by the Lake Shore were in fact made of chicken wire.

The only thing missing from the GH3 design is a panopticon.


Paved path with trees

There’s no design here whatsoever. There’s nothing on the site. No landscape architecture has been proposed. It’s an empty lot – in one rendering, terra-cotta-coloured, as though this were the American Southwest. (Where’s the Arizona-style wall?)

This forbidding, inhospitable wasteland is more amenable to a parking lot, which it resembles. The retro-kitsch TTC artwork on the acoustic wall is juvenile on a good day.

FRP’s “design” cunningly conforms to expected Toronto mediocrity. So bereft of ideas is the FRP proposal that its eight pages are actually two near-identical sets of four pages; these people can’t even come up with two different ideas. As such, FRP’s submission is by far the most dangerous. There’s so little to it that it will seem like just what the doctor ordered for the fearful “public” that never wanted a carhouse here in the first place. With no content whatsoever, it’s the perfect crowd-pleaser for Toronto in general and for Leslieville’s special breed of educated ignoramuses in particular.

This is a “competition” with one clear winner

But only in Toronto would that all but guarantee it loses.

The process stinks and “public consultation” seems a lot like angry shouting from a mob. A qualified design-review panel knows perfectly well that only one proposal makes any sense in the local context. In a sea of options, there’s really only one.

The question is: Do you have the courage of your convictions? Are you brave enough to say there’s only one winner, Brown & Storey?

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2010.08.23 13:02. 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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