While many fixate on the Unilever site, our Kennedy lands languish in purgatory

An aerial prospective of Kennedy station from the crosstown.ca website.

An aerial prospective of Kennedy station from the crosstown.ca website. The site cautions that “the renderings are subject to change and may not reflect the final design.” Let us pray.

Our traditional approach to public real estate, especially properties at our major transit stations, involves giving away huge amounts of value to private developers, while world leaders are working to master land-value capture.

By STEPHEN WICKENS

Imagine First Gulf controls the land surrounding Kennedy station, 25 publicly owned acres that for decades have been served by subway, SRT, GO trains and multiple bus routes. It’s a site whose potential value has soared recently, what with the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT to open in five or so years and a reasonable likelihood a Scarborough subway extension and the Mayor’s SmartTrack will roll too.

Add in tracts of nearby, largely undeveloped private lands, and the Kennedy site’s size rivals First Gulf’s Unilever, which sits behind various moats – river, highway, rail corridor, monolithic land uses and long blocks. Unilever might eventually get lots of transit, but even if Broadview is extended south and a bridge to the West Donlands is added, stitching it into the urban east-downtown fabric will be a challenge.

The comparison’s timely because one site needs urgent attention – and despite media coverage and city hall chatter, it isn’t Unilever. Transformation on several levels should be inevitable at Kennedy, but it’s a hub without a champion, institutional support or gainfully employed minds offering vision. Shame on us.

Aside from an opportunity for profitable development to partly offset infrastructure costs and boost ridership enough to justify costly rapid transit priority for low-density Scarborough, Kennedy could pay back for generations if it’s the place that finally gets GTA decision-makers to understand real estate in ways that underpin sustainable funding for the world’s urban transportation leaders (almost all of them in east Asia).

But time’s running out at this hub: Options disappear every time Metrolinx and the TTC award contracts. The greatest urgency stems from the fact plans still call for the Crosstown to dive underground at Ionview Road, nearly a kilometre west of Kennedy station. Tunneling made sense when the LRT was to swing north into the Scarborough Rapid Transit corridor and functionally replace the SRT as our de facto subway extension to Scarborough Town Centre – albeit with transfer. But although one-seat service to STC by subway now looks like a lock, station plans weren’t adjusted (at least as of a May planning meeting I attended at City Hall).

Short term, keeping the LRT on the surface and scrapping the tunnels saves us far more than the roughly $85-million the city owes Metrolinx for wasted work since council dumped the old LRT plan in 2013. Long-term, we’ll end up extending the Crosstown east to Guildwood and beyond (the Scarborough-Malvern line EA is already done); keeping the LRT on the surface from the west also eliminates the need for costly tunnels to the east. In fact, if we extend the LRT east, kill the tunnels and use SmartSpur to connect with STC, we’d be able to eventually use a shorter more efficient route than any subway option planners have studied recently – if or when we can honestly justify a subway extension.

SmartSpur, branching of SmartTrack, could provide fast one-seat service between STC and Union for about $2-billion less than the subway options the city is pondering.

SmartSpur, the pink line branching off SmartTrack, could provide fast one-seat service between STC and Union for about $2-billion less than the subway options the city is pondering. As an added bonus, it can provide a modicum of relief for the Bloor-Danforth, Bloor-Yonge station and Yonge trains south of Bloor. Leading with a subway extension would aggravate crowding.

But the biggest long-term benefit will come if Kennedy station’s real estate can catalyze a long-overdue revolution in North American transit funding and planning. Kennedy’s special: We own the land; we can be that developer reaping the profits. This is the basis of rail-plus-property, a business model that has played a huge role in making Hong Kong’s transit builder/operator a profitable company for 35-plus years (even if it isn’t perfect and people kvetch about transit there, too). Historically, in Toronto, we give away land-value premiums to those who own sites near stations (some of which is unavoidable); MTRC of Hong Kong, captures land-value through development and property management. Yes, we know Hong Kong is denser and the land-ownership regime is different, as are public consultation sensibilities. But the big lessons of MTRC’s model can apply here if we’re smart enough in how we adapt the governance.

A huge but largely overlooked hurdle in our planning process is our lack of a publicly controlled entity for managing our transit-related real estate, working within a private-sector set of precepts to maximize its worth. This entity needs an empowered seat at the table from the earliest planning discussions and must be free to operate at an arms length from politicians and even transit operators. Rail-plus-property cannot remedy all our process flaws, but in its basest form it would generate significant revenue to defray capital costs, help us expedite operating efficiencies and earn the goodwill needed to allow those with taxing powers the use of funding tools considered politically risky.

So if rail-plus-property is such a no-brainer, why haven’t we acted? We’re a riven town, trying to tame a political whipsaw. The right and some foolish mayors, going back at least a decade prior to amalgamation, have damaged the land-value-capture concept with laughable promises of free subways. The ideological left, apparently fearful of anything that smacks of public-private partnerships, willfully ignores how some competing international metropolises are getting things done. In 2003, the TTC was asked to study rail-plus-property (councillor David Miller got a motion passed at my urging, but the study was quietly ditched when he became mayor). Provincial and city reports on funding strategies in recent years have demonstrated a thin understanding of LVC, though an August 2013 discussion paper commissioned by Metrolinx was somewhat encouraging.

Recent off-the-record discussions with sources indicate some of our bureaucrats are waking up, though for now, we continue to rip ourselves off. We talk about transit being an investment, forgetting that real investors aggressively seek ROI.

The lands surrounding Kennedy station provide 1,000 parking spaces, the equivalent of filling one subway train for one trip a day.

The lands surrounding Kennedy station provide 1,000 parking spaces, the equivalent of filling one subway train for one trip a day. The terminal building in the background is an impediment to transit-oriented development on a site that desperately needs TOD.

Viewed through a rail-plus-property lens, current plans for Kennedy would have us asking:

– Why does the TTC cling to the quaint but expensive notion that stations are costs while cities capable of continuous building increasingly view them as revenue properties with trains rolling through the basement? At Kennedy, our thinking manifests itself in an unsubstantiated assumption that there’s net benefit in retaining a big bus terminal, even though it’s an impediment to transit-oriented development on a site that needs TOD. It makes even less sense if you consider that when the LRT is extended east, we won’t need a bus terminal at all, and if we go with the likely but wasteful four-stop Eglinton-McCowan subway plan, most terminal needs shift to the Brimley/Danforth Road station.

– Why tie up swaths of valuable real estate for surface parking? The 1,000 or so spaces at Kennedy allow us to fill the equivalent of just one subway train for one trip per day. Parking can and will be replaced in other formats via redevelopment – if it makes economic sense within a mix of uses that may include offices, shops, condos, schools, public services and recreation facilities. We need destinations around and atop our stations, a doubly crucial lesson for land-rich Metrolinx to learn, especially now that it should be preparing to offset soaring operating costs from the all-day, two-way service promise.

– What thought is going into creating easy and pleasant pedestrian links between the station zone and the surrounding areas? We think a lot about bus connections, a very good thing, but subways work best when the pedestrian is king of the catchment zones.

– Why aren’t the surrounding private land holders prominent in discussions at this end of the transit planning? Has there even been a public Kennedy station precinct planning process? Given the right lattice of incentive and disincentive, private developers will eagerly help us earn returns on investments and assets.

So, where are our bureaucrats?

Actually, contrary to popular misconception, most are at least okay. In Year 4 of his term, I’m concluding Andy Byford was probably a good hire and he seems to understand much of what I usually prattle on about. But he’s rightly focused first on turning around the TTC’s operating culture. He has some good people working for him on the capital planning side, but the parameters on their thinking appear to be constricted by assumptions desperately in need of re-examination. They lack the tools and direction required re-earn the public’s confidence (some come across as chastened, bracing for further hits on the Spadina-York extension cost overruns and wasteful standalone stations).

People at city planning have been good to talk to in recent years and seem to be awakening to the fact that established approaches are inadequate for such issues of organized complexity. Some seem to see the need for an entity that can wisely manage public land assets in the quest to make good on some of the excellent aims of the official plan, now more than a decade old. Metrolinx has dipped a toe in the waters of sanity by auctioning off Crosstown station sites – prior to excavation, no less – (though we’re hearing the first wave of RFPs were so restrictive that developer interest was disappointing.

Nevertheless, sources tell me rail-plus-property is finally on the radar at Metrolinx. That’s progress, and maybe the rapidly shrinking window for getting things right at Kennedy might just allow us to focus in a timely and productive way.

So, again, imagine that First Gulf owns this Kennedy site, which may one day rival Union Station for the best, rapid-transit-served location in the GTA. At Unilever, First Gulf talks of 50,000 jobs and development investments worth $6-biillion (and let’s hope they succeed). It’s obvious that First Gulf has worked hard to get the ear of the mayor’s office; maybe we as a citizenry should try to do the same.

Last chance for sanity on the Scarborough transit file

scarbsubway3

So we now have a short list of three Scarborough subway extension proposals, none of which makes sense. It’s tempting to conclude that we’ve been presented with a couple of hopeless straw-man options that serve only to make the indefensible but politically popular Eglinton-McCowan alignment look good by comparison.

But let’s forestall the usual Torontoish blackthought, especially considering at least one excellent alternative hasn’t yet been stifled by politicians or the wasteful last-century assumptions that often still guide otherwise bright and well-meaning transit bureaucrats in these parts.

Though the last-chance-for-sanity option doesn’t involve actual subway, it might be most attractive, even in Scarborough’s subway-or-bust circles, offering fast one-seat service to Union station and easy links to the Bloor-Danforth subway and the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT at Kennedy station far sooner than any subway proposal can.

The idea, to my knowledge, first appeared in an excellent but largely overlooked 400-page regional rail report published by Transport Action Ontario in July 2013. The Star’s Tess Kalinowski was one of the few to clue in, and she wrote about it back before we’d heard the term SmartTrack, before the strange subway-centred by-election in Scarborough-Guildwood, and before then-transportation minister Glen Murray proposed his two-stop subway extension from Kennedy station to Scarborough Town Centre using the existing SRT corridor.

The TAO idea enhances the worth of SmartTrack, rather than siphoning ridership from it, so it might have a political hope, especially in the mayor’s office. SmartSpur, as we might call it, can be built faster than any other option and at an attractive price. Costs of the connection to STC from the SmartTrack line, using the east-west part of the current SRT corridor, were calculated at $425-million in 2010 dollars, with the full route to Malvern via Centennial College’s Progress Campus for around $1.7-billion. That’s about $2-billion less than preliminary estimates for the Eglinton-McCowan subway idea with a fourth station added.

karlsmap

The ideal Eglinton-Crosstown approach to Kennedy station would now be on the surface to make an extension east toward Kingston Road easier and less expensive.

Just think what we could do with an extra $2-billion – putting it toward the decades-overdue relief line comes to mind, as do Eglinton-Crosstown LRT extensions east of Kennedy or west of Mount Dennis (those EAs are already done).

On the downside, shuttle buses would be needed to replace the SRT during construction on the east-west phase, and the TAO estimate does not include SRT demolition costs. And, of course, SmartTrack will eat up some very finite capacity on the Lakeshore East GO lines. But while all subway extension ideas would aggravate crowding on the Bloor-Danforth, which is already at capacity westbound from Main Street in the morning rush, SmartSpur would provide a little temporary relief both on the line and at the dangerously overcrowded Bloor-Yonge transfer point.

Of course, this is Toronto and there’s the possibility the idea makes too much sense.

Simple and brilliant as SmartSpur may be, it was my second choice for most of the past two years: A 10th subway alignment – shorter, more direct and with major value-capture possibilities from publicly owned real estate – would almost certainly have delivered the best value long-term. But Alignment 10 died behind the scenes at City Hall in recent weeks and didn’t even make city planning’s menu of nine, likely because transit entities and bureaucrats still don’t seem ready to wrap their heads around international best practice for funding and achieving returns on subway investments.

Anyway, for now, there’s a ray of hope, and I’m calling it SmartSpur.

Here's the branch line in the broader context, and we've taken the liberty of fixing the SmartTrack station spacing in east Toronto to improve the line's ability to relieve subway crowding.

Here’s the branch line in the broader context, and we’ve taken the liberty of fixing the SmartTrack station spacing in east Toronto to improve the line’s ability to relieve subway crowding.

Photo guide for the Death and Life of Upper Midway Jane’s Walk (Year 8)

On May 2, 2015, I, Stephen Wickens, will lead the eighth-annual Death and Life of Upper Midway Jane’s Walk. It has been fun over the years, though passing around pictures to large crowds and collecting them again seems inefficient in the digital age. So here is a collection of walk-related pictures that should be useful for participants who bring along smartphones and tablets. Most of the pictures are from the City Archives website.

As usual, the meeting point is Wise Guys, 2301 Danforth at 10 a.m.

This is an early 1940s picture of our meeting spot when it was known as the Quigley Hotel. It was originally built as the Norton Apartments in the 1930s, then became the Ridley. After becoming it the Quigley for a few years, it became the Wembley a name it held at least until the 1990s. The site is slated for redevelopment.

This is an early 1940s picture of our meeting spot when it was known as the Quigley Hotel. It was originally built as the Norton Apartments in the 1930s, then became the Ridley. After becoming the Quigley for a few years, it became the Wembley a name it held at least until the 1990s. The site is slated for redevelopment, though no applications have been filed.

A map of our walk, which will cross three of the five creeks that once made it difficult to keep the Don and Danforth Plank Road passable east of Pape. The creeks and the less-than-convenient access to the city in the pre-viaduct era, were big contributors to the fact this area of Midway, (Upper Midway as many called the turf north of the railway tracks), remained rural into the early 1920s.

A map of our Jane’s Walk, which will cross three of the five creeks that once made it difficult to keep the Don and Danforth Plank Road passable east of Pape. The creeks and the less-than-convenient access to the city in the pre-streetcar/pre-viaduct era, were big contributors to the fact this area of Midway, (Upper Midway as many called the turf north of the Grand Trunk Railway corridor), remained rural into the early 1920s.

The western reaches of the connected towns of Coleman, Little York and East Toronto had houses like this one, which once sat on what is now the Sobey's parking lot. The towns grew up around the Grand Trunk station and yards east of Main Street.

Development had come the area east of Upper Midway decades sooner, and the western reaches of the connected towns of Coleman, Little York and East Toronto had lovely houses on the Danforth like this one, which sat on what is now the Sobey’s parking lot. Those three towns/hamlets grew up around the Grand Trunk station and yards east of Main Street.

 

The Danforth Mennonite Church bought land east of Woodbine (Third Line East) in 1907, making it the only single land user on our walk that the predates the annexation of Upper Midway by the city in 1909. This a a 1911 photo.

Danforth Mennonite Church bought land east of Woodbine (Third Line East) in 1908, making  the DMC the only continuous singe land-use link on our walk that predates the annexation of Upper Midway by the city in 1909. This a a 1911 photo of the new church, which still stands.

As late as 1912, just before work began to bring streetcar tracks and paving were brought to the East Danforth, farmers still had to rely on rickety wooden bridges to cross the creeks on the muddy Second Concession Road.

As late as 1912, just before work began to bring us streetcar tracks and paving, farmers still had to rely on rickety wooden bridges to cross the creeks on the muddy Second Concession Road (aka, the Danforth). The bridges often washed out and had to be repaired by farmers.

bridge2

Preparation work for streetcar track construction involved laying some temporary rails on the East Danforth.

Preparation work for streetcar track construction east of Pape involved laying some temporary rails on the East Danforth.

Thirty years after the last spike was driven on the transcontinental CPR line, work proceeded nicely on bringing rails to what had been Upper Midway until the 1909 annexation.

Thirty years after the last spike was driven on the transcontinental CPR line, work proceeded nicely on bringing rails to what had been Upper Midway until the 1909 annexation.

Looking west from Woodbine and Danforth in 1915, with fresh streetcar tracks and the overhead wires completed. Streetcars ran on this stretch for 51 years before being replace by the subway.

Looking west from Woodbine and Danforth in 1915, with fresh streetcar tracks and the overhead wires completed. Streetcars ran on this stretch for 51 years before being replaced by the subway.

For many years we had three supermarkets at Danforth and Woodbine, though the current Valumart site was NOT one of them. We had Red & White, in what is now Value Village. We had Power (and later Busy Bee) where we now have Carmelina, and we had this Loblaws store where we have Scotiabank. This Loblaws photo is from 1927.

For many years we had three supermarkets at Danforth and Woodbine, though the current Valumart site was NOT one of them. We had Red & White, in what is now Value Village. We had Power (and later Busy Bee) where we now have the Carmelina condos, and we had this Loblaws store where we have Scotiabank. This photo is from 1927.

The Prince of Wales Theatre, traces of which are still visible if you look in the right places.

The Prince of Wales Theatre, traces of which are still visible if you look in the right places. Beside it heading west in this 1927 photo, were Dunlop Bros. credit clothiers, Shaw’s Business School, the original location of Danforth Radio and Woolworths. Danforth Radio was founded by brothers who assembled crystal radio kits, but outgrew their parents’ basement on Amroth Ave.

We once had three supermarkets at Danforth and Woodbine, though the Valumart site was NOT one of them. We had Red & White, in what is now Value Village. Loblaws where we have Scotiabank, and we had Power (and later Busy Bee) where we now have Carmelina. This was the lineup for the grand opening at Power on Nov. 12, 1953.

We once had three supermarkets at Danforth and Woodbine, though the Valumart site was NOT one of them. We had Red & White, in what is now Value Village. Loblaws where we have Scotiabank, and we had Power (and later Busy Bee) where we now have Carmelina. This was the lineup for the grand opening at Power on Nov. 12, 1953.

The incredible variety of shops one block each way from Woodbine in 1957.

The incredible variety of shops one block each way from Woodbine in 1957.

Looking east from Woodbine on the south side in 1954. We could use stores selling beer and wine around here.

Looking east from Woodbine on the south side in 1954. We could use stores selling beer and wine around here. The city took this picture as part of a report on signs that overhang the sidewalks. We’ve largely done away with them, except in some grandfathered cases, but they do seem to add to a cozier feel on our street allowances.

Oct. 1960, looking east from the top of East Lynn Park. We had a crosswalk rather than lights at Woodmount, and the white three-storey building with stores and apartments on the SE corner at East Lynn was then a British American gas station.

Oct. 1960, looking east from the top of East Lynn Park. We had a crosswalk rather than lights at Woodmount, and the white three-storey building with stores and apartments on the SE corner at East Lynn was then a British American gas station.

Heading west to East Lynn Park, we cross the first and the biggest of creek/former ravines of the five that so heavily delayed development on the East Danforth. This one went by several names, none official.

Heading west to East Lynn Park, we cross the first and the biggest of creek/former ravines of the five that so heavily delayed development on the East Danforth. This one went by several names, none official.

In this 1923 photo, you can see that East Lynn Park was a quite deep ravine. The creek was rerouted into a sewer and much landfill made things much shallower.

In this 1923 photo, you can see East Lynn Park was a quite deep ravine. The creek was rerouted into a sewer and much landfill was used to create the shallower depths we are familiar with.

Looking north, out from the bottom of East Lynn in 1923. Clearly, the dumping of trash on public space is nothing new.

Looking north, out from the bottom of East Lynn in 1923. Clearly, the dumping of trash on public space is nothing new.

Those spindly little trees in 1931 are undoubtedly the big trunks that DECA wraps with Christmas lights each year in East Lynn Park. Note all the awnings on the north-side businesses.

Those spindly little trees in 1931 are undoubtedly the big trunks that DECA wraps with Christmas lights each year in East Lynn Park. Note all the awnings on the north-side businesses.

As we climb up the slope on the west side of the East Lynn ravine, we come to the Dutch Farm, which in the late 1800s was an inn run by Charles Heber, known for fine meals, comfortable beds and excellent home brew beer. That's muddy Danforth on the left in this drawing provided by a past Jane's Walk participant.

As we climb up the slope on the west side of the East Lynn ravine, we come to the Dutch Farm, which in the late 1800s was an inn run by Charles Heber, known for fine meals, comfortable beds and excellent home brew beer. That’s muddy Danforth on the left in this drawing provided by a past Jane’s Walk participant.

June 27, 1935: Incredibly, there were no serious injuries, especially when you consider the seriousness of the blaze and the fact that in lower-right corner of the picture, you're looking at an old sidewalk style gas pump. The first store on the corner is one of the original Brewer's Retail outlets and the second was a wine store. From the next day's Daily Star: "Passengers leaped through jagged street car windows--three men riding in the front of a flame-enveloped gasoline truck escaped injury as if by miracle--a dentist's office, liquor store and apartment suite were set ablaze, and several man-hole covers were hurled into the air as the result of a terrific crash between a street car and a 1,000-gallon oil truck at Glebemount and Danforth Aves. yesterday. Gasoline flames shot across the roadway, igniting curtains, awnings and window fronts of the apartment at Glebemount and Danforth Aves., the windows being shattered. Police report that gasoline seeping into sewers caused the explosion of four man-hole covers a quarter of a mile apart. Leonard Bigelow, driver of the truck was questioned by Main St. station detectives as to how the accident occurred.

June 27, 1935: Incredibly, there were no serious injuries, especially when you consider the seriousness of the blaze and the fact that in lower-right corner of the picture, you’re looking at an old sidewalk style gas pump. The first store on the corner is one of the original Brewer’s Retail outlets and the second was a wine store. From the next day’s Daily Star: “Passengers leaped through jagged street car windows–three men riding in the front of a flame-enveloped gasoline truck escaped injury as if by miracle–a dentist’s office, liquor store and apartment suite were set ablaze, and several man-hole covers were hurled into the air as the result of a terrific crash between a street car and a 1,000-gallon oil truck at Glebemount and Danforth Aves. yesterday. Gasoline flames shot across the roadway, igniting curtains, awnings and window fronts of the apartment at Glebemount and Danforth Aves., the windows being shattered. Police report that gasoline seeping into sewers caused the explosion of four man-hole covers a quarter of a mile apart. Leonard Bigelow, driver of the truck was questioned by Main St. station detectives as to how the accident occurred.

This McDonalds is at Runnymede and Bloor, but I've included it for good reason, which you'll learn when we get to the corner of Hillingdon and Danforth

This McDonalds is at Runnymede and Bloor, but I’ve included it for good reason, which you’ll learn when the walk gets to the corner of Hillingdon and Danforth

From 1894 to 1923, Danforth and Coxwell was home to a rendering plant that made products from horse corpses ... nasty as it was, it too was enough to attract a few residents because of the jobs.

From 1894 to 1923, Danforth and Coxwell was home to a rendering plant that made products from horse corpses … nasty as it was, it too was enough to attract a few residents because of the jobs.

Danforth Carhouse on its opening day, Sept. 23, 1915. Nearly 1,000 TTC employees worked out of the facility at its peak. It was converted to a bus garage in 1967.

Danforth Carhouse on its opening day, Sept. 23, 1915. Nearly 1,000 TTC employees worked out of the facility at its peak. It was converted to a bus garage in 1967.

Looking into the Danforth TTC faciltiy from Coxwell in the 1960s. The ugly walls weren't added until the site became a bus garage (1967-2002).

Looking into the Danforth TTC faciltiy from Coxwell in the 1960s. The ugly walls weren’t added until the site became a bus garage (1967-2002).

Hollinger bus lines, serving the Township of East York, was a profitable transit company until being absorbed by the TTC in 1954. This bus is shown on Coxwell, just north of Danforth, and would have been on its way to the Bus Terminal on the Danforth that we now know as a breakfast spot.

Hollinger bus lines, serving the old Township of East York, was a profitable transit entity until being absorbed by the TTC in 1954. This bus, on Coxwell, just north of Danforth, and would have been on its way to the Bus Terminal on the Danforth that we now know as a breakfast spot.

I love the shadow in the foreground of this photo of Danforth and Coxwell by Eric Trussler, who shot a lot for the TTC and the city.

I love the shadow in the foreground of this photo of Danforth and Coxwell by Eric Trussler, who shot a lot for the TTC and the city.

Looking east from the SE corner of Danforth and Coxwell.

Looking east from the SE corner of Danforth and Coxwell.

Danforth and Coxwell looking west in the mid-1960s. Robertson Chev-Olds was once the country's busiest GM dealership, employing 350 people.

Danforth and Coxwell looking west in the mid-1960s. Robertson Chev-Olds was once the country’s busiest GM dealership, employing 350 people.

The block on the north side, west of Coxwell hosted baseball and circuses until it was developed in the mid-to-late 1920s. But the religious revival meetings were the biggest draw.

The block on the north side, west of Coxwell hosted baseball and circuses until it was developed in the mid-to-late 1920s. But the religious revival meetings were the biggest draw. 1924 photo.

Looking west at track replacement in the fall of 1936. Note the Oxford Theatre and the need to use temporary tracks.

Looking west at track replacement in the fall of 1936. Note the Oxford Theatre and the need to use temporary tracks.

 

Looking east to the Oxford, which probably still has a rather ususual apartment upstairs. It was designed to luxurious family-size standards by Bart Wainwright, who also owned the Oxford. Among the amenities was a viewing booth, which made the kids who lived there quite popular until the theatre closed in the late 50s. The film showing when this picture was taken was Bohemian Girl, starring Laurel and Hardy, and Thelma Todd and Darla Hood (of Our Gang Fame).

Looking east to the Oxford, which probably still has a rather ususual apartment upstairs. It was designed to luxurious family-size standards by Bart Wainwright, who also owned the Oxford. Among the amenities was a viewing booth, which made the kids who lived there quite popular until the theatre closed in the late 50s. The film showing when this picture was taken was Bohemian Girl, starring Laurel and Hardy, and Thelma Todd and Darla Hood (of Our Gang Fame).

The Ashbridge’s Creek ravine, east of Greenwood, was filled with junk, but it often smelled lovely with the big Canada Bread plant on the right.
The Linsmore got its licence, over neighbourhood objections, in 1934. The windows out front were opaque, allowing men to drink without prying eyes of neighbours. The ladies and escorts entrance was around the side. The place was packed on shift changes at Canada Bread, it's where Dorothy Cox was last seen alive, and it later became a pre-movie meeting spot for patrons of the Roxy.

The Linsmore got its licence, over temperance group objections, in 1934. In this 1945 photo, the windows out front were opaque, allowing men to drink without prying eyes of spouses and neighbours (the ladies and escorts entrance was around the side). The place was packed on shift changes at Canada Bread, until the big bakery across the street moved out in 1961. The Linsmore later became a favourite meeting spot for Roxy patrons seeking a pre-movie draft or three, and in recent years has new life as a great place to see live music.

Looking east from Greenwood to Canada Bread. Though most of the area's employment was south, along the rail corridor, the Danforth had several fairly large employers.

Looking east from Greenwood to Canada Bread. Though most of the area’s employment was south, along the rail corridor, the Danforth had several fairly large employers.

 

Yeah, we’ll do that downtown subway next … right after we extend the Yonge subway north from Eglinton

It wasn’t the top story of the day, what with details emerging about James Earl Ray’s stay in Toronto after gunning down Martin Luther King. But even with a federal election campaign moving into the home stretch, the TTC’s recommendation to Metro Council that we make our next subway-building priority a line through the core at Queen Street was front-page news on June 12, 1968.

Toronto had opened Bloor-Danforth extensions into Scarborough and Etobicoke the previous month and would break ground on the Yonge extension north from Eglinton less than four months later.

Here, in the interests of adding historical perspective to the current Downtown Relief Line discussions, we provide the non-bylined Star story from that day, with a few footnotes at the end.

Map is from page A4 for the Toronto Daily Star (two-star edition) on June 12, 1968

Map is from page A4 of the Toronto Daily Star’s (two-star edition) on June 12, 1968

$200 million Queen subway proposed; TTC to curtail University service

The Toronto Transit Commission yesterday proposed construction of a 7.75 mile, $150- to $200-million Queen St. subway and almost simultaneously revealed it is reducing service on the already existing University Ave. subway.

The 15-station Queen subway stretching from Roncesvalles Ave. in the west and curving north to meet the Donlands Ave. subway station on the Bloor-Danforth line in the east was proposed to Metro Council. If approved, it would probably be built after the North Yonge extension is completed in 1972. (1)

The decision to cancel University Ave. subway service all day on Sundays and after 10 p.m. on other days as an economy move (2) was apparently made in secret session some time ago and was revealed in a terse report by J.G. Inglis, general manager of operations. It is effective June 23. During the off-hours, trains will be replaced by bus service.

Mayor William Dennison estimated the move could save up to $250,000 a year in operating costs. But the TTC admitted today that the saving will be only $80,000 for the rest of this year (less $15,000 to instal new signals) – and 24,000 people will have to take the bus every week.

It’s expected the reduced hours will stay in effect until eventual new routes like the Spadina rapid transit line feed more riders into the University line.

The TTC told Metro Council the first stage of the proposed Queen subway would be a $37-million underground streetcar line from Sherbourne St. to Spadina through the downtown core. The commission said this line should be built so it can be converted into a full-scale subway as soon as Metro is ready.

The Queen line is considered to be the next in priority to North Yonge, despite the fact that a rapid transit right-of-way is being built into the Spadina Expressway. The alignment of the new line would be a partial “U.”

In the east, the subway would bend north at Berkshire Ave., cut across Leslie St. and Hastings Ave. north of Queen St., follow for a few blocks an alignment along Alton Ave. to the west of Greenwood Park, then swing north to the Donlands station. Besides the Roncesvalles and Donlands stations, …            See $200 million, page 4
$200 million Queen subway proposed
Continued from page 1 …       there would be stations at Lansdowne Ave., Northcote Ave., Givins St., Bellwoods Ave., Bathurst St., Spadina Ave., University Ave., Yonge St., Sherbourne St., Sumach St., Broadview Ave., Logan Ave., Jones Ave., and Gerrard St. E., at Alton Ave.

The station at Queen and Yonge Sts. has already been roughed in and is below the Yonge subway. Commuters use part of it to travel from one subway platform to the other in Queen station.

The $30,000 report on the TTC’s studies came as a surprise at Metro Council. (3) Only a brief one-page letter indicated that the report, which consists of pages of functional drawings of routes, had been distributed to Metro Council members.

The plans had been discussed in secret by the commission and released directly to Metro without first being discussed in a public meeting. The TTC report, signed by Inglis and W. H. Paterson, general manager of subway construction, recommended against merely building a short underground line to take streetcars.

The two officials recommended instead that a hard look be given to a full-length Queen subway on the alignment suggested in the report.

Four possible alignments were mentioned in the report. The two officials all but rejected an alignment south of Queen St.  A review of properties along the south side of Queen St. revealed that excessive underpinning and demolition would be involved, the report said.
They suggested tunneling directly under Queen (4).

The decision to cut service on the University line was attacked by Controller Allan Lamport.
He said it would stunt Toronto growth and might ultimately cost the city more money than it would save, by creating more traffic congestion as persons who would otherwise use the subway turned to cars. Lamport said it was ridiculous for the TTC to expect people to stand out in the open after 10 p.m. waiting for a bus “in these days of violence and muggings.”

FOOTNOTES:

1. Unlike previous subway projects, Yonge line opened late and went over budget. It opened to York Mills in 1973 and to Finch the next year. (Okay, for those who quibble, the commuter lots didn’t open on time in 1968 for the Warden and Islington stations.)

2. Economy was increasingly a concern in 1968. Even though Metro agreed to stop charging the TTC property taxes on its real estate and even with operations turning a $2.4-million profit in 1967, staff feared it was slipping back into the red and would have to tap reserves to cover operating losses. (1968 and 1969 saw $1.2-million-dollar losses). Tax revenue was not used to fund operations, and the TTC didn’t run deficits until subsidies first became available in 1971 (after that, it never turned a profit again).

3. It’s unlikely that the reports were a surprise to council as the report was comleted and being discussed for at least 10 days before being formally presented to council in front of reporters.

4. Tunneling directly under Queen in the core, but preferred plans included cut-and-cover tunnels or even subway trenches north of Queen St. outside the core.

That 1968 DRL plan was slated to connect with the west side of the Greenwood yard (TTC still owns the real estate) and connect with the Bloor-Danforth at Donlands.

That 1968 DRL plan was slated to connect with the west side of the Greenwood yard (TTC still owns the real estate) and connect with the Bloor-Danforth at Donlands.

 

 

 

 

Unicorns, the DRL, Six Points and a bite on the ass

STEPHEN WICKENS

Most who care seriously about Toronto affairs will already have read Marcus Gee’s Globe and Mail column about how the DRL has become the unicorn of transit projects. Well, funny how things come full circle to bite us in the ass … and being bitten on ass by a unicorn may be doubly painful.
Below is a map of the east portion of the TTC’s planned June 1968 DRL alignment (even if we called it the Queen subway then). The Bloor-Danforth extensions to Warden and Islington had been completed the previous month and work to extend the Yonge subway from Eglinton to Finch was under way.
The DRL, meanwhile, was going head-to-head with Spadina for next spot on the priority list.  Key to the discussion (but largely overlooked in the current consultations) are the yard functions essential to any rail project.
The pink area below is Greenwood yard, and it was decided in 1968 that the Queen line’s only real yard option would be to take over Greenwood from the Bloor-Danforth line, which would then get a new yard in the west end. That’s why Metropolitan Toronto bought the Westwood Theatre lands, which, after languishing for decades, are suddenly not available as Build Toronto finally redevelops them as part of the Six Points project.
So the fact that the Bloor-Danforth is now largely locked into the Greenwood arrangement (unless something related to the Scarborough extension can be worked out) makes it even tougher to do Phase I of the DRL … unless it includes Phase II up to Eglinton (allowing for a possible yard near Bermondsey). That wouldn’t be so bad because key to making the DRL really pay off is to get it to Thorncliffe and Flemingdon, two of the densest and most transit-dependent neighbourhoods in the country. But making the initial phase longer further reduces the likelihood shovels will ever break ground.
Alas, the chain reactions and the lack of institutional memory now make the DRL less likely than ever, even as the enduring desire for this line is further indication that it really should have been a priority city-building project all along. And it’s sort of ironic that the Westwood lands were taken out of play right at the moment when the long-forgotten reason for their purchase becomes apparent again.
Those who ignore history and all that.

Greenwood yards are indicated in pink and the connection with the Bloor-Danforth is at Donlands station in this 1968 plan.

Greenwood yards are indicated in pink and the connection with the Bloor-Danforth is at Donlands station in this 1968 plan.

 

Metrolinx dips a toe into a pool of Eastern transit wisdom, and Toronto is all aflutter

Black Creek station on the York-Spadina subway extension, slated to open in 2017, is an example of how suburban stations tend to be designed in the absence of a land value-capture regime.

Black Creek station on the York-Spadina subway extension, slated to open in 2017, is an example of how suburban stations tend to be designed in the absence of a land value-capture regime. Space above the station will be difficult to redevelop profitably, though the parking lots could eventually deliver much potential through land value capture.

I’d expected the social media messages and emails to die down today after a flood in response to a story I did for yesterday’s Globe and Mail, regarding Metrolinx’s move to seek RFPs on four Eglinton-Crosstown station properties. Instead, it took all morning to work through comments related to the Globe’s follow-up story.

For the most part, I’d tell people to relax. These are still early days in an important and long-overdue discussion. In the interests of brevity, I’ll address only three key but recurring  points from the feedback.

1. Build Toronto cannot take over or redevelop TTC stations unless they’re declared surplus, and we’ll be needing these stations for the foreseeable future. This isn’t such a bad thing because Build Toronto was set up badly on a few levels and, as currently structured, would not be an appropriate entity to take on rail-plus-property style land value capture (LVC). Existing TTC stations, except the ones surrounded by lots of land won’t yield much anyway because to capitalize properly, you need prepare for redevelopment while excavating for the stations. Many opportunities have long since been blown.

2. Andy Byford is right to point out that Toronto is not Hong Kong, just as Steve Fry and Richard Gilbert did in the original story on Tuesday. A Hong Kong comparison requires a nuanced understanding of the differences. Most who poo-poo the possibilities don’t know what they’re talking about. Aside from the obvious density contrasts, how land is owned and how the public accepts top-down decision-making are points people could make to further argue that Toronto cannot do what MTR does. However, such arguments affect only the scale of likely returns. None undercuts the fact we can profit mightily from big lessons learned over recent decades in Asia. We can’t adopt MTR”s model as is, but, with a few wise adaptations, transit will work much better for Toronto and the region at a significantly lower cost, and that should in turn nurture the will of voters and politicians to fund transit properly. (I’d add that, contrary to popular misconception, about two-thirds of MTR’s developments are midrise, not highrise.)

3. Though Steve Munro and I disagree on occasion, I respect him and all of us in this town should pay attention to what he says. His warning, “that the idea of developing transit stations sounds good but might not generate as much as proponents believe,” is absolutely fair. The words may have been poorly chosen in that they have many Globe readers today believing he has lumped realistic LVC proponents in with Ford supporters. Alas, calm rational discussions are too rare in the city scarred by absurdly divisive LRT-versus-subway debates.  Hucksters promoting free subways have done much to short-circuit important discussions about getting real returns on our transit investments. Gilbert and Fry, quoted in Tuesday’s story because they are knowledgeable and reasonable, don’t expect free subways to happen in North American cities in the foreseeable future. But they would ask: What’s wrong with saving a half-billion dollars on a transit project, or even a billion, especially if it gets more people living and working sooner at new stations? And even if we get back only, say $200-million on our first foray, that too can buy a lot of buses.

 

 

Shut out, but still scoring

Herb Carnegie dreamed of becoming the Jackie Robinson of the NHL, but colour barriers wouldn’t come down until a few years after his playing days were done.

Herb Carnegie and Jean Beliveau may be the two classiest guys ever to don a hockey uniform. They were also friends for six decades, having met when Beliveau was a fresh-faced rookie with the Quebec Aces and Carnegie was at the end of a career that many felt should have included a real shot at the NHL.

Herb Carnegie and Jean Beliveau may be the two classiest guys ever to don hockey uniforms. They were also remained good friends for six decades, having met when Beliveau was a fresh-faced rookie with the Quebec Aces and Carnegie, one of Beliveau’s mentors, was at the end of a career that many felt should have included a real shot at the NHL.

This story first ran in The Globe and Mail on March 25, 2006. Herb Carnegie died in 2012, but I’ve posted the yarn here in December, 2014, at the request of a couple of people who read my posts about the now late Jean Beliveau, who also figures prominently in the tale.

By STEPHEN WICKENS
Imagine growing up hockey-crazed, making yourself plenty good enough for a shot at the big leagues, and then learning the NHL is off limits because your skin’s the wrong colour.

The average Canadian male would be crushed or incurably bitter. But for Herb Carnegie, who lived that scenario, the experience somehow became the motivation for more than a half-century of giving back to Toronto.

“There’s still a wound,” Mr. Carnegie said last week, at his kitchen table in the Donway Place seniors residence. But Mr. Carnegie — 86, widowed and blind — is in no hurry to speak of life’s injustices. He prefers to talk about the volunteers who have helped him provide scholarships for young people and about his Future Aces creed, which has been adopted by nearly 200 Ontario schools to help kids develop positive attitudes.

It’s for these accomplishments that he will be honoured Thursday at a 50th-anniversary Future Aces gala at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Next month, he will present 30 teens from five provinces with scholarships based on academics, need and commitment to their communities. In June, York University is awarding him an honorary doctorate to go with the Order of Canada membership he received in 2004.

“I’d loved the game since I was 7½,” he says after the discussion is steered back to hockey. “We’d play all day on ponds in Willowdale, then listen on the radio to Foster Hewitt and Hockey Night in Canada. I wanted to be a Maple Leaf.”

But that loyalty led only to heartbreak in the late 1930s, when he learned that Leafs owner Conn Smythe was telling people he would pay $10,000 “to anyone who could turn Carnegie white.”

Pigmentation might have ruled out the Leafs, but the smooth-skating centre wouldn’t drop his National Hockey League dream — even if his dad urged him to go to university, instead of “wasting time on a league that will never accept a black man.”

For a while, the younger Carnegie hoped to prove his dad wrong. He was a three-time team MVP in the Quebec Senior Hockey League, which sent Hall of Famers Jean Béliveau, Doug Harvey and Jacques Plante to the powerhouse Montreal Canadiens. And colour barriers were falling in other sports — football (1946), baseball (1947) and basketball (1950).

“I followed Jackie Robinson closely,” Mr. Carnegie says of the first black athlete to play Major League Baseball. Before he made the Brooklyn Dodgers, Mr. Robinson played for the Montreal Royals, not far from Sherbrooke, Que., where Mr. Carnegie was playing hockey. It wasn’t long after Mr. Robinson’s breakthrough, Mr. Carnegie says, that “I got my invitation to the [1948 New York] Rangers training camp.”

That camp was the closest Mr. Carnegie would get to the NHL. By some accounts, he clearly belonged, but the Rangers offered only a minor-league spot — for which he would have to take a pay cut and uproot his family. In exchange, he would maybe get a shot the next season as a 30-year-old rookie. Instead, he returned to Quebec and didn’t even get a call when two of the Rangers’ centres were hurt in a car crash.

“No NHL team had the guts,” he says, making a comparison with baseball manager Branch Rickey, who gave Mr. Robinson his break.

Many who saw Mr. Carnegie play in his prime say he should have had a shot at the NHL, including Mr. Béliveau, a young Quebec Aces teammate during Mr. Carnegie’s final years.

“There were only six teams then, 120 jobs,” Mr. Béliveau says. “But Herbie was very good — a real playmaker who scored his share of goals, a beautiful skater. I will say he never got a fair shot, and it was because of his skin. Everyone in our dressing room loved him. You need those players to win championships.”

The NHL admitted its first black player, Willie O’Ree — who played for the Boston Bruins — in 1958. But by then Mr. Carnegie was four years into retirement from hockey, back in North York and well on his way to a new life, including his Future Aces (which he started as a hockey school before it evolved into a motivational program for young people), a successful 32-year career as a financial planner and two national seniors golf titles.

“Closing the door on hockey was hard,” says Mr. Carnegie, who credits his late wife, Audrey, with providing much-needed support.

“It was scary,” he remembers, suddenly finding himself in his mid-30s, a black man in WASP Toronto, with four kids and no career prospects.

“I had this feeling of being shut out. When I would hear about freedom and democracy, our great way of life and all this, I would say, ‘Don’t tell me that stuff! Show me!’ ”

But then Mr. Carnegie started coaching kids. “It was like therapy,” he says. “Their smiles, the support of their parents — it was fuel for my soul. I’d found my purpose in life, and it all built from there.”

Mr. Carnegie is not a religious man, though he thinks his spirit may have been nurtured in some way by attending a Baptist church as a child. He credits loving parents (immigrants from Jamaica in 1912) and his in-laws, the Redmons. He also speaks of “a great gift, a life lesson,” he took from a high school coach at what was then known as Northern Vocational School.

“His name was Bob Crosby, and it’s like I can still hear his voice,” Mr. Carnegie says, explaining that he and the coach had just heard a racial slur from the stands at Maple Leaf Gardens. “Bob leaned down and told me, ‘The way to answer that is to turn the red [goal] light on.’ ”

Mr. Carnegie wrote his Future Aces creed in part to help himself get past his post-hockey pain, but he soon realized that the idea of living according to words such as attitude, co-operation, education and sportsmanship was universally applicable. Today, if you go to the website [http://www.futureaces.org], you’ll find the creed in 15 languages, and according to Mr. Carnegie, “we’re working on more.”

Jim Colby, 61, who attended the first Future Aces hockey school at the old open-air Mitchell Field rink on McKee Avenue, sees himself as lucky in life. “But it was really lucky that I got to know Herb,” he says. “At the hockey school, I was 12 or so, and my self-image was pretty battered. But this guy thought I was fine — and I was a crappy hockey player.”

Mr. Colby, who went on to earn a PhD and become a language tester for the Department of National Defence, saw no evidence Mr. Carnegie felt hard done by. “Herb never lost his temper, even in what must have been his lowest times. He commanded respect, but we all loved him,” Mr. Colby says.

Jean Béliveau, considered one of the classiest men ever to play hockey, calls Mr. Carnegie a true hero. “As a human being, when you see all he’s done . . . even today, he’s still contributing. Every Canadian should know his story,” says the NHL legend, who will be part of a taped tribute at Thursday’s event.

Tonight, it will be like old times.

Mr. Carnegie will sit by the radio, listening to the Toronto-Montreal game. “I’ll cheer for the Leafs, of course,” he says. “Nobody with the present team was ever unfair to me.”

And would he trade all his accomplishments of the past 50 years for a chance to go back in time and play in the NHL?

“I’ve had people say, ‘Thank God you never made it, because you probably would never have done all these things.’ Well, that may be, but we can never be sure.

“I don’t know how to answer,” he says, voice cracking. “When it came to hockey, I wasn’t a coloured kid, I was just a Canadian boy dreaming of the NHL, like all the others. I wanted that so badly.”

Timeless David Gunn quotes about the TTC bus fleet

One of the Orion 7s, a huge improvement over the Orion 6s, hitches a ride to the shop.

One of the Orion 7s, a huge improvement over the Orion 6s, hitches a ride to the shop.

When David Gunn ran the TTC in the 1990s, he stood up to city politicians on the commission and cabinet members at Queen’s Park and extricated us from a deal to buy 600 locally made Orion 6 low-floor buses. He chose instead to rebuild old General Motors New Looks, including vehicles Montreal had scrapped.

Here are some of his thoughts about that deal from a 2011 interview.

“The Orion 6 was total junk, and Queen’s Park was telling me we had to buy 600 of them. Some commissioners were telling me I had no business standing up to Queen’s Park because the province was footing the bill. It was nuts. The politicians were determined we would have low-floor buses. Fine, but they weren’t considering the cost.”

Gunn got the Orion 6 order cut back to 50, and the vehicles arrived in 1998.

“Even 50 of these lemons were a burden on the system. Can you imagine if we’d been forced to take 600? They lived in the repair shop and all were scrapped by 2006. Meanwhile 38 of the reliable rebuilt GMs — rebuilt at a fraction of the price and all more than 28 years old — remain in service. What does that tell you?

“If we’d bought those 600 Orion 6s, it would have brought the TTC to its knees. There was huge political pressure to buy them, but the technology wasn’t ready. They weren’t road-tested. They were a disaster.

“The low-floors also carry 15-per-cent less passengers than the GMs. That meant you would’ve needed 15-per-cent more buses and operators – and an extra bus garage – without a cent in new revenue … just to carry the same number of passengers.

I’m all for low-floor vehicles, but you have to consider the cost. Even the more reliable Orion 7s cost the TTC far more to run than the old GMs.”

We might also add, that the extra bus operating costs were dumped on the TTC right about the time that the province pulled out fully from its funding promises.

SmartTrack can only buy us time; we still need a DRL or whatever you want to call it

After letting four thoroughly jammed trains pass on Nov. 24, 2014, late in the afternoon, I ditched the politeness and squeezed aboard one. The day began with having to let two jammed trains go at Coxwell, and we left large crowds on nearly every platform west to Yonge.

After letting four thoroughly jammed trains pass on Nov. 24, 2014, late in the afternoon, I ditched the politeness and squeezed aboard one. The day began with having to let two jammed trains go at Coxwell, and we left large crowds on nearly every platform west to Yonge.

After Tweeting and FB-posting about horror-show subway crowding yesterday, I was asked why I hadn’t written a recent blog posting on the need for a new subway line through Toronto’s core, and whether John Tory‘s SmartTrack plan will be enough.

The fact is, this op-ed piece for the Toronto Star done back in July pretty much covers it.

 

 

The Death and Life of a Great Canadian Street

Danforth and Woodbine, looking west on Sept. 16, 2014, 98 year and 51 weeks after the photo below right, Woodbine and Danforth has changed plenty. And after about 60 years in decline, the area is getting new investment and is clearly on the way back.

Danforth and Woodbine, looking west on Sept. 16, 2014, 98 years and 51 weeks after the photo below right. After about 60 years in decline, the area and this intersection are getting new investment and they are clearly on the way back.

Urbanist Jane Jacobs may never have written about the East Danforth, but after a few long walks on a Toronto strip that was in decline for much of the latter 20th century, she developed firm views on what is needed for revitalization.

Danforth and Woodbine looking west, Sept. 22, 1915, with the new streetcar tracks and actual paving. (City of Toronto Archives photo)

Danforth and Woodbine looking west, Sept. 22, 1915, with the new streetcar tracks and actual paving. (City of Toronto Archives photo)

By STEPHEN WICKENS

When the writing wasn’t going smoothly, Jane Jacobs would take a long walk. During one stretch of gorgeous fall weather in the early 1980s, with writer’s block delaying progress on Cities and The Wealth of Nations, the renowned author of books on urbanism, economics and ethics visited the Danforth “three or four times … the whole strip from Broadview to Victoria Park,” with several detours to the nearby rail corridor and the surrounding streets.

She never wrote about the Danforth jaunts but she spoke with me about the area in 2004 and 2005, while I was both writing occasional Toronto features for The Globe and Mail, and working with people attempting to start a neighbourhood group (prior to the eventual and very successful establishment of the Danforth East Community Association).

Watercolour of Jane Jacobs by Hilary Forrest

Watercolour of Jane Jacobs by Hilary Forrest

Though she was nearly 90, Jacobs’s memory was excellent. I was raised in the east end and live in the immediate area. I walk a lot, too. She visited a few times – decades earlier – yet what she said helped open my eyes.

In one discussion, she bristled and became quite animated when I mentioned the usual received wisdom, that the East Danforth’s decline in the second half of the 20th century was likely a result of transportation changes, most notably the replacement of streetcar service with the Bloor-Danforth subway in 1966 to Woodbine, and 1968 farther east.

It is an enduring theory, given legs within weeks of the subway’s opening as media latched onto attempts by the area’s “business men’s association” and locals to restore some form of street-based local transit, either streetcars or buses, that would run parallel to the subway using existing, frequently spaced stops. The group produced a 15,000-signature petition (huge numbers for a small area in the pre-social media days), but it fell on deaf ears at the Toronto Transit Commission.

Jacobs said far too much weight had been given to the arrival of the subway, and called it a ‘lazy man’s theory.’ She agreed that underground subway stations – spaced much farther apart than the old streetcar stops – sped the processes that were sucking life off the street (better planning for second station entrances could have alleviated some of the problem in her view). But she argued that commercial strips of blue-collar neighbourhoods had gone into similar declines during the same era, “all over Toronto, the continent, even the planet – and almost none of these other strips would have had new subways.”

The larger transportation-related factors in her view were that car ownership was soaring in the post-World War II era, and that people were suddenly traveling farther to shop – to malls and bigger stores where parking was easier. People also became increasingly less likely to leave home on foot, and whole neighbourhoods and cities suffered as a result.

“Transportation matters to the discussion, to be sure,” she said. “But if you’re serious about revitalizing this street, you’ll focus on broader changes to the overall local economy, and you’ll look for adjustments to form that will naturally attract pedestrians.”

Among the things that first struck Jacobs on her walks, especially east of Pape where the nature of the street changes suddenly and considerably, was the complete lack of Victorian or Edwardian buildings. She also found a sudden increase in the length of the blocks (see No. 2 in her seminal list of conditions for generating diversity).

——————————————————————————————————–Jane Jacobs’s four conditions to generate diversity, from the The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Page 150:

  1. The district, and indeed as many of its internal parts as possible, must serve more than one primary function; preferably more than two.  These must insure the presence of people who go outdoors on different schedules and are in the place for different purposes, but who are able to use many facilities in common.
  2. Most blocks must be short; that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent.
  3. The district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition, including a good proportion of old ones so that they vary in the economic yield they must produce.  This mingling must be fairly close-grained.
  4. There must be a sufficiently dense concentration of people, for whatever purposes they may be there.  This includes dense concentration in the case of people who are there because of residence.

——————————————————————————————————-

She advised me to compare the block lengths east and west of Pape on a map. “Better still, walk and time them if you have the opportunity,” she said.

It turns out that most blocks on both the north and south sides of Danforth west of Pape, the much livelier Greektown neighbourhood, can be walked in a minute or less. Many to the east take two minutes or more. When we touched on this in a subsequent discussion she said I would probably remember for the rest of my life that blocks in the liveliest places in cities around the world will tend to be well under two minutes in length at my pace (try this yourself, no matter where in the world you live).

But Condition No. 1 on her list, The East Danforth’s mix of primary uses, would in her view matter most to people puzzling over how to reinvigorate the area (the emphasis on the word primary was hers).  She felt strongly that if redevelopments merely added residential condos with retail on the ground floor, we wouldn’t be adding the type of real and effective mixed use that could have a major regenerative effect on the strip.  We might merely be adding to the number of empty stores, was her view.

Jacobs suggested I go to the Central Reference Library and use city directories and old maps as an introduction to the timeline of Danforth East’s development. Correctly, as it turned out, she told me to expect that the area was first developed largely in the 1920s, a point she said meant this was in fact a hybrid, not the pure streetcar suburb that some academics would label it. Private cars would have been a factor from the beginning, even if the area had still developed largely around a main street on which streetcars arrived in 1915. She told me to look for evidence the area developed with a significant amount of employment, mostly industrial and most of it likely focused on the rail corridor to the south.

Prior to the area’s initial development, but well into the 20th century, lands on both sides of the East Danforth were largely operating as market gardens, providing fresh produce to the nearby city. Farming operations got larger farther north, toward the Taylor Creek valley, with several dairy operations in what was the Township of (and later the Borough of) East York, amalgamated into Toronto in 1998. Most of the area immediately north of Danforth had been Church of England reserves, known as the Glebe (and usually leased to farmers). South of the Danforth (east of Greenwood and over to the town of East Toronto at Main Street, was known as Upper Midway, part of the Midway area annexed to the city in 1909. It was very rural compared with the main parts of Midway, south of the tracks, and appears as a virtual blank on maps as late as 1907.

Jacobs asked me to come up with a plausible explanation for the delay in development until after World War I, especially since areas farther from established Toronto had developed sooner, around the Grand Trunk/Canadian National station and yards at Main Street. I’m open to arguments, but it seems probable that the biggest delaying factor was that five creeks crossed the Danforth (a.k.a. The Second Concession and later The King’s Highway No. 5). The railway tracks had also established themselves as a barrier (and though they had brought the Town of East Toronto to life, the corridor barrier itself would increasingly become a drag on the area in the later 20th century, especially as it got closer to the Danforth heading east and as industry moved out to the suburbs).

Though the Danforth (originally the Don and Danforth Plank Road) had opened in 1851, the imposition of a concession grid, forced the street to follow a predetermined straight line, despite ravines and marshy areas that would not have been apparent in the kingdom’s Colonial Office in the 1790s. The Danforth was a nightmare to maintain (a job left largely to the farmers who used it and paid tolls, a source of protests and legal disputes). The rickety wooden bridges often got washed out. And even when they weren’t, travelers to the city still had to get to down to Queen, Gerrard or Winchester streets to cross the Don Valley.

Rickety wooden bridges on the east Danforth often washed out in storms. City of Toronto Archives photo

Rickety wooden bridges on the east Danforth often washed out in storms. City of Toronto Archives photo

Even though streetcar service and proper paving came to the East Danforth in 1915, development didn’t happen until the housing shortage after the Great War and the opening of the Prince Edward Viaduct in 1919. Something that held up residential development in the immediate Coxwell-Danforth area was a stench from the Harris abattoir and rendering plant, which was eventually driven away in the early 1920s (even though this is a clear instance where employment and residential don’t ideally work in close proximity, the Harris plant did attract a small enclave of kit housing).

In the city directories, Jacobs suggested I look for trends related to the stores: Aside from the fact that many store owners lived upstairs from their businesses, the most stunning thing was the lack of turnover. Vacancies were listed when buildings were new in the 1920s, but were almost non-existent again until the late 1950s. There was also very little turnover among businesses through the Great Depression, 1940s and early ’50s, indicating a healthy local economy despite great challenges facing the macro-economies. Even when Woolworth moved from east of Woodbine to snuggle up next to department store rival Kresge in 1942, the displaced shops found ways to stick around, some at Woolworth’s old site.

The variety of shops, especially close to Woodbine was remarkable. Though supermarkets in the 1950s were much smaller with limited offerings, there were nine of the Loblaws, A&P and Dominion variety from Greenwood to just east of Woodbine), as well as butchers, bakers and produce shops. There were also many clothing stores. The three movie theatres would have contributed to sidewalk life in the evenings.

These were all things Jacobs expected me to find, and she said it was important to note that the turnover and vacancies started appearing well before any subway construction began, even if that’s when locals started to really pay attention to the strip’s decline. Some feared the subway would bring over-development, yet the opposite happened.

There is also a strong likelihood that plans for an extension of the Gardiner Expressway into Scarborough, through the neighbourhoods straddling the railway tracks, hung over the local real estate market in the 1960s and ’70s. Hundreds of homes were to be expropriated for the interchange at Woodbine, not far south of the Danforth.

The Ford of Canada main assembly plant became Shopper's World mall after the company moved operations to Oakville. The loss of jobs and the shift of stores from the street were "a double whammy" for the neighbourhood.

The main Ford of Canada assembly plant became Shopper’s World mall after the company moved operations to Oakville. The loss of jobs and the shift of stores from the street were “a double whammy” for the neighbourhood. PHOTO COURTESY FORD OF CANADA

Another thing Jacobs wanted me to look at was industry and employment, not so much on the Danforth itself, though it’s worth noting that Canada Bread had its main Toronto plant just east of Greenwood (and the folks at the Linsmore Tavern said the plant workers kept them very busy on breaks and shift changes). Ford of Canada, before moving to Oakville in the 1950s, had its main operations at what, in 1962, became the Shopper’s World Mall, west of Victoria Park, right by the eastern loop of the streetcar line on a small strip where East York actually reached the Danforth.

Jacobs called the loss of that employment and the fact that some Danforth stores moved to the mall in the early 1960s a “double whammy” for the strip. Car dealerships and the TTC streetcar barns at Coxwell (now only partly used, and mostly as parking for subway staff) also brought lots of workers to the neighbourhood, where they would patronize local shops and restaurants. Along the rail corridor, less than a half-kilometre to the south, were major industrial enterprises, including a John Wood plant, the largest source of hot water tanks in Canada from the 1920s on. Service Station Supply was an assembly plant for gas pumps and hydraulic lifts. There were many light industrial operations as well as quarries and brickyards on either side of Greenwood.  Major suppliers of coal, lumber and other building materials were located all along the tracks from Greenwood to east of Main, as were CNR shops and freight yards.

Jacobs wanted us to see that, while many preferred to drive the noise and trucks that increasingly accompanied industry out of our neighbourhood, the shift to an overwhelmingly residential area undercut many facets of the local economy, including the shops and restaurants on the Danforth. The loss of industry meant the rail corridor bordering the southern parts of the neighbourhood shifted from attracting much economic activity to the East Danforth to being a barrier and a drag on the area.

In pure residential terms, the neighbourhood actually got denser because housing was built on former industrial land, but the mix of primary uses – usually residential and employment, with a few specialty shops or large theatres that can draw people from other parts of town – was getting badly depleted.

“Residential density itself won’t be enough of an answer if you really want to create or recreate a vibrant neighbourhood,” she said, adding that residential density by itself, especially if it becomes high-rise, high-density could be a big problem if we don’t pay attention to all the generators of diversity.

On that count, she said the options are limited. There might be small gains to be had by breaking up the long blocks, but the new passageways or streets would almost certainly never penetrate more than a block or two into the surrounding neighbourhoods. Creating a deep inventory of buildings of different ages is a long-term organic process; the key would be to ensure that the 1915 TTC barns and much of the 1920s ones remain (likely not a problem with the fragmented ownership and often shallow lots). Density increases, especially right on the Danforth would be helpful, but we might need less than many think, especially if employment is included. “There’s opportunity in bringing employment to sites at the subway stations,” she said (and she agreed that the TTC lands and some north-side parking at Coxwell and the Valumart parking lot at Woodbine are probably our only significant options for bringing mid-rise office buildings into the local mix).

The five-acre TTC lands at Danforth and Coxwell were used as a bus garage when Jane Jacobs studied the strip. These days much of the site is used, ironically, to provide free parking to transit workers.

The five-acre TTC lands at Coxwell were used as a bus garage when Jane Jacobs studied the strip. These days much of the site is used, ironically, to provide free parking to transit workers.

She added that we were lucky to be approaching things at this time (she was speaking in 2004) because much of the GTA’s employment gains are likely to be in office work, and that even just a few mid-rise office buildings near the stations might bring enough workers to help “rebalance the local economy.”

Though she died in early 2006, Jacobs lived long enough to see a resurgence of life  downtown when usage restrictions were lifted on “The Kings,” and when a new wave of residential development was able to complement the dense employment zones, allowing secondary-use shops and services to come back in the core. She saw it as encouraging.

Returning employment to the Danforth area could, in her view, have a similar effect by getting more people out on the sidewalks for different reasons at different times of the day, helping lots of small shops and restaurants to “get over the hump … it often takes just a handful of extra customers a day to make a difference in small-scale retail.”

“You won’t get industry again, and few would tolerate it, but office work and some new residential density right on the Danforth could be great for the city and your area.” She felt the Avenues focus in the city’s Official Plan could be life-giving for the East Danforth.

She also noted that the Danforth has spare subway capacity in what transportation people call the ‘contra-flow,’ – half-full trains going in the opposite direction of the main rush-hour crowds. She called that “untapped potential.” She remembered surface parking near the subway stations and called it  “a waste of potential.”

“This may come as a surprise to you,” she said, “but part of the area’s empty-store problem is that there’s too much retail space for the current size and makeup of the local economy. Most of that retail is going to be secondary-use stuff.”

It’s almost certain that she would have been a huge supporter of DECA’s pop-up shop program. She also said: “Vacant storefronts certainly feed vicious cycles of decline, but if you’re smart, long-term, you’ll view them as mere symptoms of bigger problems.”

Anyway, it’s a gorgeous September day and signs of new life have been popping up on the East Danforth for nearly a decade now. Even though the writer’s block isn’t necessarily holding me back, I think I’ll go for a walk.

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Stephen Wickens is a journalist and a board member of Danforth East Community Association. Much of the material gathered from talks with Jane Jacobs (directly and indirectly) forms the basis of an annual Jane’s Walk, ‘The Death and Life of Upper Midway.’