If you live in Toronto and have recently been near the corner of Yonge & Bloor — arguably the core intersection of the city — you would have seen the empty lot, razed many months ago in preparation for the 80-story condo that generated lineups hundreds-deep for early sales. Looking across that nice flat lot, it would have also been very easy to remind yourself how sad the corner is. A squat, dull little men’s (old men’s) clothing store and two nondescript office towers, one which is fronted by an ugly-ass concrete bunker. The city is trying to help things by expanding and greening up the sidewalks along Bloor, but even such help can’t mask the missed opportunity of Yonge & Bloor.
There were hopes that the right condo design would help the corner, but construction ground to a halt last year as the economy hiccuped and banks grew nervous about their borrowers. Last month the Kazakh-backed developer, who had defaulted on loan payments, sold the property. Onward and upward, right?
Probably. But Toronto’s army of public space advocates has been wondering aloud why we shouldn’t make that corner into a square. Politicians have weighed in, including the mayor who thinks “[i]t would be a remarkable place for a square.” Spacing Magazine, Toronto’s unofficial public space and urban affairs manual, has looked on the newly-pedestrianized Times Square in New York, and seen in it similarities to the last major downtown public square built in Toronto: Yonge & Dundas Square. YDS has completely transformed the corner of Yonge & Dundas which, when I moved to this city, was nothing more than a spigot draining the Eaton Centre. The corner is now a vital part of the city — for example, the film festival is staging a number of free movies and events at YDS this year.
Spacing doesn’t explicitly come out for a Yonge & Bloor square in that article, but do mention other possibilities like Front Street near St. Lawrence Market or Queen West. Personally, I love the Front Street idea. It already feels like a pedestrian mall, and on Saturdays it’s practically impossible to drive down Front anyway, for all the pedestrians zipping back and forth to the north market. But none of those would have the impact of a square at Yonge & Bloor.
Yesterday The Star’s Christopher Hume wrote another article about the site, saying the Toronto Public Space Committee is now on board. Hume does point out that it’s unlikely condo development would stop on the site, but perhaps there’s room for a building and a square. I think that’s the best possible/probable outcome. Dense residential, retail space and a public square wrapped in something architecturally compelling would serve as a proper gateway to Bloor between Yonge & Avenue, the so-called Mink Mile.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of faith that this is what will happen. Yonge/Bloor Home Depot, anyone?