July 16, 2012

In the towers of steel

Image Credit: Stacy Kelly, 2012

Freeway like a river cuts through this land
Into the side of love
Like a burning spear
And the poison rain
Brings a flood of fear
Through the ghost-ranch hills
Death valley waters
In the towers of steel
Belief goes on and on

        U2, "Heartland"

I snapped this photo recently while waiting for the 504 King Street streetcar to take me home. I thought the framing of the CN Tower was rather nice.

It also made me think about how the city's skyline is being irrevocably changed by the never-stopping construction of high rise buildings.

I had written about how Toronto is in the process erecting more high-rise buildings than any other city in North America in a posting back in November; something along the lines of 132 high-rises under construction. Admittedly, my posting was fuelled by some chest-pounding so I was taken aback by a provoking article in the July issue of Toronto Life called "Faulty Towers" that exposed the costs and risks of the massive condo rush happening in the city.

I have always seen Toronto as a city of high-rises and skyscrapers. What I did not realize was that, unlike New York City, Toronto had never historically been a city where people lived in high-rises on a massive scale. Rather, people in Toronto worked in high-rises and skyscrapers. Since Toronto was not hemmed in on all sides like Manhattan, the GTA became well-known for its urban sprawl and terrible commuting times. It was not until rather recent times that high-rise (i.e. 12 to 40 floors) condos began to sprout on the Toronto skyline.

The other new beast that arrived in Toronto alongside the swarm of condos is the soaring mixed-use, "5-star living" hotel/residence complexes, such as the 53-storey Ritz-Carlton Toronto (pictured above), 60-storey Trump International Hotel and Tower,  the 55-storey Four Seasons Hotel & Residences, and the almost-completed 65-storey Shangri-La Toronto. Media reports indicate that the actual sales of the apartments in these massive towers is less than ideal, despite the opulent marketing spin otherwise. Again, this is a new arrival to Toronto, home to vast square kilometres of suburban sprawl and semi-detached homes. On the immediate horizon are also two staggeringly tall condo residences: the 75-storey 10 York and the 78-storey Aura, slated to be Canada's tallest condo, already under construction.

With 132 high-rises on the way, Toronto will soon really look and feel like a Manhattan or Hong Kong, with all the pluses and minuses of a densely-packed urban core. No doubt, the downtown already has an outstanding array of food, entertainment, festivals, nightlife to offer its urban residents. I expect most Torontonians are ready to see more people move into the downtown core; what will be the test, however, is whether the city adequately prepares its beleaguered TTC so it can move even more people around in the most efficient and effective ways.

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