Ossington and Toronto’s Cultural Dynamism

Ossington Community Association October 2012

Contents
• Strategy and rationale for preserving the character of Ossington: overview • Planning and Cultural Dynamism: past policies, present realities
– Official Plan Area-Specific Policies to preserve small-scale character – Apparent patterns in these policies – Culture and planning: the state of play 2012

• Cultural Dynamism and small-scale: the Town Square function
– Cultural Dynamism and small-scale: an international pattern – Cultural Dynamism, the Town Square, and small-scale: phenomenological explanation – Small-scale and Toronto’s Town Squares: phenomenological exploration

• Ossington as an incubator and engine for Toronto’s Cultural Dynamism
– Why Ossington works as a Town Square: a phenomenological analysis – Ossington, the West End, and Toronto downtown culture: why we need to plan to sustain a decade of Cultural Dynamism into the future

• Making choices

Strategy and rationale for preserving the character of Ossington
• Approximately a dozen Official Plan Area Specific Policies preserve the small-scale character of various regions of Toronto • The OCA believes Council should enact a similar OPA to preserve the existing small-scale and lowrise character of Ossington • This OPA is justifiable on the grounds of (a) the centrality of Ossington for sustaining Toronto’s Cultural Dynamism (b) the historical significance of Ossington to Toronto’s past
– This document will be concerned with (a); in particular with the phenomenological impact of urban places on gathering together in a mindset conducive to creativity – (b) will be addressed in future discussion

• The existing application for midrise intensification could be rejected on planning grounds without violating the Clergy Principle
– The OP provides no positive reason to intensify Ossington (2.2P2); the OP provides ample opportunities to accommodate results of post-application study in weighing applications (2.2.3P3); the preservationist goals of the OPA would be undermined by further midrise intensification; OMB decisions such as BSW Development (PL090733) support otherwise permissible rejection on such “undermining” grounds.

Official Plan Area-Specific Policies to preserve small-scale character
• The Official Plan Amendments codifying Area Specific Policies to preserve small-scale character are these:
– – – – – – – – – – – – 155: Church/Wellesley 164: St Joseph cottages 174: Yonge/Dundas–Gerrard 197: Kensington 198: “Yorkville West” 199: (a) Avenue/Pears, (b) Baldwin Village 200: Chinatown 210: Yonge/Rosedale—South 211: Yorkville 231: Yonge/Rosedale—North 264: Casa Loma up and down 334: Bloor/Bathurst–Walmer

Apparent patterns in these OPAs
• Reverse-engineering motivations (speculating a bit)
– Preservation and sustenance of areas with a significant role in the city’s cultural diversity and Dynamism: 155 (Church/Wellesley), 197 (Kensington), 199(b) (Baldwin Village), 200 (Chinatown), 211 (Yorkville), 334 (Bloor Corridor) – Preservation of (longer-term) history: 174 (Yonge Downtown), 197 (Kensington), 199(b) (Baldwin Village), 211 (Yorkville) – Protection of distinctively beautiful aspects of built/natural environment: 164 (St Joseph), 174 (Yonge Downtown), 210 (Yonge/Rosedale–South), 211 (Yorkville), 264 (Casa Loma) – Proximity to upscale residential: 198 (Yorkville West), 199(a) (Avenue/Pears), 210 (Yonge/Rosedale–South), 211 (Yorkville), 264 (Casa Loma), 231 (Yonge/Rosedale–North), 334 (Bloor Corridor)

• Relevant comparisons for our purposes are OPAs for these Cultural Areas:
– 155 (Church/Wellesley), 197 (Kensington), 199(b) (Baldwin Village), 211 (Yorkville), 334 (Bloor Corridor)

• Geographically, the small-scale Cultural Areas are in a strikingly focused area: all lie between Bathurst and Church

Culture and planning: 2012?
• Although the planning regime recognizes the connection between culture and small-scale built form, the state of regulation reflects a twentieth century snapshot of Toronto’s Cultural Dynamism:
– For well over a decade, the West End (Bathurst–Ronces, Queen–Dupont) has been a top-echelon area in its Cultural Dynamism – But the planning regime doesn’t reflect this

• Understandably so:
– Amalgamation and other cuts – Depopulation replaced as leading source of destabilization by repopulation (and de-industrialization) requiring a regulatory paradigm shift

• Still, because culture is dynamic, a regulatory regime in which culture is protected in city planning should also dynamic, in order to avoid
– A “museastic” city of a few protected areas of faded cultural significance surrounded by unprotected areas in which the profit motive quickly overwhelms budding cultural ferment
• Contrast the fates of Baldwin Village and West Queen West

– The appearance of generational (geographical, class) bias
• Here we bracket the (equally if not more significant) question of fairness in the preservation of areas associated with particular nationalities

Culture and small scale in international perspective
• Across a wide range of national contexts (familiar to the OCA through research or experience), urban culture is simply most dynamic in small-scale environments:
– Out of town:
• • • • • • • • Marais (Paris) Camden Town (London) East Village, West Village, “Birdland”, Harlem, Williamsburg (NYC) New Orleans Kreuzberg (Berlin) Haight-Ashbury, Mission, Castro (San Francisco) The interesting parts of Chicago’s North Side Gracia, Raval, Gotico, Born (Barcelona: contrast the dreadful Eixample)

– In Toronto:
• Yorkville, Annex, Queen West, Trinity-Bellwoods, Leslieville, Parkdale, Bloor, Kensington, Baldwin Village, Dundas West, …

The culturally dynamic aspects of urbanity rely on Town Squares; and, we will see, Town Squares are phenomenologically connected to small scale
– The elite commentariat — in its rhapsodizing about the wondrous midrise of “belle epoque Paris, London, and St Petersburg” — apparently thinks the essence of urbanity is not Cultural Dynamism but rather upscale promenading in districts of boutique retail.

The Town Square and Cultural Dynamism: phenomenological explanation
• Towns need Town Squares because people live in towns in order to gather together.
– That distinguishes urban public-realm life from suburban private-realm life. – The Town Square is an “eddy” between the many streams of life

We are able to gather in the Town Square only because the Town Square does not propel you: you feel yourself not going through it but being in it.
– Compare meditation: phenomenologically, we try to dispel “tunnel vision”, a sense of “compulsion” or “propulsion”, where moving closer to a distinctive, specific goal is all we can see – Relaxation; being in the moment, being open to experience – Slow down, greet people, rest, allow for cultural ferment – Contrast: an upscale promenade along which we display status; an ordinary street along which we simply go about our business

“Directionless enclosure”:
– Enclosed, safe (not an open field) – Unlike a “corridor” street, a square has no direction – There you are: having arrived — what next? (Creativity; sociability; playfulness)

In the state of mind engendered by directionless enclosure, one feels safe; free from care; open to experience; focused on the now; sociable — just the state that, in groups, engenders Cultural Dynamism

Toronto’s town squares and the phenomenology of small-scale place
• Toronto does not have many actual squares. A handful of streets perform a Town Square function through various means:
– – – – Kensington, Yorkville, Chinatown — immense visual detail retards the progression of the gaze Baldwin Village — trees + patios provide a “pleasure garden” feeling Queen/Spadina–John — very wide sidewalk Queen/Spadina and Chinatown, again — Spadina is extremely wide

• • •

Still (aside from the southwest corner of Dundas–Spadina, and who wants to hang out there?), these pseudo-town-square streets are all lowrise districts — why? “Directionlessness”: taller buildings engender more of a sense of propulsion Lowrise = low “temperature”: taller buildings raise the “temperature” of a place (more encroachment, more pressure, a vastness confronted by which we can’t relax)
– – Midrise would “suck the life right out of Ossington” (Benj Hellie, Professor of Philosophy, University of Toronto; internationally renowned phenomenologist) Of course lowrise needs to be accompanied by other factors to make an effective Town Square: Yonge, Church, Bloor — not as effective. Queen/Portland
• • • This segment of Queen used to be conducive to loafing around It seemed to have a certain “gloom” about it that evaporated closer to Spadina or Bathurst While it was not clear exactly what this consisted in, it had the effect of “lowering the temperature” of the district
– (The area was, not long ago, a vanguard night-life destination)

A test case:

Post-fire, post-Riocan, it is just another boring Avenue segment
• So here Jane Jacobs seems to be mistaken about the universal undesirability of surface parking

Ossington as Town Square: phenomenological analysis
• Lowrise
– Very low. Predominantly two stories – So, though narrow, there is a very wide projection of sky. (The narrowness also creates a sense of intimacy further conducive to “staying in place” — an intimacy only elsewhere available in Yorkville and Kensington.)

Unpredictable
– Faster/slower vertical rhythm; commercial/residential/industrial; extensive visual clutter (Painted Lady area)/soothing broad surfaces (House of Horvath) – Irregular pattern of cross-streets: they do not pull one out, but seem to distribute in – One does not “tune out” and “keep going”

Cool temperature
– Highly arboreal
• • • Some stretches with great street trees Lowrise + many mature trees on neighbourhood streets mean long views of treetops Residential and light-industrial uses present a mute face to the pedestrian

– Quiet places


Topography
– Significant downhill slope + very lowrise = a progression of landscape vistas – Significant uphill slope + unpredictability catches the eye and holds one in place

Geography
– Ossington is a literal “eddy” between the “streams” of Queen and Dundas. (Indeed, the Dundas Bend ‘points’ one in.) It does not “go on”. One arrives: there one is. What next?

Preserving Ossington as an incubator for Toronto’s Cultural Dynamism
• Ossington has long been recognized by Planning as a “destination”. We can now see why Ossington has proven so effective in this Town Square role:
– – – – Ossington is a unique place in Toronto serving especially effectively in a Town Square function It does so because of its low temperature phenomenological presence Which is a function of a number of delicately balanced and entirely serendipitous factors Of which a crucial role is played by small scale built form

Ossington is ideally located to long continue to serve as a Town Square for the whole of the West End, collecting pedestrian and cyclist flows as follows:
– Via Queen: from Parkdale, Liberty, Niagara – Via Dundas: east from Roncesvalles, Brockton, Dufferin Grove, Wallace-Emerson, the Junction; west from Kensington, Chinatown – Via Argyle: from Beaconsfield, from Trinity-Bellwoods Park – Via the Roxton Road Park chain: from Little Italy, Palmerston

In light of the continuing Cultural Dynamism of, and dramatic residential intensification directed toward, the West End, it seems crucially important to the Cultural Dynamism of Toronto as a whole to sustain Ossington’s ability to serve as the West End’s core gathering-place; Moreover, to safeguard this ability in the Official Plan would restore some generational balance to Toronto’s system of Cultural Area preservation.

Making choices
• The OP promises a city of leadership and stewardship; of diversity; of opportunity; of connectivity. Residents throughout Toronto rely on that promise. We assume, hope, trust that the place we have landed will remain meaningful: will enrich, amplify, and record our meaningful contributions to civic life. • The Cultural Areas preserved by past OPAs testify to Toronto’s longstanding commitment to this promise. But this reservoir of credibility in the promise is dwindling. Too many times in recent years, the reward for attempts at civic stewardship has been the next Bohemian Embassy. • This credibility can be rebuilt. Chief Planner Keesmaat recently announced that the Avenues alone have more space than the city’s growth targets require. Toronto can at last declare an end to the age of culture mining. • Toronto is a city of creativity. But this creativity flourishes only through synergies of geography, place, and built form accreting gradually, over two centuries. Change it, get it wrong — it’s gone forever. Queen/Ossington, just two years ago a gateway of power and mystery, a place of great promise. Now: dead, meaningless; a context of no context. • Places that work — places that nurture and sustain Toronto’s Cultural Dynamism — need to be carefully preserved. Residents know what needs to be done; the city knows how to do it. Working together, we can do it.