Driving along the 401, it’s hard to miss the new cluster of towers that come into view just before the highway rises east toward the DVP/404 interchange. Towering over the 401 at Leslie Street is Ikeatown, one of Toronto’s newest neighbourhoods.
Just as the St Lawrence Market was the commercial heart of early York, Ikea’s energy brings life to the new precinct, attracting visitors from all over Toronto and much further afield.
For now, Ikeatown’s borders seem to be Sheppard to the north, Leslie Street to the east, the 401 to the south and Provost to the west, though with the completion of upcoming condominium projects, the neighbourhood will expand west to Bessarion Street.
Okay. I admit that the neighbourhood isn’t officially called Ikeatown. It’s formally dubbed Park Place by its developers, probably due to its proximity to the East Don River valley. The name seems a bit contrived, however, as the immediate area has a lot less Park and a lot more Ikea.
The increasingly popular use Ikeatown – or Ikeaville – to refer to this part of town may alarm some Torontonians concerned about the appearance of corporate names on the city’s map. However, just as the Don and Humber Rivers have supplanted themselves in so many of the city’s neighbourhood and street names, it’s legitimate that that an area be named for the most dominant feature of its landscape.
Though Ikea has brought life to the brownfield site since the early late 70s, the residential towers were only built in the last few years, demonstrating an early application of “leading with landscape“. The urban design principle has since been used in other large scale redevelopments like the Sherbourne Common in Toronto’s revitalized Waterfront.
I visited Ikeatown a few weekends ago to explore the city’s newest neighbourhood. Beyond anchoring the district, Ikea’s influence has made its way into other parts of the neighbourhood’s daily life.
Like the Liberty Village Express, the district has its own micro-transit line. A free shuttle (funded by Ikea) regularly operates from Leslie station, terminating in central Ikeatown, that is, right in front of the Ikea. As I rode the bus, I spoke with a few passengers. Many were residents of the neighbourhood who take advantage of the service to access the TTC as part of their daily commute.
During my visit, I spoke with many Ikeatowners about their neighbourhood. Confirming my suspicions about how much furniture in their apartments came from Ikea, the answers ranged from “about 50 percent” to “almost everything”. I craned my neck upwards to let it sink in. The neighbourhood’s towers, visible on the horizon for kilometres – are literally full of Ikea furniture.
Even the neighbourhood’s public art is Ikea-ish. The public realm is decorated by enormous framed images of flowers that evoke the ready-to-hang stock images of Manhattan and Amsterdam that adorn apartments worldwide.
Ikeatown is a name that is just catching on, but its novelty shouldn’t undermine its legitimacy. Toronto’s neighbourhood names are traditionally unstable. Cabbagetown was originally called Don Vale until changed its name in the 1970s to evoke nostalgia when its neglected Victorian housing stock once again became fashionable. Across the river, Leslieville turned into South Riverdale before reverting back to its original moniker. The Upper Beaches and Junction Triangle, and now perhaps Ikeatown, are more recent cases of Toronto growing, re-inventing and re-naming itself.