Over the past few months I’ve  been involved with the planning of Art of the Danforth, a three week art festival taking place along Danforth between Greenwood and Woodbine.

My involvement has been an exciting integration of my interests in art and cities, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed commuting to this previously unknown-to-me part of town, slowly getting to know it and its rhythyms.

The Danforth east of Donlands is a unique street. Often referred to as “the other Danforth”, it lacks the vitality of its west of Broadview-Greektown counterpart.

This other Danforth is characterized by disinvestment, many empty store fronts left empty and in disrepair. There is a high concentration of social services along the street, including a meth-clinic, adding to its rough character. This is contrasted to incredibly beautiful, leafy and dense north-south residential streets, leading to and from well used parks.

Danforth East has been the object of real-estate speculation for years. I learnt from an anecdote from a property owner that only recently have the previous owners of the area’s homes stopped renting their properties, and have sold them for handsome sums to young families.

Yet the main strip remains decaying.

Why? Why hasn’t the energy of the Danforth west-of-Broadview made its almost inevitable march further east?

In my explorations of the neighbourhood, I have come up with two theories.

There is a dead zone between Don Lands and Greenwood, where there is little street activity, and a lack of urban design that engages passersby. Rather, you have the mosque, spanning half a block, maintaining an immensely private relation to the street, and the Auto College, which is an entirely-too big building, with an incredibly long, non-porous facade. The energy west on Danforth has had trouble breaking through this dead-zone, and peters out, only to begin partially again east of Greenwood. Also, the Muslim community here is generally insular, meaning a thick culture obstructs the flow of other cultures.

The other theory I have is the effect of a subway line servicing the area, vs a bus, or better yet, a street car.I’ve been thinking of streets recently as river systems with traffic acting as the water in the metaphor. and you can read about that here.

Back to Art of the Danforth — it’s been a pleasure. I feel incredibly connected to this part of the city now, and relish the opportunity to meet its community.

I believe in the festival — it’s aims of improving life along the Danforth East, its responsible engagement with the local communities, its positive mashing together of art-types and not, its transformation of the streetscape and inspiration for imagining the possibilities of choosing, and making meaning of your geography, shaping your city to meet the needs of your family, friends and community.

The above photo is an Art of the Danforth installation by Time and Desire, photo by Labspace studio.

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