Archives for posts with tag: queen street

I noticed a shift in my aesthetic sensibilities as I negotiated the streets of Toronto back in my last several-month stint there.

I started to appreciate, no, really dig, central Toronto houses of the 1960s modernist era — you know, the ones that look like they somehow landed downtown, blown in from some distant suburb.

As I’ve previously described, Toronto is the essential neo-liberal city. It is defined by its lack of architectural unity, rather characterized by the visions of individual actors and their piecemeal city building efforts. The result is an urban form that keeps you guessing: one strip is dominated by slender, elegant Victorian townhouses, the next, a block-wide modernist concrete rental building, the next a hodge podge of architectural styles, eras, efforts.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll stumble on a “little Suburbia” – a row of houses that looks like it belongs in Vaughan or outer-Etobicoke. I get a sense of geognative dissonance in these places, like I’ve defied contiguity, entering a geographic space-warp between central Toronto and suburbia.

Two strips come to mind: the row of houses on the North side of Nassau just east of the Toronto Western General Hospital, and close by, just east of Bathurst on Wolosley just north of Queen.

Suburban townhouses along the north side of Nassau, east of Bathurst

Suburban townhomes emerge out-of-the-blue on Wolseley Street, just north of Queen, east of Bathurst.

And you know what? I never thought I’d say it, but I like these houses, their architectural style, their feel. I like their straight lines, and awkward relationship between window and wall size. I like their reference to a Canada of a different sensibility, their expired mid-century hopefulness. I like that they are big, and spaced out, yet dense and humble. I like their front yards, and how they stand together in the face of a rougher, more diverse urban landscape.

Of course, if this was the only house-form in Toronto I’d probably think differently, but, as a one- or two-off feature in an incredibly diverse city, they provide a nuanced shade to the multi-architectural Toronto pallette.

If I feel this way, I’m sure many other urbanists do as well. My aesthetic shift is probably the result of tired and overdone architectural romanticism. I do agree that Toronto Victorian townhomes are the nicest and loveliest housing form, but my preferences can go beyond a single architectural style. We are culturally saturated with old Victorian Townhouses, and I think looking to relatively newer styles as possible homes, and as inspiring spaces is liberating, and exciting.

The Leslieville Cheese Market is located at 541 Queen West, just west of Augusta; this is very far from Leslieville, for those unfamiliar with Toronto geography.

A locus of place names is often the only thing we have to orient ourselves in an urban vernacular that repeats itself throughout a city.

Every area has it’s own version of a pizza shop, a corner store, a green grocer, a coffee shop. It’s the ties of these places’ names to their location that affirms their unique geography, their relative spatiality, and by extension confirms our relative spatiality in an often disorienting world.

Yes, there is indeed a Leslieville Cheese Market in Leslieville, also on Queen Street, however many kilometres east. I think it funny that they retained their name in their expansion to a different neighbourhood — it contradicts the need for a place to be anchored by its location that I explored in a previous post.

Perhaps this was the intended affect, but it’s as if the Leslieville Cheese Market on Queen West is an outpost of Leslieville itself. When you enter this shop, you are on Leslieville soil, like some embassy in a distant country.

I dig the effect this geognative dissonance (geography-induced cognitive dissonance) has on the streetscapes. It jumbles my linear notion of place and my interrupts my expectations of the seemingly inevitable connection between a place and its unique coordinates.

I suppose this can happen in other circumstances: visiting a North American style shopping plaza in Europe, or being in another’s home that has the exact same blueprint as your own.

Indeed, supposedly objective, relative space is less linear than it appears.

// a personal geography of the Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood in Toronto.

Yesterday, I used Toronto’s version of the popular Montreal bikeshare, Bixi for the first time.

The experience was fun: riding through the very un-cyclist friendly streets of Toronto on a very progressive, efficient mode of transportation. It was like a puzzle piece not fitting properly into its spot.

The experience of riding a Bixi is not like riding a normal road bike. It has a unique frame, which results in a broad steering capacity They also boast a wide, comfortable seat, and gear shifters of a design distinct to Bixi bikes. The bikes have a certain sound and rhythm distinct to them; the internal chain clicking away, the sound of the gears shifting.

As a result, it was a strange experience of riding a bike in the streets of Toronto, a bike I had grown to know in Montreal and sensually associate with that city’s streets. When I closed my eyes, the feel of the bike, its rhythm, its feel as it meanders through the streets all made me feel as though it was just another breezy day on some Plateau street in early Autumn. But then, suddenly, I hit a street car track and opened my eyes, remembering that I was far away from the Bixis of Montreal, a small biker on the wide streets of Queen and Spadina in the heart of Toronto.

See also same-space different-place