Archives for posts with tag: spadina

The other day, for some reason, on the subway travelling along the Bloor Danforth Line, the stops were not being announced as they usually are.

A typical day’s subway rhythm is punctuated by the steely voice of an anonymous female announcer:

“The next station is Christie, Christie Station”

“Arriving at Christie, Christie Station”.

Without the regular announcement, I had a wholly different experience of riding the subway.

The stops quietly presented themselves without being promtpted. The rhythm of the train was smooth and continuous, without being interrupted by the announcement of the stations.

Without the announcements, it was quite easy to fall into a trance of motion and non-motion, doors opening and closing in an endless and undifferentiated cycle.

It was also quite easy to lose track of my placement in the system, without the aural prompts used as a constant standard for reorientation.

I found I missed whole stops in the rhythmic, unpunctuated  trance I fell into — I was in Ossington, then Spadina, then Sherbourne.

Between Sherbourne and Castle Frank, I hadn’t a clue as to where I was, and felt a true sense of disorientation as I anticipated the Don Valley views between Castle Frank and Broadview that never came.

This experience gave me the opportunity to meditate on the complete lack of disorientation that accompanies modern forms of transit and telecommunications. With smart phones, and smart cities, we constantly know where we are, and it’s pretty hard to get lost.

The feeling of not knowing where I was between Sherbourne and Castle Frank stations — that was rare.

As someone often in a state of wanderlust, but with a strong sense of direction, it’s very difficult these days to be lost. I understand and support new apps like Drift that encourage, through a set of random directions, people to become lost in their own neighbourhoods.

I don’t yearn for disorientation, but this experience presented a different world to me, a less know-able world, where fun and mystery accompanied a healthy sense of not knowing where-the-hell I was. It was a welcome change to the routine of transit.

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When I passed University Avenue on the Dundas 505 streetcar west yesterday evening, I looked north, and for the first time appreciated Queen’s Park’s night-time illumination.

The building is lit subtly, four points of light highlighting the edges of its geometric roof. It accentuates Queen’s Park’s architectural features, and quietly announces its commanding presence over the street.

The lighting of Queen’s Park solidifies University Avenue’s status as Toronto’s grand boulevard, a street deserved of such a beautiful anchor point. It brings a cohesiveness to the night time street scene, as University Avenue’s traffic islands, adorned with dignified  statues and grand parades, lead gracefully toward the nobly lit structure.

A city needs symbolic design features such as these. As a complex and dissonant place, there needs to be grand, simple landscapes that all Torontonians can identify with (read Kevin Lynch’s Image of the City for more on this). University Avenue is a rare moment of Canadian confidence and exuberance expressed in its urban design. It reminds me of the grand boulevards of South American cities, like Buenos Aires’ 9 de Julio Avenue, which, with its remarkable 16 lanes, is similarly anchored by grand structures, in Buenos Aires’ case, obelisks.

Back in Toronto, the Dundas streetcar passed University Avenue and continued west, past the AGO, and through Chinatown, crossing Spadina Avenue.

Spadina, like University Avenue, is a grand boulevard. The street’s width is enormous, and its traffic boulevards, this time supporting the transit right-of-ways adorn Spadina with an impressive prestige.

But as the streetcar crossed Spadina, I looked north, and noticed that the beautiful University of Toronto building at 1 Spadina Crescent was left unlit, invisible in the darkness of the night.

It would be so simple to light it like Queen’s Park. If the University of Toronto were to light 1 Spadina Crescent to showcase its beauty at night, it would transform the feel of Spadina; it would make the street feel regal, and raise its status as the city’s other grand boulevard.

A simple urban design move would catapult Spadina Avenue into Toronto’s collective mind, establishing it as a strong anchor point of orientation and an undeniable image of our city.