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When did the Annex become downtown?

May 6th, 2015 · No Comments

The City of Toronto’s Official Plan, enacted as of June 2006, is an all-encompassing document providing a roadmap for how, where, and when the city should develop. Its sections set out heritage policies, identify areas best suited for intensification, define the unique characteristics of individual neighbourhoods, and limit height and density where necessary. In short, the Official Plan highlights the type of neighbourhoods we want to create, and guides us away from the ones we want to avoid.

It’s a critical document.

Some estimates project that as many as 7.5 million people will be living in the Greater Toronto Area by 2025. The city is growing at a rapid pace, absorbing 50,000 newcomers every year.

And many of those newcomers are settling downtown. According to the city’s own website, downtown is at the centre of this growth. Downtown is growing four times faster than the city as a whole. It also welcomes the 250,000 people who commute into downtown by public transit on a daily basis, as well as the over 125,000 post-secondary students who are enrolled in downtown campuses.

No wonder the subway is so packed every morning.

But would it surprise you to learn that the city’s definition of downtown stretches from the lake north to the Dupont Street rail corridor, and runs east from Bathurst Street to the Rosedale Valley Road and Don River?

It certainly surprised us, when the matter came up during a community consultation meeting on the towering anorexic monstrosity proposed for 316 Bloor St. W. Does it make sense to equate the character of King and Bay streets with that of Bloor Street and Brunswick Avenue? How can we align the narrow bay and gable houses that line our leafy streets with the condominiums at the lower end of Spadina Avenue? It seems to us that the restaurants of Harbord Street have more in common with those of Ossington Avenue than the ones in the financial district.

For a place that’s often described as a city of villages, this broad definition doesn’t do justice to the diverse swath of land it covers. And it’s more than just a philosophical debate.

We wonder if equating the corners of the financial district to the corners of the Annex has led to the troubling rise of building heights, and a greater tolerance among urban planners (particularly those at the Ontario Municipal Board, which with regular and shocking aplomb seems to disregard the city’s attempts at setting its own course) for towers over turrets. Not that we’re arguing for a fortified base at Harbord Street and Spadina Avenue, but we could do with a little more respect for the quirky, historical character of our neighbourhood’s built form.

With the next provincially mandated review of the Official Plan set for 2016, it makes sense to begin having this discussion now. Maybe it’s time to break downtown into smaller parcels, classifying each with a descriptive specificity. How we label things determines how we view things, and labelling the Annex as something other than downtown might prevent developers from floating the idea of a 45-storey building at Bloor Street and Madison Avenue. It’s astonishing that the proposal has made it this far, because it just doesn’t make sense for the neighbourhood on any level.

It’s time to start defining what does.

Tags: Annex · News · Editorial