By Edward Keenan
2003 image from Eye Weekly
2013 image from PAWEL DWULIT/TORONTO STAR
My new column from the print paper is live now, and it talks about the 10th anniversary of Yonge-Dundas Square—particularly why I think it’s become a very successful civic space. But as I mention in the column, I didn’t like it when it was being planned, and I hated it when it first opened. I wrote about it at the time, and in the interests of looking at that evolution, I figured I’d drag out that old article* to show the difference in my thinking. Here’s what I said 10 years ago in a story that went on to explore other significant intersections in the city:
The old Yonge and Dundas was downtown Toronto distilled and poured out onto the street. Business executives and retail clerks would sit on the ledge around the entrance to the Eaton Centre eating lunch or smoking. People seeking diamond rings and discount jeans, musical theatre and adult entertainment would pass each other on the square before the mall entrance. Panhandlers, thugs, hot-dog vendors, mimes, artists, musicians and manic street preachers plied their respective trades on the corner, each comfortable in the space that served as the city’s rec room.
The Eaton Centre was designed to draw people off the street and into the enclosed society of the mall, but was set back from the street to provide a triangle of public space broad enough to accomodate the bulk of the city’s eccentricities. It was a little gaudy and rundown, but the compressed rhythm of the street corner throbbed the heartbeat of the city and it was beautiful.
All that’s changed. While the buildings on the west side of the street are much as they were, the entire block of ragtag stores on the southeast corner that once served to contain and magnify the energy of the intersection has been razed. In its place is a 3,250-square-metre barren expanse of flat granite that looks like an abandoned bus terminal.
Whatever is eventually built on the northeast corner to frame the square (at the moment, it’s a hole in the ground), the intersection at Yonge and Dundas will be worse than what it was. Embarrassed by the messy genius that sprang up organically and became Toronto’s heart, councillor Kyle Rae, city planners and developers have tried to build a more ideal main square. They’ve ruined Toronto’s best intersection, probably irreversibly.
The ruination, it turns out, was only temporary. I stand corrected.
*I thought I had done so earlier this year, actually, but looking through the blog archive I don’t see it. If I did, here it is again.