No one would ever mistake the CNE’s ramshackle design for a pristine architectural vision. But if you can look past the grimy midway rides, carb-loaded cuisine, and general cacophony, this old-school institution just might reveal an inspiring model for our city’s future.
Imagine the possibilities if this desire for experimentation took hold in the city. The various perspectives in the transit debate might be informed, for example, by the short-term implementation of Bus Rapid Transit—buses running frequently in dedicated lanes on the road, mimicking the behaviour of an LRT—for a limited period on the planned Sheppard and Finch LRT routes.
Greenberg points out that a proposal he and Councillor Krystyn Wong-Tam created for wider sidewalks and more pedestrian activity on Yonge Street will be tested with a month-long street festival that begins this week. Cars will be restricted to two lanes between Gerrard and Queen (instead of the standard four), and patios, benches, and street artists will occupy the new, larger pedestrian zone.
Such temporary projects, actually executed in the real world, have three virtues, Greenberg says. First of all, they allow us to study the effects of a change in a way no model can simulate. Second, pilot projects help overcome bureaucratic conservativism. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it takes possibilities out of the world of artist’s mockups and city plans, and puts them on the street, where citizens can experience them first-hand.
“All this stuff sort of familiarizes people with new places, and opens their eyes to potential they may not have thought of,” Greenberg says.
Related Reading: This year’s most/least extreme CNE attractions
No one would ever mistake the CNE midway for a pristine artists’ rendering, which is partly why it seems odd to think of it as a model for how a city neighbourhood could work. The CNE is gritty, ramshackle, and cacophonous—there are the blinking lights of the Ferris wheel, the wailing sirens, that carnie shouting, “Do you wanna go faster? Then let me hear you scream real loud!” and the overwhelming rural stench of the Horse Palace. Although it isn’t beautiful, the CNE is vibrant and fun—its energy derives from the components it brings together in close proximity, giving people something delightful to participate in.
That’s exactly what many of our most interesting neighbourhoods accomplish. No architect could have conceived of Kensington Market on a computer desktop. In neighbourhoods like that, the elements that create urban energy have evolved over generations. The annual transformation of the Ex suggests that with the right attitude toward impermanence and experimentation, we might be able to produce that same kind of vibrancy in our desolate paved prairies in a similarly short period of time.
YOU WANNA GO FASTER? CNE BY THE NUMBERS