Video: Hume: Moving Earth at the West Don Lands
The Star’s Christopher Hume takes a tour of the new neighbourhood now under construction by the Pan-Am Athletes’ Village. Video by Randy Risling
To see the waterfront today is to see Toronto tomorrow. This is where the city’s future will unfold, and despite the complaints, much faster than anticipated.
Most visible is what’s happening on the West Don Lands, the area south of King St. E. between Parliament St. and the Don River. If no image comes to mind, don’t worry. The old industrial precinct wasn’t the sort of place people remember; and if they do, it’s for the wrong reasons.
But as the communities now under construction remind us, the barriers were more psychological than physical. Indeed, the West Don Lands is really an eastern extension of the downtown core.
Today, with River St. running south of King, a site long largely occupied by a cement yard has been opened up and made over into a high-density mid-rise, mixed-use, amenity-rich, sustainable neighbourhood organized around the new 18-acre Don River Park.
Under construction are several projects including the enormous Athletes Village, which will house the 10,000 participants expected for the 2015 Pan American Games. Nearby, a handsome five-building condo complex has already transformed the area. Meanwhile, at the southeast corner of King and St. Lawrence St., Toronto Community Housing has three assisted-rental buildings under way.
By the time the dust finally settles on the district, which won’t be for a few years, there will be 6,000 residential units. In terms of the larger city, the West Don Lands will not just help fill a gap; it will knit disparate parts of the core into a more cohesive whole.
As Waterfront Toronto makes clear, the pace of redevelopment has been particularly gruelling because of the Pan Am Games. The need to get going on the Athletes Village meant construction had to be fast-tracked. That presented its own problems, but WT managed to resist pressure and maintain its commitment to sustainability and planning and design excellence.
A deal that will see George Brown College take over 500 of the rooms in the village for student housing also bodes well for the future of the area. So does Don River Park, a dramatic green space that will draw visitors from the city and beyond.
Ironically, a bit further south down at the Port Lands, the city is in a mad panic to repeat the success of the Don Lands. When a consultant’s report made it clear the Port Lands are decades and billions of dollars away from redevelopment, the city simply commissioned a second study. This time, the experts were allowed to make all sorts of assumptions about development charges and land values. Even then, it’s expected to take 50 or 60 years for the district to be remade.
Long before then, the East Bayfront, which extends east from Yonge to Parliament, will have been rebuilt. George Brown’s Health Sciences campus, which opened near the foot of Sherbourne St., will bring up to 4,000 people to the waterfront every weekday.
Further west, the remake of Queens Quay is underway, as is the plaza at Harbourfront’s York Quay Centre. Prepare for a two-lane road lined with rows of trees and pedestrian pathways.
In other words, Toronto and its waterfront are embarked on the long process of reconciliation. Though the city hopes to speed things up, at this point, it would be better reminded that love can’t be rushed. As frustrating as that may be, there’s no avoiding it. Besides, the real issue now isn’t the Port Lands but the fate of other sites such as Ontario Place.
They say patience is a virtue; on the waterfront it’s a necessity.
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