If you don’t often walk along Queen Street from Bathurst to Gladstone, you would be surprised by the amount of new development in the area. Over the last few years, small brick single or two-storey buildings have given way to larger, glass-fronted retailers anchoring mid-rise condominiums.
The Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Toronto. Image: terminartors.com
Among the community, there has been significant resistance to this intensification. One of the first incidents was in 2005 around 48 Abell, a building where artists lived, that was to be converted into condos. Later, there was resistance to the unfortunately named Bohemian Embassy condo on Queen Street. More recent are the objections toward mid-rise condos going up in the Ossington neighbourhood, and to the fact that the parcel of land that holds MOCCA, Clint Roenisch Gallery and Edward Day gallery has been sold to developers. To build yet another condo.
While it is easy to hate condos – their marketing campaigns can be offensive, they often look cheap, they disturb the status quo forcing small independent galleries and artists from the area – it might benefit the arts community to cast them in a more positive light.
The old 48 Abell building. Image: citynoise.org
In fact, some already have. The citizens group Active 18 that was formed to save 48 Abell, has continued to defend arts and culture in the face of major development. Ultimately, the arts organization Artscape struck a deal with developers where they occupy the first three floors of the 18-storey Westside Gallery Lofts (the condo that replaced the old building on Abell) with affordable live/work spaces for artists and art professionals. While perhaps not ideal – it did result in a condo – it seems like something of a success. It certainly brought new people – and new artists – to the area. I know an artist who lives there, and he loves it. And Active 18 has also scored a major recent win by working together with developer Urbancorp to create a 36,000 square foot Art Hub in the lower floors of the Edge condo at Queen and Lisgar. There are also rumours in the air that MOCCA may be in discussions with developers to settle in a condominium ‘podium’–provided they can get their museum quality needs met–when their lease comes up in 2014.
One important benefit of artists working with (not against) developers is that it’s bringing culture, urban design, planning and architectural issues more closely together. An amazing example of this is the work being done by Architext. I was recently introduced to their work with communities, kids, design and architecture and it’s wonderful. Check it out HERE.
The new Westside Gallery Lofts. Image: flickr
We all love the small, safe, secure Queen West of ten years ago, but I think there’s danger in being too romantic when it comes to our cities. Although our urban landscape is inevitably changing, I don’t feel that it’s entirely for the worse. The key will be to maintain affordable spaces for cultural organizations downtown. Those white condo walls and ‘happening’ art scene have surely helped to increase the market for contemporary art. And there is loads more potential, provided we keep the conversation going.
I applaud all that’s being done to broaden the conversation, but it’s not over yet. Ultimately, we decide the fate of our cities. City councillors represent citizens – they will fight for what we want, if we make our voices heard. You can find your ward councillor HERE. Since the recent success of the Beautiful City initiative that resulted in a four-year plan where proceeds from the new billboard tax will be invested in the arts in Toronto, it’s clear we can make a difference. If we get involved.