Historical Perspectives on Toronto Planning

A Planning Historian's Views on Toronto's Current Issues

Category: Uncategorized

The Unplanned Influx

March 2015

If one takes a long view, which historians are supposed to do, one will see interesting parallels between Toronto’s recent boom of inner-city living and its rapid expansion into the suburbs after the Second World War. Though the migrations obviously go in opposite directions, both are manifestations of an enthusiasm for, almost an obsession with, a better urban world. In the 1950s suburbia looked so much more desirable than the congested old city, its nearly windowless houses crammed into narrow lots on streets arranged in unimaginative rectilinear grids. Whereas since the 1980s the old inner city has looked so much more appealing than the humdrum suburbs, where picture-windowed houses sat on wastefully large lots on streets arranged in pretentious curvilinear arrays. Read the rest of this entry »


Mobility Lost

July 2014

Those of us who travel in and around Toronto by motor vehicle have faced an alarming reality this summer: we can barely get around. That longstanding bugbear “congestion”, steadily worsening as the city intensifies, has suddenly grown by a quantum leap with the closure of one lane on the Gardiner Expressway – the main route in and out of the central city from the west – for long-term reconstruction. One has the sense that the city is changing fundamentally, but also that something is being lost in that change. Read the rest of this entry »

Of Eb Zeidler, John Sewell, and Rob Ford

January 2014

The Institute for Municipal Finance and Governance at the University of Toronto hosted a gathering last month to commemorate Eb Zeidler’s weighty new autobiography. The institute was stepping outside its mandate, strictly speaking, for Zeidler and his work have little connection to either the finance or the governance of cities; but Zeidler is such an iconic figure, and much of his early work in Toronto – Ontario Place, Eaton Centre, the Queen’s Quay restoration – had such an impact on the city that holding a public forum on his book seemed fitting enough. Read the rest of this entry »

Subways and Golden Ages

December 2013

All the drama this past year over Toronto’s Scarborough subway extension – or is it an LRT? – has prompted more than one Torontonian to pine for the Golden Age when Toronto could actually get things done, when it was, as Peter Ustinov supposedly said, ‘New York run by the Swiss’. Golden Ages often melt under historical scrutiny, but in this case the contrast between past and present is so stark that those bygone days, whether truly golden or not, certainly look pretty good: on one hand we have the past – three years of construction, in the early 1960s, to build the original twenty-some kilometre long Bloor-Danforth subway line, with twenty stations; and on the other hand we have the present – three years of dispute over a few kilometres being tacked onto the end of that existing line. What has gone wrong? If we did it then why can’t we do it now? Read the rest of this entry »