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Toronto's New East Side
02/06/2005

I don't know if it is just the circle of friends I was in and the people I would meet, but it seemed to me that Torontonians have had a strong focus on the west side in the nine years that I've lived here. I've now married an east-sider and happily live on The Danforth. But before that, it seemed that points east of the Don River didn't exist... in fact, almost everything east of Yonge Street was just unimportant. Life was to be found on Yonge Street itself, or Queen West, or College, or Bloor.

It would seem that Toronto's downtown real estate market has mostly been thinking the same way. There is a considerable price premium to be paid for living on the west side, and most major development projects have been along King Street West, Queen's Quay West and Front Street West. Hipsters and gentrifiers have been creeping west, but will have no where to go beyond High Park.

East will inevitably be Toronto's new west. Besides long-time popular areas like the Beach(es), Riverdale, The Danforth and Cabbagetown, changes are already being noted in places like Queen Street East between the river and the beach. Which brings me to the subject of this post: There are three major developments in the works that will fill some big gaps on the downtown east side.

Before I go any further in explaining what these developments are, it's only wise to point out that there is no certainty in these going forward. This very region of the city was the theoretical site of a farce called Ataratiri. And even if these projects go ahead, nothing ever looks like the developers' pictures. But that's no fun, so let's set it aside...

The red-shaded area on the map represents the one project that we can be sure about, because it is already beginning. The red zone is Regent Park, and a revitalization plan was finalized in December 2002. This plan calls for a complete rebuilding of the public housing area, replacing it with a mixed use, mixed income area that's integrated with the neighbouring areas. Besides no longer being a segregated poverty zone, Regent Park will be connected to the surrounding areas through traditional urban design, i.e., continuous streets.

The new Regent Park will supposedly look like this (as viewed looking to the southeast):

The blue-shaded area is the West Don Lands Precinct, a project of the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation. (You can read about it in detail by downloading this PDF file, which is only 120 megabytes.)

The plan has been finalized, and the TWRC's website says they will be launching phase one this year. It looks like a long process however, since it (i.e., phase 1) won't be complete until 2009.

The area will feature 6,500 homes, 23 acres of park, and a million square feet of office and retail space, around a new Cherry Street LRT. The image below is of the view looking to the west.

The green-shaded area is the East Bayfront, another TWRC project which they plan on beginning in 2005.

This one will have 7,100 homes and another million square feet of commercial space. It promises ample publicly-accessible waterfront, but not quite as much as I'd like. Transit would be served by a Queen's Quay East LRT.

All three of these projects include some affordable housing with market-priced units. All three are mixed use. And all three have strong transit connections and good walkability. In other words, all three would seem to be based on what we currently think to be the best urban design practices, avoiding the common 20th-century mistakes.

Is all this stuff going to happen? Actually, maybe it will. And for now I think it sounds good.


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