November 09, 2009
It’s enough to drive a person to drink. There it is, one of the most important intersections in Toronto, King and Spadina, and what appears on the corner – a liquor store?
Nothing wrong with that, really, but it’s a one-storey LCBO. One paltry storey in a location that could have used many.
Perhaps in a city obsessed with towers, it’s not surprising that there are no minimum height requirements. But at a time when density forms the subtext to most if not all growth plans, it no longer makes sense to allow projects such as this.
The neighbourhood could easily handle 10 floors or more; Spadina, north and south, is lined with tall buildings, as is King. Which is why it hurts to see critical downtown spaces underused so gratuitously. The explanation may be that having the LCBO as a tenant allows the landowner to bide his time; in that scenario, the store won’t be around for more than a few years, maybe a decade, at which point something else gets built.
Again, at a time of environmental restraint there’s no justification for this sort of disposable structure. It is inexcusably wasteful.
And why would the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, an agency of the provincial government, be involved with a project as misguided as this? To be fair to Premier Dalton McGuinty, his government has made a serious attempt to curb sprawl and replace it with urban-scale transit-based development. Look no further than the Green Belt legislation, the Growth Plan and Metrolinx.
The corollary, of course, is to take maximum advantage of mature urban centres, where the infrastructure, though crumbling, already exists. That means transit and sewers as well as condos and culture.
The LCBO outlet underlines the disconnection between what the government says and what the government does. An agency such as the LCBO, which returns more than $1 billion annually to provincial coffers, has its own way of doing things and fails to see beyond that.
As a result, Toronto and other cities in Ontario are filled with inappropriate LCBO buildings, designed and constructed without a thought to context. The board simply moves in and does its thing.
And it isn’t alone: Other offenders include The Beer Store and Shoppers Drug Mart, both of which build with a level of indifference that borders on contempt.
The mayor himself has acknowledged the need for minimum height bylaws, but nothing seems to happen. In the meantime, sites and opportunities are squandered with abandon.
The better way is that seen at Dundas and Bay, where the most recent arrival is Ryerson’s Rogers School of Management. It shares space with a Canadian Tire and an above-grade parking garage. Building this sort of mixed-use project might not interest the LCBOs and the Shoppers Drug Marts, but both could easily be tenants of such a complex. And perhaps the mix would attract more customers.
This suburbanizing of the city, intentional or not, has never made sense and less so now than ever. Often it’s developers and retailers just in from the hinterland who are to blame. But as the LCBO makes clear, not always.
And if the city itself permits such projects to go ahead, it must also be held accountable. If we don’t take planning seriously, why should anyone else?
Yet no activity is more essential to civic well-being. Still there’s no rule that can’t be broken, no process that can’t be subverted, no decision that can’t end up at the Ontario Municipal Board for others to make.
Christopher Hume can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.