The Grange neighborhood, in Downtown Toronto, has a storied history as a haven of wealth and class in the heart of the city.
Now, that situation has largely changed for the worse. I’m not saying that it’s a bad place to live, because it isn’t. In fact, a new mid-rise condominium, 9T6, is putting up its curtain wall on St. Patrick Street. However, the neighborhood has lost some of its identity, and some of its livability, due to encroachment from Chinatown, aggressive bums, lack of a good grocery store, and a forgotten identity. The cause is what I like to call market transition: its proximity to the commercial core and older housing stock has prepped the area financially for a dominant commercial use. This beautiful thing about a market is that its pressures are resistible. If more attention is paid to the character of the neighborhood then it can be the vital heart of the downtown west-side once again.
So, here I will lay out the neighborhood profile, and proposals for future growth.
Name: The Grange
Landmarks: Grange Manor, Grange Park, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD), Village By The Grange
Boundaries: Northern – Baldwin/Elm St. Eastern – Simcoe St. Southern – Queen St. Western – Huron/Soho St.
Dominant Use(s): Mixed/Residential/Cultural
Character: Artistic intellectual. Young hipsters and older Chinese families.
History: 19th Century – a large plantation estate.
Early 20th Century – a gentrified streetcar suburb of the old Town of York.
21st Century – fighting off the uncanny Chinatown.
Features: Pedestrian-friendly. Privately-owned, public-access cultural attractions of Grange Park and the AGO. Baldwin Street independent shops and restaurants. Queen Street hipster village.
50 Stephanie: This building has got to go. I had the ‘pleasure’ of touring it while apartment hunting in the neighborhood. It’s a slum. It seems like it was a good idea gone wrong: a high rise on the South-West corner of Grange Park should make for a neighborhood icon. Instead, we have a staggered-concrete-facade, third-world mess that has a permanent fence blocking its ample green space from the rest of Grange Park.
The building should be bought & torn down. A future project could see a tall, thin, glass, modernist tower, like the Trump World Tower in New York, right on the southern property line, to allow a large contribution of parkland to Grange Park (retained by the owner, but public-access). Or, perhaps a future tower could cover most of the lot, but with an open, arched ground level plaza that provided cover for park-goers in foul weather. Whatever the result, the redevelopment of this lot is a high priority in The Grange renaissance.
University Settlement: Grange Road should be closed and converted into additional parkland and a continuation of the pedestrian pathway. The University Settlement, to my eyes, detracts from the aesthetic of the park. It is a utilitarian structure, and while its purposes might be noble, there is no reason to consider it untouchable. I imagine a second high-rise, perhaps mirroring the 50 Stephanie redevelopment, that could contain a cultural center as well as other uses. It could be a club tower, filled with special purpose rooms, organizations, studios, and halls – it could even provide OCAD with the room it desperately needs to expand. The base could be the AGOra project outlined below. The high rise would, like 50 Stephanie, provide more park space by shrinking the footprint. Even the Stephanie car park could be joined into the park. Whatever it becomes, it’s important to have this sensitive corner’s scale match the growth of its surroundings.
The Grange Soccer Club: All the great neighborhoods of London have their own football clubs. The Grange should be no different. The Grange SC could start by a simple pickup game in Grange Park. Eventually, it could grow to become part of a future Ontario League System, and maybe play in the top flight against Hippie SC of Guelph or North Toronto SC – whatever teams happen to develop once a real football culture develops in Ontario. Whatever pitch this team eventually occupies, it must be called Grange Manor, after the great house and estate that gave birth to The Grange.
Sobey’s: The Grange needs a grocery store, more than anything. To undergo a badly-needed process of gentrification, The Grange needs to attract more than just artists. Yuppies bring wealth, power, and organization to a neighborhood. They often change an artistic area from hip and impractical to intensely desirable. However, yuppies require a few creature comforts to flourish, notably a grocery store. Most Grange residents rely on the myriad markets of Spadinatown and Kensington Market for provisions, but many also pay delivery charges for Grocery Gateway to bring them everyday foods. There are also the many local restaurants that keep Grangers fed. Still, there is a huge untapped demand for a real grocery store. Currently, Grangers must walk a kilometer and a half to Yonge & College for a supermarket. One Sobey’s in The Grange, possibly within a new high-density development proposed herein, would be a big relief for residents who like to cook. A grocery store is one of a few stable establishment that ‘make’ a neighborhood. Sobey’s, Dominion, Whole Foods, won’t you ‘make’ The Grange?
Pedestrianization: This proposal is part of a larger plan for downtown Toronto: pedestrianization. This can happen two ways, by means of the PATH system or car-free streets. The PATH system, which many Torontonians don’t even know exists, is a network of underground tunnels that connect the buildings of the Financial District. While currently administered by the City of Toronto, it was originally spearheaded by the voluntary cooperation of commercial high-rise developers in the city’s core. Due to its nature, the PATH is covered, temperature controlled, and allows for the conduct of normal life through the vicious Toronto winter. Carfree streets would create a more interlinked neighborhood as well. European city centres’ whole aesthetic is shaped by ridding themselves of cars. Aside from being ugly, cars create the ever-present fear of being run over. This has more of a depressing effect on local commerce than many realize. It can be seen on a grand scale with the installation of raised-elevation highways – which have destroyed the fabric of whole city boroughs.
Baldwin Street, a main drag at the north end of The Grange, already holds carfree Sundays during the summer. These events allow the local establishment to spill forth into a kind of constant street fair. I would prefer to see the PATH system undergo privatization into a non-profit standards organization (essentially setting the rules for voluntary participation by individual building owners). I think this will put it back on the ‘path’ to growth (which seems to have stopped or slowed when the city took over). Even if it doesn’t, The Grange landlords and developers could create an underground pedestrian system that serves only the locality – much as Manulife and The Bay did in Yorkville. This will allow street-level access for cars, weather protection for pedestrians, and creation of a vibrant social space underground.
Grange AGOra: Grange Park should continue to expand. It will soon merge with OCAD’s Butterfield Park, which is a noteworthy first step. I would encourage the AGO to create an indoor plaza integral to Grange Park, in order to provide a forum for their works and a neighborhood space in the winter. This should be on land acquired, as the park is already quite small. Again looking to Europe, we often seen urban neighborhoods with a central plaza or park, as envisioned by Jane Jacobs. This area is not meant for anything in particular, but acts as a meeting place for a melange of interpersonal activities that lack a forum in everyday life. Adolescents illustrate the lack of these sorts of spaces when they hang out in stores, on streets, or anywhere else they can until being shooed away.
It is right and makes sense for there to be an open meeting place for the propagation of civil society. In Toronto, it makes even more sense for this place to be shielded from the elements, preferably by a high glass roof which gives the impression of openness. If developed, the Grange AGOra would fill a niche missing not only in The Grange, but throughout Toronto’s Jacobs-inspired urban design. Sure, Toronto may be a ‘city within a park,’ but those parks are useless for most of the year! A covered, privately-maintained civic space would provide a warm respite from the solitude and gloom of the long Canadian winter.
Again, The Grange is a neighborhood with huge potential. Rents are still affordable; it is right downtown; the history is rich. It’s up to the residents, the institutions, and the developers to make The Grange the premier district of this fair city. Many of these proposals will help, but The Grange suffers most from neglect. The key players are allowing it to be swallowed by Chinatown, the ‘Discovery District,’ and Queen Street. Identity is critical in a post-modern world, and I hardly ever see The Grange on a neighborhood map of Toronto. With the chattering voices of Toronto’s many neighborhoods, The Grange must scream to be heard – and have something to say. This profile begins to tell the story of The Grange: where it has been, where it is now, and where it must go. Go.