Of Crosstown & lit­tle glass boxes

Shouldn’t de­sign re­flect who we are?

Bayview Post - - News - JOHN SEWELL

I will ad­mit I am get­ting fond of the Crosstown tran­sit line or maybe fond of the idea of it.

As an idea it’s been around since at least the 1970s when Richard Sober­man rec­om­mended it as a first tran­sit pri­or­ity af­ter the Spad­ina Ex­press­way had been can­celled.

But it was one of those grand schemes that one joked about rather than took se­ri­ously since ev­ery­one knew the city would never think of in­vest­ing that kind of money in rapid tran­sit.

Then half a dozen years ago the prov­ince came for­ward with a pile of money, and now the thing is build­ing as any­one inch­ing along Eglin­ton Av­enue knows. It won’t be op­er­a­tional for another four or five years.

It was that fond­ness that got me on the web­site the­crosstown.ca to make a tan­gi­ble con­nec­tion to the project: a view of the pro­posed sta­tions. I first went west and looked at the Fair­bank sta­tion at Duf­ferin, which had long jut­ting white struts ris­ing above a glass box. I won­dered how this struc­ture would sig­nal “rapid tran­sit.” The next stop to the east, Oak­wood sta­tion, is set right among the shops on the north side of Eglin­ton and re­spects that scale by ris­ing no higher than three storeys. Bur it dis­tin­guishes it­self from its neigh­bours in stone, brick and stucco by con­sist­ing of white struts and large pan­els of glass, so that it ap­pears to have not much sub­stance.

The next sta­tion to the east is Cedar­vale, which is a mi­nor ad­den­dum to the ex­ist­ing be­he­moth Eglin­ton West sta­tion. I would have loved it if some­how they had re­duced this ce­ment pile to some hu­man scale, but the only sign of some­thing new is a glass box on the south side of Eglin­ton as an al­ter­na­tive en­trance.

The For­est Hill sta­tion (at Bathurst) is next: a glass box that is so sheer and trans­par­ent it seems to fade into noth­ing­ness, fol­lowed by the same glass box at Chap­lin and again at Av­enue Road, al­though there are hints here of the same struts used at Oak­wood.

And so it goes fur­ther to the east un­til the light rail tran­sit be­gins op­er­at­ing at grade the other side of Don Mills.

The only ex­am­ple of some­thing that is not a glass box is pro­posed at the north­west cor­ner of Mount Pleas­ant, where plans show an ex­ist­ing two-storey bank struc­ture be­ing con­verted to be­come the sta­tion en­trance, much like the north­east cor­ner of Queen and Yonge. On a re­cent trip along Eglin­ton, I no­ticed the old bank build­ing had been de­mol­ished. Maybe to make way for a glass box, with or with­out struts.

It oc­curred to me that per­haps these whisps of sta­tions had been de­signed to save money. Af­ter all, the Crosstown is be­ing built by a pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship with big com­pa­nies ( SNC-Lavalin, El­lisDon and Ae­con, among them) that de­signs, con­structs, fi­nances and main­tains the line for 30 years in ex­change for the gov­ern­ment pay­ing a rental fee that is con­sid­er­ably more ex­pen­sive than if the gov­ern­ment built it it­self.

But no, I am in­formed by Metrolinx staff, lots of thought went into sta­tion de­sign, and a re­port by the var­i­ous play­ers went to Toronto City Coun­cil and was ap­proved. The re­port talked about de­sign ex­cel­lence with stir­ring prin­ci­ples, such as “a strong con­cep­tual de­sign nar­ra­tive across the sys­tem,” and “civic char­ac­ter ex­hib­ited through scale, ma­te­ri­al­ity and qual­ity” and “re­spon­sive­ness to con­tex­tual, lo­cal and fu­ture con­di­tions.”

Ah, I thought, those de­sign­ers saw Toron­to­ni­ans as flimsy and trans­par­ent, with­out much solid char­ac­ter. The story the sta­tions tell — or rather the con­cep­tual de­sign nar­ra­tive — is a very short one, per­haps just a lit­tle sen­tence from the All that is solid melts into air.

My fond­ness has been chal­lenged by my think­ing about the sta­tions, but I con­tinue to think of the day when I am even five years older than to­day, rid­ing up an es­ca­la­tor af­ter a Crosstown jour­ney and de­light­fully see­ing the sun through a glass box. Un­less it were snow or rain. Post City Mag­a­zines’ colum­nist John Sewell is a former mayor of Toronto and the au­thor of a num­ber of ur­ban plan­ning books, in­clud­ing The Shape of the Sub­urbs.

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