Of Crosstown & little glass boxes
Shouldn’t design reflect who we are?
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.