Tough As Nails

Five Toronto artists explore glamour as a tool for resistance in a new art show, Tough As Nails: Transgressive Queer Glamour. Work by Maddie Alexander, Kim Ninkuru, Beck Gilmer Osborne, Danny Welsh and Shellie Zhang. April 5 to 23, 2016, YTB Gallery, 563 Dundas St E., Suite 201, Toronto.

Tower Threatens to Trample Church Street

Not content with demolishing Yonge Street, Toronto developers are closing in on Church Street as well. One developer has already secured permission for a 37-storey tower at Church and Carlton. Now another developer wants to put up an even taller building just a block north, on the parking lot east of Maple Leaf Gardens.

The proposed condo, at the corner of Church and Wood, would soar 45 storeys from the midst of an urban landscape dominated by 19th century stores, a 1930s hockey arena and 1950s mid-rises. Even by the cookie-cutter standards of Toronto developers, this seems a tad out of place.

The heart of the gay bar strip is housed just two blocks north in a cluster of two- or three-storey, mostly 19th century buildings. Woody’s, the business that launched the strip way back in 1989, occupies part of a five-unit, three-storey complex that dates from 1893.

Across the street from the proposed development is a playground, a three-storey school, some mid-rise co-ops and the bulky but relative stumpy Maple Leaf Gardens.

The first public consultation was held Dec. 8, 2015 in a rather beige room at the Courtyard Marriott. The city failed to give proper notice of the meeting but 70-odd people still showed up. Most of them talked about problems related to shadows, traffic, congestion, gentrification and garbage disposal, but of course the central issue is size. The building is simply too big for the neighbourhood.

Existing zoning limits the site to 10 storeys and a recent amendment to the city’s official plan suggests 15 to 25 storeys, but that doesn’t seem to bother the property owners. They’re already appealing the amendment to the Ontario Municipal Board.

Worse than the plan’s size, though, is its sheer numbing blandness. The developer has tried to tart up the tower with what it calls “honeycomb” balconies, but the overall design is the biggest cliché in contemporary Toronto architecture: the podium and tower. No word on what to expect at ground level, where retail/commercial spaces are proposed for both Church and Wood Streets, but anyone who knows Toronto condos knows what to expect here: a bank and a drug store.

If this development gains approval we’ll see two to three years of noise and construction followed by a daunting tower that will evaporate what little remains of Church Street’s creaky but still authentic charm. If you want to see where this might lead, check out Charles Street East, where near constant condo construction has turned a once charming street of friendly low-rises into an alienating parade of glass boxes patrolled by security guards.

Nobody doubts the site should be developed. The parking lot that currently occupies the land adds nothing to the neighbourhood. But whatever the developers dream up it, it should be no more than 10 stories with solid provision for an interesting mix of retail and even – in an ideal world – a park.

A second public meeting is scheduled for Tue. Feb. 9, 2016 at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel, 475 Yonge St. at Wood. For further information, contact Councillor Wong-Tam or the city planner in charge, Mark Chlon.

Finding Nifty Stuff in Unexpected Places

Serendipity is a kind of creative observation, says Pagan Kennedy, author of a forthcoming book called Inventology: How We Dream Up Things That Change The World. You find something you don’t know you’re looking for by paying close attention to the world and remaining alert to surprise. The journalistic term for this is “gathering string” – “the first stage of reporting, when you’re looking for something that you can’t yet name. … ‘string’ is the stuff that accumulates in a journalist’s pocket. It’s the note you jot down in your car after the interview, the knickknack you notice on someone’s shelf, or the anomaly that jumps out at you in Appendix B of an otherwise boring research study.”

Book Deals

I bought a real book in a real store the other day without researching prices online beforehand and felt wildly self-indulgent. Surely Amazon could better the store’s 30% discount? Not so, it seems. The on-line giant was only offering 25% off on that particular title. Once you could count on Amazon for discounts on hardcovers and trade paperbacks of about 37% and 25% respectively. Not anymore. You can still get great deals, but it’s certainly not guaranteed. A random survey of hardcovers I’m interested in suggests discounts range from 50% to 11%. Slowly but surely online prices seem to be rising, which must give comfort to independent booksellers struggling with thin margins.

Only the Rich Can Afford Silence

Jonathan Franzen has a nice bit on the internet and class in the New York Times Book Review. While the rich can find the peace and quiet necessary for creation and reflection in upscale sanctuaries like airport business lounges, the rest of us have to put up with flashing screens and advertisements. “Our digital technologies aren’t politically neutral,” writes Franzen. “The young person who cannot or will not be alone, converse with family, go out with friends, attend a lecture or perform a job without monitoring her smartphone is an emblem of our economy’s leechlike attachment to our very bodies.” His reflections come in a review of Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.

As if to prove his point Toronto’s Central YMCA has just installed TVs on almost all of the treadmills and cross-trainers in the main conditioning room. It’s now almost impossible to do cardio without watching a screen or watching someone else watch a screen.

Change On Church

The long-feared re-development of Church Street has begun. A pivotal property between Crews and O’Grady’s has changed hands. Long a parking lot, the property at 512-516 Church St. is now surrounded by a protective fence. “Sold” signs  went up over the weekend. Now it only remains to be seen how, when and how high the property will be developed. With the exception of the Alexa condo, most of the buildings on that stretch of Church Street are low-rise and historic and/or 19th century. The highest buildings in the area are no more than 30 storeys. But there’s no resistance to development at city hall and the trend is much higher. Just down the street, at Church and Carlton, the Stanley condo got two more storeys than the 20 to 35 the city’s planning guidelines suggest. The broker who sold the parking lot property described it as a “prime downtown development site within a high density neighbourhood” and noted the presence nearby of several tall towers – “Casa (43 storeys), Casa 2 (56 Storeys), Chaz (47 storeys), X (45 storeys) and X2 (44 storeys) in the immediate vicinity.”

Oscar’s Opera

The operatic version of The Importance of Being Earnest is finally out as disk/download and judging from the excerpts so generously supplied by the Gramophone site, it’s quite fun. Swoopy, angular, sharp. Gerald Barry’s fast-paced adaptation premiered in Los Angeles in 2011 and has since been performed in London, Belfast and Nancy, France. Barry, who created the libretto himself, cut some three-quarters of the play’s text but apparently kept some of the best bon mots, including the famously subversive crack about effeminacy in men: “I don’t like that. It makes men so very attractive.” Lady Bracknell, often played in drag, is cast as a bass.

Madam Crown

The title character in the Australian legal drama Janet King, which made its Canadian debut this week on the CBC, is a lesbian but it doesn’t affect the story much. She has an elegant short-haired girlfriend and one of her colleagues calls her a “dyke,” but the central story (so far) revolves around the machinations of men. A couple of them are cute, but we’ll have to see how that plays out. There are eight episodes. Watch it on-line at your peril; the commercials are annoying, repetitive and un-skipable. Good story, though.