Toronto Experiencing Cultural Renaissance?

A host of major construction projects and renovations -- including an opera house, art gallery, and ballet school -- are set to boost Toronto's cultural industries. But will international tourists follow?
April 17, 2006, 11am PDT | Michael Dudley
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"[The City of] Toronto...private donors, and the federal and provincial governments...have together poured almost $900-million into the crane-shadowed pits that pockmark Canada's largest city. A generation ago, an astonished Toronto was energized when its multicultural neighbourhoods won favour from international urban thinkers such as Jane Jacobs. Then, for 30 years, the city the rest of Canada loves to hate cruised back into mediocrity. Today, it is regaining a sense of its own singular potential.

The trouble is, a mob of other cities is also building ambitious cultural projects to chase the same high-spending tourists and high-tech talent. Since Frank Gehry's 1997 Guggenheim Bilbao Museum in Spain came to symbolize the power of cultural icons to revitalize urban economies, U.S. museums have invested more than $5-billion to build or expand; Boston's Museum of Fine Arts remake will cost roughly twice as much (about $500-million) as any single Toronto project. In Europe, Vienna has redeveloped an inner-city neighbourhood, the MuseumsQuartier; Valencia, Spain, is building a district called the City of Arts and Sciences.

'Will visitors from the United Kingdom come to Toronto over Spain? Unlikely,' says Jon Ladd, CEO of the British Urban Regeneration Association. 'Where I think Toronto will be okay is, you have a critical mass of attractions, venues, activities, iconic buildings, a city image. Constructing these buildings must not be a one-off. Culture must be part of the city's fabric. Otherwise, you'll have white elephants on your hands.'"

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Published on Monday, April 17, 2006 in The Globe and Mail
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