Planners Could Learn From Toronto's Messy Urbanism

<p>While other cities may be perfect examples of textbook urbanism, Toronto's diversity and rough edges makes it an especially useful model for 21st century cities, observes one planner.</p>
October 18, 2007, 2pm PDT | Christian Madera | @cpmadera
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"I spent last week in Toronto and fell in love with what I will call its messy urbanism. The city contains the usual suspects on the menu of elements of contemporary good urban form: mixed-use, bike paths, transit, street trees, etc. However, there's a sort of less-than-manicured quality to the whole thing, and coupled with a huge diversity of people, the city ends up feeling gloriously messy, in a functional and walkable way.

The city's messiness and realness stands in refreshing contrast to oft-cited beacons of "smart growth" and good urban design, such as San Francisco and Boston, where the perfection of the built form has almost transformed these cities into museums. In Toronto, rickety and ramshackle Victorian buildings sit snugly next to sleek modern 20-storey condos. Tree-lined streets of row houses (some restored, many not) run right into bustling commercial boulevards filled with streetcars, bicyclists, traffic, produce vendors.

The end result is that Toronto is a great city to roam around in and explore. The city's street grid and generous sidewalks provide the urban explorer like me with ample opportunity to get lost, discover new spaces in the process, and then make my way back to where I was headed in the first place. The blocks are small; the streets narrow (jaywalking is a snap!); the city is relatively flat; the architecture is varied -- from the massive to the very fine-grained."

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Published on Thursday, October 18, 2007 in The National Post
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