Editor’s Letter, September 2011: The Real Spadina Expressway Legacy
Outside the Dupont subway station, at Spadina Road, on the northwest corner, three plaques commemorate the successful battle to stop the Spadina Expressway from being built. Together they recount the drama of that effort in vivid, triumphant detail: how a highway cutting through the centre of the city was planned, how opponents believed it would destroy downtown and how the project was killed in 1971. They’re the only plaques I’ve ever seen that commemorate something that didn’t happen.
To the small group of Torontonians who consider the 1970s our city’s political golden era, the Spadina Expressway moment symbolized the power of civic activism and the victory of people over cars. But to people like me, who were born after the battle and who have come of age in a city crippled by gridlock, the plaques seem absurd.
Not that I’m in favour of bulldozing neighbourhoods to make room for highways. But it would have been nice if at some point in the last 40 years we had implemented a workable transportation plan for southern Ontario. In my view, the legacy of the Stop the Spadina Expressway movement is this: grand municipal plans are not welcome here. The population of the GTA is well over five million; we are way too big to continue congratulating ourselves for squashing big plans.
Sometimes, when I’m standing outside Dupont Station, waiting (endlessly) for the bus, I think of all the other plaques we could erect around the city to mark grand civic projects that never were. We could have a plaque along Queen Street marking a subway line we never built. Or a plaque along the waterfront, commemorating a long pedestrian promenade we didn’t create. Now might be a good time to prepare a plaque for a rapid transit link to Pearson that we might never see.
Then again, no one loves Toronto for its ambition or its grand municipal projects. We love Toronto because it’s a safe, civilized place to live—appreciated perhaps most of all by people who come from places that are less safe and less civilized. We love Toronto because it’s livable. That’s what we tell our friends from more glamorous, charismatic cities. New York has the High Line and Chicago has Millennium Park, but Toronto is livable. Which is why I was so devastated by Philip Preville’s cover story (“The New Suburbanites,” page 34) about families who are leaving Toronto because it’s not livable enough. They think this city is too congested. Houses are too expensive. Wait lists for municipally funded programs are too long.
If Toronto is becoming less livable, what’s our claim to fame? (Certainly no one would accuse us of being New York run by the Swiss anymore.) This question is of no interest to our mayor. At precisely the moment we need to figure out how to make Toronto work better, Rob Ford is hell-bent on diminishing the precious institutions that make the city feel livable. The core services review is agonizing to watch: there is nothing to cut, and yet cuts will be made. Will there soon be a plaque in my neighhourhood commemorating a library that was not built? A community centre that no longer exists? A daycare? A park?
All over the world, young people are inheriting debt accrued by the recklessly wasteful boomers who came before them. In Greece, they protest in the streets. Here in Toronto, we opted to solve our serious money problems by electing Rob Ford, a guy whose only goal is to shrink government and stop building stuff. Now we will have yet another chapter of Toronto history in which we will be defined by not doing anything. Who can blame people for dreaming of Port Hope?
(Photograph by Nigel Dickson)
7 thoughts on “Editor’s Letter, September 2011: The Real Spadina Expressway Legacy”
Are you kidding?
First, the Spadina expressway was a bad idea, that’s why it became an election issue, and a bunch of councillors were elected overwhelmingly to kill the plan.
There were a number of expressways planned during that era that would have sliced and diced the city beyond recognition. The Gardiner was one that was built, and how did that work out?
People have always left the urban areas for the ‘burbs. But recent studies have shown that living in urban sprawl areas come with many additional costs not only economic but also health costs. Living in car-centric areas are actually bad for your health. Like smoking cigarettes.
Urban sprawl has caused the city’s gridlock. And there is not much Toronto can do outside of hoping the GTA gets its own act together. We should be charging tolls, we should have congestion charges at downtown parking lots. We should take this money and improve our own transportation system and climate change adaptation programs. But the political will at the provincial level and even the municipal level is not yet there. It will be.
Raj your comments tell me that you lack the scientific background to support what you have said about climate change or cars and related pollution. Gridlock is not caused by urban sprawl but by more people choosing to drive rather than depend on a poorly developed or run transport system as anyone who has used the TTC should know.
The slower cars move the more they pollute due to Carnot efficiencies. This means that by not having the Spadina to speed traffic into and out of the city center the same cars pollute the main streets that they crowd as they slowly make their way out of the city
Gridlock is caused by the numbers of people traveling to and from the city and the very real fact of lack of infrastructure to support them and nothing else.
CO2 is a plant food and humans can survive in atmospheres of 40,000ppm safely. This is 100 times as much as there is in the air now and we would have bigger crop yeilds and faster as well. The greenhouse effect has never been demonstrated although it has been speculated since Svante Arrhenius first proposed it over 120 years ago. Firstly it violates the second law of thermodynamics as well as physics, yet you and millions of others non scientists believe what you don’t understand. This is a classic example of brainwashing of the ignorant. Traffic moves by plug flow and that will not be changed by charging tolls, it will only slow things down and encourage large companies to move their offices to less congested cities, which I think will start to happen in this decade. Toronto the smug self centered who deserve whom they elect and the results they foist upon the unsuspecting.
Stopping the Spadina Expressway was Toronto’s community equivalent to the Spartans battle at Thermopylae. That confrontation became a legend and was brought to the big screen as an epic PX90 infomercial call “The 300”. Greece and Sparta are not what they were, but is it absurd to acknowledge a high point in human nature? If we follow your logic, then celebrating stopping the Nazi’s world domination is also uncalled. Or the Cold War. Maybe we shouldn’t celebrate stopping the mass destruction of the world 100 times over since there is still war and unrest in the world. We need to recognize that as a citizenry we can come together and at great sacrifice do great things. Especially now more than ever.
Stopping the Spadina Expressway had many legacies. One of them, it started very young people like myself down a path which led to a life long interest in cities, how they work and how they could work better. It changed the Toronto political landscape, the entire polity moved to the city investing, city building side of the house for over a decade and yes it was a golden era. Investments in co-op housing, in community health clinics, the stuff that made Toronto safe and comfortable to live in.
And then it all began to unravel. Canada has been dis-investing in local and national services for 30 years..that’s probably longer than you’ve been alive and it was my entire working life. You feel like moving to Port Hope. I was a dog soldier in a long, ugly war that never stopped and continues to this day. Canada used to have something called the Ministry of Urban Affairs. We used to have a country that cared about cities and cities that cared about themselves.
And you’re right. It is both ironic and sad that stopping something should be the highwater mark of Toronto and Canadian urban accomplishment. But it is and was. If you want to get an idea of what Toronto would like with it, check out the Decaire Expressway in Montreal.
The handwringing by both Fulford and the other letter writers perplexes me. Toronto’s problems are growth problems, as this little 1920s Methodist town built for stuck-up government bureaucrats, U of T professors and meatpacking workers mushrooms and mutates.
It’s linked to both Canada’s economic success, which drives up the number of people able to live elite lifestyles in the nation’s financial capital and thus sends house prices soaring, and the other elephant in the room that nobody mentions: our stratospheric immigration levels.
If growth is such a problem, it has always amazed me that greenies, lefties and even reactionaries who want to expand roads always focus on the numerator and not the denominator. We could never go back to the New York Run by the Swiss city of a manageable 2 million people if we wanted to, and where our federal immigration policies are realistically taking us is a Los Angeles style mega-sprawl of 10-15 million people with an elite living life on foot an subway in the Old City of Toronto and various nodes of outer-city high rises that people drive to.
Subways to link everything together are heinously expensive to construct in this day and age, and will never happen, other than a few links here and there.
Do we want this? It’s not such a bad outcome. Toronto is a more exciting place to live. I don’t recognize your dystopia, Clive Doucet. What I do recognize is a place with twice as many damn people due to deliberate government policy.
It doesn’t matter if we’d built the Spadina or not. Montreal built the Decarie and it was a toss-up, a very convenient though crumbling traffic artery in exchange for losing a civilized urban boulevard and gaining a constant traffic roar in eastern NDG.
I really appreciate your position on this, and whole-heartedly agree. I commented on Mr. Preville’s cover story providing links to research and thought leadership on the unsustainable nature of urban sprawl, but had to comment here too to ensure more voice is given to the viability of urban living.
Whether you print or use any of the comments either at the other article or here, I just want to contribute, so feel free to use or revise any of the following as you see fit, if even just to know, without doubt, that you are not only not alone, but right on the money.
Speaking of money, part of my passion for this topic is the simple fact that urban sprawl, through all its machinations of gridlock, pollution and ill health, is costing this region billions of dollars. It’s a war to re-educate people about the need to increase density, increase infrastructure utilization and decrease infrastructure cost-per-user.
Toronto My Way
Toronto has long failed to manage urban sprawl, which has stretched services thinly across too wide an area.
People are forced into cars when they live beyond reasonable transit service. Try standing at a bus stop in the suburbs, hauling groceries, after work, in January.
But, too many suburbanites still work in (and depend on) “the city” for their livelihoods. And, especially for those who’ve quit the 416 for the 905 and have taken their property tax support out of 416, they still put wear and tear on 416 roads, and then complain about construction.
How did the 401 become the busiest highway in North America when cities like New York and Los Angeles (that doesn’t even have a subway) are twice as big? http://torontomyway.blogspot.com/2010/01/choking-on-congestion-talk_07.html
And, statistics show urbanites are healthier than suburbanites http://torontomyway.blogspot.com/2010/05/health-and-city.html Which makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, everything is about the car in the suburbs, while urban dwelling supports not only choice but healthier choices, such as walking, cycling, or using public transit. How about using Bixi? http://torontomyway.blogspot.com/2010/05/bixi.html, http://torontoist.com/2011/05/bixi_toronto_is_here.php Would that fly in the suburbs?
It ought to go without saying that the total cost of an overburdened health care system could be reduced for everyone if people got healthier, and it is easier to get – or stay – healthy in the city. This family who was stressed out – because their weekly drive to their cottage required so much administration – are part of a privileged minority; most Torontonians don’t have the luxury of the “problem” of how to get to and from a cottage every week. Good for them, if moving out to 905 reduces their stress but, on the whole,
as indicated in the research, the urban encouragement and access to healthier choices provide the stress-busters that car-trapped commuters simply don’t have.
Christopher Hume has a great article on density that continues to build on the knowledge we really do have about what makes urban living sustainable, and suburban living unsustainable http://www.thestar.com/columnists/article/887233
Why not discover the joys of the city by walking or, as Hume calls it, the lost art of “strolling”? http://torontomyway.blogspot.com/2010/01/walk-walk.html
Toronto My Way
I’ve got to post a correction to my comment. Los Angeles does have a subway. It is quite new, as far as big, North American city subways are concerned (construction began less than 20 years ago) and, as such, had not played a part in the 20th century history and development of the city’s cultural identity to-date; not at all like the icons that such systems as New York City’s or Chicago’s are. Notwithstanding, an error’s an error, and I stand corrected.
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