Heather Mallick: Leaves of grass at Yonge and Bloor
Yonge and Bloor should be the most fascinating, lively and beautiful intersection in Toronto. It is as distant from that ideal as Lithium (Li) is from Chalcedony (Cn) in the periodic table. Ha! Chalcedony is not even in the periodic table. You’re thinking of Copernicium. So that is very distant indeed.
As you can see, I am irate. Yonge and Bloor is getting uglier by the year, so much so that it’s not even a place. Despite having four corners where people live and work in ugly Brutalist and glass tower monstrosities, it has become Generica, a place people pass through to get somewhere marginally more attractive.
Why would they linger? There are no benches, parks, shade, or respite, and nothing appealing on ground level. You can enter Nordstrom Rack on the southeast corner, and I have, but only if you are not claustrophobic and need those discounted shoes very badly indeed.
The buildings at the intersection are quick-buck glass and weather-beaten cement, all in pale tones devoid of interest. For architecture is still Guy World, and most male architects design tall, featureless, pallid buildings.
U.S. comedian Jon Stewart once mocked the Al Wakrah stadium designed by the late female architect Zaha Hadid because it looked like a vagina. The next night, he apologized, for it had been pointed out to him that structures designed by male architects (basically everything) look like penises sticking up into the sky.
If so, Yonge and Bloor is four willies. There’s some empty space in front of the entrance to Hudson’s Bay on the northeast corner but nothing has been done with it. It’s all a big nothing, as Livia Soprano once said of life.
Into this steps a team offering four hours of hopefulness. On Aug. 19, Canada’s Scott Wentworth, a Picton, Ont., landscape architect, will be in charge of lining Yonge and Bloor’s carless intersection with grass, 743 square metres (8,000 square feet) of it.
The idea comes from a Vermont organization, Come Alive Outside, which works to get kids outside and engaging in unrestricted play. The Green Street Challenge has popped up in nearly 13 communities across Canada so far this summer.
As Wentworth told the Star’s gardening experts, Mark and Glen Cullen, in a recent story, “We will encourage kids and adults alike to play on this living carpet of green. They can throw a ball, do yoga, roll on it, sit and eat a sandwich — whatever you please, as long as you don’t interfere with others enjoying the green experience.”
They will not be sitting alone staring at screens indoors, the bane of modern childhood.
Last year, 10 communities took part. Yonge and Bloor was sponsored by Lululemon so a lot of sod was taken up by yoga enthusiasts on their gaudy mats. Perhaps this year people won’t just take indoor activities outside but genuinely enjoy the sensation of grass on their feet and watch children play.
It’s those children who will be saddled with fixing the splat of asphalt that is Toronto as climate change worsens. I hope by then the University of Toronto will have removed the synthetic turf on the University College back field of the St. George campus. It does not absorb rainwater and is worsening flooding (our new rainfall normal) as well as serving as a giant heat island in intolerably long hot summers (our new temperature normal).
I will enjoy padding across grass on Bloor on that Sunday. There is huge density in that area, so many condo towers, but I cannot imagine living there without a park nearby. Why not make the northeast corner a tiny green oasis? Why not a small park on the northwest corner, about to be redeveloped?
We were so slow at preparing for climate change. As the Star reports, Mayor John Tory failed to back speeding up flooding prep by eight years and wouldn’t set a new stormwater fee on property owners with large hard surfaces causing excess runoff.
I will walk along carless Bloor that day in my bare feet and think how much more green and easeful city life would be now if we had been ready for a harsh future.
Heather Mallick is a columnist based in Toronto covering current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @HeatherMallick