Embrace change – it’s happening whether you want it or not

The Beach seems to have something of a xenophobia problem. More and more it seems people are setting their default reaction to any sort of change or difference of ideals to outrage. Some would like to blame social media, though I think that just offers a convenient soapbox for critics of anything and everything.

It brings to mind the proverbial old man yelling at those pesky kids to get off his lawn. Or, if you prefer more poetic terms, it’s all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Here’s the thing: a city is a living entity. It shifts; it moves; it changes, not always predictably. If it doesn’t change, it dies, because the people complaining the most about change are not the people who get out and make a concerted effort to support and sustain healthy neighbourhoods.

If any casual observational evidence is required, take a long walk along Danforth. From Monarch Park all the way to the beautifully-named intersection of Danforth and Danforth, change is evident. This area may not be the most charming in the city, but it’s come a very long way in a very short few years.

Helping the process along has been the Danforth East Community Association. DECA members have been shameless neighbourhood boosters since the group’s start, first organizing work bees for volunteers to help make over businesses for free – simply because improved businesses were good for the neighbourhood. Next came the pop-up shops, a successful bid to fill empty storefronts temporarily with businesses that didn’t have the cash to set up shop permanently. A handful of them have even discovered enough success that setting up shop permanently is exactly what they’ve ended up doing.

Over the past couple years, a significant number of new businesses have opened along Danforth, spreading outward from the epicentre of East Lynn Park – not coincidentally the site of the DECA-initiated farmer’s market, summer movie nights, Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, and many other regular events.

Also not coincidentally, a wave of condo development has followed – to mixed reviews, no doubt, but generally most of them either are or soon will be considered positive additions to the neighbourhood. After all, it’s people who make vibrant neighbourhoods successful, and adding new homes for more people who want to get in on the ‘hood-loving action should be a no-brainer.

Fighting all change of any sort isn’t the kind of default reaction to change that helps build great neighbourhoods. Which brings us to Queen Street East.

As readers of this newspaper well know, there have been ongoing discussions, from these pages to the offices of the city councillor, about the state of Queen, empty storefronts, and, of course, condos.

Of course there are buildings worth preserving, and there is, no doubt, a neighbourhood character that should be protected. The mistake is in thinking that character comes first from the buildings. The defining character of an area comes from the people who live there, not from how much setback there is on a fifth-floor balcony, or from buildings being limited to four storeys, or being forced to build from the same colour and size of brick as every other building for blocks in every direction.

Sure, it would have been nice if, to use just one example, Bellefair United Church could have remained as a church.

But the people lamenting its loss most loudly were not the dwindling few in the pews on Sunday mornings, tithing their share to keep the church a viable and vital neighbourhood institution. And some of the people moving into these new condos are your neighbours. One Willow Avenue resident recently mentioned to her neighbours that she’d bought in a Kingston Road condo now under construction. She proceeded to discover that two of her nearby neighbours would also be her neighbours at the new condo.

The reason condos keep going up all over town is that Toronto, despite its growing pains, is a great, healthy city, and people want to live here. Prosperity and success are good problems for a city to have.

The reason developers keep building condos in the Beach – despite the area’s growing reputation as a bunch of whiners (yes, that’s what I keep hearing when I talk to people in other areas of the city, like it or not) – is that people want to live here. People who might actually support our local shops and restaurants, instead of driving up to Walmart on the Golden Mile and shaking their heads in disgust at an ‘outrageous’ six-storey development on their way back home. People who will be champions of the Beach, a place that is still unique and special and amazing, despite the fact it could be even more so, and probably has been more so in the past.

So here’s my plea: stop reacting. Act instead. Embrace change – it’s happening whether you want it to or not. Before automatically responding to every proposal for change with a default reaction of indignant outrage, hit pause. Walk out the front door, head to the beach. Take a walk on the boardwalk – odds are, like the day I wrote this, it’s a nice day. Breathe deeply. Look around and remember why it is you live in this corner of Toronto in the first place.

Then, and only then, consider whatever it is that had you worked up in the first place. And if it’s still something you simply can’t live with, figure out a way to make a positive change. All action and change, signifying everything.


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16 comments

Thanks, so much, Jon and Beach Metro News, for this thoughtful and practical editorial. There are a couple of new housing developments on Kingston Rd. that I feel are great additions our streetscape. I hope that the new residents will love their community as much as I do. As you said, some of them are likely already living in the neighborhood and are downsizing to something more manageable nearby, and will not need to move out of their familiar community. I’m glad they are able to stay here. Another of those new developments on Queen St. will house my new doctor’s office, so I can walk to the doctor and won’t need to drive across the city any longer for medical appointments. That’s the kind of walkable, sustainable, lower carbon-footprint community that I want to be in. I live in an HCD and moved here in part to be in a heritage area. I don’t know how many people make that conscious choice. We need to preserve the character of our neighborhoods, but there are some changes that are beneficial and need to be embraced.

This article misses the point of much of the community’s legitimate concern and I question whether or not Mr. Muldoon attends any of these meetings which he so freely criticizes. The apprehension of the community is around the planning process with its apparent bias to big business (development). It is also about meetings convened for community consultation that appear to have pre-ordained conclusions.

It is agreed that community character is not created by buildings, but buildings can enhance or detract from a community. Some of the concerns are there is no required traffic impact study unless a building has 100 units–the effect of cumulative construction is not necessary. The number of parking units per condominium unit is not appropriate for a community that already has a significant number of single and multiple dwelling units with only street parking. To live in a community with less reliance on motor vehicles would be lovely however, our public transit is less than optimal and neither Queen St. nor Kingston Rd. nor Woodbine, nor Victoria Park has a bike lane with which to connect us to the rest of the city. To add insult to injury, the building of at least one condo has meant the removal of a car sharing location.

I do not believe anyone would object to well planned, walker, cyclist and transit friendly condominiums that do not take away from the community. A few such condos have been built in The Beach area and people I speak with appreciate them. I…

(I apologize for length.) Some have such amenities and do not overpower the tree canopy. However, the majority are overly tall, provide retail space that is too large for smaller, local, independent businesses (a disappearing distinctive characteristic of The Beach) are square boxes of concrete, glass and metal have been known to block historic landmarks, and out of character with the community’s tradition.

To compare Danforth Ave. with Queen St. or Kingston Rd. is fallacious. Parking, taxation and transit situations are very different. There are no continuous parallel streets adjacent to either Queen or Danforth for safe bicycling routes. Unlike The Danforth, The Beach is being changed for increased tourism at the same time as increasing occupancy density with little regard for individuals who currently reside in the community.

Change does happen-evolution is necessary. But not all change is good, and change that is good for one area is not necessarily good for another. We now suffer from the environmental degradation of the attitude of “things must change” and ill-defined “progress”. Many new innovations and solutions have spelled disaster a few years or decades later-witness Regent Park. Rather than wagging his proverbial finger Mr. Muldoon might wish to ask the Councillor to present the overall plan that is being devised to integrate these independently constructed projects as an enhancing interconnection with an existing community. What is the final vision…

If change were attractive and done with some semblance of esthetics, I’d embrace it. But the Bellefair condos have not enhanced our neighbourhood. The east facade is plug-ugly, with a giant garage door that looks like the entrance to a shipping dock. The “gardens” (I use the term loosely) are cheap and unwelcoming. And the dratted place wasn’t even built with onre parking space per unit. It’s just unrealistic to think that people who pay those $$$$$ for a condo aren’t going to have cars.

I do like the condosjust a few doors away, above Walking on a Cloud. The materials fit the neighbourhood and the streetscape is attractive. So change doesn’t have to be ugly. And I do believe buildings have a lot to do with an area’s character. Imagine Niagara-on-the-Lake with big condos on its Main Street and dotted throughout the town. QED.

Many people in apartments and condominiums don’t have cars, but surely if you build a big parking lot, it will indeed be filled somehow by tenants who rent out spaces to non-tenants or others who want a second vehicle. That’s more cars on an already busy street like Kingston or Queen, or the side streets leading to them. We don’t need more parking lots, we need better infrastructure for more beneficial uses like walking, cycling and transit. As the comment above indicated, there are some examples in this and other cities of more people-friendly developments. Once Bike Share comes to the Beach area, it will be much more user friendly for tourists and day-trippers as well as locals wanting an alternative way of getting to work. That’s something worth agitating for. Where are the groups of locals attending meetings calling for such things? What we often have instead are conflicting calls for more parking, while decrying all the cars on the streets.

Actually David, condo/apartment dwellers don’t have cars–with one exception. The wealthy still have cars–instead of two or three however, they have one. The buildings going in here are not for the hard to house. Also, the options here are not good for many people. The elderly, the semi-mobile, etc. I would love to ride my bike everywhere, but I won’t drive unless there is a dedicated bike lane at minimum. To yet to UofT I go out of my way to stay on trails and dedicated lanes. I keep wishing a bike lane would go in on Kingston Rd. and I know it will sometime in the furture. Also there are many people who cannot ride bikes. The TTC options here are not yet good as they need to be. In cities where they have managed to reduce cars dramatically, they implemented the public transit options first. Many were temporary options but the funding for transit was provided to improve public transit before collecting the tax dollars. It was recognized by government leaders that the options had to be provided before taking away the cards. For some reason here we don’t want to spend money on transit without collecting taxes first. It’s backwards when addressing a serious issue such as too much vehicular traffic.

I very much like the look of the Bellefair condos and think that they really add to the appeal of the street/neighbourhood.

Huh? Change is OK! Wanna build more “condos”? Great! Problem maybe? Parking spaces. It costs maybe $50,000 just to build one parking space? To flood our street with MORE traffic? So folks can drive… somewhere else, such that local stores empty out? Given that 1) folks are driving less and less… 2) local business… need more business… 3) large, heavy, fast motorized vehicles cause damage and injure and kill millions of animals every year (some human)… 4) an obesity “epidemic”… 5) public transport needs better funding… well, goes on and on. So sure, build your condos, just stop building parking spaces for vehicles. Elsewhere in the world it’s already happening. London, England, Paris, France, Oslo, Norway… etc… All moving to ban or severely restrict use of the private vehicle. See the Facebook “Beach(es) Toronto” for more info: https://www.facebook.com/groups/585835261576287

Uh… Jon lives in Hamilton, you know.

I think that 5 out of 6 Beach Metro employees live outside the Beach

I have tried for 5 years to write an In My opinion piece… \

No one cares about your opinion but you and the 300 people who voted for you in the municipal election. You were handily beaten by James Sears which I think says it all. Get over yourself.

I wish to point out, that Jon has probably attended and ‘covered’ more community meetings than all of the current politicians combined. As a reminder he was the paper’s photographer/writer after Grant Jennings. In addition he is intelligent. Regardless of your personal opinion on his article, I don’t think it is necessary to start attacking the Paper’s staff, especially when you are running for the Board of Directors of the BMN.

Is it your intention to dismiss all of the staff who live ‘outside the Beach’.

Jon knows the consequences of having an opinion about development and dogs.

Jon has attended more community meetings than all of the current politicians combined. Note he was the Paper’s photographer and writer prior to becoming the editor.

To dismiss him because he apparently doesn’t live in the Beach is simply sniping. Your comment is unfortunate, considering you are appear to be a candidate for the Board of Directors of the BMN.

Is it you intention to dismiss all of the non Beach resident staff? Will you be disclosing this at that AGM?

Jon knows the consequences about having an opinion on development and dogs in the Beach.

Found this article a just a little confusing Jon. Can you help me to better understand what you are saying?
A few observations and A few
Questions
1. Why do you think that there are so many empty store fronts on Queen?
2. Various factors led to the retail vacancies both on Danforth Ave and on Queen St explain the similarities and the differences?
3. You mention that Residents who live along The Danforth have helped to revitalize their retail community through such initiatives as Pop up Shops, Farmers Markets How do you think that Beach Residents might help to revitalize the retail on Queen?
4. On average how many new residents does a newly built Codo add to the area. How much of a positive impact do you this number of new residents would have on the retail community. Explain
5. Average Retail lease rates on Danforth Ave $$1,800 -$2,000 +1,000 Business Tax On Queen St $5,000-$8,000 +$2,000 in Business tax Compare and contrast the impact of lease rates on retail environment of both Danforth Ave and Queen St
6. You mention that Residents who live along The Danforth have helped to revitalize their retail community through such initiatives as Pop up Shops, Farmers Markets How much of a significant impact do you think that these kinds of initiative would have on Queen St? Would you suggest that this is something that Beach Residents…

Would you suggest that this is something that Beach Residents might undertake to help to revitalize the retail on Queen? Explain?
7. Your suggestions please what could/should/can the businesses/ residents/ The City/ The Province and The Beach Metro do to fill the empty Stores on Queen St I was a little long winded here is the rest of my comment.
Also if you are seriously interested in urban renewal you might want to take a look at this “modern day Jane Jacobs” https://www.ted.com/talks/parag_khanna_maps_the_future_of_countries/transcript?language=en

Change can happen, and should happen, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of what was there that was already good. We don’t have to become just any old neighbourhood without its own charm. The people are not the only thing that creates atmosphere in an area. We can see that in all sorts of beautiful small towns across Ontario that have chosen to maintain a certain look. Those places have a sense of cohesion since their buildings and streets are visually connected – and I don’t mean any kind of ‘cookie-cutter’ look. Why can we not be a neighbourhood that says diverse building types is fun and welcome, but within reason? Why can’t we be a neighbourhood that says we want to maintain a large part of our historic character? Why can’t we regulate building appearance so that there is a sense that whoever designed the place actually thought about how it fit in? How do most of these new places add to the charm of the streets? I want to be able to think in that way about my neighbourhood rather than saying “what the heck is that building doing on this street and why did no one say it was not adding anything to the wonderful charm of the The Beach?”

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