Breaking News Dept.
This story was published in the Toronto Star and Car Advertiser the other day. Written by Jessica Hume, who we understand is the daughter of Star architecture critic Christopher Hume, it’s a first-person account of a brutal mugging that took place late one Friday night in the so-called Riverdale Pocket area of the Danforth Peninsula, just south of Donland subway station. The exact location was a pedestrian path running south from the Danforth behind Eastern Commerce Collegiate, east of Jones ave, south of the Danforth.
The story’s a compelling read, and not just for folks like us who live in the area. Cross-posted to Spacing Wire, which describes the author as a “Spacing contributor,” it has generated 60 comments as of press time (it’s here that we read of Jessica’s relationship to Christopher). One of those comments mentioned the story is the third-most-read on the Star and Car Advertiser website. Jessica Hume’s story took up half the page: the other half was a story warning homeowners it’s “break and enter season.”
Don’t let anyone tell you that there wasn’t an editorial decision to ramp up fear among Torontonians, for whatever reason.
Obviously, from the comments at Spacing Wire, the decision worked. The tenor of most of them is of muted hysteria, mixed with practical advice for avoiding a similar fate, and an interesting sidetrack about how it is that Jessica’s comments found print (implying nepotism) while so many other equally compelling stories never do. We like the idea of gatekeeper by the way. We need a gatekeeper at the Allderblob [hey! pay attention! –ed.].
The fact is, no one who wrote comments over at Spacing looked at the specifics of the situation: the writer is talking about Phin park, she’s talking about a footpath that runs between Eastern Commerce collegiate and its soccer field, she’s talking about an “unlit alleyway” that her shortcut “home to Riverdale” crosses [it bears mentioning that “Riverdale” includes the neighbourhood she was in, east of Jones: vis “Riverdale Collegiate,” which celebrated 100 years in its current building, east of Jones on Gerrard, this year. –ed.].
It’s worth a look at the scene. The path leads north straight to the Only Cafe, and south into the “Pocket,” so named because all the roads in and out come from Jones Ave. But before it reaches the Only Cafe, it passes a suburban-style parking lot outside a 24-hour 7-11, a place that attracts litter and offers an opportunity to watch for victims heading for the path.
The 7-11 is the first problem. The 7-11 suggests no one cares, just because it doesn’t. It’s a place that never shovels its sidewalk in the winter. Trash bearing its logo is spread for blocks around. It’s a bad neighbour.
Then the problem is with the path itself. It’s the lack of front doors opening onto it–it’s a back alley, it’s the back yards against the park, it’s the rear of the school.
Go look at Phin Park. The back yards abutting it on the north are 200 feet long. Why couldn’t they have granny flats opening onto the park, with a little carfree path leading between the front doors and the playground? Light spilling from living room windows is a lot more effective than a streetlight at chasing away demons. Look at the “unlit laneway.” Why couldn’t all those garages have apartments built up top, providing eyes on the Eastern Commerce running track night and day?
We write from the perspective of having lived in Boston, New York, Tokyo and Portland Oregon, not to mention St John’s. But you know what? You don’t need to leave Toronto to find examples of great urbanism. The little park at the end of Wellesley street in Cabbagetown is an example of what all our parks could be: with front doors opening right onto the green. The carfree utopia of Toronto Island, with its “capped” 500-name waiting list, tells us all we need to know about what we could be building everywhere. As we say on the Allderblob, “Everyone should be able to live in a park.”
This story doesn’t holler to us about the need for a fraudulent “crime sweep” a la Rudy Giuliani–a situation where everyone poor is a suspect. Nor does it holler about the need to import solutions from “away,” using “experts” from New York, Boston, Tokyo or Portland Oregon. Hey–it’s thanks to those outside experts that we have urban sprawl (imported from Levittown Pennsylvania ), “highrises in the park” (imported from NYC “projects” by Le Corbusier wanna-bes), and motorways that “lift and separate” (the Detroit model).
What this story hollers about is the need for increased low-scale density and more eyes on the street (and the park), built on the existing models that we know work in Toronto already.