Danforth Peninsula: fact or fabulation?

Urban design is an imprecise science. Mostly, when it works, it’s because it succeeds in naming the “obvious.” No one ever accused Jane Jacobs, for example, of doing anything more than that (although it didn’t always seem obvious until she named it). Urban design is therefore antithetically opposed to Traffic Engineering, which depends in its entirety on denying that which is evident to the senses. Urban designers know that more roads don’t “fix” congestion, for example, while traffic engineers (and the ideologues at “Reason”) hold the opposite as a central tenet of their so-called profession.

Like traffic engineers, the geniuses at Ontario Power Generation are unable to envision a world where there could be less energy expenditure. Their plan for the future has no word save “more” to describe projected energy needs. At the same time, they share the traffic engineer’s fatal flaw, which is to segregate the world into zoned parcels that require massive arterials, arteries that simultaneously link and divide the zones. For the power brokers, this means huge power generation plants with massive tentacles of E.M.F-emitting “hydro corridors” that carve the landscape. Sometimes the hydro corridors parallel the very arterials that the traffic engineers have imposed; other times they swing overhead on pylons high above the ground. In the latter case the landscape is denuded however; no trees must be allowed to grow and potentially interfere with the overhead wires.

All of this connects, quite literally, to the Portlands Energy Centre–a 550-megawatt electrical generating plant that Ontario’s liberal government is placing, in its wisdom, in the middle of the empty landscape of Toronto’s waterfront south of Lakeshore boulevard, east of the Don River: the so-called “Port Lands” of Toronto.

port lands view toward t.o.
Port Lands View of Toronto
click for larger image

For those of you “from away” who are still with us at this point, the situation in the Port Lands is an ugly and awkward ball of wax that no one really has a handle on. It’s a massive disused piece of land, built on a landfilled marsh at the outfall of the Don River. According to Wikipedia, the area was formed when “Ashbridges Bay was filled in …[from] Cherry St to Leslie St… in the early 1900s. The bay was filled in partly due to concerns about public health – locals had disposed of sewage, farm animal carcasses and household waste in the bay for years.” the newly created land, being “east,” was found to be ideal for all kinds of toxin-spewing industry. Today, while some of the industry has moved away, the port lands still hold industry’s toxic residue. While the western half of the Portlands is being planned as a new and vital waterfront (see for example the recent competition finalists whose work was on public display this past week and which is described in some detail by our friends at spacing wire and the bricoleurbanist), the eastern half of the Portlands maintains a business-as-usual zoning as a employment lands, including the “concrete campus” (headquarters for the cement manufacturers) and the aforementioned Portlands Emissions Centre.

Sorry–did someone say “emissions?”

Problem is, that’s just what all this amounts to–a huge dinosaur of 20th-century thinking that the current government is hypocritically foisting on future generations.

Balls of wax tend to have bits and pieces of imbedded stuff from their process of formation, and Toronto’s Port Lands is no exception. Jutting out is a puzzle piece from the previous (“Progressive Conservative“) Ontario government: the forced amalgamation of Toronto’s six separate civic governments into one “Megacity.” Thus, while the land is itself entirely within the city limits of the preamalgamated city of Toronto, it is actually a part of a unique entity within the city: a peninsula reaching from Scarborough in the east toward Toronto proper: a peninsula with Danforth Avenue running along its central spine from east to west, and bounded by deep ravines and valleys to the north and west, and the great Lake Ontario to the South.

All peninsulas have isthmuses, and the Danforth Peninsula is no exception: its constriction comes where Taylor creek ravine reaches within a kilometer or so of Lake Ontario, a constriction made all the more intense for its crushing together of numerous lines of flight: the major roads of the Danforth and Highway 2 to Kingston, crunched in with the eastward-linking CN, VIA and GO railway lines, and TTC subway line.

The Danforth Peninsula, while existing absolutely as a fact of geography, has never been recognized politically [um, care to rephrase that? –ed.].

That is to say, prior to amalgamation, the peninsula’s government was divided between Toronto, which ignored the region then as now (that lot can’t see anything east of the Don River until you reach Montreal), and the Borough of East York.

map of the former “Borough of East York,” Toronto
Borough of East York click for larger image

East York loudly claimed “status” as “Canada’s Only Borough,” but had its own mayor and councillors. Problem was, East York was geographically split down the seams. One third was the northern half of the Danforth Peninsula, one third was a chunk of land north of the Taylor Creek Ravine (where the ALLDERBLOB’s evil twin, counts the days until retirement on a car-restricted cul-de-sac) and the last third was Leaside and Thorncliffe Park, north of the Don Valley (where Jane Pitfield once worked). While it’s doubtful anything could have stopped the scheming juggarnaut that cobbled together the megacity, there’s no doubt that a Danforth Peninsula so divided had any chance.

Our colleague at the East York Mirror and Car Advertiser, Joe Cooper, has on occasion written about the ills of amalgamation. One gets the distinct impression, reading him, that he holds out hope still, ten years on, for folks to band together and de-amalgamate.

Lisa Queen photo: Donna-Lynn McCallum
Donna-Lynn McCallum still has the signage at her East York home from her days as an anti-amalgamation advocate. A proud East Yorker, she says the community has suffered since the megacity merger. click for larger image

But deamalgamation to the status of “borough” for East York would have no purpose. And returning the disconnected lands north of the geographical peninsula that is the Danforth to government at the peninsula’s centre, near Coxwell and Danforth, would do no good for Leaside or Scarborough.

No, if the Megacity is to be deamalgamated, a close examination of the real geographical boundaries of the Danforth Peninsula must be acknowledged.

Unfortunately, this will never happen.

For one thing, the orphaned “Governor’s Bridge” section of the former borough would have no one to call daddy.

2 Responses to “Danforth Peninsula: fact or fabulation?”


    [...] that there are only two “Walks” in the whole schlemiel east of the Don is going to gall fans of the Danforth Peninsula. We can practically hear them gnashing their teeth on Governor’s Bridge and chez Ootes. But [...]


    [...] finally on page four cyclist Joe Cooper, who was at the same meeting as us a few days back (where MPP Peter Tabuns and Paula Fletcher, together with Jack Gibbons of Ontario [...]

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