Toronto Star and House Advertiser slips a fast one past the “Wheels” section

Heads will roll dept.

We thought we had the Star’s number. We thought we knew it.

Were we wrong?

We’re talking about this past Saturday’s paper, which landed with a thump on front porches all across the GTA: two fat former trees wrapped around the news, trees now shredded and bleached, crushed and rolled flat, to be imprinted with all like and manner of car advertising. Yes, the infamous “Wheels” section.

We usually burrow past that offensive bumf and search directly for the comics page, which for some reason is never the outermost wrapping. We like Zits, and we like Mutts, but we save “Get Fuzzy” for dessert, every time. We like it like that.

The Saturday comics are easy to find, once you know the trick: they’re tucked in under the “Condo Living” section, hard by the advertising flyers that come loose on the floor when you open the whole bundle.

Now, for reasons that for the moment shall go unspoken, we spent more time than usual over that “Condo Living” section this past weekend. We also spent some time examining its more well-off brother, the “New In Homes” section.

Both these sections feature large feature articles every week, as well as many smaller stories, but the entire thing usually reads like PR for the various condo and suburban sprawl developments the sections advertise.

But this past Saturday something was different. Was it us? Both sections contained pieces we might have written. Not as clever or as bizarre, needless to say, but in line with the “correct thinking” espoused on this site.

Take the feature story in the Condo Living section, for example: “Thinking above the box,” by Paul Marshman. It hooked us with a photo of a four-storey main street apartment building, retail below, of the kind we have proposed for the “main streets” on the former Toronto Island Airport site. Chicago downtown-style big box But it was this caption: “Apartments built atop a Best Buy outlet on North Clark Street in Chicago allow a traditional big-box retailer to gain a foothold in the urban market without imposing a suburban, car-dependent model that almost always upsets city dwellers.” The story went on to describe a rumour that Home Depot is planning a new store on this model on Queen Street West in Toronto. The Skyscraper city blob has a string on the subject, if you’re interested in Queen West.

What we’d be interested in is whether the folks at Smart!Centre, them as have a proposal now at the OMB for a 2,000 parking space “power centre” on Eastern Ave (we’ve written about it here), are paying attention. We attended a public meeting (read the full transcript here) where they presented their plans, to the universal dismay of everyone in attendance. Mitch Goldhar, we’d like you to meet Paul Marshman. Paul, meet Mitch.

Leading off the “New in Homes” section, meanwhile, was an even bolder statement: in a story called “Spinning your wheels for a bank?” the author Paul Brent suggests by moving to a walkable downtown location, “a little less car may mean much more house.” Brent examines in some detail the research of Larry Frank, which ALLDERBLOB readers will remember from this post of last January. Frank, now the Bombardier chair in sustainable transportation at UBC, conducted extensive polling to prove his theory that if housing developers returned to the models of walkable, main-streets-oriented planning that typified pre-Levittown, pre-sprawl towns across North America, the buyer would respond favourably. When Frank presented these findings to a small audience at the U of Toronto in January, we searched in vain for media coverage in the days following. We’re pretty happy to see it now surfacing in the “New in Homes” section.

Happy, and impressed.

Hey–don’t get us wrong. The Star is still the “Star and Car Advertiser” in our books. But as for the real estate section, something is going on, and we like it. Fact is, the housing industry is hardly a model of sustainable development, and has not been so for at least 50 years. Indeed, suburban sprawl would not have been possible but for the car.

So to have two lead-off articles in the real estate pages that openly criticize the cozy relationship between residential development and the automobile suggests revolution is in the works at the Star.

We like the direction this is headed. We will keep you posted.

One Response to “Toronto Star and House Advertiser slips a fast one past the “Wheels” section”


    ALLDERBLOB readers are by now used to our level of vitriol and hyperbole. When we said "heads will roll" over at the "New in Homes" and "Condos" sections, we were being, well, sarcastic. We have seen the movie "Little Miss Sunshine" and are aware that "sarcasm is for losers," but we've been called worse. We saw hope that in new editor of the two sections, Stephen Wickens, there was someone who had grasped the fundamental truth that good urban design requires strong community design, which means placing the safety and well-being of people outside their cars (i.e. pedestrians, cyclists and transit users) above that of those in cars. We assumed the sections would retain autonomy--cars and trucks being advertised by the "Wheels" section, good urban design being advertised by the "New in Homes" and "Condos" section.

    So it's with some consternation that we see the two sections, since the new year, being folded into one single section, even as the "Wheels" (should be called "Motors" for all the obvious reasons) section continues to expand.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.