Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Go ahead, embrace construction: Toronto is fortunate to be a growing city

Toronto's summer road projects are in full swing, causing headache, but building the future, across the city.
Toronto's summer road projects are in full swing, causing headache, but building the future, across the city.

When my girlfriend and I moved into our house seven years ago, my neighbour was a literal pile of dirt.

Construction was just getting started on an eight-storey condo directly behind our tiny rowhouse in Corktown. For the first few years in our new place, we lived with all the pain that comes with large-scale city construction: nearly constant banging and beeping, biblical amounts of dust, construction fencing that sometimes trapped us in from all sides.

But here’s the thing: it was worth it.

Because after a few rough years that construction successfully turned the pile of dirt into a building filled with actual neighbours. People that I now know and chat with at the pub or community meetings. People who make the streets more vibrant and active than they ever used to be.

And that’s not all. In its new and improved form, the pile of dirt also provides useful services. The retail spaces in the building now provide me with access to coffee, food and wine. (And could also provide me Crossfit classes, but, uh, I like the wine better.)

Thanks to the construction, the pile of dirt ended up doing me — and the neighbourhood — a whole lot of good.

I offer this story to any and all residents currently dealing with the pain that comes with construction. According to the city’s most recent economic bulletin, there are more than 127 high- and mid-rise construction projects being built across the city, and each of those projects is almost certainly frustrating someone every single day.

In the midst of that frustration, it’s easy to forget that the cranes and bulldozers are doing more than just blocking roadways and making a hell of a lot of noise — they’re also building our city.

That’s not to say there aren’t still problems with Toronto’s approach to construction. Though Mayor John Tory has made progress in preventing the lengthy and often unnecessary lane closures associated with major projects, sidewalks and bike lanes are still blocked by fencing way too often.

And Toronto could sure use more variety in both architecture and the type of buildings being constructed. Instead of shiny glass condo towers everywhere, it would be nice to see more interesting mixed-use buildings that can provide community spaces, affordable rental housing and space for a wider variety of retail uses.

But whatever the shortcomings in process and execution, Toronto is fortunate to be a city on the grow.

One of my favourite walking routes in Toronto takes me east on Queen’s Quay from Yonge Street. Following the revitalized waterfront path, I pass by the pink umbrellas of Sugar Beach and the fountains of Sherbourne Common, before heading up Parliament Street to the shops and pedestrian streets of the Distillery District.

From there, I walk through the one-time Pan Am Village, with its affordable housing buildings and wacky public art, before ending at Corktown Common — one of Toronto’s all-time best parks.

All these destinations have something in common: 20 years ago, none of them looked anything like they do today. Most were nothing more than piles of dirt.

With Toronto’s construction season already in full swing for the summer, it’s important to keep that perspective. City building isn’t easy, but the gain is worth the pain.

This post was originally published at on 2017-06-26T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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