If you’ve been walking in the Queen St. W. and Ossington area, you might have noticed the Art or Condo posters that are currently decorating several lampposts. While I personally don’t believe that it has to be a choice between art or condos, I do like that the Ossington Community Association is drawing attention to the fact that developers Urbancorp want to build a nine-storey condo building on the lot that MOCCA, aka the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art, (along with a few other businesses) currently calls home.
I’m not anti-condo and I’m not anti-development but I do think that replacing a notable art museum with a boring, oversized condo that will likely house a chain store at ground level is a bad idea. Does the city need more housing and density? Sure! But does it have to come in uninspired buildings that take more from a neighbourhood than they give? No.
I have this game I like to play in my mind called My Ideal Toronto. In it, I’m a super-mayor who has changed some things up so that Toronto can be the best city it can be. In MIT, condo developments are still abundant but things are done a little differently because the City gives the final okay to a project and can demand a lot from developers.
In this project was proposed in MIT, here’s what it the developers would have to do in order to get it approved:
- Not exceed the height of the nearby Chocolate Factory Lofts, which tops out at six stories (since there are some big demands coming up, the mechanical penthouse can be in addition to that height)
- Have a design that either blends the building into the neighbourhood or is something different and dramatic
- Dedicate 75% of the ground floor and 25% of the second floor as “gallery space”
Yeah, in MIT, the City can say, “Yes, your project can be built but X% of square footage or units need to be affordable housing or three bedroom units or whatever makes sense for the location.” In this case, what makes sense for the location is to dedicate the equivalent of one floor as gallery space.
The proposed condos will take out a total of three galleries (Edward Day and Clint Roenisch in addition to MOCCA). In my mind, the fair thing to do is to give these three galleries the first crack at the new gallery space. If they all pass, or only take a fraction of it, the space would then be made available to other galleries/museums. (No, I don’t know exactly how this would work but details like this aren’t the point of this post; the point is that condos and culture can co-exist if the right tools are in place).
This wouldn’t be a free ride for whatever organization would call this new space home (for the sake of this post, let’s just say that it’s MOCCA even though yes, I know that it is already looking for a new home). It would need to pay rent, which would be based on what is currently charged for that location, as well as cover the usual expenses like utilities and taxes. There would also be annual rent increases that would be tied to inflation and I supposed something would need to be worked in to cover the special assessments that will inevitably pop up.
As for the actual space itself, since the developers, Urbancorp, builds condos and not art museums, one of the conditions of approve would be to allow MOCCA to bring in outside people who would first consulate on, then run, the building of the museum’s new home. A budget would need to be worked out first, between Urbancorp and MOCCA and that budget would be large enough to cover the cost of MOCCA’s existing set-up, plus a little extra, since the museum won’t have a permanent home for a few years. The museum of course could top that budget up if it wanted.
The end result of these demands would be a new, attractive-looking building that provides a home to MOCCA as well as plenty of residents. Unlike what’s being proposed now, it would add to Queen St. W. and it’s arty reputation, not take away from it.
I know, I know, it’s a crazy idea that could never happen in the real world but hey, I can dream right?
I also realize that my solution isn’t a perfect one for everyone. Obviously developers would hate it since yes, it would cut into their profits (though in this case, Urbancorp might be able to charge extra for the prestige of living above/beside gallery space). I can also see some of the locals also hating it. After all, the end result is still a Queen St. W. building being razed to the ground and replaced with condos.
I can’t help but roll my eyes at that attitude. First off, the buildings that will be demolished are ugly. While there are many sections of Queen St. W that I think shouldn’t be touched, this isn’t one of them. And yes, I realize what is being proposed is a rather bland building, but that’s why in MIT, the city can kill a proposal based on an inappropriate design.
As for condos going in, people have always lived above Queen Street, which particularly around here, is a popular, vibrant area. To me, working condos into the mix makes a lot of sense. But the key is to make sure they suite the neighbourhood, not just in size but also in design, price and unit layout. Unfortunately, right now the City can’t do that and that’s what’s really wrong, not the idea of condos existing on Queen St. W.
If the City could put in place some very specific requirements, as well as say things like, “Okay, you can skip out of demands A and C but you have to pay [crazy-price] to the Toronto Affordable Housing Fund,” I think a lot more people would be more accepting of condos. I also think that Toronto would be a better, more livable city.