And why I am moving to Canada.
While I was expecting to be blown away by the Falls (and the sheer volume of tourists), my expectation of Toronto was limited to rumors of stupendous Chinatown eateries (seek out House of Dumplings and TeaHouse 168 for superb Chinese Eggplant and Bubble Tea!) and must-see Starchitecture.
Toronto is a city celebrating diversity and good times: From Bloor’s funky mix of discount stores (Honest Ed’s) to the best Tacos Al Pastor this side of the Mexican/American border (Tacos de Asador) to Queen Street’s high end design to Lake Ontario’s revitalized waterfront (Distillery District, Queens Quay and the Boardwalk, the Music Garden by Yo-Yo Ma, Government NightClub), all connected by Spadina (home to Chinatown, the Kensington Market, and this sod-filled car, above).
Just across the way from Buffalo, NY, the Canadian metropolis felt a world away. Here, you can easily imagine English becoming a minority language as streetscapes quickly evolve from Korea Town to Little Italy and were each neighborhood supports small businesses in a way that proves the government truly believes they are the lifeblood of the economy. (Seek out Queen of Sheba, right, on West Bloor for fabulous Ethiopian for an inexpensive price point hardly achievable in Africa).
Much of the success of Toronto in recent years is due to the fact that Canada did not suffer the housing mortgage crisis like its neighbor to the south, and so cranes and glistening glass structures populate the city’s ever-changing skyline. Not since working in China have I witnessed such exponential growth – smart growth, as Toronto appears to be on a smart, future-focused track as far as Urban Renewal and Planning is concerned.
While new buildings continue to rise – as seen in the view from our hotel room at the Holiday Inn Express – older gems, like the Old City Hall adjacent to City Hall and the Tudor style University of Toronto’s campus, remain, as do 1900’s institutions like Casa Loma and the Spadina Museum. The preservation of the older lot is even more profound when you consider that the three biggest names in Toronto architecture – Gehry, Libeskind and Alsop – built their iconic masses around and over century old institutions.
The Sharp Centre at the Ontario College of Art and Design was by far my favorite of the Starchitecture collection for its simplicity in design and material and despite having the appearance of an object from space hovering, appears to draw inspiration from nearby 1950’s buildings with similar bug-leg like attributes.
Gehry, a Toronto native, even toned down his Guggenheim flair for museum architecture at the Art Gallery of Ontario that complements, not overwhelms the neighborhood (unlike his business school at CWRU in Cleveland).
Perhaps my favorite of the museums, the Bata Shoe Museum, holds a place in my heart not for the architecture (supposedly an opened, skewed shoebox) but because of its roots in Czechoslovakia: While in Prague, my thesis project was retrofitting a car museum into the original Bata shoe factory in Zlin!
In conclusion, after just 25 hours in Toronto, after the best dumplings and injera this side of the Atlantic Ocean and after walking 12+ miles down both crowded and desolate streets, absorbing booming streetscapes and chatting with warm, welcoming people I AM MOVING TO TORONTO*