Yonge and Eglinton is bursting. If you need help forming a mental picture, think of it like this—enormous robotic creatures ascend screaming from the earth’s core, bringing with them a concrete and steel mini-city from the depths. In the coming decade we’ll see up to 30 new towers, about 23,000 new people, and few new amenities other than an under-construction LRT system that will add insanity to the traffic chaos, at least in the short term. In raucous, brain-shredding 3-D, an entire neighbourhood is transformed, seemingly overnight.
As far flung and foreign to some downtowners as Myanmar or Bahrain, Yonge and Eglinton is a ’hood that puts the Eglinton subway station in a three-square-kilometre bear hug—a transition zone that bridges downtown with uptown. In other words: Midtown. The recent census indicates that 39,171 people live here, a demographic pole vault representing a 14.5 per cent increase over the past five years, compared to a city-wide population rise of just 4.5 per cent during the same time. At rush hour, the subway platform resembles a chemical weapons strike evacuation, while the side streets, with their leafy single-family dwellings, are parking lots for late-model SUVs.
This is postmodern Toronto in miniature—a building boom so nonsensical that it seems there are more cranes than cars, more workmen than residents. Keeping count of the condo developments is a forensic endeavour. There’s the emblematic Neon, a 20-storey project rising at Duplex Avenue and Orchard View Boulevard, all set to engulf the nearby homes and the Northern District Public Library in apocalyptic shadow. Within spitting distance, there’s the soon-to-be 17-storey Berwick. And a couple of blocks east of Yonge, just off Eglinton, The Madison is coming—two towers with 703 units and a “Zen garden retreat with water feature.”
The jewel in the crown, and the project that, according to developer Bazis International’s market-speak, spurred interested calls “from all over the world,” is the E Condos proposal. This will flatten the northeast corner of the Yonge and Eglinton intersection and replace it with 64- and 38-storey towers, a pair of drag queen’s stilettos gussied up with essential mod-cons like a boxing ring and a cantilevered pool deck. Across the road, on the northwest corner, the grim Yonge-Eglinton Centre square will become a glass-encased shopping mall.
Part of the building mania can be explained by the coming Light Rapid Transit line, a.k.a. the Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown. The LRT will join Black Creek in the west with Kennedy Road in the east, and will run partially underground—a costly logistical nightmare. When it’s completed in 2020, Yonge and Eglinton will have become a dense constellation of mixed-use urban space, zipping people hither and yon via its subway hub.
City Hall and developers insist that this is both manageable and desirable, and that the future will reveal a glittering ersatz downtown as vibrant and buzzy as, say, downtown. But where, locals wonder, are the plans for all this growth? Where are the amenities that will integrate the newcomers—the parks and schools and bike rings and shrinks’ offices needed to absorb so much development? Yonge and Eglinton, which was the site of Toronto’s only recorded armed rebellion in 1837, is at its breaking point—its furious residents on the verge of taking up arms once more.