March 29, 2018 | Corktown
Let’s say you were once familiar with Toronto’s Corktown neighbourhood in 2010, maybe you lived there, then left Toronto to work in another city until now. You would come back to Corktown and barely recognize the neighbourhood you left behind. Back in 2010, Corktown was a-post-apocaylptic Buffalo. There were and still are pretty patches of historic areas south of Queen Street East, just west of the Don River, but there was also a lot closed-off brownfields and empty buildings. King Street East was fine, but aside from a few businesses, it was hardly bustling.
Since 2010, there have been few neighbourhoods in Toronto that have gone under such rapid transformation as Corktown. Corktown has exploded into a well-planned condo community carefully mixed with historic Toronto architecture. Few neighbourhoods have managed to build condos and award -winning public areas (Corktown Common) that make for a fantastic neighbourhood without an overbuilt mess of concrete squeezed into every last inch of remaining land.
But here’s the thing… Corktown and the surrounding Distillery District have some projects coming up that will add much more density to this neighbourhood giving it a larger population than Liberty Village. Some may think that Corktown could become a victim of its own success, but I think, the big changes coming can make Corktown and ever better place to live and invest. It has much smarter development than in many other parts of Toronto. Here are the pluses of a rapidly transforming Corktown.
FLOODING BETTER DOWN RIVER
Fixing the Flood Plain on the Don River is no small task, and when it’s all done there were be a new island, glorious parks, more trees, better water flow, fewer floods, and bike paths. Right now the mouth of the Don River is a mess. It comes down and at the very bottom must take a sharp right when it reaches the shipping lanes of the Port Lands to reach the lake. With really heavy rainfall, experienced more and more with climate change in Toronto, the Don River swells, the water rushes to the bottom, and can’t exit to the lake quickly enough. It causes the river to expand and flood the areas around. No flooding in Corktown, which has constructed the condos on higher ground, but usually Bayview Avenue just under the Bloor Viaduct. That will be changing soon. Here is an in-depth look at the the naturalization project with pretty pictures and more details. The river will no longer be taking a hard right to concrete shipping lanes but will bend slowly in a naturalized river bank to allow for better flow of the river and absorption of water. The new rivers end will create an island. This on top of all the wonderful things that will be happening with the googling of the Portlands to the south.
THE GARDINER SHUFFLE
Back in 2016, the Toronto government decided to choose Hydrid 3, instead of Hybrid 1 or 2 when addressing the aging eastern portion of the Gardiner that runs just south of Corktown. In the Hybrid 3 option the Gardiner does not come down to the ground as some have hoped, but moves a little closer north toward the tracks freeing up land to the south for development and of course to help with the redevelopment if the mouth of the Don River. This will allow some pretty toxic land to be cleaned up and developed, again making this area much more dense and habitable than before.
UNCORK THE NEW STUFF
There is always a concern that more development can be a problem. It should be a concern in Corktown and the Distillery like anywhere else. Still, smart development seems to have taken hold in this neighbourhood better than others. Maybe it has learned from the mistakes of overdeveloped neighbourhoods of the past. Of course, not all of the development in and around Corktown is great, but some of the proposals are quite impressive. There has been more attention to design and more attention to blending with the neighbourhood. Don’t be fooled though. There will be more density. I think it will work, but it will be a different Corktown in another ten years. Here is a link to what may coming. Just note that these may not all make it to the finish line in their current form.
MORE PARKS AND PUBLIC GROUNDS
Did you know there are remnants of Upper Canada’s first Parliament site is buried under a Toronto car wash just outside of Corktown, west of Parliament and south of Front? There is no way you would ever know from just driving by Big Wax and the accompanying parking lot, but more than 200 years ago, this was the site of Upper Canada’s First parliament buildings in the town of York. It was famously burnt down by the Americans in the War of 1812 (We burned down the White House in return). It was rebuilt, but over the decades and centuries to come, it burned down again (no fault to the Americans), then used it for other purposes that had nothing to do with government, like having your car washed. After some hard work by local city councillors, this site came back to the City. A process has now begun to develop a plan for this site so that its history can be revived. We won’t see the Parliament buildings themselves, but there are plans to build a library/musuem and accompanying park on this site. It is still early days for this idea. The design process is only being set in motion now. Along with the parkland created at the mouth of the Don, this will be another nice addition of green space in a dense area.
Get ready for some serious development. Because this one is big. One of the largest developments in Canadian history may be happening on the the site of where Unilever currently sits. This is NOT another cluster of condos. This area now branded as the “East Harbour” ambitiously aims to be one of the city’s primary commercial hubs, like Canary Wharf in London, employing up to 50,000 people with an estimate of 11.5 million sq ft of new office space. Though the plans are still early in the developmental phase, there is a good chance this spot will prove to be an amazing transit hub that will integrate the TTC’s Relief Line with Smart Track, Go and the East Bay, Front LRT, an extended Broadview streetcar. It would function almost like a second Union station.
Now, before I sound to much like a cheerleader for this area, shaking my pom poms and cheering “Corktown!”, we must discuss the good and the bad. I truly am excited by all this change. It really is one of the most exciting neighbourhoods in Toronto in terms of pure transformation. Still, let’s look at the downside. Because there will be some downside.
Some taller condos are going up, some proposed to be up to 90 stories. That will cast shade on houses and other condos that are currently there. As in any neighbourhood, with more density, comes less light. That view of the lake may turn into the view of your neighbours having dinner on their balcony.
BUMPER TO BUMPER
Traffic. Yup, it won’t be pretty. With that much more density, if you are a driver, traffic and parking won’t be easy. Yes, you are close to the Gardiner and the DVP, but it will be more congested. Parking will cost more. Public transit could become a dream though. So, depending on how you use your auto, you may need it less.
CONSTRUCTION FOR YEARS
Get ready, there’s gonna be some dust! It’s exciting to see all this possibility. It’s also having to live through another 10 years of construction. It will be all around. If you are not too close to the new stuff, it won’t be so bad, but be ready for rumblings, cranes, and jackhammers. These changes won’t happen without them.
Even with the discomfort of all that growth and change, it is hard not to see that the projects happening in this neighbourhood are going to make it a very important place in this city. People of 2025 and 2030 will look back and say: Remember the Corktown of 2018? I barely recognize it.