Developing a neighbourhood: Oakburn-Avondale (North York)

After the crunching stress of client-based studios, attending networking events I had committed to, and exams, I’d finally caught a break from the whirlwind of third year. My job applications to  “info@developer.ca”s had been in vain (in addition to a sub-par, pre-reviewed resume, there was also skewed competition with seasoned grad students) and I was suddenly left with something foreign and long-lost: time.

After 60+ outgoing e-mails within three weeks, it had become a nauseating process that I needed to take a breather from. My twitter had been flooded with news articles on condo developments in downtown Toronto and I got to wondering about the original condo hub – North York (aka my old ‘hood).

As if that wasn’t enough to get my nostalgia working, I accidentally stumbled upon DTAH’s secondary plan for the area as the solution to Tridel planning to expand Eastward, the critical demand for increasing school capacity, and generally sub-par physical qualities of the area.

Oakburn-Avondale secondary plan area, taken off DTAH's website.

Oakburn-Avondale secondary plan, taken off DTAH’s website.

It had been eight years since I’d last wandered into the old Oakburn-Avondale area – (just East of Yonge St. at Highway 401 – location, location, location!), and I’d heard stories from my parents who’d visited the area while I was downtown during the school year about how much it had changed. The staff report for the sale of the properties surfaced with a quick Google search.

So the next day, I journeyed down there. I’d lived in two different buildings for the four years that I was there. The first one is the Tridel Skymark condos that overlook the Highway (beautiful little lights from little cars on the highway 17 storeys down at night, but quite noisy when the balcony door was open).

I lived in the taller one in the background. Terrific view facing East overlooking the highway.

I lived in the taller one in the background. Terrific view facing East overlooking the highway. And look at that park. And those townhouses. Ridiculously family-friendly. Exactly as I remember it from 2004.

When my family decided to move to Richmond Hill, we’d bought a house in the pre-construction stages of development. Expecting a wait of one year, we scaled down to the low-rise three storey rental apartments five minutes away. My parents figured we didn’t use the amenities Tridel offered anyway and we would save $400/mo on a two-bedroom. Great decision since the construction of our home took an extra year (more on this episode in a later post…).

Oakburn rental apartments. Less than 3 minutes away, but $400 less expensive. Also, we got to know our neighbours, who were really friendly. I don't recall interacting much with our neighbours in the condo though.  I wonder whatever happened to the nice granny that lived in the basement unit.

Oakburn rental apartments screenshotted from Google, as I remembered the area from 2004. Less than 3 minutes away, but $400 less expensive. Also, we got to know our neighbours, who were really friendly. I don’t recall interacting much with our neighbours in the condo though.
I wonder whatever happened to the nice granny that lived in the basement unit.

The first picture, showing the Tridel community is exactly the same to this day – new townhouses encompassing a park, with high-rise condos in the back next to the highway. The local Oakburn area, to my shock, is completely different. For one, half of the community (on the opposite side of the road) had been demolished and replaced by expensive, contemporary-looking townhouses and a large park:

Complete destroy-and-rebuild tactic for redeveloping the area. Previously taken up by inexpensive rental units, now townhouses and another condo to come.

2013: Complete destroy-and-rebuild tactic for redeveloping the rental apartment area. Previously taken up by inexpensive rental units, now townhouses and another condo to come.

Gorgeous, but pricey for its location and build!

Gorgeous, but pricey because of its location and build!

Juxtaposing the original neighbourhood of post-war rental apartments (right) and new Tridel developments (left). Stark difference separated by a single street!

Juxtaposing the original neighbourhood of post-war rental apartments (right) and new Tridel developments (left). Almost like the rental apartments are staring at its own fate. Stark difference separated by a single street!

For each development proposal notice or construction site, there’s a sign that reluctantly informs people of the miscoordination of schools to children and that the schools in the area could not accommodate the rapid influx of children of elementary school age, and that they would likely have to attend schools farther away. After hearing all the trends about DINKs, families having kids at an older age and having less kids per household, it made me question. But all doubts were erased as I’d coincidentally trekked there at 3pm, and children were let out in hoards from my old Avondale School.

Undeniably, the area needed some redevelopment. As well as the shift in the demographic population pyramid, there’s a large manufacturing site right beside the school and the Oakburn apartments – awkward land uses adjacent to one another. From the plans on DTAH’s website that issue’s been recognized and the TDSB will be buying that property from the factory.

Now imagine it is July, when the trees have blossoming flowers, and the sky is bluer. Now capitalize on that.

Now imagine it is July, when the trees have blossoming flowers, and the sky is bluer. Now capitalize on that.

Admittedly, the neighbourhood is exponentially more beautiful (albeit crowded with children and families). The rental apartments were old, but it’s a little saddening to see that the demolition approach had to be taken. The area is up-and-coming for families that would like to balance urban living (or as urban as a family can get since the downtown doesn’t offer many three-bedrooms) with suburban qualities (large parks, free parking in many areas, right next to a major highway). When I walk by the area, I can hear children laughing. If that’s not the pinnacle of communal happiness, I don’t know what is.

Mix of housing types, yes. Mix of income levels? Gone in three... two...

Mix of housing types? Check. Mix of income levels? Gone in three… two…

This is probably the closest I’ve been personally hit with the realities of gentrification. I’m not devastated, but I can’t help but think about the friendly granny that lived in the basement, or the young working couple next door and their husky. Children laughing? Awesome. But how about the voices of those displaced? And where did they go? To what extent did the developers compensate them, if at all? 

Urban planning – you can’t win it all, amirite?

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