At 19 years young, the amalgamated city of Toronto is a youthful city. It is filled with a population of aspiring individuals with fresh perspectives, realistic needs and ambitious wants. This past summer, I’ve seen a number of events take place that made me think about the importance of abandoned spaces, and the role they can play in creating great neighbourhoods and cities.
Toronto is known for its diverse neighbourhoods; Fashion District, Greektown, and Little Italy to name some classics. Aside from these, there are neighbourhoods that are just beginning to create their stories, many of which have abandoned or empty spaces that are not currently being used. These spaces provide an opportunity for hosting innovative small and medium scale public events.
After passing the outdoor food market at Yonge and Gould many times this summer while walking towards Eaton Centre, I was pleasantly surprised one night when I realized a number of people were slowing down to make a stop. The food court at the mall would be closing shortly and many had went in and purchased food at one of the vendors. During the summer months, when the whole city stays out late enjoying patio season, these pop-up food markets are a great alternative - especially if the lot remains empty for most of the year.
The Hearn Generating Station is located in one of Toronto’s up and coming districts, the Port Lands - which has also seen headlines recently due to Sidewalk Labs’ Smart City proposal. The Hearn has already hosted a few events including Nuit Blanche and Luminato prior to the Waterfront Night Market. Unfortunately, due to fire code safety concerns, the indoor portion of the market was moved outside of the building. Despite this minor hiccup, the Hearn and grounds make an interesting environment in which a food festival (no surprise there!) can attract people to come to an atypical event space.
Last month, Design Exchange (DX) hosted EDIT: Expo for Design, Innovation & Technology, a production aimed at providing a platform for ideas about sustainability, resilient cities, education and healthcare solutions. The chosen venue? An abandoned soap factory in the Port Lands.
This recurring theme of defunct and underused spaces hosting events brings attention to the importance of “abandoned” spaces and how their reuse can enhance the neighbourhoods and communities they’re in by acting as catalysts for creativity. These spaces become cultural hubs - places where people can gather, connect, and experience the city in a new light.
As Toronto continues to grow, it will become even more important to consider the reuse of these spaces as they often have the greatest potential. As we build, there needs to be balance. We cannot only focus on the most centralized neighbourhoods but those outside of the core as well. Thus, we should consider how these abandoned or empty spaces can be revived so they are reintegrated into the fabric of the neighbourhood along with new developments. With this goal in mind, there will be growing pains but I have no doubt that this city and its people will continue to push the boundaries.
Flora is a graduate of the Urban Studies Program at the University of Toronto and brings experience with community programs at Park People and Heritage Toronto. Inspired by the changes occurring within her neighbourhood, she is keen on community building, sustainable urban design, park and public space initiatives, as well as giving youth a voice around the redevelopment and growth of Toronto's changing neighbourhoods.