Ten Editions, a second-hand bookstore at the corner of Sussex and Spadina, is constantly bustling with customers browsing for books, textiles, maps, and sheet music. The bookstore represents an important cornerstone for the Harbord Village neighbourhood and a refuge for Toronto book lovers.
One cannot help but notice, however, the development application plastered to their front door. Ten Editions, which first opened as a grocer in 1885 and spent a brief period as a laundromat in the 1960s, is now being threatened by the university’s desire to acquire more land.
A development application filed by the university last July seeks to build a 23-storey student residence on the site, replacing the bookstore and its neighbouring six dwellings with a building housing 549 beds, an indoor amenities room, a cafeteria, and an office space.
In order to maintain a strong relationship with the community and preserve the heritage of local sites, U of T should be extending a hand to the neighbourhoods directly affected by its development projects. A brief examination of what is happening with the Ten Editions bookstore and development projects in the past reveals that this is not happening at present.
The plan to replace the Ten Editions bookstore with a building that would be inconsistent with the architecture of the surrounding neighbourhood has been met with fierce opposition from area residents. This particular conflict has raised questions regarding the university’s commitment to building partnerships with surrounding communities and promoting livable cities.
Residents shared some of these concerns at the Toronto-East York Community Council Meeting last Wednesday. Norman Tract, a resident and former researcher in the university’s Department of Surgery, noted the bookstore’s significance in preserving the neighbourhood’s history and providing residents with a familiar landmark. Robert Barnett, who has lived in the area for 44 years, argued that the university’s consultation process was shameful and that dealing with the university was “like talking to a wall.”
While the Community Council ultimately approved the designation of the site as part of the city’s heritage register — preserving physical elements like the building’s Victorian-style façade, door frames, and brick cladding — there is no guarantee that this designation will preserve the current use of the site as a bookstore.
Overtaking Ten Editions is consistent with the university’s ongoing efforts to expand into neighbouring communities over the past 20 years. Since 1997, the St. George campus has grown by 290,000 square meters, increasing the university’s property area by 28 per cent. Holding nine ongoing development applications with the city, the university has placed increasing pressures on surrounding neighbourhoods in an attempt to meet the demand for office space and housing that is guaranteed to all first year students.
The redevelopment of 698 Spadina is not the first time residents living in the communities surrounding the university have gone to battle with the U of T administration. In 2011, when the university proposed the development of a 42-storey student residence on College Street between Huron and Spadina, the Harbord Village Residents’ Association entered into discussions with the university and successfully reduced the number of floors to 24.
However, with continuing opposition by the neighbourhood towards the project as a whole, the university slowly withdrew from the conversation, leading residents to believe that they had been excluded from negotiations.
In an effort to improve the university’s reputation as a planning partner, the university established the position of the Presidential Advisor on Urban Engagement, which seeks to develop and strengthen the working relationship between all parties involved.
The University Secondary Plan, established in 2011, also seeks to ensure that all future development within the Huron-Sussex neighbourhood retains the area’s unique characteristics through the preservation of the neighbourhood’s mixed residential and commercial uses.
Although these responses seem encouraging on the surface, the fact that such significant disputes over university projects continue is cause for concern. With the increasing hostility between residents and the university’s administration over the development of 698 Spadina and their apparent lack of meaningful consultation with area residents, the university’s commitment to neighbourhood partnerships and heritage conservation is debatable.
Consequently, students should be concerned about what other aspects of administrative policies are simply boilerplate, and if student participation in these projects is becoming a form of tokenism, the way community consultations seem to be.
There is obvious irony in a university eradicating a bookstore. Yet this irony is compounded considering that the lessons taught in social science classrooms about unity in urban development often contradict the actions of the administration.
It is time the university practiced what it preaches. U of T must balance its spatial needs with those of the surrounding communities to ensure they do not become an adversary of the local residents.
Furthermore, as a space for the transmission of knowledge and culture, it is the job of the university to engage surrounding residents in meaningful consultation, promote heritage conservation, and improve urban life. Yet if the university wants to assist in improving urban livability, it has to ensure its sprawl is not impeding these attempts. Reviewing ongoing development projects to ensure they are in compliance with these goals would be a first step.
James Chapman is a second-year student at Innis College studying Political Science and Urban Studies.