Saturday, November 25, 2006

I don't live downtown, at least not by my own definition. According to those boundaries, I live just outside downtown in uptown because I don't consider anything north of Bloor Street to be within downtown. It's not really a bad thing, uptown is a very nice place to live. What I like most about uptown is the leisure. It really is a whimsical place, a little too rich but very unrushed and very peaceful. It's a more human counterpart to the oasis of calm made up by the University of Toronto and the provincial government buildings (Spadina to Bay, College to Bloor) within the downtown core.

The closest subway station to me, despite what I've been telling people all this time, is Dupont. Dupont, because no one ever gives directions using Dupont, is definitely uptown. Aside from looking like a remnant from the set of The Flintstones, the station is really a beautiful place. The big round windows on street level make the intersection with Spadina seem more grand than it really is. After all, the entrances on the northwest and southeast corners, with a convenience store on the northeast and a house on the southwest corner. It's also really nice to look at, even if there is nothing else to do in the area. All the restaurants and stores on the street are classy but not obscenely gentrified, reflecting the intersection of the University of Toronto and the Annex with the south end of Forest Hill. Most importantly, there is a large mezzanine at Dupont, along with a gallery above the platform where trains can be observed. Why else would this be there if not for the time to look at trains go by? There's no efficiency in this gallery, only leisure.

Coming out of Dupont, uptown extends north towards St. Clair and Forest Hill. My earliest memories of university are of the area between campus and St. Clair West station. This stretch is a gorgeous stretch of uptown: rich but not too rich, familiar on paper yet mysterious on foot, with beautiful vistas. The Iroquois escarpment, marking the shoreline of post-glacial Lake Iroquois, is a natural boundary just north of Davenport. The steps at Spadina are one of my favourite places in the city for both the view and the history. This helps to isolate the area to the south a little bit. St. Clair West station has a similar gallery. The other option is to power up steep hills on Bathurst, Avenue or Poplar Plains. I do a lot of running up and on Poplar Plains.

St. Clair at Spadina, on the other side of the escarpment, has Winston Churchill Park on the southeast corner. I have some lousy memories of feebly moving my legs as fast as I could behind the University of Toronto cross country team, but I also remember the view of downtown Toronto as if it might as well be in another city. This park, I believe, is on top of a reservoir. After here, uptown gives way to midtown and the perspective changes. Personally, because of the escarpment, I feel that St. Clair is very much in midtown. Maybe what unites downtown Toronto as a piece of land is that 10,000 years ago, it was all underwater. In that case, of course, I do live downtown.

Coming back to the south, the intersection of Bloor and Spadina is very quiet and unassuming. Toronto does have a bit of a jumbled architecture, such that looking down Bloor Street is just plain weird, especially with that half-formed crystal prominently jutting out into view. Bloor and Spadina, similarly, doesn't let you know what a great area you're in. There's a Scotiabank and a Pizza Pizza on the northeast corner, a 7-11 and Tim Horton's on the northwest, the JCC's Second Cup and falafel place (I know) on the southwest and a concrete parkette on the southeast.

However, sit in the window of either Second Cup and watch the people go by. They're educated, they're polite, they're hip but not bohemian. They're Chinese, native, white and of indeterminate backgrounds. Yes, there are two Second Cups about 100 feet apart, perhaps the best metric of the quality of the area, if not the fact that it's impossible to get a seat in either one. Bloor and Spadina is pure leisure: there are no office towers at Bloor and Spadina and the really obnoxious bars are a few blocks west. The university to the south, the houses to the north and the coffee shops right there are not mere diversions as leisure can be construed. Rather, along with the giant dominoes as benches in the parkette, they are all invitations to reflection.

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