Getting our traditional mainstreets rebuilt into a more pedestrian and neighborhood friendly format has been a long but ultimately rewarding task. It took eternal vigilance to fight off the naysayers, the city minions who thought facilitating rush hour commuter traffic was the ultimate city goal, those residents and business people who felt that the highest duty of the city was to provide free storage for private cars … but there were many delightful moments too, and significant victories, and the fine quality of the finished streets is a tribute to all the hard work, coöperation, and trade-offs made over the years.
The progress continues with the upcoming reconstruction and pedestrianization of Somerset between the O-Train and Booth Street. We must maintain the quality of the finished streetscape! Harder battles lie ahead for the Carling Avenue and Bronson reconstructions. For Bronson, there is now a Rescue Bronson webpage being started up, to encourage residents and business owners to work towards a better solution than the awful blight that Bronson is now.
I must confess that a number of battles were lost over the years, and comprises made that I sometimes regret. One area I was particularly unenthused about was the plopping down of benches all along the mainstreet sidewalks. One bench per block, or maybe at bus stops was all I wanted. What did I fear? Winos, druggies, graffiti … those things that signal a street in decline rather than on the upswing.
How wrong I was! It astounds me almost every day I go out along our mainstreets to see how many of those benches have a bum on them. Kids at the corner store. Transit users. School kids chatting. Lovers concerned about their other’s tonsils. An elderly man sits on a bench near my house almost every afternoon from 2 to 3. Parents await school buses. I actually saw one elderly woman knitting at a bench! I love all those benches now; posterior sight is 20/20.
In the photo above, Colin White (www.colinwhite.ca) sketches the corner store at Elm Street for his series of sketches on those vanishing icons. Here is another neighborhood store he sketched: