Tuesday, April 28, 2009

PDP #33: Building Nine

The destruction of North America's urban industrial base only started fairly recently. During and immediately after the Second World War, major cities like Toronto were built on industry just as much - or even more so - than they relied on finance, services, and other sectors for their economic health. Now all those factories are in Mexico or Asia and the cities are being forced to reinvent themselves. Some are managing better than others.

On Sunday the Toronto Star carried a story about the neighborhoods of Weston and Mount Dennis, "Toronto's rustbelt," and its position at the crossroads. Founded on strong industry, over the last forty years the factories and jobs have steadily migrated away from this area, spreading north and south along Weston Road just west of Black Creek Drive. The last straw snapped four years ago, when the venerable Kodak Canada factory, active since the First World War, shut its doors.

I was there last year, though at the time I didn't recognize it for what it was. Even today, Google Maps still shows a well-ordered industrial complex north of Eglinton Avenue West, packed between trees to the east and rails to the west; when I visited the area on July 27, 2008, Building #9 was the only structure still standing, and that only because foundations can't be broken quite so easily as windows. The rest was a sprawling, dusty expanse of post-industrial emptiness.

It may not have been inevitable. The factory site is directly north of where the Richview Expressway would have been built, had Metro Toronto's 1960s highway construction plan been translated into asphalt. A highway cutting through Mount Dennis might have kept other factories from pulling up stakes in favor of North York, and the convenient highway access it offered - but would it have been worth it?

Cities change. Industries die. It's reliance on a single one that's bad.

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