Monday, April 11, 2011

Case Study 3.2: The Annex

Welcome visitors from Planetizen. I hope you enjoy my blog and will stick around. Regular readers, apologies for the long break since my last post. The day job has been quite hectic lately. 

Today I move on to The Annex, and a small part of Yorkville. Sharing a border with the University of Toronto, the southern edge of the neighborhood has a definitive student focus, with many former mansions now host to fraternities and sororities, and many others student rentals. Like most inner city areas, The Annex has had its ups and downs, originally developed as an upper middle class enclave away from the city, falling on hard times postwar, and now again on the up. It is after all one of the few areas so close to downtown with large homes and not nearly as expensive as Rosedale. 

Considered a trendy neighborhood thanks to the university, there are plenty or bars, pubs, and restaurants, and Koreatown, but first and foremost this is a residential neighborhood. Most homes date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with modern high-rises unfortunately dominating the main thoroughfares, such as Spadina Road and St. George Street. In general The Annex is more upmarket as you move eastward towards Yorkville, but home prices are high everywhere. Yorkville is the luxury hotspot of Toronto, with the usual crop of boutiques such as Louis Vuitton and Prada plus Ferrari and Rolls-Royce dealerships. Proximity to these kind of amenities plus the many offices in the area are what draw residents to The Annex. 

My interest in the neighborhood, and Toronto in general, relates to Jane Jacobs. She lived at 69 Albany Avenue from 1968 until her death in 2006. As in New York, she quickly became involved with the local community, working alongside other residents to prevent the Spadina Expressway from destroying the neighborhood. It's a shame the over development of Spadina Road has almost done as much damage. Still, the rest of The Annex is largely intact, with large red brick homes on tree-lined streets, albeit some maintained better than others. I think you'll notice the contrast with Cabbagetown, as for reasons unknown to me, The Annex doesn't exhibit nearly as much community pride. No vibrant front gardens and less architectural integrity, in both the lower and higher income areas. I can only assume the less stable nature of the neighborhood is to blame, with greater turnover in residents due to the university. Regardless, there's no denying the importance the neighborhood has played in Toronto's postwar urban history. 

Centre left, with the white porch, is Jane Jacob's former home
Plentiful greenery can abate even the most average architecture
The front garden on the right is straight out of the suburbs, in contrast to its superior neighbor on the left
A group of modest 1887 bay and gable homes on Brunswick
The front porches here are reminiscent of southern American cities such as Savannah and Charleston
Madison, close to the border of the university, has many frats and other university buildings
10 Bernard, on one of the most expensive streets in the neighborhood, was built in 1878
Tranby is a welcome departure from the wide roads of the rest of The Annex, with elegant red brick townhouses
The group of streets between Bedford and Avenue are the most expensive in The Annex, with homes selling between $1-3 million
24 Elgin (middle) is on the market for $3.15 million
Firmly in Yorkville, 71 Hazelton (center right) is on the market for $2.5 million
Quite a different place from Cabbagetown, arguably The Annex is more elegant and polished, but it lacks architectural vibrancy. It's obvious Cabbagetown was and continues to be more bohemian, with a greater acceptance of individualistic gardens and almost overwhelming greenery. The Annex appeals more to those who would otherwise live in the suburbs, in my opinion, with homes possessing a well-manicured demeanor but lacking personal touches. Still, it's a very high density neighborhood and obviously far preferable to any suburb. A statistic on Wikipedia claims that if all of Toronto had a density as high as The Annex, the population of the city would be over 60 million rather than 6 million! Goes to show how ridiculous sprawl is in Toronto, as The Annex is essentially a medium density neighborhood, the kind of nice upper middle class area where well-to-do North American families used to live. Many of those families later moved to neighborhoods such as Lawrence Park or Forest Hill, newer and less dense but lacking in character. 

I admit I expected more from The Annex. Granted it's a very large neighborhood but I wish it was more universally exceptional. At times it just feels a bit hit and miss, some streets featuring impressive historical homes but interspersed with either poorly renovated homes or disappointing new construction. Other times even the wealthier parts of the neighborhood just lack charm, and there's far too much concrete, asphalt, and telephone poles. As the image above shows, far too many front gardens have been converted into driveways with little concession for nature. The Annex generally has front gardens which are too large, much like the suburbs, so residents who ignore their front garden seriously undermine the character of the street, and there are too many such residents here. Maybe The Annex should start a front garden competition of the type Cabbagetown has to encourage greater care.

Toronto, especially in the past few decades, has become increasingly car dependent, a fact sorely seen in The Annex. It's full of cars. In driveways, on the side of streets, just far too many for a neighborhood on the edge of downtown. The new mayor is a car lover, so don't expect any changes anytime soon, but Toronto could find itself in serious trouble in the next decade if it doesn't reduce its reliance on cars and reinvest in public transport. I'd like to see it start in The Annex.

flickr: Alain Roullier

TORONTO 2007 - YORKVILLE- elgin avenue, house from 1875
flickr : ettml