Sunday, May 8, 2011

Case Study 3.3: Riverdale

Riverdale sounds like a town in Lord of the Rings, but no, it's a modest middle-class neighborhood just east of downtown Toronto, across a ravine from Cabbagetown. Middle-class by downtown Toronto standards at least, as home prices are still considerably higher than elsewhere in the country. I can only assume that home prices have shot up sharply in recent years, as there's great contrast within the neighborhood, some homes well-maintained and nicely restored, others not so much. Generally the nicer homes have a Mercedes or Audi out front, the others something average. The more expensive streets tend to huddle around the main thoroughfares, Danforth Avenue to the north and Gerrard Street to the south. The most affluent street is Simpson, the most southerly street and containing the oldest and best restored homes, many dating from the late 19th century. Withrow Park, one of the inner-city's largest parks at 21 acres and right in the middle of Riverdale, is another center of gravity, though the homes around it are not as impressive as I had thought they'd be.  On the west edge of the neighborhood is Riverdale Park, larger than Withrow with plenty of green space and woodlands.

Architecturally, Riverdale is the least impressive of the neighborhoods I've featured on reCities, but remember my focus is devoted to an area's urbanism. When the architecture is complimentary, that's a bonus. Which is not to say that Riverdale doesn't have any nice buildings, but there were certainly large sections not worth exploring. I'm not convinced Dufferin Grove or High Park wouldn't make better case studies, but those are perhaps lesser versions of Rosedale (which I will feature next) whereas Riverdale is the sort of down-to-earth working class neighborhood worth focusing on, at least this once.

The home centre-right shows the effects of a lack of conservation guidelines. It's an extra room at the cost of architectural integrity
Front lawns in Riverdale can range from small to the suburban proportions seen here

While originally these homes would've been very similar, if not identical, a century of renovations has spawned many variations
The edge with Withrow Park could be more attractive. Road, sidewalk, grass doesn't quite cut it
I always like it when trees burst from the pavement as here on Langley Avenue 
Another modern home, on Simpson, or is just an unsuccessful reclad? 
Among the oldest homes in the neighborhood, these Victorians show the greater care once put into mass-produced housing
Google normally takes Street View images in the summer, but unfortunately Riverdale seems to have been visited in winter. A bit of lee-way should therefore be given, for the intense greenery in many parts of Toronto goes a long way towards hiding unattractive bits. Nevertheless, some of the streetscapes in Riverdale are really quite elegant, restrained and well-balanced. There are enough well-maintained homes to counteract the few bad apples, which owners have either neglected over the years or performed poor restoration jobs. Considering the neighborhood's move upmarket in recent years, I'm surprised it hasn't been made a conservation district with the proper controls in place to prevent that. Such controls have clearly helped Cabbagetown preserve its heritage without necessarily restraining modern interventions. The homes in Riverdale are large with good-sized yards so there's really no reason for owners to enlarge their homes with insensitive additions.

It's always interesting to compare an upper-class neighborhood like Cabbagetown with a nearby middle-class area like Riverdale. Wealthier areas have homes more likely to be owner-occupied rather than rented, explaining the greater care shown by owners, not to mention their greater disposable income for repairs and regular maintenance, gardening, etc. As people change jobs more often and are less likely to own, the question becomes how to encourage residents to put the same amount of care into rented homes without draconian legislation?

Unfortunately couldn't really find any photos of Riverdale online. Next up Rosedale, for a century the prime neighborhood of inner-city Toronto.