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On a retail walk with Premier Wynne

Premier Kathleen Wynne with her umbrella and her walk followers.

Premier Kathleen Wynne with her umbrella and her walk followers. Photo by: Geoff Kettel

“Squash and soar” – that’s architect Joe Lobko’s design solution for how the 80,000 additional people will be accommodated in the Toronto area annually.

That’s why he sees the Canadian Tire site, at Eglinton and Laird, as ripe for intensive development, as well as other sites close to LRT stations along Eglinton. That’s not a new concept, especially to the Leasiders present, that accompanied Lobko on the Jane’s Walk, Premier Kathleen Wynne, and Jane Farrow, former executive director of Jane’s Walk, on a Saturday afternoon walk down Laird Dr.

But the main focus of the walk, from the Premier’s constituency office on Eglinton just west of Laird, to Lea Ave., was retail.

Lobko dutifully explained the history, how it was once a thriving industrial area with manufacturing from paint and chemicals to automobiles and electronics. When those companies moved away the city allowed commercial development fronting on the main arterials at the edge of the industrial area. As a result, Laird now mainly demonstrates the evolving forms of big box retail from Canadian Tire (box on a parking lot) to the Smart Centre, south of Wicksteed (multiple boxes straddling a large parking lot), to the more articulated design of the First Capital shopping centre (Longo’s).

At one point we confronted the stark open pit of the Smart Centre north site (Walmart?) about to become a giant underground parking lot, and wondered whether the car-oriented retail of this type is really progress. “It won’t be here for long,” said Lobko. “These uses are all temporary.” (I guess we are temporary too, when looked at in that time frame).

Jane’s Walk is billed as “citizen-led tours towards community-based city building”. The more people we educate about the urban landscape, and how it evolves the better.

But we did not learn much about what the Premier feels about all this change just down the road from her constituency office.

Someone asked whether the well-paying industrial jobs now replaced with low-paying retail jobs could be induced to return. How about repurposing the old industrial warehouses for creative and green industries?

“We’re investing in an LRT” was her response. As one participant said about all this retail, “Whichever way you look at it, it’s still mono- culture.”

In the end this was, as billed, a participatory walk down Laird with the Premier (and friends).

A remarkable event? No, but an occasion to marvel at the Premier’s willingness, and appreciate Canada’s open milieu, that allowed us to participate together in an educational walk in Leaside’s “edge” on a Saturday afternoon in early May.