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The Walrus Toronto Project Debate: Be It Resolved that Toronto will Never Be Beautiful

October 12th, 2011

Back again for my second live blog of the day. This time we’ll be hearing what a selection of Toronto’s finest have to say about our city. Is it beautiful? Could it be beautiful? Or do we have to resign ourselves to aesthetic mediocrity? Here’s some info about the event…..

“Four prominent Torontonians in two teams will be debating what it takes to make Toronto beautiful, and whether we have the infrastructure, ideas, and resources to do so. This will encompass politics, the arts, architecture, the business community, culture, and Toronto’s local communities. Featuring Jack Diamond and John Barber vs. Nick Mount and Stephen Marche with moderator Amanda Lang and provocation by Denise Balkissoon, Yvonne Bambrick, Matt Galloway and Albert Schultz.”

You can also follow The Walrus’ @davidpleonard for tweets from event, and you should also check out their Toronto Project Soapbox Site for lots more hot Toronto debate. Our liveblog starts at 7pm EST – stay tuned! – Holly, Internet & Social Media Content Coordinator.

Jack Diamond = AD
John Barber = JB
Nick Mount = AM
Stephen Marche = SM
Amanda Lang = AL

18.54 Really busy already – think we’re in for a lively night!

19.00 Opening remarks from the AGO’s Adult Program Coordinator, Gillian McIntyre. ‘We really want the AGO to be a forum for discussion and to play a role in this city. TOnight is out live on Walrus TV.

19.02 Shelley Ambrose, publisher, The Walrus is telling us about the magazine. The foundation has a mandate to stir up debate – the cover of this issue features a story about the state of Toronto – the beginning of a conversation that continues here and on Soapbox. The hashtag for tonight is #TODebate.

‘If this is your first walrus debate, do not be fooled by the position they have have been asked to take. Not all of our debaters necessarily agree with what they are arguing.’

19.06 AL ‘My role is a neutral one… An interesting exercise for a working journalist.’

‘Be it resolved that there be mention of ferris wheels.’ – gets a laugh from the audience.

The speakers are being introduced – architect Jack Diamond, journalist and committed cyclist John Barber (for the motion) and fiction editor of The Walrus, Nick Mount and novelist Stephen Marche (against)

19.12 JD ‘I want to make it clear that we’re not talking about it’s liveability. We’re talking about beauty. There’s general consensus that cities like Paris and Dublin are beautiful – why? They are lucky enough to be built at a time when architecture of fine detail was prevalent. When you lift your eyes in these cities, your heart is also lifted.

19.14 In Toronto… The constitutional arrangement is not about to change anytime soon. The likelihood of provincial politicians giving up fiscal power to the city is as likely as our opponents winning the debate!’

‘Presbyterian narrowness and architectural mediocrity’ – JD describing Toronto.

19.17 NM ‘After the first world war a group of artists refused to produce beautiful art for a society they felt turned Europe into a wasteland. Art would no longer be beautiful – Duchamp’s toilet is the most influential art piece of the 20th century art. Beauty is not the point. Ugly is the new beauty. Where art led, cities followed. Most North American cities were built at a time in which educated taste was hostile to beauty. But there is an emerging trend towards beauty – places like the Brickworks, Dufferin Grove.’

‘There is nothing inevitable about our tastes or out cities – Toronto can be beautiful if we want it to be.’

19.23 JB ‘Toronto has an affinity for ugliness built into it’s DNA. JB is showing ugly photos of Toronto.

‘It dwarfs any other aspect of the city. I can’t imagine saying this is beautiful. This is Toronto the ‘good enough.’ Toronto is about harmony, affordability. Democracy is not a beautiful thing – it is messy.’

19.27 SM ‘Every city has horrible suburbs, including Paris. The point of this debate hinges on the word never – never is a long time. I think it’s an impossible argument to make – even compared to 10 years ago the city is unrecognisable.’

‘The beautiful city we could build comes from money and talent and will. I believe we have all three.’

‘Torontonians care for beauty now. Even Rob Ford, with his limited imagination, understood that something beautiful needed to happen with his ferris wheel. Beauty is an essential part of living in an urban metropolis.’

19.32 JD ‘Noone questions the fact that people want it to be beautiful. The question is about the money. We have the huge millstone of what we have already built. The circumstances are such it is not possible to achieve.’

19.34 SM ‘If we get as good as New York, everyone in this room would be happy with it.’

19.36 JB ‘The images I showed you are of a city of becoming.. Created by people who arrive in the city and want to get a hold on something.’

19.37 JB ‘Contemporary cities are ugly. Apart from in North Korea.’

19.40 SM ‘Postmodern architecture is very well represented in Toronto and it’s very beautiful.’

19.42 AL opens up the floor to the provocateurs.

‘We have to reframe the debate – how can we put the beautiful software on top of e hardware of the city, if the hardware is unchangeable? What can we do with the human infrastructure to make this a beautiful city.’

JD ‘The growing disparity in incomes is the root cause of a great deal of problems.’
JB ‘I believe physical beauty doesn’t much matter – it’s misconstrued by rich people.’

19.49 SM is defending beauty. ‘There are no reproductions of Damien Hirsts in hospital gift shops. Beauty brings us together in times of grief and times of joy.’

19.52 PRovocateur 2, Yvonne Bambrick.
‘As a cyclist I’m interested in th way people move between the beautiful spaces in the city.’

JD ‘Toronto doesn’t favour the pedestrian. Narrowing the roads is progress in my view – we lack the finesse here. In winter we provide little protection above ground. Imagine Toronto with protected streets? We don’t respond to the city by responsive context.

SM ‘It doesn’t mean we can’t improve – I do not find the car to be incompatible with beauty.’

19.57 JB ‘The lack of ambition here is terrible – Toronto could be Amsterdam for cycling but we dont confront the issues.

19.58 Provocateur 3 – Matt Galloway
‘I’ve had beautiful moments in this city waiting for a haircut – get out of the downtown core and pay more attention. We talk down about the city enough – we don’t talk about what is beautiful at a grass roots level. Do we need to change how we think before we are able to be beautiful?

JM ‘We have this thing where we say we’re either Paris, France or Paris, Ontario. BOth of this ideas are excuses. We need to use talent and political will to create beauty.

JB ‘I agree now is the moment… But it’s not happening.’

20.02 Provocateur 4 – Denise Balkissoon
‘The New York Times said Toronto has no street fashion – what is the individual responsibility for beauty?’

JD ‘We have heterogeneous taste in Toronto – which means we don’t have a conventional beauty.

20.06 Final Provocateur – John Lorinc
‘Have we been paying attention to beauty in the wrong spot? Should we be thinking about the ravines?’

SM ‘we’re going to be built on the terms of the 21st century. Just because we’re not Medieval doesn’t mean we can’t be beautiful.’

AL is sharing the Soapbox question – is public space without art a missed opportunity?

NM ‘We surrendered beauty to billboards.’
JD ‘Art needs to be designed with the space, with the buildings – set pieces that work well frame the vista. I don’t think dumping it is a solution.’

20.12
It’s now time for questions from the audience….

‘Can you imagine a person from Vancouver or Newfoundland saying, ‘ahhh, beautiful Toronto?’

JD ‘No, but they come for the film festival.’
SM ‘I think people do say that – the fluidity is a beautiful and unique aspect of Toronto.’
JD ‘We dont develop a huge base in schools for the arts – we kill it. There’s no opportunity to develop.’
SM ‘We’re living in a renaissance – I disagree there’s no matrix for artistic activity in the city.’

Audience Q ‘What is the appropriate role of the use of power?’
JD ‘It’s important not to have aesthetic police.’

NM ‘We need younger people, less white people, more women – architecture is dominated by old White men – it’s time to let the other kids play in the sand box.

20.21 Audience Q ‘Who is the decider if what is beautiful?’

NM ‘There’s not so much disagreement about what is beautiful. Empirical research shows that we all agree – across gender, race, age.’

AL We’re at time!

Gillian McIntire is back on stage to thank the participants. Thank you to everyone that tuned in to the blog – have a great evening!

One Response to “The Walrus Toronto Project Debate: Be It Resolved that Toronto will Never Be Beautiful”

  1. DigitalSpin says:

    Amanda Lang?  What context is she to bring to this discussion?

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