Unbuilt Toronto 2

Unbuilt Toronto gets a worthy sequel

Although it'd get some steep competition from the Historical Atlas of Toronto, Mark Osbaldeston's Unbuilt Toronto: A History of the City That Might Have Been is probably the most fascinating book about this city to be released in the last 10 years. It's one of those texts that I've had occasion to refer to more times than I can remember. As a history of projects that never came to fruition, it offers rare insight into the various decisions and political processes that have determined the shape of our city — for better and worse.

Covering a wide range of ill-fated and modified plans — from Buckminster Fuller's dramatic Toronto Project to the Queen Street subway to a version of Eaton Centre that would have resulted in the loss of Old City Hall — Unbuilt Toronto covers a lot of territory. So the first question that popped into my mind when I heard a sequel was on the way was whether or not there would be enough major material to complement Osbaldeston's first effort. There must be thousands of unbuilt projects in a city's history, but how many of them are worth dredging up to write about?

As it turns out, a lot.

Unbuilt Toronto 2 is a treasure trove of lost projects that's every bit the rival of its predecessor. In fact, one could make the argument that it's even a tad more interesting on account of some of the lesser-known projects and plans that it sheds light on. Most know the story of the Spadina Expressway, for instance, but what about the Scarborough Expressway, a planned highway that would have linked the Gardiner and 401 via an east-end ravine and various residential areas?

Equally intriguing, and perhaps a bit frightening, is the section on the Mies van der Rohe-designed TD Centre, which almost never came to be (or at least not in the way we know it today). And then there's the story of Wittington Place, a proposed community at Yonge and the 401 on which architects Moshe Safdie and Arthur Erickson bid before the idea was scrapped in favour of the more modest development that exists there today. It's all fascinating stuff, much of which has accompanying renderings and design plans that help the reader to imagine how different the city might have looked.

I could go on about the various treats Osbaldeston digs up for us, but the reality is that the stories are compelling enough to warrant more than the short shrift I can give them in this brief introduction. Unbuilt Toronto served as the inspiration for a number of the historical photo posts I've put together on this site, and I expect to give its sequel some additional attention in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, I'll be spending some serious reading-time with this hidden history of Toronto.

Unbuilt Toronto 2: More of the City That Might Have Been is available via Dundurn Press for $26.99

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