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#YongeTalks on the impact of Downtown Yonge

Yonge Street, 1910. Courtesy of the Toronto Public Library.

May 20th marked a great #YongeTalks discussion on the significance and future direction of downtown Yonge Street, featuring city-builders (and Toronto transplants) Shawn Micallef and Tanzeel Merchant, moderated by Jane Farrow. Here are some of the highlights:

On early impressions of Yonge Street

Merchant and Micallef both moved to Toronto around 15 years ago, from Mumbai and Windsor respectively. For both, Yonge Street marked a point of orientation and gathering. Merchant recalled being taken aback by the street's position as a meeting ground. Micallef, meanwhile, remembered an impromptu post-World Cup parade from Koreatown all the way to Yonge and Bloor. The destination cemented the moment of celebration and commemoration, and made a South Korean soccer victory something that all of Toronto could own.

On Yonge Street as a destination for visitors

“I live and work near Yonge and Dundas, but still go to Yonge Street on weekends to see what people not from Toronto are like,” noted Merchant, noting that the distinctive big city contrasts of Toronto's central drag are a magnet for tourists. Because of this fierce public pull, the strip defies total privatization and remains accessible—or, as Micallef suggested, “even vulgar” with its neon and noise. Farrow suggested there is a “charming freak fest” element to the street, and wondered aloud whether it will remain intact for future generations.

Hidden Yonge Street gems

Everyone has their favourite hidden-in-plain-sight Yonge Street attractions. Micallef pointed to a row of parkettes between Wellesley and Bloor, just east of Yonge Street, that provide secret refuge from the main street's sidewalk congestion. Merchant half-jokingly referred to the traffic light announcement at the Yonge-Dundas scramble, which he tends to mishear as “walk like a dog” instead of “walk sign is on.” Audience members cited Bar Volo, the Toronto Reference Library, The Arts and Letters Club, the Yonge-Dundas scramble, and a mural near Temperance street as their personal favourite spots on, or right off of, Yonge.

The beating heart of the city

Both speakers and moderator agreed that Yonge Street's heterogeneity is the life blood of the city, and expressed a hope that its future iterations preserve its mixed use and spirit. As Merchant put it: “The street is the city.” 
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