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Sherbourne, one street of two cities

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Toronto with all the new busy construction and gentrifying going on, is increasingly becoming a city it has the potential to be. The other day while I was strolling on Sherbourne st in downtown east, the kind of change in the street vibe, amenities, conditions of buildings as well people while I was walking suddenly struck me that, no other street represents the city of Toronto better than Sherbourne, a south north thoroughfare spanning 3.5 km from Queen's Quay all the way to a bit north of Bloor st.

On the very southern end, it touches Queen's Quay, the southernmost street in Toronto. It still looks suburban, kind of gritty and very much lacking city life. The newly built Sherbourne Commons is an interesting idea to make this area more friendly and pleasing, however, because of the inaccessibility of Toronto's waterfront, especially east of Yonge st, much still waits to be seen. On the west, a few highend condominiums just east of Yonge are under construction. George Brown College is welcoming its first group of students on the new campus. In a few years, this stretch probably will be a lot more vibrant than it is now. Rapid changes are being made, yet they are not quite there yet.

Gardiner is always Gardiner. The city's eternal tumor, which can't be removed easily. A few minutes north, you hit the pleasant St Lawrence Market area, one of the most successful downtown neighbourhoods, where the city started. Front and Sherbourne is not entirely transformed, but new projects are spreading eastward from the nearby Jarvis. A mixture of older apartment buildings and new and modern glass towers, this area tells the story of Toronto's past, present and the future. King East is easily one of the most visually pleasing street in Toronto. It is relatively quiet compared with the hustle bustle of King West, but it has a lot more characters. Why can't all other streets look like King East?

It is all good, nice and orderly until you pass Richmond, where the street view suddenly changes into a different world. Destitute, poverty and rundown buildings and strange pedestrians are what come into your sight. Nicely built red brick houses are replaced by dilapidated shacks and ill-maintained structures. Upscale furniture stores are replaced by pawn shops, dollar stores and empty lots. Maybe I am exaggerating a bit, but the change is so abrupt that I had to look back to check whether what I saw just now was real. It is not really a slum, but both the houses and the apartment buildings are definitely not in good shape. It is not dangerous but it is not the kind of street you want to take your kids for a Sunday afternoon stroll either. It doesn't get better at Dundas/Sherbourne, notoriously seedy for prostitutes and drug addicts - not that I met any but legacy has it that it is one of the top crime prone areas in the entire city. Walking past Dundas, it is mostly single family houses. It does look better than south of Dundas, but I would say all the houses need some TLC. They look really tired and depressing. I would think they aren't cheap considering the location?

The stretch between Dundas and Carlton is not too bad, but it is extremely boring and unpleasant to walk on. High rises apartment line up both side, with next to zero retail, or anything interesting worth looking at, but many gaps waiting to be filled. Allen Garden is nice and one should be surprised to see the city just let the neighbourhood decline to this condition, when all the glitzy downtown stuff is only 10 minutes away to its west, particularly when one of the largest park downtown is right here!

It is after Carlton things keep improving. The buildings appear in better condition and everything looks less depressing. It is still almost purely residential and you can even find some really nice and big houses which probably have quite wealthy owners. Then you see much newer highrises condos ahead of you, on the west side. X condo and X2 are only steps away on Jarvis. Jame Cooper Mansion is under construction, which says "two bedroom suites from the mid 400's", a sign the demographics of the area will be transformed pretty soon. On the east side of the street, it is a jungle of apartment buildings, a mistake the city made decades ago, hopefully not to be repeated. How will the city manage to make the "mansion" owners and the St Jamestown renters coexist in perfect harmony? Will the social fabric be subject to change in the years to come? That's something we all look forward to seeing.

Think about it, isn't Sherbourne st a microcosm of today's Toronto, the clash of its gritty industrial era and the upcoming ultra urbanity, cohabitation of the city's underprivileged and the middle and upper class who are showing increasing interest in living in the core again, the completely gentrified and charming King East and problem ridden Moss Park?

That's what makes Toronto an interesting city, especially when you see the change already happening right in front of your eyes. Sherbourne st is under construction right now. Road is being resurfaced and bike lanes are being reconfigured. Will it become completely different in ten years? What will happen to Dundas and Sherbourne? I am eager to see.
 
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That's a very good analysis of Sherbourne Street, mostly a wonderful walking street. I had a guy try to steal my bike from under me at around Dundas Street several years ago at a stop light, interesting experience. You should have continued traveling north of Bloor Street for even more contrast! How this street will evolve is anyone's guess, I'm concerned for a lot of those homes from around Shuter to Carlton, many of which are run down rooming houses. The staggering amount of poverty in the downtown east is truly startling and should never have been allowed to happen.
 
Nice post! It's a good microcosm, of perhaps not the entire city, but, when including Rosedale, of the central city.

Hastings Street in Vancouver has an even greater contrast. If you go to Hastings and say Carrall, you can go north two blocks and be in Gastown, or south one block and be in Chinatown. Go west three blocks and Hastings is alright, but right at that corner you're in the DTES.
 
So it's over two and a half years since this thread was created, and it the time since the reconstruction of the street north of King has been completed. Now the rest is being rebuilt down at the south end. Here's how some of that looked yesterday evening:

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Sidewalk, cycle track, tree trench above and below.
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Southbound side, just south of the intersection with The Esplanade, the raised cycle track will kick in again here:
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Northbound side just shy of the last layer of asphalt:
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Planter built into a pedestrian plaza along the south side of David Crombie park. (Annual Pam McConnell tour somewhere in the Ward.)
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New tree trench further south:
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Slip ramp from the Gardiner to northbound Sherbourne removed:
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So it's over two and a half years since this thread was created, and it the time since the reconstruction of the street north of King has been completed. Now the rest is being rebuilt down at the south end. Here's how some of that looked yesterday evening:

Yes, It is looking good and they are hoping to complete the bike/road work from Front to Lake Shore by end of next week when they need to reopen the road in preparation for Pan-Am Games. The block between King and Front will be done starting immediately after Games are over. Some additional work (off-road) like the work to fix up the (removed) off ramp and turn channel may be allowed to continue.
 
Wow, what a difference on the south end! I had no idea they were removing that portion of the Gardiner ramp. Everything looks great down there.
 
Don't think so. There's always been a no right turn restriction at Lakeshore and Lower Sherbourne and I doubt it would be removed as it would cause a major backup on the ramp.
 
Parkette on east side of Sherbourne just north of the Gardiner. Construction crew yesterday was laying sod and planting.

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Very true observation man... there's a dollarama on Sherbourne. I work on Adelaide East... when I walked there, as soon as I crossed Queens St E, to where the dollarama is, it went from yoppie, middle class new condo area to a very high crime, slum like area. Just outside the dollorama there and the community center across the street from it, there is always at least 30 inner city underpriviledged people, drug dealers, etc..

it's crazy.
 
Very true observation man... there's a dollarama on Sherbourne. I work on Adelaide East... when I walked there, as soon as I crossed Queens St E, to where the dollarama is, it went from yoppie, middle class new condo area to a very high crime, slum like area. Just outside the dollorama there and the community center across the street from it, there is always at least 30 inner city underpriviledged people, drug dealers, etc..

it's crazy.

It's sketchy, but it's not that bad. The issue is the Salvation Army's single men's shelter (right beside the Dollarama.) The crowd is pretty rough looking, but we never had an issue (no car break-ins parking on Sherbourne nor in the arena parking lot, e.g.) in 10+ years of Central Toronto FS Club, ice hockey camps, swimming at the pool, etc. When the Toronto Scottish had a few outdoor practices (after indoor winter sessions ended in the Armoury) on the Moss Park field, we did have to sweep for needles before starting...
 
I take the streetcar at Sherbourne and Queen daily. Those people are harmless. That small area is in very rough shape, though. Would be nice if it got spruced up a bit.
 

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