Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Jumbotron in Smallville II

As promised, the following is an edited and updated version of my original post from 2011. Oh how some things change, while others stay the same.

I have lived in a semi-quiet suburban neighbourhood in Richmond Hill for just over fifteen years now, and there have been some considerable changes since I moved in. Over time, the corner of Bathurst Street and Rutherford Road has undergone a very interesting transformation from farmland to commercialization. As more people fill into the suburbs for a quiet life with their 2.3 kids and a dog, urban planners and developers have been quick to respond with a change in land use.

When I moved near the corner in 2000, the intersection contained a quaint little plaza on the northeast corner with a family-owned bakery, some untamed (and rather nice) trees on the southeast corner, and a sheep farm on the southwest corner.

The most interesting corner, however, was northwest. Shy-Low farms was the purveyor of farm-grown foods and our halloween pumpkins every year until they closed sometime around 2005. I remember visiting their storefront on many a happy occasion in my childhood, but it was more than a market to the people who live in the neighbourhood. The first sign of autumn was always marked with the instalment of the huge styrofoam pumpkin they displayed right at the corner, and kids were always playing in the old reclaimed streetcar tucked behind the storefront.

As an aside, that streetcar led quite the life before it moved to our fated corner. After its original days as a functional streetcar, it rested its wheels for a while as a curious little boutique west of Yonge on Dundas from 1973 until 1977. It was then removed to make room for the construction of the Atrium on Bay. From there, the streetcar (named Desire, by the way) was stored in an unknown location in Markham until 1981. Then it was sold and moved again to a lot at Birchmount and Steeles for a year, until it was bought by the owners of Shy-Low farms. They transported it to Warden and Steeles to be used as a residence and office until 1987, when the streetcar was finally moved to Bathurst and Rutherford to rest for the remainder of the Shy-Low farms days. With the upheaval of the market, the streetcar disappeared as well. I find it comforting to think of Desire frolicking happily in a nice big transit yard with other streetcars.

As for the sheep farm on the southwest corner, it has since become a plaza slightly larger than its diagonal counterpart. It now contains a Sobeys, a TD Bank, and a Tim Hortons (a necessity at every major Canadian intersection). The sheep were moved a little further south on Bathurst to graze for a while until they were moved again last summer, this time to a place akin to the streetcar's new home in oblivion. That land will soon become townhouses.

But I digress, let us travel back to the main topic of this discussion: the northwest corner. The farm of my childhood has now become a large expanse of stores, most notably the enormous Longo's (complete with underground parking and in-store Starbucks), Duff's Wings, RBC Bank, Second Cup and Aroma Coffee.

Let's put the whole intersection together and see what we get. Four coffee shops, three banks, two supermarkets, and a partridge in a pear tree. After all that development, as I was beginning to think that the construction was finished for the moment, workmen started to hack away at the grass and concrete beside the bus stop. At first I thought they were building some kind of public art or installing a statue. When the work was complete, I remember driving up Bathurst and being greeted at the intersection by a glaring, 30-foot screen.

I know that this is meant to be a normal consequence of urban sprawl and change should be embraced, but a Jumbotron in the middle of an intersection in the suburbs of nowhereland is an almost comical sight. One certainly doesn't see anything like this in any locations closer to Toronto's city-centre, where there is more foot traffic and less residential area to afford homeowners the misfortune of having to stare at the screen through their bedroom windows. It does seem rather strange to build such strong advertising in an area so far removed from the hustle and bustle of city life. We folks of the suburbs are certainly trying to become everything that Toronto boasts, but I'm not sure that we're far enough along to be awarded this huge electronic light show against a backdrop of semi-detached homes and semi-detached trees.

On top of the visual confusion, the Jumbotron is a little distracting right in the middle of an intersection. Rush hour is a substantially busy time in my nook of the woods, and the added disruption of a dynamic backlit screen wouldn't really ease the problem of distracted drivers who are used to glueing their eyes to their equally bright and distracting phone screens.

In a neighbourhood that used to be so quiet and family-oriented, it hasn't taken long for commercialism to seep in through the cracks and take over an entire intersection. As I drive through the intersection, I sometimes wonder if any casual passers-by come under the impression that a Jumbotron seems a little out of place among sprawling suburbia. While it's clear that suburbanites do their best to make their neighbourhoods seem like the buzzing metropolis of downtown Toronto, this stride seems a bit too big for its shoe.

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