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Many architourists, I think, would give their eye teeth to have lived during New York or Chicago’s building boom of the 1920s, or in postwar Detroit or Los Angeles. To see, firsthand, cloud-busting skyscrapers rise and the creation of new neighbourhoods would be heady, indeed.

And yet, right here in Toronto, those of us who were too young to have savoured the boom of 1955-75, when much of our modern city was created, are able to watch another, perhaps even bigger one. When the construction dust settles around 2020, the first two decades of the 21st century will be for the history books.

And it’s not just condo towers: new, from-scratch neighbourhoods such as the Distillery District, Liberty Village (the subject of an August, 2014, column), the Canary District, and the subject of this column, South Core – also known as Southcore or SoCo – are being created.

Toronto's emerging South Core neighbourhood. SoCo restaurant, Lower Simcoe and Bremner Streets. All photos by Dave LeBlanc for The Globe and Mail, unless noted.
The Ice Condominiums on York Street are two, Nordic-inspired towers reach to 67 and 57 storeys designed by architectsAlliance.

I’ve been intrigued with SoCo since reading about its early development on urbantoronto.ca – one of my go-to sites for all things development – so I decided to take an architour on a crisp, bright Saturday. According to the popular website, SoCo’s boundaries are as follows: the rail corridor to the north and Toronto Harbour to the south, and from Lower Simcoe Street to the west and Yonge in the east (although Wikipedia lists the eastern boundary as Jarvis Street).

So, after parking at Harbourfront Centre’s new underground garage at SoCo’s southwest corner, I don my earmuffs and start walking north on Lower Simcoe.

I emerge from under the Gardiner Expressway with the Rogers Centre looming to my left. Passing still-unoccupied retail spaces at No. 25 (Infinity Condos by E.I. Richmond), I am pulled, magnet-like, down Grand Trunk Crescent to the shimmering awesomeness of Ice Condominiums by architectsAlliance. These two, Nordic-inspired towers reach to 67 and 57 storeys, each one capped by a floating “Swiss cheese” roof; that roof form is echoed in what will be a massive, publicly accessible forecourt. If SoCo is built out as planned, however, 67 storeys won’t be the tallest new kid on the block.

North on Lower Simcoe, past the little embedded trains and windmills decorating the columns of No. 51, I reach the corner of Bremner Boulevard to inspect the city’s tallest non-mixed-use hotel, the Delta. This handsome 46-storey tower with a sunken K-shape on the façade (urbantoronto calls it “the zipper”) connects to the Metro Convention Centre via a beautiful new bridge, “Torque,” co-designed by artists Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins. It also connects to the new Southcore Financial Centre along Bremner, which, at its base, is shaping up to be a new foodie zone with restaurants and cafés.

With the Air Canada Centre at 12 o’clock, it’s east past the PwC and Telus buildings at York and Bremner, to head south on York Street past Maple Leaf Square’s 40- and 44-storey towers sitting atop a nine-storey podium. In many ways, these 21st-century shops and restaurants echo the cluster that grew around Maple Leaf Gardens at Carlton and Church during the previous century.

Emerging from the Gardiner’s shadow, I spot the hoarding around One York Street, a LEED-platinum, 35-storey office tower billed as “the future home” of Sun Life Financial. Right across the street, a massive wedge-shaped hole trumpets the towering future presence of Ten York, a 65-storey condo shoehorned between the Gardiner and the York Street off-ramp. A joint venture between Build Toronto, the city’s “arm’s-length” real estate corporation, and Tridel, the podium will feature a prow-like glass front similar to the sharp edge of the Distillery District’s Pure Spirit Lofts.

What strikes me about the continuing trend to build right up to the expressway’s walls is that, soon, the argument for tearing it down will all but disappear, as the marriage between public infrastructure and private space begins to look more like Le Corbusier’s 90-year-old plans for modern cities with elevated roadways. Speaking of which, I next find myself encircled by the York Street off-ramp in a lacklustre park with a dozen trees, one pathway and five light standards. This could be so much better: Contained within a steel and asphalt spiral, why not allow artists and landscapers to create a whimsical, circular park? Why not hold a competition?

Now on Queens Quay West heading east, I pass RBC’s new WaterPark Place (also containing restaurants and coffee shops), then head north on Bay Street. At Harbour Street, I admire Toronto-born architect Alfred Chapman’s Beaux-Arts Toronto Harbour Commission Building (1917), which, before the massive landfill projects of the early 20th century, sat at the end of a pier.

Rising beside it are the condo twins of Harbour Plaza. Connected to the One York/Sun Life project, these sculpted buildings will rise to 62 and 66 storeys.

Toronto Harbour Commission building, 1917. Toronto Archives
Rendering of the planned redevelopment of the Toronto Star property, One Yonge. Hariri Pontarini Architects

Past a sandwich board for 33 Bay – “Your New Address” – I near the end of the survey at the southeast corner of Yonge Street and Queens Quay. A development proposal sign on The Toronto Star’s fence reminds me that, if approved, a cluster of six new Hariri Pontarini-designed mixed-use buildings will jolt this now-sleepy corner with heights ranging from 40 to 88 storeys (88 storeys would be second-tallest in the city, surpassed only by the approved Mirvish + Gehry 92-storey). Dizzying! Writing in Report on Business in September, 2014, Paul Attfield called the new area an “innovation zone” but suggested: “All it needs is a standout name.”

Short, sweet, rhythmic and rhyming, what’s wrong with SoCo? Nothing, to this Architourist.

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And speaking of SoCo, listen to Mark Wigmore’s Arts Toronto on Jazz.FM 91 at 8 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 15, when I join him to discuss the neighbourhood.

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