The Ossington Strip is a stretch of four or five city blocks on a commercial street in the downtown west end - and what is happening there is nothing short of wonderful.
What used to be a benighted zone of auto-body shops, car washes, shady karaoke bars and one particularly sleazy strip club called Baby Dolls has transformed into a quirky quarter of restaurants, bars, art galleries and boutiques. People come from all around to check it out, filling the once dead-after-dark street with the buzz and swarm of urban life. The strip has become an asset for the whole city, a draw for couples, hipsters and tourists. The New York Times featured it this month as a must-see spot in "one of the planet's most diverse cities."
But all this dazzling change is a too much for deputy mayor Joe Pantalone. In a last-minute motion at council this week, the city slapped a year-long moratorium on any new restaurant, café, bar or "place of amusement" on the strip. Mr. Pantalone fears that, without some kind of pause in the frenzied growth, it will become a lawless Wild West - and "I'm afraid the Wild West was not a nice place to be."
Only in Toronto. In other cities where shabby industrial districts have been invaded by galleries and bars - New York's Meatpacking District, for one - they celebrate the change. Here we pass a bylaw.
Ossington's evolution has vastly improved the local neighbourhood, raising property values and bringing in new business in the midst of a recession. Residents who used to avoid the street, site of murders and mayhem in the bad old days, can now stop for wild spring salmon and watermelon at Foxley, authentic Neapolitan pie at Pizza Libretto, "white-trash nachos" at the Painted Lady or a beer at Baby Huey. And Mr. Pantalone wants to pull the plug?
The deputy mayor, a veteran councillor and a smooth operator, swears he is not against the evolution of the strip. "It's a very hot area, which is wonderful," he told a public meeting. But there are problems.
People living near the strip complain they can't sleep because of the noise. They say the visitors take all the parking. Pioneers in the area feel that breakneck growth could spoil its unique character.
Mr. Pantalone claims that all he wants is a one-year pause to figure out how to balance the comfort of residents with the benefits of change. Sounds fair enough. But ordering a halt to development is taking a hammer to a butterfly. The bylaw bans not just restaurants and associated patios, but "bake-shops" too. The city actually argues that bars could masquerade as bakeries to get around the ban. Care for a martini with that muffin?
An interim control bylaw like Mr. Pantalone's is one of the most draconian measures in the city's legal armoury. It takes effect immediately, no pesky committee hearings or public consultations required. The owners never even had a chance to make a case against this wet-blanket bylaw.
"The city says there is that there is too much going on at once. Is that really so bad in a recession?" says Anthony Siniscalco of the soon-to-open Gallery supper club. "We're pumping money into the city. We're adding to this community. Five years ago there were gun shots here. Now look at it. People walking down the street. Guys investing."
He has a point. The upside of letting the strip develop is obvious and the worries overblown. It is just fear-mongering to suggest, as Mr. Pantalone does, that the strip could become another entertainment district like the one farther east, around Richmond and John, with its thousands of rowdy club goers and crime problem. Most of the buildings on the strip are much too small to house cavernous dance halls and existing zoning already prohibits night clubs in any case.
As for noise, city bylaw officers say they are patrolling regularly to monitor noise levels and prosecuting places that break the rules. Enforce the law, fine, but don't stifle change. The strip is a marvel of spontaneous urban evolution: unplanned, unexpected, organic, changing by the month - the very thing a city needs to stay vibrant and alive. Let's cheer it, not freeze it.