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One blustery winter afternoon not long ago, I visited the 2015 Pan American Games athletes’ village on the eastern edge of Toronto’s downtown.

It was my first chance to size up what an investment of $700-million, the combined effort of public agencies, a private development consortium and four architectural firms, much consultation with neighbours, experts and citizens at large, and the muscle-power of many hard-hatted men and women have done to make livable 35 acres of once-desolate industrial land near the mouth of the Don River.

On the day I was there, the area was beginning to feel like somewhere people will be able to live, play, shop comfortably and well, once the transformation of the village into what developer Dundee Kilmer is calling the Canary District is complete. The name, by the way, commemorates the Canary Restaurant, a classic, defunct (since 2007) local greasy spoon formerly frequented by truck drivers and the odd urbanite in search of the perfect over-easy.

Five of six planned buildings have been put up and the place’s basic material fabric – its network of avenues, its mid-rise atmosphere – has come together, and it works. Saplings have been planted and landscaping is well under way alongside the straight, spacious extension of Front Street East, which bisects the site, orients the terrain toward the 18-acre Corktown Common park, and opens the system of new buildings to the city.

The swimming pools and track and basketball court of the handsome 82,000-square-foot YMCA, designed by sports-facilities specialists MacLennan Jaunkalns Miller Architects, are virtually ready for a dip or run or dribble. KPMB Architects’ Canary District Condominiums, gathered around a courtyard south of Front, is getting finished, and so are the works by Toronto’s architectsAlliance and the Montreal office of Daoust Lestage.

The architectural results, especially the mid-rise steel and glass residential structures already on the ground, are trim, unsentimental, responsible. While the designs will probably break no records for cutting-edge invention, the general sense they lend to this large new urban space is one of open-handedness and rationality, and a palpable, cool decency. The village will offer the 10,000 athletes and coaches from 41 countries a temporary home that is fresh, youthful in spirit, thoughtful.

For the duration of the summer games, the contestants’ digs in these projects will be pretty bare-bones. Five people will bunk into each one-bedroom apartment, or 10 per two-bedroom suite. Because the units are expected to get hard use during the sporting events – July 10-26, and Aug. 7-15 for the Parapan American games – the installation of most finishes and trims has been postponed until after the roistering young competitors and their sweaty uniforms and gear have moved on.

Then will begin the readying of the extant buildings for their more permanent inhabitants, and the raising of the last three mid-rises will continue. When the work is done, Dundee Kilmer CEO Jason Lester told me, the Canary District will feature upward of 800 market-rate condominium apartments and townhouses, 253 units of affordable rental housing, a 250-suite student residence for George Brown College, about 30,000 square feet of commercial space for “a cluster of like-minded retailers” in the business of “health and wellness,” five or six restaurants and a locally owned Dark Horse Espresso Bar (not another Starbucks, Mr. Lester was quick to point out) on Front Street East’s promenade.

Had you said to me, a dozen years ago, that you believed such an obviously real piece of city would be nearing completion down there in 2015, I would have consigned the prediction to the file marked Wishful Thinking. For Torontonians with good memories, after all, the Canary District site has long seemed destined for calamity.

We remember the late 1980s, when idealistic local architects and urbanists, energetic social activists and some city and provincial politicians joined forces and proposed a massive complex of affordable homes, community schools, offices and cultural centres for construction on the derelict property. The scheme, called Ataratiri, attracted wide support and interest in civic circles and in the precincts of power. By 1992, however, its impracticality had become obvious to almost everyone, and the project was definitively canned that year – but not before gobbling down $350-million in public money, and all without producing a single house.

Given the tract’s ill-starred history, it was hardly surprising that skeptics were so noisy in the early 2000s, when the public development corporation known today as Waterfront Toronto became the landlord of the waste, designated the property the West Don Lands, and announced its intention to establish a large, thriving neighbourhood on the site.

As I found during my stroll among the new buildings earlier this winter, that wish is apparently about to come true, silencing the doomsayers and boding well for the further revitalization of Toronto’s waterfront.