Friday, December 03, 2004

Exhibition Place vs. Ontario Place

It's been a month of long hours at work, and accordingly it's been a month of low e-mailing and minimal blogging. However, I've been prodded back into action by Marc Weisblott of BLC fame, with the challenge to come up with a few thoughts on the task force to investigate the future of Exhibition Place and Ontario Place.

To be honest, though, I had a hard time deciding what to say on the matter. Even when the call for public submissions came forward in the news, I don't think I actually read much of the article. Both venues are places that are significant uses and attractions that you see all the time on maps, or going past on the GO train, or driving by on the Gardiner or the Lake Shore, and that I've been to a few times (mostly as a kid). But while I know they're there, and can appreciate the fact that they're there, serving a purpose I suppose, I don't really think about them all that often.

I can't remember what the last time I voluntarily went down to either of them just for the sake of going. Sure, I went down to Ontario Place perhaps 2 or 3 years ago, but it was for a work "appreciation day" type of event. I suppose it would be back in 1999, to visit my brother who was working at (interestingly) the BLC. (Also interestingly: my mother also worked a booth at the BLC back in her youth, in the 1960's.) Even in my younger days, the trips to the Ex were almost always primarily for another event — because we had Jays tickets at Exhibition Stadium, or had concert tickets, also at Exhibition Stadium. (Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Also, the Beach Boys / Chicago, back when I thought Chicago were cool. They did have a cool period, especially their second album, which is exceptional, but I was very misguided on their 80's stuff.) Or later, tickets to a show at the Molson Amphitheatre. But there wasn't really ever enough on its own to really interest me in either case.

I was starting to feel some shame at my nonchalance towards the issue — until I read similar a similar response from Andrew Spicer. I'm not sure, though, if those thoughts are common to a lot of Torontonians — there certainly does seem to be a lot of hype raised around the opening and closing of the CNE, for example. Perhaps it's just that we prefer to focus on more everyday issues (the important stuff — like the design of the Toronto street sign, of course). The idea that, if you are a tourist and want to get an idea of Toronto, you shouldn't head to the CN Tower and the typical tourist locations — you should visit some of Toronto's neighbourhoods and walk its streets.

In that vein, I tried to picture how west-enders (i.e., west end of downtown — not Mississaugans) would feel about those facilities. I certainly enjoyed having an apartment close to the lake this summer out in the east end; a quick walk and I could bike down the Martin Goodman Trail, or walk down the boardwalk, or just sit and read a newspaper in the shade and people-watch. I can't picture doing that as regularly if I lived on Queen or King West. Part of that is the increased distance, and part of that is the barriers of the Lake Shore, Gardiner, and rail corridor. But a good part of that is also the distance across Exhibition Place, which I picture (fairly or not) as being fairly quiet and empty for a good 80 to 90 percent of the year. I suppose that's a way of saying that it would be nice to increase activity in there, particularly in Exhibition Place, to bring that 80-90% down a good deal. I tend to agree with Armchair's assessment that "re-examining the purpose of the two sites would surely mean trying to find a more consistent draw to the area." (I also tend to agree with his thought that the facilities should remain public.)

I'm not sure that co-ordinating or combining the two facilities is as important as simply increasing activity throughout the year. I am reminded of the constant cries to better integrate 905 transit systems with the TTC in a bid to increase ridership. There may be some efficiencies to be had there (for example, eliminating duplicate service along Burnhamthorpe or Dundas), but the real thing that's going to attract more riders is better service — especially faster and more frequent service — not what colour of bus offers the service. (And if you improve the speed and the frequency, the issue of the transfer between the two services becomes much smaller.)