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|August 11th, 2005, 11:25 AM||#1|
Former Toronto *********
Join Date: Aug 2003
Location: Toronto/London, Ontario
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Toronto's Safety Standards vs. Imaginative Design
Christopher Hume's latest article does bring up some interesting thoughts and viewpoints about how things work in this city. I can't believe that we can't put wrought-iron fencing around our sidewalk trees because it is a safety hazzard....a poor poor excuse if I've ever seen one.
Courtesy of The Toronto Star:
City free of risk, but at what cost?
Obsession with safety means design and inspiration
take a back seat
The nanny state is one thing, but what about the babysitter city?
Toronto's obsession with safety has reached the point where it's positively dangerous to the health of the urban fabric.
This "tyranny of safety" in Councillor Kyle Rae's words overrules all other considerations, which is especially ironic at a time when the good mayor of Toronto, David Miller, has raised the stakes on enhancing the civic realm and such high-minded things.
Though no one would disagree safety must be paramount, it shouldn't be used as an excuse to hamper the proper or at least the desired evolution of Toronto.
Yet as many architects, landscape architects, planners and even politicians will tell you, just below the surface of official plans, design guidelines and so on there's a layer of rules and regulations that thwarts our best intentions.
This overwhelming fear of risk has led to a vision of the city as a place where terrible danger lurks around every corner. For example, the common everyday set of stairs has now become a "Trip Hazard."
In winter, it's a "Slippery Trip Hazard." To be avoided at all costs.
Subway riders are extolled to "Mind The Gap." That would be the space between the edge of the platform and the train.
But there are other more troubling implications of this dictatorship of safety: the configuration of city streets, for instance.
The fire department and emergency engineers demand that roads be as big as possible, with as many lanes as possible and with corners that are as wide as possible. This is necessary, they insist, to accommodate the vehicles they need to do their jobs.
Fortunately, much of the city was built before these requirements were carved in stone.
But what's going to happen when it comes to revitalizing the waterfront or remaking Regent Park?
You can bet that when the detailed planning starts, the real decisions won't be made by designers but by safety enforcers, who only have our best interests in mind.
Only serial killers would disagree.
And what about building much needed infill housing on the lanes and alleyways of Toronto?
Simply too dangerous to allow.
Rae, who represents Toronto-Centre Rosedale, tells of the city's ill-fated attempts to introduce a wrought-iron cover for sidewalk trees.
The problem? Pedestrians might trip on them.
And did you ever wonder why sidewalk food vendors in Toronto only sell hot dogs and sausages?
That's because a bylaw forbids the sale of anything but precooked meat. Again, it's for our own good.
Even when the exquisite new public square was built recently at 18 Yorkville Ave., just west of Yonge, city officials required that curbs be added to the edges of the space. The designer, landscape architect Janet Rosenberg, intended the plaza to blend seamlessly with the surroundings, but that would have been dangerous.
"I've found that safety issues compromise the built form Torontonians hunger for," Rae observes.
"We find ourselves frustrated on a regular basis by risk managers, engineers and lawyers who put liability and legal costs before improved urban landscapes."
"Alas," Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone once lamented, "the world is run by engineers."
"We have the most stringent fire requirements in the world," says prominent Toronto architect/planner Michael Kirkland.
"And if it's not fire requirements, it's parking requirements that are a typical trip wire. The rules are designed to make a dumb city."
The logic of safety lies in the appeal of the ideal, the desire for perfection, a condition from which all potential danger has been meticulously eliminated.
Nothing less will do.
But, as has been said, the perfect is the enemy of the good.