The Heart of Toronto
Corporate Power, Civic Activism, and the Remaking of Downtown Yonge Street
From the 1950s to the 1970s, downtown North America was reconfigured for the suburban age. The Heart of Toronto tells the story of one such reinvention: downtown Yonge Street, for decades Toronto’s main entertainment and shopping district and a symbol of metropolitan prosperity.
Yonge Street – variously understood as an embarrassing relic, a transportation route, a laboratory for modern urbanism, and a haven for sleaze – became central to efforts to keep pace with, or even lead, urban change. These included the street’s conversion into a car-free public space, a clean-up campaign targeting the sex industry, and the construction of North America’s largest urban shopping mall. Daniel Ross investigates these projects and connects them to wider trends of postwar decentralization, economic restructuring, and cultural transformation. Across North America, municipal officials planned renewal schemes, merchant groups lobbied for street improvements, developers built bigger and taller. Local contexts shaped these changes, but everywhere attention turned to problems and possibilities at the commercial and civic heart of cities.
Interweaving histories of development, civic activism, and corporate clout, The Heart of Toronto widens our understanding of the actors and power dynamics involved in remaking downtown in Canada’s largest city – a process that is far from over.
The Heart of Toronto is a fascinating history of a central street. By capturing Yonge in all its glory – from the Eaton’s Centre to strip clubs, from nighttime fun to urban danger – Ross skilfully dissects the forces that have shaped our cities.
Daniel Ross is an associate professor in the Department of History, Université du Québec à Montréal. His research on cities, urban culture, and local politics in Canada has been published in the Urban History Review/Revue d’histoire urbaine, BC Studies, the Bulletin d’histoire politique, and Spacing magazine.
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