The project begins with the assumption that suburbs are not unified and uniform spaces. Rather in Canada, they are complex places that are among other things the product of organic growth (extensions or amalgamations of central cities) as well as economic development. The suburb of Willowdale in North York, Ontario, has been selected as the location for the exhibition as it is one of Torontos oldest inner suburbs (the original village, located on Governor Simcoes road from the shore of Lake Ontario to the lake that bears his name, dates to 1857) and is known for both its cultural diversity (59% of the residents are immigrants) and its spatial complexity being annexed to Highway 401 and being the last stop on the Finch subway from downtown. As in the case of many older and newer suburbs, this in-between or Edge City is undergoing tremendous changes reflecting the trends in migration, urbanization and lifestyle and new meanings of home.
Everywhere, what are derisively called monster homes, with their pastiche diversity are replacing first generation domiciles as are condominium towers and large, often themed townhouse developments (for example, Quail Run, and Meadow Lanes). Similarly, entire blocks of 1950s and 1960s suburban houses are empty and abandoned, existing in a type of limbo as developers wait for zoning changes so that areas previously zoned for single dwelling homes can be rezoned to accommodate higher density. According to Municipal Councilor John Filion, whose familiarity with Willowdale and expertise have served as invaluable resources for this project, Willowdales current infrastructure cannot sustain the influx of people and cars. Street culture is dwindling if not already deadened; the older spaces/sites of civility and social interaction have been replaced by highly mediated glass architectures. Indeed, it is easy to see how the older suburb with its CMHC houses entertained an ideal of the good life: nuclear family, schools and churches close by, cars that enable mobility. It is less clear what the newer forms of living either promise or deliver. At a time of vast and rising homelessness in the city, at a time when issues around the identity of the City and urban citizenship are being rethought and at a time when the old model of urban and suburban is ripe for a new paradigm of dense and enlivened living, this particular suburb is a very rich location to explore in terms of its history, its relation to Toronto, its meanings for the future of the city, its relation to the past ideals of community, to gender, sexuality, race and class, to immigration and mobility, to transnational capital.
Working with Councilor John Filions office, the curators have obtained permission from David Laird the owner of Hyatt Homes to use the houses on Leona Drive for the exhibition (see photographs). Public Access has produced numerous site specific exhibitions in the past and is excited to undertake this project.