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Urban Decay, Death, and New Life

June 9, 2013

When writing about the Symes Transfer Station in the stockyards, my conclusive thoughts were of the building’s past, present, and its uncertain future. After hearing news that Symes was sold by the city to a private developer, I looked to Build Toronto, an organization in charge of finding new uses for the city’s surplus property, to find more information on Symes’ future. I had a conversation over the phone with an employee of the organization, and though he was reluctant to give me much information on the subject, he informed me that the building was sold to be repurposed into an architecture studio. A very suitable use, considering the building was designed by some of the city’s most well known architects of the era. He also informed me that the building is now a heritage site, though I think I may have misunderstood that. It does not show up yet in the Heritage Property inventory on the city’s website.

The historical value of buildings (abandoned or otherwise) is often overlooked, and city councilors are quick to tear them down to make way for new shiny hi-rises. This has been seen too many times, not just in Toronto but around the world. This being said, what’s happening at Symes seems to be an indication of a newer trend for Toronto. Starting with the beautifully repurposed Evergreen Brickworks, the city is now seeing three more of its classic explores given the breath of life. In addition to Symes, the hugely historical Tower Automotive plant is facing mixed use redevelopment, and Kodak Building 9 will become a Metrolinx station, connecting the Eglinton LRT with a new bus bay, and the adjacent GO line.

As an urban explorer, a part of me is very sad to see these places go. They were all among my first explores. The Tower Automotive plant was my very first explore, and I’ve had many different visits over the years. Also as an urban explorer and photographer, I aim to preserve the past as well as I can through the lens of my camera. Of course, I can no longer do this when a building is reopened. Ultimately, the repurposing preserves the building and its history better, and more tangibly than my photos ever will.

So, this may seem to be an ending of an era to some, and I think it is. However, the end brings a new beginning where we can appreciate heritage in our city’s infrastructure, and where new abandonments may face similar and more constructive fates.

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