Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Book Notes: White on the Beaches

Okay, Richard White is a good friend of ours, but I'm really liking his new book The Beaches: Creation of a Toronto Neighbourhood

Richard lives in and appreciates the Beaches neighbourhood of east Toronto, but he is also a historian of urban planning (Planning Toronto, etc.). The planner in him wasn't interested in merely celebrating the place, so there's some urban history data and analysis here, and you might learn a little about Sam Bass Warner's theory of street car suburbs and such. Nor is he inclined to preservationist "preserve this urban form at all costs" arguments that might come from residents' associations and such. 

He has a citizen's interest, you might say, in how cities and neighbourhood grow and change. He's just interested, and often amused, at the way this particular neighbourhood came to be the way it is. He notes that early in the 20th century, as the Beaches was growing fast, the idea of comprehensive town planning was beginning to be tried in places like Vienna:

But one suspects that Toronto city councillors knew as much about Viennese city-building as they did about Sigmund Freud.

You need not be an urban historian to share his interest, but you might come to learn a little about what urban history knows.

The cover art is by William Kurelek, probably better known for his prairie scenes and Ukrainian imagery. Who knew he lived in the Beaches for a while? Well, Richard White, anyway.

The "Beaches" and not "The Beach"? Torontonians familiar with that debate will want to see his assessment of what the "correct" title has to be.


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