Photo: James Bombales

When you think of what building a city sounds like, the metallic rattling of a jackhammer or the whirring of a drill might come to mind.

Probably the ringing of a chord struck on an electric guitar will not.

That, however, was one of the many sounds and sights visitors at the Markham House City Building Lab (610 Markham Street) in Mirvish Village encountered on Saturday, September 19th for its grand opening.

The lab is a project from Westbank, the developer that has owned the site of the iconic Toronto discount retailer Honest Ed’s since 2013 and in July of this year put forward an application to the City to dramatically redevelop it and the surrounding Mirvish Village area.

Because of the project’s scope and significance — the proposal calls for about 1,000 rental units and over 17,000 square-meters of commercial space — Westbank’s idea was originally to set up a place where it could share development information.

But as this past weekend’s festivities including live music, food tents and valet parking for bicycles showed, it has grown into something else.

“It evolved organically: the original idea of having a project touchdown space on the site to something that we’re now calling a City Building Lab,” said Ian Duke, a Westbank spokesperson, standing in the Markham House backyard near stacks of large colourful blocks there for the next generation of city builders.

Reps from Brook Pooni Associates, a consulting firm Westbank has brought in to run the project, were staffing the house. They greeted visitors, fielded questions about the development, and used a scale model to go over the specifics, just like Westbank first intended with Markham House.


Photo: James Bombales

But alongside this, Curbside, a local cycle shop, was on hand letting visitors try out some of their merchandise in the alleyway behind.

“It’s kind of a testing ground as well,” explained Aliya Tejani, a planner at Brook Pooni Associates. She wasn’t referring to bike test rides; she was noting how the City Building Lab highlights elements that will figure prominently into the development if the current Westbank proposal moves forward.

In its current incarnation, the Mirvish Village plan features a bicycle valet and shop and a bike-share system, so having Curbside around makes sense. Other retailers may set up shop here, too, in the near future, foreshadowing the micro retail strip included in the proposal.

Westbank intends to preserve some of the heritage buildings that dot the neighbourhood and remove others, and the photo exhibit of Gerald Pisarzowski’s black-and-white portraits of Mirvish Village merchants is an act of preservation as well. His stark black-and-white portraits of Mirvish Village provide a recent snapshot of the village and the people that have made it what it is.

Spacing magazine has also partnered with the lab and is showing its Powers of Towers doc about suburban high-rise communities on site.

Of the immediate response to the lab, Tejani said, “it’s been really positive.”

Markham House City Building Lab will be open Tuesday to Saturday from noon to 7pm over the course of the next year or so. Duke and Tejani say some of the programming here is subject to change during that time, though Spacing and Curbside will be mainstays.

Tejani mentioned someone had already inquired about hosting a poetry reading on site. “If you just need a space, it’s here,” said Tejani. “It’s a really great opportunity for collaboration.”


Photo: James Bombales

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