Unexpected Delights

The business of cultural planning and policy makes you look at ordinary things in a peculiar way. I was reminded of this on my ride into the office today, and it made me give my head a shake.

I was cutting through Grange Park, and as I entered the eastern gate I saw a group of elderly Chinese people performing what looked to me like accelerated Tai Chi moves on the pavement where the paths intersect in the centre.

Grange Park is a little green square, hemmed in by self-conscious symbols of Toronto’s heritage and big-C culture. On the north edge is the Georgian splendor of Grange House, a carefully maintained but uninviting architectural artifact. Glowering above it is the blue metallic monolith created by Frank Gehry for the Art Gallery of Ontario, with a winding stainless-steel staircase protruding like intestine from a herniated abdomen. It is shadowed from the east by the outrageous Alsop-designed Ontario College of Art and Design, perched on crayon-shaped piers. Beverley Street to the west delineates the eastern boundary of Chinatown, and to the south, straight down John Street, stands the City’s petrified erection, the CN Tower.

From this description, you can tell that I experience the City in a different way than most people. For some reason, I expect the users of Grange Park to evince the character what I see surrounding it; fine art patrons, heritage buffs, art and design students, business people, or Chinese seniors engaged in culturally contextualized activities, like Tai Chi.

Instead, as I got closer, I heard tinny country music on a portable stereo, and realized that the group was trying to learn line dancing. They were all out of step, laughing and bumping into each other, clapping in hopeless syncopation at the end of each sequence, and generally enjoying the failed attempt at synchronization.

They made me smile the rest of the way to the office, and I’m smiling still as I recount it now. Our enjoyment of life in this city has less to do with what we design and build than with the little delights that arise unexpectedly.

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