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Tuesday, January 27, 2015  |   Madison, WI: 26.0° F  
CITIZEN DAVE: Thoughts and ideas about city building from Madison's former mayor
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Citizen Dave: Toronto mixes old and new
The Gooderham Building in downtown Toronto
Credit:Dave Cieslewicz

Every city has some design imprint that tells you something about its history and attitude. Chicago builds big and bold and takes chances. New York is more practical and focused on functionality. Madison, sadly, often designs by committee and gets the blandness that comes with it.

What struck me about Toronto, on my second visit there last week, was the quality and sleekness of its many towering new buildings, and the stark contrast with a few old buildings left dwarfed by them here and there. Toronto violates all the rules about mixing old and new and yet it works for me.

It's not unusual in central Toronto to see thirty-story sleek glass and steel towers surrounding a two or three story old brick church, or civic or commercial building. Rather than finding that appalling, I found the jarring contrasts interesting and kind of exciting.

Part of it might have to do with the good design of those new buildings. The actor Peter Ustinov described Toronto as "New York as run by the Swiss." And that seems about right. Toronto is big and bustling and yet it has a calmness and clean look to its design that is very Canadian.

It's something to keep in mind as we go about changing our own city. Do we want to continue to be a city whose buildings say "good committee work"? Or do we want them to say something more interesting about us -- which would force us to ask if there is something more interesting to say.

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