Art and the City - Building Community at Jane and Finch
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In rapidly growing North American cities, large-scale urban developments struggle to create a distinctive sense of community. Responding to increasing trends of isolation, decentralization, cultural and artistic expressions, capitalizing on local knowledge and people, have emerged as driving forces in the creation of authentic community development. Working within the existing model of large-scale development, interrogating process and program in relation to community building, this thesis asserts that architecture and urban design must calibrate themselves in response to the emerging trends by taking a multidisciplinary and comprehensive approach to design. This thesis asks the following questions: What is architecture’s contribution to a creative community? How can our existing instant communities continue to evolve in response to changing needs? Where can we find public space in our contemporary communities? Can public art be used as a tool for community building? The case study site, surrounding the Jane-Finch intersection, was rapidly developed from 1960 to 1970. The imposing Palisades apartment complex, standing on the north-east corner of the intersection, has become an icon in the neighbourhood. Three distinctly modern buildings rise out of a grassy lawn to be seen throughout the larger neighbourhood. The development represents both challenges and opportunities; 4,400 people know it as home while others associate it with media reports of poverty, crime and an aging legacy of modern architecture (San Romanoway Revitalization Association 2009). Issues of identity, public space, scale and implementation are examined through case studies of highly designed architectural precedents and informal grassroots organizations to inform the design proposal. Through the re-conception of the ambiguous ground plane at the base of the Palisades apartment complex as an educational and cultural campus for the emerging arts community, this thesis demonstrates the potential role of architecture in supporting creative community building and an expanded understanding of the contradictory role of an architect as mediator, dreamer and realist.