A cold day -5degreesC. Driving down Queen Elizabeth Highway and the northern edge of Lake Ontario. There is a low cloud, it is Sunday and it is bleak. A flock of Canadian geese flies low over the highway as Toronto slowly dissolves into a sprawl. The city of three million that does not know how to stop. Just as you think you have left it behind another crop of commercial buildings arises to justify another row of nondescript detached homes. No love or care has been lavished anywhere in this landscape - except on the billboards which punctuate the drive. As the western end of the lake is reached the road begins to rise over a bridge and the descent to the south of the city of Hamilton reveals itself. Here we see the first colour, bar the adverts, in the form of flames.
These flames give relief to a day of complete flatness, 'days with no shape', as the Welsh call them, by suggesting a sign of life that has nothing to do with commerce or condos. The edge of an inlet from the lake is littered with Great Lake ships waiting to deliver their loads of iron ore to the steelworks. Today this looks like a huge rape of countryside as it produces mounds of waste and valleys of desolation.Vast steel structures spread at will across the landscape, claiming ownership. They have a life of their own, justifying their existence by feeding the needs of the economy. Despite their awfulness they are invigorating. For the first time you feel that this is a place with no rules which follows its own desires and exudes a vibrancy not found in the controlled Canadian city - Peter Ustinov described Toronto as 'New York controlled by the Swiss.
If the steelworks close, they could abort habitation to great advantage, a sort of sanitized Blade Runner lifestyle. I am reminded of the conversion of the steelworks in Monterey in Mexico which became the local art and entertainment centre, a highly appropriate use for redundant heavy metal infrastructure. South Wales could think about such an opportunity. Sadly we often clear away the vitality of our industrial detritus in favour of mind-numbing projects prompted by English Partnerships.
A few more miles and I arrive at Niagara Falls, my intended destination. The scale, the noise and the spray all contribute to utter amazement. Facts and figures about water volume and rate of evolutional recession only get in the way of this sensual wonder. What did the English think when they were first shown this place by the Indians? What did the Indians think of what was then a secret place?
After this extraordinary manifestation of raw power you turn to look at the town. On the ridge nearby you discover a plethora of nasty commercial facilities. This is one of the world's most popular honeymoon destinations. If the town is anything to go by, it must also have a high divorce rate. For the first time in my life I find myself wishing for URBAN DESIGN.
Two glasses of wine later I decide to return to Toronto via Mississauga to see Ed Jones' city hall. On arrival in this new town (25 years old, population 600,000) you are confronted by the worst of Eastern Europe. There are no streets, only disconnected large objects for living and working.This is a place where success is measured by the number of people who have located themselves here. In the midst of it all is the city hall - a building that suggests an inflated reference to Asplund & Stirling. It is trying to do the right thing but is foiled by the town. This town should not exist, the city of Toronto should have absorbed the 600,000 people to increase its downtown density.
The day was fabulous, but I have to give the final result as: God 6; Mankind 0.