Zazzing Our Way To A World Class City

April 19, 2013

Let me set aside Councillor Mark Grimes’ Las Vegas trip including a ‘back of house’ tour of MGM’s Bellagio hotel last summer as nothing more than unfortunate. As the casino debate was just beginning to ramp up, oceans11the chair of the Exhibition Place board – yes, that Exhibition Place where MGM would unveil ambitious plans to build their casino a few months later – decides to travel to the belly of the beast and subsequently raise all sorts of eyebrows just before a casino decision is to be made at city council. Bad optics, for sure. Terrible, very bad fucking optics.

But I’m going to take the councillor at his word when he tells us that the real reason he went to Las Vegas had nothing to do with casinos. The trip was a fact-finding mission that, according to David Rider of the Toronto Star, Councillor Grimes took in order “…to learn about a covered pedestrian mall with dazzling light show he wanted to emulate at Exhibition Place as a link to neighbouring Ontario Place.”

“The purpose of the trip was the Fremont Street Experience,” the councillor said. fremontstreetMr. Rider describes the Fremont Street Experience as “a five-block entertainment district with light and sound show, zip-lines and more that has helped revitalize the older part of downtown Las Vegas.”

This aspect of the councillor’s Vegas junket is what truly chills me to the bone.

It’s city building by zazz.

What exactly is ‘zazz’, you ask? (Just like Lisa Simpsons did.) I’ll tell you what zazz is. (Just like Lindsey Neagle told Lisa Simpson.) “Zing! Zork! Kapowza! Call it what you want, in any language it spells mazuma in the bank!”

In terms of city planning and development, zazz is putting empty spectacle ahead of personal connections to space or place. Zazz is fast food to slow cooking. Zazz reeks of desperation rather than inspiration.

Now look. I’ve got nothing against Las Vegas. I haven’t been in close to twenty years which is indicative of my level of interest in it, I guess. There are few other places in the world where you’re offered the opportunity of witnessing a white tiger bite a German magician in the head.

When it comes to urban planning ideas though? I’m sorry I have to follow this to its obvious conclusion but tell me you wouldn’t do the exact same. freemontstreetWhat goes on in Vegas, needs to stay in Vegas.

Take a look at this aerial view of the CNE grounds and Ontario Place from the Torontoist earlier this year. Fort York over to the east. The southern reaches of Parkdale in the northwest. Ponder all the possibilities that could be.

Now, is your first response to developing Exhibition Place all light shows and tribute bands? Gowan’s Strange Animals (and Other Oddities). A Foot in Cold Lakefront Water. Fast GO Train: Songs of April Wine.

This isn’t vision so much as revision. There’s this really cool place I like to go to. Why don’t we try to create something just like it closer to home? We’re not attempting to adopt an idea. We’re trying to ape a marketing concept.

It’s building commercial public space in lieu of simply public space.fearandloathing

Toronto’s a big place. There’s plenty of room for both types of commons. Yonge-Dundas Square fits into the surrounding retail environment. Because we have the CNE for three weeks every year doesn’t necessarily mean we should turn the area into a non-stop party zone.

Wait. I have another one. Alanis Morissette: Isn’t It Ironic… See, it’s actually Alanis Morissette performing in a tribute band to Alanis Morissette, Isn’t It Ironic. Hey! She didn’t know the meaning of the word either.

As Michael Cruikshank of York Heritage Properties pointed out at a casino information session last month, the city’s left itself vulnerable to these kinds of machinations and spiels due to its lingering lack of bigger plans for the Exhibition Place site. The zazz appeal of a Fremont Street Experience is easy to see. Glitz. Glamour. waynenewtonWorld Class Destination that looks great in a tourism brochure. Retailing of the public sphere, and it won’t cost us a dime.

If Councillor Grimes really wants to make the best decision about the fate of Exhibition Place, maybe he should also take the time to travel to cities that weren’t seduced by dollar signs and simulations of big city life. It might not be as exciting or offer up ‘back of house’ tours of grand spectacles but it could provide alternatives to the prevailing notion in certain quarters of City Hall right now that the folks are only looking for Vegas-style entertainment when they head out on the town. Sometimes people want a little more than bread-and-circuses.

 — Newtonianly submitted by Cityslikr