For Mel Lastman, “the city with heart” required a real downtown. During his two decades as mayor of North York prior to amalgamation with the City of Toronto, Lastman used the huckster savvy he developed selling appliances to promote the development of a city core in a suburban municipality.
With typical understatement, he dubbed the multi-billion dollar influx of investment in North York Centre during the 1980s the “Miracle on Yonge.”
“It is nothing short of miraculous that we are creating a downtown after we built the city and that this barrage of construction activity is happening all at one time, spurring us on from one success to the next,” Lastman observed. Official plans to build a core north from the historic settlement of Lansing at Yonge and Sheppard existed as early as 1969. Those plans gained momentum during the 1980s thanks to a mix of developer interest, political will and consultation with local taxpayers.
The results were an impressive cluster of facilities catering to North York’s needs: a civic centre, a Raymond Moriyama-designed central library, an Eb Zeidler-designed performing arts centre that showcased Broadway-bound productions, office towers, subway connections, condos, a hotel and shopping centres. All of these were joined by a northern equivalent of Nathan Phillips Square, which was named after — you guessed it — Mel Lastman.
By Jamie Bradburn