I just read an interesting article on the forgotten urban squalor of The Ward, the worst slum in Toronto Canada. When the population nearly doubled in the decade of the 1920's due to an influx of Jewish immigrants by the First World War. They lived side-by-side with Italians, Poles, Macedonians, Lithuanians, Chinese, and those from countless other countries. What followed was the growing public concern over crime, poverty, and drug abuse. It would be easy to imagine faceless immigrants as social threats, defined by their strange accents and mannerisms rather than their individual and personalising characteristics. While the majority of the Ward's population was hard-working and undeserving of the added stigmas of vice and criminality, that element certainly existed there. The neighbourhood was rife with bootlegger dive bars, gambling dens, and brothels. Centre Avenue was the city's most notorious red-light district, where prostitutes openly solicited from their doorstep while young boys earned their pay keeping watch for the police. Police targeted lower classes at least partly out of concern that their poverty and urban squalor would contaminate respectable society. Police reports, according to sociologists Helen Boritch and John Hagan, characterised the foreigners who ran the Ward's illegal gambling houses as "vicious criminals" and "racketeers."
What cant be denied here was a type of human resilience and determination that thrived in the narrow lanes densely packed with ramshackle cottages, dingy storefronts, and street-corner preachers hassling the locals to convert. Homes were a far cry from the architect-designed houses of the city's newest subdivisions and within the underbelly of life there was a particular human geography of place. By the 1950s demolition of The Ward to allow the commercial district's office towers, hotels, and, more recently, condos to stretch northwards all but erased the streetscape and memory of the under-valued immigrants.
Modern architecture and the coagulation of money has all but destroyed any notion of a complex social order. The forgotten memories, dreams and hopes of the less fortunate find an uncomfortable repose in the foundations of the modern monuments that rise in their place. In this situation I cant help but think a piece of the city dies rather than develops or flourishes. There is a beautiful nostalgia in the memories of the old and perhaps none more beautiful than Brodsky and Utkins Columbrium Habitabile. Their proposal becomes a refuge for the little old houses, their inhabitants and their memories in a large modern city. After all, each is suffused with the soul of its architect, builders, inhabitants and even the passerby who happens to cast an absent-minded glance its way.
There are so many interesting and amazing stories to be discovered here and for similar reasons its why I find the political situation in Australia more and more frustrating in regards to the treatment of refugees escaping unrest in their own countries. The treatment of these people when they reach australia is nothing short of barbaric and inhumane. It is sad to think our government is bowing to public opinion driven by commercial media. Australia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world and one of the richest and we have the nerve to consider our country "full". We are an educated nation of morons, racists and xenophobes. Imagine the journey the refugees have taken to reach our shores, imagine their stories, their culture, history and skilled trades they could bring to our country. The potential to evolve and develop in this situations in incredible however our system seems to stifle the greatest possibilities we are given.