Chicago Millenium Park

Photo: Chris Coleman/Flickr

At the 10th annual Pug Awards, moderator Anna Simone managed to hold the sibling rivalry between sister cities Toronto and Chicago in check during the lecture, “How to Build an Architectural Legacy – Lessons from Chicago.”

Lynn Osmond, President and CEO of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, and Jennifer Keesmaat, Chief Planner for the City of Toronto, discussed design, the public realm, and mayoral legacies during the Pug Talk. Here’s what we learned:

1. The sister cities have a lot in common

Toronto’s population, which numbers 2,791,140, recently eclipsed Chicago’s 2,707,120 residents. Aside from having populations within close range of each other, both cities are based on Great Lakes. While Toronto has the Gardiner Expressway running parallel to Lake Ontario, Chicago has Lake Shore Drive, a freeway running alongside Lake Michigan. While both cities have dense core, each struggles with the issue of suburban sprawl.

2. But Chicago gets the whole thing civic pride thing a lot more

Osmond warned that if you’re going to cocktail party in Chicago, you need to know your architects or you’ll have little to talk about. The city, which is the birthplace of the skyscraper, is famous for its rich architectural history and boasts plenty of work by big names such as Frank Lloyd Wright and landmark towers like the Wrigley Building and the John Hancock Center. The Chicago Architecture Foundation has been boosting the city’s profile and celebrating its buildings since 1996. In 2013, the organization’s total tour attendance was 319,661. In Toronto, the celebration of the city’s spaces is a bit more “fragmented” according to Keesmaat, with smaller events and groups such as the Pug Awards and Jane’s Walks.

3. Chicago can push through large-scale projects via its “strong mayor” system

The word “vision” came up constantly when discussing the work of Chicago mayors (and elicited more than a few sighs from the Toronto audience). Chicago, like many large American cities, runs via a “strong mayor” system which gives the mayor almost total administrative authority. Former mayors have achieved large-scale projects such as the well-loved Millennium Park and the massive river revitalization plan. Toronto has a more administrative approach where the mayor lacks veto power over council votes.

4. Toronto is a little bit nervous when it comes to big visions

There was a palpable sense of envy over Chicago’s ability to, well, get stuff done. While the “strong mayor” system is a big part of that, both Osmond and Keesmaat suggested Toronto is a bit more timid when it comes to massive proposals since, as Keesmaat pointed out, when big things go wrong, they go wrong in a very big way. However, the Chief Planner did point out that our love of local projects has strengthened our Main Street-driven neighbourhoods, something the city is famous for.

5. …but that may be changing

Keesmaat was quick to point to that this spring, City Council adopted all three planning and environment studies that from resulted the Eglinton Connects consultations. The massive plan aims to transform Eglinton Avenue into a denser, greener and more walkable and bikeable thoroughfare as the Crosstown LRT goes up between Kennedy and Mount Dennis. The city-spanning plan is by no means small and the consultations and public input resulted in more widespread council support than previous large-scale city plans.

Eglinton Connects

Image: City of Toronto

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