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Hyperlocal Q&A with Shawn Micallef

Shawn Micallef is one of 12 bloggers who'll be telling his neighbourhood's stories on Hyperlocal - Canada Writes' interactive story map, launching April 3rd. Shawn lives on the border of the Church-Wellesley Village in Toronto.

Tell us about yourself. 
I'm a writer living in the middle of Toronto near the intersection of Yonge and Bloor, on the border between the Church-Wellesley Village and Yorkville, though it's a little more Village than it is Yorkville. I sometimes just refer to it as "the middle" because Yonge and Bloor is the main subway intersection, though it isn't the geographic middle of the middle of the city. 

It's a way to get around (and play around) with the weird regionalism that sometimes afflicts Toronto—east vs west, downtown vs uptown—which really is a smaller version of Canadian regionalism. It's what we do here! 

I've lived here for two years, and before this I was just five blocks east for five years—but most of my 13 years in Toronto have been fairly close to the Yonge corridor. The middle.
Tell us about your neighbourhood.  
The neighbourhood is a mix of just about everything there is in the older parts of Toronto (that is, everything in Toronto but suburban bungalows). From my mid-rise building I look out at Victorian residential buildings, other mid-rises, and very tall towers (most condo, some office). 

Currently I'm watching a new condo tower go up a block away. Every few days there's a new floor added. It all works, and is an example of the capacity Toronto has to absorb very diverse kinds of buildings (not to mention people) in a relatively small area. It's a busy neighbourhood, there a lot of bars and the Bloor Street shops are a five-minute walk away. It's also mixed ethnically and economically. It's what they call a 24-hour neighbourhood, but it's remarkable how quickly a quiet spot can be found just a block away from the raucus parts. The city absorbs. 

I dislike that I live by Jarvis Street. Not the street itself, it's busy, but that's why I moved to the city. I dislike that it's been a symbolic battleground. Its bike lane, now removed, was the Guadalcanal of Toronto's make-believe "War Against the Car". It's exhausting living next to a battleground, symbolic or not. The bike lane was also useful and now it's gone. Toronto is still a teenage city, so things like the Jarvis bike lane battle are growing pains as it figures out how to be a grown-up city. It's like living with the city as it goes through puberty. 
What are some of your favourite neighbourhood destinations?
Though this is the middle of Toronto, the wilderness is nearby. My dog and I go for walks and within 10 minutes we can be in a deep ravine, just to the north in Rosedale. We can walk the ravines for a few kilometres without having to cross very many roads, or link to the endless Don Valley nearby. It's remarkable. Few cities are so lucky to have nature snake in so close to its very urban heart. 

As for non-nature places, Church Street is a good bar street, and I like to go to the Churchmouse and Firkin. It's a somewhat generic chain pub in the middle of the gaybourhood, and the snobs are snobby towards it. That's fine, because everybody else goes there and it's a nice cross-section of the neighbourhood. It's also what I call my "writing local" where I will often type on my laptop late at night to a white noise soundtrack of dance music or 80s pop and the beer is cheaper than at the hipster places that get written up in the weekly magazines. 

Also nearby is the Metro-Central YMCA, one of the best institutions in the city, five floors of fun and a place where so many different people actually mix in the same spot. A few blocks to the west is the Manulife Centre and the giant concrete complex of multi-level shops, an apartment tower and offices. I try to walk through at least once each Saturday as it seems so quintessentially big city in there. Old people reading the paper drinking Timothy's coffees.
How is your neighbourhood changing? 
The neighbourhood is changing quickly in terms of buildings. There's an incredible amount of development concentrated here, with numerous cranes and condo-to-be signs staked into the ground, probably some of the most intense development pressure in North America. 

The Church-Wellesley Village is also the traditional heart of the LGTB community in Toronto and its status, and stability, has always been a worry for those who worry about such things. With so many condos bringing in new populations, and huge developments like the new Loblaws grocery store in the old Maple Leaf Gardens, there is a lot of attention on the gay old street right now, and it has some wondering just how gay it will stay.

Shawn Micallef is the author of Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto (Coach House, 2010) and a senior editor and co-owner of the independent, Jane Jacobs Prize-winning magazine Spacing. He writes about cities, culture, buildings, art and politics in books, magazines, newspapers and websites, including The Toronto Star.

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