Today, the Toronto-York-Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE) to York University finally opens. Its construction pretty much coincides with my entire time as Dean at Osgoode (ground-breaking on the subway was in 2009 and my term began in 2010). While for many in Toronto the subway was out of sight, and out of mind over this period, those at York University and Osgoode have lived with daily reminders of this massive project – with near constant construction delays on Finch Avenue and Keele Street (among many others). Now that we are here, it is timely to reflect on the significance of a subway to a community? Truly, we will only know once the subway has been operating for a period of time, but here are four possibilities that I think capture our community’s aspirations for this transformative transit.
First, the subway represents both a literal and metaphorical connection between the University and the urban environment. York was built on farmland and a “moat” of fields and hydro towers surrounded the early University buildings. While some of this land has been the subject of infill development, both residential and as part of the University’s remarkable growth (now the third largest University in Canada), much land continues to separate the University from the vibrant neighbourhoods adjacent to the campus. A subway can erase this sense of separation.
Second, and relatedly, the subway not only connects Toronto and Vaughan to York, but also will bring more and different kinds of people to the University. From the outstanding Art Gallery of York to the Archives of Ontario, the campus has amazing community resources that more communities, finally, will be able to access. For Osgoode, this new accessibility will be particularly welcome for clients of CLASP and the other clinical programs at the Law School, not to mention those who seek out resources in Osgoode’s terrific Law Library or attend the many compelling talks, symposia and conferences that enliven the academic calendar.
Third, and perhaps most tangibly, the subway will reduce the commuting time for students, staff and faculty. When I was a student at Osgoode in the late 1980s, commuting was a source both of camaraderie and commiseration, but mostly it added complexity and uncertainty to the life of the University community. For Osgoode’s 100+ Adjunct Professors, many of whom spend just about as long to get to and from class as the class itself, the difference will be as stark as it will be welcome (some who work in the downtown core will now be able to travel from the office to the classroom and back in the dead of winter without needing to put on a coat). The subway will also connect Osgoode’s Professional Development Centre (OPD) at Yonge and Dundas with Osgoode’s building at York in ways that have never been possible. For the students, staff and faculty who divide their time between Osgoode’s two campuses, the subway will be particularly sweet.
Fourth, and finally, for a generation or two of Osgoode alumni, who saw the existing “Osgoode” subway station as a constant reminder of the many decades when the Law School was ensconced at Queen and University, this new subway connection is a poignant closing of a circle. While it took a few more decades than many wanted, this day restores the Law School to its traditional place in the City’s (or, at least, the GTA’s) heart, and promises a bright future for York University as a connector of ideas, opportunities and most of all, people!