Vancouver vs. Toronto: A tale of two 21-acre parks

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It’s not often that a dense, city centre gets to create a new 21-acre park that provides new green space in an area that needs it, but also reconnects neighbourhoods disconnected by an infrastructure corridor.

No, not that 21-acre park.

Not to be outdone by Toronto’s plan to create a 21-acre park by decking over a rail corridor downtown, my old hometown Vancouver has released more details about its plan to create a new 21-acre waterfront park, replacing what is now a mostly derelict area of parking lots and elevated roadways.

Last year, Vancouver’s City Council approved a staff recommendation to remove the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts–recently featured in the opening bloodbath scene in Deadpool–in order to unlock more waterfront land at the edge of the downtown core. The city will create a new at-grade boulevard for cars while opening up more land for development and parks (sound familiar, Toronto?)

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The viaducts are really Vancouver’s hangover from a highway that never materialized that would have run down Georgia Street through the heart of the downtown. That highway plan was thankfully stopped, but not before these two “on-ramps” were constructed (demolishing Hogan’s Alley, a largely black neighbourhood, in the process).

Removing these viaducts—which carry far less traffic than they were originally designed for—was a smart, forward-thinking move by the city. The images below show what you can do with the viaducts in place and what you can do if you remove them. You get more park, sure, but you also get to connect the neighbourhoods to the north, like Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside, better to False Creek.

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It’s the kind of bold decision that we could have made in Toronto when options were laid out for the Gardiner East. Instead, our City Council voted to essentially repair and rebuild the elevated highway, nudging it a bit to create a different alignment at a massive cost–the so-called hybrid option.

Recently we’ve learned that the cost of rebuilding this section of the Gardiner has ballooned by more than $1 billion, which is, in a kind of twisted hilarity you only seem to find in Toronto municipal politics, what Rail Deck Park is likely to cost.

In another little funny, ironic twist, Vancouver has secured James Corner, the designer of the little-known High Line in New York, as the landscape architect for its new 21-acre park. I say ironic because before the decision to demolish the viaducts, there were some who advocated for turning them into Vancouver’s own High Line-style kind of elevated park. I absolutely hated that idea for many reasons—some of which I outlined in this post from my old blog back in 2012—but the gist is that they’re ugly, expensive, and too short to become a High Line.

Anyway, now we can blow them up and create a beautiful on-the-ground park, which is, in my opinion, where parks belong.

So, Toronto: let this be a lesson.

If we want to be the progressive, big-thinking, bold city we say we are, we can start by taking a page out of Vancouver’s book. We should tear down the Gardiner East and replace it with a boulevard, new neighbourhoods, and waterfront parks. And, hey, that $1 billion we save? I know about this little project over a rail corridor…

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All images from vancouver city staff reports. The title image is not the final plan for the park, which hasn’t been released yet, but just a concept idea. 

Ryerson University public space plan leads the way for safer, people-focused streets

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One of my favourite little islands of quiet green space in downtown Toronto is a hidden grassy field a one-minute brisk walk away from Yonge-Dundas Square. It’s one of those unique moments where you can be right in the thick of thousands of people with video screens screaming ads at you and then quickly melt away into a quiet park surrounded by sleepy classroom buildings and a big open patch of green. This is the aptly named Ryerson Community Park. 

Ryerson’s campus plugs right into the heart of downtown in a way that the University of Toronto—my former campus—doesn’t. It’s streets, green spaces, laneways, sidewalks, and plazas form a network that seamlessly connects into the pulsing city around it.

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That’s why we should pay attention when Ryerson proposes a new public space master plan that aims to transform its public space network, including streets, into something that is safer, people-focused, and accessible. It’s not just a redesign that will benefit students, but residents and visitors to downtown. And, if it’s done right, it could act as an important example of what’s possible in other neighbourhoods.

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At the heart of the master plan, and of the campus itself, is Gould Plaza—one of the City of Toronto’s largest experiments (the largest?) in repurposing road space as public space for people. Closed to traffic as a temporary pilot in 2011, the open space on Gould Street quickly became a magnet for people and activity.

The plan proposes a simple, but important design fix to make the plaza permanent: raising the surface up so it’s flush with the sidewalks around it. Even though the street is closed to all traffic, pedestrians still, out of force of habit perhaps, use the sidewalks that line its edges.

If completed, this would mirror the high-profile pedestrianization of New York’s Times Square, where a similar pilot project to create space for people was made permanent by raising the pavement. It’s amazing what a small change in grade and materials can do for a space to make it more comfortable and inviting–not to mention accessible. Goodbye, curbs!

Laneways

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Also included in the plan, are ideas to make the laneways on campus—Victoria and O’Keefe—more inviting and usable for people by including lighting and art features. The plan doesn’t go too deeply into what’s possible in each of these laneways, which is a disappointment, but they could really be used as a template for other laneways downtown if we do them right. I know the City of Toronto and the Downtown Yonge BIA have been actively working on how to transform these laneways for quite some time, so hopefully we’ll see some of that move forward.

Pedestrian-priority streets

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Finally, the plan proposes creating pedestrian-priority streets on other key streets leading into the campus. While these will still allow car travel, they will be raised up and treated with different paving, signalling to cars that they’ve entered a pedestrian-priority space. This treatment of streets to make them safer and more pleasant for people is a useful lesson beyond the campus that could be implemented in other neighbourhoods. In fact, it’s used at some intersections already in the University of Toronto campus along Huron Street.

I hope the University steps up with the necessary funding to make these improvements a reality because, if implemented, they could lead the way in Toronto to re-imagining the potential of our streets not as simply places to move cars, but places for people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 ways to create a more skateable city

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Skateboarding is often something we design out of our cities. We install metal bumps on concrete ledges and extra railings and barriers where they otherwise wouldn’t be needed. We put up signs with big red slashes through them. The message is clear: this space isn’t for you.

But what if we designed our city to be more skateable, not less?

With the City of Toronto’s new Skateboard Strategy, the City is hoping to do just that. The plan was created in close collaboration with skateboarders around the city, including the Toronto Skateboarding Committee—a great group of people advocating for more and better skateboarding infrastructure in the city.

The goal of the strategy is to create more and better skateparks in the city and also better programs to reach those that want to learn. There are currently 14 skateboard parks in Toronto (12 permanent, 2 seasonal), which you can find in every corner of the city. The findings in the strategy will be incorporated into the City’s facilities master plan—a long-term plan for the city’s parks and recreation facilities that’s being worked on right now.

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Here’s a few of the highlights from the Skateboard Strategy:

Mobile skateparks

 This idea stems from a pilot the City ran this past summer where a van stuffed with skatepark supplies like obstacles, ramps, and skateboards drove to areas of the city that were underserved by skateparks in order to build a quick, temporary space. It would be great to see this program expanded. But I also love the idea of just a “mobile games van” in general, which delivers a recreation staff member and soccer balls, toys, etc., to parks that don’t easy access to these otherwise. So many parks, particularly outside the downtown, are simply grass and maybe a bench. This would really help liven them up and provide play opportunities.

Skate dots

This idea recognizes that sometimes you don’t need to build a big, expensive skatepark, but instead can create small skateable locations in existing parks—what the city is called skate dots. These could be a single railing or ramp built into a park or pathway that allows people to practice. “They provide an introductory skateboarding experience for local users,” the Strategy says. “And can function as social gathering spaces.”

Skateable art

This is an idea I really love and kind of follows from the “skate dots” idea—creating public art pieces that are actually designed for people to skateboard on. It reminds me a little bit of the opposite of what the wave decks down along Queen’s Quay have become. The wave decks would be great for skateboarding if the City hadn’t put up weird, awkward railings so they couldn’t be used.

 Permits

Permits: the perennial headache. Turns out you actually can’t get a permit for skateparks currently and so this limits the ability to host events and competitions since only the City can put an event on at a skatepark. Any permitting process would, of course, have to balance the needs of all users and ensure that skateparks weren’t being taken over for events too often. But how great would it be for groups to be able to host local competitions and events in their skatepark?

 A skatepark at Nathan Phillips Square?

This wasn’t in the strategy, but at committee where the strategy was being discussed, Councillors voted to have staff look at creating a skatepark on the currently empty space on the west corner of Nathan Phillips Square. I love the idea of a visible skatepark right in the heart of downtown.

Vancouver’s Comox-Helmcken Greenway creates a connection that is also a place

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We want to create safe, attractive cycling and pedestrian connections throughout our city, but rather than simply planning a route to get from A to B what if we created connections that became places themselves?

Vancouver’s Comox-Helmcken Greenway does exactly this. It’s a part of the city’s cycling network, with both painted and separated lanes, but it does so much more than act as way for cyclists to get across the dense, downtown West End neighbourhood through which it threads.

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Unfortunately, I moved away from Vancouver before the greenway was complete, but I make sure to ride along its length whenever I’m back visiting—like I did this past September when I was in town for Placemaking Week.

The Comox-Helmcken Greenway was planned to include small gardens, seating areas, and other amenities to make it almost like a linear park-street hybrid. It’s route also connects already existing schools, community centres, and parks (like the big Stanley Park), smaller mini-parks in the West End, and the lovely Nelson Park, the West End’s largest neighbourhood park (which includes a lovely, street-side community garden).

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Walking or biking along the greenway, you’re treated to bump-outs that act as traffic calming measures, but also contain gardens lush with green plants, often tended by residents living in the mid- and high-rise buildings that populate the West End.

There is also a variety of seating along the route, allowing people to stop and sit at chairs, tables, and even a bar stool-style set-up where the greenway meets the busier Denman Street commercial strip. Personally, I like the living room set-up in the picture below. All you need is a nice table lamp, a cup of tea, and you’re set.

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The greenway was always designed to be more than your average cycling route, evident in its design, but also by the fact that the City of Vancouver partnered with the University of British Columbia to study the activity levels of those living along the route before and after installation.

The results of that study, released last month argue that the $5 million dollar project was well worth the investment. The study looked at people living within 500 metres of the greenway and found that cycling trips went up by 32 percent while car trips went down by 23 percent. Other research done for the City reported health and activity improvements for seniors living along the greenway.

As we look to expand our cycling networks, we’d do well to look at the example set by Vancouver in how we can pull the park experience into our very streets.

 

Making a place for people in the heart of Vancouver’s Davie Village

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I lived in Vancouver’s West End for three years just a few blocks from Davie Street, which runs through the centre of the city’s gay village. While the street was billed as the “heart” of the village, it was more like an artery in search of a heart.

There was nowhere along the strip to hang out, chat with people, host community events and watch the bustle of the street. There was nearby Nelson Park, which got a nice facelift during my time there, but what the street lacked–and what many neighbourhoods in Vancouver lack–was a public space or plaza that acted as a central gathering spot right on the street.

A few years ago the City decided to change that. The result, the newly opened Jim Deva Plaza, is a great example of both why pilot projects matter and why programming is so important to public spaces.

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Test ideas with pilots to gain support before making expensive permanent changes

The City opened up a portion of a Bute Street, which intersects with Davie, by removing car access and creating a quick and cheap public space to test the idea. Tables and chairs were put out, and small community events, like games nights, were encouraged.

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The pilot was so successful that when the City surveyed the community about whether they wanted to make the plaza permanent, over 80% said yes.

This September I went back to Vancouver to attend Placemaking Week, and got to check out the now permanent Jim Deva Plaza, named after a local community activist around gay rights and free speech who died tragically a few years ago in an accident. The giant megaphone structure seen in the title picture acts both as a statement about Deva’s advocacy and provides a place for people to perform.

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Don’t just provide a space, provide something for people to do

The plaza seems to be working as a spot to mix and mingle. On a somewhat cool, but sunny day I sat in the plaza on one of the moveable chairs left out for people. A man with a guitar sang songs and intermittently chatted with a woman from Australia who sat nearby. A group of skateboarders stopped to play over-sized Jenga, which turned into a huge magnet for people walking by. I counted 12 people stopping to watch and talk to the guys in 10 minutes, including lots of older adults.

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Successful public plazas are ones that provide opportunities for people to do things. Whether that’s play guitar, sit with friends, or interact in some low-key game. Too often we simply provide the space and then walk away thinking that’s the end of it. But it’s the activities in these spaces that really draw people, keep them there, and provide an opportunity to chat with people they don’t know and may not have interacted with otherwise.

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When the Jenga blocks finally fell over, there were smiles from everyone in the plaza, and then they started all over again.

all photos are mine except the pre-designed space, which is from the Vancouver Courier

5 important points about Rail Deck Park

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At Executive Committee on September 22, Rail Deck Park went through its first vote (they grow up so fast, don’t they?). Before the committee was a request for $2.4 million to do the prep work necessary to understand how to move the park forward. It passed easily and will head to council next.

You can read the staff recommendations here, but below are a few key points that emerged from the meeting about an idea to create this much-needed new 21-acre park over the rail corridor in downtown Toronto.

Rail Deck Park will likely be built in phases

It wasn’t explicitly articulated this way, but the message was clear: this park will be expensive and long-term, but it can also be built in a smaller set of phases rather than all at once. The report outlines certain partial-builds of the park and their high-level costs. Expect to hear more about this in future implementation plans. Here’s how the City broke down the different ways Rail Deck Park could be built over time:

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Partnerships will make this happen

Included in the report, and specifically highlighted by Deputy City Manager John Livey, was the importance that partnerships—with residents, community groups, businesses, and non-profits—will have in the construction, operation, and programming of Rail Deck Park.

We “need a new model” for this park, Livey said, mentioning the conservancy model specifically. There are a range of park partnership models, however, with a straight-up conservancy (basically a partnership between a City and a non-profit organization dedicated to the park) being on one end of the scale and local “friends of” groups on the other.

It will be interesting to see where Rail Deck Park ultimately ends up on that scale. City Council recently approved a new non-profit to manage The Bentway (formerly the Under Gardiner), so it’s not uncharted territory for Toronto. But one thing was clear: the City can’t do this alone.

There are dedicated funding streams for parks

People have pointed out that there’s no money set aside for Rail Deck Park. That’s true–sort of. There is no account right now with money sitting in it for the park; however, as the staff report outlined, and John Livey stressed, there are already several dedicated funding sources available. These funding sources are also growth-related, which is a jargony way of saying that new developments help pay for services/amenities that the new people living in those developments need. Growth pays for growth.

These are:

  • Section 37 (density bonus funds generated from tall, dense developments—aka pretty much every development in the downtown)
  • Section 42 (park levy funds generated from every development)
  • Development Charges (fees every development must pay per unit for a range of services, with Rail Deck Park to be included after the next DC review).

So it’s inaccurate to say there’s no money for this project or no one has thought of a way to pay for it. We do have funding mechanisms. And money collected for parks under Section 42 and through Development Charges can only be used for parks.

That’s important: they can only be used for parks. They can’t be used for housing or transit, by law. This is why these funding streams were created: so we’d have dedicated money for park improvements and acquisition as we grew (and grew and grew and grew).

Our park acquisition policies don’t work for downtown

This is a key point that John Livey talked about in his presentation. The way that we collect park levies from new developments downtown is largely through the Alternate Parkland Dedication Rate (Toronto’s is 0.4 hectares of land collected for every 300 units built). Often the City accepts cash in lieu of parkland from developers because the land provided would be such a small space given that downtown developments are largely tall buildings on tiny postage stamps of land. So we get money. Yay!

But: Toronto caps the amount that developers pay in park levies, which means that at a certain point in a high-density building, the City essentially stops collecting park levies. For a brief primer on why caps are used, head to the middle of this post. Here’s how that works out:

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Most developments in downtown would be under 1 hectare of land. So basically once the alternate rate (0.4 ha per 300 units) results in a land dedication of 10% of the development site, the City stops collecting park levies.

This may have been okay when our buildings were 30-storeys on average, Livey said, but now that we’re seeing 50, 60, and even 80 storey buildings on tiny pieces of land as the new normal, we need to revisit this cap because it’s not generating enough parkland/money to meet the needs of all those new residents. Reviewing these policies is long overdo.

Part of the hesitation around reviewing these policies stemmed from the fact that they could be appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board. But a recent court decision related to Richmond Hill (you can read about that here) has helped clarify municipalities power to set parkland policies. Take that OMB!

Getting more in park levies from downtown developments helps the whole city

Councillor Joe Cressy, whose ward contains Rail Deck Park, pointed out that increasing the cap on park levies would net more money for parks downtown, but also for the entire city. This is because of the way park levy money is divided up. A good chunk of the money generated for parks from downtown developments goes into a citywide account. Here’s the breakdown for all you nerds out there:

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Increasing the amount of funds collected in downtown then would also increase the amount of funds that goes citywide. You are essentially creating a bigger pie, so we all get bigger slices. This is good news for people who like pie, but also for neighbourhoods that don’t see a lot of development who rely on these citywide reserve funds for their park improvement needs.

Stay tuned for what I’m sure will be an interesting debate over this project when this item goes to City Council on October 5 and 6 (and, who are we kidding, probably 7 too).

You can read more here about the challenges of buying parkland downtown. The charts were taken from this 2013 City of Toronto staff report

Court overturns OMB ruling on Richmond Hill’s park by-law

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Okay, this news is a bit old, but I’m guessing not many people are exactly following OMB parkland dedication court cases with the same close eye that they would, oh say the split of Hollywood couples (RIP Brangelina).

A few months back I wrote about an OMB decision that essentially said that the Town of Richmond Hill did not have the ability to set its own level of parkland dedication, as the Planning Act allows.

Earlier this month (while I was on vacation in Vancouver), the court overturned that OMB decision.

In short, Richmond Hill had approved their park levy at the highest that is allowable under the Planning Act. This wasn’t done willy-nilly, but after analyzing the future park needs of the Town and compiling all of that in their 2013 Parks Plan. The OMB then ruled it was too high and imposed a cap. The court ultimately ruled the OMB “exceeded its mandate.”

This decision is a big one because it will have ramifications for other municipalities that are experiencing intensification (like Vaughan and Markham), who are re-tooling how they collect park levies from those new developments to pay for the parks that residents living in high-density neighbourhoods need.

Here’s the press release:

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Both the Toronto Star and Torontoist have written articles on the decision.

Stationed park managers could help improve our parks

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This week Marcus Gee wrote about park maintenance in the Globe and Mail in a column titled “Toronto’s parks suffer from a lack of pride.” He recounts the oft-cited example of Canoe Landing Park as an argument that the City is unable to maintain its parks at a high-quality (especially its signature parks) and that park staff have no sense of pride in our parks.

Gee’s column is unfair to city parks workers, portraying them as lazy and uncaring about their work. Every time I have met a city parks worker, the care and pride they took in our parks was clear. Sure, in a workforce as large as the City’s, you’ll come across people who are careless, but Gee’s is an unproductive generalization.

He does, however, raise a good point when he notes that having on-site park managers who have a deeper, more visible presence in parks would result in parks that are better maintained.

Currently, the City has park supervisors, but these hard-working staff are responsible for a number of parks. For example, there’s one park supervisor for Wards 19 and 20, which includes Trinity Bellwoods, Christie Pits, and a slew of other high-profile parks.

It’s important to remember that parks staff are working under very difficult budget conditions. It was only in 2015 that the City actually approved extra maintenance funding (above and beyond increases just to keep up to the same standards as the year before) to focus on signature parks in high-use times like summer.

There is evidence to suggest that moving from the current “flying squad” model where city crews rotate in and out of many parks doing maintenance work, to a “zone-based” model where crews are responsible for specific areas, results in cleaner parks.

We dabble with this in Toronto in parks like the Toronto Music Garden and Corktown Common where gardeners take special care and receive special training for these signature spaces. But overall city parks workers are stretched across many, many parks “flying” through and doing things like cutting grass, etc.

When Central Park changed their maintenance style to a zone-based system in 1994 they saw big improvements. The park was divided up into a number of different areas and park staff workers were assigned to these specific areas. “Each of 49 zones, roughly 10 acres a piece, are the direct responsibility of a zone gardener whose task is not only to maintain horticultural standards, but also to remove minor graffiti, empty trash baskets, do small-scale mowing, repair benches, and address potential crime situations,” notes a post on the Project for Public Spaces website.

Now, this management style may not be necessary throughout our entire park system, but choosing several high-volume, signature parks—Trinity Bellwoods and Allan Gardens, for example—and assigning a dedicated park manager and staff as a pilot could be an interesting way to see the effects of this for Toronto.

Toronto’s park supervisors are often also the first point of contact that residents have with city parks staff when they want to do something in their park—host an event, for example. Making this presence more visible and including a community-engagement element could be very beneficial. This is an idea Park People, where I work, originally proposed in our Parks Platform for the 2014 election, and it’s one we still believe has merit.

As we head into budget season, we should be watchful of the parks operating budget. Announcements like the proposed Rail Deck Park have rightly sparked a conversation about how we can afford the maintenance costs of new parks. It’s crucial to remember that building new parks is only one side of the equation—we need to strongly advocate for the operating funds needed to support our parks, both new and old.

Title image is of Corktown Common, which receives special maintenance care as a signature park. This post also appears on Park People’s blog.

 

Stop throwing shade at our parks

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If you’ve ever walked down the street on a wintry, but sunny January day in Toronto, you can really see the importance of direct sunlight. The south side of the street, usually cast in shadow, will be nearly empty of people, while the sunnier north side of the street will be bustling.

Sunlight matters.

Turns out the Toronto District School Board agrees. They’re fighting a development proposal at Church and Wood Street that will cast their schoolyard in shadow for a portion of the day. Residents are not happy. The local councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam, says removing opportunities for sunlight is “almost a criminal act.”

The City, which is also fighting the development at the Ontario Municipal Board to where it has been appealed, has suggested the proposed 38-storey building be reduced to 25-storeys so that its shadows fall within already shadowed areas. We shall see what the OMB—in all its unelected unwisdom—decides.

The tug-of-war between developers who want to build higher and residents who are worried about the ever-lengthening shadows those buildings cast on public spaces is not new to the city. But it is one that is intensifying as the hyper-development we’re seeing in the downtown results in more and higher buildings and the shadows begin to accrue and overlap. I mean, my god, we’re already talking about minimizing the shadow impacts of a proposed building on a downtown park that hasn’t even been built yet.

This is not a challenge that is unique to Toronto. New York is going through its own battle with residents who are worried that new super-tall towers that provide housing for the super-rich will cast super-shadows on Central Park.

In San Francisco, critics of high-rise developers whose buildings cast shadows over parks have the backing of a 1984 law, called Proposition K—otherwise known as the Sunlight Ordinance. This law blocks any development of a building over 40 feet that casts shadows on parkland “unless the Planning Commission decides the shadow is insignificant.”

But as with many things in life, it gets complicated. What is one person’s “insignificant” is another person’s “significant.”

And as usual, developers and their planners argue that all shadows are “insignificant.” See how slender the shadow is, they cry. Look how quickly it passes, they exclaim. We already reduced the building height from 45 to 38 storeys, they shout, what more do you want from us?

But the problem really isn’t with any one individual shadow. It’s with what Wong-Tam nicely called “shadow creep”—the cumulative and growing effect of multiple shadows from an increasing amount of towers. A single slender, quickly moving shadow is one thing, dozens and dozens of them are quite another.

Sunlight is important for public spaces. As William Whyte discovered through his observations of public spaces in New York, people are drawn to the sunny parts of parks and plazas. Shade is nice in the height of summer, yes, but the rest of the 10 months we get in Toronto we need those sunny spots to feel warmth on our face, to allow trees and gardens to grow and flourish.

Turns out, sunlight is not a renewable resource after all. Once we block it out, it’s gone.

Is that worth an extra 11-storeys on a building?

the photo is actually a picture of the lovely Anish Kapoor sculpture in Simcoe Park, but I liked its angry-ish shadow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome back, tiny urban plaza

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Well, that was unexpected.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about a fence around what was supposed to be a public space for everyone to enjoy just off John Street in the King-Spadina neighbourhood where I work at Park People. The fence enclosed a privately-owned publicly accessible space (POPS)—a type of public space the City creates through agreements with developers. The patio was for a neighbouring restaurant, La Carnita, and also used by people patronizing the adjacent Sweet Jesus ice cream shop. You can read the original post here.

The post was tweeted, shared on Facebook, and posted on Reddit. Cue public outrage. Media like the Toronto Star, MetroGlobal, and Inside Toronto started calling me. The CBC picked it up. Post think pieces like this one at TVO have been written. Less than a week later, the fence was taken down.

I think it’s fascinating that this issue became as large as it did. Perhaps the lazy beginnings of August is a slow news time. Perhaps the lure of a fight against a patio during the high patio season was too much. Residents standing in front of things with their arms crossed! A man trying to take down an ice cream shop! Tacos under siege! Whatever it was, the story sure struck a nerve.

What it tells me is that people are very, very sensitive to the issue of public space in our city right now—a development that is very positive, I think.

Indeed, this story followed ones earlier in the summer about Councillor Joe Cressy working hard to create a new downtown park (that would be a stone’s throw from the plaza in question) and the announcement of a plan to create a new 21-acre downtown green space by decking over part of the rail tracks. Downtown parks are so hot right now.

But why care about such a small space?

  1. Public plazas, no matter how small, provide essential places to step out of the stream of urban life while still being able to watch it all flow by. No, you’re not going to kick a ball around or lay out a picnic, but we need these simple, small places to sit and enjoy our city. If you’ve ever been a tourist in a big city somewhere, you know the necessity of these little spaces to catch your breath.
  1. If we’re going to create these privately-owned publicly accessible spaces as a strategy to increase public space in dense downtown areas, we need to also be vigilant about protecting them as publicly-accessible. Otherwise we are giving goodies to developers like height and density (otherwise known as money) to create private commercial spaces for only a few to enjoy. That doesn’t make sense and it’s an abuse of the tool.

Anyway, thank you to La Carnita for taking down the fence and returning the space to the public. None of this was done out of malice or an attempt to demonize a restaurant. I simply wanted to draw attention to the complications of POPS and the need for public space downtown.

If you walk by the space today, you’ll see people lounging on the rock cubes, eating their Sweet Jesus ice cream cones, enjoying this tiny spot to just sit and chill amidst the ever-growing forest of tall towers sprouting around it.

No, it’s not Central Park, but we needed this space.

photo of the fenceless public space by Zaira Gaudio Fry on Facebook