An urban canoe ride on Toronto’s Humber River

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Over labour day weekend I’m off to Ontario’s huge Algonquin Park for a five day canoe trip, but I wanted to get out before that to warm up all my canoe muscles.

So last night my partner and two friends and I rented canoes and took a lazy paddle down Toronto’s Humber River from about Bloor Street to the lake.

It’s pretty amazing to be able to take the subway to a river and then walk underneath the station’s bridge to find a canoe rental place all set up. We paid our money and walked our canoes down to the river’s edge—easy as that. The river is very tame, so coming back up is just the same as going down.

I was surprised at how quickly and completely the city disappeared once we got out onto the water. It was hard to believe that only 15 minutes before I had been crammed armpit-to-face with rush hour travellers on the subway.

Toronto is lucky to have an incredible system of ravines and rivers that thread their way through the city down to the lake, but I don’t think we take advantage of them as often as we should. I know I don’t. It’s easy to forget how close all these spaces actual are to us when we speed over them or through them in cars, busses or on subway trains.

I even got to canoe under a highway—how often do you get to do that?

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Vancouver brings the park into the street

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It’s exciting to see cities taking the idea of the ‘park’ and extending that into the street. As cities get more and more built up and land for new parks is difficult to find, we are going to have to leverage the public space of our streets and redesign them to do more than just move cars.

Vancouver’s Comox-Helmcken Greenway, which connects the West End and English Bay to the Hornby separated bike lanes, is a great example of turning a street into a place to linger, rather than just move through. The next phase extends it into Yaletown.

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The idea is to take a relatively low traffic volume street and enhance it for cycling and walking, bringing a park-like experience to a street while also connecting many green spaces together.

To do that, the City has not only put in some separated bike lanes where needed, but they have installed street furniture like tables and chairs at different spots along the way and created small rain gardens and other street gardens to bring more greenery into the street and help with storm water management.

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From the signs I saw on some of the new little gardens, they are maintained by nearby neighbours. (The white picket fence garden has a message from “Michael” asking people not to pick the flowers.) New bulb outs on the street slow down cars further and help pedestrians cross the street by narrowing the width they have to walk.

During my week long stay in Vancouver, I found myself drawn back again and again to the street. It is an incredibly pleasant experience to ride your bike or stroll along it. Despite the fact that it is still a street, it does have the feeling of a linear park.