On Monday night, a redesign of Westbank’s Mirvish Village project (aka the Honest Ed’s site) was presented. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the meeting, but I was excited when I saw the new project details–especially the inclusion of an on-site park in the project. As a local resident of the neighbourhood, I know how much this area needs more public spaces, especially along the busy Bloor Street corridor.
The new design achieves what some in the neighbourhood were asking for by reducing the size of the project (rental units have been reduced from 1,017 to 946), but I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about–duh–public spaces.
The proposed redesign improves upon what was already a pretty exciting public space design. If built as proposed, Mirvish Village would include: an outdoor market space, a redesigned flexible Markham Street, a park, a dog-run, a community garden, and an activated alleyway that retains the original Honest Ed’s alley location.
It’s the potential of this connected set of public spaces–across streets, parks, alleys, markets, gardens, and dog-runs–that has me excited about the project.
Including all of these elements in one project is very unique and would create one of the most interesting public space environments in the city. You can really get a sense of this from an overview of how all the different public spaces interact, linking up with each other, but also the surrounding streets and neighbourhood.
It would also help break up the block that is currently occupied by the Honest Ed’s site by offering many different ways to travel through the neighbourhood through this new network of public spaces.
Here’s how you can currently travel through the block. It’s pretty limited to north-south connections through streets and Honest Ed’s alley.
Here’s how you would be able to travel through the block with the proposed design (as far as I can tell). It’s much more fine-grained and allows for an easier flow of people in and out and through the neighbourhood.
Some are concerned in the neighbourhood about the building heights–that they’re “too tall” or will stick out “like a sore thumb.” Personally, I think we can get overly stuck on building heights sometimes in Toronto, when what we really should be focusing more on is the experience at the ground level. This is the experience that we so often get wrong in Toronto (although we are doing much better).
Way too often public space seems like an afterthought, simply the trimmings that are left after the building is designed. Not so with this project.
This project has really thought hard about that ground-level experience: what it means to move through the site, how the different spaces are configured and connected to each other. What will it mean to be a person here? I’m much more concerned with this element, than whether the tower is 25 or 29 storeys.
Because the ground-level is how we are going to interact with this project day after day when it is built. We will walk its streets, stroll through the alley, play in the park, etc.
When thinking about this development and all it can be for the neighbourhood, let’s not lose sight of the forest for the trees, as tall as some of them may be.
images from Westbank, except the Google Maps which were drawn inexpertly by me