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, Metro, Global, 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?
- 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.
- 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