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Can the creation of urban destinations transform or hinder a city’s development?

I was recently asked by a Canadian architecture website called sixty7 Architecture Road to respond to the following: Can the creation of urban destinations transform or hinder a city’s development? It was for a regular Q+A series they do on their website. Here is my response (I was specifically asked about Dundas Square):

The best line I’ve ever heard about public spaces and urban destinations was from Bruce Kuwabara of KPMB Architects. He said that the outside of buildings need to be thought of as the inside walls of the public realm. And I think that’s a really great way of framing this discussion. We often think of buildings inwardly and as self contained objects, but by virtue of their existence we’re creating and framing many other spaces.

With that in mind, I absolutely believe that beautiful and well designed urban destinations–whether public or private–can transform a city and its development patterns. A perfect, but perhaps overused, example of this is the High Line in New York. Not only has it become a destination (“Have you been to the High Line yet?”), it has become an unbelievable city building catalyst. All of a sudden development is happening in, on and around the High Line, where as before developers would have tried to completely ignore it. And so today, the High Line, as an urban destination, is almost being continually reinvented by new development.

To talk specifically about Toronto, I think that downtown needed a “public” space like Dundas Square. The design could have been less unidirectional (towards the Eaton Centre) and the building to the north is repulsive, but it provided a forum along Toronto’s main street in the heart of downtown. I also believe that good urban destinations give areas a sense of identity, which is why I’m somewhat bothered by the loss of the square at Yonge & Eglinton. Sure it was bad, but we could have made it better. It is the heart of midtown in my mind.

So not only do urban destinations have the ability to transform, I would argue that they are essential to any great global city. Whether it’s the High Line in New York, the Spanish Steps in Rome, the old Love Park in Philadelphia, or Trafalgar Square in London, these spaces are integral to those city’s brands and identities. What do ours say about Toronto?

For the full Q+A, click here.

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