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Q&A on reimagining public spaces

I received an email from an ATC reader yesterday who is working on a publication about reimagining public spaces in Toronto. She sent me a few questions and specifically wanted to talk about the Yonge Redux project, which I wrote about a month ago. After I responded to her questions, I figured I should just share them publicly. So here they are:

How would citizens from different age groups benefit from the Yonge Redux project?

I would bet you that this stretch of Yonge Street experiences more pedestrian traffic than it does car traffic. And yet we’ve allocated space in the opposite direction: cars have more space than pedestrians do. So what this project is really about is reallocating the street, or public right-of-way, so that the dominant uses are actually prioritized through urban design. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. Ultimately, this will benefit people both young and old.

Do you know what kind of professionals are needed to complete a project like this?

You’d need an architect/designer – one who is awesome at landscape/urban design work. gh3 here in the city comes to mind as a firm I like, if you want an example. You’d need a bunch of engineers to deal with stormwater management and other infrastructure items. You’d likely need a transportation/traffic consultant to assess traffic flows in the area and prove that this project won’t cause the entire city to come to a grinding halt (it won’t). You would need someone to manage the day-to-day of the entire project. And this is just naming a few of the professionals/consultants that you’d probably end up needing.

You’d also have to work closely with the city, the local councillor, and the local community. It’s inevitable that some of the businesses will worry about the loss of potential customers – so that would need to be worked through.

What are some areas in Toronto that, in your opinion, need reimagining in the next few years?

My feeling is that Toronto is still at the early stages of this shift towards better public spaces and a better public realm. But in many ways, projects like Yonge Redux are much easier sells compared to the other areas that could use a face lift. Yonge Street is already urban and pedestrian friendly. The real challenge is going to be dealing with the areas outside of the core – most of which, frankly, aren’t that welcoming to pedestrians and aren’t all that urban. What do we do with those? And do the local communities even want them transformed? They’re going to be much harder to reimagine (though I’m not saying we won’t be able to do it).

Where do you see the future of Toronto’s public spaces in the next 50 years?

All signs point to a more dense, more urban, and more transit-oriented city. With that shift, we’re going to increasingly realize the importance of incredible public spaces. So if we continue down this path, I reckon our public spaces will only get better. I’m optimistic about the future.

How would you personally approach a project like this?

My understanding is that this project has legs. It just has to work through the city bureaucracy at this point. Jennifer Keesmaat supports it.

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