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To stepback or not to stepback

I was riding my bike on Bloor Street along the north edge of High Park over the weekend. And in between cyclists in spandex yelling at me for seemingly riding the wrong way in the bike lanes, I managed to safely snap this picture:

It was a reminder of that thing we like to do in Toronto where we want lower-rise along our main streets and then we tuck the taller parts somewhere in the back so that we can pretend they are maybe not there. Here’s an aerial shot of the situation from Google Maps:

It’s a very different condition from what you will find in New York along virtually all edges of Central Park:

Now, New York and Toronto are not the same city. This much is obvious.

But there is a grandeur and degree of urbanity that is present along Central Park that is not present along High Park. And I would argue that this feature isn’t exclusive to New York. It can be found in many other cities, including places like Montreal.

I am sure that part of the rationale here on Bloor Street had to do with matching the lower-rise existing context. But we shouldn’t forget that the edges of public spaces are oftentimes just as important as the spaces themselves. Sometimes they can be even more important.

So I thought I would put it out to all of you. To stepback or not to stepback. What do you think would be the most appropriate built form along this north edge of High Park? Leave a comment below.


  1. Sam

    That’s my project in the background there! I definitely think this area makes sense to upgrade. Not just because it is near a park but because it is along high order transit (the subway runs to the north of Bloor Street here).

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ann McAfee

    Try for the ‘best of both worlds’ by designing developments with townhomes on the street for pedestrian scale and eyes on the street and towers behind/above providing density and park views.


  3. I live in NYC and I think you’re right, though many or most New Yorkers would probably disagree with me. Most people can’t afford or even want to live on the edges, but without those residents we would not have a conservancy for Central Park that is so robust that NYC actually forces them to spend some of their money on adjoining Morningside Park instead; Central Park gets too MUCH money!
    Shadows are the usual objection, especially to the recent supertalls, which are some of the tallest buildings in the Western Hemisphere. These do cast shadows in the park, but for 5-10 minutes per spot. More importantly, see how the park is actually used by the greatest number of people, which occurs in the spring and summer when the sunshine is greatest. As soon as it gets above 70, people start seeking out shade, even cooler if it’s a sunny day and the sunshine is directly on them.
    Supertalls are different from what you pictured, but that is where most of the ire goes, not to the buildings you pictured (I used to visit someone who lived on Central Park West regularly, and admire her views). Maybe it’s just a matter of getting used to things; the greatest objections seem to have died down now that most of them are built or soon will be completed.

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  4. I think the New York example also tucks back, but has a much higher tolerance for the street wall. It’s a more urban form where the street wall makes the park a space, rather than just having a ragged edge condition that leaves the park space poorly defined.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Salim Ben Mansour

    I’m in favor of “not to stepback” even though owning a detached home 5 mins from where you took that picture would suggest otherwise. In fact, I am pro-density, I have seen what extreme NIMBYSM can do to a neighborhood when I lived in The Beaches, it basically killed all the retail over there and the neighborhood’s character suffered as a consequence.

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