The Street as Public Space
Toronto’s streets were established as a series of grids – originally laid out to divide farmland in the early 19th century. Very quickly, and without much planning intervention, Toronto became an industrial city. While many European cities were planned with dedicated public squares and parks, in Toronto, this rapid evolution meant that very few spaces were set aside for civic life.
As a result, Toronto’s streets are among the city’s most important public spaces. We see the street as the stage for public life – the place where everything happens. As designers and planners, it is our responsibility to ensure that streets can support many civic functions.
Eglinton Avenue spans the mid-point of Toronto, ultimately connecting the Airport in the west to the Lake in the east. Eglinton is a metropolitan avenue, with its diverse character represented in the pre-war high street shops of Eglinton West, to the City’s second busiest pedestrian intersection at Yonge and Eglinton, to the former manufacturing-turned-big-box hub of the Golden Mile. The Avenue also has a unique relationship with the underlying topography and landscape; the central city is framed by two large, ravine systems – Black Creek to the west and two branches of the Don River to the east- that connect the city north and south.
Through Metrolinx, the Province and the City are investing over $5 billion in the design and construction of the 26 km Eglinton Crosstown Light Rapid Transit (LRT) line, a completely new form of infrastructure in Toronto. With this line in place, Eglinton Avenue will play an important role within the metropolitan and regional transportation systems, while acting as a vital public space for the surrounding neighbourhoods.
Opportunities and Challenges
SvN was engaged by the City of Toronto to prepare a study to establish the planning and urban design vision, streetscape design, and built form recommendations for Eglinton Avenue from Jane Street to Kennedy Road. This plan will guide and complement the implementation of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. SvN co-led a multi-disciplinary team that included Brook McIlroy, Antoine Grumbach, HDR, Public Work, Swerhun Facilitation, ERA, NBLC & Public Workshop.
SvN was responsible for the development of the Streetscape Plan for a 19 km segment of Eglinton Avenue. While the product was a streetscape plan for the corridor, our overall reach was much broader. On one level, we focused on the street elements – the curbs, bike lanes and greenery, which would act as new, permanent fixtures in the city. On another level, we aimed to create a network of connections to a wide range of places in the city – including the ravines, community facilities, schools, parks, retail stores, homes and offices, to allow people choices for how to move around the city – either through walking, biking, driving or by using the new LRT. In total, the vision supports the City of Toronto’s Official Plan of creating a “complete street” – one that supports the varied and unique needs of each community along Eglinton Avenue.
To understand these needs, we developed a consultation plan that engaged with a broad public and wide range of stakeholders over a two-year process. The stakeholder groups included a range of representatives, including those from the Automobile Association, Cycle Toronto, the Taxi Authority, Green P parking services, neighbourhood Business Improvement Area (BIA) groups, fire and emergency services, a range of accessibility groups, and of course, local residents. Our challenge was to balance the metropolitan vision of the corridor, with the unique geographic and technical concerns of individual stakeholders.
The scale of the project presented another big challenge – we needed to find efficient ways to engage meaningfully with diverse communities over the entire 19km corridor. To lead productive discussions, debates and decisions, we had to process volumes of technical information specific to each street condition, and present it in a such a way that was accessible to all stakeholders, and elicit feedback to refine the work.