Planner panel wants walkability in our grey concrete city

Duncan McDonald —

Waking up in the morning, getting on your bike or waiting at your local transit stop, the thoughts of your surroundings may or may not affect you. But the placement of parks, how they are interconnected, the usage of streets and many other considerations fascinate and frustrate urban designers.

Toronto has been a grey concrete city for a long time. Sure there are exceptions, like the University of Toronto and the ROM, but only recently has Toronto experienced a boom in more creative and practical urban design. This was the focus of an urban design panel and open house that took place on Nov. 3 at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Continued from the printed edition:

The discussion was broad, but some common themes arose: aesthetic beauty, incorporation of old and new and functionality.

All the panel members were either designers or architects, and all agreed how a building looks impacts it surrounding environment.

City director of urban design Harold Madi praised the Radio City development for its tall, slender towers and how it incorporated the old CBC headquarters with the National Ballet School of Canada. The key here: creating a mixed space, combining commercial with residential and educational.

Perkins+Will senior designer Noah Friedman had similar views on the Distillery District, which combines old structures with new condo developments. It also brought up another trend in current architecture: private companies creating engaging public space. The Distillery District is a privately owned area, but its walkways and streets remain open to the public, and new Downtown condo developments are following its lead.

Meg Graham of Superkül said that Toronto has always had good green space, especially High Park, but she also felt that they could be more interconnected. She also appreciated the trend towards revitalizing decaying communities, such as Regent Park and its new aquatic centre, showing how architecture and community planning can create positive social change.

Architect David Pontrini cited Bloor St. as a successful pedestrian space in Toronto. One of the main reasons? Wide sidewalks. It may seem pretty simple, but having wide walkways alongside communities where residents do not have cars led to a vibrant commercial and cultural centre.

The panellists all emphasized improving the pedestrian experience in Toronto. Especially negotiating between pedestrians, cyclists and motorists while also negotiating between transportation, commercial and residential space.

The purpose of the panel was to share with the public the type of conversations that are happening around urban design in both the public and private spheres. Open houses like these are also to encourage the public to contact the city and voice their views on how it should be developed.

Visit the City of Toronto’s Official Plan and Municipal Comprehensive Reviews page to learn more and send in your views and concerns at