Viewpoint: Old Town Toronto ready for Pan Am Games closeup?

By Ken Smith – 

2.1002260.bulletin-logoOld Town Toronto denizens have seen motorized wheel chairs topple over in winter around the southwest corner of Church and The Esplanade, a spot notorious for the lack of a sidewalk. That is changing thanks to city efforts.
And more than one pensioner has been hurt during the years, simply trying to traverse this public realm obstacle course when there is snow and ice on the ground.
The foot of Church St. by the Toronto Parking Authority (TPA) garage and an adjacent stretch of The Esplanade have long suffered from a total lack of sidewalk—despite, for example, the walks and gardens trust, designed to enhance the historic heart of the city with gracious walkways.
While the no-sidewalk-atall situation persists on The Esplanade to the immediate east of the Novotel, the nosidewalk problem has just been resolved in a proper way on Church south of The Esplanade where Pam McConnell and her staff have finally won part of the sidewalk battle in a big way.
There is now a sidewalk where none had even existed before. And not just any sidewalk. The new stretch of sidewalk runs down Church all the way to the TPA parkade at the foot of the street, is generous in width and features a few new trees.
While hardly a civic infrastructure mega-project considering the size of the city, it is a people-focused initiative and it is a public safety dream come true for our seniors. Such progress is cheering: while these seeminglysmallish matters may appear easy to resolve in a Think Big city, they apparently are not in St. Lawrence, nor is it necessarily easy to get things right with sidewalk and park maintenance despite best efforts.
Meanwhile, further to the west, a new expansive Eurostyle sidewalk in front of London Lofts at Scott and The Esplanade is now in place—a sidewalk made all the better by the installation of properly-irrigated tree planting pits to house eight new trees. The developer of London Lofts has paid for this public benefit.
The pace of greening our streetscapes in Old Town Toronto may be somewhat more measured than in some areas. But progress is finally being made, little by little, seemingly one tree decision at a time, maybe, but it merits a round of applause.
The new tree-lined stretch of The Esplanade at London Lofts east of Scott is being prepared to house a new outlet of The Keg which hopefully will offer terrace dining along The Esplanade like its usually communityspirited neighbours along the block. Sadly, the imposing sidewalk trees in front of neighbouring restaurants on The Esplanade are dying off; a calamity that must be addressed before it is too late.
Some merchants and restaurants are taking more of an ownership interest in the condition of the sidewalks and trees in front of their premises, routinely washing the sidewalk before they open shop in the morning. Others are still inclined to walk around the trash, spilled coffee and guano at their thresholds and ignore even routine building maintenance.
Interest in the gateway intersection of The Esplanade and Yonge is mounting—given transportation, public realm and other issues. Good community news has emerged about the intersection immediately to the north, at the former site of Shopsy’s. The same people who own Biff’s, the French bistro right in front of the Sony Centre marquee, have announced their intentions to open a new restaurant right at the corner of Yonge and Front, a spot with outdoor dining potential. Now, if only the vacant Penelope’s restaurant site at Front and Scott gets a new life, and if Berczy Park gets some attention, then Old Town may have the makings of quite a renaissance.
At a recent city design review meeting, there was talk about introducing cobblestoned street paving beginning at the corner of The Esplanade and Yonge, expanding to other streets. That would certainly send a signal out that Old Town is about people. There are pros and cons about this. Cobblestoned street paving is seen by some as a kind of faux historical gesture but when so much history has already been trashed in Old Town (and more is in the cards) in the name of progress, maybe desperate situations demand unorthodox aesthetic tactics.