North Toronto probably isn’t the first neighbourhood you’d name when listing off public space experiments in the city, especially when future development plans at its main intersection look likely to decrease street-level open-air stretching room. Yet walk a block north from Eglinton Avenue along Yonge Street and you’ll find a pilot project aiming to create pedestrian space on Orchard View Boulevard. At an intersection where pedestrians often had to deal with impatient drivers and delivery trucks, they now find planters blocking the road and umbrella-shaded tables providing a more comfortable spot to enjoy al fresco dining than the concrete ledges lining the side street.
Officially opened on July 14, the City created the pedestrian square by closing Orchard View Boulevard to traffic between Yonge Street and the driveway for the Canterbury House apartment building. Though concerns about the space have been expressed by the neighbouring RBC branch (impact on customers) and some local ratepayer groups (procedural issues), Councillor Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence) has received overwhelmingly positive feedback about the initiative she helped make a reality, along with ratepayer groups and RioCan. Besides providing a spot for residents and office workers to relax, Stintz joked that the project is “probably the cheapest park we’ll build in North Toronto,” which aligns it the Ford administration’s low-cost philosophy of government and may have contributed to the unanimous support the pilot project received at city council. Stintz also praised the support of RioCan, which operates the neighbouring Yonge-Eglinton Centre, through actions like maintaining the patio tables.
One of main beneficiaries of the pedestrian square is Apple Tree Markets, who moved their Thursday farmers’ market from a hidden space in Eglinton Park behind the North Toronto Memorial Community Recreation Centre to the pedestrian square. Higher visibility seems to be making market vendors happy: even with extreme heat last week and dreary conditions yesterday, they’ve seen increased customer traffic. The threat of rain hadn’t hindered activity when we dropped by around 4 p.m. yesterday—most of the tables were occupied and every market vendor saw several potential purchasers hovering over their fresh vegetables, coolers of meat, and other edible goodies. One vendor we talked to noted that customers indicated they preferred the market’s new home because they couldn’t be bothered to walk over to Eglinton Park, even if they lived mere blocks away.
After the tables are vacated for the last time on October 14, the pilot will be analyzed for its impact on the neighbourhood and for the possibility of making the closure a permanent seasonal attraction. (It’s not the first of its kind, exactly: the City has partnered with U of T and Ryerson on previous road-closure pilots.) There are also plans to test a second pedestrian square next year in the northern end of Stinz’s ward at Avenue Road and Dunblaine Avenue. Given that seating space is at a premium whenever we pass by, we hope that the new space will become a North Toronto fixture for years to come. Orchard View Square, anyone?
Photos by Jamie Bradburn/Torontoist.