Few public spaces in Toronto -nay, even in Canada- are as aggressively ugly as is Nathan Phillips Square. Take away the skating rink and the chip wagons and, especially in winter, the place has the grim, empty concrete vastness of a ca. 1950 Siberian planned city.
This kind of urban dead zone is far too common in downtown T.O. (viz. the fact that the actual ‘square’ part of Dundas Square is usually empty); concrete blocks and sparse, sickly trees tend to alienate rather than inspire, and the average Torontonian consequently tends to avoid them.
Otherwise unusable Nathan Phillips Square does, however, attract a large population of the homeless, who often eschew shelter beds in favour of sleeping in front of City Hall. And while the situation is certainly not preferable to the emergence of the Square as a popular and attractive gathering place for all Torontonians, it can be said that at least someone is making use of our scale model of Krasnoyarsk-26.
Today, however, City Hall is voting on a bylaw which would see street people banned from sleeping or demonstrating intent to take up position in Nathan Phillips Square. Which begs the question: “what?”
Councillors in favour of the new bylaw are couching their support in terms of helping the homeless help themselves… And while their intentions are probably genuine, it’s certainly, at least subconsciously, also a question of optics. That City Hall’s front yard is routinely ‘home’ to the kinds of characters who accentuate the silliness of the “Beautiful City” campaign can’t sit well with many. Making their Square-bound reveries illegal would seem to be the most pain-free means of dealing with the situation where certain council members are concerned.