Big Changes Proposed for Downtown Yonge
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Big Changes Proposed for Downtown Yonge

Could street fairs like this one be in downtown Yonge Street’s future? Image courtesy of KPMB Architects and Greenberg Consultants Inc.

A new, privately financed planning study of Yonge Street, released yesterday at a press conference but sadly not available for download, is a document that tries to imagine a future for the stretch of Toronto’s main drag that runs between Dundas and Gerrard streets—a future that (literally and figuratively) rises above the strip’s present-day character. Which is why it’s interesting that a portion of the $40,000 paid to KPMB Architects and Greenberg Consultants Inc. to conduct the study was provided by Allen Cooper, owner of Zanzibar strip club.

“It’s our block,” he said. “It’s Yonge Street. I felt very strongly about it.”
“You get the sense in the last few years that the block has deteriorated; it’s gone down somewhat,” he continued. “So anything that potentially improves the area improves the city, in my view.”
He doesn’t believe that strip clubs and streetscape improvements are necessarily at odds. “Our business is fairly steady over the years,” he said. “We’ve been around a long time. Our customers are there.”
Other Yonge Street businesses also chipped in, as did the Downtown Yonge BIA and Ryerson University.
The study—which Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) is hoping to implement parts of as a temporary pilot project next spring—proposes narrowing Yonge Street between Dundas and Gerrard streets from four lanes to two and widening its sidewalks to improve walking conditions and curb auto traffic. Ken Greenberg, the study’s lead author, told reporters that such an arrangement would feed off the civic energy of Yonge-Dundas Square.
“Dundas Square is itself proving too small for the size of events and the volume of activities that are happening there,” said Greenberg. A sufficiently flexible Yonge Street could be shut down for occasional street fairs, offering some room for spillover.
There are also a number of long-term development recommendations. Greenberg and company think restrictions on development along Yonge Street between Dundas and Gerrard streets proposed in the City’s Tall Buildings Study are misguided; they’d rather see the block keep its low-rise facades (some of which belong to heritage properties) but give owners of mid-block buildings the option of building maximum-35-metre high-rise attachments. These would be set back at least 7.5 metres from the fronts of the buildings to avoid changing the “human scale” of the street.
Aaron Barberian, whose family has owned Barberian’s Steakhouse since 1959, was another of the local businesspeople to help fund the study. He’s on board with vertical development but balks at the notion of widening the sidewalks.
“If this sidewalk was wider, I’m not sure it would have the same vibe,” he said.
Right now the study is a source of lively debate, and nothing more. None of its recommendations will be actionable without Council approval.
Councillor Wong-Tam said she’d consulted with City staff and expects to bring some of the study’s recommendations before Toronto and East York Community Council soon. Asked if she’d spoken to the mayor about any of it, she replied: “Have you spoken to the mayor lately?”
Which is a fair point, actually.