Ryerson University Wants Its Campus To Become a "Public Realm"
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Ryerson University Wants Its Campus To Become a “Public Realm”

The vision includes pedestrian paths, new street lights, and trees.

Ryerson's Public Realm Plan focuses, in part, on laneways. Photo courtesy of the Public Realm Plan.

Ryerson’s Public Realm Plan focuses, in part, on laneways. Photo courtesy of the Campus Public Realm Plan.

Typical university campuses are often themed. Take U of T’s Hogwarts-like architecture, or York University’s city-unto-itself feel.

Ryerson University has the distinction of being among downtown’s crowded corridors without imposing a uniform streetscape connecting its many buildings.

That’s already begun to change. Some of the urban campus’s roads have become ambient-lit walkways, and sidewalks have turned into pedestrian boulevards connecting Ryerson’s expanding array of learning centres.

The car-free section of Gould Street just east of Yonge is the genesis of what Ryerson and the City of Toronto plan as a foot traffic-favoured part of town.

The design’s aim is to invite students and anyone in the area off the main street into what Ryerson calls a public realm [PDF].

The general idea of what this walkable area will look like has been pitched to the City, and now that the groundwork has been laid, only the nitty-gritty job of approving its implementation stands in the way.

Lights, Trees, Action!

Any realm requires somewhere central to revolve around and, in the case of Ryerson’s Campus Public Realm Plan, that somewhere is Gould Plaza.

Gould Street will be raised to sidewalk level, creating an even ground in the pedestrian-only zone, connecting it with the already-levelled out Nelson Mandela Walk to the north and Devonian Pond (nicknamed Lake Devo) to the south.

Brent Raymond, an architect and urban designer with DTAH (the firm planning the public realm), said the idea behind Gould Plaza is to turn it into a public space like Yonge-Dundas or Nathan Phillips squares.

Raymond also pointed out that even though part of Gould Street is closed to traffic, most people still just walk on the sidewalks, creating the need to elevate the street and eliminate curbs.

The evolution from street to plaza is expected to take place over the next five years, accompanied by greenery and programmable lighting for after-dark events.

The plan sees Gould Plaza surrounded by defined pedestrian priority paths, lined with trees east to Yonge Street, south to Dundas Street, north to Gerrard Street and west to Church Street within the same five-year time frame.

A map of Ryerson's campus. Photo courtesy of the Public Realm Plan.

A map of Ryerson’s campus. Photo courtesy of the Campus Public Realm Plan.

Elyse Parker, director of the City’s broader Parks and Public Realm Plan, points out that the plaza complements a recently widened section of Gerrard Street across Ryerson’s northern border, including tree planters and better accessibility for wheelchair users.

Parker adds that Yonge from Queen to College streets, on Ryerson’s eastern edge, is courting a redesign with beautification in mind too. Its intention is to serve as a commercial entrance into the walking zone of a public domain.

Stay in Your Laneway

Further adding to the foot traffic fire is a focus on laneways.

Victoria Street Lane, shooting north from Dundas Street, is slated as the first to get lit up and invite more than vehicles.

Raymond argues anyone walking downtown ends up going through an alley, and they’re often more quiet and relaxing than a crowded sidewalk.

That’s why O’Keefe Lane and laneways on other side of Church Street are expected to get street lights and a surface built for walking over the next 10 years.

Raymond says it’s about making them more than just gritty, grubby service lanes because they’re also places people use.

According to Michael Forbes, Ryerson’s director of communications, incorporating laneways will ensure a seamless path weaving through the urban campus without impeding vehicular traffic.

Improved alleys off Bond Street coupled with ground-floor passageways are planned to make a network all the way to Jarvis Street, though much of that will come over the next decade.

But Why Though?

Ryerson is pitching their campus enhancements as part of the City of Toronto’s overall walkability initiative turning downtown streets into places for people to hang out.

The original blocking-off of Gould Street in 2010 was done in tandem with Willcocks Street being pedestrianized for U of T [PDF].

Forbes says the Ryerson Image Centre could become more of a destination following the hopeful influx of people walking through the intensified campus and discovering its collection.

Ryerson's Image Centre. Photo courtesy of the Public Realm Plan.

Ryerson’s Image Centre. Photo courtesy of the Campus Public Realm Plan.

Though much of the Public Realm Plan still needs City approval, Ryerson has identified a method of matching its desire for an increased presence with the municipal government’s design for its streets.

For example, Parker says the city is rolling out new street map signage in the near future, while Forbes is keen on that signage letting Torontonians know they’re on Ryerson’s campus.