Secondary Plan – our shared public realm

The City of Toronto Planning Division is developing a Secondary Plan that will expand upon existing built form and urban design policies, including the recently approved Downtown Plan. The Bloor-Yorkville Secondary Plan will provide additional policy direction on built form, area-specific policies, and the public realm. This study is being undertaken in tandem with the Heritage Cultural Resource Assessment in the area.

We have sent a series of messages in 2023 to residents in the area, explaining the components of the Secondary Plan and what we hope to achieve. This is the second message, concerning the public realm.

The shared public space in our neighbourhood — called the public realm — plays a large part in making our daily lives enjoyable and creating a sense of community. This includes parks, trees, plantings, seating, public art and other features that animate and enhance our streets and the public spots where we gather to socialize or play.

These kinds of public realm elements are a critical part of the policies we want to see outlined in the pending Bloor-Yorkville Secondary Plan.

The City’s initial materials on the Secondary Plan were limited in information about the public realm, and focused primarily on areas south of Davenport. We will be looking for more comprehensive details when it releases its full draft Plan (expected this Fall).

Our green jewel

We naturally feel strongly about our much used and loved Ramsden Park and how it will be addressed in the Secondary Plan. It’s already designated as one of Toronto’s seven ‘portal parks’ as it’s near the City’s downtown ravine system called the ‘Core Circle’. The City has identified the desire to create more visible and pleasant connections for pedestrians and cyclists between Ramsden and this green belt as alternatives to the busy street routes currently used.

The intended addition of a community centre in the south-east part of Ramsden gives even further impetus for better connections to the park. One possible opportunity is a new route behind the Canadian Tire property at Yonge/Church Streets as part of the potential redevelopment of that site, providing the right engineering can happen given the subway tracks and land grade changes. This would open a link to the Rosedale Valley and Don Valley ravines and the expansive network of routes and trails beyond.

In and around buildings

The space around our commercial and high-rise residential buildings can also add to our public realm through accessible passageways, greenery and possibly artwork, seating and other amenities. We want our Secondary Plan to have explicit policies that require future building developments provide or help fund enhancements to the public realm on their sites or elsewhere in our community. This would add coherence and consistency to the planning process and improve the current situation of negotiating building by building.

One particular type of space is called POPSprivately owned public space – which, as the name implies, is a part of a private development that the public can access. We have many examples of POPS in the Yorkville area already – such as the garden/shrub maze area to the east of the Four Seasons tower and the passageway beside the Church of the Redeemer through to Cumberland Street, among many others. As development continues in our community, Secondary Plan policies are needed to ensure that such spaces are added wherever possible, are fully open to the public and well maintained.

ABCRA has a long track record of working with developers and the City to add public space as developments are planned. Accomplishments that we’ve mentioned in recent communications include negotiating an expansion to the west side of Ramsden Park at Avenue Road funded by the 1140 Yonge/Staples site condo development (even though it’s blocks away), and dedicated space for community programming at the 33 Avenue/York Square site (the image below shows the public space planned for the front of that site). While these are terrific, we would like to see requirements for such public realm contributions embedded as a Secondary Plan policy rather than depending on ABCRA efforts and the goodwill of some progressive developers.

More to come

Our streets are also part of our public space, and heritage and neighbourhood ‘character’ too are important aspects of public realm policies. We’ll talk about those topics in future messages.

It was terrific to receive comments and questions about our first message. We really want to hear your thoughts, so please keep the feedback coming. Just email us.

Ian Carmichael & John Caliendo
ABC Residents Association

Photo: Jeff Hitchcock from Seattle, WA, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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