REIMAGINING PUBLIC SPACE

by Jessica Beketa

SELF-GUIDED WALK

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DETAILS

Language: English

Area: Downtown

Theme: Arts & Architecture, Environment, Public Space

Accessibility: Family-friendly,

WALK DETAILS:

This walk will guide you to empty spaces between Bloordale and Parkdale that have the potential to be reimagined as either temporary or permanent public, outdoor space. Across the city, there are numerous empty lots, property slated for development (which stays empty and unchanged for years), and space that isn’t used to its full potential. At each stop on this walk, you will be prompted to imagine alternatives to what currently exists at this spot; to ask yourself, what could this space be? What would encourage me to spend time here?

If you feel compelled to share your reflections, sketches, and/or ideas please email your thoughts during or afterwards to 416letters@gmail.com

Throughout the pandemic, outdoor spaces have become glaringly important as places to be with your community, to spend time outside, and to take a break from being at home. For months during the provincial shutdown(s), public spaces have become the only places to spend time outside of our own homes. In “normal” times, there are more available spaces to spend time and congregate: patios, bars, restaurants, cafes, museums, galleries, movie theatres. All these spaces have been removed from public availability, which has increased the use of public parks, the lakeshore, parkettes, city benches, backyard spaces. As a result, the pandemic has illuminated our desperate need for more outdoor, public space, especially as we’re approaching spring and summer. The overcrowding at the city’s most popular outdoor destinations (Trinity Bellwood’s, High Park, Toronto Island) can be explained by the lack of outdoor, public space across the city.

STOP 1: BLOOR & DUFFERIN - SW CORNER, BASKETBALL COURT WITH BENCHES SURROUNDING 

Description: Bloor & Dufferin is a busy intersection; it’s a major transit stop for the subway and the Dufferin bus. There are lots of shops in the vicinity (including Walmart, No Frills, and an LCBO nearby) and there are people coming and going throughout all times of the day. You’ll notice that there is a large empty space surrounded by a chain-link fence. There’s a neglected basketball court inside, you may see some people playing basketball or working out inside, but for the most part, the inside of this lot is empty. There are benches around the perimeter—you may see people having conversations, sitting and waiting, feeding the pigeons. Take a moment to walk around the fence, look inside to the courts, even walk inside the chain-link fence. Ask yourself, what could this space be?

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STOP 2: 1163 BLOOR ST - SMALL WALKWAY ON THE SOUTHSIDE

Description: There’s a small walkway between the Collegiate and 3 Speed. You’ll see some public art on the east-side and a sign directing you to “Bloordale Beach”. It’s a short path that lots of people cut-through to get down to the shopping complex at Dufferin Mall. When school is in session, you’ll see a lot of students walking down this path on their lunch break or on their way home. It’s also a popular spot for people to relieve themselves (there’s a lack of public washrooms available, but that’s for another exploration). In “typical” years, this would be a popular smoking spot for people having food and drinks at 3 Speed. As you’re walking down towards Brock Crescent, you’ll notice the empty patio (obscured by vines, plants, and a fence) on your right. There has been a recent addition of public art at the beginning of the path, but what else could be added to this walkway? How could you reimagine this small path?

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STOP 3: 90 BROCK ST - BLOORDALE BEACH - EMPTY LOT BETWEEN BROCK AVE. CROATIA ST. (NORTHSIDE) AND BROCK CRESCENT (SOUTHSIDE).

Description: This might be familiar to you—during the pandemic, summer 2020, Shari Kasman decided to claim this empty lot (now empty for years) as Bloordale Beach (read more on BlogTO here). You’ll notice that the various signs claiming “Danger”, “Caution”, “Do Not Enter” have been collaged over. Many people walk-through the empty lot to get to Dufferin Mall throughout the day—it’s the fastest way between two points. Sometimes there’s a security guard watching the lot and making sure people don’t walk through it, but for the most part the gates are open at various points. Feel free to walk inside, cut across directly to Croatia St (the path that shoppers take to Dufferin Mall) or diagonally to Brock St where the walk continues. Even though this space is slated for development, what could it be in the meantime? What would a temporary, public space look like? What would make you want to spend time here?

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STOP 4: BROCKTON STADIUM - SOCCER FIELD ON THE EASTSIDE OF BROCK BETWEEN CROATIA ST. AND COBOURG AVE. 

Description: This is a relatively popular soccer field that hosts practices, games, and tournaments. It’s not being used to its full extent right now because of the pandemic. Understandably, this space serves a specific purpose—to provide space for sports teams to practice and compete. But, as you’re walking down Brock you’ll notice a boulevard of greenspace between the chain-link fence of the stadium and the sidewalk. There are trees scattered alongside the outside of the fence too. How could this boulevard space, specifically, be used differently? What might you imagine here that would make you want to spend more time here?

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STOP 5: BROCK AVE. AND COLLEGE ST. (NE CORNER) - ST. HELEN CATHOLIC SCHOOL 

Description: You’ll pass by a small playground before ending up at the corner of College and Brock. You may notice a single bench at the corner, or if you walk east on College you’ll notice a wooden fence, which turns into a cement ledge surrounded by trees further down. There are also some benches right along College St. too. There’s a streetcar stop with a shelter right at College and Brock too. There is, of course, space inside the school grounds, including the playground and sitting space nearby (There’s even more on the property, including basketball courts if you head towards Sheirdan). But, looking at just the outdoor space outside of the school grounds—the single bench on the corner, the fencing, concrete ledge, and wide sidewalk... what could be different? What would make this space more engaging or cause you to pause for a moment? You’ll be continuing down Brock Ave. after this.​ 

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STOP 6: BROCK AVE. AND DUNDAS ST. (SE CORNER) - PUBLIC BENCHES OUTSIDE OF SAFEHOUSE CAFE.

Description: During the pandemic, Safehouse has transitioned into more of a grocery store, but they do have an espresso machine and baked treats if you want to stop in for a coffee or some fresh produce to take home with you. Outside of the cafe, right on Brock Ave., you’ll notice a few public benches where you can sit and have your coffee or to take a rest for a moment. There are also benches across the street on the SW corner outside of the hardware store. These benches are recent-ish additions and you’ve noticed benches like this around Toronto, particularly in this area. What else do you think could be added to this space? What do you like about it, what could be different?

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STOP 7: MCCORMICK ARENA - BETWEEN FRANKISH AVE. AND MIDDLETON ST.

Description: As you cross Frankish Ave., the next block is McCormick Arena and McCormick Park on the southside. You’ll notice greenspace with a few trees as you’re walking down. Do you think this space could be used any differently? Then, as you go past the arena, you’ll come to a small park space with a little library, bocce court, playground, and basketball courts. Past the courts it extends to a large field area, where a lot of people bring their dogs and more recently, people have been having picnics and bringing small propane barbecues. Sometimes you can see people dancing Salsa here, or playing bocce, or chatting while their kids play. This park is also very different in “typical” years, as it’s a pick-up point for kids finishing school, so it would be particularly busy at certain times of the day. This is a pretty popular park for people in the neighbourhood. Is there anything you would change? How would you like to use this space?

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STOP 8: BROCK AVE. UNDERPASS - AFTER FLORENCE ST.

Description: Brock Ave. is one of the few railway underpasses west of Dufferin St. where you can easily get between Bloor and Queen. The underpass itself has its fair share of graffiti, stickers, and pastes, as well as a lot of used coffee cups and other random garbage. It’s a dark space that’s usually dripping when it’s raining outside. I personally don’t find it to be very pleasant to walk through, but I’m also curious to see what kind of objects people leave on the underpass’ “shelves”. What would you like to see in this space? How could the underpass be more inviting or special? What do you like about it currently?

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STOP 9: 11 BROCK AVE. - CLOSED LCBO AND EMPTY PARKING LOT

Description: You’ll pass by Band gallery (19 Brock Ave.) on your way to this empty lot. Make sure to check out the public display they have outside on the fences along Noble St.—they just changed the photos up on display. Across the street from Band gallery, is an abandoned LCBO building and parking lot that has been fenced in with sandbags. You may notice a kid learning to ride their bike in the lot or sometimes people skateboarding. This lot and LCBO has been abandoned for a couple of years now. Even though the space is slated for development, what could it be in the meantime? What could you see here?

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Thanks for taking this walk! Please share any of your ideas and reflections at 416letters@gmail.com