Koetter Kim & Associates’ Proposal for Toronto’s Waterfront

Christopher Hume of the Toronto Star discusses Boston-based Koetter Kim & Associates’ final plans for the East Bayfront section of Toronto’s waterfront. In an effort to promote the lakeside as a fully engaged part of the city, the plan includes a densely built up neighbourhood where tens of thousands of Torontonians will live, work and play. Though the fate of the Gardiner Expressway, the configuration of Queens Quay and Cherry Street and other factors are not yet finalized, certain basic principles are taking shape. Fred Koetter argues that the public promenade that runs along the water’s edge should be between 20 and 25 metres wide, which is broad enough to accommodate pedestrians, retail, residential and institutional use as well as vehicular traffic when required. Anything wider would be too wide; after all, the intention is to transform these former industrial lands into a fully urban district. That means the water’s edge must be fully accessible at different times and seasons for different reasons, not just leisure and amateur sports. In other words, it must include working people and residents, not just tourists and Sunday-afternoon picnickers.

Bordered by Jarvis and Cherry Sts., Lake Shore Blvd. E. and the water, the East Bayfront will also have a major cultural component. Though details are still not determined, officials of the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp., which is overseeing the multi-billion-dollar project, imagine a floating concert venue, maybe an enclosed botanical garden and an aquarium. The foot of Jarvis would be set aside as a primary public area, with landmark attractions and a tall, thin skyscraper that acts as a kind of waterfront beacon. In contrast, the bottom of Sherbourne Street would be turned into a compact green space, surrounded by buildings on three sides. The old silos at the end of Parliament Street could find new life as a hotel, a museum, or a shopping complex, which could anchor Queens Quay at the east end, serving as a place of transition between the urban precinct to the west and a more natural area on the other side.

Transit is key to opening up the waterfront and Koetter suggests a streetcar line running along the centre of an expanded Queens Quay all the way to Cherry St. and beyond. Properly landscaped and integrated, it could provide the kind of access to the waterfront that is critical to its revitalization. Koetter also proposes that buildings along Queens Quay, which would be widened to 43 metres, would be no taller than 40 metres. Closer to the lake, the height limit would be half that, but up to 60 metres by the Gardiner.

Fully 60 percent of the land in the East Bayfront remains in private hands. Though waterfront corporation staff are optimistic, the scheme will depend on owners’ agreement. They would be hopelessly wrong-headed not to go along with the corporation, which will ultimately increase the value of their property beyond anything they could do individually. In the meantime, the provincial minister of infrastructure renewal, David Caplan, is waiting for a review of the corporation’s governance. This report, due in September, will examine whether the agency has the powers it needs to do its job. If its authors have done their job, they will tell Caplan the body must be able to make real estate deals, borrow money and even expropriate land when necessary. With all that in place, waterfront renewal can finally become a reality. Koetter would like to see the first projects happen on Lower Sherbourne. The mix of public and private initiatives would give understandably skeptical Torontonians a chance to see what the city could become if we let it.