Orphaned Spaces

Text Ian Chodikoff

In 2004, the Clean and Beautiful City initiative was adopted by the City of Toronto to raise awareness and improve the quality of urban design and architecture throughout the city. This initiative included the identification of several neighbourhoods that were in need of economic development and an improved quality of public life. Known as “orphaned spaces,” some of these neighbourhoods lacked even the fundamental organization of a Business Improvement Area (BIA) to broker an improved quality of urban design. These neighbourhoods and the City both recognized the need for fostering discussions amongst the design community, business leaders and local politicians.

In the spring of 2006, the City of Toronto’s Clean & Beautiful City Neighbourhood Beautification Project in association with the Design Exchange (DX) and Canadian Architect directed a creative and inclusive design competition involving a variety of design professionals to reconsider these orphaned spaces by assessing their underutilized spatial qualities and establishing contact with newly formed or pre-business improvement areas. On May 10th, the eight teams presented their schemes. Following their presentations, a panel discussion was held at the DX in order for all the teams to present their views on how public and commercial spaces can serve to reinvigorate the city. At the conclusion of the panel discussion, a winner was announced. Comprised of Michael Karowich, Senior Urban Designer for special projects at the City of Mississauga; Jeanette Krabicka, a community planner with the economic development office for the City of Toronto; John Kiru, a member of the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Association (TABIA); Samantha Sanella, Executive Director of the DX; and yours truly, the jury was unanimous in its conclusion that the team responsible for Cliffside should be the winner.

It can be said that all of the participating teams succeeded in their efforts. Various BIAs representing many of the teams’ neighbourhoods were in attendance, as well as several representatives of City Hall, including Mayor David Miller who delivered a short commentary in support of the Orphaned Spaces initiative. While the time frame for this initiative suggested a design charrette, its intention went beyond a mere ideas competition. Its purpose was to facilitate the bridging of public and private interests with the hope of implementing successful strategic planning initiatives, to ensure that local interests are identified, and to mitigate any barriers to successful economic development through good design.

From the results and energy demonstrated by all the teams, it is likely that many of the ideas presented will come to fruition. Subsequent public meetings have been held at the local level. It is hoped that future discussions in local economic development will tap into the vast social and financial resources that the design community can offer. The following is a brief explanation of the eight participating teams and their proposals.

LOCATION: Kingston Road (Cliffside)

DESIGN TEAM: Mason White, Lola Sheppard, Chris Hardwicke, Fung Lee and Hon Lu with contributions by Daniel Rabin and Annie Ritz

Entitled Cliffside Slips, this winning proposal examined a street in suburban Scarborough. Like many of the participating teams, the design is the result of collaboration between the local community and the design team. With a broad range of expertise, the design team includes Chris Hardwicke, an associate at Sweeny Sterling Finlayson & Co Architects, while Mason White and Lola Sheppard are partners at Lateral Architecture, a young Toronto design firm interested in landscape and architecture as interactive public spaces. White also teaches architecture at the University of Toronto and Sheppard is Assistant Professor of Architecture at the University of Waterloo. Fung Lee is a landscape architect and an associate at PMA Landscape Architects in Toronto, while Hon Lu is an urban planner, environmental engineer, and Manager of Urban Environmental Services at the City of Toronto Economic Development Corporation.

Running through the site is Kingston Road, a high-speed six-lane arterial that makes it nearly impossible to encourage pedestrian activity. Cliffside Village is in close proximity to Lake Ontario, the Scarborough Bluffs and a local marina. Since marinas are places where boats and their owners offer a sense of temporary community, Cliffside Slips proposes a new main street that appropriates the ideas of docking, bridging and anchoring to incrementally convert the empty car-based main street of Cliffside into an urban marina. Using a kit of parts that includes pocket parks, crosswalks, and temporary parking lot activities, various formal and informal activities can be used to bring a sense of community together. The crossings, slips, parks and occupations can be produced incrementally over time as budget and programs develop.

On May 29th, the Cliffside team members were invited to present their scheme to the local community, and about 50 people were in attendance. Their first goal is to plan a “Slip Party” with additional funding from the City to build an inexpensive temporary slip for a summer party to help promote the scheme’s intention to revitalize the Cliffside area. With local business leaders like Sherri MacEwen from the Cliffside Village Revitalization Committee and local urban advocate Henry Calderon behind the proposal, there is a real interest to pursue the Cliffside Slips. There has even been some discussion about turning the house at 2392 Kingston Road–which benefits from a large maple tree–into a pilot pocket park that follows the design intentions of the winning team.

LOCATION: Wexford Heights (Lawrence Avenue East)

DESIGN TEAM: Vivien Lee, Bryce Miranda, Ruth Alejandra Mora, Julius C. Aquino, Gerardo Paez Alonson

In addition to proposing urban intensification through architectural landmarks that define critical neighbourhood street corners, transforming underused parking lots for recreational purposes, and introducing on-site bio-filtration and grey water retention techniques, the design team also proposed a Souk Shade–by far the most interesting element to their design proposal. Comprising a canopy over information/art panels, the Souk Shade provides pedestrians and shoppers with shelter from the elements while defining the edges between parking and the sidewalk through the addition of outdoor markets and festival events. Information and art panels could be attached to the support posts located between parking stalls and would be able to swivel sideways. During special events, panels can be easily rotated and swivelled at any angle, converting into tables for displaying goods. Parking can still occur under the shade when it is not in use. Since the presentation at the DX on May 10th, the design team has been in touch with the editors at 54east, a local community magazine that will be publishing their proposal scheme in an upcoming summer issue. Their proposal will also be on display in the Wexford community during the Taste of Lawrence Festival in early July.

LOCATION: Leslieville

DESIGN TEAM: James Kirkpatrick, Michaela Macleod, Colin Burrows, Rei Tasaka

By the time the Leslieville team presented at the DX, all of its members were employees of the long-standing Toronto urban design consultancy Urban Strategies. Entitled Terrain Vague, the team employed a French filmmaking term used to describe declining urban “empty, abandoned space.” The in-between spaces that they set out to resolve were located in an area around Queen and Pape Streets–a zone containing many fragmented parcels of land. The team presented the idea that collectively, the series of empty spaces in the neighbourhood could amount to a significant urban park, if dealt with carefully. The scheme essentially provided a dynamic mapping and phasing analy
sis with the net result of introducing interesting plantings to help stitch together a visual identity for the neighbourhood. Interestingly, the team responded in detail to the competition brief by listing a variety of public and private financial partners which might include groups such as Eco-Action, Ontario Trillium Foundation, Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation, and the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.

LOCATION: Avenue Road

DESIGN TEAM: Abdul Aziz Abdul Hussain, Vivian Gabrail, Ken Luk, Chris Mohan, Cristian Stefanescu

This site includes a section of Avenue Road from Woburn Road to Joicey Road, and includes Brookefield Park and an adjacent ravine that runs north from the park up to Fairlawn Road. With a mix of both urban and suburban characteristics, the area’s public space is of poor quality, and pedestrian activity is compromised by vehicular dominance. The design team proposed to unify Brookefield Park and the ravine with a light canopy of repeating singular units that fluctuate in height and density, depending on the intensity of the activities nearby and on site.

LOCATION: Albion and Islington (Thistletown)

DESIGN TEAM: Steven Bell, Diana Birchall, Ragini Dayal, Shonda Wong

With members from the City of Toronto, Town of Oakville, City of Vaughan and the EDA Collaborative, this design team looked at the dominant force that they felt was a key inhibitor to the neighbourhood’s long-term success: the automobile. Additionally, with no outdoor community amenity spaces related or connected to the commercial areas, and with sidewalks that are either in poor repair, narrow, or containing few trees, a solution was proposed that involved the addition of “garden walls” that respond to grade changes and front-yard parking. The team also proposed a zoning regime to encourage redevelopment, as well as a clarification of traffic patterns through the removal of traffic islands and the narrowing of traffic-lane widths. The reduction of road rights-of-way could result in the development of a landmark “flat iron” building. Proceeds from the sale of this previously city-owned development site could be used to fund improvements to the public realm. Along with these various proposals, it was recommended that the City should develop and endorse a faade improvement program that could assist the owners in improving the site reorganization.

LOCATION: Malta Village

DESIGN TEAM: Adam Eizinas, Emily Grant, Alexis Eizinas

The Malta Village revitalization proposal was based on the premise that if the local community can be encouraged to shop and use the common spaces in the area, then enthusiasm from businesses and the larger Toronto community would follow suit. Surrounded by a large, affluent, residential community that is not currently being adequately serviced, the team’s proposal sought to attract the local community into the business area through a marketing campaign designed to educate people on the merits of Malta Village. The design team also prepared a tool kit for community members and businesses to introduce elements ranging from residential plantings to improved curbside and signage designs. Key to the project’s success would be an interactive website and wayfinding signs as examples of low-cost methods of reacquainting the community with its local history, cultural and business assets.

LOCATION: Bayview Avenue

DESIGN TEAM: Solmaz Eshraghi, Trent Hunter, Kristina Ljubanovic, Marco Jacobs

The Leaside-Bennington ward of this orphaned space comprises one block of commercial storefront property along the east side of Bayview Avenue, one block south of Eglinton Avenue East. Despite adequate sidewalks, trees and occupied storefront space, the block experiences little pedestrian activity with no defined boundary demarcating entry into the commercial district. The team’s proposal applied a series of temporary parallel lines to the sidewalks and street along the block. The lines would run perpendicular across the street, extending from storefront to storefront. Calling for a street festival to coincide with the team’s proposal for the application of temporary colourful strips, the modest scope of the design intervention means it could be easily constructed. The simplicity of the design also makes it flexible for further explorations in additional street furniture, planting, or outdoor seating.

LOCATION: Danforth (from Westlake to Victoria Park)

DESIGN TEAM: Aleksandar Janicijevic, Ivan Martinovic, Una Janicijevic, Ali Malek-Zadeh

Convinced that people are looking for a complete aesthetic packaging for the city, whether it be sensory or spatial, the Danforth design team proposed several basic components which included the creation of sidewalk and street canopies, moveable public parks, plazas and playgrounds. Suggestions of kiosks, water features and public art were also proposed.

Details on this charrette series can be found at http://dx.org/orphanspaces/