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Forever Yonge: A Street for the People

How can future iterations of Yonge Street optimize public space to stoke the city's imagination?

On November 19, city-builders Jessica Machado, Ken Greenberg, Jake Tobin-Garrett, and Sarah Harris came together to discuss the future of the iconic street. Hosted by Downtown Yonge BIA, the speaker series event was moderated by MASS LBP Principal Peter MacLeod. It brought forth a sizeable and engaged crowd to listen to the exchange of ideas.

Attendees also had ideas of their own, which they were welcome to share on Twitter under the #YongeTalks hashtag.

From both panelists and community members alike, one thread of discussion dominated: the desire to preserve the particular character of Yonge Street as the street continues to be developed and changed. As city-building veteran Ken Greenberg pointed out, “Yonge Street is kind of a mythological street,” the proverbial part in Toronto's hair.

Yonge Street, as one of the world's longest streets (arguably THE longest, though that's contentious), offers the city of Toronto a unique reference point. As Toronto continues as a vast and ever-sprawling city of neighbourhoods, it is Yonge that stitches the city together. Because of this, the street belongs to everyone. And its centre is arguably Yonge-Dundas Square.

“It's become a type of space where people know to gather,” said Park People's Jake Tobin-Garrett, describing the way that celebrations, rallies, sporting victories and vigils find their way over to the public square.

But much of the conversation focused on how Yonge street, beyond Yonge-Dundas, might become more conducive for public gathering. Ideas included installation of seating, expansion of green space, building public washrooms, and maximizing the potential of ultra-urban park space like College Park. As Greenberg noted, existing hydro corridors and the city's ravine system could also be tapped for public use, a subject we've certainly broached here at Yonge Street Media.

Maintaining a diverse business landscape was also identified as a priority for the street moving forward. Pragmatically, what this means is creating an environment in which independent businesses are able to set up shop and thrive. Logistically, it also probably means some form of rent control for commercial spaces as development creep continues to drive up costs.

Another recurring theme of the conversation was the urgent necessity to foster a sense of community stewardship for Yonge Street. As Machado and Harris argued, making it easier for the community to interact with and purposefully shape the streetscape would go a long way in preserving its character.

In the wise words of Ken Greenberg : “Yonge Street is eclectic and heterogeneous and should be given room to continue in that vein.” For that to happen, the whole city needs to feel involved. While a challenge, it's an exciting prospect. 

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