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A street for the people: Cultivating community on Yonge Street

The city is growing and changing, as cities will, and Yonge Street isn't exempt from the force of flux. To help determine the best approaches for adapting the street's central portion to a city's shifting needs, the minds behind the Downtown Yonge BIA kicked off a massive community consultation initiative called Yonge Love. Beginning in the summer of 2014 and ending this past January, the project set forth to collect data from the more than 42 million pedestrians who amble through the corridor in a given year. Its aim was simple: to spark necessary conversations about how the street, and particularly its downtown portion, might best serve the people who use it.

We spoke with Downtown Yonge BIA's Senior Economic Development Officer, Pauline Larsen, about Yonge Love's goals and what the BIA has learned from the endeavour. 

Yonge Street Media: How would you describe the campaign, in a nutshell? 

Pauline Larsen: We estimate there were about 7.9 million media impressions over print, radio and web. Instead of the traditional consultation where there's an ad in the local newspaper, we were very diverse in the ways we reached out to the community. We had a special website with original content and did an interactive survey with about 1,700 responses, which was part of the data that's being crunched right now. We ran an Instagram competition that had something like 641 images shared as part of that. We had physical pop-ups to engage with people on the street, and a Facebook presence and on Twitter. If there was a way to reach out to people, we tried to do it. It was a lot of fun, to try to find out what were people's stories: What are their experiences of Yonge Street? What did it mean to them in the past, and what does it mean to them right now? And what do they want it to be in the future? 

What did you discover?

We haven't released any numbers yet, but what for us was important was that we didn't limit it to our member businesses or our member proxy owners. We had a lot of people responding who live down here or who are students down here or just visitors down here or who come here for recreational purposes. It was a very wide community engagement as opposed to the traditional attitude of "We're a BIA, we represent our members, we're going to just speak to the businesses."

In conversations we've had in anticipation of our upcoming Speakers Series event, you've mentioned that as an immigrant to the city and country, you've found a sense of orientation in Yonge Street. 

Yes, I liked what Ken Greenberg said in the conversation you had with him, that Yonge Street is like the hair part in the city. And I think that that relationship of Yonge Street and how it speaks to the east and the west are part of a really interesting conversation about what a city means and how city spaces play out for people. From our point of view, a lot of the type of stuff I think is going to come out of this has to do with how you relate to space, and what space makes you feel like it has a community sense, a local feel, and is welcoming and inclusive.

Cities, at the end of the day, are actually about people. If we don't know how they want to live there and build communities, how do we build cities that meet their needs? The reason that we wanted to go ahead and do this is exactly the same reason that I, on an individual level, want to understand Yonge Street. What does this most central of neighbourhoods mean as a neighbourhood? 

It's easy to forget that Downtown Yonge is a neighbourhood. 

That's a really important piece. The residential sector here has grown significantly. We're not just about tourists or visitors or students or shoppers or employees; we have a huge residential component that's increasingly vocal in the creation of a neighbourhood. So it's a really exciting, dynamic area, and we wanted to make sure we went out and asked people what their vision would be so as we move forward we can actually try to implement some of that stuff. 


  • In an average year, 42 million people walk north or southbound at Yonge and Dundas
  • Just over 175,000 people live within a 10-minute walk of the area
  • Roughly 580,000 people pass through the area on a given workday
  • For every 10 people walking on Yonge Street, about six are there a minimum of three times per week
  • 35 per cent of the residents living in Downtown Yonge walk to and from work every day  

Photo by dbking from Washington, DC ([1]  Uploaded by Skeezix1000) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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