TOcore: Downtown Parks and Public Realm Plan
Award Of Excellence
Analysis and Planning
PUBLIC WORK Office for Urban Design & Landscape Architecture
Client: City of Toronto
"The Downtown Parks and Public Realm Plan provides a visionary roadmap for the transformation of Toronto’s downtown core, an approach that relies strongly on the development of parks, public space, and verdant streetscapes. This comprehensive plan works at all scales, taking advantage of both iconic experiences and hidden opportunities to reimagine civic life. Five big ideas animate it: reimagining the valleys, bluffs, and islands that surround the city as a Core Circle; creating a network of Great Streets; reconnecting downtown to the waterfront; placing parks at the heart of distinct districts; and stitching small local spaces into the city fabric. It’s a bold, complex plan of enormous power, capable of spurring a sustainable future for a growing city."
- 2019 Awards Jury
PUBLIC WORK office for urban design & landscape architecture:
- Adam Nicklin
- Marc Ryan
- Mary Liston Hicks
- Lauren Abrahams
- Asuka Kono
- Guangyu Zhao
- Clint Langevin
- Rachel Salmela
- Sydney Truesdale
- Tomas Mashidlauskas
- City of Toronto: Ann-Marie Nasr, Leo DeSorcy, Andrew Farncombe, Kristina Reinders, Corinne Fox, Avery Carr
- Gehl Studio: Jeff Risom, Geoff Dyck
- Swerhun Facilitation: Nicole Swerhun, Ian Malczewski, Matthew Wheatley
- Sam Schwartz Engineering: Michael Flynn, Vig Krishnamurthy, Mike Scavo
The Downtown Parks and Public Realm Plan addresses one of the most pressing questions facing Toronto: how can we re-imagine the public realm to enhance quality of life within a rapidly intensifying urban core?
As one section of a comprehensive plan for the growth and evolution of Downtown Toronto, the Parks and Public Realm Plan establishes a vision and framework to achieve an expanded, improved and connected parks and public realm network within the Downtown's mature urban fabric to support future growth. It is based on Five Transformative Ideas: The Core Circle, Great Streets, Shoreline Stitch, Park Districts, and Local Places. This set of integrated spatial transformations uncover the most iconic landscape experiences of the city and identify hidden opportunities within the Downtown's urban fabric. The Plan presents new ways of thinking about the public realm and landscape in the city, and provides a tactical dialogue about how we design, maintain and use our parks, streets and other open spaces to support urban life and achieve a bold and transformative legacy for future generations.
The Downtown Parks and Public Realm Plan is about Downtown Toronto's evolution. It explores the co-existence and interplay of Toronto's landscape and urban morphology: the pre-settlement landscape features of the ravines, islands and bluffs and the colonial grid of streets laid over the landscape in the late 18th century. Today, these exist as complementary layers. The Plan leverages the relationship between landscape and grid to offer a new lens for imagining our civic identity, through our common ground – the public realm. This large-scale contribution re-discovers our landscapes and civic streets as the basis for a significant transformation of the Downtown's public realm.
Re-balancing the Public Realm
The Plan addresses one of the most pressing questions facing Toronto: how can we re-imagine the public realm to enhance quality of life within a rapidly intensifying urban core?
The Plan establishes a vision and framework to achieve an expanded, improved and connected parks and public realm network within the Downtown's mature urban fabric to support a doubling of the Downtown population over the next 25 years. It presents new ways of thinking about the public realm and landscape in the city, and provides a tactical dialogue about how we design, maintain and use our parks, streets and other open spaces to support urban life and achieve a bold and transformative legacy for future generations.
The Plan presents a comprehensive vision to achieve a more desirable and sustainable parks and open space system in Downtown Toronto (1770 ha) and the surrounding area of influence. It has been developed to support the implementation of Toronto City Council's recently adopted Downtown Plan which, as part of Toronto's Official Plan, provides a blueprint to manage growth, sustain liveability, achieve complete communities and ensure there is space for the economy to grow. The Downtown Plan is a 25-year vision that sets the direction for the city centre as the cultural, civic, retail and economic heart of Toronto and as a great place to live.
To safeguard liveability, infrastructure must keep pace with growth. Parks and open spaces are central pieces of infrastructure and equitable access to parkland is crucial to support urban life, particularly in high-growth, high-density areas like Downtown Toronto. The Plan examines the need for parkland within the context of the Downtown, having consideration for the range of parks and open spaces that exist within the boundaries of the Downtown, projected population growth, built form directions and the needed expansion of the public realm. It integrates key provincial policy directions related to achieving complete communities, including expanded access to an appropriate supply of safe, publicly-accessible open spaces, parks and trails.
The Plan is based on the work of a diverse collaboration and careful examination of the best available information about Downtown Toronto's current conditions and trends. It is informed by the lived experience of residents, workers and stakeholders who shared their ideas and aspirations for the future through a multi-faceted engagement process, which included interactive online tools, pop-ups, intercept surveys, lecture series, public meetings, public 'expo' events, stakeholder focus groups, workshops and 'walkshops', and targeted engagement with Indigenous peoples.
Methods of Analysis
A comprehensive parkland provision assessment informed the Plan with an in-depth analysis of existing and future parkland needs based on estimates of population and employment growth in the Downtown. A Public Space Public Life Survey, the first of its kind in Toronto, established a baseline of how public space is being used in the Downtown and infuses the Plan with knowledge of how to better design a city for people. The Public Space Public Life Survey provided key findings and trends for the whole of the core, as well as site-specific highlights and recommendations for the 16 survey zones, which encompassed 50 survey streets and spaces in the Downtown. A companion document, the Downtown Parks and Public Realm Plan: Public Space Public Life Survey provides an overview of the Public Space Public Life Survey in Toronto's Downtown, and offers a guide for monitoring the survey zones to measure how the implementation of the Plan improves the experience of the public realm in the Downtown.
Five Transformative Ideas
The Plan is based on a set of integrated spatial transformations that build upon assets in and adjacent to the core. Together, the ideas uncover the most iconic landscape experiences of the city and identify hidden opportunities within the Downtown's urban fabric. The Five Transformative Ideas include:
The Core Circle: Re-imagining the valleys, bluffs and islands encircling the Downtown as a fully interconnected 900-hectare landscape system and continuous pedestrian and cycling route providing an immersive natural experience.
Great Streets: Enhancing the unique characteristics of Downtown's most emblematic streets and making them outstanding civic places and connectors.
Shoreline Stitch: Re-connecting the Downtown to its waterfront and linking the east and west Core Circle landscapes.
Park Districts: Re-imagining Downtown's distinct districts with parks at their hearts.
Local Places: Re-envisioning local public spaces to better support community life and expand the utility of our public realm system.
The Transformative Ideas are presented in the form of an illustrative framework plan, and formalized as a set of initiatives, actions and delivery mechanisms.
Three Scales of Operation
The Plan operates across three scales to provide a comprehensive framework to achieve an expanded, improved and connected parks and public realm network within Downtown Toronto's intensifying urban fabric.
The Regional Scale re-imagines our fundamental landscapes and major streets to reshape the setting of the Downtown through our common ground – the public realm. At this scale, the Core Circle and Great Streets explore the co-existence and interplay of Toronto's natural and urban systems: the landscape features of the ravines, islands and bluffs and the colonial grid of streets. Also at this scale, the Shoreline Stitch aims to overcome barriers associated with transportation corridors to better connect the Downtown with its waterfront and link the east and west Core Circle landscapes.
The District Scale consists of parks, squares, streets and other public spaces integral to quality of life in Downtown neighbourhoods. At this scale, Park Districts focus on expanding and improving neighbourhood parks and public spaces as a focus for community life and making connections that extend their 'reach' into the broader open space network.
The Local Scale focuses on under-utilized and overlooked spaces that are embedded within the fabric of neighbourhoods. It includes parkettes, laneways, schoolyards, churchyards and other spaces that we experience on a daily or weekly basis. This scale explores opportunities to re-imagine and re-design these Local Places to better support public life and expand the utility of our public realm network.
From Vision to Implementation
The Plan establishes an inspirational framework to guide future change and investment in parks and the public realm in Downtown Toronto. It provides a blueprint for acquisition, expansion and improvements to parkland to address population and employment growth, combining the bold and the pragmatic to provide a transformative and adaptable guide that can remain flexible to leverage future opportunities as they arise. It sets out opportunities and priorities for investment over time and provides a framework for how implementation of the Plan will be undertaken, ranging from quick starts to longer-term assessment of the more complex initiatives.
The Plan is a shared framework, intended to serve as a visionary blueprint and practical, action-oriented manual to guide the City, the development industry and a wide range of individuals, institutions, businesses, organizations, neighbourhoods and other parties participating in shaping the future of Downtown Toronto. It calls for the sustained leadership, support and engagement of all parties to shepherd and foster the long-term vision to achieve a bold and transformative legacy for future generations.