To preview the four-week Celebrate Yonge festival, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam takes us for a stroll down the transformed spine of the city.
If you walk down Yonge Street between Gerrard and Queen today, you’ll have a lot more room to pass the slow walker in front of you. But you might not want to. Today marks the start of the four-week long Celebrate Yonge festival, where two lanes of the street are being used for pedestrians and patios. There will also be lots of entertainment, from buskers to games.
Celebrate Yonge was spearheaded by local councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre) and she recently took The Grid for a walkthrough of the transformed street.
Wong-Tam stops to take pictures of the planters that separate cars from the newfound pedestrian space. There are 150 of the planters, and each design is different. Wong-Tam says they’ve been getting good feedback. “People have been asking where they can buy them.” The planters were put together by CUPE 29 apprentices, and Toronto Star columnist Christopher Hume will use his discriminating taste in a judged competition today.
While the planters are nice, they’re interrupted by the metal gates that provide the enclosure for nine extended patios. The AGCO mandates that all alcohol consumption be maintained in some kind of enclosure, but it’s a shame that such a nice feature (Patios! Yay!) be marred by the aesthetic.
On the east side of Yonge just north of Queen are two heritage buildings, 205 and 197 Yonge Street. The gap between them used to house the Colonial Tavern before it closed in the 1970s, but has now been turned into a nice bit of public space. In an area filled with imposing and closely packed buildings, this area provides a respite for the eye as well as a place to rest. It will also be used as a reception space for Celebrate Yonge’s launch on August 22.
Farther north at Shuter is the ING Direct branch. As one of the major sponsors of Celebrate Yonge (all financing was provided by sponsorships and the local BIA), they’ve helped create a wonderful play structure for kids called Celebration Park. Sand lines the street, with boulders sourced from French River providing a natural place to sit. For the adventurous ones, there’s a play structure made from felled trees that looks like it’s straight out of The Flintstones.
Celebrate Yonge is broken up into themed zones, and just south of Gerrard is The Funway. With life-size versions of board games, face-painting and caricature artists, it promises to be The Ex in miniature.
Of course, some people will complain about car space being used by the bi-pedal transportation set. Wong-Tam points out that 200 million people use Dundas Station each year and that Yonge Street averages about a third of Bay Street’s traffic along the same stretch (300 to 900 cars per hour). Just to be sure, the City will be doing careful counts of pedestrian traffic during Celebrate Yonge to measure its success. Wong-Tam hopes to duplicate it in the Church Street Village next year.