As part of our May 24 cover story, The Grid asked our readers to come up with more ways to improve our city. Here’s the best of what we got.
When we asked some of Toronto’s smartest people for their one big idea to make Toronto better, we figured that a few of The Grid’s readers might’ve come away from it a little unimpressed. Oh sure, it’d be nice if this city had way more parks, better elections, our very own internet, or some cash to spread around our neighbourhoods, but some of you, we knew, were going to want the chance to do the big thinkers one better. So to give you the chance to, we asked for your big ideas, too. These are our favourites.
My big idea: illuminate the underside of the Gardiner with LEDs. The concrete pillars and beams could be lit in a variety of colours to produce a psychedelic tunnel effect, and would create a certain synergy with the lights on the (also concrete) Rogers Centre and the colours swirling around the (also concrete) CN Tower. Suddenly crossing under the Gardiner on your way to the waterfront would become an attraction unto itself. If Edward Keenan’s idea to turn the vacant lots under the overpass into a market were made reality, at night, the lights would add to the atmosphere, and reduce the concrete jungle–ness of the space. The system would be cheap to design, install, and maintain. While the results of a study into how it affects drivers might limit the lights to parts of the Gardiner where Lake Shore Boulevard is not directly beneath it, it would still add light and colour to the darkest, drabbest part of the downtown tourist area.—Evan Herbert
KATIE UNDERWOOD SAYS: Call me superficial, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to live in a good-looking city. And since there seems to be an overwhelming consensus that the elevated portion of the Gardiner is a structural eyesore—condo magnate Brad Lamb suggested demolishing it in favour of a tunnel—I think the light show’s a reasonable cosmetic fix in lieu of a very large, very expensive construction project. Plus, as Evan points out, the rest of the area is already lit up like a Christmas tree, so at least we’d be consistent.
DAVID TOPPING SAYS: Yeah. Toronto already has something a little bit like this on a much smaller scale: Watertable, which has LED lights strung along a few chunks of the Gardiner’s belly right outside Fort York. If we’re not tearing the Gardiner down or otherwise doing anything spectacularly transformative with it any time soon (and, let’s be real, we probably aren’t) surely we can at least make it a little prettier, right?
Toronto built most neighbourhoods so that the side streets were wide enough for two-way vehicle traffic, but with increasing traffic volumes came reasonable demands from residents to make it difficult for cars to use the streets as shortcuts to avoid busy arterial roads. The problem: this also had the unintentional consequence of preventing bicycles from easily and legally moving through neighbourhoods. The solution: make every side street in Toronto a two-way street for bikes unless otherwise signed.—Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler
DAVID SAYS: This one’s a no-brainer. Lots of otherwise-law-abiding cyclists, myself included, occasionally bike the wrong way on quiet one-way streets, not only because those roads tend to be safer ones for us, but also because we can pretty comfortably fit. Unlike, say, running red lights, there’s never really been a great reason to keep making the practice illegal, and making this idea happen would just be a matter of changing a bylaw or two and making sure everyone knew about the change.
KATIE SAYS: Since biking on streets jammed with cars and sundry other transit incarnations is already a death-defying act, and the threat of bike path removal still looms large, I can’t see the downside in allowing another avenue for cyclists to get from point A to point B, limbs intact.
Make a one-foot-deep canoe canal (for summer) and skating canal (for winter) running for three kilometres along the old shoreline from the Don River, through the Distillery District, along The Esplanade, below St. Lawrence Market, ending up at Union Station.—Luna Malcolm
DAVID SAYS: Is urban portaging a thing yet? Do we want it to be? I like this idea in theory, but I’m a little worried about how it’d work out in practice.
KATIE SAYS: Part of this idea—the thought of commuting via canoe, the city beautification aspect—really appeals to me, but I’m not certain we could be trusted not to turn it into a filthy, meandering cesspool, and it smacks vaguely of Ottawa envy. Plus, at that depth, it’s not all that different from downtown roads after a sizeable downpour, and those are gross, you guys.
Let’s have a city-wide “Take Toronto To Work Week.” Citizens would job-shadow others working in the city, and the rule is that it has to be outside of your sector. You’re a banker? Good. Shadow a butcher! You’re a carpenter? Awesome. Come spend a day in a newsroom. The shadowing session would provide opportunities for students and recent immigrants to gain broader exposure to a range of careers, and also be a ton of fun for the curious and adventurous. Other bonuses? Greater civic capacity, increased community, and more goodwill.—Vasiliki (Vass) Bednar
KATIE SAYS: This already sounds miles better than my dad’s hyper-literal interpretation of the high school version that saw me taking minutes in a senior management meeting. (But I digress.) I’m on board with this: You could sell it to businesses as a less corny alternative to professional development workshops, giving consideration to transferrable skills that might be gained from participating, and avoiding the perception that it’s just a well-disguised day off. This could also be a vehicle for fostering business partnerships, which my commerce-minded friends tell me is important.
DAVID SAYS: I’m on board too, but mostly because I welcome any opportunity to have a well-disguised day off, and to learn what careers other than journalism I could never in a million years be capable of.
We need a continuous walking/cycling path along the entire inner harbour— including the Toronto Islands. As much of it as possible should be by the water’s edge, and we should call it “The TO Loop.” In a few places, there will be logistical hurdles—getting around the Redpath Sugar factory, for example—and in others, there will need to be major infrastructure investments, like a tunnel or lifting bridge under or over the Eastern Gap, as well as the construction of a link between the Toronto Billy Bishop City Airport tunnel and the westernmost section of the Islands. But I think it would be extremely cool to be able to get on your bike or a board at the foot of Bay Street and do the whole circuit without ever having to switch modes.—John Lorinc
KATIE SAYS: Our waterfront is an actual embarrassment of riches, and the advantage that this design has over something like, say, a ferris wheel, is that it’s not a flashy, band-aid attraction that you’d snap a photo of once and erase from memory. Ideally, it would be hold some aesthetic appeal, but the TO Loop would really be a “being space,” a high-traffic channel accessible to bikers and walkers, some of whom might even frequent it daily. That pedestrian influx could equal serious new business dollars being funnelled into a full-on lakeshore revitalization.
DAVID SAYS: What Katie said. For all the development going on along the waterfront right now—and there’s lots—there isn’t much yet that’s an obvious draw for those who don’t already live nearby. (There’s the Islands themselves, of course, but they’ve always been a ferry ride away.) This would change that in a big, big way.
Anyone who takes Queen or King Street, especially at rush hour, knows how clogged, slow, and inefficient they can be. A mish-mash of streetcars, cars stuck behind streetcars, cyclists trying to weave their way through the chaos, pedestrians jaywalking—you get the picture. So why not make King Street one-way going west and Queen Street one-way going east? Then you could have a designated lane for streetcars, a designated lane for cars, and a bike path, so that all forms of transportation could operate at their maximum, without major disruptions, time delays, or safety issues. This would make transit along these streets both faster and safer for all involved, and doing this would open up the opportunity to make these more appealing places to be such as landscaping on medians, widening sidewalks, and making the street more pedestrian-friendly.—Laura Burke
KATIE SAYS: If Queen West hadn’t already established its ability to draw foot traffic, a one-way street conversion could be a commercial death sentence. But making the street quicker and less agonizing to navigate could be a draw for wandering pedestrians and shoppers, even if the one-way seems designed to get people in fast and out even faster. Separated throughways for bikes and streetcars are a great addition, and the directional stipulations (Queen running east, King west) are also smart, especially considering the volume of downtown-bound traffic leaving the Gardiner and coming from Jameson Avenue.
DAVID SAYS: The thing about Queen and King Street, though, is that they’re not just streets you’re supposed to blow through, in the way that Richmond and Adelaide are—they’re destinations as much as they are thoroughfares, and I’d be worried that converting some of Toronto’s most vibrant two-way streets into one-way ones (I’d count Yonge in this, too) would go a long way towards sucking the vibrancy right out of them. We could always try it, though. If it doesn’t work, we could flip the road back to two-way…and keep the dedicated lanes for streetcars and cyclists.
We should bury all the overhead wires and hydro lines! Easy as that.—Vi Truong
DAVID SAYS: This would do wonders to make Toronto tidier-looking, if you don’t go for that “messy urbanism” stuff, though it should probably be said that for a hundred million different reasons, it really wouldn’t be at all easy to make happen now.
KATIE SAYS: Agreed.
Toronto should reclaim the McLaughlin Planetarium, behind the Royal Ontario Museum, and repurpose it into a vibrant event space. We’re all in agreement that Toronto doesn’t need another sweaty, overpriced, and poorly executed nightclub venture, but using this demi-orb of intergalactic fun for storage and office space is a terrible waste. I propose we celebrate Toronto’s past by reinventing it for the future.—Lisa Pozhke
DAVID SAYS: There’s actually a working group trying to save the McLaughlin Planetarium already; I wrote about it back in February, though time’s running out, since the ROM’s lease on it is up in less than two years. Something like this, though, could work—there’s money in event spaces that there probably wasn’t in Laser Floyd shows.
KATIE SAYS: You had me at “demi-orb of intergalactic fun.” But seriously, I think if executed in a minimally cheesy way, this could be a very popular, lucrative venue for events (astronomers’ weddings?). Is saving the planetarium priority one? No, but it could be a smart investment if properly re-branded.
Density is good, but new condos are overwhelmingly bachelor and one-bedroom units. If you’re a developer, it’s just math—selling four singles at $350,000 each is more profitable than two bigger units at $500,000 each. But when you get married and want to start a family? You’ll likely have to move out of the building, maybe out of the neighbourhood, and possibly out of downtown altogether. Buildings filled exclusively with young singles mean high turnover and a less-than-vibrant community. The City of Toronto can fix this really easily by requiring all new developments to have 20% two-bedroom units and 5% three-bedroom units. Ignore developers who scream that bigger units don’t sell. What they mean is they don’t make as much money.—Brad Marcoux*
KATIE SAYS: Cameron Bailey, Chris Tindal, and Carrie Hayes all suggested imposing requirements on developers, too, but this one would really inject some much-needed demographic and cultural dynamism into typical singles palaces like CityPlace. The only question here is how many families would rather raise kids in a high-rise than a semi-detached rowhouse with a backyard.
DAVID SAYS: Maybe not a high-rise on the edge of town, but one of the mid-rise projects coming up in places not far from the downtown core, like the ones that’ll soon dot the Queen and Ossington area? If I had a kid, I’d sacrifice a huge yard to keep living around where I do now. And god knows places like Liberty Village or, yeah, CityPlace, could use some families. After all, downtowners are going to need all the help they can get carrying their canoes to those new canals.
CORRECTIONS, JUNE 7, 2012: Our apologies to readers Brad Marcoux and Vi Truong, whose last names we misspelled as Mancoux and Troung when this article was first published.