An urban experiment which aims to bring life to Church St. in downtown Toronto could follow up with trials on other main streets throughout the city. The Church St. pilot features the installation of “parklets”– wood decks with planters and public seating – on parking spaces for a few blocks south of Wellesley. “This is a creative way to expand and animate the public realm without a major rebuild of the streets or sidewalks,” says Nancy Chater, of the Planning Partnership. “Parklets are appearing in North American cities. Church Street is leading the way for Toronto.”
The parklets, which get their name because they cover over street parking spaces, are being built with support by the Carpenters & Allied Workers Loc. 27, Vaughan, and others from the General Contractors section of the Toronto Construction Association. About a dozen apprentices and journeypersons from Loc. 27 are involved in the pre-assembly and field assembly. Home Depot is donating the lumber and materials. Mike Yorke, president, Loc. 27, sees the Church St. pilot as an example of what main streets in downtown Toronto might consider doing for the 2015 Pan American Games. “Starting in 2014, we might start to see dozens of streets putting them (parklets) up.”
“From the carpenters [union] perspective, not only do we want to build the city, but we want to be city builders,” he adds, pointing out that parklets represent a sea of change in how people want to live downtown. Parklets are new to Toronto but not new to other major North American cities. In San Francisco, New York and Vancouver, they have proven successful in recent years.
Built flush to the sidewalk, the wood decks are buffered from the street by wrap-around walls of planter boxes. Some of the spaces will feature public built-in benches, while others will be restaurant patios with moveable café tables and chairs.
The parklets are pre-built in modules at Loc. 27’s training centre by a dozen or so apprentices and journeyperson carpenters before being transported to Church St. for final assembly.
The city’s Public Realm Office has been looking at how parklets could fit into other neighborhoods, says Chater. “The parklets will invite the community and the City to visit Church Wellesley Village and experience its unique vitality as a Toronto neighborhood,” says Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.