By Jesse Shapins and Pino Di Mascio
At the core of our Toronto Tomorrow proposal is a plan for a sustainable, affordable, and diverse live-work community in Quayside. The neighbourhood’s urban design has changed in some important ways since we shared an initial site plan last fall — thanks in large part to feedback from the community.
The urban design for Quayside is rooted, first and foremost, in strong placemaking principles, centred around the human experience. Building on successful examples of creating new public space at waterfront slips — particularly with the wave decks across the central harbour bringing the public closer to the water’s edge — we’ve prioritized the character of the place, the ecology of the landscape, and the ability of the public realm to connect the community through more types of parks and open spaces that are usable more of the time.
The heart of the public realm in Quayside is the Parliament Plaza, Cove, and Slip area, which brings together a series of public spaces between Lake Shore Boulevard and Lake Ontario, from Small Street to Silo Street. Let’s take a deeper look at the ways each space bring people together.
Drawing people outdoors at Parliament Plaza
Each space in Quayside has a unique character and programming potential. Parliament Plaza itself is a flexible space well-suited for markets, public art installations, all-ages play, and events that integrate with surrounding buildings — all made possible by the closure of Parliament Street to vehicles. This emphasis on arts and culture builds on the precinct plans that envisioned a sculpture garden adjacent to Parliament Street.
We’ve integrated Queens Quay into the plaza design using an innovative approach that enables transportation options and public space to be shared — aiming to balance road network connectivity with the creation of a safe and vibrant public space. In this “slow zone,” all travelers (regardless of mode) would have to travel at pedestrian speeds.
Facilitating recreation for all ages at Silo Park and Parliament Cove
The plaza design is complemented by recreational and social infrastructure uses to the south, including the Bayside Community Centre, the greenery of Silo Park, and a school amid the collection of buildings near the lake’s edge. These areas are directly connected with Parliament Cove, allowing for seamless pedestrian movements between the community centre and Silo Park as well as direct access to the water for marine or cultural uses (such as an amphitheatre that encircles a floating stage).
Connecting people to the water at Parliament Slip
The western side of Parliament Slip remains a reinforced dock wall and provides easy access to marine transit; the eastern side has floating structures for additional water-based programming. A floating walkway also begins on the eastern side of the new bridge, establishing expanded space for ecologies and water uses up through the Keating Channel.
Using technology to bring people together
While we started from the perspective of creating a great place, we also thought about how to apply new technology, where necessary, to support this vision.
One example is a set of shared infrastructure tools that enable community members to program public spaces themselves, and that support art and creative culture. These shared tools include high-speed connectivity, power, mounts, projectors, speakers, lighting, water, and storage — the vital ingredients to making emerging forms of participatory public art easy.
This shared infrastructure would enable public participation to flourish: from an area for Indigenous placemaking in Silo Park, to water-based performances in Parliament Cove, to workshops on floating structures in Parliament Slip, to installations and performances in Parliament Plaza.
Another innovation that we believe can help us achieve the goal of getting people outdoors together is an outdoor-comfort system. Designed in collaboration with Toronto-based climate engineers RWDI and architecture firm PARTISANS, this system can respond to neighbourhood-level weather patterns (known as micro-climate) to provide shelter from the elements or shade from the sun.
Three ways public feedback improved the design
During the broader public engagement process, Torontonians shared many design priorities for the public realm in Quayside, including the need for accessible amenities, diverse programming, and connections to nature and water. To get further perspectives from residents who aren’t always included in public consultations, Sidewalk Labs commissioned a design-research study of the experiences diverse Torontonians seek in open spaces.
You can read more about each of these feedback efforts in the reports linked above. Here we’ll focus on three feedback themes in particular.
Connect Quayside to surrounding areas. At the public roundtable last December, we heard the need to better connect Quayside to its northern neighbours in the east end while also building on the success of the central waterfront. In response, we designed Queens Quay as a more continuous neighbourhood “Main Street” and also improved connectivity from the north, ensuring that buses coming down Parliament Street have good access to Quayside — as well as a strong sense of arrival when crossing Lake Shore Boulevard.
Connect Quayside to its immediate neighbours. In addition to feedback about broader connections, we also heard a sense that our initial plan was too inward looking within its immediate context. In response, we created the stronger connection with the Bayside Community Centre mentioned earlier. This centre and a school anchor an open space in Silo Park that’s larger than what the existing precinct plan had anticipated — all with the intention of bringing more neighbours together.
Incorporate Indigenous perspectives. While we’ve long appreciated the need to incorporate Indigenous perspectives into the urban design of Quayside, we heard this desire emphasized through public engagement. In response, we’ve held design consultations with Indigenous participants, designers, and artists led by Brook McIlroy’s Indigenous Design Studio to imagine (among other things) educational opportunities and Quayside’s future through the lens of Indigenous design.
One notable outcome to emerge from this work is the concept of a creative zone in Silo Park, guided by principles around environmental history, cultural history, place and tradition, and respect for nature. Programming would change across the seasons: in colder weather, the area could host a design competition for local Indigenous artists to develop innovative structures for winter gatherings; in warmer weather, it could host student projects that use digital media to add a layer of cultural interpretation, storytelling, and learning into the landscape.
These are just a few examples, and we look forward to continued discussion about how to refine and improve the urban design of Quayside, based on further feedback from the community, Waterfront Toronto, and government. We’re committed to bringing the best design ideas to life with local artists, landscape designers, public space organizations, and others. The work of keeping a public realm lively and engaging never ends — and it must be led by the community itself.
Jesse Shapins is Director of Public Realm and 307, and Pino Di Mascio is Director of Planning for Sidewalk Labs.