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2006 06 01
Fostering Orphans – 3
By Fung Lee & Chris Hardwicke

It’s easy to characterize suburban strip roads such as Kingston Road as asphalt wastelands. The vast parking lots and speed of the traffic seem insurmountable when contemplating the human scale. Reconsidered, these underutilized open spaces can be seen as an opportunity for transformation that traditional main streets lack. The open spaces can be used for a new kind of public landscape that adds value to the neighbouring properties and the whole street.

We know that these arterial strips are essential places for independent businesses. At the same time they are competing against regional shopping malls that use sophisticated theme-ing, spatial layouts, marketing campaigns and programmed events to lure consumers to their artificial arcades.

The Cliffside Slips proposal uses the open spaces of the arterial strip to create a hybrid urban space that supports the existing businesses while creating a new landscape infrastructure that connects a sequence of spaces in which people can linger and in this lingering, generate activity and thus commerce.

We know that parks and open space relate directly to the health, and social well-being of our citizens. Regardless, we have observed the steady decline of the City’s capital and operational budgets towards recreational programming, and community parks and centres. It seems that the trend is to narrowly consider public space as invaluable, at least in its economic return. Without the efforts by committed and enthusiastic BIA’s and local communities, the City would continue to deliver the most utilitarian of streetscapes and parks.

It has been proven that the economy of small towns across Canada can revolve around significant open spaces, parks, and/or trail systems (see here and here). Economic spending and tourism increases, property values raise and the tax base grows (see here).

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On the neighbourhood scale: the Village of Yorkville (Cumberland) Park has become the epicenter of the Bloor-Yorkville area. It is the forum for annual festivals, an identifiable landmark in its own right, and part of the daily ritual for those who want to see and be seen. The park has stimulated new business, increased retail sales and most importantly has significantly generated the micro-economy of the Bloor-Yorkville area (see here).

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Typically Business Improvement Areas (BIA’s) in Toronto focus their revitalization efforts on coordinated light standards, benches, banners, and hanging flower pots. Although these improvements help to unify the area and provide an identifiable urban place they do little to change the structural or spatial use of the urban street. Ultimately, as every BIA uses similar strategies, these elements tend to make the area more generic than unique. Most importantly these decorative improvements don’t change how we use the street.

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The urban landscape wholly encompasses how we consciously or subconsciously perceive roads and traffic, building heights and edges, vegetation, canopy (natural or architectural), paving, and essentially our safety and comfort. The proposed slips of Cliffside are a new type of space that connects and protects creating an interlinked network that changes the way people inhabit the suburban strip. We see this as a kind of landscape infrastructure. An infrastructure that is more important to the life of the Cliffside residents and businesses than the traffic that is on its way to someplace else.
[email this story] Posted by R Ouellette on 06/01 at 10:37 AM

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