Last year, the City of Toronto decided to set up a “Public Realm Office” that would be a one-stop shop in charge of managing the city’s sidewalks and pedestrian spaces (in the City’s words, “manage the Coordinated Street Furniture Program, develop pedestrian initiatives, and implement streetscape and other beautification projects on a City-wide basis”). This decision was the end result of a long campaign by pedestrian activists to have a single, well-resourced office in the city take charge of the city’s neglected sidewalks.
In the past, multiple offices and agencies were in charge of their own bits or aspects of the sidewalk, and did their thing with no sense of coordination. The problem really came to light when the Harbord Village Residents’ Association (HVRA) tried to get the city to widen and beautify the sidewalks of College Street between Spadina and Bathurst — a modest little stretch, yet it took them years and talks with many different city agencies before they were able to implement their plan. The HVRA then translated their experience into a campaign to have a central office manage sidewalk spaces — a campaign that is finally paying off.
The new office will be part of the Transportation Services Division, and will be funded by the advertising revenue from the Coordinated Street Furniture Program (which may seem a little ironic to those people who do not think that street-furniture advertising enhances the pedestrian experience). It will also absorb the Clean and Beautiful City Secretariat, and sidewalk- and pedestrian-related staff and functions from other parts of the municipal government.
While the street furniture program has been functioning for some time now, the rest of the Public Realm Office has been on hold for quite a while until a Director was selected. The good news is that a Director has now been chosen, and the better news is that it is Elyse Parker, a city planner who was formerly Project Manager with the Clean and Beautiful City Secretariat, which has implemented several good programs in recent years, including the Boulevard Transformation Project (featured in the latest issue of Spacing). It’s good to see someone with proven experience in improving pedestrian spaces in the city take on this role. The appointment means that the Public Realm Office can finally start to get organized, put together its staff, and get going on its mandate to improve Toronto’s pedestrian realm.
Photo by FOTO FOOD.