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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Dogs and landscaping

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In 1837, a block of land between Richmond and Adelaide, along Brant Street, was set aside to serve as a market square for the newly developing west end of the city. It became known as St. Andrew's Market, one of three in the city (the others being St. Patrick and St. Lawrence). A handsome market building was built, and the south end of the block became a heavily used playground for sporting activities.

In the 20th century, however, commercial properties and garment factories began replacing the area's residences, and the market declined. The market building was demolished in 1932, replaced by an interesting art deco city works building. The playground at the south end gradually fell into disuse. By 1990, the park was bare and decrepit: scraggly trees, little grass, rusting swings, a muddy track.

In the early 1990s, Toronto Mayor Barbara Hall granted a special zoning designation to the declining King-Spadina industrial area. A boom in condo conversions and developments followed, and suddenly there were residents in the area again. With them came dogs — and dogs need a place to run around. As the only local patch of green space, the park was soon occupied, but its desperate state became all the more obvious.

A plan was hatched to revitalize the park. The newly formed residents' association requested some simple improvements: a paved path, a gathering space, better lights. But what to do with the dogs? A separate dog run? How much space should it get? A prestigious local landscape architecture firm jumped in with their own ambitious proposals: Water features! "Horizontal" or "vertical" themes! Paths that lead nowhere! There was much discussion, but all of these ideas proved impracticable. In the end, the City came up with a simple, elegant plan based on the residents' original requests.

The transformation wrought by a few simple improvements is remarkable. Brick-lined winding paths with attractive lightposts lead from the three accessible corners of the park to a central gathering area, graced by a trellis, benches, new trees, and granite boulders. Beside it lies a pretty new playground. The neglected corner of Brant and Adelaide will become a little piazza with a round garden, and the border along Adelaide has been defined with a low fence to keep children (and dogs) from running out onto the street. The park is suddenly accessible, pretty, and welcoming — a new gathering space for a new community.