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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered


  1. The link offered above leads to a column by Matt Blackett where he says about the Dundas Square that “the idea to use the space underneath the public square as a parking garage is truly innovative and should be replicated wherever possible in Toronto.”
    I find this quite an incredible statement for someone who’s poured so much into comment on the issue of the use and abuse of public space.
    Expropriating land and demolishing buildings for a big car park right at a subway stop in the very core of the city, then disguising it as a public space/”park” where no trees can ever grow undercuts transit, green values and the quality of urban life. If you’re a car driver, then you want more parking.
    So having this statement from such a Spacing leader is beyond disturbing, but it is Caronto the Carrupt…
    Maybe it’s an editing thing – this happens – but if not despite the service to a broader community with this blog/site etc., Matt Blackett doesn’t get how cars harm urban spaces etc. etc.

  2. Hamish:

    I never said anything is support of expropriation or demolishing buildings or being unable to grow trees. read the qutoe: “the idea to use the space underneath the public square as a parking garage is truly innovative and should be replicated wherever possible in Toronto.”

    You’re reading into it too much And forgetting to quote me when I agree with your sentiments.

    In the same sentence as you quote I wrote:

    “While I’m no fan of that intersection’s crass transformation over the last decade…”


    “For many parts of the city, the poor urban design of our streets and neighbourhoods reinforces a feeling that being out in public — and not in a car — is a risky proposition. This often encourages us to retreat back into our homes and look for social outlets in others ways (hello 1.2 million Toronto users on Facebook).”

    I suggest we convert surface parking lots into public squares, skate/bmx parks, inline rinks, basketball courts, etc. If the city deems it necessary to keep a parking lot then they can provide underground space for parking.

    My idea is how to get rid of parking on the surface. It would be ideal for the spots to just vanish, but I’m not naive enough to think that will happen. And I don’t want to get rid of all cars since I don’t want to have our city and country be turned into an agrarian society again. Instead, I proposed a much more humane way to deal with these spaces.

    I would argue I have an excellent understanding of how cars harm our spaces and I provided one of many solutions of how to deal with it. My column specifically dealt with aethstetics and urban design. If I had more than 600 words I could’ve written about a variety of ideas to rid the city of car-oriented planning.

  3. Matt
    yes, I skim/read too quickly, and yes, I didn’t go through the rest of the column: so some mea culpa.
    But you still say you think the parking garage under the Dundas Square is worth replicating, and I think it’s a Wrong idea on multiple counts including the resources used for these parking garages.
    We often house our cars in better conditions than half the world.
    And with Dundas St. Square, if they were concerned about the best option for urban mobility (the bike), they would have made room for us on the eastbound curve – and they didn’t.
    Nope – if you provide parking spaces for cars, you tend to get cars. If you provide parking spaces for cars by a subway station, you undercut your transit.
    Maybe you didn’t mean to support the wrong thing, but I think you did, in a very public way, to a different group of people that will distort what you’re trying to do.

  4. You’re taking this too literally: I just state that the premise used at Dundas Sq is a good idea.

    For many parking lots in the city, they are no where near transit. And using that space better is what I propose.

  5. I’m not sure Dundas Square’s public square above a parking garage is truly an innovative idea — Nathan Phillips Square did it 35 years earlier. And underground garages don’t come cheap: the Dundas Square garage (not including the plaza above) cost $8.25 million to build.

    Downtown, surface parking is disappearing fast, without the city’s help. Yes, parts of downtown are underserved by open space and public recreation facilities — presumably that’s something where the folks at Parks and Rec have a wishlist of the most substantial needs. But if you’re eyeing privately-owned property, there’s no reason to restrict yourself to parking lots when finding the right place for these things. If the city wanted to buy the Soho Square lot, the price would factor in the site’s development potential; just because it’s a parking lot doesn’t mean it’s cheap.

    In places like Jane and Finch and north Etobicoke, there’s arguably too much open space. The official plan suggests much of this space should be replaced by mid-rise buildings that meet the sidewalk; that seems better than simply trading a sea of parking for a sea of basketball courts. Even if you ignore retail parking, these neighbourhoods already have a ton of space in parks, hydro corridors, and big lawns around high-rises. Perhaps it’s a problem of improving and “programming” these spaces, especially the parts closest to streets. But here, underground parking would probably be a money-loser — not to mention it’d rely mostly on local residents as customers — so it’s not going to help fund improved rec facilities.

  6. Matthew, you’re above responding to the hopelessly naive and predictable comments of Hamish Wilson. This guy can’t see the forest for the trees. That might be fine if he stayed in the peanut gallery but he didn’t so we still have Case “kill the cyclists” Ootes on Council. Thanks for nothing, Hamish. Now, if you don’t mind, let the activists who really want change do the work.

  7. Clara C, I find that comment, and your attitude, really offensive.

    I don’t know what kind of change you’re after, but my activist goals are democracy, social equity, and environmental sustainability. That attitude of yours flies in the face of all three of those goals. Elitist activism? What kind of change are you working for exactly?!

  8. “let the activists who really want change do the work?”
    that’s a good one – and has Ms. Clara C involved herself in any small causes? or large ones? though at least she’s put down some of her name.
    I came fourth in the Ward 29 race, and yes, Mr. Ootes did get back in, though he’s voted for a tiny bit of bike lane in this turf – and it’s finally gone in.
    I was hoping to drag debate to the Front St. Extension folly and not let the NDP get away with their support for this costly folly, and I spent too much time in other wards on raising this issue. Amazingly, for all the many progressives etc. in the Danforth area, there wasn’t even one! all-candidates meeting to debate the issues. Residents groups seem non-existent.
    As for nudging us towards less asphalt, and better use of space/land, what about a tax on hard/asphalt surfaces? (even though the City is by far the biggest owner of these). I’m sure there’d be issues with the schools, both parking lots and playgrounds, but the overall costs of digging and building concrete etc. for underground garages is too much.
    So Matt B’s goofed in saying Dundas Square should be a model for us in my view.

  9. There are a couple of issues here, one is that taxes on parking lots are quite low, many of the downtown lots are a stopgap, when an old structure is no longer useful, and the land owner hasn’t decided what to put there, they pull the structure down, and pave the lot to make parking space, this will cover the tax costs until they decide what to put there. Once they decide what will go there, then they get the zoning changed if needed, pull up the pavement, and build on the site.

    Since buildings are required to provide so many parking spaces based on the use and floor space, it makes sense in building a structure, especially downtown, to put the parking underground, because it is cheaper to build an underground garage then to buy extra land just for parking. In suburbia, where land is cheaper, many apartment buildings still have underground parking, because it was at one point a marketing feature.

  10. Naive activists who look for problems where there aren’t problems don’t help anything, and this Hamish seems to be a leader here. You’ve got a lot in common with the religious right who read the bible literally. Nice company.

  11. Parking lots, and garages, are a really interesting issue and quite under-studied in the academic world. There are very few books on the topic, despite their massive influence on the streetscape. ULI recently published a volume “The Parking Garage – Design and Evolution of a Modern Urban Form” which is worth reading.

    I think it is a useful proxy to judge the urban-ness and success of a city by it’s lack of surface parking (and, to a lesser extent, lack of aboveground garages). Certainly the best possible outcome is an underground garage, such as Union Square (SF), Post Office Square (Boston), Millennium Park (Chicago)… I agree with Matthew in that Dundas Square is a lousy design (not enough green, too much concrete) but there is nothing, nothing wrong with getting the cars underground and recapturing the space above for public use.*

    *fantasyland residents who think cars do not exist need not agree with the above

  12. Nice article Matt. I agree that we can solve many of our conflicting urban space issues through vertical solutions.

    Some of the examples noted above were in fact parks and squares before parking was introduced below grade. To construct parking below park space is far easier and with lower construction cost since you don’t have to design for the weight of a building above. Queens University has two underground parking structures below their sports fields which allows for fewer on-street parking at grade.

    If we can reduce the amount of right-of-way used for curbside parking, we can widen our far too narrow sidewalks, a move that would dramatically increase our public space as well.

    Your example of the Queen and John parking lot is a good one, but I question the need to use the entire site for a public space. It seems quite large. Sometimes the best used spaces are those where you can observe the action on the street without being too removed for it. I support many smaller spaces to fewer large ones.


    this entire argument is bizarre. I as a taxpayer am obligated to pay for the construction of “car condos”. That is on top of providing welfare to General Motors, then to its workers when it lays them off anyway. Then I’m out of pocket when some asshat runs me over and the police decide my injuries were the result of “falling”. Doh! Point of impact on back should be a clue. Toss in broken ribs, clavicle with severe displacement, punctured and collapsed lung and something looks really wrong. That the investigating officer, one PC Ali Rashid #9497 was disinterested in the white paint on the rear tire says something right away. Aren’t police cars white?

    Needless to say in my humble estimation the bulk of our motoring public are grossly incapable of conducting a multi ton vehicle safely on ANY roadway. Our Ontario Department of Transportation is woefully inadequate at licencing the same. Our police are woefully inadequate at maintaining perspective in investigating an incident.