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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Yonge-Bloor Square?

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Once a week I pass through the intersection of Yonge and Bloor. Most people see the Yonge-Bloor intersection as one of the city’s most prominent crossroads. This was reaffirmed by Spacing readers over two years ago when senior editor Dylan Reid asked people if they had to meet someone in Toronto at a certain time, but they didn’t know where, and couldn’t contact the person ahead of time, where would they go? The leading votes were for this intersection.

The retail shops on the southeast corner have been demolished to make way for the 1 Bloor condo/hotel/retail behemoth to be built with Russian oil money. But since the economic downturn took hold,  any sign of construction has stopped.

Once I exit the subway station, I end up walking through the middle of the empty construction site with fences on either side of me.  On the last few walk-bys, I’ve come to the conclusion that this location could be an excellent spot for a public square. While Yonge-Dundas Square is nearby, Yonge and Bloor is a different type of intersection in terms of what type of people pass through (I can’t explain what “type” of people, it just feels different). Once I experienced the openness of this space, with the combination of high rises on one side and the small, human scale stores on the west side of Yonge, the idea of a square seemed obvious.  And since Toronto seems to be devoid of civic squares, I see no problem with adding a few more.

I’d be interested to read our readers’ thoughts on this location or other places where public squares should be considered.



  1. It already looks like a skating rink. A rink/reflecting pool would be so nice.

  2. How about locations that aren’t already owned by someone?

    For instance, all the places that the city is trying to sell off for cheap.

    Let’s start there.

  3. Michael: would those properties be in a good place for a square? I don’t know which properties are for sale so maybe you can list them.

  4. What about converting the inner courtyards of the urban block developments like the one on the south side of Dundas between Spadina and Bathurst into plazas? The ground floor units could be converted into retail/market space while new residential units can be reconstructed on the ring of asphalt parking lots that surround these units. Parking can be accommodated under the new structures and leasing of retail space can offset construction costs. These isolated inner courtyards often create great microclimates as they are sheltered from the winter winds and are natural sun catches. This could foster longer season outdoor café and market use of the outdoor space.

  5. I’m lukewarm to the idea… the buildig is an opportuity to help improve the streetscape on Bloor street east of Yonge, which is pretty horrible right now.

    Also, expropriating this lot would cost a fortune, since you’d have to pay the developer the value of the “highest and best economic use”, which is the huge condo.

  6. I think that this would be a fantastic location for a square, which, if done right, would be a great balance to the Times-Square-wannabe character of Yonge-Dundas. If I was mayor and this condo project was abandoned, I would see it as a really great opportunity to accomplish a whole bunch of civic/economic goals all at once.
    1) Buy the abandoned property at a relatively low price (for the location) due to the project being cancelled/the general real-estate meltdown
    2) Draw up plans to build a thin, 3-5 story strip of commercial/retail/residential along the southern and eastern edges of the property. Roys Square would be rebuilt as a pedestrian/deliveries-only road and the new buildings would have frontage on Roys Square, as well as some sort of presence/frontage on Hayden Street on the south side
    3)In the centre, build a modern version of a European-style square, which could hold anything from a skating rink/reflecting pool to cafe tables to an outdoor market

    Anyway, this is just my personal idea. I think that that area has too little open space for all the commercial and residential density that surrounds it, but I also believe that a successful public square needs to have a strong wall of low-rise, street-oriented uses around it.

    Feel free to expand or rebuke.

  7. Considering that the City just authorized selling the piece of Roy’s Square that is on the east side of this site to the developer for over $1-million, the likely cost of acquiring the entire square would be substantial.

    I concur that we should get an inventory of available city property and look at establishing neighbourhood-based squares (or whatever you want to call them). We don’t need another likely overwhelming commercial behemoth like Yonge-Dundas.

  8. How about a park? Plant some grass & trees, maybe a playground for kids?

    Maybe even some mature trees, make a little urban forest.

  9. Funny, I was struck by this same thought walking past the open space last weekend.

    I’d really like to see the proposed tower completed, so my alternate suggestion would be to take the south side of Bloor between Yonge & Balmuto (Stollerey’s, etc), south as far as the 2 new condos going up on that block, for a new square on Bloor Street. DEFINATELY a different vibe to Dundas Square in that case. Lack of sun exposure could be a problem though…

  10. Matt,

    We can only dream, at Yonge and Bloor!!

    A square at Yonge and Bloor will only happen if the developers understand the importance of the corner. At present the developer is planning to cover the area with commerce, Bazis International has no feeling about the cultural centre of our history. Their architects can easily create a signature building that respects the significance of the corner.
    Instead of a square slab, could they not embrace the corner with curved building beginning on the sw corner to the ne corner.
    Give us some space to define ourselves.

  11. It’s hard to argue against public squares (and I feel weird arguing against one, especially on Spacing), but I think this is one of the most obvious sites in the city for a big honking building. So long as it is architecturally pleasing, meets the street well and is somewhat mixed-use, I think it will benefit the crossroads of our subway system better than a medium-sized public square would.

    Not to say there isn’t ways to improve the public realm in Bloor-Yorkville, but I think energies would better be spent pushing for the “Tooker” on Bloor, wider sidewalks and streetscaping (which are coming anyway) and perhaps saving the money for a square that could really use some love these days…Nathan Phillips.

  12. A better idea would be Yonge-Eglinton Square, in the abandoned bus terminal at that intersection. The city owns that land after all.

  13. I should make it clear that I’m not against the tower going up in that spot. As some have said, this is probably the most appropriate place to but a “big honking building”.

    The reasoning for the post was more of an exercise to see how our perspectives change when something like a big building goes down and the open space is created. I don’t ever expect the city to buy/expropriate this land, and as Jason Paris says just above, it might be better to use any such money towards NPSq. I know those plans are already in action and we’ll start to see construction on NPSq soon-ish.

    That being said, the property just south of this site, with the Kitchen Plus and other stores, could very well be a better location for the tower AND have a public square. One of the problems with Yonge Dundas is that no retail actually meets the street, besides Johnny Rockey Burgers. The rest has to be accessed from interior spaces. The beauty of the Yonge Bloor site is that it has a good mix of high rise and human scale.

  14. You think it matters what we, the public, think?!

  15. A monumental square with some green space and midrise residential/retail wrapping it would be superb.

    (I apologize for suggesting something monumental in public space. I know that’s blasphemous in Toronto.)

  16. nicely thought through Andrew.

    a yonge & eglington square makes sense.

    let us not forget about the rich public back alley destroyed to create this plot. a vibrant public realm feature existed, that was destroyed. I have my doubts on the provision of open space in the area.

    it is none the less a determine ‘intensification’ area.

    on the positive side, why not have the square on the roof of the hudson bay store on the north east side. turn the roof into an green space accessible by ramps with access to/from multiple directions?

  17. Interesting post. I’m in favour of the currently proposed development but the open space at this location gives us an opportunity to consider alternatives, regardless of how realistic they may be. Thinking of what “could be” is a sign of an engaged, creative population.
    However, I do agree that what few funds for public spaces Toronto currently has should be spent on realizing the plans for NPSq. But I wasn’t aware that enough of the funding was in place to start construction. Hoping this is really the case.

  18. I always thought that a great square could be made by demolishing the low-rise structures on the north side of Dundas, between McCaul Street and St. Patrick’s Street. You’d have a square diagonally across from the AGO, and flanked on the north by St. Patrick’s Church. If the open space in front of 52 Division were reworked, you could have a route from University Avenue to the AGO fronted by small public squares or parks.

  19. I think a better spot for a new public square is the current parking lots bounded by Shuter, Dalhousie, Queen and the buildings on the east side of Church Street. This area could have formal entrances on the north, south and east sides and retail/restaurant spaces in the corners and along the west side. Done correctly, it could form an interesting space and become a gathering spot in a historic part of Toronto.

  20. I’d rather see Yonge St. opened to pedestrians and cars/bicycles banned from Wellesley to Bloor.
    Let’s also evict the Scientologists.

  21. I still call the Square at Yonge and Dundas “Dundas Square.” After all, that’s the name of the lane that makes up the south boundary. I believe the Downtown Yonge BIA were the ones who successfully had the name changed to YDS (to fit with their local marketing), even though I find it cumbersome. Dundas Square it is!

  22. Ever since that corner was demolished I have thought about what a wonderful public space it could have been. I even had the same thoughts of putting retail/cafes and restaurants on the south and east sides. The chance is gone now, but if we’re talking fantasy, how about we demolish the monstrosity on the north-east corner and put the public square there. It would finally allow us to properly rebuild the Bloor and Yonge subway stations too!

  23. I love this idea! Human-scale squares that people actually want to spend time in don’t exist in this city!

    Ditto for bulldozing the north-east corner. That whole complex is hideous.

  24. I like squares (will defend Nathan Phillips Square to death) but this isn’t the right spot. Apart from the surroundings being wrong (thinking about ways to articulate this — but it seems simply not right for a square) the main intersection of a city is for the super-tallest buildings. Most-appropriate-spot, etc.

    A neighbourhood like Yonge and Bloor and Yorkville — where it’s about shopping and etc rather than civic or spiritual hearts of the city — seems more wanting of smaller parks. A block a way from here is award winning Yorkville Park, all linear and wonderful. That seems right. Harold Town Park and Asquith Parks to the north and north west are nice little oasis’s of green.

    We need the tallest of tall buildings here, because its appropriate, but mostly because we need something huge to take the attention away from the atrocious Bay building and to a lesser extent, the CIBC tower.

  25. In case anyone is wondering, the property was bought for $62.8 million in 2006…the tower is a $450 million project.

  26. What a relief to finally see a condo put on hold(for now)

    At least now we can breath a little easier, look up at the sun and sky, breath some fresh air and be thankful that not every inch of open space in the downtown needs to be developed into a tower.

    *Although, i may be speaking too soon. There’s probably ten more monstrosities being built elsewhere in this city, as we type.

    On a positive note, i do agree with A.R., this city desperately needs more monuments and green spaces(ie. plazas) to remind our diverse community of our rich history and sense of place.

  27. One of those suburban business park-type places could use a public square. Like around Commissioners at DVP/401. Or a park.

  28. my understanding is that the perking lot would not comply with zoning law.

    what we need is an anarchy square, there buskers and vendor should have unrestricted ability to use the square..let anarchy work and see what happens. ‘we really ned to do this at ‘queen and soho

  29. I am pro big honking building in the long run but if the developer is having temporary financing problems I don’t think that they should be allowed to leave it fenced off and empty while they wait for the market to get better. As mentioned earlier the Bloor and Yonge intersection is an important meeting space in the city.

    I say that the space should be opened up and approaited! Leaving it just as a gravel pitch it would still make a great space to host a festival this summer. I am just hoping that it doesn’t get turned into a parking lot.

  30. We should find better uses for existing public spaces — like the park at Bloor & Spadina, or the concrete field in from the ROM — before creating more. Otherwise, we’ll just end up increasing walking distances and reducing the usefulness of the city for no good reason.

  31. Remember the Skate-board park at Bay & Wellesley after the demise of the opera house? It wasn’t a landmark, but at least it made the vacant space usable for a while. I think the same should apply here – if not a permanent square, then something that people can take advantage of during the warm weather seasons until the project starts moving again.

  32. While alternate visions for what the space can be long term seem out of reach at the moment, why not ask what it would take for the public to engage with it temporarily, in its current state.

    I agree with Carrie’s comment that appropriating it or claiming it somehow for a variety of temporary uses could be positive – not to mention a potentially viable first step in engaging in a discussion with our city about broader public space and liability issues. After all, I would like to think that public space is fundamentally produced through action – through the public’s finding and making it public. As Matt Blackett pointed out, the developer’s razzing has unexpectedly shifted public perception of the space, opening it up…so why not act on that new found potential, at least while it lasts?

    This seems like fertile ground for some guerrilla gardening, maybe some temporary vending, play or performance space – probably good marketing for the developers too if they got on board.
    Or maybe all it needs is for some local ‘suits’ to cross the fence and appropriate it over lunch time for picnics and to simply enjoy the new found view…

  33. It looks like we may be in for a couple or few rough years so it would be nice if something could be done with the space temporarily until it is eventually redeveloped. In the winter, covered with fresh snow, it looks fine but it will look really bad in a few months when it becomes a weedy gravel patch. Who wants that at our famous intersection for years on end?

    Maybe the city and/or the developer could put in some potted shrubbery and benches and roll out some turf when spring is sprung, all of which could be used elsewhere when the time comes.

  34. Wow,
    Who is Vicky B? B for Barcelona?

    She’s has her finger on the pulse. Presently, we should play in our new found sandbox. Bring a lawn chair and watch the movie.


    However, eventually, at 45 million, it’s precious.

    But if the developer can see the need for public space as well as a big honking LEED building perhaps it’s possible to combine the two?

    I sent the following:

    “Currently there is a debate about your proposed development at Yonge and Bloor in Toronto.

    The proposal is that you engage the space more effectively concerning the history of this space.

    Your ability to sell this development, during these economic down times, would be greatly enhanced
    if you designed a complex well suited to it’s site.

    Embrace the corner, just don’t assume it’s economic importance.”

    The developer is coming, perhaps we can make them part of the space.

  35. According to this Toronto Star Article, the building is nearly 90% sold, so it’s highly unlikely to be abandon.

    It looks like the commenter on the article had the idea of building a park instead back in October 2008.

  36. Maybe the city should grow some balls and not approve demolition permits unless a developer shows they have full funding and approvals in place.

    Did the city learn anything about this kind of crap from Yonge & Dundas?

    Either that or force the developers who wish to demolish existing buildings to put plant grass and create a makeshift park if the site isn’t active for 30 days.

    The city has the power, its just full of idiots.

  37. Please excuse my bad sentence in that last post. I’m only a half-idiot.

  38. I had a similar thought about this as well as the MaRs site. It’s different in that I envision something only temporary. i.e. while there is no construction going on, they could perhaps take down the fences and open up the area for public use. I’d love to play soccer there!

  39. I actually wrote to Kyle Rae long before the tower was a gleam in an oil-baron’s eye that the building that used to be at that corner should be expropriated by the city, torn down and turned into a square just like what Anonymous wrote early in this exchange – an attractive plaza with vibrant stalls or small retail around it. So obviously I think this would be a great idea.

    This intersection desperately needs a public square (I wrote that in Spacing quite a while ago in a good-bye to Roy Square). It’s one of the busiest intersections in Toronto, and a destination, and many people think of it as, maybe not the heart, but the centre or the keystone of the city. You just need to look at how many people want to hang out at that terrible Royal Bank staircase on the North Side, and how the slightly wider sidewalk there has been improvised into a public space by vendors and buskers.

    Also, if this intersection is to be at all pleasant, there will need to be some opening to the south for light and for some kind of open air.

    In the past, tall buildings were expected to balance themselves with adjacent plazas (think of the bank towers downtown). We should still be insisting on this. One possibility would be to build up at the south end of the property, and have the north end be a square.

    I’d rather not see the Stollery’s building go, as someone suggested, because it is actually kind of attractive, and still provides some sense of openness. Though no doubt it will be built up some day, and a square would be preferable (there’s plenty of density around the area already).

    If we don’t get a square on the south-east corner, then the city should negotiate to take over the ugly rump of the Bay building that is the Royal Bank branch that intrudes into the North-East corner, demolish it, and turn the North-East corner into a public square. Maybe the Bay would give it up in exchange for the square being called Hudson’s Bay Square. I think that name would be acceptable if they were the ones who gave the land. And the Bay is in a big rebranding phase at the moment, so they might welcome the opportunity for good publicity.

  40. “This seems like fertile ground for some guerrilla gardening….”

    That would be great. Maybe a field of wheat or corn or flax in the middle of downtown urban Toronto, as an art piece, or a field of all the same flower of one solid colour or two colours, one on each side of the lane dividing the lot in half.

  41. If the building is indeed delay in the project (though perhaps they’re just waiting for spring) temporary fun like beach volleyball or etc might be nice. Or a giant out door ephemeral sculpture gallery. Lots of ideas to keep this from becoming the black-hole that Toronto Life Square was for 6-7 years).

    A neat example of this is the temporary town square and train station found in the Junction.

  42. I think it would be a great idea to put a park here. You can have trees, a lawn, a water fountain with benches, etc. Maybe try to model it after Bryant Park in New York. I think this would benefit the city a lot.