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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Yonge and Bloor square revisited by Hume

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Back in February, I was wandering through the construction site known as the southeast corner of Yonge and Bloor. I made a quick post about the intersection’s potential for being a great location for a public square instead of its intended use as a giant condo-business tower (let it be known, I like the design of the tower and think it’ll be a fine addition to the corner if it ever gets built, but I’m skeptical). Some readers agreed, others opposed or had interesting suggestions.

Today, the Star’s Christopher Hume waded into the subject by asking his architect friends Janet Rosenberg and James Brown/Kim Storey for their ideas of what to do with the currently neglected space.

“Yonge and Bloor is a really important spot, and it’s completely uncelebrated,” Rosenberg says. “Putting up another condo there would make it invisible. We want people on the streets, not in their condos. It’s time to look at what infrastructure is and find a new balance.”

Rosenberg’s scheme includes a large but shallow pond. A double row of trees runs parallel to Bloor, another defines the south edge at Hayden St. One area is set aside for tables and chairs, and a number of big stainless-steel spheres are dotted around the site, artworks reminiscent of Anish Kapoor’s “Bean” in Chicago’s Millennium Park.

“These are what I call ‘waiting spaces,'” Brown explains. “There are many of them in the city. What do you do with them? Yonge and Bloor is a kind of frontier. Who does it belong to? It belongs to Yonge St. people and Bloor St. people. They’re different. We’d try to understand how these two groups might interact and unleash a collective creativity.”

Brown divides the site into several strips, each a different material or colour. His idea also calls for a “Toronto pavilion,” a collapsible structure with cultural content that could be put up and taken down at will. It would stand two storeys tall along Yonge St., its glass walls acting as an attraction, not a barrier. The large, 3-metre-tall steel boxes in which the pavilion travels would be arranged around the square.

“We want to set up a spatial experience for people,” Brown says. “We want to create breaks and gaps that form a framework. There would also be large clusters of trees in raised planters arranged in ways that suggest walks.”



  1. I like the idea of having a public square at this location, and Rosenberg’s vision seems like a good place to start. That intersection is in great need for a meeting place and it would be a shame if this block were lost to a condo. Last I heard, the developer had a number of days set by the city to declare whether it had enough money to move the project forward, which would decide whether the project would continue at all. Is there any update to this?

  2. I hate when newspapers only publish the tiniest sliver of a picture, what’s stopping them from giving us a larger clearer picture of the two ideas?

  3. I’m all for a public square at Yonge/Bloor, but I’d rather see it on the northeast corner. It’s already a gathering spot (just by dint of being the only corner with a wide sidewalk) and that RBC/HBC bunker is an eyesore. In my ideal world we’d rip that branch out, give RBC a streetfront branch at the east end of the square and make the corner into a proper public area.

  4. How much is getting that site going to cost? The Borat (erm) Bazis guys probably spent a fortune getting that site assembled in the first place.

    When the City has finished Nathan Phillips, maybe they can worry about a site like Bloor-Yonge SE, one cross-street of which is already getting a ton of money lavished on it.

    If we are actually looking to do something ambitious at Yonge-Bloor, we could level the HBC building, put a second platform on the BD subway (currently made problematical by the said building I understand) and then build something new over top.

  5. Surely that site is exactly the right place for tall towers and densification? The parking lot at Bloor and Church, though, is another story…

  6. I completely agree with tearing down that brutalist eyesore branch to create a square or piazza on the NE corner. At the end of the day, the Bazis building will be a great addition on the SE (once they get their financiers straightened out).

  7. Even as a temporary solution, the walls on the east side of this lot would be great movies screens if they were painted white. Add a bit of seating, and it’s like a walk-in movie theatre.

    I don’t know about the NE corner… the way the SE corner sits right now, it seems that every direction has a tall building, which makes that spot perfect for an “urban oasis”.

  8. The only redeeming quality of the HBC/RBC building is the monumental concrete staircase facing Bloor. They act as a natural seating area for “people watching”. It’s like a “poor man’s version” of the Spanish Steps in Rome.

  9. “When the City has finished Nathan Phillips, maybe they can worry about a site like Bloor-Yonge SE, one cross-street of which is already getting a ton of money lavished on it.”

    There need not be an order to it. If Bazis fails with unpaid taxes the city could seize the land. They would then develop a small part of it with midrise buildings, allowing restaurants and retail to front the square and have patios spill out. This in turn would pay for the rest of the landscaping.

  10. @A.R. – your confidence in the City’s ability to develop such a site is inspiring.

    Mine is tempered by having observed the decay at the Yonge-Eglinton SW bus depot, control of which seems to be destined for a guy who tried to be a property magnate at TCHC and had the ground cut from under him by Council, and is seems to be fodder for at least one column a week by Joe Fiorito even after his departure.

    In any case, there is a solid body of already committed work for the City to do downtown – the aforementioned Nathan Phillips, not to mention Queens Quay East and West, the Don Lands and the Port Lands. If it requires civic money to get as important a site as Yonge and Bloor moving, what hope is there to persuade private interests to take a part in renewing the City?

    It might be argued that this is a temporary usage proposed by Hume, not a permanent acquisition, but the whining when this use is proposed to be ended will be undoubtedly sizable, with appeals to Council to “do something”.

    As it stands, Bazis should be motivated to by changes to the tax structure to increase costs to holders of cleared sites such as this one and the one at Richmond and Jarvis which both forces developers to hold the tearing down of buildings until they are truly ready to build their replacements and which removes parking lots as alternative uses, as has “gap toothed” the downtown core so much in the past. Yes, this involves limiting the options for the owners but we limit this already as part of normal civic affairs. A meatpacking plant or a chemical factory wouldn’t be acceptable either.

    The result of this should be a purely private enterprise, not a Yonge-Dundas “fake public” square (and given that one of the participants in the piece above helped in that development…) Purely public squares should be done in areas where the private sector is unwilling to risk – like the City’s Priority Neighbourhoods.

  11. The money for a prime corner wouldn’t be there. However, if a city is for citizens, not developers, two simple laws should be on the books:
    – it is legal to squat in any building unused for six months (Holland?)
    – it is legal for local groups to beautify any lot left empty for the same amount of time
    You can do a lot with some wildflower seeds, removable concrete seating, and shade-trees in pots.