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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

NO MEAN CITY: A new Market Street

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Cross-posted from No Mean City, Alex’s personal blog on architecture.

Coming soon, an improvement to one of Toronto’s best public spaces: Market Street.

The city has approved plans to expand the sidewalk across from the 19th-century main market building. The sidewalks will slope down to the street, eliminating a curb and creating seamless patios for new restaurants. This is all part of the redevelopment of the block on Market Street, from Front to the Esplanade, that’s now being designed by Taylor Smyth Architects.

The developer is Woodcliffe Corporation, and architect Michael Taylor is dedicating the design to his late friend – the developer and Woodcliffe CEO Paul Oberman, who died last year in a plane crash. There is a petition to rename the street after Oberman. Their dream, as the market itself adds retail along this side, is a pedestrian-only street that looks like this:

The city has decided to keep car traffic here, separate by movable bollards. Still it can look good, and I hope the rest of the details come together with the highest quality of design and construction. This is a special place in Toronto – a public square, essentially, with 180 years of history.

And it would be a worthy tribute to Oberman was a very special example of his professional breed. I met him a few times and found him charming and charmingly low-key – but evidently he was very good at getting a deal done and bringing his vision to life. That vision was compatible with a more attractive and urban streetscape. As the head of Woodcliffe, a private company, he bought, improved and profited from some of Toronto’s best historic buildings: the Flatiron and 10 Scrivener Square (aka the Summerhill LCBO) among them. In the area he built the King James Place complex, led by Michael Taylor and Shirley Blumberg at KPMB, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is a gem.

Oberman was the kind of enlightened developer, with a real sense of community and city-building, who improves the world with their work.

See here for more on the Market Street project.




  1. It looks good, and being the brainchild of a development company rather than the city can only help (because private companies are somewhat immune from the incessant finger pointing toward “waste” and “social engineering” that would accompany an identical project started by the City).

    I would not want to lose the name “Market street”, since it is evocative of a place and time in the city’s history.  Maybe having a separate plaque or street sign like “Oberman way”, along the lines of “Johnny Lombardi way” would do the trick.  I think that would be a fitting enough tribute to Paul Oberman.

  2. Great news!  On a related note, does anyone know what’s happening with redevelopment of the north building of the St. Lawrence Market?  Haven’t heard anything since the design competition winner was announced in 2010: – is this moving forward?

  3. Really…we can’t close this small stretch to cars permanently?!  I can’t even imagine there would be a significant objection for motorists in doing so.

  4. Normally I’d be a fan of closing the street as well but I’m guessing the city is aware that the St. Lawrence market shopping hold and car pickup spot is there and that there are no other places to put it. I’ve used it a few times myself when I’ve bought an extra big load of produce or groceries. It’s manned and there are usually lots of bags of stuff waiting to be picked up. Perhaps it could be moved to the very back (southern) facing end but that’s where all the deliveries come in. There’s also a big LCBO going in on the right side of the street and I’m guessing it needs access too.

  5. I’d actually love to see it turned into a mixed-traffic street without designated sidewalk. Cars don’t have to be excluded as long as pedestrians are expected and have the right of the way all the time. We should give it a try and this seems to be an ideal place for it.

  6. Paul Oberman should be honoured by all means…but not by renaming Market Street. That name has a very specific meaning, as one of the historic streets that tells us where we are. What else should we rename? Bay Street? Front Street? Queen’s Quay? The Esplanade? Parliament?

    I didn’t know Mr. Oberman but somehow I doubt he would want a rip in the historical fabric named after him. Commission a statue; name the park-to-be south of the Market after him. But leave Market Street alone, please.