Elements of Urbanism: Toronto

June 26, 2007 8 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

This time there's no comparison. Instead, let's examine what vibrant urban life looks and feels like, while paying close attention to the subtle things that combine create this urban powerhouse of activity.

Located on the Northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, Toronto is the largest city in Canada and fifth largest city (municiple population wise) in North America.  It is well known for being one of the most multicultural cities in the world and one of the safest major metropolitan areas in North America.  It's also as urban as it gets, making it an interesting place to examine to help understand what lively pedestrian friendly urbanism is really all about.


Toronto Population 2006: 2,503,281 (City); 5,113,149 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1834)

Jacksonville Pop. 2006: 790,689 (City); 1,277,997 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Toronto (1,117,470)


Architectural Creativity & Preservation

Diversity in Architecture plays a major role in making the urban landscape unique from their suburban counterparts.  You'll also find that just because a building outlives its usefulness, doesn't mean that complete demolition is the immediate and only answer.

The historic bank facade gives you one impression at street level, while looking up lets you know this financial institution has had a lot of success since the early years.


While suburbs are known for being filled with bland architecture, the core urban areas are places where architectural creativity is encouraged in most major metropolitan areas.


This modern tower was created to meet this medical center's growing needs while still preserving the original structure's facade.  At street level, you would never know that a highrise tower occupied this space.


Just because a building does not have retail space doesn't mean it can't be of interest from the street. 


No matter how progressive and modern a community grows, there's always a place for historic preservation.



Embracing Mass Transit

Designing for the car can only get you so far.  Instead, the most active urban landscapes put the pedestrian first with various forms of mass transit working together to move them between places not located within immediate walking distance.

Commuter rail (shown above), the subway, and streetcar lines make getting around Toronto without a car very realistic.


Toronto is home to North America's largest network of streetcars that never went out of operation with the growth in the popularity of automobiles by the early 20th century.



Maximizing Public Spaces

Passive public spaces have their role, but urban parks and open spaces are much more than grass and trees.  Whether it's including art work, fountains, monuments, concerts, movies or outdoor dining, vibrant urban park spaces are designed to be interactive and include a number of uses that attract a diverse population around the clock.

City Hall's entrance features a large plaza filled with vendors during the day and relaxing fountians at night.


Stakeboarders need a little love too.


Who says cycling and jogging paths can't be created next to freight rail lines and major highways?  While most would see this stretch as an industrial wasteland, Toronto's planners have found a way to use the narrow strip as a connector between the downtown waterfront and the city's eastern suburbs.


Pocket parks work when properly integrated with their surroundings.  This particular park is bordered on the south by the convention center and the east, north and west by office towers with entrances opening directly onto the space.


With integration, even the hotdog vendor's cart can be a little more permanent.


Passive space becomes more interative with the inclusion of features such as monuments.  In this image, the bird takes advantage of Winston Churchill.



Diversity in Signage & Lighting

Diversity in building signage and lighting helps bring another element of life and vibrancy to the core.  The visual excitement enhances walkability by providing additional light on the sidewalks and helps let the pedestrian know that there's something worth walking to in the distance.

Simple illuminated signage turns this row of old plain jane buildings into a place of visual interest to the average passerbyer.




Integration with the sidewalks

Just because the sidewalk doesn't offer much space does not mean you can't take advantage of outdoor dining.  The Sandwich Box's answer to this problem was to simply change the storefront openings.


Toronto's convention center faces the sidewalk and includes complementing uses such as restaurants, coffee houses, and tourist information centers that serve both the conventioneer and the general public.


This college building embraces the street corner by having it's entrance designed to open up onto it.  Instead of interior pedestrian plazas, the sidewalk has been designed into a linear park-like setting.  By doing this, the value of the property surrounding the school building is increased because of the increased visibility due to those using the sidewalk's park like amenities.




Connectivity: The importance of urban building fabric

Surface parking lots are a blight to the urban community.  Instead, the visual health of an urban community is enhanced by continuous building fabric because it offers urban pioneers a place to set up shop.


Sometimes parking is a necessary evil.  That doesn't mean you have to see it from the street.


Land is at a premium in Toronto.  A local university, Best Buy and Canadian Tire all wanted in on the action, so they teamed up together to construct this structure that meets all of their needs.



Coming soon: Elements of Urbanism II - Charlotte, NC