For the 2020/2021 academic year, the MUCP accepted 9 projects representing a range of organizations, from governments to non-profits.
The 21st Century has seen exponential growth in downtown Toronto. The City has been grappling with the question of how to preserve and enhance quality of life and social integration as intensification gives rise to increasingly vertical development. The City has completed a Parkland Strategy for the GTA, looking at how to better use public space to serve the needs of the growing number of residents, workers and visitors. The MUCP project delved deeper into the potential uses and functions of Toronto’s underutilised spaces.
MUCP students were asked to develop an overlay to the existing Parks and Open Spaces Master Plans for downtown Toronto to integrate underutilised spaces into the open space network. They prepared a thorough analysis, including research into best practices and case studies from around the world of innovative use of public space. They assessed what combination of different types of open spaces are required to support a complete urban community, and prepared an inventory of existing and potential open spaces as the basis for an open space master plan. The master plan identified potential opportunities to expand the City’s open space classification system, with emphasis on high-performance, multi-functional open spaces, and considered implications for existing policy, procurement, urban design guidelines and development controls.
Thorncliffe Park is a multicultural community located in the City of Toronto. A modern, mixed-use development at its inception, Thorncliffe Park was one of the first multi-residential, high rise rental apartment communities in Toronto. With one of the earliest enclosed and anchored shopping centres, Thorncliffe Park was a retail destination, and also a significant regional employer in the retail, commercial, and industrial sectors.
Thorncliffe Park has welcomed many waves of immigration to Toronto, as evidenced by its recognition as “Canada’s Arrival City.” The official population is increasing relatively faster than the entire City of Toronto, and is also relatively young. But there has been a decades’ long flight of diverse economic opportunities from its centre to the outer suburbs, and more recently to downtown Toronto. Investment in public amenities has not kept pace with local population growth and changing needs. With the Provincial Government’s announcement in April 2019 that Metrolinx will build a new rapid transit line, called the Ontario Line, between Thorncliffe Park and downtown Toronto by 2027, The Neighbourhood Organization (TNO) proposes to refresh Thorncliffe Park’s original master plan for 21st century living.
TNO led public consultations about the Ontario Line in Thorncliffe Park in October 2019, which included a town hall and an online survey. Support for new transit opportunities was high, and residents demonstrated through their input that they want to actively participate in planning the future of their community. MUCP students were asked to develop a conceptual framework for a “healthy built environment” to serve as a guide for Thorncliffe Park’s future growth and economic development that aligns with the proposed Ontario Line project. Specifically, they worked to develop design recommendations and approaches to improve existing open spaces in the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood ; consider how to make these open spaces more usable, safer, greener, and with improved pedestrian connections; and include an outreach component to promote the design recommendation.
STEPS is a Canadian-based public art organization that develops one-of-a-kind art initiatives and engagement strategies that transform public spaces. Together with their partners, they transform urban areas into vibrant public spaces, helping artists, community organizations, BIAs, and developers push creative and technical boundaries—breathing new artistic energy into our public spaces.
In 2020, the City of Toronto released the Toronto Public Art Strategy (2020-2030), that asked artists and art organizations to incorporate truth and reconciliation into public art as a means of celebrating Indigenous culture, educating the public about Indigenous history, fostering the agency of Indigenous creators and communities, and supporting Indigenous place-making.
The STEPS Initiative was seeking to fulfill its role in advancing truth and reconciliation within the arts sector, but the Toronto Public Art Strategy did not provide strategies to guide non-Indigenous arts organizations in attaining these goals. MUCP students were tasked with exploring the role of public art in reconciliation, given the complex histories of stolen land and the processes of gentrification that characterize urban public space. The students were asked to evaluate public art and community engaged art programming’s potential to address reconciliation through the following means: research and engagement with the Indigenous community and the development of a framework which outlines best practices for STEPS to follow. This will ensure that STEP’s work supports and furthers the truth and reconciliation process within the public realm.
Go Green Youth Centre (GGYC) started with an initiative to rejuvenate Valley Park Middle School’s backyard and adjacent Hydro land. Community members recognized that many newly immigrated South Asian youth were passionate about cricket in the Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park area, yet there were no facilities that could facilitate their games. Community residents, school parents, teachers, and students started a fundraising campaign in 2010, and the project has so far enhanced the school yard with a multi-purpose cricket field, a multi-sport court, an outdoor amphitheater, two batting cages, a bio-swale, butterfly meadow, interpretive marsh, urban forest, digital scoreboard and night-time LED sports lights. In May 2018, the Go Green Cricket & Sports Field was listed as one of Toronto’s ten best outdoor sports fields.
As a schoolyard & public space, the Go Green Cricket & Sports Field serves students at one of Canada’s largest middle schools. During off-hours, it serves many families and out-of town clients ranging from the not-for-profit sector to corporate clients. MUCP students were asked to envision a future site masterplan for the Go Green Cricket & Sports Field at Valley Park Middle School. They asked how the site could grow in a sustainable and responsible way, and with a primary focus on serving the community’s and its youth’s needs; and how the school could use sport & physical literacy as a connecting tool for the community and to further make connections to the Ontario school curriculum. Specifically, they created a 3D model of the new site for use in community consultations with Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park and recommended new program initiatives to pursue, with a special focus on environmental stewardship.
Missing middle housing can be defined as a cluster of housing types that can assist in meeting the increasing demand for affordable housing in large urban areas and is a strategy that can be incorporated into the City’s built form. However, despite its benefits, there are significant obstacles to middle housing that need to be addressed: residential zoning in the City of Toronto restricts the possibility of missing middle housing in neighbourhoods that are identified as “stable”, and the cost of building small scale is expensive compared to alternative models. Building small is not economical, but there are new forms of building techniques coming on stream which may help narrow the gap, such as wood frame (timber) and modular construction.
The Kehilla Residential Programme recently investigated the potential of a site at Bathurst and Christie for a developer who expressed interest in building affordable housing. It would have been a good example of missing middle housing, but the economics of it did not work without incentive funding, especially when the City planners requested a 25 per cent reduction to provide angular planes and view lines. If the City is to achieve any form of middle housing – the planning restrictions have to change.
Kehilla asked MUCP students to study what is needed to make this important infill housing work – from making the numbers work to fitting into the neighbourhood. Students looked at the cost implications and developed a case study model that could illustrate what planning regulations need to be changed and what incentives need to be provided to make this type of housing both possible to be built and affordable to rent. Specifically, they created case study pro formas, provided an analysis of provincial policy and zoning by-laws, and reviewed similar projects in Canada and Europe.
The First Parliament site is located on the south-west corner of Front and Parliament streets in Toronto. It has historic significance as the site of Upper Canada’s first purpose-built parliamentary buildings. in 1824 the site became occupied by the Home District Gaol (jail), and from 1880 to the 1950s Consumers Gas built massive industrial structures on the site to convert coal to the coal gas which fueled the development of the Town of York (Toronto). From the 1960s onward, the site was, and continues to be, occupied by auto repair and auto-related businesses. This lengthy industrial history has resulted in extensive environmental contamination.
The entire site is under public ownership, as the Ontario Heritage Trust owns the NW quadrant and the City of Toronto owns the remainder. Recognizing the importance of the site, the City of Toronto, working co-operatively with the Trust, commissioned a Heritage Interpretation Study and a Master Plan. The Heritage Interpretation Strategy is complete but the Master Plan and its guiding principles were in draft form at the time of the MUCP project.
Of particular interest was the central portion of the site, which is the area of archaeological potential. From archaeological investigations that the City has undertaken, there are traces of the First and Second parliament buildings underneath the ground. However, these remains are fragile and are embedded in contaminated soil. One of the guiding principles recommended by the Master Plan is that the central portion of the site be celebrated. How does one bring the site’s history to light where there are no buildings or structures to help illuminate its past? This is a key question requiring thought and creativity and as there can be many solutions, it was an ideal student project. The Master Plan is a principle-based document that provides both direction for future planners, architects and designers and flexibility to respond to evolving circumstances in the development of the site. Using the Master Plan principles, the MUCP project identified proposed uses, assessed appropriate heights and densities and developed design solutions to interpret the site’s history while working within its archaeological and environmental constraints.
In 2019, Toronto City Council adopted a host of night city planning initiatives designed to support ‘around-the-clock’ economic vibrancy. These included the Toronto Nightlife Action Plan and that a Member of Council be designated as Toronto’s Night Ambassador. Throughout 2020, the City conducted stakeholder engagements on urban night issues through an online survey and five targeted consultations focused on night workers and nightlife venue operators. These consultations informed the strategic directions and compositions of various working groups.
Following the formation of night strategy working groups, the City undertook the work outlined in the Nightlife Action Plan. One of these was to explore opportunities for scaling these, and other, night initiatives to neighbourhoods outside the core. This initiative is informed by the “Not Zoned for Dancing” report prepared for the City by a University of Toronto graduate student in 2019, that illustrates the problems for planning for life at night outside of downtown cores and traditional entertainment centres. As a result, this project proposed to focus student efforts on planning for life at night in Toronto’s original suburbs: Etobicoke, North York, and Scarborough. The project pursued research, planning, and design work for night city planning initiatives that build on the City’s “Not Zoned for Dancing” report and informed the City of Toronto’s strategic directions for implementing its Nightlife Action Plan in areas outside the downtown core. In doing so, the students considered the employment mix, policy frameworks, and built form of existing precedents for emerging nighttime districts and policies that situate nightlife beyond the downtown core; reviewed existing zoning bylaws and business license regulations for the creation of nighttime land use definitions and nighttime employment typologies, and identifying opportunities for implementation; and reviewing global precedents and identified opportunities that exist for piloting night planning initiatives beyond the downtown core in Toronto
Key Living is creating a totally new form of home ownership. For as little as a $25,000 investment, owner-residents will have access to high quality units in new buildings in Toronto. Key Living aims increase accessibility to home ownership for millennials, new Canadians and others by having institutional investors participate in ownership alongside owner-residents. Unlike traditional condo developments, Key Living’s strategy is to take a long-term interest in the properties in order to optimize construction decisions and enable the deployment of sustainable technologies. In addition, a significant part of the business model is to utilize technology to increase the community experience for owner-residents to make tower living feel like home.
The MUCP students were tasked with designing a community ecosystem that includes a mixture of technology, physical events, activities and partnerships. They worked to identify important metrics for success in developing a sense of community among potential owner-residents and to create a measure of community vitality that includes demographic indicators, community engagement through events or community interactions, and short owner-resident surveys. Specifically, they determined the key considerations in designing a successful community ecosystem; engaged existing and potential stakeholders to identify components of a sustainable community ecosystem; and developed a schematic outline of an owner-resident app and other technological aids that will enable stakeholders to interact successfully within the community.
Stone Soup Network (SSN) is a community development project of Windermere United Church in Toronto’s west end neighbourhood riding of Parkdale-High Park. SSN helps build stronger communities by making it easier for neighbours to share with each other. Stone Soup encourages people to work together, connecting local businesses, volunteers, community agencies, governments, and most importantly, the residents themselves.
The community served by SSN is diverse, with social challenges associated with poverty and discrimination. When the Toronto Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy was released in 2020, SSN recognized its work in the Social development component of its five keys to neighbourhood wellbeing, which focuses on “opportunities and connections that help residents reach their full potential.”
Residents have highlighted the need for accessible and affordable education, after-school programs, and recreation for youth, and noted that these services are not always accessible because programs do not exist or are full, and issues of language or income prevent some residents from being able to access them.
The MUCP project asked students to work with SSN to elucidate how they could better use data resources, such as those available through the City of Toronto, to better understand and serve the community. Specifically, the students were asked to map the demographics, needs, languages spoken, available and needed services, and barriers to access in the neighbourhood.