Context 167 - March 2021

C O N T E X T 1 6 7 : M A R C H 2 0 2 1 23 URBAN DESIGN need high-quality public spaces, and density is increasing almost everywhere. Significant urban regeneration began in Toronto, my hometown, in the 1980s. It started with private-sector reinvestment: pioneer gen- trifiers improving residential neighbourhoods; artists adapting industrial buildings to live-work uses; and, finally, commercial developers increas- ing the scale and pace of change dramatically. With new wealth came interest in regenerating public infrastructure. By the mid-aughts [mid- noughties], the city’s public spaces seemed inexcusably shabby next to its contemporary towers and restored heritage buildings. Public realm projects dominated the next decade or so. Montreal-based landscape designer Claude Cormier reinvented Toronto’s waterfront with HtO (2003–2007) and Sugar Beach (2008–2010). The West Toronto Railpath (2008–ongoing) and the Greenline (2020–ongo- ing) redeployed abandoned railway infrastruc- ture as parkland. The Bentway (2017–ongoing) reclaimed space beneath the elevated Gardiner Expressway for leisure. Corktown Common (2013) and Wonscotonach Parklands (2016– ongoing) converted the mouth of the Don River to a landscape for recreation, public art and stormwater management. Victoria Memorial Square (2001–2009), Clarence Square (2006– 2009), Grange Park (2017) and St James Park (2018–2020)—all historic landscape parks— were restored. The cumulative effect has been a revitalisation of public life in Toronto. Particularly in the historic downtown, where designed landscapes mediate between heritage buildings and new construction, reimagined public spaces have been drawing unprecedented crowds. Part of their popularity has to do with density and demographics: more peo- ple live downtown than ever—a 2020 report from the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development at Ryerson University names Toronto the fastest-growing city and metro- politan area in all of North America—and many have dogs or children that require outdoor activ- ity. But there is also something special about how these places link our collective past to our present. In the context of the public sphere, they uniquely reflect the evolution of our thinking about society, public space and intellectual life. Designed landscapes have always reinforced society’s prevailing narratives; reflecting and often perpetuating dominant values. Capability Brown’s naturalist parklands mirrored the clar- ity and refinement of the Enlightenment, and Frederick Law Olmsted’s design for Central St James (Photo: RAW Design) The Bentway (Photo: The Bentway) Museum of the Moon (Photo: Nicola Betts)

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