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City seeking street greening opportunities

February 2nd, 2016 · No Comments

Harbord Village plan targets laneways, parkettes

In-ground pinchpoint planters, like the one on Robert Street shown above, act as a curb extension, provide an immovable barrier that discourages drivers from making illegal manoeuvres, and are not subject to the graffiti found on their above-ground counterparts.  COURTESY?SUSAN DEXTER

In-ground pinchpoint planters, like the one on Robert Street shown above, act as a curb extension, provide an immovable barrier that discourages drivers from making illegal manoeuvres, and are not subject to the graffiti found on their above-ground counterparts. 

By Marielle Torrefranca

Harbord Village is aiming to get a whole lot greener.

Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) and the Harbord Village Residents’ Association (HVRA), a community-led volunteer organization, have released a joint Green Master Plan, which outlines a series of actions to create urban green spaces in the public realm.

The 16-page document identifies five greening opportunities: using unoccupied paved flankings and corners for trees, bike parking, or seating; encouraging residents to introduce plants into their laneways; opting for in-ground pinchpoint planters instead of above-ground concrete planters; securing under-used neighbourhood space for parkettes; and improving tree planting and maintenance.

“The general philosophy of the plan is easy,” said Susan Dexter, an HVRA board member. “When you look out of your window and you see concrete, could it be planted? Is it wasted space?”

The plan is two-fold, explained Cressy. On one hand, there are the initiatives that have a longer timeline due to bureaucratic procedures, such as greening city-owned flankings and obtaining park space. On the other hand, community-led projects can begin right away.

“We’re seeking to seize the opportunity for greening immediately,” said Cressy.

An example of this is the endeavour to turn laneways into corridors of greenery. Currently, Croft Laneway (just east of Bathurst Street) and Sussex Mews (just west of Spadina Avenue) have been selected as pilot projects.

The HVRA plans to encourage neighbours to bring plants into their laneways, whether that be through placing plant containers along building walls, hanging flowering baskets, or introducing vining along fences and walls.

“[People] want our laneways to feel safe and comfortable and have some identity and character,” said Jane Perdue, who sits on a three-person committee overseeing the laneway project.

According to the report, Harbord Village has more than 25 laneways that can be used as alternative routes for pedestrians and cyclists. However, popular routes are targets for graffiti and vandalism.

To avoid drawing the attention of vandals in the future, the greening style will be kept “rustic”, said Perdue.

“We’re looking at a lot of found material — urns, or containers made out of bricks or fragmented stone,” she said. “We don’t want to make it too precious…we don’t want to be a target [for vandalism].”

Pinchpoint planters (concrete plant containers that perform traffic functions) are also subject to graffiti, so one of the HVRA’s initiatives is to use in-ground pinchpoints instead. According to the report, above-ground pinchpoint planters do not sufficiently slow motorists, as drivers can still dodge around them, and while most of them carry traffic signage, some of them face the incorrect direction on the street.

Their in-ground counterparts act more as a curb extension, and provide an immovable barrier — discouraging drivers from making illegal manoeuvres, while still allowing space for emergency services. The absence of the concrete container also means the absence of surfaces to vandalize.

This is not solely a community-run initiative, however, so the HVRA would need to coordinate with the city for roadwork and construction.

Similarly, the endeavours to green city-owned flankings and corners, improve tree planting and maintenance on main streets, and acquire more public park space, also require coordination with the city.

The HVRA is looking to secure under-used, vacant, or derelict spots in the neighbourhood and turn them into green community parkettes.

“The Bloor Street BIA, independent of us, had located many of the same corners as being potential green space,” said Dexter. “It seems like the constellations have all just lined up, and we’re in a position where we can make transformational change in the neighbourhood.”

This transformational change may not be limited to the planting of trees and scenic landscapes. The HVRA aims to cultivate the ecosystem health within an urban development through its greening initiatives.

Planting trees can also benefit the climate by mitigating the Urban Heat Island Effect; vegetation can absorb the sun’s energy, therefore making areas cooler and reducing power demand, said Dexter, who even performed her own experiment with a household thermometer.

“There [can be] a 10-degree difference,” she said. “From Harbord and Robert streets, I walked south, and by the time I got a little way into the houses, there was a marked difference in temperature.”

However, the association’s self-starting moxie may not be enough to pay the bills on its own.

“In some cases we won’t need additional funding,” said Cressy. “In other cases, we’re having early conversations with community foundations for support.”

While there is no certain timeline yet, Dexter said their next steps include going through council processes.

The link to the Harbord Village Green Plan is available through the HVRA’s website,


Untapped potential: Animating our local laneways (February 2016) by Joe Cressy

Incubating micro-retail: Laneways untapped realm of urban design (December 2015) by Annemarie Brissenden

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