Plan to transform underutilized space
“This is a major greening initiative for the neighbourhood”—Jonathan Da Silva, Bloor-Annex BIA
By Annemarie Brissenden
Bloor Street West is about to get a whole lot greener, and it’s all thanks to the trees.
Currently confined to box planters, Bloor Street’s trees are suffering. The concrete boxes — sometimes known as tree coffins — prevent saplings from growing to maturity and obstruct pedestrians on an increasingly denser sidewalk.
Stuck in a constant cycle of replacing ailing trees, and recognizing that future development in the area will only make Bloor Street a whole lot busier, the Bloor-Annex BIA (whose chair also publishes this newspaper) has cultivated a plan that will grow a thriving urban canopy, provide the area with much-needed additional green space, make the sidewalk more pedestrian-friendly, and add bike parking.
“This is a progressive, wonderful initiative that highlights how BIAs in our part of the world have a vital role to play,” said Sue Dexter of the Harbord Village Residents’ Association (HVRA).
There are three components to the BIA’s plan: getting rid of Bloor Street’s 35 planter boxes and planting new trees in clusters on the north side of the street; increasing bike parking by adding corrals on side streets; and converting four disused rights-of-way into parkettes at Brunswick Avenue, Robert Street, Major Street, and Howland Avenue.
The work will be done in 2018, when the City of Toronto is scheduled to repave the street and do some sidewalk infrastructure work, which will minimize any disruption to the area. It is expected to cost between $1.5 and $2 million.
The BIA has been setting aside $100,000 per year and has approximately $350,000 already set aside for the project. It also expects to receive additional capital from the city’s public realm division, the forestry department, and matching funds from the city’s 50/50 cost share program. It may also seek Section 37 funding, and will borrow money should it prove necessary to make up any shortfall. Dtah, a firm known for its work on the Queen’s Quay revitalization, is developing the design of the project.
“In a period where a lot of exciting changes are happening, this is a major greening initiative for the neighbourhood,” said Jonathan Da Silva, the promotions committee chair of the Bloor-Annex BIA, who is also the communications director of the Hot Docs Festival. “We want to make the Annex more of a destination location.”
For Albert Koehl, vice chair of the Annex Residents’ Association, the proposal “underlines the fact that this is already a destination”.
“This initiative, the push for bike lanes, and [the push for] lower speed limits are all part of celebrating the neighbourhood for what it is,” said Koehl. “[The Annex] is not just a speck out of the corner of your eye when you pass by.”
Both Koehl and Dexter are particularly excited about the addition of the parkettes.
“Seniors need a place to rest, or parents with a baby stroller,” said Koehl.
“Someone walking along Bloor Street [will] have a sanctuary to sit and have a coffee under the shade of a tree,” added Dexter, who noted that the HVRA had coincidentally identified some of the sites for boulevard greening as part of the association’s greening plan.
Koehl said he is particularly impressed that the BIA plan uses underutilized and/or forgotten spaces.
“We have wasted a lot of space,” agreed Dexter. “It’s time to start reclaiming paved space.”
Da Silva explained that the BIA recognized that greening is a high priority for the residents’ associations, and that the plan will not only ensure a green canopy on Bloor Street, but add to the visual experience of the Annex.
The BIA’s plan includes green elements inside and out: permeable surfaces will retain storm water, seating will be carved from granite offcuts, all wood will be sustainably harvested, and indigenous flora and fauna will be used in the plantings. There will also be a water bottle refilling station at the Brunswick Avenue parkette.
“We are making a very Annex statement,” said Bloor-Annex BIA chair Brian Burchell of the proposal.
Da Silva said that the BIA is also looking for ways to recognize local history and emphasize the unique dynamism of the area.
Annex residents will get their first opportunity to review the Bloor-Annex BIA’s proposal at an April 18 open house from 4 to 8 p.m. at Markham House (610 Markham St.). The plan will be submitted to the city for review by January 2017, and if approved, work will begin in 2018.
City seeking street greening opportunities: Harbord Village plan targets laneways, parkettes (February 2016) By Marielle Torrefranca