Opinion
2 min

Goodbye parking, hello green spaces

Partial closure of Church Street coming later this summer

Toronto drag legend Michelle DuBarry celebrates the official unveiling of the Church Street rainbow gateway markers. Credit: Andrea Houston

Church Street is about to get a major landscaping overhaul. 

Beginning immediately after Pride and for the duration of the summer, many of the gay village’s parking spaces will be replaced with temporary green spaces and extended patios.

The project is a partnership between Matthew Cutler, director of development and community engagement for the 519 Church Street Community Centre, and the Church Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area. Cutler says the team will create mini parks, or “parklets,” in a number of spots up and down Church Street.

The announcement came just before the BIA officially unveiled Church Street’s new rainbow gateway markers on April 14 and was followed by a party at the Vic Public House.

Once installed, the parklets will become part of the neighbourhood until mid-to-late September. Each will be 2.5 to 5.5 by 20 metres long, Cutler says. “These are beautifully landscaped spaces with rocks and trees and places for people to sit and celebrate together. This will make the Village more beautiful and give us more public spaces.”

The group is consulting with businesses over the next couple weeks, Cutler says. Following approval from business owners, he says, his team will release a street map that indicates which businesses are taking part and where each parklet will be located.

“I can say right now that there will definitely be parklets at each gateway marker,” he says. “As for the rest of the street, we are working with businesses to strike a balance and ensure everyone is happy.

“Green space is sadly lacking in our community. For every resident in the downtown area, we have about a sheet of paper worth of green space for us to share.”

The best example of the type of project Cutler and the BIA have in mind is last summer’s Celebrate Yonge event, which saw Yonge Street from Gerrard to Queen closed to two lanes to create additional pedestrian space and extended patios. More specifically, Cutler is looking to emulate Celebration Park, a larger manicured park created at the corner of Yonge and Shuter streets.

Unlike Celebrate Yonge, Cutler says, the parklets will be flush with the sidewalk and “more visually appealing.”

“If you remember during Celebrate Yonge, there were a lot of metal barricades and plastic Muskoka chairs,” he says. “We want it to be green.”

This is a test run before 2014, when the group hopes to expand the project. Although it’s launching after Pride this year, Cutler says next year he wants the parklets in place during WorldPride.

BIA co-chair Avery Pitcher says the organization is working on a number of beautification projects to get the Village ready for 2014.

“We had a dream not too long ago that we would get WorldPride, and we did it. We are proud to be hosting WorldPride in 2014,” Pitcher says. “This is our Village.”

Another initiative currently underway is the Church Street mural project. The co-curators were on hand April 14 to provide an update on their progress. They have finalized a list of 12 artists, and painting will begin on May 1, says co-curator Syrus Marcus Ware.

Ware hopes to announce details about an upcoming community consultation meeting and official launch event next week. “We’re very proud that the murals are part of a larger beautification of the neighbourhood,” he says.