Starting this weekend, parking spaces along Church Street will be transformed into temporary street patios, with benches and tables adding extra cruising space in the heart of the gay village for the remainder of the summer.
Matthew Cutler, director of development and community engagement for the 519 Church Street Community Centre and the Church Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area, has spearheaded the project.
Cutler says the three strips of “parklets” are being constructed on the east side of the street north of Maitland Street, with another parklet just north of Wellesley Street.
“We are a patio culture,” he says. “People like to hang outside, get some sun, have a drink . . . There will be places to sit and have a beer, but there will also be places to just bring a laptop and work or read a book, much like a park.”
Cutler says he anticipates some drivers may be frustrated at the loss of some parking spaces, and if so, he welcomes their feedback.
“We got more parking spots in the Village when they took the bike lanes off Jarvis Street,” he says. “So we actually have more parking spots then we did two years ago. But mostly I think this project will challenge how we use public space, and most importantly, how drivers use space.”
The project is modelled after last summer’s Celebrate Yonge event, which saw Yonge Street from Gerrard to Queen streets closed to two lanes to create additional pedestrian space and extended patios.
The summer seating will remain in place until October 20, when the parklets will revert to parking spaces.
“That can be extended if we think it’s going well,” he says. “We can also cut it short if it’s not going well. We don’t know how people will use these spaces. We think it’s going to be really successful. I would maybe like to see it extended into Halloween.”
Some of the parklets will serve as additional seating for gaybourhood restaurants and bars. Tony Cerminara, co-owner of Pusateri, which is home to the Garage sandwich bar, is ecstatic about Church Street’s newest street feature. “I think it’s fucking awesome,” he says. “The majority of our customers are walk-in, so I don’t think the loss of a few parking spaces will harm business. I am looking at this very positively. People can go buy something at the Garage and go outside and eat.
“I hear all the time from people who ask, ‘where can we eat our sandwich?’ Cawthra Park up the street is great, but it’s a bit of a walk.”
Cutler says this year is a test run before 2014, when the group hopes to expand the project. The 519 has also been involved in an ongoing study of the gay Village looking at how best to prepare for, and capitalize on, two upcoming international festivals: WorldPride in 2014 and the Pan Am Games in 2015.
“I think we will see this every year and possibly something more permanent,” he says. “Some of the things we are hearing in the Village study is that we need to extend our public realm and pedestrian areas.”