April 20, 2023

Holy Public Space Overload!

To call this week a public space overload would be a serious understatement. Not only has Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s plans for Ontario Place and the Ontario Science Centre been dominating the headlines, but next Wednesday’s Infrastructure & Environment Committee meeting will see the High Park Movement Strategy debated. If that wasn’t enough, the City of Toronto revealed their latest plans for Kensington Market yesterday which is a huge improvement over the previous proposal. Let’s take a look at where things stand with these three projects.

Ontario Place's West Island - Which Therme wants to use for their luxury spa

Escalating Tensions at Ontario Place

While there are a lot of issues to tackle for the mayoral by-election, Ontario Place has undoubtedly been dominating the headlines lately. On July 31, 2021, the Ford government announced three successful applicants for the Ontario Place redevelopment; those being Therme Group, Live Nation, and Écorécréo Group (which later withdrew). Live Nation would expand the existing concert facilities, while the bulk of the criticism – including from Ontario Place For All – has been directed towards Therme’s luxury spa plan.

Not sure how the proposed Therme spa takes up only 13% of Ontario Place

The Therme spa would occupy 65,000 square feet on the west island; requiring the removal of 850 trees and the construction of a five storey underground parking garage to accommodate over 2000 cars. Not only would the spa’s resulting increased motor vehicle traffic endanger people biking along the Martin Goodman Trail; it could cost taxpayers as much as $650 million. Mayoral candidate Chloe Brown suggested that Therme build their spa in Rexdale instead , while Spacing’s senior editor John Lorinc extensively covered Ontario Place in several articles. In late March, the Design Review Panel voiced concerns about Therme’s building’s size and their unrealistic attendance forecast of 14,000 daily visitors during peak times, while a Therme-hosted public meeting saw many people complain they couldn’t submit questions. I had a chance to tune in to a city-hosted virtual meeting on April 18 and practically every question and comment was negative with one person even dropping an f-bomb live.

Looping in the Ontario Science Centre

As if the spa wasn’t enough, former councillor Ana Bailao suggested moving the Ontario Science Centre to Ontario Place in order to free up space for housing near Don Mills and Eglinton. Earlier this week, the Ford government announced their plan to do just that, as well as the plan to demolish the old building. While leading progressive candidates Josh Matlow and Olivia Chow condemned both the Science Centre move and Therme spa, you know the move is a shitty idea when even conservative candidates like Anthony Furey – a former Toronto Sun columnist – claimed it “stinks of high heaven”. A petition was started less than a week ago to oppose the Science Centre move and already it has over 13,000 signatures!

High Park Movement Strategy

Before we let Ontario Place dominate the discussion, let’s shift focus to a different public space issue the City of Toronto has more direct control over. Motion IE3.7 about the High Park Movement Strategy confirmed that High Park would only see West Road and parts of Colborne Lodge Drive permanently closed to motor vehicles, while the park would only be fully car-free on Sundays. This is despite the popularity of car-free weekends and the community preference of a car-free High Park as I reported in an earlier post.

Staff recommended layout of High Park per an earlier Toronto Star article

If you haven’t already done so, please join the over 2000 people who signed the petition supporting a Car Free High Park, as well as e-mail iec@toronto.ca by Tuesday, April 25 at 4:30 PM to show your support for the car-free option. Don't forget to CC your councillor. The Car Free High Park Coalition will be hosting a picnic and walk this Saturday at 12:00 PM which I encourage you to check out.

Kensington Safe Streets

Earlier today, Toronto’s Pedestrian and Cycling Unit posted on their Twitter feed an updated proposal for Kensington Market which will have a public drop-in event on Thursday, May 4 (11 AM – 8 PM) at 21 Nassau Street and comments are due on Thursday, May 18. Last summer, I had reported that only one block of Baldwin Avenue was proposed to be fully pedestrianized which would have amounted to a missed opportunity. While the latest proposal may appear to show even less pure pedestrian space on Baldwin Avenue, there is a need to instead look at the new thru traffic layout which presents the greatest danger to pedestrians.

No thru traffic is allowed in the shared street zones (via City of Toronto)

In addition to Baldwin between Kensington and August Avenues (approx. 100 metres), no thru traffic will be allowed on Augusta Avenue from Denison Square to Oxford Street (approx. 250 metres). Some laneway access will be maintained on these “shared streets” outside of the two pedestrian only zones at Baldwin-Augusta and Augusta-Nassau, but they will remain pedestrian priority. If you have biked by the traffic diverters at Shaw-Essex and Dewson-Havelock-Sylvan, picture an enhanced version of those diverters and you have a rough idea of what to expect. The Dutch style woonerf works in a similar fashion in which cars are viewed as guests.

Proposed design of Augusta Avenue (via City of Toronto)

Moving Right Along

What Ontario Place, Ontario Science Centre, High Park, and Kensington Market all reveal is the importance of public spaces and why Torontonians need to be engaged in making them work for everyone. Please follow Ontario Place For All and the Car Free High Park Coalition for the latest developments on their campaigns, while I encourage you to take part in the upcoming Kensington Market consultation.


  1. Thank you for taking the time to write the article, Robert. And for for advocacy. I live north of Barrie, So I wasn't fully aware of all those proposals for Ontario Place. I'm having a hard time picturing a 5 storey underground parking garage on Lake Ontario.

  2. The traffic diverters at Dewson-Havelock-Sylvan were a bit of a disaster this past winter, and I hope the city both fixes them and learns from their mistakes. The biggest issue was they placed bump-curbs between most of the pylons, leaving only two 90cm gaps for cyclists - one in each direction. When winter came, the bumps and the gaps were snowed in and there was no indication as to which was which. (They never did get properly cleared of snow either, but that's another issue.) A few arrows attached the the pylons might help, but removing the bump curbs completely would be best.