Keep the York Street Pillars!

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The circular formation of pillars leftover from the removal of the York Street off-ramp are enchanting modern ruins that connect Toronto to its past.

So why are they being removed as part of the York Street Park redesign?

While the winning design by Claude Cormier Landscape Architects is consistent with their excellent portfolio (including Sugar Beach's pink umbrellas and Berczy Park’s dog fountain), it fails to take advantage of an obvious opportunity to create a unique design that anchors the park in time and place.

The York Street off-ramp pillars are a reminder of Toronto's recent past when its harbourfront was an industrial concern, disconnecting our city’s residents from the water. The removal of the York Street off-ramp was a significant reclamation of public space in Toronto. In a city that has been known to demolish its historical buildings, it is imperative to not sanitize and erase the past -- even the recent past -- as a reminder of how far we've come to reclaim our waterfront. With the ramp removed, the pillars are no longer barriers: they are a testament to the work we have accomplished to create a city for people.

It was a bold and courageous move to take down the ramp, and it would be bold and courageous to keep the bents to remind us of our progress and vision.

Toronto has developed its own unique design tradition of preserving and reinterpreting elevated highways:

- In 1999, Toronto City Council voted to demolish the elevated section of the Gardiner Expressway East and replace it with a grand boulevard (Lakeshore Ave E) with bike lanes. Several remaining highway pillars were incorporated into a public art work by Peter MacCallum and continue to remind us of the important civic action that lead to the removal of an underused piece of highway that blocked us from the water.

- More recently, the Bentway and Underpass Park have reinterpreted the space beneath elevated highways as a covered public gathering spaces, demonstrating the compatibility of highway infrastructure with our city's social life. 

There’s a phrase in sustainable architecture: “the greenest building is the one already built”. The same goes for public art. These whimsical ready mades *already exist*, and should be retained as a central feature to be reinterpreted as public art or park infrastructure designed for our contemporary lives.

If Waterfront Toronto wants to live up to its own standards of “inclusive design, sustainability, and climate resilience”, it needs to start with keeping the pillars. (And on that note, we applaud the City’s efforts to preserve the park’s mature tree canopy, those trees are beautiful and huge!)

The winning design was selected by a jury who evaluated 4 other designs, alongside comments from a public consultation and online survey. We believe our desire to keep the pillars was not heard. 

Waterfront Toronto, Claude Cormier Architects, and City of Toronto: make the sustainable choice that will anchor Toronto in its history and strengthen our understanding of who we are, and how far we’ve come.

Keep the York Street Pillars!

#keepthepillarsTO

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Background (info from Waterfront Toronto):

  • In early 2018, Waterfront Toronto (in partnership with the City of Toronto Parks Forestry and Recreation) launched a two-stage design competition for the design of York Street Park and Rees Street Park.
  • The design brief included the following stipulation: "Site Opportunities and Constraints: Eight Bents…The structural piers, or “bents”, were retained as a possible park element. These bents may be completely removed or incorporated into design proposals for consideration."
  • As part of the competition, the design proposals were shared with the public for comment and feedback that informed the decision-making of the competition’s selection committee. 
  • On Monday, January 22, 2018, a public consultation was held.
  • Five design proposals for the York Street Park were on display at Toronto City Hall from July 3-17, 2018
  • An online survey was open from July 5-25, 2018 so that members of the public had the opportunity to provide their feedback.
  • Oct 9, 2018 - winning design is announced. Claude Cormier Landscape Architects are the winners, and have chosen to not keep the pillars.


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