The abandoned, the derelict and the unseen can be an intriguing concept, especially when exploring spaces in the city. For most Torontonians, laneways are places that stir up such curiosity yet can easily be found right in our backyards. The network of Toronto’s back alleys are part of most people’s experience growing up in the city’s core and are a quintessential characteristic of Toronto’s gritty urban fabric.

But how do our laneways relate to some of Toronto’s biggest issues? Well — right now, they don’t.

Downtown Toronto is undergoing dramatic change and rapidly growing at a rate four times faster than the rest of the city. With this new growth, there is an obvious need for more investment in public and park space, transit and affordable housing. Promoting short-term-living and encouraging a dropping supply of affordable and diverse housing options, Toronto’s condominium boom is not offering solutions.


With this lack of affordability in the city centre, Toronto’s demographics are also changing and we are seeing an increase in class polarization with a dwindling middle class. With the opportunity to tackle some of our biggest urban issues, our beloved laneways have potential to provide some relief — if we’re willing to be open to them. Can we begin to reconsider the use of these extensive back-end networks as solutions for city movement, public space and affordable housing?

Over the course of several weeks, we’ll explore the past of Toronto’s alleys and the hypothetical future of laneways on various scales. On a city-wide scale, the benefits of connecting specific north and south lanes to form a continuous route will be highlighted, as well as the diversity within laneway typologies. Focusing on the neighbourhood scale, we’ll also explore how these typologies can undergo change through site specific interventions.

Through re-envisioning what laneways can become with a little imagination, it is clear the immense opportunity these alleys can provide for our growing city

Posted on by Cassandra Alves | Leave a comment

Spacing Magazine ponders the Public Space Potentials of a TTC Station

News Stand in downtown Toronto ~ City of Toronto Archives

News Stand in downtown Toronto ~ City of Toronto Archives

Artists to take over Chester station newsstand

“A shuttered Gateway Newstand kiosk in Chester station will be opening up for business — and it’ll be showcasing more than just candy bars.

A group of artists is repurposing this unused space, hoping to enhance the commuting experience and create dialogue about transit issues and news dissemination.

Jess Dobkin, who is heading the Artists Newsstand group, signed a one-year lease with Gateway and will sell the usual soda and newspapers but part of the kiosk will be dedicated to a changing roster of local artists who will put on performances and present their work.”

Read about it in spaceing magazine


Posted in All | Leave a comment

Join Toronto-public-space-initiatives on

Announcing our newest initiative,
a monthly “meetup” series gathering people together in public spaces, to talk about what we find there and share notes on related projects.

Meetups are open to anyone interested in researching, promoting, or generally enhancing, public spaces in the City of Toronto…

Every month a member of TPSI will host the event in a new location.  Members are invited, and encouraged to propose locations and activities.  Have a project of your own underway?  we can go out and take a look at what you are doing.  Have a question you would like answered about a public space issue?  We’ll go to the source of issue to discuss it.

Read about the first of this monthly series: “Art & Public Skating” or join the group to find out when other events are happening.

Visit the group to find out more, join to leave your suggestions comments or questions

Posted in events | Leave a comment fully operational again. Search functions restored, thanks to Christian Muise

TPSI would like to thank our tech guru Christian Muise for fixing TABS over the holidays.

If anyone experienced difficulties while searching for documents over the christmas season, we apologize.  After minimal tinkering, we have cleared the cobwebs and are ready once again to peer into council’s 2015 agenda.

For more information about how to search Toronto’s 2015 public meeting minutes and agendas see

Posted in Open Data, TABS | Leave a comment

Parks, People, and Participation: The Toronto Experience

TPSI is pleased to announce the publication of our second report on parks governance and community engagement: Parks, People, and Participation_The Toronto Experience examines existing Toronto parks groups’ governance models, identifies emerging trends and challenges to the everyday operations and community engagement capacities of these groups, and offers best practices recommendations for making these groups as democratic and accessible to all community members as possible.

The report begins with a short review of the recent socio-economic and health literature examining the value of urban parks. It then moves on to examine how Torontonians mobilize around their local parks and parks groups to champion their cause(s). Whatever their motivation, parks groups operate independently and tend to be governed by volunteer leaders willing to put the requisite time and effort into their initiatives. As such, governance processes ensuring community engagement, access, and democratic participation not only within parks groups but within parks themselves are often overlooked. As a generality, this is not the result of conscious ideologies from those in “power” but simply an effect of how volunteer groups come together. Group are not regulated by an outside authority—nor de we suggest they should be—and there are few available guidelines or practical ‘how to’ manuals for community groups to follow. Given this, even groups categorized as similar entities (i.e. Friends of the Park groups) have diverse missions, visions, and values and operate under distinctive governance structures.

The report identifies several encouraging and discouraging trends, including the following:
• Toronto parks are vibrant public spaces that contribute to healthy communities, municipal pride, and city building

• Parks with organized community and/or advocacy groups tend to get results

• Gentrification of neighborhoods affects parks: new parks groups and beautification projects increase use by new populations (mainly families) while traditional users are pushed further into the margins (i.e. homeless)

• Antagonistic ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ relationships exist among different groups of parks users (i.e. yoga and tai chi practitioners vs. children vs. dog walkers)

• Upwardly mobile English-speaking (upper) middle class residents with specific agendas are highly represented as parks groups decision makers

Based on these and other trends explored and identified in the report, we put forth the following series of best practice recommendations for parks groups:
• Ensure parks groups are represented by diverse multiple stakeholders with potentially opposing views, skills, experiences, and expectations

• Whenever possible, impose mandatory term limits on group volunteer leadership positions in an effort to foster new ideas and allow for involvement of new residents and new generations

• For the City, provide a long-term planning vision for City parks as well as support staff so groups understand what priority areas and parameters they are working within

Download the report hereParks, People, and Participation_The Toronto Experience


Posted in All | Leave a comment

Scadding Court’s Business Out of the Box Design Charrette


TPSI had the pleasure of participating in a design charrette hosted by the Scadding Court Community Centre (SCCC) last November exploring the potential of expanding the centre’s shipping container market—Market 707—into a full-fledged container mall. Currently, the market provides 19 small businesses (primarily food and retail, with some services) an opportunity to build their business without the financial and overhead costs associated with traditional businesses. The result is a thriving market that benefits not only the entrepreneurs with the courage and business acumen to think “out of the box” but also the community residents and visitors (particularly staff, patients, and visitors from the  adjacent Toronto Western Hospital) who take advantage of the unique products and services offered at the marketplace.

From a public space aspect, the market animates this previously dark corner of the city and highlights the result of creative thought and bold action. Previously underutilized sidewalk space has been transformed, creating job opportunities and building community connections and cohesion, all without threatening walkway accessibility. If executed appropriately, the proposed container mall can build on this momentum.

In our breakout group, we focused discussion less on the business model or built form, and more on opportunities for community animation and cohesion (though we did have fantastic ideas about creating green roofs with urban gardens on all containers that could produce food for community members and residents living in the adjacent community housing complex).

We discussed strengthening community development by ensuring the following:

• provide opportunities for local business ventures
• expect existing vendors to provide new vendors with mentorship and support
• ensure businesses and services are in line with community needs
• provide space for not for profit organizations to offer free community services for clients (those not offered through Scadding Court Community Centre(SCCC)
• provide guidelines and guarantees around environmental sustainability of business

We discussed much more than this, but these were some of the points that stood out. TPSI will follow progress on the mall and provide updates as available. Until then, we wish SCCC the best of luck getting this initiative on the ground.


A full Report on th Charrette is available  on


Posted in Community Projects | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The In-Between Places – St. James Church


st jamespark

Commonly we cross them to get from point A to B, sometimes we glance through them, continuing on our way, but most of the time, we do not realize they even exist.  Colorfully graffitied laneways, short cuts between buildings and even small green areas separating defined spaces; these are some of the many in-betweens we experience living in the city.

However, do we connect such spaces with something more than just transition?        Given the opportunity, could these spaces evolve into defined micro public places?

While walking through downtown Edinburgh, I stumbled upon this interesting nook between St. James Church and its graveyard. This relatively small space is used as a transitory zone; providing access to the perpendicular street and situated between two distinct spatial programs. However, the addition of street furniture and some commercial space has created a place people actually stay in as opposed to just passing through. It provides great inspiration as to how transitory zones can be adapted to perform a variety of uses even when they’re positioned between a graveyard and church.

Toronto has huge opportunities to capitalize on underused in-between spaces; the underside of the Gardiner, graffiti alley and even Toronto’s rail paths. The St. James precedent also generates ideas about how we use our cemeteries and the spaces adjacent to them. Can they adapt, improve and perform as a multipurpose place?

Although many of the scales in these examples vary drastically in comparison to               St. James Church, the acknowledgment of well-used transitory spaces highlights many considerations as to how Toronto’s public spaces can adapt. The challenge is, how can we begin to rethink and reconfigure them to be more than just the in -betweens.

Posted in Laneways, Postcards | Tagged | Leave a comment

Open Streets comes to TO


Toronto is set to join the likes of New York, LA, London and Tokyo by adopting an “Open Streets” program this coming summer, pending city council approval. The idea is simple; briefly close a section of road to motorised traffic and open it up to everybody else. It is a concept that hails from the Columbian capital of Bogota where “Ciclovia” (literally translating to bike lane) now encompasses around 120 Kilometres of the city’s streets every Sunday and public holiday.

Michelle Senayah presenting Open Streets TO

Michelle Senayah presents Open Streets TO at Janes Walk Info session March 8th, 2014 @ CSI Annex.

The proposed route aspires to connect communities along Bloor Street from High Park to Greenwood Avenue, as well as a section of Yonge street south of Bloor. Roads that run north-south through Bloor Street will still be open to vehicle traffic with signalled intersections operating as per usual. Initially, the program is set to run for three consecutive sundays (July 27th, Aug 3rd, Aug 17th tentatively) this summer but ultimately the goal is to see this innitiative become a regular event.

Open Streets TO will also include various interactive activity hubs generated by community groups, local businesses, institutions and organizations.

The aim is to encourage fitness and civic engagement while promoting better air quality through alternative modes of susainable transport.  So leave the car in the driveway, grab a bicycle, and explore your surrounding neighbourhood. For those interested in  learning more, contact event organizers at Keep an eye out for updates on this exciting project.

Posted in Community Projects | Leave a comment

Track Toronto – an interactive music map of the city

Last June, a couple of friends and I started to collect and map all of the songs we could find about the city of Toronto.  We now have a rich and rapidly growing archive of over 100 songs for your listening pleasure at

We were inspired by the abundance of fantastic local music in Toronto, as well as the connection you feel when the familiar shows up somewhere unexpected. Our project, Track Toronto, exists to bring these two things together.

There’s something magical about learning that Leonard Cohen’s Closing Time was written about the Matador Club at 466 Dovercourt, or that there’s a song about the subway ride you take everyday, like I Will Never See the Sun by Great Lake Swimmers, or that even a humble spot like the Parkdale Dollarmart has a place in a beautiful song by Oh Bijou. The city is littered with gems like these, and we want to bring them out into the open for everyone to enjoy.  Our goal is to allow people to discover these songs as they wander the city.  While the online version of our project is up and running – our next step is to install [murmur] inspired signs around the city to alert passers-by that there is more here to explore, and enable them to listen to songs in the very places that inspired them.

In the meantime you can come see us present the collection so far at  The Pages Festival on March 15th.  We’ll be part of the Urban Narratives event alongside Shawn Micallef, Gerry Flahive and Amy Lavender Harris.

Until then, you can browse our collection of site specific songs at, and keep up to date with new songs as we discover them on twitter @tracktoronto.

Song suggestions are always welcome! Send them to

Posted in Community Projects | Leave a comment

Crowdsourcing the Community Consciousness










Given that there are over 2.5 million people living within Toronto’s borders, any attempt to try and get an accurate picture of exactly what goes on day to day in our city seems complicated, if not impossible.   There are too many moments, in too many lives to compile, and how we hope to understand anything when it all comes together is a mystery anyway. In the final analysis too much information slips between the gaps, and our ideas get fuzzy with too many facts.

Online, in the newspapers, on the bus and at the coffee shop, every day we face a vast unceasing babble from streets, from radios, TVs and social networks, as well as the people around us, yet somehow we are expected to understand how it it all fits together again to explain the places where we live.  Facts, figures, arguments and words are not always adequate for this challenge. Perhaps there is a better way to glean something from all the noise? What if we don’t need to know what someone is thinking, to get an idea of what is going through their mind?

“…On Thursday, March 6, at exactly 5:47 p.m., Tweet or Instagram your snapshots of life in the city use hashtag #TOminute to be included in a featured photo gallery on … please include a description of what’s happening in the pic, and thank you in advance for participating… “

Enter photography.  What better way to pass on a sense of place or identity, than a simple picture?  No words, nor need for explanations.  In pictures, we are left to draw conclusions ourselves.  Some trigger memories and take us back in time, others spark our curiosity and help us look at things from a  different angle.  Photographs capture and suspend moments in our lives, so we can have time to look at them again in new ways, as we share them with others.

All a photographer needs to do is point a camera, and click a button, right?  It’s that simple.  So, what if everyone in the city, at the same time, in the same minute, on the same day, snaps a picture of anything they find important enough to share. What would the result look like? The least we can hope for is an oddly intriguing assortment of eclectic people, places, and things.  Yet with any luck, something more akin to a regional collective unconscious may emerge.

Yup, there’s nothing like a good old fashioned photography project to get everyone in the mood for sharing and learning about where they live.   I guess that’s why our friends down at the GRID this week are doing just that, asking to see Toronto from a “street-level” perspective.

For more information visit:

Posted in Community Projects | Leave a comment