Archive for June, 2012

For months I had passed by the streetcar tracks on St. Clair Avenue and wondered why such vast dismal stretches of pavement don’t incorporate natural vegetation.

Toronto’s St. Clair Avenue West (click on image to enlarge)

Why are these tracks “mean” instead of green? Is this just another case of the way things have always been done? Has no one questioned this “dead zone”?

In salutogenic terms, do paved tracks cause health or cause dis-ease? They seem to me an obvious example of an under-performing asset instead of what they can be – an agent for health.

Daydreaming on, I considered several possible concerns regarding a shift to green tracks, such as maintenance, road salt, the cost/benefit business case, as well as potential damage by other vehicles.

Like all such shifts in thinking, this degree of change requires a willingness to find a way through perceived obstacles. As an abstract concept, innovation usually sounds attractive, yet the reality of being the first to do something can be difficult for ultimate decision-makers.

Would the shift to green tracks in Toronto require such a leap of faith?

Well, as it turns out, there are several longstanding precedents in Europe, while the demand for living tracks is growing worldwide.

Green tracks have been in use in Berlin since 1995. Similar public transit greenways already exist in Barcelona, the Czech Republic, Frankfurt, Grenoble, Bilbao and Strasbourg. Such hardy plants as sedum serve to reduce the urban heat island effect, provide a permeable surface for storm water and reduce dust pollution.

For additional information, read this case for green tracks, see these other examples and check out “Green Tracks for Maryland’s Light Rail”.

The original plans for Queen’s Quay West redevelopment called for grass between the tracks, however this improvement seems to have been abandoned in recent renderings.

Instead of dwelling on reasons why we can’t do this, why aren’t we drawing on leading global practices? Moreover, in the spirit of pop-up experiments, why not install a trial section?

– Tye Farrow

Pop-up stores began to appear 8-10 years ago. Now there are pop-up parks, art galleries, basketball courts and cafes. Although some things in life should be designed to stand the test of time, the pop-up concept offers several benefits. There can be an attractive experimental vibe about them. They promote conversations and learning from trial and error. Concepts can tried, honed or abandoned based on feedback.

Instead of being deterred by the need for exhaustive studies and coping with inevitable naysayers, the typically inexpensive, flexible components make it easier to test controversial approaches.

Recycled shipping containers offer independent entrepreneurs a chance to launch their business idea with minimum start-up costs. Below are the highly successful food stalls at Scadding Court in Toronto.

Above is the pedestrian pilot project for Willcocks Street pop-up parkette on the University of Toronto campus.

Times Square is another interesting pop-up experiment that has been deemed successful enough to become a permanent installation. An eight-month trial that involved closing parts of Broadway to vehicular traffic resulted in improved safety and a generally positive reception. According to city data, there was a 35 percent decline in pedestrian injuries and a 63 percent reduction in injuries to drivers and passengers. As reported in the New York Times, “Foot traffic grew by 11 percent in Times Square…and a survey of local businesses found that more than two-thirds of the area’s retailers wanted the project to become permanent.”

– Sharon VanderKaay

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