USABLEMAKEOVER.COM.................. Why The Design Of Toronto's
Downtown Waterfront Fails - Badly



There are very specific elements that are needed to attract people to the Public Realm - and just as important, there are very specific elements that are needed to encourage people to STAY in the Public Realm for long periods of time or to move onto another well designed Public Realm. Dr. Jan Gehl has a simple analogy to explain how to design a USABLE/LIVABLE Public Realm. He says that designing a good Public Realm is just like putting together a good party. Click here to listen to a talk given by Dr. Gehl on this exact topic.

Instead of being an extension of people's living rooms (which is what the Public Realm is all about - as demonstrated in all great cities in the world) - Toronto's Downtown Waterfront has been essentially privatized and has been turned into a theme park. What is the resultant visual message that the current Downtown Waterfront sends out? A very confused visual image. Is the Downtown Waterfront area visually a BUS STATION? - a TENT CITY? - a BOAT DOCKS? Or all of the aforementioned. What visual signals are being sent out that "this is your Downtown Public Realm on the Water's edge"..."this is your free Public Realm to come and STAY on"..... "come down with your family and hang out on the water"... "and do absolutely nothing" ... "or even talk to strangers".


Notice the scoring beside each failed element - the scoring goes from MINUS 100 to PLUS 100 - a bare pass is ZERO.

1. PRIVATIZATION OF PUBLICLY OWNED PUBLIC OPEN SPACE - THE PUBLIC REALM (and the property, provincial and federal taxes from the middle class to go along with the Public Lands). It appears that the entire Toronto Downtown Waterfront has been taken out of the Public Realm and has been privatized. Don't believe it? Then click here to listen/see a video - that captures one of the countless private security guards at Harbourfront Centre carries out his duty!: {can't go any lower}  SCORE: MINUS 100

2. NO SITE LINES BETWEEN TORONTO'S DOWNTOWN CORE AND THE DOWNTOWN WATERFRONT. Even the worst architectural and urban planning school teach their future "professionals" about site lines. It's obvious (to anyone who loves people) - that there are zero site lines from Toronto's Downtown through to the water's edge at Toronto's Downtown Waterfront. The only site line to the Downtown Waterfront is from the Gardiner Expressway!: {one point for the only way to see the downtown waterfront is from the Gardiner Expressway} SCORE: MINUS 99

3. NO LARGE HARD SURFACED GATHERING PLACES. For a city that keeps trying to promote itself as an international level, high quality city - there are simply are no Publicly Owned/Controlled Public Open Spaces/Public Realms - hard surfaced spaces, gathering places - NO SQUARES, NO PROMENADES, NO ESPLANADES. No effective SQUARES for STAYING. No effective PROMENADES connecting all the SQUARES. No ESPLANADE running along side the water's edge. (Just a $10,000,000 gangplank - a runway to load the "15 minute" tourists onto commercial tour boats). The three largest spaces on the waterfront? A car parking space (the biggest space), - a programmed performance space for selling beer (second biggest space), a grass area (third biggest space) just reserved for a summer camp and selling trinkets. {one point for having a potential for two squares - assuming that the "Civic Square" in front of city hall and the Dundas St Square can be saved by re-designing both those spaces and turning then into a Usable Public Realm - someday} SCORE: MINUS 99

4. NO SEATING IN PUBLICLY OWNED PUBLIC OPEN SPACES - THE PUBLIC REALM. There should be a minimum of 2000 individual seats along the Downtown Waterfront (besides the hundred or so found on for-pay patios sitting on privatized publicly owned land). There are under 50 Public Seats in the Public Realm along the entire downtown Toronto public waterfront and the waterfront neighborhood (assuming the waterfront is public - doesn't appear to be - is it?) and adjacent neighborhood. None of these seats are shaded. Even worse is that these 50 seats are the bench format - many of the "Jolly Green Giant" format - which are designed for people who are 12 feet tall! Normally only two people will sit on a three person bench. {one point here - in that the someone in the city's Parks department broke the rules here and did put a few seats here - that don't require one to drink beer}  SCORE: MINUS 99

5. ILLEGALLY PARKED EMPTY BUSES AND MORE ILLEGALLY PARKED EMPTY BUSES AND THEN MORE ILLEGALLY PARKED EMPTY BUSES, AND THEN EMPTY ILLEGALLY PARKED TRUCKS, AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST, EMPTY ILLEGALLY PARKED CARS. The City of Toronto and/or the Toronto Police and/or Harbourfront Centre and/or Air Canada Centre or the Rogers Centre and the offical Tourist "board" - are not controlling the illegal parking of empty buses, empty trucks and empty cars throughout the Toronto Downtown Waterfront neighborhood. What is outcome from all this "rule bending" - it turns a residential neighborhood into an illegal "Transportation Storage Depot/Parking Lot" and an illegal "Transportation Centre/Bus Terminal Station". Although some elites think " the more buses the better" - there is ample proof that the wild bus parking is a negative when it comes to the economic viability of the waterfront. This uncontrolled illegal bus station visually destroys what should be a grand visual entranceway to the waterfront. Click here to see four videos about the entire Toronto Downtown Waterfront and adjacent neighborhood for 20,000 taxpaying residents - having been turned into a gigantic illegal - but free Transportation Storage Depot for millionaires. {what's the notion about...... "not pissing in one's well"}

6. THE TENT CITY. The number of permanent tents continue to grow on a weekly basis on the third largest (now privately owned?) open space along the downtown waterfront - at HarbourFront Centre. Even the simplest town in Europe takes down all the tents each day after the farmer's market on the city's central square closes. But not at Harbourfront Centre. Again Harbourfront Centre is creating visual pollution which destroys - what should be a visual entranceway - a grand gateway to the Downtown Waterfront.

7. IS IT LIVERPOOL? STAIRWAY TO COMMERCIAL TOUR BOAT HEAVEN. Instead of developing a boardwalk for Toronto's residents along Toronto's Downtown Waterfront - millions of middle class tax dollars are spent on the rich and rich wannabes - by building a $10,000,000 (that's a ten millionn tax dollars) runway/gang plank to the commercial tour boats. Boardwalks and piers are normally reserved for non-commercial uses, for the residents - but not in Toronto! This area has been turned into a Transportation Centre and a Transportation Storage Depot for the commercial boat tours for the "15 minute tourist". The three levels of government could save tax dollars by simply just giving these commercial boat tour companies money to close up shop and leave.

8. PUBLICLY OWNED PUBLIC TOILETS WITH DIAPER CHANGING FACILITIES FOR BABIES. Any respect for Toronto's families would have led to a series of easily accessible public toilets on the waterfront (that is, easy to reach within a minute - with no steps for baby strollers and carriages). Naturally these toilets need to have baby changing facilities. {There must be one publicly owned public toilet on the waterfront - somewhere!} SCORE: MINUS 99

9. WATER FOUNTAINS FOR DRINKING PURPOSES. Its only common sense (and a love of people) that dozens of water fountains for drinking purposes are needed on a hot day on any waterfront - that are accessible from any point on the waterfront. Number of drinking water fountains found - zero! {just keep pushing beer on the waterfront - isn't that the only purpose of a waterfront development  - to sell beer}

10. TORONTO'S DOWNTOWN WATERFRONT IS SAME SIZE AS KINGSTON'S (POPULATION 60,000) WATERFRONT! Toronto's downtown waterfront needs to be increased by 1000 percent - ten times bigger than it is now, just to service the 200,000 downtown office workers who would like to come to the waterfront for lunch - but stay away by the hundreds of thousands. SCORE: MINUS 90

12. TORONTO'S GRAND ENTRANCEWAY TO THE DOWNTOWN WATERFRONT?  Waterfront's must have a well defined, visually correct - safe looking entranceway - that is inviting as well as being safe. Toronto's Downtown Waterfront entranceway is through extremely long, unsafe, exhaust filled tunnels under the railway tracks:

13. TRAFFIC LIGHTS ON THE LAKESHORE RD. THAT FAVOURS CARS OVER PEDESTRIANS. It's obvious that cars are favoured over pedestrians along Lakeshore Rd. as well as Queens Quay West. Pedestrians have long wait times for a green light - on the other hand, get short times to cross roads. Imagine a parent pushing a baby carriage and at the same time guiding a 4 year old across these roads - within the marginal time set by the traffic lights. Impossible! And then there's the 60 kilometres an hour speed limit on the Lakeshore Rd. {Do road engineers love families with children? The maximum speed limit in the downtown core near the waterfront should be 40 kilometres an hour (and 30 kilometres an hour would even be better for pedestrians) - a slower speed's outcome? - Drivers might actually notice the waterfront - if they can see it!}

14. TOTAL LACK OF A DELIVERY TRUCK SERVICE CORRIDOR FOR RESTAURANTS AND OTHER COMMERCIAL ENTERPRISES AND LACK OF CHARTER BUS PICKUP FACILITY. Instead of providing a series of loading docks and delivery/service corridors for delivery trucks for restaurants and performance venues, and tour buses - the entire neighborhood that houses 20,000 Toronto residents, has their neighborhood turned into a commercial staging {Doesn't anyone at City Hall love people?}

15. THE LEVEL OF NOISE FROM BANDS AT HARBOURFRONT CENTRE. A well designed and managed Public Realm is like putting together a good party. If the music is so loud that two people standing beside each other can't hear what the other person is saying - then that's a badly planned party - a badly planned and managed waterfront. Does loud music sell more beer? {There is an obvious love of money over love of people exhibited down here - over and over again.}

16. A WELL DESIGNED WATERFRONT IS WELL LINKED WITH OTHER ELEMENTS OF THE PUBLIC REALM - LIKE BIKE LANES! Instead, bike lanes along Queens Quay suddenly end - suddenly disappear as they approach the Downtown Waterfront! Why do bike lanes suddenly stop at York St. - when biking west along Queens Quay? {Need more space for illegal parking of charter buses and limousines?} SCORE: MINUS 100

17. A WELL DESIGNED DOWNTOWN WATERFRONT HAS WIDE SIDEWALKS AND/OR PROMENADES AT THE WATER'S EDGE. But not in Toronto. Most of the Downtown Waterfront has no Waterfront Promenade - instead, jokingly relies on the nine foot wide sidewalk at the curb on Queens Quay West - several hundred feet away from the water's edge. More often than not - the nine foot wide sidewalk is over run with sandwich boards for real estate companies, commercial bus tour companies, or lines of people waiting for buses. SCORE: MINUS 100

18. A WELL DESIGNED WATERFRONT WOULD HAVE AN EXPLICIT "EDGE". Without an explicit well developed "EDGE" - the public are less likely to use the PUBLIC REALM. There is no well defined "EDGE" to Toronto's DOWNTOWN WATERFRONT. {Don't know what an EDGE" is when it comes to Urban Design or Waterfront Design or Designing The Public Realm - contact Jan Gehl}

19. PUBLIC REALM NEEDS TO BE DESIGNED BY AN EXPERT IN THE PUBLIC REALM. There were/are no experts in the design of the PUBLIC REALM involved in the design of Toronto's Downtown Waterfront. Which is why the entire Downtown Waterfront has been designed for the self-centered elites - rich or rich wannabes - rather than a waterfront design that puts the public center stage. Toronto's downtown waterfront gives the impression that is was designed by developers for developers. Is that the case? SCORE: MINUS 100

20. DESIGN ASTHETICS ALONG THE DOWNTOWN WATERFRONT  - The best way to summarize the asthetics of the various sites, structures and buildings along the downtown waterfront is  "Honest Ed's Kitch". {Need anymore be said?}


MINUS 1984 out of PLUS 2000! A pass would be ZERO! Toronto's Downtown Waterfront is failing to pass by 1984 points when it comes to good design - that is, "USABLE URBAN DESIGN OF THE PUBLIC REALM"!