Toronto’s new waterfront streetscape feels straight out of Europe
Just in time for the official start of summer, Queens Quay has reopened after a three-year construction period. Dramatically reimagined by Rotterdam landscape architecture and urban design firm West 8 with locals from DTAH, the breezy, waterfront-adjacent street is now equal parts animated community space and efficient transportation corridor. In a Toronto first, the new setup gives drivers, transit-riders, pedestrians and cyclists their own (mostly) distinct paths. It’s also a huge aesthetic improvement. Flanked by 240 trees and custom street furniture, the 1.7 kilometre stretch proves to be every bit as attractive as its picturesque Lake Ontario views.
Below, we flag five of the revitalized street’s most astonishing new additions.
1 Separated Bike Paths
While Toronto has implemented several different styles of bikeways throughout the city, this route is its most Copenhagen-like yet, providing cyclists a two-way asphalt path. Connecting two previously disjointed stretches of the Martin Goodman recreational trail, it runs from just west of Spadina Avenue to Bay Street. The new infrastructure comes with a learning curve – that blue box, for instance, signals to bikers that they are entering a “mixing zone” shared with pedestrians and cars – but the path will hopefully make for faster, safer bike trips once everyone gets familiarized.
2 Lamp Posts with Playful Character
West 8’s tapered cedar street lights are full of personality. Standing nine metres tall, each one features two bulbous Selux Olivio lights pointed in opposite directions to provide both pedestrian walkway and street lighting. Fifty-six are stationed at various points along the road, complementing other, more conventional lamps.
3 Muskoka-inspired Seating
These welcoming new ipe wood slat benches take their cues from cottage country docks, giving urbanites a respite from the cold metal street furniture common in the city. In a few years time, Queens Quay promises to be almost as lush a getaway as Lake Rousseau. While the young maple and elm saplings planted along the esplanade already deliver a significant hit of green, an underground silva cell root infrastructure system will accelerate the trees’ growth and ensure that they live to at least 60, rather than the six to eight years common for street trees.
4 Boulevards Paved in Canadian Stone
Quebec-quarried red granite paving stones – each laid by hand – give the north and south pedestrian promenades a historic feel. Lest visitors fail to recognize the homegrown materials, masons have arranged them in an explicitly patriotic pattern, using St. Sebastien granite as an accent stone to create outlines of maple leaves. Polymeric sand seals the gaps between pavers, ensuring the walkway remains as durable as our true north strong and free. (Another bonus: it’s also heel-friendly.) In many areas, Waterfront Toronto was able to negotiate with local property owners to have paving stones extend onto their property, bringing a cohesive look to the whole neighbourhood.
5 Improved Access to Existing Waterfront Destinations
Walking the revitalized Queens Quay, it’s easy to gain a new appreciation for other recent waterfront redevelopments. For example, Ontario Square – an outdoor plaza opened in 2013 on ground formerly occupied by a now-buried parking lot – suddenly feels like a true community space. Next door, the reopened sidewalk next to Harbourfront Centre makes it easier than ever for passerby to peer into designers’ studios (keep an eye out for DL alumni Grace Eun Mi Lee and other resident ceramic and craft designers at work). And further west, the lakeshore’s four rippling wooden WaveDeck structures, also designed by West 8 and completed in 2008 and 2009, are finally situated along a street that matches their playful beauty.
For more on the vision behind Queens Quay’s revitalization, check out Azure‘s interview with West 8 landscape architect Adriaan Geuze. Our sister publication also ran a recent roundup of 12 waterfront developments now underway as part of the area’s ongoing redevelopment.