Spurred by a recent column in the Globe and Mail, John Bowker of the RV BIA shares his reflections.
On June 17, the Globe and Mail’s Marcus Gee wrote a column about the Bloor Street reconstruction, and briefly mentioned Roncesvalles. He writes:
On Roncesvalles Avenue, too, a major renovation is coming to a happy end. As on Bloor, the street had to be torn up for major work – in Roncey’s case, the laying of new streetcar tracks. The merchants took advantage of the opportunity to spruce up the streetscape. Handsome, pale grey paving stone has been laid for the new, wider sidewalk, with planters, benches and raised transit stops that allow easier access to streetcars for strollers and wheelchairs. New street-level tree planters, replacing the old, raised “tree coffins,” hold 85 new trees, from oaks to maples to chestnuts.
There were delays here, too, and lots of complaints from irritated merchants and residents. The belated discovery that a gas main lay too close to the new tracks meant that the project could not be finished last fall as expected. A dispute with a contractor over manpower caused holdups, too. But the job is on budget and just two weeks from completion, city officials say, with crews laying the final paving stones, putting in bike rings and clearing debris. Councillor Gord Perks says the city held no fewer than 37 community meetings on the design of the street, dealing with everything from the colour of the pavers to the design of the tree grates.
The result is quite marvellous. Roncesvalles, always a lively street, with its pastry shops, delis, bike stores, public library and Revue cinema, was looking a little tired before the do-over. The renovation has given it a fresh, new face. For all the pain they cause, projects like these are just what an ambitious city should be doing, seizing the chance to transform mediocre streetscapes into something better.
- the Bloor Street transformation was funded and driven by the merchants of Bloor Street. This allowed the merchants considerable freedom to shape a public right-of-way to suit their own interests. For the most part, these interests align with those of the public, who will now benefit from beautiful granite sidewalks and new trees without having to pay for any of it. On the other hand, public space on Bloor has been given over for valet parking, while bike parking has been reduced. On Roncesvalles, the project was largely driven by the community, and was mostly publicly funded, with the BIA being just one stakeholder among many.
- Bloor Street cost $20 million just for the streetscape improvements. The Roncesvalles streetscape improvements (leaving aside the costs of sewer/water main/track replacement, etc.) did not cost nearly as much. Much of the added value came from coordination, community consultations, and by leveraging every opportunity to piggy-back off reconstruction work that was going to happen anyway. Beauty does not necessarily require huge expense. But it does need a little forethought, support from the councillor, a dedicated staff and an engaged community.
- instead of seeking a “grand vision” that would set the street apart from others, Roncesvalles Renewed intended for the Roncy reconstruction to set a new standard for all streets. While the Bloor transformation is unlikely to be duplicated elsewhere, we hope that Roncesvalles will serve as a model for other communities. For example, the other week I had a chat with folks from the Bloorcourt BIA, and I stressed the importance of bringing in Urban Forestry early on in the streetscape design process. My hope is that after Roncesvalles, it will be standard practice at the City to think of trees as part of the infrastructure, and not as a decorative afterthought.
- Roncesvalles did not begin as a grand vision that got scaled back as reality set in. It began as a “state-of-good repair” project that grew as new opportunities were discovered. And so, instead of the status quo that was originally planned, Roncesvalles now has new trees planted in healthy growing conditions, new public spaces, no more two-level sidewalk tripping hazards, accessible TTC stops, new benches, new pedestrian lights, new landscaping and other features. This could not have happened without continuous engagement between the City and the community, working together to seek out new ways of making the project even better.
Anyway, I think there is something very special about how the Roncesvalles renewal came about, and I am very pleased to see that the beautiful results are being recognized.
John Bowker is Chair of the Parking and Beautification Committee for the Roncesvalles Village BIA.