A few summers ago, some friends and I were looking for a hangout. Something cheap (i.e. free), outdoors, and comfortable. Living just north of Toronto doesn’t give a lot of options for lit public spaces in an interesting setting, but then one of us (I’d like to claim it was me) suggested Mel Lastman Square. With much skepticism, we tried it out.
It’s been a common destination for us ever since.
A great deal goes into designing a good public space, as Torontonians, especially those along the waterfront, are becoming more and more aware. It needs ambient pedestrian traffic to feel populated; it needs to be inviting to that traffic. It needs to feel like something of a refuge from the noise of vehicles, yet, at least in an urban context, close enough to feel lively. It needs to hold some visual interest and some ability for spontaneous activities to take place.
It was Mayor Mel’s dream to create a sort of ‘Downtown North’ in his pre-amalgamation digs of North York, and love it or hate it (there’s more than enough reason to do either), the area is nothing if not lively, and the square itself is remarkable for how it quietly draws people in at all hours of the day. Goodness knows Mel Lastman Square doesn’t make it into the news when examples of good design in the city get written.
The square gradually slopes down from street level, the shift in altitude creating a natural reduction in street noise. The large fountain at Yonge St. feeds into a tiered stream running the length of the square, lined with benches, and ultimately feeds a larger fountain towards the west end of the square, which in turn feeds a reflecting pool/skating rink. Immediately south of the pool is a small stage with amphitheatre seating, and behind that heading back towards Yonge St. is a shady, tree-filled corner are with picnic benches. Simple. Varied. And most imortant, inviting. Any given evening sees couples wandering through, groups of friends sitting and talking, and the stage is publicly accessible, much like the redesign planned for Nathan Phillips Square.
Mel Lastman Square is hardly a must-see or a tourist attraction, but it is good design, which we could use more of in this city.
For more info:
Mel Lastman Square hosts a variety of events; see its schedule for more information