Wellington Place was laid out in the 1830s as a grand residential street with a square, on the English model, at each end. This fashionable westward extension of the City was, however, thwarted by mid-century by the coming of the railways and the subsequent incursions of industrial activity. While the generous street layout and the two squares survive to this day, they have been badly neglected and are in need of refurbishing.
The most significant historical survivor is Victoria Memorial Square which contains the City’s first European cemetery, opened in 1794 as the garrison cemetery for Fort York. Its first occupant was Katherine, infant daughter of Lt. Gov. John Graves Simcoe. The last burial was in 1863 and it is now operated as a park. Clarence Square, at Wellington and Spadina, was named in honour of King William IV, the former Duke of Clarence. It was originally intended to be the site of the Lt. Governor’s residence
Since the City changed the development rules for King-Spadina in the mid 90’s, this area has boomed. It is the vibrant home to many businesses with focuses in new media, architecture, technology, communications, fashion and entertainment. With established residential areas like Draper Street and new residential developments at 20 Niagara, the Monarch Building and Portland Park Village, this is a model mixed use neighbourhood. The City’s King-Spadina Community Improvement Plan (June, 1998) recognized this and called for public and private initiatives in support of continuing investment in the area. This commitment has been confirmed in the recent King-Spadina Secondary Plan Study approved by City Council in July 2006.
WPNA’s vision for the community is to continue to build on the area’s unique legacy and work in partnership with the private sector and the City to revitalize the entire Historic Wellington Place district. The underlying historic structure of public spaces formed by the two squares and extra wide connecting right of way that provides a unique framework should guide and shape future growth and investment. Special attention will be given to the two historic parks (Victoria Memorial Square and Clarence Square), the Wellington Street West streetscape between Spadina and Portland Streets and the historic residential precinct of Draper Street.
Phase one of this effort has been the improvement of Victoria Memorial Square. Here the plan for the restoration of the square has built on the historical character and natural beauty of the original design in implementing a program of rehabilitation and interpretation that will provide a priceless amenity for those who live and work in the area and a cultural attraction for all citizens and visitors to the City.
WPNA recognizes that its neighbourhood is not an island. It is committed to working closely on these issues with neighbouring associations including King Spadina Residents Association (KSRA), Draper Street Residents Association (DSRA), Garment District Residents Association, Niagara Neighbourhood Now, and the Bathurst Quay Residents Association in advocating for change and playing a role in larger community issues. In our combined response to the King-Spadina Secondary Plan study along with our neighbour associations, KSRA and DSRA. WPNA has identified a number of key issues that are critical for the future health and vitality of the Wellington Place Neighbourhood and made specific recommendations to the City, recognizing at the same time that these concerns extend beyond the Wellington Place neighbourhood and for the most part are also being addressed at the scale of King-Spadina.
Community Services and Facilities: Planning for Diversity
As a fundamental matter of good public policy, WPNA supports the creation of a diverse neighbourhood socially, economically, family sizes, age, live and work etc. Historically, this has been one of Toronto’s most important goals. We need to build new sustainable neighbourhoods. Young people should be able to come here and stay and raise families and not be forced to move to the suburbs or to bid up prices for a very limited stock of postwar houses in existing neighbourhoods. Older people should be able to stay here. We do not want a monoculture and to plan for it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This means for example, providing the infrastructure for diversity and encouraging a range of unit types and sizes and more amenities including parks, playgrounds, daycare, libraries schools etc. for a growing population. Vancouver has had great success in achieving this and there are already signs of this diversity here. It needs to be further encouraged and fostered! WPNA recognizes that this is a complex issue and the tools and strategies to achieve this goal need careful study and real community involvement.
The City should pursue the following:
- A commitment to planning with the community for a diverse neighbourhood (e.g. ages, families etc.) and a request to staff to explore mechanisms for achieving this goal.
- A prioritized list of community amenities, (e.g. community centre, parks, sidewalk and street improvements, local markets, security and policing etc.) and the means of implementation including Section 37 and Section 45 contributions.
Public Realm: A Pedestrian-Friendly Neighbourhood
WPNA welcome the emphasis given to improving the public realm and endorses many of the directions put forward by the City. However, to the extent that this is about changing the character and quality of the streetscapes it is essential to link these objectives to parallel approaches to basic transportation issues. The ability to make public realm improvements in King-Spadina, particularly on streets, is integrally related to a commitment to balancing travel patterns and dealing with traffic conditions and the desirability of employing appropriate traffic calming techniques (as in other well established Toronto neighbourhoods). The objective of breaking down large blocks to increase pedestrian connections remains valid but is not being pursued and opportunities are being lost.
With the great increase in population here, there has been a major increase in pedestrian and bicycle use. The existing street network was not designed for this but to serve an industrial area. It now needs to be modified in order to develop the public realm as described above. This includes more crosswalks and stop lights at critical junctions for example crossing Spadina and Bathurst Streets, traffic flows (including two-way flows), traffic-calming and reduction where reasonable and practical, lane widths, the need for on-street and off-street parking for new businesses, improved access to transit, bicycle lanes, and connections to adjoining neighbourhoods. WPNA is committed to the early implementation of the proposed Portland Street Pedestrian Bridge to the railway lands and the waterfront.
WPNA supports the creation new off-street underground parking which can serve the increasing number of local businesses. This may be essential in reducing surface parking in order to make the kinds of public realm improvements that are being proposed, for example on Wellington Street.
WPNA remains extremely concerned about the potential impacts of the proposed Front Street extension and is committed to working with our neighbours to monitoring any future moves to re-introduce it.
- An integrated approach to the public realm which includes the Public Works Department in transportation considerations such as more crosswalks and stop lights at critical junctions, traffic flows including two-way flows, traffic-calming on key streets and reduction where reasonable and practical, lane widths, the need for on street and off street parking for new businesses, improved access to transit, bicycle lanes, and connections to adjoining neighbourhoods.
- An implementation method and commitment to funding including:
- Updating the Community Improvement Plan for the public realm adopted in 1997
- Use of Section 37 funds (and possibly neighbourhood BIA and other funding) with funds from re-development being directed to specifically targeted projects in the area in a timely fashion
- A schedule with timetables for specific actions to meet the needs of a rapidly increasing population
- A commitment to a maintenance program for new and improved public spaces
WPNA recognizes that this is a sensitive issue that involves a balancing of public good with the business objectives of property owners. Enormous pressure is being put on this neighbourhood with an endless stream of applications, each proposing to go higher and larger. WPNA is extremely concerned about the recently approved developments continue to exceed the established height limits and to extraordinary degrees. This wave of approvals threatens the character of the area.
- WPNA supports more assertive and coherent policies for built-form with a stronger set of rationales heritage value, unique character, Wellington Place (i.e. Clarence Square and Victoria Memorial Square connected by Wellington Street) etc.
- WPNA supports the recommendations of the King-Spadina Secondary Plan Study that “new buildings …achieve a compatible relationship with their build form context through consideration of such matters as building height, massing, scale, setbacks, step-backs, roof line and profile and architectural character and expressions.” In the interim we would like to see a hold on major re-zonings until new controls are put in place.
- WPNA also needs more opportunity to review the specific proposals and be involved in the early stages of planning considerations. This means more timely and informative communication and transparency in planning proposals by staff.
- WPNA supports a Heritage District Designation for Wellington Place which would provide additional planning controls on abutting sites. At the same time we do not want to encourage ‘historicist copying’ of genuine heritage buildings but would rather see sympathetic contemporary treatments that respect the scale and rhythm of the street.
- WPNA sees an urgent need for anticipatory urban design and planning for large sites like Queen/Portland and the Globe & Mail site on Front and Wellington. These site-specific ‘master plans’ should be required to deal with the full range of issues discussed in this document including appropriate design guidelines that clearly describe planning intentions.
- Prohibition of ‘Big Box’. Many cities have effectively ‘zoned-out’ big box in inner city neighbourhoods. WPNA advocates specific policies on the control and limitation of Big Box development within the King-Spadina-Bathurst market area.
- Design Review: With its increased powers under the Planning Act, the City has been looking at areas to introduce Design Review. This area has begun to distinguish itself in terms of design quality and would be an ideal candidate. WPNA supports the creation of a Design Review Panel for Wellington Place.
- Sustainable Design: This is an area where city initiative is long overdue. WPNA believes we have a receptive development environment and strongly endorses a greater commitment to established criteria for sustainable design (as in the Waterfront area).
- A moratorium on additional re-zonings until urban design policies are fully worked out with community involvement
- Exploration of a Heritage District designation for “Wellington Place”
- Requirement for Community Design Plans for large site redevelopment
- Specific policies limiting inappropriate Big Box development
- A Design Review Panel for King Spadina
- A stronger commitment to sustainable design