Kristyn Wong-Tam is pushing an ambitious revitalization plan for Yonge Street—but will it fly at Rob Ford’s city hall?

Kristyn Wong-Tam is pushing an ambitious revitalization plan for Yonge Street—but will it fly at Rob Ford’s city hall?

The Yonge Street strip (Image: John Douglas) 

Yonge Street dollar stores, strip clubs and head shops be warned: an ambitious new plan for revamping Toronto’s main drag is looking to erase some of the ramshackle shabbiness on the stretch between Dundas and Gerrard streets, adding wider sidewalks, a narrowed roadway and high-quality retail stores. Spearheaded by local councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, the plan is set to be fully unveiled Wednesday—in the always exciting form of a report—and is designed to look at ways to improve the troubled stretch following a suspicious fire that ripped through a heritage building at the corner of Yonge and Gould in January. The loss of that building served as a wake-up call to businesses and residents, highlighting the fragile and often overlooked history that exists on Yonge, particularly north of Dundas. But while we welcome any changes to the historic street—and, really, it should be one of downtown Toronto’s finest—we have to wonder: will this kind of thing make it past council with the Rob Ford regime running city hall?

The Globe and Mail has the story:

Taking its cue from projects such as New York’s transformation of Broadway or, closer to home, the redo of Kitchener’s downtown, the plan offers a solution to the growing numbers of pedestrians and recommends more street closings for special events.

“Pedestrians are literally falling off the sidewalks at busy times,” said planner Ken Greenberg, author of the study along with architect Marianne McKenna. More than 53,000 pedestrians use Yonge and Dundas in an eight-hour period, he said, making it the country’s busiest intersection, and foot traffic already outnumbers cars by more than two to one along Toronto’s main street. “We want to provide an opportunity for life to spill out onto the street,” he said.

Street closures? Cues from New York? Prioritizing pedestrians over motorists? We have to admit, we’re getting a little flush—but we also know the proposal has all the hallmarks of something that could head straight to the mayor’s rubbish bin. In an era where the political winds are tilted toward maintaining road space for cars, even if at the expense of existing infrastructure, Wong-Tam acknowledged that she’s in for a hell of a fight to get the plan past city council. But she does appear to have the early support of business heavyweights, including the Yonge Street BIA and Ryerson University.

Still, given the tight fiscal focus and the stated priorities at city hall, we remain skeptical that the dollars and political will to transform old Yonge Street exist. Score one for dollar stores, strip clubs and head shops—at least for the time being.