ERA Architects

Investing in the Public Realm: A Joint MITACS Project (by guest blogger Jeff Biggar)

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When Toronto councillors and staff direct money into the street, it does the city a service. City advocate, Annabel Vaughn, observes that the public realm is what we understand. When we walk around the city, we see the first six stories of a building, and the rest is out of sight.

Public realm in this regard refers to the physical features of our cities that we encounter everyday: streets and laneways, parks, squares, and open markets, some of which may be privately owned but publically accessible. Her observation echoes a long line of urban advocates, such as Jan Gehl, Jane Jacobs, and Kevin Lynch who forcefully argue for designing cities that connect streets, buildings, and landscape to form a comprehensive network of public spaces.

Planners, researchers, architects and other city builders have a good sense of how people perceive, inhabit, and move around in cities, but supporting this orientation through policy, investment and urban design is no small feat. So, how is Toronto doing in terms of making investments in the public realm, and what sort of challenges lie before us?

Over the next four weeks, we will be rolling out posts about a research project which examines: in a time of increasing growth and reduced public spending in cities, how can we maximize the public realm as a shared interest? View a previous post with more information here.

View research summary ‘The Public Realm’ here.

View the final report ‘Investing in the Public Realm: Challenges, Opportunities, and Lessons for Toronto,’ supported by MITACS and ERA Architects through the ‘MITACS Accelerate internship program’ here.

This blog post was prepared by Jeff Biggar. He is a PhD candidate in Planning at the University of Toronto and a MITACS Research Fellow. Learn more about Jeff here.