How parklets are creating new space in the heart of communities like Forest Hill Village

Post by Andrew Seale  Photos by Cameron Bartlett and Yvonne Bambrick

Post by Andrew Seale

Photos by Cameron Bartlett and Yvonne Bambrick

The seasonal on-street parklet, installed in June, is part of the Forest Hill Village Business Improvement Area’s (BIA’s) ongoing streetscape master plan to make the community more pedestrian and cycling friendly.

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The busy summer foot traffic moves in and out of the restaurants and shops punctuating the sidewalk along Spadina Rd. between St. Clair and Eglinton Avenue known as Forest Hill Village. A new mother, pausing to check on her baby, slides her stroller onto a platform the size of a parking space – a parklet with benches and chairs.

Her respite is lined with flowering plants and stretching ferns, a few steps from the sidewalk yet somehow a tiny parallel world of its own. For a driver passing by, maybe it’s a minor inconvenience, an acknowledgement that the search for parking continues, but for the passerby on foot, it’s a welcome oasis, a fully accessible space etched into the fabric of the neighbourhood.

The seasonal on-street parklet, installed in June, is part of the Forest Hill Village Business Improvement Area’s (BIA’s) ongoing streetscape master plan to make the community more pedestrian and cycling friendly. The plan also includes, among other things, the addition of bike-share to the Village, streetscape gateways and a custom light pole displaying the name Forest Hill Village at the north end.

“Some people had been worried about how the Village didn't have that same community vibe – people want to feel like they're welcome in their community and it's not just about driving, parking, shopping, and leaving,” explains Yvonne Bambrick, executive director of the Forest Hill Village BIA. “The parklet in particular, as well as all the other pieces together, are bringing that vibe back – the BIA board wants to make the Village more village-y”

Bambrick notes that the parklet’s size betrays the amount of effort that went into it. Not just seeking city council approval to temporarily re-purpose a parking space but the starts and stops involved in finding a cost-effective solution. She said the initial proposal for a custom design with shade coverage over top proved cost-prohibitive. The current design will be packed away and stored in the Fall.

“It seems to be really well received… it looks great, the plantings are lovely, it always has someone sitting in it,” says Bambrick. “It’s a neat space.”

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The parklet is part of a wider trend. The Downtown Yonge BIA set up an off-street parklet of their own on Elm Street. Similar parklets have cropped up on Temperance Street and King Street.

“It's a unique thing that’s caught on a lot with streetscapes,” says Rajashree Kumar, capital projects coordinator and streetscape designer for the city of Toronto. “A lot of BIAs are getting interested in doing this.”

According to budget data provided by the BIAs, a total of $8.0 million was invested in streetscape improvements on city property – everything from banners, street signs, and flower baskets to major streetscape transformations, parkettes, and public squares – by the 82 BIAs in 2018.

In general, BIAs develop a streetscape master plan to identify opportunities for streetscape improvements, including priorities, timing and costing. The individual projects and phases are then budgeted on a yearly basis with the full cost included in the city’s capital budget. Once the work is completed, the BIA is billed for half the cost while the city pays the remaining share.

For Bambrick, the success of the parklet is self-evident. Rarely is the space not in use by nannies swapping stories or students pausing for lunch.

“We’ve made it a place where people want to spend more time, (they) feel comfortable there,” she says. “The parklet is just one more way to bring public space into the heart of the Village.”

David Hessels