Remodeling and Home Design
Toronto Architects & Designers

THOMPSON RESIDENTS PATIOS - The Backstory

WITH IBI PLANNING - 2011

Controversy surrounds the completion of my live and work condo street planter. The city is a sum total of zoning microdramas.

The original design for the Stewart Street facing units had exclusive use ground level patios, similar to those across the street, and matching the patios facing Wellington Street and Victoria Park.

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The developer and consultants could not achieve a building permit for the patios after many attempts. This was due to a well meaning change of planning policy. After allowing development permit approval, the city planning department disallowed the private patios under a new initiative called "Green Spaces." This initiative tried to keep private uses off municipal land on downtown Toronto streets. The usual street-scape development and the private use of street setbacks is a Toronto tradition, but conflicted with the cities new need for open space.

Unfortunately, and unknown to city planning, the developer still promoted and committed to build the patio's in their condo sales agreements, with full knowledge they were not allowed.

The owners who complained on taking possession, were offered their original money back as an appeasement of the "material change", without the appreciation of real estate values from their long waiting period of course. No one I know took this bitter pill deal.

Upon awareness of this problem, the city collaborated with the new condo owners to return the approved patios in this case, and agree to their construction pending a permit application.

Today’s Design Challenge

The 2013 winter state of Thompson Hotel Midblock walkthrough.

At The Crossroads of the Thompson

The street setback needs to be addressed in terms of heritage landscape, pedestrian and vehicular paths, pet control, night lighting, signage design strategy with wheelchair and accessibility.

Imagine for example if my dad wanted to cross the street with everyone else. With no curb cut this isn't possible. The bollards are a temporary measure to preserve the lobby from construction vehicles. When the bollards go, the landscape design of the building streetfront should be resolved. I'm suggesting a hotel style car dropoff layby to relieve traffic bottlenecking at the front entry. The curb can be contoured, or better the street graded up to the entry, removing boundaries to delivery, wheelchairs, cars and people. Moveable planter pots can protect the walking areas. The new lobby by Johnston Chou should light the area and provide elegant needed signage.

The Dirt

As the landscaping of the patios has failed on the south side, as sunlight is very restricted, the green space has become a dirt space. The few plants surviving there are constantly threatened by the many condo dog owners, who use the planters as a toilet, despite the No Dogs Allowed signage on each planter. The dirt remaining in the planter is further splattered on the lower area of the windows during rainstorms by the runoff from the ten stories of patios above, leaving a rain ditch below.

A street patio will reduce or eliminate some of the problems. It is a real estate basic, that effort put into the curb appeal of a development, will payoff in the increased status and value in unit sales.

Jane Says - Here's Dirt In Your Eye

The late Jane Jacobs, memorialized Toronto planning critic and urban activist, in one of her many great books, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities", suggested the social value of downtown streets is increased by the private participation of street oriented grade level units, called "eyes on the street".

The common incidence of Toronto street crime, from assault to common street noise, can be abated by the built presence of residential and commercial uses in front of their property, claiming ownership of the street. The presence of small businesses at the base, like my firm, Faces and The Health Loft, increases the walkability of streets by the use of attractive street signs and window displays. These perk human interest. The patios help spread the pedestrian activation by framing the retail frontage above, and allowing both private and appropriate small scale commercial uses, such as art sales, or just hanging out people watching.

The Politics of Planting

Unknown to the developers, architects and landscape architects who originally designed the project, the Thompson residences area is part of the heritage zone of Victoria Park.The Victoria Park area is a central public space celebrating Canada's heritage through the memorialization of the War of 1812, where Canadian independence was won from american invaders.

A higher level of landscaping and maintenance is expected of properties addressing the public realm in the zone surrounding Victoria Park. Every flower in the heritage zone connotes a fallen soldier, who's unmarked war graves are inches under the soil of the park. The property around Victoria Park is as important as the park itself, as the neighbors appearance and uses spill into it, creating a street edge.

Concrete was the material of choice for the Thompson Hotel developers design team, not flowers. Where planters were specified, grass was the ground planting of choice. The duty of grave landscape maintenance shows respect in perpetuity. Larger potted flowers at least would address the war dead respect issue, without leaving dirt bogs in the winter. To be fair to the developer and his team, there is one large wild flower planter right next to the park, but it is hard to tell if it is memorial or accidental.

Colette Grand Cafe's floral decorated white trellis is a welcome addition to the heritage zone it encroaches.

Did You get an F in History Class?

The 2012, bicentennial of the War of 1812, has now passed. The primitive state of our part in the Stewart Street patios was wanting. The excuse was the long negotiations with the developer over funding of the many deficiencies of the condo building, recently part resolved by litigation by the condo board.

As the original Thompson Hotel is an American chain, they may not have felt the need to participate in remembering a war they lost. Possibly in their history books it was a win, or a draw, not a botched invasion of an innocent colony. We are now, 200 years after 1812, a treasured ally, vital Russian nuclear war buffer, and compliant trading partner. Recently, with a change in Thompson Hotel management, there is fresh hope of some sensitivity to Canadian memory and heritage.

The Stewart Street patio areas are in this heritage zone that extends to the street centerline, all the way to the King street walkway, soon to be completed. The walking route, or Promenade in planner-speak, taken by park lovers, their dogs, residents, and late night King Street partiers, is a long term love affair of urban designers. Their short block connections, parks, and multi-use strategies, is the fine art of planning regenration areas, like downtown King Street West.

In areas like Victoria Park, from North America to the Middel East, the landscape, and its continual maintenance, is the quality statement, for good or bad.

SetbackWars

The tug of war between for-profit tax paying corporations, and the tax based public institutions that enable them, is waged on the area between the sidewalk and the property line.

On Wall street the richest men on earth laugh as they walk on the sidewalks of old, broken asphalt, into lobbies of pure gold.

On Stewart Street the setbacks are mud.


The Proposal 2011

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Coming Soon

Current efforts on the patio have been undertaken by the Thompson Residences condo board. It is hopeful that the patios, and the frontage of the building will finally be resolved.

The development of the few small businesses on Stewart, and the patience of the owners and residents in our building is to be appreciated.

More later.


GARY ERICKSON ARCHITECT

Friday Febuary 6, 2015.