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Complete streets come to Toronto: European design concept mean safety for all users

Toronto has become one of the largest centres of condominium development in North America. In this fast-growing city, the degree of residential intensification moving into the core is a clear sign that Torontonians have a desire to move back into the downtown.

When a condo community is built, the neighbourhood changes. Surrounding communities benefit from rejuvenated streetscapes, new parks, fresh retail choices and public art. In building these projects, developers have an opportunity to shape thriving, mixed-use neighbourhoods.

The concept of complete streets emphasizes the importance of safe access for all users, whether cycling, walking, driving, riding public transportation or delivering goods. It’s a transportation policy and design approach that planners say will offer improved safety, and economic and environmental benefits for cities.

Here’s a neat idea that totally embodies the spirit of complete streets: Toronto has its first Woonerf in the West Don Lands. What’s a Woonerf, you may ask? It’s a Dutch word meaning “living street.”

Popular in Europe, these open avenues are shared equally by pedestrians, cyclists, baby strollers and delivery vans. Motorists have to pay attention, as there’s no curb on either side.

“There’s a huge evolution going on. It’s going to be all about back to the basics and back to the streets,” says Rob Spanier, partner and principal of real estate development and advisory firm, LiveWorkLeanPlay.

The company is responsible for implementing the retail strategy for the Athletes’ Village for the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games.

“I totally believe that the ground floor is exactly where people live. They live on the streets, they live in these places and spaces. They sleep upstairs or they work upstairs. You can sleep anywhere, but people are choosing where to work and where to live based on that ground-floor experience,” says Spanier.

A great example of complete streets is Riverside Square, a new, master-planned condo community between Broadview and the Don Valley. The project is the vision of Streetcar Developments and will consist of a campus of mixed-use buildings centred around an open-concept public plaza with wide pedestrian promenades.

“It has a very different context than one of our typical neighbourhood developments,” says Streetcar principal Les Mallins. “We’re creating all the streets in this case.”

He says the pedestrian realm at street level really drives the character of the development.

“We’re really looking for retailers that can animate the streets and bring life to this stretch of Queen Street.”

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