Contributed byAnita Bostok and Norman Hathaway. As summer draws to a close, so will Parliament Street’s widely publicized, Parkscape. The question is, did the temporary park add value to the neighbourhood in the eyes of the residents? As Cabbagetown realtors and residents, we set out to find the answer.
According to Virginia Gallop, executive director of the Cabbagetown Business Improvement Area, the Parkscape project began with an initial push from former Councillor and MPP Kristyn Wong-Tam and a grant application from former BIA director Rick Matthews. The idea was to give local businesses a post-pandemic boost and to give us Cabbagetowners a nice place to gather outdoors during the summer months. The lush green space was created as part of the Living Streets Program by Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds and was funded entirely by real estate developers Centrecourt and Fitzrovia. To the delight of the locals, Bienenstock meticulously cultivated the greenery and maintained the space throughout the summer.
While many locals looked forward to the project, others were skeptical that the comfortable outdoor gathering areas would attract loiterers and those looking to wreak havoc. But this never happened. Some speculate that the added security in the area deterred those who might abuse the space, but others believe the serenity of the natural environment is what brought calm.
The BIA organized a calendar of daily events and hosted regular concerts twice a week with performances ranging from classical cello, flamenco, accordion, music bands, and singers. One of the main draws has been the Toronto All-Star Big Band, whose crowds have grown bigger with each appearance. Businesses such as Meridian Bank, The Great Mallard, and Timeless Collective all found creative ways of using the spaces while increasing their presence on Parliament St.
But the BIA was careful not to ‘over program’ allowing time for people to use the city oasis in a relaxed fashion. Folks took the opportunity to sit and read, sometimes chatting with friends while awaiting a pizza, and children played nearby. It also gave openings for impromptu gatherings and jam sessions. And while the summer was well planned, the weather threw a few curve balls. One example is the time a wonderful trombonist’s performance was canceled due to an impending thunderstorm that never occurred.
The overwhelming response to the project was positive, with many locals saying they loved having the additional green space and took full advantage of the project. But others were frustrated by the increased traffic congestion and the diminished number of parking spaces in the shopping corridor. This element created challenges both for merchants and their customers. The BIA did offer waivers for businesses to conduct business on the sidewalk without a permit, and some merchants found other ways of keeping customers satisfied, such as by providing free deliveries.
The residents of Cabbagetown have been drawn to the area by the beautiful Victorian homes, picturesque gardens, outstanding parks, and of course, the friendly neighbours. In assessing what it has meant to Cabbagetown, Parkscape has added to the charm and is another example of why our neighbourhood is cherished.
If you haven’t yet taken the time to enjoy Parkscape, it’s not too late. Check out the Cabbagetown BIA website to find the programme schedule. Many performances and pop-up sales remain before it all wraps up. Sunday, September 11th, will be the final day with live performances from 11:00 am to 8:00 pm. Parliament Street will be closed, creating a festive promenade. Hope to see you there!
Anita Bostok and Norman Hathaway
BHHS HomeServices Toronto