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27 May, 2018

Best Practices for a Better Toronto (Part 6)

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I always like to recognize a best practice in Toronto because while I believe we could learn so much from other cities, Toronto already has some very good ones of its own. And one of them is the St Lawrence Market. Recently the National Geographic Magazine named it as the best food market in the world, beating out markets in NYC, Nice, London, Palermo, Helsinki etc. It has operated since 1803 when it cohabited with Toronto’s city hall. The market was saved with some redevelopment in the 1970’s and 1990’s. Today it hosts over 100 retailers selling fresh fish, meat, vegetables and cheeses. I used to like their famous peameal bacon sandwich before I gave up eating pork (pigs are so damn smart).

For years running was my major source of exercise. But as I got older all the miles caught up with me and I started mostly walking. Today I walk to many of meetings in Toronto, regularly walk the three-mile loop around BobLo; and when I visit other cities walking is my major mode of transportation. A recent article in the G&M captured the essence of walking far better than I could: “it’s good for your heart, your mind, and your bones. Walking, like many forms of exercise, makes you feel better - emotionally, mentally and spiritually, it keeps you young”. The article went on to say: “walking is good for the environment, crime prevention, community-building and the economy. Conversely the most unhealthy, unsafe, anti-social, and costly thing people do is drive”. And the most unhealthy, unsafe, and costly thing our city council regularly supports is cars, cars, cars.

In many of my previous Best Practices’ posts I have written about cities like Paris, Seoul, Bogotá and Barcelona that have committed themselves to creating walkable areas at the expense of cars. So, it should come as no surprise that when I was in London recently that I came across another walking best practice - Carnaby Street. The streets of Soho were originally laid out in the late 17th century. The pedestrianization of the area started in 1973 and it showed a 30% increase in pedestrian traffic. Today many of its 14 streets are completely car free or car traffic is restricted during certain times of the day and this has all been very good for business. The area is jammed pack with people supporting many successful fashion and life style retailers and over 50 restaurants and bars. Fun place.

The other thing that really struck me in Soho was how people were completely comfortable taking over streets - see my photo as proof. Clearly, they feel safe gathering outside their favourite pub to enjoy a pint or two. Which brings me to another conclusion - Ontario alcohol laws are archaic. Over the years loosening of alcohol rules has occurred at glacier-like pace. It’s bizarre that some areas of the city were dry until quite recently; St Clair West 1994, High Park 1997, Junction 1998. I remember having to petition AGCO in around 1990 to allow Skydome to serve beer at concerts and events like NBA exhibition games. Still today people are confined to caged off outside areas at events. Definitely not what I observed on Carnaby streets. So how about a new best practice for Ontario - treat us like adults?

Increase walkability for a healthier and better Toronto

Richard Peddie Passionate city builder

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