toronto expand patios

Toronto may expand patios and build parklets to allow for social distancing this summer

As the city and its residents prepare for a summer filled with sun and social distancing, several ideas are being proposed in order to allow people to enjoy the nice weather while also staying safe. 

One such idea is expanding restaurant and bar patios onto streets and sidewalks in an effort to help businesses operate efficiently while giving people the space they need to safely enjoy the city. 

Toronto Mayor John Tory said in his daily press briefing Wednesday that he's asked city staff to come back with a plan to expand patio space on appropriate sidewalks and streets, and he said transportation services officials will soon come up with a list of possible locations.

Tory also said he believes we can sweep away some of the red tape and get this done in a timely manner, and he'll have more news on the matter soon enough. 

One of the biggest supporters of this proposal is Kristyn Wong-Tam, the city councillor for Toronto Centre since 2010. 

Wong-Tam has been particularly outspoken in advocating for this change in recent days, and she says she believes it should go even further than what's currently being proposed. 

"I would say that it shouldn't just be patios, which of course are nice — I'm dying to sit on a patio and have a burger and a soda myself these days — but it shouldn't just be for commercial activity," she said. 

"It actually should be for recreational lounging social activity as well, and so I would argue that it's actually critically important to take a look at it from an equalizing effect. So therefore, for those who don't have the disposable extra income that can sit and drink and eat at a restaurant, because sometimes that could be expensive, they should also have the right to sit on public parklets and public curbside spaces."

Wong-Tam said she believes this change can be made in some of the city's most iconic downtown neighbourhoods such as Church and Wellesley, Corktown and Cabbagetown. She also said the city should look into ways to expand patios in St. Lawrence Market as well as the "little spines" that come off of Yonge Street, such as Elm or Edward streets.

"But what's important is that these locations should be chosen with community input and executed as quickly as possible," she said. "We all know summer is too short to start off with, so if we're going to build these summer spaces let’s build them as quickly as possible. "

Wong-Tam added that she worked with the premier, the AGCO and the chief of police to become the first councillor to successfully build parklets in her ward back in 2012, and she did something similar on Church Street in 2013

It's for this reason that she says she knows it's possible to accomplish and doesn't need to be studied for too long.

"I know that people are just itching to get outside, and they're also very scared of taking transit, and they are looking for places to congregate where they can — and be told that they can — safely. So I think that the patio program will be wildly successful," she added.

"We can work with the local community, and their input is critically important. We don’t have to overthink it, what we need to do is make sure we have local input and then we need to just roll it out. Make it happen."

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