toronto waterfront

New proposal for Toronto waterfront includes floating patios and food halls

Toronto's harbourfront could finally become an alluring attraction that rivals the lakesides of other metropolises if the City takes heed of a new report suggesting some exciting transformations for the area.

The Waterfront BIA's 61-page retail review has high but very realistic hopes for the future of the district, using surveys, research and examples of what other cities are doing right with their shorelines to inform a new masterplan for what ours could look like.

Identifying key issues facing the neighbourhood — including high retail vacancy rates, a lack of variety when it comes to businesses in the area and missing cohesion between Eastern, Central and Western segments — the association presents a new vision that boasts floating patios, food halls, nightlife spots, flexible pop-up spaces and more.

Alongside new businesses and amenities would come some public realm improvements and other upgrades to create "a connected waterfront providing a continuous experience," "maximize the vibrancy of activity" and "showcase the area's best shared asset: the water."

"The key insight from our study reveals a challenge in aligning the diverse aspirations for Toronto's waterfront... This diversity of purpose has led to development decisions that, while well-intentioned, have not fully satisfied the needs of any particular group," the BIA writes.

To address this requires reconsideration of the precinct as a whole, with some immediate changes to how new development, as well as existing empty commercial space, is approached.

"Cities worldwide have impressive waterfronts that offer an exhilarating experience and utilize commercial components as a core element that defines the experience. Based on the data collected, there is a notable de-emphasis on commercial spaces focusing on water adjacency as a primary draw for customers," the report reads.

It notes, for example, that Toronto somehow only has five waters-edge patios total (with room for only 500 or so patrons between them), and "almost a complete absence" of specialty retail along the waterfront, and also of "water-based" businesses.

"This is not necessarily a retail recruitment issue but a design issue, as developments across the waterfront have essentially turned their back on the water as an element that draws visitors to the area... As a unique strength that the waterfront has, this should be capitalized on in future developments and redevelopments."

The revitalization of the community from its present "underwhelming" state is integral not just to businesses, residents and visitors in the area, but to the success of Toronto as a destination in general — especially in comparison to locales like Chicago, Washington, and San Francisco, which the BIA says have managed to better prioritize their waterfronts.

Lead photo by

Waterfront BIA


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