ULI Toronto News

ULI Toronto Symposium 2018: Reimagining the Galleria Mall and Toronto’s laneways

By Kendra FitzRandolph, Allied

The following is a recap of one of the 11 city tours that made up ULI Toronto’s Symposium 2018. On November 7th, hundreds of urban professionals from the region and beyond came together to explore the leading edges of North America’s fastest growing metropolis, exposing the contemporary tensions and innovative approaches to building a global city region.

ULI Toronto has been at the forefront of finding new ways to explore and investigate North America’s fastest growing metropolis. Fueled on the great success past years, the 2018 program featured immersive tours of the complexities that define Toronto during the Symposium 2018.

As part of the mobile tour portion, attendees explored the Galleria Shopping Centre in the Bloordale Community – an area in Toronto’s west end that is growing at an unprecedented rate.

The Galleria Mall has had many different roles in the city. The Galleria Shopping Centre site was first occupied by the Dodge Brothers in 1925 and then by Chrysler in 1928. The site also became home to a factory for WWI planes, owned by Curtiss Canada Aircraft Operations. Galleria Mall did not take shape until 1972, when it became home to a shopping centre and a landmark for the surrounding community. Now, it is being re-imagined once more by Freed Developments and Elad Canada, becoming a new high-rise mixed-use residential community. The design team includes Hariri Pontarini Architects, Urban Strategies Inc. and Public Work. Included in the proposal is a new community centre to replace the existing Wallace-Emerson Community Centre, a completely redesigned Wallace Emerson Park and a plan by the Laneway Project to activate the network of laneways that border the site.

Throughout its life span, the mall has been surrounded by laneways but for the most part, they have been ignored. Now, along with other areas in the city that have these networks, city builders, City of Toronto staff and communities are beginning to tap into a layer of our urban fabric that has been vastly underutilized. This tour highlighted emerging ways in which the Galleria Development project can set up second frontage opportunities to the site and transform the new Galleria Development into a full, vibrant and connected piece of the Bloordale community.

Michelle Senayah is the Executive Director of Laneway Project, a non-profit social enterprise dedicated to partnering with city builders and the community to improve and activate laneways across Toronto. Michelle shared her passion for the public realm at the ULI Symposium by explaining how her team has been working in collaboration with Freed, Elad and their consultants to activate the laneways around the Galleria Development. This process, as Michelle poignantly described, will make for an inclusive environment that will change and develop as the community grows.

After the tour, ULI was able to sit down with Michelle and get her take on one of Toronto’s untapped public space resources.

Kendra FitzRandolph: What do you love about this community (the Bloordale Community)?

Michelle Senayah: Both residential and business are very engaged, and very passionate about their neighbourhood. A large number of local people are ready and willing to contribute civically to the neighbourhood, which makes our job a pleasure. I also love the uniqueness of the local shops and restaurants, and the creative ways in which the community activates the neighbourhood — think daytime kids’ dance parties at local bars. The Bloordale community has a distinctly can-do, DIY attitude, and we’re going to make sure that the revitalized laneways are designed to embrace that.

KF: What is the community saying they want out of your component of the project?

MS: The top things that emerged from the community consultation workshops held over the course of the spring, summer and fall were that the laneways should be made to feel like people spaces that also have service access, rather than service spaces where people are trespassing; that they should be designed to act as an active, appealing transition zone between the community centre, park and surrounding neighbourhood; and that they should be welcoming for community members.

KF: What is your favourite part about working on this particular project?

MS: I like the consultative approach that Freed/Elad are using to design the new community centre and park, and I’m excited to be working with a great consultant team to deliver it.

KF: What other ways are laneways being used that you believe is helping to transform our communities?

MS: The “laneway movement” is still just in its infancy. They’re being rethought of as active meeting places lined with planter-based community gardens; as outdoor art galleries for some top-notch street art; and as supplementary mini-streets that open up a second frontage to properties, enabling the development of micro-scale residential or commercial units. The exact way that they’re being transformed varies according to the context and local stakeholders in each, meaning that they’re also helping to express the uniqueness of their neighbourhoods.

KF: How do you see the role of social enterprise and placemakers grow in the city building process?

MS: There seems to be a growing role for our type of specialized placemaking consultancy in Toronto’s development and planning space — a role that bridges the gap between the City, developers and community, and has targeted expertise in previously overlooked types of space.

Thank you to The Laneway Project for organizing this tour.

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