[huje#3] Re-inventing Toronto (1/2)

This article was redacted by huje. huje is a non-profit organisation whose purpose is to discover what makes cities special and to enlight us on original urban initiatives, both around the world and in France. Urban Odyssey has decided to support them on their journey, which was unfortunately paused by the health crisis. For the time being, let’s see what they discovered during their second stop: Toronto!


Second step of our learning expedition, Toronto has shown to be truly multicultural with a strong urban activism scene. The largest city of Canada made us realize the power of spontaneous interventions. Montreal was all about non-profits fostering changes in public space, and the municipality enabling citizen’s intervention. But what we found here were citizen-led interventions used as tools to engage a discussion. A strong spontaneous will of expression that the city has sometimes managed to capitalize on. This second article focuses on this bottom up movement, a movement that without a doubt contributes to having human centered cities.



Toronto is a city of diversities. A diversity of cultures, with a multiculturalism that you find everywhere, including in the city's gastronomic scene. Here, we enjoyed flavors from the four corners of the world. We also changed language when going from Korea Town to China Town or Little Portugal! These samples of culture combined with a true acceptance of others and their differences make this city a cultural mosaic. Unlike a melting pot, a mosaic brings together differences: cultures fit together and co-exist (and the result is pretty amazing). Toronto’s diversity, can also be found in the urban landscape: streets suddenly turn when you change neighborhood, you suddenly go from skyscrapers to 2-storey houses, ...  You will have understood it : there is no one Toronto, one cohesive identity nor one food !


Ontario's capital is also marked by the legacy of Jane Jacobs, who had at heart to “empower citizens to trust their common sense and become advocates for their place”. The struggles of its residents against urban planning decisions such as the Spadina Express Way project or the fight to preserve homes on the Toronto Islands are true demonstrations of the power of citizen activism here.


The culture of diversity coupled with a legacy of urban activism makes some Torontonians involved and engaged. Visiting the city and meeting some its residents gave us the opportunity to explore another facet of the city of tomorrow, that of the transformation of the city by its inhabitants. 



Tactical urbanism to serve transformation


Toronto is full of strong personalities who are committed to their city. Here we found many examples of tactical urbanism, a movement based on spontaneous and ephemeral urban intervention. In a sense, citizens are experimenting with planning ideas and urban solutions themselves in their city through low-cost, small-scale, time-limited interventions. These three characteristics, defined by Mike Lydon in his book Tactical Urbanism 2: short-term action, long-term change (2015), do not detract from the power of these interventions. Indeed, while being often playful and festive, they initiate discussions on the evolution of urban space.


Our meeting with Leida Englar, a Ward Island resident and long-time activist, allowed us to measure the scope of this movement in Toronto's history. She explains that as early as the 1980s, groups came together to organize temporary interventions in the streets, and were "taking over the streets".


The former activist told us about multiple interventions. One of which made quite an impression on us.  A woman had cut into a poster covered wall to put seeds in between the cuts: in spring, this wall became a wall of flowers … quite poetic ! It sent out a strong message to the city: the need for a greener city. In this continuity, Leida Englar had also participated in the installation of grass rolls on a Toronto street at night, in the occupation of parking spaces with lounge furniture, ... For the activist, transforming public space through simple interventions and mobilizing through art are undeniable ways to have a weight in the politics of the spaces we inhabit. Because as she said, “the simplest thing can be so powerful!”


In the same way, to denounce the excessive importance of the car, a collective, the Urban Repair Squad, has long worked to make life easier for cyclists through various actions. One of which was to change, in the darkness of the night, speed regulation signs to create 10km/h zones and thus make the streets safer for soft mobilities.


These few examples of interventions show the many opportunities for action. And despite their simplicity, the message conveyed is powerful. It makes the different stakeholders and decision makers of the city consider new possibilities for public space. 


Find more stories by Marie & Mïa, the co-founders of the huje project, on our website or on their LinkedIn!

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