Don't Fence Me In

Dear Toronto Public Space Committee,

I have been following your campaigns for some time now. While I disagree with some of them (I am cognizant of the poor funding environment for cities and therefore tolerant of commercial street furniture and transit ads), it pleases me to see that someone out there is concerned with the deteriorating quality of Toronto's public space. Unlike many older American cities (blessed with long histories of philanthropy and reform movements), there is not much to begin with in Toronto and the little remaining attractive public space must be carefully nurtured.

Which brings me to Moss Park. The Armoury on the corner of Jarvis and Queen has long been somewhat of an eyesore, both for its banal architecture and its lack of utilization. (Such a prime corner probably has better uses than as a parking lot for army reserve vehicles.) Nonetheless, I do not object to the continuing military use of the site and strongly disagree with the reprehensible homeless "activists" who often try to take over the building. My concern is with the visual environment around the building.

The main redeeming feature of the Armoury is that it currently offers a generous amount of green grass buffer in an area that, although now gentrifying, is still very hard-edged. This grassy relief is now in danger, physically and visually.

Apparently a contractor has begun to install chain link fencing around the site today. This action needs to be investigated:

1) Did the city grant a permit for this work? Does Planning know about it?

2) What is the purported need? Does it justify an 8' tall fence around a small reserve installation? Would a low fence suffice?

3) Why is the fence not set back more from the street?

4) Why is it not a more attractive fence design (such as painted metal) that is compatible with an urban environment?

5) A similar fencing action was attempted about six years ago but withdrawn after protest (with the assistance of Councillor Rae). Is this simply another attempt to fence off the property?

Simply claiming "military security need" is not sufficient for ill consideration for the public nature of the buffer space. It fact, a chain link fence in the face of pedestrians on Queen Street is quite insulting. As you so carefully point out on your de-fence project, chain link fences are not positive materials for the borders of public spaces.

There are ways to provide security, if in fact it can be justified, without harming the streetscape. Please consider this a cause for your website.

CC: 32 Brigade Public Affairs Office, Councillor Kyle Rae

Note -- to see the difference between a tall chain-link fence and an attractive iron fence, see the fence replacement project at New York's Central Park Reservoir. These are the details that nobody thinks about but everyone loves.


UPDATE: Within a few days, I received a response detailing that the fence had in fact been discussed with the city and community groups, would soon be replaced by a setback wrought-iron version, and that flowerbeds would be added to enhance curb appeal. Fantastic!


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