Now more than ever: Planning for the public good

skating at Sherbourne Common during COVID

“The public’s embrace of the waterfront during the pandemic is an important reminder that this area makes an enormous difference to life in the city.” George Zegarac, President and CEO, Waterfront Toronto 


There is no doubt that this past year has been challenging. We are constantly adapting to the changes brought on by COVID-19 and at times it hasn’t been easy. Knowing the challenges our city has faced over the past year and looking ahead to a post-pandemic recovery, we know that Toronto’s waterfront continues to play an important role in making our city a great place to live, work and play.  

Now more than ever, the number of people enjoying Toronto’s waterfront is on the rise and we are excited to continue creating an active, vibrant and welcoming waterfront. From developing more green space to creating more public art, we cast our gaze forward in our Rolling 2021-2022 Strategic Plan and outline what we will accomplish this year and over the next five years.  

This three-part blog series will explore the major elements of what we will accomplish in this year and beyond: public good, jobs and innovation and city-building. We begin with how we are delivering on our public good mandate. 

Public Art = Vibrant Waterfront  

Photos from the CONTACT Photography FestivalPublic art brings people together, even when being together means standing six feet apart. Framework, by Vid Ingelevics and Ryan Walker, is a large-scale photo installation in the Port Lands commissioned by Waterfront Toronto, as part of CONTACT Photography Festival.  

Enhancing the cultural vibrancy of the waterfront is an important part of what we do. Over the past year, many cultural experiences have been cancelled, while others have been augmented or adapted as a result of COVID-19. Either way, the importance of creating more cultural opportunities on the waterfront has been underscored. Over the next few years, we will be adding to our collection, curating more public art to keep the waterfront lively in all seasons for residents and visitors to enjoy.  

2021 is the City of Toronto’s Year of Public Art, and we are proud to contribute to this special year with the following highlights: 

  • We are excited to welcome the first ever waterfront artists in residence—the Black Speculative Arts Movement of Canada (BSAM)—in partnership with the Waterfront Business Improvement Area.  

  • Two significant, site-specific, permanent pieces of public art by Indigenous artists will be commissioned for the West Don Lands. One will be located at the triangular parcel of land at the junction of King Street, Queen Street and River Street, and the other will be sited at the future Indigenous Hub on Cherry Street.  

  • Planning is underway for the most ambitious public artwork ever conceived for Toronto’s waterfront. This installation will be located at the foot of Sherbourne Street in East Bayfront and will provide artists with an opportunity to engage with both land and water. 

  • A temporary floating artwork by Jay Havens called “Peacemaker” will be installed in the Harbour Square Basin in the summer of 2021 in the same location as our first temporary floating artwork, SOS Swimmers, in 2019. 

  • We’re working with Mare Liberum, an interdisciplinary artists’ collective focused on waterways, on a project that will pose the question “what role can art have in policy-making?”. Mare Liberum will undertake a series of activities to explore this question including writing, discussions, and a set of boat-building workshops by the Lower Don River.  

To learn more about the exciting public art we have planned please see page 16 of our 2021-2016 Strategic Plan.

More green space, please!  

Rendering of Love ParkSet to receive visitors in 2022, York Street Park will add much-needed green space to the downtown core. 

Parks, walking trails, cycling paths and public waterfront access have always been important to city life, and have become even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding to the more than 43 hectares of beautiful, accessible public spaces we’ve already created, more great spaces are on their way. We hold ourselves to account by measuring the amount of accessible parks, public space, and trails that we create in our Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which you can further explore on page 76 of the Rolling 2021-2022 Strategic Plan.   

In 2021/22, we will advance two new parks as well as put the finishing touches on The Bentway around Fort York. Construction of York Street Park (a.k.a. Love Park) will get underway early this year with the goal of receiving visitors by the summer of 2022. And, design and construction planning will continue on Rees Street Park.  

On a much larger scale, the Port Lands Flood Protection Project will create 25 hectares of new parks and public spaces. On track to be complete by 2024, this project will provide exciting new places where people can connect with nature and each other. In partnership with Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation (MCFN), we’re working to ensure that the historical and ongoing role of MCFN is respected and acknowledged in the design elements for the Port Lands as well as across the waterfront. We are also working with MinoKamik, a collective of Indigenous placemaking specialists, to ensure that Toronto’s historical and ongoing status as a gathering place for many Indigenous people is not only reflected and acknowledged but sustained and expanded. 

Putting Toronto on the map with Four Signature Projects  

Rendering of an enhanced Jack Layton Ferry TerminalAn enhanced Jack Layton Ferry Terminal is one of our four Signature Projects. The others are a Destination Playground, a Landmark Institution, a continuous Waterfront Walk and an enhanced Jack Layton Ferry Terminal.  

These four projects were conceived based on a study our team conducted of the key attributes that recur among the world’s most successful waterfronts, such as excellent waterborne transportation and a continuous walk along the entire shoreline  

Today, we’re working to establish new partnerships with city-builders, including individual donors and corporate partners, who share our vision of a waterfront that gathers neighbours, attracts visitors and investors, and anchors communities. We will be creating compelling opportunities for private donors to help us realize these projects along the waterfront — places that will connect Torontonians in new ways and welcome visitors from across Canada and around the world.

To read more about the signature projects, please visit this blog

We are excited about creating more reasons to draw people to the waterfront and creating spaces for people and communities to thrive, no matter what.   

The complete Rolling 2021-2022 Strategic Plan can be found here.