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Couples, families and friends enjoy the evening after work around the newly-opened Love Park downtown in Toronto on June 29.Katherine KY Cheng/The Globe and Mail

Toronto has a great big new heart. At the corner of York Street and Queen’s Quay, a heart-shaped pond fills the centre of the recently opened Love Park.

It is Toronto’s best new park in a decade. Designed by Montreal’s Claude Cormier and Associates (CCxA) with GH3 Architects, it was produced by Waterfront Toronto together with the city’s parks department. Love Park is a public space conceived with heart, wit and skill to serve one goal: To allow Torontonians to enjoy each other’s company.

Just 0.8 hectares in size, it is modest in scale, and its landscape-construction cost of about $9.5-million is not especially high. But the park delivers an experience far richer than the numbers might suggest. It is a potent people magnet.

The day after its opening in late June, the park at dusk was jammed with people. A few dozen couples and families sat on the comfortable ash benches that lined the park’s west edge, relaxing as three little girls in dresses did cartwheels on the nearby lawn. To the north, a compact dog run housed a Labrador and a little Schnauzer.

On the east side, a few groups lounged under the swooping curves of a steel pergola. A young couple pulled together two chairs to cuddle; five friends in Blue Jays gear sat chatting in a circle.

At the centre was the heart-shaped pond. It is so large, roughly 55 metres across, that its shape can’t easily be perceived from the ground; instead it reads as an irregular expanse of dancing water surrounding by a bench clad in shimmering red mosaic tile. People sat on this edge – mother and daughter, a middle-aged couple, young parents with their toddler watching a toy boat move across the water. A sculpture of a beaver, one of nine cast-bronze statues scattered across the park, stood guard nearby. And in the middle of the pond, on an island, a great northern catalpa tree put on a show with fresh blossoms.

This little social ballet is primarily the work of Claude Cormier, who led the park’s design along with CCxA partner Marc Hallé. During an interview Friday, Mr. Cormier pointed to the the edges of the park: Here the topography dipped down and then rose to form a little barrier. This dip-and-hill is a classic landscape-architecture device known as a ha-ha. “When you’re in the park, the background of the city disappears,” Cormier said. “You are sitting in a green oasis.”

And you can sit in comfort. Benches abound. So do those chairs – real chairs and tables, from the Danish manufacturer Hay, which park users are free to move around. The pergola structure, designed by GH3, provides one focal point for gathering; its irregular curves, digitally fabricated by the company Eventscape, give the space a sculptural elan. Two wisteria planted at the centre will, over time, spread to cover the olive-green frame.

Somewhere to sit, something to look at. This recipe is more novel than it sounds. In Toronto, most new parks try to accomplish many different roles, and fail at most of them. CCxA’s landscape architecture for Love Park delivers few things very well.

That is in part a result of a good process. In 2018, Waterfront Toronto conducted an international design competition for the park. Mr. Cormier’s idea won. “We use competitions to solve a problem,” says Pina Mallozzi, vice-president design of Waterfront Toronto. It was difficult for some to imagine the York Street site as a park. Until 2017 a highway ramp filled the space, spiralling down from the elevated Gardiner Expressway. (That catalpa grew up in the middle, cradled by concrete.)

Mr. Cormier’s answer was to make the park simple and to adopt a populist theme. Mr. Cormier was inspired by a cover of Toronto Life, on an issue discussing the aftermath of the 2018 incel van attack. It depicted a row of hearts floating down Yonge Street. “We thought, Toronto needs love,” he recalled.

Few other designers could have pulled off this rhetorical move so well. “In our work we are always on the edge of tacky,” Mr. Cormier said, “and we are always searching for a clear identity.” Already CCxA has given Toronto two of its most recognizable park tableaux: the pink umbrellas of Sugar Beach, and Berczy Park, in which a company of ceramic dogs spits water into a fountain.

But CCxA also brings a high level of rigour to their space planning – determining how people come together – and to the technical aspects of landscape construction. At Love Park, full credit is due to Somerville Construction for an exemplary level of craft. But thanks to the designers’ foresight, the mosaic tile by Montreal fabricators Mosaika perfectly hug the curves of the bench. And while some planned granite pavers were cut from the budget, half the park is now paved in a nubbly exposed-aggregate concrete that feels bespoke. Everything lines up. There are no wrong notes, no leftover corners. The only things wrong with the place are the city’s galumphing plastic waste-disposal bins, giant blue signs of apathy and sloppiness.

Maybe a Toronto park can’t be perfect. But it can be excellent – if the right people are designing it. For years, Toronto has hired designers largely based on their fees, and the results have been mostly meh. Memo to Mayor Chow: Design competitions work. Love Park is evidence that Toronto can be better than okay, and can deliver public space to warm your heart.

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Love Park was conceived with heart to serve one goal: To allow Torontonians to enjoy each other’s company.Katherine KY Cheng/The Globe and Mail

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