Think of it as the architectural equivalent of a serving of roast beef with antipasto on the side.
The Princes' Gates, that most iconic symbol of Toronto's colonial antecedents, has undergone a facelift with a distinctly Italian sensibility.
Tomorrow morning the city will cut the ribbon on a landscaped piazza, road improvements and new pedestrian/cycling amenities intended to resolve long-standing access problems near the base of the 79-year-old ceremonial entrance to the Canadian National Exhibition.
But to sex up the project with a dash of European style, the design team was headed up by a pair of architectural firms based in Milan, Toronto's twin city.
The project is the brainchild of deputy mayor Joe Pantalone (Trinity-Spadina), who came up with the idea after Toronto designers went to Milan to work on a project to restore that city's piazzas. "It was a wonderful cross-pollenization, to our mutual advantage."
Beyond such cultural overtures, however, the $2-million upgrade is part of a long-term campaign by the city to improve open spaces and the road network in an area experiencing an explosion of residential development, Mr. Pantalone says.
In the next several years, high-rise projects going up in Liberty Village, the railway lands and near Lakeshore Boulevard and Bathurst Street are expected to bring in more than 10,000 new residents, many of whom will likely be using Coronation Park, Fort York and the east end of the Exhibition grounds as their local parks. They will thus have to navigate through the weave of wide arterials that traverse the areas directly east of the CNE.
The new piazza, which has yet to be completed, features stylized marble benches, two-tone granite pavers in a geometric pattern and embedded reflectors to augment the ceremonial nighttime lighting of the gates. Haphazardly placed concrete planters have been removed, and new landscaped gardens have been created at either end of the gate.
To simplify pedestrian access to the gates, the city narrowed Strachan Avenue, constructed a landscaped traffic island and eliminated a westbound turn lane onto busy Lakeshore Boulevard. There are also new sidewalks and north-south bike paths intended to create better links between the King Street West area and the lakeshore.
Still, pedestrians approaching the piazza from the parkland and parking lots to the east of the gates will likely be tempted to jaywalk across Strachan because the city's roads officials didn't want to put in a signal to stop traffic there. Nor would the city close off the gates to vehicular traffic. Among other reasons, the archway must remain open as an emergency escape route for the cars that race on the Molson Grand Prix course.
Yet, as Rocco Maragna, the architectural adviser to the project, observes, almost all traditional Italian piazzas have to contend with circulation issues, including traffic and parking, even though cars tend not to be present in postcard pictures.
He adds that as the area east of the gates becomes increasingly populated and used year-round, the spaghetti-like road network around the CNE may well evolve to meet the needs of pedestrians.
"There's nothing to prevent other changes from taking place in the future," Mr. Maragna says. "We have to take this one step at a time."