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Writer Amanda Kwan tours six of Toronto's best publicly owned private spaces with city councillor Josh Matlow and others

Commerce Court plaza (Bay Street and King Street West): Nestled between gleaming highrises, the space essentially looks like the backyard of the surrounding office towers. But the isolation is part of its charm, a retreat from bustling King Street, making this a popular lunchtime destination in the Financial District. A water fountain is the centrepiece of the plaza, which also features three bronze elephant sculptures.

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TD Centre plaza (Wellington Street West between York and Bay Streets). Located at the base of several bank towers, the plaza has ample greenery, benches and bronze cow statues lounging on the lawn. Concerts are occasionally held there during the summer but because the space is elevated off the street - there’s a parking garage underneath - it’s partially hidden from public view. “If I’m walking down Wellington, I’m going to see bank towers. That’s all I’m going to see,” says Stephen Young, president of the advocacy group Toronto Public Space Initiative.

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Trinity Square (near Bay and Dundas). Bounded by the Eaton Centre, an office tower and the historic Church of the Holy Trinity, the secluded courtyard features a water fountain, which flows into a tiny stream that travels along the tree-lined walkway leading to Bay Street. City councillor Josh Matlow is a frequent visitor because he works nearby at City Hall. “It’s such a beautiful space but we should be doing more with it. There should be patios. We could make it look like the heart of Paris if we wanted to. Unfortunately, we haven’t used the space as well as we could.”

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Anne Johnston Courtyard. Tucked between the two Minto Midtown condo towers at Yonge and Eglinton, the courtyard is one of Mr. Matlow’s favourite private-public spaces in the city but he thinks it could use improvements. “It is nice although it looks inward too much, and I think we need to do more to create a welcome mat for residents in the community so they know they can enjoy it.”

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Iceboat Terrace in CityPlace (near Front and Bathurst Streets). Situated among a sea of condos, the space connects Canoe Landing Park to the pedestrian bridge that crosses over the railway corridor. “It’s a very important linking space,” says James Parakh, an urban design program manager at the city. “It’ll also have restaurant cafes on either side and there is nice public art in that space called Approaching Red, a beautiful red sculpture by Maha Mustafa.”

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Rose garden at the Four Seasons Hotel (60 Yorkville Avenue). Located next to the historic Yorkville Firehall, the recently opened space includes a maze-like garden complete with a rose-inscribed wall sculpture. “A mist comes from it every ten minutes and at night it’s beautifully lit so the mist glows,” Mr. Parakh says. “It also works with a well-designed park adjacent to it, which is Town Hall Square, a city park. So I like how the two work hand-in-hand to expand the public realm.”

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Pedestrian connections next to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Wellington Street West. The walkway links two public parks, David Pecault Square and Simcoe Park, “so you can seamlessly go from one space to another,” Mr. Parakh says. To create a smooth transition, designers used the same paving pattern as the one used in Simcoe Park. “It actually feels like an extension of the park, even though it’s privately owned.”

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