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The Clover on Yonge by Cresford Developments, is one of several sky-sculpting condo projects that will redefine Yonge Street.

Yonge Street has been a lot of things to a lot of people over the years. It's been a place to show off your Corvette on a Friday night, pick up some records, or, if you want to go way back into the mists of time, a place to gather when a Toronto team won something.

But one thing it has not been is a neighbourhood, a place where people live, hang out, walk around, and take their dog or kids out to make a mess in the park.

Yonge Street has in fact been the opposite of that for as long as anyone, or any of their great-grandparents, can remember. It is as close as Canada's got to the definition of the big city street.

But as a packed house heard at the end of February in the atrium of Ryerson's new Student Learning Centre at Yonge and Gould, for the past decade or so things have been subtly changing, if 20 metre-deep block-long pits and hundred-metre long cranes can be subtle. At the panel discussion, called Yonge Love and hosted by TVO's Steve Paikin, city planners, developers, and members of the business community spoke about the street's future.

Towering community

Kristyn Wong-Tam, the councillor whose ward encompasses most of the new towers, was one of the panellists.

"Hypothetically, every block on Yonge will have potentially one to two towers," she says later. "You can see it already with One Bloor East and One Bloor West, and the buildings going up from Cumberland to Yorkville. At a minimum, within 10 years, there will be 500 units to 1,000 units per block, on average. That's just those directly facing Yonge Street, not those on the side streets that run perpendicular, and certainly not counting vertical communities already there on Bay or Bloor. All those folks will call Yonge Street home, so we're into the tens of thousands already."

Need more proof? Look at the YSL Residences by Cresford Development Corporation, currently in pre-construction at Yonge and Gerrard streets. There will be two proposed towers of 62 and 73 storeys in height on top of an 11-storey podium, seamlessly linked to retail and office spaces. The 1,106 dwelling units will be connected by a sky bridge and designed by Quadrangle Architects Limited.

Livable streetscapes

That is already making Yonge one of the densest residential neighbourhoods in the city. All that's left is for the street to catch up and keep pace with its residents.

"This is something that the city has wanted ever since they redid the central area plan in the 1970s, which was to encourage residential development downtown," says lifelong Torontonian Gary Switzer. "I think it's succeeded beyond anyone's expectations. It's already helped make our downtown as vital and as active as it is today. The more people live there, the more services they need, the more activity there is on the streets."

Switzer is a big fan of streetscapes and how they contribute to life in the city. And he's in the unusual position of being able to do something about it. The developer, and member of that February panel, is a driving force behind two big Yonge Street towers. At his own estimate of an average of 1.5 people per unit, he's personally contributing almost two thousand new residents to the street. He's also trying to make the streetscapes the sort of place the people he's selling to would like, bring lampposts back, and leasing his commercial space to indie restaurants and cafes as well as banks and chains.

Wong-Tam is trying to get developers to include affordable family housing, though she says no one's come up with a workable economic model. Switzer says he expects his towers, and those his colleagues are building up and down the street, will be mostly filled with young people — singles and couples — for some time yet. But both of them are trying to put together a street everyone will want to spend time on, whether it's sitting on a sidewalk café playing chess at a roadside table, or even messing up one or two new parks that may arise with those dogs and kids of theirs.


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