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Residents divided over Alexander St redesign

Residents divided over Alexander St redesign

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Options include new seating, gardens and mini-golf
Residents appeared bitterly divided over plans to return seating to the corner of Church and Alexander streets at a private stakeholders' meeting hosted by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam at the 519 Church Street Community Centre.
 
Four benches belonging to the Alexus condominium and the Bank of Montreal were removed from the corner last fall after residents complained that the benches encouraged drug dealers and sex workers to hang out in front of their building all night long, causing disturbances and harassing residents.
 
The removal surprised community members who enjoyed sitting in the quiet space during the daytime and elicited outrage from some Xtra readers.
 
At the time, Wong-Tam said that the large, wide sidewalk on the corner would undergo a redesign as part of a larger Church St beautification project. She’s now consulting with the nearby residents, neighbourhood associations and business owners on design ideas before consulting with the broader public.
 
Robert Mays, from the public realm section of the city’s transportation services department, showed three preliminary designs (embedded below) for the revamped space. One involved new tree and flower beds with raised seating areas, another replaced the seating with two small mini-golf greens, and a third included a double row of trees separated by a decorative walkway with a single bench.
 
The third option seemed to be the favourite among attendees, but members of the board of the Alexis condominium were strongly opposed to any new seating.
 
“This is not NIMBYism,” says Jamie McLennan. “This is a case of serious concern for physical and mental safety.”
 
“Would you want a place for people to congregate night and day in your front yard?” McLennan asked. “Our board is officially against any seating there, even a curb.”
 
But other stakeholders, including some residents of the Alexus, insisted that they want the benches back.
 
Sergeant Craig Summers, of 51 Division, was invited to weigh in on the public safety aspects of the proposals; he also agreed that limiting the new seating was the best solution for the neighbourhood.
 
“The corner causes much less concern now,” he says. “Any new seating opportunities have to be not ergonomically too comfortable or you get people who stay hour after hour.”
 
“Long-term police coverage is not the right solution for the corner,” he adds.
 
Alternative proposals for the corner included adding large flower planters that would be too tall to sit on or throw garbage into and beginning a walk of fame for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community.
 
Liz Hurley, from the Bank of Montreal, suggested that the bank might be willing to contribute to starting up the walk of fame idea, and David Wooten, from the Church-Wellesley Village BIA, says that Pink Pages publisher Antoine Elhashem is interested in spearheading the project this year.
 
Wong-Tam appeared open to the proposal but insisted that there’s no city money to pay for it or maintain it. The walk of fame would have to be maintained by a community group, as the AIDS Memorial in Cawthra Park is.
 
Wong-Tam was also touting a proposal to bring more life to Church St by allowing bars and restaurants to extend their patios out into the curb/parking lane of Church St to create more seating, similar to what has been done with success in recent years in Montreal’s Village neighbourhood. Restaurants would be responsible for paying the required parking fees for as long as their patios are occupying parking spaces. The proposal requires approval from city council.
 
Two features of the corner are going to stick around, whatever the stakeholders decide. The Bixi bike station has proven popular with the neighbourhood and residents say that their placement along the building’s edge discourages smokers from lighting up outside their windows.
 
And despite some rumours to the contrary, there are no plans to remove or relocate the statue of gay icon Alexander Wood that stands at the corner. Wong-Tam says the statue is so heavy that even moving it a few feet is unfeasible.

Proposed Layouts for the Alexander-Church corner:

Comments

Landscape Architects can redesign our Village
Landscape Architects can redesign our Village Dear Councillor Wong-Tam. After seeing the whole of: http://www.claudecormier.com/projets/ ***especially what they did in the Montreal Gay Village (Pink Balls - Boules Roses) http://www.claudecormier.com/projet/aires-libres-2011/ **I realize that The Toronto LGBT Village needs to hire Landscape Architects to re-design the Alexander & Church St corner, as wells as the rest of the Church St LGBT Village. The piecemeal attempts by the local BIA have been dismal failures because they cannot see the forest for the trees. They are concentrating on small things here and there like banners to mark territory (like dogs). The grass-roots piecemeal efforts have not worked --we do need a single vision. A good Landscape Architect who can work on large scale projects can easily redesign the Toronto LGBT Village to be spectacular and inclusive --including the Alexander-Church corner --and all with a single vision. Something grand, exquisite and innovative will also bring tourists back from the suburbs and from abroad, along with dollars.
Make Church St incredible to lure tourists
Dear Councillor Wong-Tam. Please see below how the Montreal LGBT Village is putting Toronto to shame with their exquisite design and festivities concepts to bring tourists to their Village. The whole main street in the Gay village is pedestrians only. They have streamers of Pink Balls (Les Boules Roses) strung across the road for miles --it is beautiful and festive in an expansive way and most innovative. Toronto LGBT Village is dismal and boring and scattered in comparison. Why would any tourist come to Toronto when they could go to Montreal and have a better time? AND BTW their whole main street (Ste Catherine St.) is blocked off to traffic --pedestrians only, for the whole summer. Can you have any influence over the Church Wellesley BIA to do something as spectactular in Our Toronto LGBT Village? _____________Excellent_Promo_Video http://vimeo.com/27117847 http://www.claudecormier.com/projet/aires-libres-2011/ __________Click_on:_Les_Boules_Roses
running, easily giving up territory to invaders
@Um...“just wondering what you've done about all the drug dealers and users who actually live in City Park and The Alexus.” Stop wondering and do something. I reported 2 of them to the police with gathered information and they got sent to jail. The ninnies and sissies who run away at 1st sign of trouble, contribute as much to the environment as the perpetrators. By running and easily giving up their territory to invaders, allow it all to go on.
um....
I'm just wondering what you've done about all the drug dealers and users who actually live in City Park and The Alexus residential buildings? Thank you for your time.
cont'd...
...find a solution. Thanks!
Hi Gary,
I understand your frustration. I do. When I moved to the Alexus seven years ago, I really enjoyed the benches. I loved being a part of our vibrant gay village. It was a great place to sit and chat, and that's the side most people saw, the side we all miss. But then things changed. Drug dealers and users started camping out there for hours on end. Crowds of 15 to 25 people would gather, drinking and fighting turf wars until 3 a.m. Video surveillance signs were ignored. Objects were thrown at our windows. There was blood on our sidewalk in the mornings. We were making a dozen calls to police every weekend. Patrol cars would come, but the crowds just returned. Then one night last August, a man was chased into our lobby from the benches and repeatedly beaten for over five minutes. The security footage is chilling: he sat down in what he thought was a safe public space only to fall victim to an ambush. After that, we knew we had to act to protect ourselves and the village community. So far this has been painted as a "condos vs. the village" story, but it really isn't. We're a part of the village. It's a story about a community responding to a problem. A lot of people got together last fall: City Park Co-op, the retail tenants on our corner, Church St. Public School, the BIA, CWNA, Toronto Police, Toronto City Parks and our City Councillor's office. City Parks advised us to take out the benches, and we all reluctantly agreed it had to be done. Please don't blame Kristyn - she was very concerned about losing them. Now the corner is safe again. The next step is to make it beautiful. Give it time. These designs are preliminary. We miss the good things the benches gave us but there are other locations in the village that make more sense for street furniture, where there actually are eyes on the street like you say. Where public and private space don't clash. We want the village to stay gay. We want to keep it vibrant. And I hope that we can work together to find
Keep the GAY in our village
Why do I have the feeling that Church Street BIA and local residents of the Alexus want to turn The Gay Village, straight, and make it as generic as any other district of Toronto? When the residents of The Alexus moved to The Gay Village, they knew full well that they were moving into an area of gay nightlife and much social inter-action. Our bars have been there for over 25 years, so it's no sudden surprise. Now, all of a sudden, we are told that we are not wanted in the neighbourhood, unless we spend money in a bar. We are no longer wanted if we just want to sit on a bench and talk to our friends. Our only value is our wallets and as someone who has been supporting The Gay Village for over 30 years, I resent it and am quite pissed off. So, removing benches and taking people away from the corner is going to make Alexander safer? For who? Wouldn't you feel safer having more people around to watch what's going on, if there is ever trouble? It's called EYES ON THE STREET and it makes us feel safer in our neighbourhood. If Wong-Tam wants to close off that area to the gay community, she has another thing coming. Many gay people will remember this, the next time a city election comes around. Trust me, we greatly outnumber the NIMBYs who live in The Alexus. The designs I'm seeing here are clearly UNACCEPTABLE if they don't include benches and making the corner pedestrian friendly, as well as sociable. As a gay man who goes to The Gay Village at least 3 times a week, this is making me sick. I feel like I'm being forced out of The Gay Village. COME ON TORONTO, DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN. FIGHT IT!
Re Bigger Picture
@Alex - "...terrific front page story, no?" Absolutely, yeah!
Bigger picture
Tip of the hat to Xtra and Rob Salerno for covering neighbourhood issues in the Village. I now hope to read more about what's happening at the other end of Alexander Street, at Yonge, where the *whole block* will be razed and replaced by two 58-storey towers. Our Village will much be less vibrant when restaurant patios (Pi-Tom, Kokyo Sushi, Cocina Lucero) are replaced by a wall of glass and concrete. It will be much darker when the gigantic towers cast their shadows on it. It will much be less walkable when the traffic increases threefold. New buildings can be a good thing, but they need to enhance their surroundings. The current proposals are not community-friendly and the developer, Lanterra, has little credibility. It is responsible for the infamous Murano tower on Bay. Glass fell from that buildling, injured a passer-by, paralyzed the streets and made the owners' lives miserable. The razing of the Yonge-Alexander block will affect the social fabric of our community. That' much more important than the removal of a couple of benches. Let's look at the big picture and unite to stop greedy and irresponsible developers. Now *that* would make a terrific front page story, no?
Alexander Street Bench Solutions
Mini-golf? Really? With cute little windmills? Here's some other practical ideas: electrified benches. You park your ass for a sit-down to enjoy the weather, take a breather, and check out the passing parade. A sensor times you...at exactly the 10-minute mark, it sends a mild jolt and you're forced to vacate. It re-activates when the next pedestrian sits down. Or how 'bout benches with built-in speakers...if you've overstayed your seating, an annoying recorded voice (maybe an Alexus board member?) issues the following message: "Rest allotment is completed...please vacate bench now...please vacate bench now...please vacate bench now..."

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