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Toronto is currently in the throes of a major paradigm shift, struggling to find more sustainable ways of organizing the city in the face of unprecedented growth, unparalleled diversity, a crisis of affordability, the necessity to wean ourselves from auto dependence and climate change. As we wrestle with the fundamental changes we need to make, we also need a tool kit of transitional steps, lighter more flexible ways of introducing change, using existing resources and spaces to try things out, test the waters and demonstrate the possible.

One of the key areas where this shift is occurring is in the public realm, the streets, parks, squares that form the ‘commons’ we share. The Bentway is pointing to a vast resource of underutilized public space hidden in plain sight. The Laneway Project is revealing the extraordinary untapped potential of 250 km of laneways as a valuable new network of public space. The King Street Pilot demonstrated how things would actually work in ways that no study could have accurately predicted as did similar trials on Yonge Street and Queens Quay, or famously the transformation of Broadway in NYC. The Public Space Incubator is enabling ten such innovative tests throughout Toronto.

Like footprints in the snow that indicate where future paths should be, these probes and demonstrations are the ‘scouts’ exploring new territory, easing the transition to more fundamental changes. By adopting this open-ended evolutionary mindset, we are actually getting closer to how cities learn and adapt. To get past the logjams that immobilize us, we also need to apply this kind of exploratory design thinking to the creation of new neighbourhoods, buildings and public space.

With this ambition, Quayside by Sidewalk Toronto is just such a probe, a place to try out new ideas. A place where this real life testing will be most evident is the Parliament Slip and Plaza, a great new civic gathering space bringing people directly down to the water, naturalizing the shoreline and connecting with the proposed Silo Park and elementary school. Utilizing urban design strategies incorportating both high tech and low tech means to favour walking, cycling and transit, more space and time are liberated for public life. Most significantly there will be multiple ways in which Torontonians and visitors can manipulate their environment and try things out.