A recent Toronto Star editorial argued that Toronto is sorely in need of a public square that is attractive and engaging. I heartily agree with that notion. The greatest cities in the world have wonderful public squares. I have long wished the same for our city because, let’s face it, Yonge-Dundas Square is undesirable. In fact, as the Star editorial stated, “At its worst, it has all the appeal of a parking lot." To be blunt, it is an eyesore.
Just last month, I had the good fortune of visiting Scandinavia. I was very impressed with the town and city squares in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. They are people-friendly gathering places with plenty of seating. Views are not obstructed by skyscrapers.
Of course, Toronto isn’t going to have a Trafalgar Square, a Place de la Concorde or a beautiful Italian-style piazza anytime soon. Still, why can’t we aspire to something better than Yonge-Dundas Square? Surely the fourth largest city in North America can create something preferable.
Let’s begin with the name. “Yonge-Dundas Square.” What could sound less enticing, less imaginative, less attractive. That name is as dull and sterile as the square itself. It too has all the appeal of a parking lot.
In my daydreams, I imagine a large friendly public square at Bloor and Yonge. When I awaken, I see nothing but skyscrapers blocking my view. There is no welcoming place for people to congregate, no public square with fountains, statues and greenery in the heart of our city. Those high rises at Bloor and Yonge, unfortunately, are here to stay.
However, it is not too late to improve Yonge-Dundas Square and give it a new name. Restaurateur Arron Barberian has put forth a suggestion for renaming the downtown square after the late singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. Barberian’s suggestion certainly merits a great deal of consideration, especially since the square is situated near Massey Hall, a venue where Lightfoot frequently performed.
Yes, refurbishing Yonge-Dundas Square would be a costly venture in monetary terms. Some would argue that the city cannot afford such extravagant spending. Admittedly, renovating the square would be expensive. It would certainly be an arduous task, but well worth the cost in human terms. A refurbished square would be a priceless addition to our city, bringing much happiness to many. It would improve the quality of urban life and it would attract countless tourists to Toronto.
I don’t have all the answers, but I hope that Mayor Olivia Chow and members of Toronto City Council give this careful consideration. They should make it one of their priorities. Councillor Chris Moise (Ward 3, Toronto Centre}, has urged the council to order a review of the management of the square for the purpose of coming up with new ideas and to determine whether it should be run by an outside board or by the city, in the manner of Nathan Phillips Square. That’s an important step forward and I wish Councillor Moise much success in his attempt to revitalize Yonge-Dundas Square.
After enduring a long and difficult pandemic, we Torontonians deserve something special to brighten our lives. a place where we can just sit and enjoy the sunshine on a summer day, or sip hot chocolate in the winter. We need a locale for people of all ages to gather and connect with each other. An isolated society is not a healthy society.
Back in 1972, media executive Moses Znaimer commissioned singer-songwriter Tommy Ambrose and advertising mogul Gary Gray to create a song about Toronto as the theme music for Citytv., a new UHF Television station. They came up with “Toronto People City,” which, sadly, is largely forgotten. I watched a video of that lost anthem on the internet today and I dreamed about what Toronto could and should be. For those of you who haven’t heard the song, I suggest you google it.