Yesterday, we took a spotlight to the University of Toronto Schools' Maximum City program. Today, Urban Toronto brings you three interviews with Maximum City alumni and their designs for the public park at 11 Wellesley!

Maximum City, University of Toronto Schools, Toronto, Lanterra, 11 WellesleyStudents and Maximum City creatively illustrated some of their guidelines for this project!

All images by Josh Fullan except where noted

  • First up will be Catherine Vlasov with her group's design, "The Thinker", a park that revolves around a giant clock tower, and seeks to bring shade, movable seating, and food to its users.
  • Next is Mia Sanders with "Waterway Park", which, as the name suggests, has several water features, and a clever tie to Toronto's watershed.
  • Finally, we have David Pau and his group's design, "Lanterra Park", which would include a toboggan hill and a unique connection to the proposed Lanterra building on the site.

Below, you can read of the students' experience with the program, see photos of their designs, and learn about some of the inspiring thought and consideration that went into their designs!

Note: the photos of the designs all feature a green roof which was attached to the model of the proposed Lanterra building. While the model was used for all designs, the green roof extension was only meant for the "Lanterra Park" design, as noted below.

“The Thinker” Park

Interviewee: Catherine Vlasov, age 15, University of Toronto School, going into grade 11

Maximum City, University of Toronto Schools, Toronto, Lanterra, 11 Wellesley"The Thinker" highlights: 1) ice/roller skating area 2) dog park 3) Rainforest Cafe 4) "Thommass" clock tower 5) Treehouse Cafe

How would you describe the “Maximum City” program experience?

Catherine: I think it was a great opportunity that only a handful of youth got to experience. It covered a huge range of topics, and I got to meet so many very very engaging presenters that I would otherwise have no means of contacting. It gave me a different perspective on the role I play in the world around me, and in the city how it works and functions.

Which program modules interested you the most? Who was your favourite guest speaker?

Catherine: The two that I think go hand in hand are the parks and the walking modules. They were the most eye opening. Just how relevant every little detail in the parks and walking infrastructure are was just way more immense that I could have imagined, and how all the thinking goes into where a bench goes, how tall the grass grows, and how wide the trails are. They also came along with the cycling module, which was amazing because it was very very hands on. I would have otherwise never got to experience the Sherbourne bike lane, or got to see Jarvis St and how they have no bike lanes, and how narrow the lanes are. All three were very hands on, and they were all very relevant to my everyday life so I got to relate to them a lot. Now I notice a lot more things when I walk around with my friends, and they sort of criticize me for it, but I guess that's what comes from knowing the world around you.

Dave Meslin was the best speaker overall; he had a very interesting presentation. He presented about getting an idea up to the government and potentially into action was something I had absolutely no idea how to do it otherwise. He has a great sense of humour; despite being in the classroom, it felt nowhere near like a lecture. It was almost hands on because everyone could relate to it.

Maximum City, University of Toronto Schools, TorontoCatherine (middle) looks on while Craig Cal and Josh Fullan give advice. Photo courtesy of Catherine Vlasov.

You say that the theme of the park is “family”. How did that inspire “The Thinker” design?

Catherine: One of the other students – Mia – inaugurated this term of “multi-generational interaction”. That's the focus of the park, one that accommodates citizens of every different age that can be present in a family. I have a younger sister and my grandparents, and I want a park – from a user perspective – where I could go and all of us could feel safe and have our needs met. We also put the message through by having one central path that goes through the entire park, made up of tiles. On the day of the inauguration of the park, each family could come and paint their own tile. Then in the end, you'd have a path of families going through he park that would be very welcoming.

The giant clock tower is literally the design's centrepiece. What made your group choose it as a focus?

Catherine: The inspiration was obviously the “Big Ben” in London; we were hoping to have something that people can associate with the park, and something that they can associate the park with. They would come hand in hand, and ideally you would want that to become an image that is associated with Toronto as a whole to make it a destination to people from around the city. One day a tour bus could drive right by and see that tower. The clock is often useful, but it's also visually appealing, and to have right in the centre as the focal point at the end of any path, and to creating a central gathering space for people and to meet people, rather than making it ambiguous and saying “lets meet at the park”.

Maximum City, University of Toronto Schools, Toronto, Lanterra, 11 WellesleyView of design, looking west. At the north-east corner of the site stands "The Thinker", the public art the park is named after.

An important aspect of your design is the private elements – the rainforest cafe, the treehouse cafe, and the doggie vending machines. Why was it important to bring in these private elements to a public park?

Catherine: I don't know if we initially thought of these aspects as leading towards a more calm, private space. We were thinking more that “every park should have a cafe.” So putting the cafe in the treehouse would offer a kind of privacy that is still connected to the park. So parents could watch their kids, or enjoy a more separated space. We included them to cater to everyone's needs.

The rainforest cafe was put in a hill to make it much cooler (temperature wise), but to make it another attraction. It creates urban relief and a quiet separation. It was basically inspired by an article I read about a house in Wales, that was built like a hobbit hole essentially. I researched it a bit, and it cost only $5000, and was built entirely from recycled and all natural materials that helped make it use minimal electricity and provide its own insulation. The rainforest cafe was meant to be eco-friendly and unique to Toronto, and potentially the world. I haven't heard, to my knowledge, of any restaurants in hills. It was meant to be a very sustainable form of retail, and to be unique.

The idea of adding a pop-up library is very interesting.

Catherine: One of the things parks are used for is to have a quiet, natural space to read books, magazines, and newspapers. We thought that having a pop-up library would make it more appealing to users. It's also visually engaging since most people haven't heard of such things. This idea was brought up in Sudbury I think about a year ago, so I think bringing it to Toronto is having the first pop-up library here would be special, and hopefully spur the addition of other ones around the city. It's once again for all ages and families!

Maximum City, University of Toronto Schools, Toronto, Lanterra, 11 WellesleyView of the public park across the street from Breadalbane, which in the design has been closed off to traffic.

Where did the idea for a ice rink/skate park come from?

Catherine: I think the first inspiration for all the three groups was to add a skatepark, but we explored winter use of a park when Kristyn Wong-Tam came, so we figured immediately the best thing to have in winter in a park is a skating rink. In the summer, the space could be paved and laid-out for various other activities. There's already a big “U”street curve that is already preexisting there, so we could lay out the rink on top. Then we could double-up on the space in the summer to have a farmer's market, or bring in some equipment to convert into a skatepark and instead of having ice skate rentals, you could have roller-blades rentals. It's a space that can draw people in throughout the year.

What is your favourite component of “The Thinker” park design?

Catherine: I think my favourite part is the fact that we closed Breadalbane to car traffic, and putting in movable tables and chairs. I went to New York a few years ago, and was amazed to say that smack in the middle of Times Square was public space. No car traffic, just an open space in the heart of the city with tables and chairs and tons of retail around it. I just found it very appealing and very welcoming, to see that cars are clearly not the priority in that neighbourhood, that's it's about pedestrians and accessibility. I personally just love the idea, and everyone at our table agreed that we should incorporate that.

Maximum City, University of Toronto Schools, TorontoMaximum City students discuss their design. From left to right: Sharon, Catherine, Clayton, Bryant, Isabel, and Andy

How would you sum up your Maximum City experience?

Catherine: I think I felt challenged in many different ways, especially after the “smart city” module where we were challenged to take data from a space and display it in an interesting way to the community. That was a big challenge, and now whenever I think of space, such as my own backyard, I think “how can I make it more interesting to those who use it?”

Whenever I have an idea now, I know how to approach it. I've absorbed a huge amount of knowledge over just two weeks, and I almost felt guilty because only twenty students from the hundreds of thousands students in the GTA did not have the opportunity. It was an incredible opportunity, and I learned a lot more than I could have ever expected. I think it makes me, for example, go from being a “passive” park user, to being an “active” park user. I'm much more aware of Toronto.

Name: “Waterway Park”

Interviewee: Mia Sanders age 15, University of Toronto School, going into grade 10

Maximum City, University of Toronto Schools, Toronto, Lanterra, 11 Wellesley"Waterway Park" highlights: 1) Children's playground 2) Doggie waterpark 3) Event stage 4) Urban garden

How would you describe the “Maximum City” program experience?

Mia: I was first interested in the program, because I had recently attended a conference held by OCAD, that was focusing on designing our future cities, and I thought that Maximum City would be a great opportunity to explore some of the themes that came up during the conference. I thought Maximum City was really great, because it provided me with a new lens with which to view the city through, and helped me become more informed about how cities are built and how they function. It was also fun because I got to meet a lot of people, and to listen to presenters that I wouldn't otherwise have probably been able to hear.

Which program modules interested you the most? Who was your favourite guest speaker?

Mia: I also found transit an interesting topic throughout the program. For example, in Gil Penalosa's presentation, he was talking about the importance of having a forward-thinking government. Do we want to be regressive and be one of the only cities to take down bike lanes, or to we be progressive, and think ahead and become a truly multi-modal city?

The topic of civic engagement interested me a lot, especially since it was Dave Meslin's presentation. With the pamphlet he gave us, the first statement he made was that “the windows of city hall face inward”, and how that's a metaphor for civic engagement in Toronto. During his presentation, he told us about all the creative and meaningful ways you could help increase civic engagement and to break the wall between City Hall and residents. Dave Meslin was very charismatic and provided a great story of his political career; it was very inspiring. He had an overall very engaging presentation.

Maximum City, University of Toronto Schools, TorontoMia speaks, as David and Kristyn Wong-Tam listen on

Your theme is quite clear, but what was the inspiration behind “Waterway Park”?

Mia: Some of the features we included were a waterwall, and the microcosm of Toronto's water system, and a water-influenced playground. We wanted to include water in our design, because it's such an important part of Toronto's natural heritage. We're bounded by three rivers: the Humber, the Don, and Rouge River, and then the lakeshore obviously. And there's an extensive system of creeks that flow through Toronto underground like Taddle Creek for example. As it's such an important part of Toronto's identity, we wanted to incorporate that into our park plan. As well, water is just something that everyone likes. Everyone is drawn to water and likes to interact with water.

One of the more intriguing ideas in your design is the incorporation of Toronto's watershed. Could you talk a bit about that?

Mia: We also wanted the park to be interactive, and thought that one of the way we could make the parks interactive was through education of Toronto's watershed. So throughout the park there would be signs about Toronto's ravine system, and how important water is to our city. That could be both a tourist attraction or an attraction for schools. I think also have more of a personal connection with it; I bike a lot through the ravines. It's sort of a calm place to go, and provides an urban relief. I thought that was something that I wanted to include.

Maximum City, University of Toronto Schools, Toronto, Lanterra, 11 WellesleyWaterway Park, looking north of Breadalbane.

One of the most imaginative ideas in the design is the “doggie waterpark”. Where did that idea come from?

Mia: *Laughs* We were talking with the public near the beginning of the program, and talked to people at Bloor and Spadina about what features they wanted in a park, and a lot of them really wanted a dog park. But it was polarized, a lot of people wanted a dog park, but a lot of people don't want a dog park, so we wanted to separate it, but also make it a destination in and of itself. Clayton and Raine designed the waterpark, because they thought it would be cool if you could have a version of a human waterpark but for dogs. At the waterfront, they have a cafe that doubles as a human cafe, but dogs can come. So I think they were influenced in their design of the waterpark.

You also included an urban garden.

Mia: At the OCAD conference that I attended, there was a speaker talking about public produce projects in Kamloops, where essentially they convert their urban spaces into community gardens where they grow fruits and vegetables, and where anyone can come and pick the produce. It creates a sense of community and promotes community stewardship for people living around the garden. We wanted the community around our park to want to take care of it, and take some ownership, and felt a garden would be a great way to do that, especially for the people in the condo building.

Maximum City, University of Toronto Schools, Toronto, Lanterra, 11 WellesleyView of Waterway Park's "doggie waterpark", connected to the Lanterra Park design.

The other two designs close Breadalbane permanently. Your design closes it too, but only on weekends. Why did you go that route?

Mia: We were talking to one of the architects, and he said that Breadalbane was used a lot for deliveries and delivery trucks throughout the week, so we didn't want to inhibit that. We wanted to allow traffic to flow through to a certain extent, but also to pedestrianize it to a certain extent. We also thought the road could hold a farmers' market or festivals on the weekends. It becomes a destination on the weekend to bring your family.

What is your favourite component of the “Waterway Park” design?

Mia: I really liked the idea of promoting water in the park. Our idea was to use the grey water from the apartment building and filter and use in the park. To promote ecological sustainability, and also an amenity to the park. As you're walking through the park, you're also following these creeks through to the dog park. It was way-finding, but also a way of bringing Toronto's natural heritage into the park.

How would you sum up your Maximum City experience?

Mia: I think coming out of Maximum City, as I navigate through Toronto I'm more aware of how our city works, the areas for improvement and how it functions, and what part I can play in those improvements.

Name: “Lanterra Park”

Interviewee: David Pau, age 13, going into grade 9 at the Woodlands High School

Maximum City, University of Toronto Schools, Toronto, Lanterra, 11 Wellesley"Lanterra Park" highlights: 1) Toboggan hill 2) Farmer's market 3) Dog park 4) Children's playground 5) Elevated green roof

How would you describe the “Maximum City” program experience?

David: I think think the Maximum City experience gives all participants an insight into how big of a city Toronto is, and how much planning goes into all the different aspects of it. With all the great speakers that Mr. Fullan brought in, we really got a glimpse into that, from the cycling culture with Gil Penalosa, to transit with Brad Ross. Over the course of two weeks, to get to interact with them all and to take each of their messages and bring them all together was a great learning experience.

Which program modules interested you the most? Who was your favourite guest speaker?

David: The cycling module with Mr. Gil Penalosa, to see how you can transform a city. He did Bogota, Columbia, and he was in charge of all the bike lanes and the paths, and to see what that could do for a city, was really exciting. I think Toronto could really take a lot from that. In 'Max City' the students all agreed – and Gil pointed this out – that we are very far behind in our cycling culture. With separated bike lanes on streets, it would help encourage people to get out and go biking.

The second module I really liked was with Mrs. Horvath, where we were looking at Calgary-East Village. To look at what was considered by some to be a run-down part of the city that didn't have much going on in it, to see how a few designers they turned it into such a great area of Calgary, and one that will attract many visitors for years to come.

Maximum City, University of Toronto Schools, TorontoThe "Lanterra Park" group poses with their design. Top: Vishnu. Middle: Jade, Sharon, Bryant, Josh. Bottom: David, Saachit

The name for your design, “Lanterra Park” clearly is a nod to the developer; why did you decide to name the park after them?

David: We called it “Lanterra Park” because in our park, we wanted to have free wi-fi so that students could come and study on their laptops if they liked. But we knew that funding would be an issue, so we figured that if the condo company would be willing to sponsor the park, that's where the funding could come from.

What was the inspiration behind your group's design of “Lanterra Park”?

David: We wanted to make the park usable in both summer and winter because ultimately, a public space like a park is evaluated by how many people use it. We figured it shouldn't only be used for three or four months of the year, it should be used all year round. So, for example, we wanted a hill because in the summer people could lie down, talk, and relax in the shade, and then in the winter, it could be turned into a tobogganing hill.

Maximum City, University of Toronto Schools, Toronto, Lanterra, 11 WellesleyView of Lanterra Park, looking north. The string represents paths that people could walk through.

An intriguing aspect of your design is the elevated green space that would be attached to the Lanterra building.

David: The idea that Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam gave to us was it can't just be a city, and then 'BOOM! A park is kind of in the middle there!' We had to think about what the neighbourhood was like and how we were going to incorporate it. We were told that the first few floors of the condo were going to be 'public' space. Putting a small green space there would give people a little more access, washrooms, cafes, but also a lookout for parents if kids were in the play area.

Your group wanted to close down Breadalbane to car traffic. Could you talk a bit about that decision?

David: We decided to close down Breadalbane to cars, and open it up just to cycling and pedestrians, and have a farmer's market. This way, the park across the street wouldn't feel like a completely separate park, we could incorporate it all into one. We wanted a market because of a concept that Mr. Penalosa introduced to us from 8-80 Cities, which was that we can't keep designing our public spaces for people that are 20 years old and really athletic. We have to think of all people. We thought a market would attract people of many different age and ethnic groups. There's also a YMCA across the street, so we thought that they might be able to run programs in our space, which would encourage even more people to come.

The “Lanterra Park” design incorporates quite a bit of public art.

David: Public art is something that our group found that most public parks don't have. Our group wanted to include it so that people could come and look at it, or use it as a gathering space. We thought it was a really important element that we should include.

Maximum City, University of Toronto Schools, TorontoThe group presents their design. (from left to right) Craig Cal, Sony Rai, Sharon, Frank, Bryant, Rain, Jade, David, and Vishnu.

Unlike the other two groups, the 'Lanterra Park' design places the dog park in the north-west corner of the site, and elevates it. Why did you choose to include the dog park in this fashion?

David: The elevated dog park was actually Mia's group's idea, but they were okay with us using it. I think cities should always be looking at other cities to see what they're doing well; you should be able to recognize a good idea and make it your own. At the beginning, we went out onto the street in separate groups and asked people 'what would you like in a park?' Almost everyone said they wanted a dog park because they said there wasn't many in the city and they weren't very accessible.

But one issue with the dog park that Mr. Fullan pointed out to us was that sometimes dog owners can come to a park and flood the rest of the people out. Some people do like dogs, but some people don't like dogs, so we had to figure out a way to not isolate it, but not to turn the entire park into a dog park. The whole concept behind elevating it was to give it a separate area, but to still incorporate it into the rest of the park.

What is your favourite component of the “Lanterra Park” design?

David: My favourite part of the design is that there are so many different aspects that will appeal to so many different people. We have the market on the street, we have the playground, the hill, and lots of green space. In a survey that Mr. Fullan and UTS did, they found that everyone really wanted some green space. The amount of green space in our design will appeal to a lot of different people, and I think it's the best part of our design.

How would you sum up your Maximum City experience?

David: I think the best way to sum up Maximum City is with something Mr. Fullan said at the beginning. “By the end of these two weeks, your view of the city will be changed”. And I think that's a great way to put it. Having all these experts come in and to sum up all their knowledge into one project was great. As Mr. Fullan said, the reason that he created this program is because this wasn’t being taught in schools. As we are going to become the next city-builders, then I really think it's important that the next generation - my generation – is really aware of all these different issues. Ultimately, we are going to be ones who change Toronto for the better.

Maximum City, University of Toronto Schools, TorontoStudents think visually about what different users look for in a park.

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While this summer's program is over, students who would be interested in signing up for next years program can find more information and registration forms at the Maximum City website!

Like some of the student's ideas? Leave a comment below!