The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) hosted tours in seven cities around the globe on January 29, 2015. Starting at 3 PM local time, members of the CTBUH took to the streets, public squares, and buildings of Shanghai, London, New York, Ottawa, Toronto, Chicago, and Vancouver. James Parakh, a licensed architect and Urban Design Manager for Toronto and East York at the City of Toronto, is also the Chair of the CTBUH's Urban Habitat / Urban Design Committee. The committee were the organizers of the tours worldwide, while James also played host to the Toronto tour, narrating as the group stopped in several spots along the trek.

The view looking south from Toronto City Hall across Nathan Phillips SquareThe view looking south from Toronto City Hall across Nathan Phillips Square, image by Craig White

Toronto's tour started at Toronto City Hall, spending some time at Nathan Phillips Square to consider one of the city's earliest modern squares, in the midst of a makeover, before trekking to the Cloud Gardens east of Yonge and south of Richmond Street.

This park, over a decade old now, was the best outcome of the failed earlier attempt by developers Markborough and Trizec Hahn to construct the Bay Adelaide Centre, an initiative which otherwise only left Toronto with an underground garage and the famous stump, an impressively large six-storey elevator core which was abandoned when the economy stalled in the early 1990s. The stump is now long gone, the site having been sold to Brookfield in 2000, and the company having successfully built the 51-storey Bay-Adelaide West tower, with the 44-storey Bay Adelaide East tower opening late in 2015. Arnell Plaza, a public square, separates the two buildings, while the final component, the 32-storey Bay-Adelaide North Tower will rise beside the Cloud Gardens several years from now.

Heading into the PATH network at the Bay-Adelaide Centre, TorontoHeading into the PATH network at the Bay-Adelaide Centre, image by Craig White

From Bay-Adelaide the tour descended into Toronto's extensive underground pedestrian PATH network, crossing under Adelaide Street and into Scotia Plaza, before crossing under Yonge Street and returning to ground level at One Financial Place.

It was here that the group learned that the Oxford Properties, owners of One Financial Place, are planning to revitalize the somewhat hidden gem of a square behind the complex with four new restaurants. The square currently includes three unique fountains and other works by artist Stacey Spiegel collectively known as Synthetic Eden. The square is popular with workers at lunchtime, but Oxford wants to extend that popularity into the evenings, onto weekends, and into the shoulder months of Spring and Fall by reconfiguring it, and equipping it to be comfortable in cooler weather. Some of the restaurants will replace the Staples store currently on the site facing Yonge Street.

From here, the group continued onto Commerce Court at King and Bay Streets, where lighted trees currently stand, bringing more light to often dreary months.The group then headed back into the PATH system.

Crossing through the plaza at Commerce Court, TorontoCrossing through the plaza at Commerce Court, image by Craig White

Popping back up to ground level at Brookfield Place, the group got a look at Santiago Calatrava's famous Galleria, running most of the way from Bay to Yonge Streets between the complex's various towers and heritage buildings. Calatrava's Galleria, inspired by a treelined street, is erected in such a way that the rivets holding it together cannot be seen from the ground. The inspiring space is often used as a venue for large art displays and exhibitions.

The Galleria at Brookfield Place, TorontoThe Galleria at Brookfield Place, image by Craig White

From here the tour crossed Bay Street and past the recently refinished limestone exterior of Union Station. The station is the site of several concurrent construction projects aiming to increase the capacity of the subway station, the capacity of the GO Train platforms and concourses, add the Union Pearson Express train to the airport, add a mall to the station, improve PATH connections, and generally bring the facility up to the standards expected of a world city. A major milestone was reached last year when a new subway platform opened, while this Spring the new GO York Concourse will open and the train to the airport will start operating. Further construction will continue for the next few years.

Construction outside of Toronto Union Station hints at what's going on withinConstruction outside of Union Station hints at what's going on within, image by Craig White

From here, the tour moved through Union Station to the new south exit, our first look out into an area of Toronto that arguably didn't exist just a decade ago, former railway lands that now make up the city's new South Core. As well as new offices here, the area is a major entertainment destination because of the Air Canada Centre, home to the NHL Maple Leafs, the NBA Raptors, the NLL Rock, and many other events and concerts throughout the year. Two hotels, several office towers and numerous condos are the home to new shops and restaurants which are scattered around at ground level, many centred around a new public square outside the arena.

A corner of Union Plaza to the south of Union Station, TorontoA corner of Union Plaza to the south of Union Station, image by Craig White

Next it was up and into the new elevated pedestrian connection through the Air Canada Centre and the Sun Life Financial Tower (still under construction) and on to the recently completed RBC WaterPark Place III Tower. This extension to the PATH system brings it over Lake Shore Boulevard and Harbour Street, and into the Harbourfront area, ending just across the street from the condos that line Lake Ontario.

 Air Canada CentreNot every part of the PATH is up to acceptable standards yet: crash doors in the ACC, image by Craig White

In the lobby of the new RBC Tower, the group stopped in front of windows opening onto the space that currently holds an offramp from the Gardiner Expressway. With new towers surrounding it, the ramps will come down in the next two years and be replaced by a new less intrusive ramp to the west. The green space bordered by RBC to the east and Sun Life to the north will then become a real park for this burgeoning area.

Gathered in the lobby of RBC WaterPark Place III, TorontoGathered in the lobby of RBC WaterPark Place III, image by Craig White

The tour then returned north, heading under construction hoardings and the Gardiner Expressway and into the mixed-use Maple Leaf Square complex, emerging opposite the Air Canada Centre where people were beginning to arrive for the evening's game. The space outside of the Air Canada Centre and the new Union Station south entrance is officially called Union Plaza, but when the playoffs are on and the street is closed so that 20,000 fans can watch the game on the huge screen, it's known as Maple Leaf Square like the building beside it. When fans gather to do the same for Raptors playoff games, the nickname becomes Jurassic Park.

Passing by construction sites, protected from more than just snow, TorontoPassing by construction sites, protected from more than just snow, image by Craig White

The last section of the tour was west of York Street, looking at the plans for a new Privately Owned Publicly accessible space, or POPS, but more commonly called a park by your average user, outside a pair of new condominiums called Ïce. The space had been planned to be used as a vehicular drop off for the towers, but now will be fully the realm of the pedestrian come this summer. A walk through the welcoming lobby of the recently opened Delta Hotel, and then the PATH connection through the Southcore Financial Centre took us back across York Street where the tour ended at Aria restaurant in Telus House. Located in one of the area's new office towers, Aria has a great view of everything going outside at the Air Canada Centre, while skyline landmarks like the L Tower mark the rather vertical horizon.

The tour hinted at just how much is going on in Downtown Toronto these days. Ninety-five percent of the spots mentioned above can been seen in the tour video, below.

Want to know more about the CTBUH? You can get that information here. Want to know more about some of the new projects that the tour passed through? Click on any of the UrbanToronto dataBase file links below. Want to talk about it? You can join in on the conversation in any of the associated Forum threads, or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.