Big changes are in store for a pedestrianized Willcocks Common, as the University of Toronto is looking to upgrade the street with a new public realm plan that would reimagine the thoroughfare as a gathering and social space at the heart of its downtown campus. Currently in the early design stages, the proposal for the stretch between Spadina Avenue and St. George Street would see the implementation of a new tree canopy, along with new paving, landscaped islands, gathering and event spaces, and a basketball court.

Rendering of Willcocks Common looking east from Spadina, image courtesy of the University of Toronto

The move to redesign the Common comes after the successful pedestrianization of Willcocks Street in 2012, which followed a two-year pilot project carried out by the City of Toronto's Transportation Services, Public Realm Section in conjunction with the University's Office of Campus and Facilities Planning. In September 2015, local firm DTAH was selected to oversee the design and implementation of a long-term vision for Willcocks Common.

Site plan, image courtesy of the University of Toronto

The portion of the street between Spadina and Huron will either be a shared pedestrian and vehicular road or a closed pedestrian road, while the stretch between Huron and St. George will be an exclusively pedestrian zone. Accommodations would be made for drop-off zones and lay-bys for New College and the Faculty Club on the western portion of the street, while through-way traffic moving north-south on Huron Street will be maintained through the intersection.

Plan of the proposal, image courtesy of the University of Toronto

The main concept for the design involves the overlay of an 8-metre grid of canopy trees throughout the entire space of the street. The grid would then be modified to accommodate existing site constraints and to integrate new spaces and programs along its length. A new paving strategy will unify all the elements of the street and set it apart from its surroundings.

Concept diagram, image courtesy of the University of Toronto

In order to differentiate the Common from its surroundings, the street will be slightly raised onto a 'table top', such that there will be no grade change between the designated road and the sidewalks. A series of organically-shaped landscaped islands will be interspersed throughout the Common that respond to existing and anticipated pedestrian flows along the street.

View from the Huron Street intersection, image courtesy of the University of Toronto

The design of the Common incorporates a series of exterior rooms, imagined as distinct areas along the stretch to be used for a variety of activities. The exterior rooms include event spaces, flexible open spaces, and areas for informal gathering and social activities. Main features of the plan include a half basketball court, located on the south side of the Common just east of Huron Street, and a seasonal event space at the intersection of Huron. Access to the adjacent buildings will also be improved and integrated into the new design.

Diagram showing exterior rooms, image courtesy of the University of Toronto

The project is still in its early stages, with no defined schedule as to when we might see these changes implemented. It is currently at the end of Phase 1, which involved initial design and community engagement that wrapped up in October, and is now paused for fundraising for an indeterminate amount of time before kicking off Phase 2, which comprises detailed design and construction.

Rendering looking west from St. George Street, image courtesy of the University of Toronto

Rendering of Willcocks Common, image courtesy of the University of Toronto

We will unfortunately have to wait until we see further progress on this initiative, but in the meantime, we will keep you updated as new information becomes available. You can get in on the discussion and tell us what you think by checking out the associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.