Public Art and Design Improve City Livability and Resiliency


This blog focuses on the ecology and sustainability of the City of Toronto with the major emphasis on urban resiliency. It concerns the interrelationship between the environment, the economic and the social fabric of the city and the resulting influence on urban form and function. It explores negative and positive impacts and the challenges presented by public art and design to the present and future prospects of sustainability. A part of this blog discusses the contribution of public art and design to the overall sustainability of Kensington Market. It will further identify the impacts of public art and design to the city as a whole, by exploring some of the evolution of public art and design in the city.

Public Art History of the City

There is no question that the current process of globalization and increasing competitiveness of global cities greatly influence the relation between public art and urban design development. Public art is a tool to help increase the distinctiveness, uniqueness, and attractiveness of cities. It enlightens municipal spaces, city parks, transit infrastructure, and even bridges and underpasses. For cities like Toronto, art is used as a public benefit to be enjoyed and experienced by its residents and visitors (City of Toronto, 2017). It is intended to make buildings and open spaces more attractive and interesting, which could possibly improve the city’s quality of the public realm and landscape. In Toronto, the public art is growing dramatically, embracing new artists, mediums, policies, and funding sources. Below is a timeline remarking  the development of Toronto’s policy on public art as well as some of the pieces that have had influence to the urban landscape and social consciousness of the city. It remarks the earliest public statuary celebrating the military leaders and elites who have assisted in engineering the city of Toronto and the increasing awareness of the positive impacts of art in the urban development over the past years.

  • 1870: The Canadian Volunteer’s Monument 
    • Located at Queen’s Park, this sandstone monument commemorates the men who volunteered to defend Canada in the 1866 American invasion known as the Fenian Raid. It is the oldest piece in Toronto’s public art collection (City of Toronto, 2017).
  • 1910: South African War Memorial 
    • Standing at University Avenue and Queen Street West, this memorial is one of the earliest large-scale military monuments in the city (City of Toronto, 2017).
  • 1919: King Edward VII
    • Standing tall at the centre of Queen’s Park, this statue was originally casted in 1919 as a coronation gift for George V form the city of Delhi, India, which was then still part of the British Empire. When British rule in India ended, the statue was brought by Henry R. Jackman to the city as a gift. It stands to be Toronto’s first equestrian statue (City of Toronto, 2017).
  • 1966: The Archer
    • Installed in Nathan Phillips Square, the piece is designed to complement the new city hall building with its open square. It’s the first major work of modern public art installed in the city (City of Toronto, 2017).
  • 1985: The Pasture
    • Located in the courtyard of the Toronto Dominion Centre on King Street West, the life-sized reposing bronze cows signify Toronto’s success story can be credited to its agricultural past (City of Toronto, 2017).
  • 1986: Toronto’s Urban Development Services launches public art policies 
    • This new public art framework has led to increased drive for public art installations throughout the city as well as encouraged the development of public art policies in the Greater Toronto Area (City of Toronto, 2017).
  • 1995: Sundial Folly
    • This spherical concrete structure sits in Harbour Square Park at Toronto’s Waterfront and reflects the city’s relationship with the Toronto Island (City of Toronto, 2017).
  • 2000: Moose in the City 
    • Toronto’s streets were filled with 362 magnificent moose sculptures, created by 500 local artists and sponsored by more than 250 patrons. The exhibition resulted in a successful outdoor art event, which generated over $5million in world-wide media coverage for the city. It has influenced visitations of about 2 million tourists, which raised the city’s economy by $400 million and raised $1.4 million for Canada’s Olympic Athletes and local Toronto charities. The legacy of Moose in the City lives on and continues to remind one of the most unforgettable events in Toronto history (City of Toronto, 2017).
  • 2003: Expansion of the Toronto Public Art Commission
    • The City Council approved the appointment of city-wide representatives to the Toronto Public Art Commission, the group which assists in approving new public installations (City of Toronto, 2017).
  • 2006: Toronto’s First Nuit Blanche
    • This all night, city-wide art party was introduced in Toronto to present new audience to contemporary art by making it fun, engaging and accessible. The launch was well-appreciated and has grown to attract hundreds of artists and millions of attendees (City of Toronto, 2017).
  • 2007: Toronto launches the Percent for Public Art Program 
    • The program recommends that a minimum of one percent of the gross construction cost of each significant development be contributed to public art. It is continuously revolutionizing Toronto’s public art landscape (City of Toronto, 2017).
  • 2009: Canoe Landing Park
    • Canoe Landing Park is a park surrounded by towering downtown condominiums in the South of Front St. and Spadina Avenue. This big red canoe, which is described by artist Douglas Copeland as “urban furniture”, has become an iconic part of Toronto’s public art landscape. The park also features another Copeland installation of colourful oversized fishing bobbers and a pathway dedicated to Terry Fox (City of Toronto, 2017).
  • 2012: StreetARToronto launches
    • Toronto implemented this program to recognize the role of street art in enhancing the beauty and character of Toronto’s neighbourhoods. The program aims to reduce graffiti vandalism through an increased focus on street and mural art (City of Toronto, 2017).
  • 2015: The 3D Toronto Sign was installed at the Nathan Phillips Square for the Toronto Pan American/Parapan American Games
    • Due to popular demand, the illuminated sign still remains on the Square. The city also implemented the 3D TORONTO Sign Celebratory and Commemorative Lighting Program to offer opportunities to celebrate and highlight Toronto’s significant festivals and events, support and elevate awareness for local not-for-profit and charitable causes, highlight the accomplishments of Toronto’s Sports Teams, and underscore key national celebration, historic commemorations, and days proclaimed by the City to promote diversity (City of Toronto, 2017).

Toronto is continuously becoming a growing and dynamic city. Public art and design can and should be considered to be the centre to its residents, visitors, and its identity. The benefit of public art and design is not just about beautifying a city or its neighbourhoods but it also creates a sense of social engagement, while promoting vibrant community hubs. The city’s public art program seeks to improve the quality of the urban realm by creating open spaces to be more attractive and designing interesting buildings. Below is an overview of the Percent for Public Art Program Inventory map.

Public Art Inventory Map

Linking Public Art and Design to Sustainability: Kensington Market

Map of Kensington Market, Toronto, ONKensington Market is known to be one of Toronto’s most vibrant and diverse neighbourhood because of its colourful and interesting street arts. In the neighbourhood, public designs and arts are used as powerful tools to engage the community in various levels of cultural exchange. Because of the growing visits due to the continuous development of the neighbourhoods art, culture and design, the community could produce significant impacts on the environment, consumption patters, as well as the social and cultural system. It is therefore crucial that the community practices a sustainable planning and development to survive as a whole. Below are some pictures of sustainable practices and development at Kensington Market.

Neighbourhood profile 

This assessment provides an understanding of demographics of Kensington Market.  Included demographic indicators are population, age, languages and household income. It will help in the analysis of the positive and negative impacts of urban art and design to cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians, as well as describe the challenges regarding the community’s future prospects for sustainability.

Population. According to the City of Toronto, Kensington Market has a population of approximately 17,945 – of which the female and male percentage are almost equal, 51% and 49%, respectively. Majority of the people who live in the neighbourhood are largely at working age (25-54 years), which makes up 49% of the total population. The remainder are children (0-14 years), youth (15-24y ears), pre-retirement (55-64 years), and seniors (65+years).

Age. According to the 2001-2016 the per cent of total population by age groups, Kensington has experienced an increase population of age group 15 years to 35 years, and a slight decrease of the ages between 35-49 years and a large decrease to the population of 60+years of age. This change within the age population in Kensington Market shows a high rate of children growing and lower fertility rate.

Languages. Half of the Kensington Market population speak different languages, 48% speak English, and only 2% speak French. Cantonese is the most spoken language, and the other languages include Mandarin, Vietnamese, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Tagalog, and Arabic. The large non-English speaking percentage of the population contributes to the rich multiculturalism in the neighbourhood. Although majority of the population’s mother tongue is not English, 75.6% of them have knowledge in the English language.

Household income. Almost 63% of the population earn a total household income ranging from $10,000-$79,000.  10.5% earn below $10,000 total household income, 8.1% make between $80,000-$99,999, 15.1% make $100,000-$199,999 household income and only 4.2% earn over $200,000.

Streetscape Design: Effect(s) on cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians…


It seems an obvious measure to have complete streets to pedestrianize an area that is dominated by pedestrians, cyclists, and drives – especially in the case of Kensington Market, as it serves as one of the tourist attraction in Toronto. Complete streets are designed for all ages, abilities, and modes of travel – comfortable and safe access for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users. Kensington Market’s narrow streets has provided success to the monthly pedestrian Sundays, where people can shop, socialize and interact…However, the streets are too narrow for drivers to drive faster than 20km/h. The present number of restaurants, cafès, grocery shops, vintage shops, and many other retail rely on cars both for delivery and customers. The streets also lack street lights…


As presented in the demographics of the neighbourhood, Kensington Market showcases a unique atmosphere coming from generations of non-English speaking families. Majority of the population who own a small family businesses, but in order to maintain this economic foundation of entrepreneurship there needs to be strong support from the community.

  • Cyclists: The narrow and one-way streets in the neighbourhood have a strongly negative impact on cycling. However, effective use of art and design can prevent possible accidents. For example, contraflow lanes and signage implementation can link cyclists to avoid the busy arterial roadways in the city. City bylaws are used to legislate two restrictions on the cont-flow” bicycle lane – 1) only bicycles may use the lanes and 2) the direction that cyclists may cycle in using the “contra-flow” bicycle lane. Also, studies show that protected streets serve the double purpose of improving rider safety while also inspiring people to ride.
  • Drivers: In addition to the incomplete streetscape of the area, there is also an extremely limited parking space for visitors who wish to drive to the destination. Kensington Market’s Pedestrian Sundays in the summer closes the neighbourhood to cars to showcase their unique business community to artists, musicians, and visitors. With such an event, it proposes a problem of cars crawling through at a snail’s pace. For visitors driving to reach the destination, it would mean additional cost in parking farther away from the area, and possible higher parking rates. If the neighbourhood is not as accessible in the case of drivers, the event may not attract as much visitors as it expects to attract…and this would mean less business for the locals.

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  • Pedestrians/community members: Although the narrow streets could provide more interaction and stronger social connections between community members, it is important that the streets in the area are safe and secured. Mentioned earlier is the issue of lighting and transparency of the streets. Proper design characteristics, like lighting and transparency can help reduce threats from criminal activities. The neighbourhood consist more youth (19% of the population) and according to most common findings across countries, groups, and historical periods show that crime – especially “ordinary” or “street” crime – tends to be a younger person’s activity (Ulmer, 2017).

Wellbeing Toronto: Kensington Market


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Wellbeing Toronto: Kensington Market

…More Art and Design in the Neighbourhood…

Plant filled car: This community project was created in 2006, mainly used to grow crops of vegetables and herbs. This community art and design contributes in effectively and efficiently consumption of resources. It has provided the community an opportunity to recover, reuse, and recycle in order to maximize the benefit of the car. Furthermore, it provides an extended use land area, while providing locally sourced crops for the neighbourhood.
Kensington bike rack: Toronto is becoming a city full of cyclists. This Kensington bike rack, located at the corner of Augusta and College Street is a product collaborated a Toronto-based sculptor and artist Phil Sarazen and the community members. The artist created this project to give marginalized communities a chance to express themselves artistically (Ali, 2015). Not only that this lively infrastructure warrants a second look from passersby but it only encourages the community to use bicycles for transportation. The growing practice of bike riding within the neighbourhood of Kensington market, and the City of Toronto asa whole, promotes a minimal use of fossil fuels. It also provides additional opportunity for social interaction on the streets. This Kensington project is a remarkable reminder that the neighbourhood provides a safe road environment.
Bellevue Square Park: Located in the heart of the Kensington Market neighbourhood, this park features a wading pool and a playground. This park within the neighbourhood provides an intrinsic environmental, aesthetic, and recreational benefits to the community. The vigorous design of the wading pool maximizes its benefit, as the members can use it anytime during the year. During the cold days, the maze design of wading pool engages interaction within the members.
Street design: The streets within the neighbourhood are known for its independent spirit and colourful shops spilling out onto the sidewalk, giving the area a vibrant street culture. The narrow streets in the neighbourhood may not accommodate vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrian comfortably, but they confer aesthetic and safety benefits. The streets are narrow enough to prohibit drivers to drive any faster than about 20km/h, especially when parked cars are present. The colourful shops promotes added value to the experience of the shoppers, visitors, and community members. Density is often equated with development, but in Kensington, density is created by building cultural value and using existing spaces to foster independent market places instead of large-scale shopping centres. Also, the shops allow for the community to host events like Pedestrian Sundays in the summer wherein the community members and visitors can socially interact, and exchange cultures (Kensington Market BIA, 2017). Economically, the neighbourhood holds a variety of unique retail boutiques, restaurants, and bars. These businesses provide more than just artsy items for consumers, they offer sustainable growth and cultural integrity to the neighbourhood. Economically, the neighbourhood value the idea of keeping money locally (Women’s Post, 2016).

Applying Public Art and Design for City Resiliency and Liveability

In Toronto, the incorporation of public art and designs recognize the concepts of city liveability and resiliency. Public art and design provide few of the benefits, such as opportunities for artists, happiness for the city dwellers, and most importantly, accessibility and mobility for all.

Street art in Toronto specifically developed for streets and public spaces to recognize the enormous value of providing alternatives to unwanted graffiti vandalism. The city’s program’s purpose is to support, celebrate and manage the dynamic asset and giving recognition to the artists. Many of the murals and graffiti art in the city have become must-see destinations. This map below is a listing of the City’s murals and street art, which can be interactively seen at Toronto Street Art Gallery.

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Opportunities for artists: Outside the Box Program

OTB Banner2_1152X252
This program provides Toronto’s local artists an opportunity to create works of art on traffic signal boxes across the City as well as to contribute to the vitality and attractiveness of the streetscape. Since 2013, over 185 boxes  have been hand-painted by local artists to create a vibrant, inclusive, and interesting urban environment. The designs are innovative, foster community pride, strive to counteract graffiti vandalism, as well as contribute to a sense of identity for residents and business (City of Toronto, 2017).

Mobility, accessibility, connected networks: Street Designs

A livable city design approach considers the needs of all users – pedestrians, cyclists, or people who take public transit or drive. It should also consider the varying ages and levels of abilities of the users. In Toronto, streets make up more than 25% land area and are critical to creating a health, vibrant, and prosperous city (City of Toronto, 2017). Streets help the city dwellers move safely and efficiently around the city. It also acts an important role of providing a place where people can meet and interact. They also help promote healthy and active lifestyles by making streets more comfortable and inviting for people to walk and bike.

Toronto’s Downtown Pedestrian Walkway: The PATH is an underground walkway linking 30 kilometres of shopping, services, and entertainment. It provides an important contribution to the economic viability of the city’s downtown core, as it facilitates pedestrian linkages to public transit. Its effective design location (underground) provides pedestrians with a safe haven from the winter cold and snow, and the summer heat (City of Toronto, 2017).

Toronto’s bridges: There are hundreds and thousands of people moving around the city everyday, and it is only getting denser and more vertical. The above pictures include the sky bridges in the city that connect buildings to make them socially inclusive. The images below are the two popular bridge designs located at the Harbour Front, which play multiple roles in the built environment. As infrastructures, they facilitate transport for people. They are architectural astonishments and tourist attractions. As seen in the images, there is a sense of connectivity and belonging amongst the people – children meet and interact with other children. Also, inclusion and development of these bridges provide a complimentary accent to the area they’re built in (the lake).

Happiness: trails, city parks…trees!

In cities, trees play a key role in creating healthy urban environments. Many citizens see trees as important measures of the quality of their communities, which enhance their overall happiness. In Toronto, there are about 10.2 million trees, of which 60% are on private properties, 34% are in parks and ravines, and 6% on city streets (City of Toronto, 2017). The city’s urban forest is estimated to reduce energy use from heating and cooling of residential buildings by $10.2 million annually, it improves air quality and stores 1.1 million metric tonnes of carbon, or the yearly equivalent of 733,000 car emissions (City of Toronto, 2017).

The availability of city parks and trails within Toronto improves the individual satisfaction in the life of the residents. As the city is increasingly becoming urbanized with more people living in it, city parks and trails can become the main point of human contact with nature. A recent study from the University of Exeter links green space to happiness. Green spaces can combat the potential mental health and wellbeing impacts of urbanization through the underlying factors they provide. Such factors include cleaner and cooler air, which could tempt community members to spend more time outdoors and get involved in physical activities (White, Alcock, Wheeler, & Depledge, 2013).  The study suggest green spaces provide breathing spaces individuals can escape to and revitalize their minds – nature can help reduce stress, relax the mind and restore attention.


However, green spaces may be associated with crime, eliciting feelings of insecurity and fear. Poorly managed spaces may act as local dumping grounds, becoming unattractive, smelly or dangerous. The image above is a green space at the neighbourhood of Moss Park, which is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Toronto.

Overall, well-designed and managed green spaces in cities contribute to the happiness of city-dwellers, as well as the sustainability of the city…Regent Park is an example of how Toronto Community Housing’s approach to city building can transform a community into a successful, mixed-income, mixed-use neighbourhood, with commercial space, community facilities, active parks and open space.

Urban Design and City Resiliency

Resilience is what helps cities adapt and transform in the face of urban challenges such as climate change and the growing population – it helps cities prepare for both the expected and unexpected calamities.

Before the summer of 2017, Lake Ontario’s high levels of water have submerged large parts of the Toronto Islands. This catastrophe has shuttered city facilities and put a temporary halt to regular ferry services. It has taken the city of Toronto significant efforts to prepare the park for the public to enjoy. The flood was understandably hard on the businesses on the island. City staff responded to prevent and mitigate hte kind of flooding that effectively closed the Island by using 4,500 sand bags and 27 industrial pumps to limit the damage brought on by the high water in Lake Ontario.

How Toronto is trying to prevent future floods

Trillium Park and William G. Davis Trail…previously a parking lot


The Trillium Park and William G. Davis Trail is a new landmark public space in the city, which was previously a parking lot. After repurposing of the empty parking space, the design of the park offers a vibrant, year-round waterfront destination. Features include:

  1. William G. Davis Trail
  2. The Ravin with Moccasin Identifier
  3. The Pavillion
  4. Romantic Garden
  5. Fire Pit
  6. Bluff
  7. Summit

Public Art and Design Development: Conclusion

Public art and design shape our cultures, and enlivens individuals, neighbourhoods, communities…or cities, as a whole. With the help of well-managed public art and design, Toronto may adapt rapidly and creatively to the constantly changing conditions, such as increasing urbanization and climate change. It will help reduce the ecological footprints and increase civic footprints, growing disparities between the rich and the poor, and population change, all of which pose potential shocks to the city. Public art and design can help Toronto become more resilient,  sustainable, thus livable.

The inclusion of public and art and design elements are highly correlated with the built environment including density, street connectivity, and the mix of land use. For Kensington Market, future development should include an effective designed of complete streets to ensure that social, economic and environmental priorities are integrated. The development should support the neighbourhood’s economic vitality by supporting people and goods to move efficiently. It should be flexible to adapt to the city’s changing needs and priorities over time. In addition, the tree canopy and landscaping should be enhanced in order to reduce storm water runoff, reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. To fulfill the goal of providing pedestrians safety and security, characteristic designs including lighting is important to encourage an inviting and inclusive streets for everyone. Altogether, public art and design should contribute to a more vibrant public realm, improve the quality of life, and enhance the economic prosperity and property value of Kensington Market.


Ali, S. For the community, by the community. The Varsity. The University of Toronto, Toronto.

City of Toronto. (2017). Public Art. Retrieved from City Government Planning :

Ulmer, J. T. (2017). The age and crime relationship. Social Variation, Social Explanations .

White, M. P., Alcock, I., Wheeler, B. W., & Depledge, M. H. (2013). Would you be happier living in a greener urban area? A fixed-effects anakysis of panel data. Physchological Science .

Women’s Post. (2016, July 18). Kensington small businesses are essential to sustainable growth. Retrieved from Politics:



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