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Opening up Toronto neighbourhoods

Easements and rights of way are European traditions, but Toronto tends to limit pathways through private property.
This is a great article - an eye opener.
For two years I watched a new skyscraper go up in my neighbourhood, from the groundbreaking to people moving in a few months ago. It’s called X2, located at Charles St. E., and Jarvis St., and on the north side of Charles is its predecessor, the X Condominium.
The X’s are good-looking buildings, and at sidewalk level X2 will have a new Red Rocket coffee shop and even a Rabba supermarket that will complement the three other Rabbas in the four-block radius.
For a brief spell after the construction fencing was removed, an impromptu passageway opened up behind X2 that connected to the parking lot of the older apartment building to the south. It liberated the block: for the first time we could walk through it rather than around it.
Suddenly, my familiar neighbourhood seemed new; all it took was a new angle to see it from, and the middle of the block became part of the neighbourhood rather than an off-limits zone.
The new route connected naturally to the established midblock passageway behind the original X that connects Charles with Hayden St., a dead-end street but for this well-used pedestrian connection.
But then the new passageway was gone when a final X2 detail, the fence, was put in. It’s a nice fence, as fences go, wood with a modern design, but it blocked the passage and returned the block to how it was before: impervious.
Apart from seeing previously overlooked details, passageways like this afford a great freedom for pedestrians to travel as the crow flies, or walks, as it were. Distances become shorter. It’s good to have a dog too; they sniff out the passages and pull you into them.
Passageways with exits and entrances are also safer because people will often be passing through. The places where trouble in its various forms might happen are the tucked away, out of view spots with no exits. Nobody wants do something nefarious in a place where somebody might pass by.
It’s still possible to walk around X2, but the passages lead to a back corner now, a place few will venture, which is perhaps what the people living in the building prefer. Apartment-tower neighbourhoods, downtown or suburb, often have needless fences around each property, cutting off connections and forcing residents to go around them, suggesting the property owners are rather paranoid. But of what?
There’s something quite romantic and desirable about passageways. Edinburgh is famous for its “closes” and “wynds,” alleyways on public and private property alike that criss-cross and connect parts of the city together, especially around the historic Royal Mile, where the landscape is like a medieval fairy tale. These narrow passageways weave in and around homes and businesses and feel, from a North American perspective, like trespassing when travelled. But it’s not.
The notion of rights of way and easements is interesting to consider here. An easement is another party’s right to use private property, often for access roads or utility connections. Easements exist all over the city and are accepted limits put on private-property rights.
Related to easements are rights of way: permission to pass over and through private or publicly owned land. Rural right-of-way traditions are particularly strong in Europe and parts of the U.K., where “freedom to roam” is a deeply held right. In London there’s even a group of ramblers who are advocating for urban rights of way in the capital.
In North America, private property rights tend to be more sacrosanct, but in cities there are all sorts of restrictions and obligations on them already. In Toronto new developments are required to fund public art and other neighbourhood amenities, and even “view corridors” are considered at the design stage.
Imagine if we also required public rights of way wherever reasonably possible.

Sources / More info: Passageways open up Toronto neighbourhoods: Micallef | Toronto Star
[tags: passageway, easement, right of way, european, toronto, urban improvement]


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