plazaPOPS is a high impact, low cost, and replicable demonstration of the potential of ‘pop up’ community gathering places within the privately-owned public spaces (POPS) of Toronto’s emblematic inner-suburban strip mall plazas. Responding to the lack of amenities along Toronto’s inner suburban arterials for pedestrians and TTC riders, plazaPOPS seeks to support and enhance the vibrant communities and businesses that already characterize Toronto’s inner suburbs, suggesting context-sensitive approaches to their densification.
plazaPOPS is lead by Brendan Stewart and Karen Landman, professors of Landscape Architecture at the University of Guelph and Daniel Rotsztain, the Urban Geographer and recent UofGuelph Masters of Landscape Architecture (MLA) graduate.
plazaPOPS is currently working with the City of Toronto on a SSHRC funded project to understand how to turn our successful pilot into a sustainable citywide program. Transforming privately-owned strip mall parking lots into community gathering spaces is a pragmatic way to enhance inner suburban main streets and encourage outdoor gathering that supports small businesses -- an especially important element of "bringing back main street" in response to COVID-19.
Check out our video and report on WexPOPS here!
The first plazaPOPS, funded by Park People’s Public Space Incubator Grant, which is funded by Ken and Eti Greenberg and the Balsam Foundation, is popping up in Wexford Heights BIA in July 2019, and is a pilot project demonstrating the potential for a community lead design process in partnership with a Business Improvement Area in creating equity in Toronto’s urban landscape.
plazaPOPS grew out of Daniel’s UoG MLA thesis which was advised by Karen and Brendan. Daniel interviewed strip mall owners, business owners and patrons about their vision for enhancing strip malls, and found that strip mall users desired an improved landscape, especially adjacent to restaurants and cafes. Identifying a lack of appropriate streetscape enhancement programs within the City of Toronto, Daniel’s thesis concluded that a new program - plazaPOPS - needed to be created to test the ability for low-cost, high impact public space enhancement projects on privately-owned but publicly used strip mall parking lots. Check out the guide to enhancing Toronto’s strip mall landscapes Daniel created as a part of his thesis here.
Daniel’s thesis was finishing up around the time Park People announced their Public Space Incubator grant - an initiative funded by Ken and Eti Greenberg and the Balsam Foundation to support innovative public space initiatives in a growing and dynamic city. Daniel, Brendan and Karen teamed up with the Wexford Heights BIA and Scarborough Arts to put together an application to pilot plazaPOPS. They received the grant in August 2018.
plazaPOPS then received additional funding from the City of Toronto‘s BIA Innovation fund, and has created partnerships with Professor Rafael Gomez of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources. Having grown up in the neighbourhood, Prof Gomez had previously done placemaking work in Wexford Heights with Think Tank Toronto and 54 East magazine. Through UofT’s City Lab Fellowship program, Masters of Urban Planning and Masters of Business Administration students joined the plazaPOPS team with Gomez, creating a set of metrics to measure the economic and social impacts of plazaPOPS on the local community. The City of Toronto’s Transportation Services provided support through consultation and the installation of bike parking along Lawrence Avenue adjacent to our site.
For WexPOPS, plazaPOPS was engaged in a community design process with the help of our Community Working Group, comprised by local residents, Scarborough community organizers and business owners. Masters of Landscape Architecture students from the University of Guelph were engaged in the community design process through Professor Brendan Stewart’s Community Design studio. Read more about our process here.
WexPOPS, the pilot plazaPOPS popped upin July 2019 alongside the Wexford Heights BIA’s annual Taste of Lawrence festival. The installation occupied 10 parking spots at the Wexford Plaza. Throughout the installation, the site was programmed by events, concerts and other community initiatives. Check out the full report and video on WexPOPS here.
Stay tuned for updates by joining our mailing list or following us on twitter and instagram!