Image: Community Outreach staff member Jesse James speaks to a group of business leaders during the BIA Brunch Meeting this past October.
Yonge Street is in desperate need of a makeover. But more than a just new layer of asphalt and concrete, our main street needs a new way of thinking — one that makes it more functional for our growing community and the many uses demanded of our public space.
Residents in Willowdale want their stretch of Yonge to be a safe place to walk for people of all ages. They also want an attractive environment, with destination shops and restaurants, and great places to catch up with neighbours. Business owners in our community have similar goals.
Commercial areas that promote walking tend to see significant increases in sales. Partnerships between business owners, residents, and City government is not new. Business Improvement Areas (BIA’s) are made up of commercial property owners who choose to join together to pool resources dedicated to carrying out improvements and promote economic development. The North York Centre is currently the largest commercial area in Toronto not organized as a BIA.
That’s a distinction we hope will soon change. John and I have been planting seeds with local businesses for several years to begin organizing a BIA in Willowdale. Coming out of discussions on the future design of Yonge Street, our Community Coordinator Jesse James has helped establish a steering committee to guide our local business owners through the stages of BIA formation.
Over the coming year, this steering committee will take on the work of consulting with local business owners and tenants and guide the community through the City’s formal steps for establishing a BIA. If local business owners agree, they can then begin raising money for street beautification, festivals and special events to attract customers to Willowdale and help restaurants, retailers and office spaces thrive.
This work closely aligns with the future configuration of the street itself. John continues to champion a vision for our main street that would narrow our six-lane highway to four lanes, allowing much wider pedestrian walkways, outdoor patios and cafes, trees and decorative plantings, creating a more desirable and functional environment for residents and visitors alike visitors alike.
The $50-million proposed reconstruction project, known as Transform Yonge, will come back to City Council in early 2020 for a final vote on the project’s future. Transportation Staff have been making technical adjustments since it last came to Council in 2018, including it as part of the City’s new vision for road safety. If adopted, construction work would likely being in late 2022.
In addition to the business community, we’ve met regularly with leaders of local community groups and road safety advocates from across the city to advance this vision. These discussions are the start of a much larger and ongoing conversation about the future of our main street.
If you’d like to be part of it, I hope you’ll drop me a note.