I'm sunning myself on the patio of the Moonbean Café in Kensington Market, enjoying the crowds in the last few hours of this last of a series of Pedestrian Sundays. I didn't miss a single Sunday, enjoying every inch of the Market and every note the bands played. But now I'm asking myself, "What now?" The walker-friendly Sundays were meant to be more than a street festival; we've had quite a few of those in the city this summer.
These seven car-free days were meant to be an urban gesture, but also to herald bigger and better things to come. Just because a space is big enough to accommodate the width of a car, there's no reason it should.
Of all the outdoor shopping areas in Toronto, Kensington has the most potential for becoming a full-time all-pedestrian zone. Almost all other retail areas in Toronto, from Bloor West Village to the Danforth, are single-street systems, a strip of shops surrounded by residential streets. They have no shops on closely spaced parallel or perpendicular streets to break the monotony or provide a denser and closer shopping experience.
If you come to these areas by car, the more shops you want to see, the further you have to walk from your car.
The Market, on the other hand, consists of closely spaced streets running in different directions, all with retail. You can wander all over the area, shop and still be just a short walk from your vehicle.
If you go to a suburban mall, especially on a busy day, park your car and walk into the boring indoor thoroughfare, you've trekked more than the entire length of Kensington Market.
Merchants are understandably nervous about making the Market permanently pedestrian-only. They're worried they'll lose their clientele. But people don't come here to visit one store only, nor do they expect to simply pull up in front of their destination. They come for the entire experience.
Meandering bazaars stretching for blocks are common in the Middle East and always attract huge crowds - not because of the convenience but because of their unique character.
Whatever the Market loses because of complete pedestrianization it will gain in added fame and appeal, helped along by little improvements. How about more benches to attract the lunchtime crowd from offices further down Spadina? Or a green roundabout to break the monotony of Augusta and Oxford?
The most important improvement should be to the entrance from College Street, which is currently flanked by a grimy strip plaza worthy of an abandoned industrial suburb. I'd hate to see some hotshot planner dictate changes to the Market's homey feel, but small improvements do have a place.
It's about time for a city that brags about its imported European architects to start acting like a European city and give its citizens a pedestrian market. After a century of automobiles, we deserve one.