Taking Leaside’s branding to the street

Glenn Asano, in his inspirational piece: “Would that which we call Leaside by any other name smell as sweet?” (Leaside Life, May 2023) challenged readers to describe what they understood to be “Leaside’s brand,” and given its evident importance, further challenged the community to develop a neighbourhood branding strategy that can “help attract residents, businesses, investment and visitors, and enhance the area’s overall attractiveness and vitality, which subsequently improves the quality of life for its residents.”

I support Glenn’s well articulated vision, and the recent experience of creating a unique identifier for the Leaside 110 anniversary celebrations suggests that it may not be such a difficult task. We took Frederick Gage Todd’s Leaside model garden suburb design with its clearly differentiated street pattern marking residential and industrial areas, and then used it as the basis for Leaside 110 anniversary branding.

But we were not the first to recognize the potential of the Town of Leaside’s street plan for an enduring “Leaside brand identity.” We have the Bayview Leaside Business Improvement Area (BIA) to thank for implementing their gateway feature in 2019 at (both sides of) Bayview and Millwood as part of a thoughtful reimagination of the Bayview streetscape.

The BIA’s consultant, The Planning Partnership, proposed an expansive vision of Bayview Avenue: “to be a retail and restaurant destination, with inviting boulevards lined with mature trees and comfortable attractive street furniture. People will come here year-round to shop, to eat, to linger, and to enjoy life. The greenness of Bayview will extend to include the side street ‘flankages,’ making this one of the great public realms of Toronto.” 

The streetscape on the east side of Bayview, constructed by the City several years ago, is anchored by trees rising from ground level (not boxes!) and enhanced by BIA benches and planters. 

On the north side of Millwood, both east and west of Bayview, the BIA partnered with the City to introduce two parkettes, complete with benches, in-ground planting beds, and decorative maps called “standing screens,” which play on the Todd plan. Made of corten steel, the screens very creatively depict the street patterns of Davisville Village on the west side and the Town of Leaside on the east. 

Four years out, what is the reaction to the Bayview Millwood parkette improvements? Henry Byres, the BIA coordinator, confirms that it is very positive. “In a nutshell, the Planning Partnership’s design of our Bayview Millwood streetscape features has achieved its goals. From morning to evening, at all times of year, people sit on the parkette benches, which was the hope of the BIA at the outset of the project. We go to great lengths to maintain the planting beds, so that they look good in spite of the harsh growing environment.

“Regarding the screens, I’m a big fan of corten steel, in particular the durability and almost maintenance-free nature of the product and its ‘industrial’ aesthetic. I’m also impressed with the level of detail achieved in the screens, which speaks to the design applicability of corten steel as a gateway feature material.”

So, where do we go from here? Is a bigger, more expansive vision possible that would integrate the Leaside brand in a more coordinated way? Here’s my suggestion: how about installing standing screens on major gateways into the community, like Bayview and Moore, Bayview and Eglinton, Laird (or Brentcliffe) and Eglinton, and Laird and Millwood, all stylized and adjusted to match the street pattern in the gateway area?

In fact, thanks to an understanding developer, we have already started on this thought path. Emblem, the developer of the mid-rises planned for 126-132 and 134 Laird Drive, will be installing a heritage feature at the northwest corner of Laird and Stickney that incorporates the map screen design, and seating, and adds elements and information about the historic automotive services’ link to the site.

Being a community with unified identity clues, we want to display a strong commitment to place-making and public art. How about it?

This article was written with the assistance of Henry Byres.

About Geoff Kettel 221 Articles
Geoff Kettel is a community connector and advocate for “making places better”. He is currently Co-President of the Leaside Residents Association, Co-Chair of the Federation of North Toronto Residents‘ Associations (FoNTRA), member of the Toronto Preservation Board and Past Chair of the North York Community Preservation Panel. He writes a monthly column on heritage and planning in Leaside Life.