Toronto’s NXT City Prize winner designs pedestrian-friendly Yonge St.

A view of Toronto's Yonge Street in 2012. Heather Loney, Global News

TORONTO – The winning design for the 2014 NXT City Prize would see a stretch of Toronto’s iconic Yonge Street transformed into a pedestrian-friendly public space.

Toronto city officials and urban strategy studio Distl launched a competition in June, calling on people under the age of 30 to share their vision for improving the city’s public realm, regardless of their education, disciplines or experience.

The NXT City Prize challenged participants to re-imagine city-owned public spaces, including parks, sidewalks, streets, transit hubs, waterfront areas and parking lots.

On Aug. 14, a winner was selected by a panel headed up by Toronto’s Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat.

Richard Valenzona won the grand prize of $5,000 for his design called YONGE REDUX. He was selected from more than 120 submissions from across Ontario.

The plan would transform Yonge St., between Queen St. and College St., into a pedestrian-friendly corridor, featuring a curbless, two-lane shared street, expanding sidewalk space and encouraging passive activities.

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Currently, the stretch on Yonge is a constant flow of cars and activity. Pedestrians squeeze past each other on narrow sidewalks, briskly moving from point A to B, and with the exception of Yonge-Dundas Square, there isn’t much opportunity to sit, take a breath and enjoy the space.

The features of the YONGE REDUX design include: a curbless streetscape, patio seating and pedestrian benches, tree planting, designated spots for taxis and delivery trucks to stop and unique paving bands to highlight Yonge Street’s “dynamic atmosphere.”

The winning design of Toronto’s 2014 NXT City Prize, YONGE REDUX. Courtesy NXT City Prize

“I hope YONGE REDUX sets a precedent for how we view our streets in Toronto. We need to start considering streets as public spaces, rather than just vehicular thoroughfares,” said Valenzona.

In the project’s vision statement, Valenzona said that not only can the new Yonge St. accommodate pedestrians and cars, “it can potentially be a catalyst for the creation of a complex network of linked public spaces that will improve the overall aesthetic and liveability of Toronto.”

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Keesmaat called the design well-resolved and thoughtful. “Really, it is an idea whose time has come for Yonge Street,” she said.

In addition to the grand prize, Valenzona will also receive access to seed money, up to $10,000, and the opportunity to work with a team of industry mentors to help him get the project off the ground.

Toronto’s 2014 NXT City Prize awards were handed out on Aug. 14, 2014. Courtesy NXT City Prize

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