Extreme Makeover: Nathan Phillips Square

By Ben Bull
Published October 09, 2006

The Toronto Star's Chris Hume reports today that Toronto's Nathan Phillips Square is finally seeking submissions for a radical redesign of this once loved now tired and worn civic space. Created in 1965 by Finnish architect Viljo Revell, the Square serves today as a sad example of how not to build a public space.

Hume cites several examples of where the Square goes wrong - the fenced off grassy strip along Bay, the concrete blob that is the skate hire, the Peace Garden that nobody ever visits - and provides some useful suggestions on how to make it better - e.g. incorporate a raised stage, remove the overhead walkway.

I would also suggest adding a little more nature into the centre of the city. Toronto's square mile has precious little greenery to lie back in, so why not add a little running water and a tree canopy into the mix?

I have written about how to create successful public spaces before and there's no doubt that Nathan Phillips is perfectly positioned to capture the single most important ingredient for this - people. All we need to do now is give them a reason to stick around.

I'm pleased to see Toronto acknowledging another of its Achilles heels (see proposed Queens Quay makeover and Gardiner Expressway improvements) and am very much look forward to seeing the redesign proposals, coming to a newspaper near you in March, 2007.

Here's hoping some of these ideas become realities.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By jason (registered) | Posted October 10, 2006 at 22:40:50

I guess it's about time, although I always thought that upper level blob of concrete was quite a nifty tribute to brutalism. And believe me, it is brutal.

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By complainer (anonymous) | Posted October 11, 2006 at 01:39:13

i thought this site was called Raise the HAMMER. i appreciate that ben bull has moved to toronto and has found new things to capture his interest, but maybe he should submit stuff like this to CNTOWERBLOG or something...

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By jingoiste (anonymous) | Posted October 11, 2006 at 06:25:05

Thanks for sharing, complainer, because there's no way Hamilton could, you know, LEARN from Toronto's mistakes.

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By complainer (anonymous) | Posted October 12, 2006 at 11:01:44

hamilton learning from toronto's mistakes is not in any way what his entry was about.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted October 12, 2006 at 12:26:48

Hi complainer,

The only reason I would elect to post a Toronto-centric piece is if there is something useful Hamilton can learn from it. I'm sorry the comparisons with, and learnings for, Hamilton were not more apparent to you in this piece.

There is a lot of stuff going on in TO right now which relates very closely to Hamilton's own experiences. I believe that many RTH readers are interested to learn more about them.

I included some links in the piece, to other articles where I have explicitly identified areas Hamilton can learn from.

Some things TO does especially well - and Hamilton should pay attention to these. Some things TO does not so well and, similarly - Hamilton should pay attention.

Hamilton does not strive for an efficient and 'livable' urban climate in isolation - all cities are working towards this. And all cities are facing similar challenges. Looking at how other cities address these challenges is a wonderful way for Hamilton to avoid other people's mistakes and mimic their successful approaches.

In so far as I am able (blogs are usually written and posted in a short-time frame so they ocassionally lack a little writers polish)I will continue to try to point out specific comparisons and learnings for Hamilton. However, where I do not, I leave it up to the reader to work out what there is to learn.

For this piece the comparison I had in mind was Gore Park. While we at RTH have written extensively about how we would like to see the area pedestrianized and reverted back into the people place it once was, it is also wise to note the experiences of other public spaces and ensure we do not make the same mistakes.

If you have any further questions about the validity of RTH content check out the 1st Principles at:

and submission guidelines:

I hope I have addressed your concerns. Thanks very much for your comments.



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By complainer (anonymous) | Posted October 12, 2006 at 13:01:08

thanks for addressing my complaint. i guess i should have tried a little harder to read between the lines.

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