Breaking Bylaws: How public is Yonge-Dundas Square?

Breaking Bylaws: How public is Yonge-Dundas Square?
By Melissa Wilson
OpenFile Toronto (OpenBlog)
June 20, 2012

With temperatures skyrocketing to molten levels this week, Torontonians are likely abandoning their sweatbox apartments in droves, in search of cooler climates, or at least a little corner of the city with a breeze. If your plan was to head downtown to take in some free AC at the Eaton Centre or the AMC, and jump through the fountains at Yonge-Dundas Square, however, you might want to check out Chapter 363 of the City of Toronto’s Municipal Code, on Public Squares. Because at Yonge-Dundas Square, the following activities are against the law:

Climbing on any tree, roof, or part of a building or structure, setting off fireworks, standing on any receptacle or container for plants, shrubs or trees, wearing ice skates, dropping things from the roof of a building, throwing or in any way propelling any stone or other missile in a manner that may cause injury, lighting fires, riding on skateboards, standing on skateboards, roller-skating, roller blading, releasing helium-filled balloons, lighting candles and torches, and camping.

It’s nothing if not thorough.

“One of the things people don’t understand about public space is that it needs to be managed,” says Karen Jones, senior corporate management and policy consultant with the City Manager’s Office. “Managing and placing limits on activities ensures that safety and enjoyment can happen for a wide cross-section of the public.”

Yonge-Dundas Square should probably just go ahead and adopt the Monica Geller motto: “Rules are good. Rules help control the fun!” (Just kidding. We’re all in favour of kids not shooting their eyes out with fireworks in the town square.)

There’s also a whole laundry list of events that are allowed, but only with an approved permit, including soliciting, riding a bicycle, erecting a tent or any structure, putting up signs and flyers, and generally carrying on or engaging in any way.

While Chapter 636 is titled Public Squares, it actually pertains almost exclusively to Yonge-Dundas Square, which unlike most other public squares in Toronto that are considered civic spaces because they currently or at one point housed municipal government, Yonge-Dundas Square was established in 2001 with the sole purpose of attracting retail and entertainment activity in the downtown core. It’s run by a separate board of management that handles the revenue and expenditures for the area.

The cost to rent the space at the Square for the day is $1,650 from January 2 through mid March, and $3,570 from mid March through January 1 of the following year, with a 40 percent discount offered to registered charities and a 10 percent discount for anyone, as long as they agree to leave the fountains running.

In 2010, Yonge-Dundas Square brought in $2,496,229 in revenue, the bulk coming from permit and event support fees. (This, surprisingly, is not that much more than the City brings in each year in pet licenses.)

“While individual members of the public can access the Square without a permit, there should not be organized, unpermitted events that would disrupt permitted events,” says Jones.

All that means that Yonge-Dundas Square is primarily a business centre, so while it’s public, it’s not really public, and should probably be considered more akin to an indoor mall than a city park. So perhaps it’s a good idea to find somewhere else to stand on skateboards and propel missiles.

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