Public Space Incubator

2018 Public Space Incubator recipients

Announcement made on August 16, 2018.

With the launch of the Public Space Incubator, Park People created an invitation—and posed a challenge.

We invited people to change the way we think about what is possible in public space. We wanted people to shake-up the status quo, to blow us away with new ideas, and to create new opportunities for communities to engage—whether in our parks, laneways, streets, parking lots, waterfronts, or plazas.

We were not disappointed.

We received over 75 applications, which we narrowed down to 25 that were invited to submit a full application to be reviewed by our jury. The jury contained people of different backgrounds from landscape architects to community organizers to city staff.

We’re excited to announce the 5 winning projects of the Public Space Incubator for 2018. Each of these projects will receive funding, but also implementation support in the form of mentorship and networking from the members of our jury, Ken and Eti Greenberg, and Park People itself. 

The five winning projects span geography, type, and focus. They are downtown, in North York, and in Scarborough. They are in parks, laneways, vacant lots, and parking lots.

They are big ideas. They have transformational potential. And they all point a way forward for how we can enliven and inhabit public spaces in Toronto in new, dynamic ways.

Thank you to the generous funding of Ken and Eti Greenberg and the Balsam Foundation, without whom the Public Space Incubator would not be possible.


Red Embers

Location: Allan Gardens

Partners: Native Women’s Resource Centre, Lisa Rochon, Larissa Roque, and Tiffany Creyke

Allan Gardens is one of Toronto’s most historic parks, founded in 1858 with its iconic glass Palm House and century-old trees. The installation, Red Embers, recognizes that the park has long been an important gathering space for Indigenous peoples, while also struggling with issues of vandalism and violence. Conceived as a celebration of the brilliance of Indigenous artists and as a memorial to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Red Embers seeks to open up new positive relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

The Red Embers installation is a site-specific work by Indigenous designers Tiffany Creyke, Larissa Roque and Citylab’s Lisa Rochon. Below the tree canopy and along the major pathways in Allan Gardens, thirteen charred cedar gates will be installed with a great red banner suspended from each one. All of the fabric banners will be individually stitched and interpreted by local Indigenous women, including celebrated designers and artists. The installation honours the 13 Grandmother Moons within the Lunar System, as it is the Grandmother Moon that provides healing and a re-balancing of energy for women who have experienced domestic violence or sexual assault. The unveiling of Red Embers in the Spring 2019 will be accompanied by a smudging ceremony led by an Elder and be linked to Indigenous programming in Allan Gardens.

Red Embers is an important and powerful symbol of increased inclusion through Indigenous placemaking, showing a path forward as our city works towards Reconciliation. 

“Art can change attitudes and open our minds. Red Embers, with its banners artfully designed by Indigenous women, will magnetically draw visitors to Allan Gardens to experience a powerful installation about the vitality of Indigenous women while honouring the ones who left us too soon. By championing the reinvention of underutilized space in the City of Toronto through meaningful public art, PSI helps to build a more liveable and tolerant city.” – Red Embers team



Location: Wexford Heights

Partners: Brendan Stewart, Daniel Rotsztain, Karen Landman, Wexford Heights BIA

Since they popped up in San Francisco years ago, the idea of parklets—mini public spaces established in parking spaces—has caught on in multiple cities around North America, including Toronto. But these tend to be clustered in downtown neighbourhoods, even though many commercial strips outside the downtown have the same kind of vibrant community life.

That’s where plazaPOPS comes in. University of Guelph professors Brendan Stewart and Karen Landman and Master of Landscape Architecture grad Daniel Rotsztain are partnering with the Wexford Heights BIA to create a pop-up plaza in one of the area’s lively strip mall parking lots along Lawrence Avenue in Scarborough.

Opening in Spring 2019, the team will work with Scarborough Arts to engage with local artists to animate the parklet over three weekends of pop-up programming. This project imagines a new future for our strip mall parking lots to support public life outside the downtown core, while creating more comfortable outdoor spaces for people to gather. 

“The plazaPOPS team is thrilled to have received the PSI grant and looks forward to embarking on a collaborative community design process and producing an impactful project that enhances the vitality of Toronto’s strip mall landscapes.” – plazaPOPS team


Nicholson Lane Linear Park 

Location: St. Lawrence Neighbourhood

Partners: The Laneway Project, St. Lawrence Market BIA

When is a laneway more than just a laneway? When it’s a park of course. Or a community gathering space. Or a micro-retail hub. Or maybe when it’s all of these things.

By working with partners along Nicholson Lane in the St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood, The Laneway Project will transform this laneway through plantings, public art, seating, lighting, and, ultimately, the creation of mobile micro-scale units to create affordable places for local businesses to set up shop and community organizations to offer programming. The project will draw on and involve local businesses and organizations in the area such as the Canadian Opera Company, Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friends, and Jamii Esplanade to help care for and activate the laneway.

The Laneway Project has led other laneway transformations before, such as Rush Lane, but this will represent a larger vision for what commercial laneways in our city could become in the future if they are thought of as spaces for people. Coming Spring 2019.

“Laneways at the moment are a ubiquitous but forgotten layer of Toronto’s public realm. This PSI grant will enable us to work with the St. Lawrence community to demonstrate the potential of these spaces as vibrant, appealing places to be, not only for passive enjoyment but also for active economic and cultural use.” – Michelle Senayah, The Laneway Project


Thorncliffe Community Café 

Location: R. V. Burgess Park

Partners: Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee, Alexandra Park Neighbourhood Learning Centre

There’s nothing quite like food to bring people together. Visit a park in Toronto, however, and you may be disappointed in the lack of food options, and especially food options that are provided by local businesses. What if we could harness the power of food in parks to support local economies while creating opportunities for community members to come together and share a meal?

The Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee hopes to do just that. With a new shipping container community café already established in the park through funding from the City, Trillium Foundation, and Metcalfe Foundation, the group is now looking to establish a sustainable model for its operation that provides economic opportunities for local residents, many of them newcomers, to become entrepreneurs. Starting Fall 2018, food-centred programming will ensure the café remains a lively hub of activity throughout the year and offer training in the areas of food handling, business, and customer service skills development.

It represents a model of community-led park-based local economic development and entrepreneurship that could be replicated in parks across the city.

“The Public space Incubator grant will help us in developing a sustainable park-based model of economic development & entrepreneurship. It will support the community based programming and will create a place of engagement for the people in RV Burgess Park—a community centre without boundaries.” – Sabina Ali, Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee


Urban Discovery

Location: Bathurst and Front Streets

Project Partners: stackt, Earth Day Canada, Children’s Discovery Centre

Urban Discovery is a youth-focused initiative that aims to change perceptions about things normally viewed as a nuisance—like a large downtown rail corridor. By creating a viewing area out of a shipping container and exterior area, the project will present the 14 tracks in the rail corridor at Bathurst and Front as an object of education and curiousity, helping us to connect in a new way with a part of the city often overlooked.

Based at stackt, a shipping container market and cultural hub at Bathurst and Front Street, Urban Discovery will be programmed in partnership with pop-up adventure playground specialists Earth Day Canada and educational programming by the Children’s Discovery Centre. While the viewing area will be open at all times stackt is operational, programming will be delivered at key moments throughout the project starting in Spring 2019.

Urban Discovery presents an exciting opportunity to change our thinking about areas of the city that may be called “eyesores” by reframing them into something engaging for all ages. 

“We are thrilled to have been awarded the Public Space Incubator grant. This grant will assist us in further enhancing our objective of taking unused land at 28 Bathurst and transforming it into an experience of curated discovery for all of our visitors.” – Matt Rubinoff, stackt Founder

Rendering of potential viewing platform by LGA Architectural Partners.


Core Principles of the Public Space Incubator

  • Innovative: Projects push the boundaries of what’s possible and propose new, creative ways for bring people together in under-utilized urban spaces.
  • Community driven: Projects are rooted in community involvement and building local partnerships to ensure a sustainable, accessible, and inclusive approach.
  • Programmable: Projects are not simply design pieces, but involve programming that ensures spaces are used and lively.
  • Catalytic: Projects maximize the impact of the grant by leveraging additional financial and in-kind support. 
  • Scalable: Projects have the potential to be replicable and scalable beyond a single public space.

Park People is a Canadian charity that helps people activate the power of parks and public spaces. The Public Space Incubator was conceived of as a way to test new, creative, and even radical ideas for inhabiting and enlivening Toronto’s public spaces that could offer a model for other communities. There will be another funding round of 5 projects in 2019.

Media requests and/or to be connected to one of the project recipients, please contact Jake Tobin Garrett, Manager of Policy and Planning, Park People, at