Announcing five new projects that reimagine public space in Toronto

*Announcement made on July 23, 2019*

Now in its second year, our Public Space Incubator program invited Torontonians to submit their wild, inventive, and innovative ideas for how to bring people together in our city’s public spaces. 

Once again, we weren’t disappointed. 

Designed to offer both funding and support, the Public Space Incubator aims to spur new models for the use of publicly accessible open space, whether that’s in laneways, parking lots, parks, streets, or plazas. As our city grows ever denser, making use of all of our open spaces for celebration, social connection, and respite becomes more critical.

The winning five projects include night markets and food training opportunities, renewal and animation of heritage structures, rethinking connections to land through Indigenous urban agricultural practices, re-using mall parking lots as community space, and levelling-up our ideas of play in public space. 

As with our last five winning projects, this new cohort will provide us with new models, challenge existing practices, and hopefully spark ideas beyond themselves. We’re so excited to see them all become reality over the next year.

For a listing of past winners click here.

For media inquiries please email

Public Space Incubator is a program of Park People and is generously funded by Ken and Eti Greenberg and Balsam Foundation.

2019 Recipients

Pop-Up Playground – The Bentway

Many of us have fond memories of heading to the local park to play. But play can be so much more than the standard playgrounds found in many of our parks today—and it can reach across age.

Using an already experimental public space in Toronto—The Bentway—this pop-up playground project will use temporary installations to explore new forms of playing in public space while encouraging communities to interact with their city—and each other—in unexpected ways. 

Led by The Bentway in partnership with Montreal-based interactive design studio, Daily Tous les jours, the project will encourage interactive play on the Bentway site through the creation of whimsical play structures.

“The Bentway is thrilled to have been selected as a recipient of Park People’s Public Space Incubator grant. With this support, we will be exploring how play can help reshape community spaces in new and exciting ways. We are so excited to be part of a movement of organizations and individuals in Toronto working to rethink public space, encouraging connection and community through active programming.” — Ilana Altman, Co-Executive Director, The Bentway Conservancy.

Credit picture: Andrew Williamson

Milky Way Indigenous Initiative – Greenest City

On City-owned land, such as parks, Indigenous people and community members often meet many institutional barriers to practicing ceremony, planting, and harvesting.

The Milky Way Indigenous Initiative will focus on facilitating access for Indigenous-centred intergenerational knowledge sharing, land stewardship practices, traditions and ceremonies, and sustainable food systems learning.

The project aims to provide a way forward, centering discussions of urban land stewardship around Truth and Reconciliation. It has the unique position of taking place on Toronto’s first community-owned land—held by the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust.

Led by Greenest City, with the support of Indigenous Elders, the Milky Way Indigenous Initiative builds on Greenest City’s work with community members at the Milky Way Urban Agriculture and Community Hub in Parkdale. 

“The Milky Way space is uniquely community-run in an institution heavy city. This initiative will provide the opportunity to come full circle to the roots of 87 Milky Way and bring together newcomers, Indigenous People and diverse community members to build knowledge, right relations, and a path forward in stewarding this land and relationships together.” — Angela ElzingaCheng, Executive Director of Greenest City. 

Credit picture: Greenest City

Corner Commons – Jane/Finch Centre

The parking lot at the Jane-Finch Mall has long been used as an informal gathering space and rallying point for local residents, grassroots groups, and community organizations. Over the years, people of all ages and backgrounds have come together here for community celebrations, performances, demonstrations, and small markets.

Corner Commons aims to honour these uses and enhance the parking lot’s potential for hosting and supporting a range of activities. This community-driven project includes creating a flexible shelter for neighbourhood programming and transforming the parking lot through new seating, plantings, lighting, and art. Corner Commons will also be used as a space to host planning discussions as the Finch LRT project brings change to the neighbourhood.

Coordinated by the Jane/Finch Centre, the project is supported by architectural and design firm Perkins + Will and a community working group made up of resident leaders and local organizations.

Corner Commons is a collaborative effort that recognizes this parking lot’s special history, role, and location in the Jane-Finch community. This Public Space Incubator grant will help us elevate the site as a public space, and introduce programs and features to make the place more functional, comfortable, and welcoming.” – Corner Commons team. 

Credit picture: Ernestine Aying.

Oculus – Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO)

You might have seen it as you biked, ran, walked, or rolled along the Humber River Trail just north of the lake and wondered what is that? No, it’s not a long-forgotten spaceship. It’s actually the Oculus, built in 1959 and now an under-used park pavilion.

The Oculus revitalization project will showcase how innovative design solutions and community partnerships can conserve heritage in an environmentally sustainable way while also creating a unique and vibrant place for people. By restoring and cleaning the existing pavilion and implementing flexible and contextual outdoor furniture and lighting, this project aims to elevate the Oculus to its rightful spot as a community gathering place along the trail. 

Led by the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and Giaimo Architects, this initiative will include public design workshops and programming such as walks, talks, and installations that help transform the Oculus.

“The Oculus is a bold and eccentric piece of modernist architecture, but over time it has deteriorated and is now underutilized as a park pavilion. The Public Space Incubator grant provides us the opportunity to give new life to this abandoned space-age structure and showcase how architectural heritage conservation and community partnerships can create engaging public spaces.” — Stephanie Mah, VP of ACO Toronto. 

Credit picture: Stephanie Mah.

Snack Snack Revolution – MABELLEarts

Food and parks—there’s nothing better for bringing people together. But this combination can also provide important local economic development and small businesses training. 

Inspired by the global nights markets and the snack stalls of India, Snack Snack Revolution will incorporate micro-business training and mentorship with an innovative design of mobile snack stalls to debut at a night market festival. The night market will also be animated by artists and community members to help tell the stories of the neighbourhood. 

Led by MABELLEarts, an arts organization, the project will take place in Mabelle Park, a green space at the heart of a Toronto Community Housing neighbourhood in Etobicoke. MABELLEarts has worked for over ten years in the community with thousands of residents of all ages and backgrounds alongside professional artists, architects, builders, and gardeners. 

The Public Space Incubator is fueling beauty, opportunity and community connection on Mabelle Avenue.  This support of Snack Snack Revolution is helping MABELLEarts to work with skilled home cooks, architects and chefs to design and test two snack stalls to be run by Mabelle residents during a series of Night Markets in the Mabelle Park.  Thank you Park People, Ken and Eti Greenberg and the Balsam Foundation for your support – it’s delicious!” – Leah Houston, MABELLEarts. 

Credit picture: Liam Cook

View full Recipient list

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