Public Space Incubator Past Recipients

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

2018 Recipients

Urban Discovery

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.


Thorncliffe Community Café

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


Nicholson Lane Linear Park

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 Friendship Centres, 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



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


Red Embers

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

Stay in the loop about Park People opportunities, programs & events

Subscribe to our newsletter!