The Story of Willcocks Commons: a car-free pedestrian-only zone

It was a calm and breezy evening as I walked down St. George when something shiny caught my eye. I stopped near the hot dog stand and stared at the stretch of road between Sid Smith and Lash Miller. It twinkled again.

…was the ground beckoning at me? Was I that sleep-deprived and hallucinating already? But school just started*!

Dear readers, I’d be a horrible protagonist in a horror film. Cliché and stereotypical perhaps, but horrible, because of course I had to go examine the shiny.

Turns out, there are leaves painted on the ground…? And I end that with a question mark because I for one could not fathom why. I decided to call it a night and get some sleep.

The next I saw the area was a bright and cheery afternoon, and I stopped in my tracks. The road was closed off! There are lawn chairs! The ground still had leaves on it!

I talked to Alan Webb, Planning Officer for Campus and Facilities Planning, and I discovered that this area is the new “Willcocks Commons“, a one-year pilot project implemented in conjunction with (and funded by) the City of Toronto as a part of their Walking Strategy.

The thing I wanted to know most of course, was about the leaves. It’s actually oak leaves. Webb’s office designed it and U of T students at the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design fabricated the stencil for it. So why is it oak and why is it blue? Here’s some U of T trivia you can pull out at your next party -

  • The oak leaf is our official leaf (I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an “official leaf”, but okay, I guess Toronto’s is Maple?). The tree on our crest is – you guessed it – oak, and it stands for strength and steady growth**.
  • Blue is U of T’s official colour, and as I discovered from working at U of T for two summers, the exact shade of blue is Pantone 655. It’s how all the blue on U of T publications look the same (printer issues not withstanding).

Back from my tangent. Willcocks isn’t the only place with the no-cars treatment. Devonshire too, is a pedestrian-only area. Except this is only temporary and will welcome cars again after the Thanksgiving weekend.

I was curious though – I know Willcocks doesn’t get much traffic, but wouldn’t it block emergency vehicles? What if some chem students exploded a beaker? Or some physics students smashed random things around and it created a black hole? Or some engineers decided to fire their canon? What if***?

“We’ve worked with the City of Toronto to make sure that the fire route is passable at all times,” says Webb, “the planters are approved by the Fire Chief, and the width between them will allow for emergency vehicles to pass through.”

Oh. Well, that’s good then. The wi-fi there’s also good; I was surprised.

Since the weather gods have been cooperating, I foresee the area to be quite popular. Actually, based on anecdotal evidence, my friends the students seem to love it. Plus, thanks to U of T president David Naylor, there are basketball hoops set up! I’ve heard hockey nets are also in the works for winter.

There’s a poll over at the Sustainability Office asking which roads we want to go car-free next. St. George Street is currently taking the lead, but what says you? Which road would you have go car-free, given the chance?

- Cynthia

PS: It’s been a while since we talked, dear readers! How’s life/school/work/etc.? Let’s catch up in the comments!

*And this week is the start of mid-terms, ick. Good luck, loverlies!

**Actually, that’s kinda cool. I should explore the entirety of the crest in another post.

***Hurrah for sweeping generalizations!