Toronto spaces and places


In advance of attending Tamarack's Communities Collaborating Institute, I was given the opportunity by Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo to go on a tour of shared spaces and cultural places in Toronto.  I jumped at the chance as this experiential approach to fact-finding really works with me; I found that out in June at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) conference in Saskatoon participating in a number of study tours.

Rather than doing a play by play or a blow by blow account of our stops at the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI), Artscape Wychwood Barns, MaRS Discovery Centre, and Evergreen Brick Works, I thought it might be interesting to randomly glean through my mind and my notes for what stood out.  If I have a photograph that somewhat relates, I'll pop it in to add some additional context.


Administrative Focus

I love this quote from Eli Malinsky (shown above) of CSI: "We focus on administration so you can focus on mission."  Their nonprofit organization is in the business of operating shared spaces, developing a collaborative culture and doing some great programming.  They take care of the power and lights, technical infrastructure, copiers and common areas so the smaller nonprofits and start-ups don't have to.


Open Concept

Glass walls or no walls, communal or "hot" desks, loads of natural light - the vibe at CSI is amazing.  You can see into offices, colleagues working in disparate organizations can easily strike up a conversation with each other - and often do, innovation and collaboration permeate from the brick walls and old creaky hardwood floors.

Nap Room

I've got to get me one of these.  CSI has a room for power naps.  "If naps increase productivity why wouldn't you have one?" asked one of the members of our tour.  I completely agree.  If I'm feeling sluggish, my ability to think, to innovate, goes out the window.  Shutting my eyes for 10 minutes can re-charge the batteries to 100% and having a place to do that in the workplace just makes good sense.

Phone Room

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of privacy in an open space office environment.  Desks are relatively close together - at least those not cloistered behind glass walls - and anything you say on the phone can likely be heard, even if you're super quiet.  As all of us have personal situations that pop up - an argument with a spouse, a sensitive banking issue or the like - having a private, secure room to make that necessary phone call is essential.  At CSI, the phone room is right beside the nap room.


Market Rent

How much below market rent do you think the nonprofit tenants of CSI are paying?  Would you believe they actually pay more?  According to Eli Malinsky, those who sign leases pay two to three to four times as much as the market rate.

"They could accept the lease opportunity across the street and pay a thousand dollars," said Eli.  "Or, they could pay that same thousand dollars for a quarter of the space at CSI."  When you add in the shared amenities, culture, aesthetics, and programming, small nonprofits quickly see the value and opportunity.


Re-purposing Space

Artscape transformed a former streetcar repair facility into Wychwood Barns, an amazing cultural and community space. Barn 1 contains live/work art studios (really cool), Barn 2 is a covered street (great for special events, especially during the colder months), Barn 3 provides office space for a number of nonprofit organizations and even includes a theatre (Theatre Direct), Barn 4 contains a greenhouse and sustainable food education centre and the remnants of Barn 5 is home to a series of community gardens.  With regular market days, Wychwood Barns is an important space for the organizations and artists it contains, and the community it serves.


Art Studios and affordable housing

Walking along Barn 2, the covered street, art studios - 15 in total - line the thoroughfare; a few doors are open with artists creating new work in spaces that also double as mini-galleries.  There are an additional 26 studios that also connect to affordable housing spaces - subsidized by the nonprofit entity that runs this facility. I love this idea, as it not only creates a small visual art community, it positions them next to programmable space that generates a lot of traffic. The photo above is one of the studios/living spaces that is accessed from the street side of Wychwood Barns.


MaRS Discovery District

Our third stop on the tour was the impressive MaRS Discovery District, a sprawling corporate facility across the street from the U of T that is currently undergoing a massive expansion with the addition of a tower. "We are in the business of bringing ideas to market," said Earl Miller, Director of Strategic Partnerships.  "It is the richness of everything together that creates the community."  MaRS focuses on providing business advice and mentorship, education, market research, and access to investment dollars.  Their innovation advantage is that they are in the commercialization of great ideas business.  It is clear they are pretty good at it.


Innovation Stream

One of the ideas that really hit home was the notion of bringing the right people and organizations together in  this incubation environment.  The strategic tenant strategy attempts to create the the right mix of social entrepreneurs, with existing nonprofits, businesses and services.  For instance, the young fellow running a small start-up may pay $25 a day to sit at a communal "hot" desk, may run into someone who is doing research on his particular field sitting across the table from him.  He may then tap into some pro bono legal services available at the law firm down the hall as he looks to get some patent advice.  Putting the right individuals, organizations and companies together creates a powerful innovation stream.


Evergreen Brick Works

I only wish that I had visited Evergreen Brick Works with a full head of steam.  The final stop on what had already been a full day, I didn't retain as much of Arlene Stein's excellent tour as I would have liked.  That said, of the four stops, this is the place that I will return to at the next available opportunity.  From the artistic, environmental and sustainability perspectives, it was by far the most interesting.  From eco-crafts to the Chimney Court, from the Watershed Wall created by Ferruccio Sardella (shown above) to the re-use creations in The Kilns, Evergreen Brick Works is an awesome example of how one can re-purpose old industrial spaces in a way that adds tremendous value to a community.


A big thanks to Nancy Mattes (far left) and Katharine Zywert (far right) for putting this fabulous tour together.  We were joined by Bonnah Carey, Kim Nordbye and Sarah Bateman (left to right between Nancy and Katharine).  It was an informative and inspiring day in the Big Smoke.

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