graduate research: street art + yonge street

After working in the field as a design intern for five+ years, I embarked on a research journey into how street art can change the consciousness of the public in order to create more democratic urban spaces. The research discusses the many issues in democratizing public spaces and how city bureaucrats and shareholders often have a method to city planning which is insensitive to the innate qualities, or locus, of neighbourhoods. The research focuses on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto, and it’s evolution and re-imagination.


Yonge Street is a unique urban resource for the City of Toronto. It acts as the central nervous system uniting local, suburban and out-of-town populations with both surface and underground networks. It has transformed to adapt to fluctuating cultural, social climates and urban development projects. Many fragments can be found both within this major thoroughfare’s physical streetscape and in the hearts of many Torontonians. The largely generic street fabric found in the stretch between Queen and Bloor may lack in architectural integrity, but offers a spectrum of establishments that exhibit the diversity found in Toronto. The tension between these assorted venues is what gives the street both value and complexity despite their individual architectural modesty. It is a casual place in the city that speaks to the everyday citizen. It’s eclectic and sometimes tawdry charm raises mixed reviews by locals and often confuses city bureaucrats.

Many development strategies have been initiated in order to give the street a homogenized image and a public face However, it is in its informal candidness where its value rests. This thesis claims that Yonge Street is a democratic urban platform built upon complex layers. The diverse, overlapping and kinetic happenings felt on the street are both its strength and weakness. The rich experience is difficult to articulate using traditional urban design analysis. This thesis offers a new version of portraiture that seeks to illustrate the spirit of Yonge Street. Using unconventional mapping methods and visualisations, it will render qualities often difficult to express. Five portraits of Yonge Street are presented, inspired by five buildings: the Yonge-Bloor Subway Station, Sam the Record Man, Zanzibar Tavern, the Yonge Street Mission and Yonge-Dundas Square.

Each describes one of Yonge Street’s many faces using a collection of subjective mapping exercises to portray a different character present on the street. Urban developments that add to Yonge Street, or allow it to evolve as an eclectic social condenser can only be created when the existing phenomena embedded in its fabric is understood. In order to provoke a new interpretation of Yonge Street, the thesis synthesizes the findings of these mappings into a collection of street art proposals. The interventions presented act as agents directed towards a new engagement and understanding of Yonge Street, framing it as an irreplaceable resource for the citizens Toronto.

Full thesis can be found here.


A Headline Story
Media held varied attitudes towards Yonge Street over the years. Often correlating, and perhaps provoking, the many redevelopments of the commercial strip; chronicling these attitudes unveils how the street evolved to its present day condition. A HEADLINE STORY is a piece which chronicles Toronto Star headlines relating to Yonge Street, dating back to 1960. The Toronto Star newspaper was chosen for two reasons. For one, it is fair to say that The Toronto Star could be coined as the ‘people’s paper’ and would have a more democratic standpoint. Secondly, in relation to other Toronto newspapers, having an address on Yonge Street gives The Toronto Star a more personal affiliation with the subject matter. By cataloguing the relevant headlines, the exercise paints a picture of the streets evolution by expressing media coverage of the pinnacle moments that led to its economic rise, fall and revitalization.

Behind Closed Doors

These photographs  were taken with a 600mm Polaroid Instamatic camera. They document  the inside of Zanzibar Tavern, on a Sunday morning between the hours of 9:00 am and 11:00 am. The photographs offer a reading of the tavern through the perspective staff members, who on that early Sunday morning, were preparing for another regular day of business.

Publicly Private Space
This three part mapping exercise outlines the public spaces of  Yonge Street that can be occupied as private zones by street-involved demographics. Over the course of one week, personal artefacts left behind were catalogued in order to quantify which zones could more
appropriately be identified as highly trafficked private locations. For the sake of offering a qualitative analysis of the occupation the investigation also samples the variety of textures found in Yonge Street’s rear corridor. The samples were taken from the specific private locations outlined in the previous mapping exercise. The mapping conveys a tactile analysis
of the street and building fabric within these zones. Photographic texture details accompanied by relief samples, taken using trace paper and a 6B graphite stick, were collected and catalogued in order render a more personalized and tactile understanding of Yonge Street, as experienced by user groups that inhabits these areas.


Signage vs. Space
Being a commercial thoroughfare, signage has always played an integral role in the fabric of Yonge Street. The relationship between signage and the architecture it supported evolved as the climate changed and grew to be more consumer-focused. The following investigation is a  map which records all the signage found presently on Yonge Street, and arranges it based on address and relative size.  The exercise illustrates the relationship signage has to the commercial public artery.