Jane Finch Mall’s parking lot on the southeast corner of Jane Street and Finch Avenue West has long been used as an informal gathering place 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 rallies, community celebrations, and performances. Corner Commons is a community-led project that aims to honour these uses and enhance the parking lot’s potential for hosting and supporting a range of activities.
Spring 2019: Initial Ideas + Research / Community Workshops
The idea for Corner Commons grew from community research on public spaces in the neighbourhood and conversations with local workers about the history of the Jane Finch Mall’s parking lot as an informal gathering space.
In April, we did our first official site visit to better understand how the parking lot was currently being used by community members. To create an accessible, welcoming and inclusive community space, we knew we needed to preserve its history and context in the
neighbourhood, while formalizing it as a public space.
We held three community workshops in April and May with local residents, grassroots groups, and other key stakeholders to identify existing site uses and barriers, look at precedents, and gather ideas for Corner Commons’ design and programming. We also talked about various priorities for the project, like providing a safe space for residents and maintaining community ownership.
These workshops led to the formation of the Corner Commons Working Group - a network of resident leaders and local organizations that would help guide the design and construction process, community engagement, programming, project evaluation, and long-term sustainability planning. The Working Group continues to meet on a monthly basis.
Summer 2019: Concept Design / Pop Ups
Taking cues from our research, workshops, and working group members, we began to develop an initial concept design for Corner Commons, starting with some key features and programming. We also started to visualize what Corner Commons would actually look like in the parking lot, giving the design a sense of place.
From August 21st to 28th, we hosted a weeklong pop-up of Corner Commons to test and get feedback on different ideas for Corner Commons and animating the parking lot. With the help of community leaders and volunteers, we built and set up outdoor furniture, planters, and a game zone for community members to enjoy throughout the week. We also held three special events around a range of themes: Service Day, Back-to-School Day, and Play Day. People dropped by the space to play dominoes with friends and strangers, access information about local services and organizations, watch live performances, and so much more.
Fall + Winter 2019: Project BYLD
Through Project BYLD (Building Youth Leadership in Design), Jane-Finch youth got involved in the project by designing a photo booth for Corner Commons. Delivered by the Green Change team at the Jane/Finch Centre, Project BYLD was a pilot after-school design/build program for youth aged 13-18 years old. From October 2019 to March 2020, youth learned about architecture, urban planning, graphic design, and animation, while building their skills in design programs like SketchUp, Photoshop, and Illustrator.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were not able to build the photo booth this year, but we hope to make it a reality in 2021.
Spring + Summer 2020: Community Tabling /
Shift to Online
In March, we set up a table in the Jane Finch Mall to get feedback from the broader community on the current design direction. We laid out a site map with movable elements to see allow residents to arrange the space in their own way.
With the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided to postpone the installation of Corner Commons until 2021 and move the project online.
We took the extra time we gained with this decision to revise the design for Corner Commons, working with placement students from University of Toronto and OCAD University on a 3D model in SketchUp, renderings, and interactive map. We also worked with community groups and organizations to bring new programming online, like Sunday Sessions and the 2020 Corner Commons Artist Residencies.
We first launched cornercommons.ca in August to bring everything together online.
Fall + Winter 2020: Refining the Design
Since we postponed the installation of Corner Commons to 2021, we used this time to continue working on the design with the added requirements and needs brought on by COVID-19. We continued to have check-ins with the Corner Commons Working Group in order to ensure that all needs and wants were reflected in the updated design.
Perkins + Will assisted with the design of key elements including the stage and canopy. We focused on the seating and planters with support from OCAD University students.
Spring 2021: Social Media Engagement / Prototyping / Construction
As we refined the design, we took to social media to get feedback on mood boards and colour palettes. In the spring, we began to test out some of our designs for seating and planters. We created mockups and eventually built large scale prototypes of our designs. We tested out materials and colours to get a better sense of the durability of the furniture piece, as well as how it’ll work in the space.
Once we got feedback and prototyped some of our furniture, we began construction. Construction started in June with help from several volunteers in the community. We painted the asphalt in the parking lot and built all the furniture onsite; and filled the planters with over 400 native plants.
Summer 2021: Corner Commons Opens!
Corner Commons opened to the public in mid-July. The space was open for all to use throughout the summer until the end of September. Like any other public space, Corner Commons was open all day for residents to relax and hang out.
Programming happened throughout the summer and included outreach events with local community groups and organizations, a youth STEAM program, back to school backpack giveaways and a vaccine pop-up clinic. We also got to host our Artist Residencies program again, as well as some additional arts programming including a 2-day women focused event with an arts showcase and a small business market.
Fall 2021: Wrap-Up
We wrapped up Corner Commons and put furniture into storage at the beginning of October. We are now reflecting on this year’s installation and looking into what Corner Commons will look like in the future!