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Master urban designer earns Order of Canada nod

Don Wall
Master urban designer earns Order of Canada nod

The design mastermind behind many of Toronto’s most notable developments and public spaces was one of 120 Canadians recently honoured with appointments to the Order of Canada.

Ken Greenberg is an urban designer, former director of urban design and architecture for the City of Toronto and now principal of Greenberg Consultants. The previous recipient of numerous design awards for such projects as the Calgary RiverWalk, Toronto’s Lower Don Lands regeneration master plan, the Ryerson University Master Plan and Toronto’s Bentway, Greenberg also worked with Westbank and Allied Properties on the redevelopment of degraded Toronto industrial properties on King Street west of Spadina Avenue, producing thousands of new residential units in the transformative project called the Kings initiative.

“I was absolutely thrilled, surprised, delighted, and I feel extremely honoured,” said Greenberg, a native of the United States, of his appointment as a member of the Order on Dec. 28. He celebrated with family including his children, grandchildren and wife.

“It was a very nice moment. It means so much to me as an immigrant to Canada.”

Greenberg’s portfolio includes work on urban projects throughout North America and Europe. Besides Toronto and Calgary his designs have impacted such cities as Hartford, Amsterdam, New York, Boston, Montreal, St. Louis, Washington, Paris and Detroit.

With that global perspective, it adds weight to Greenberg’s contention, documented in his recent book Toronto Reborn, that the modern city he helped create ranks highly as a cauldron of innovation and creativity.

“The inspiration for my book was the culmination of the extraordinary growth and extraordinary diversity that is happening simultaneously, which is leading us to be a different kind of city from any other,” he said. “The immigration and the presence of others in our city, with over 50 per cent born in another country and 50 per cent visible minorities, is uniquely being experienced in Toronto as a positive, whereas elsewhere in the world is it seen as problematic, it is seen as negative.”

It’s a phenomenon that is building on itself, drawing remarkable people from around the world to work with others of like intentions, Greenberg said. He said he is proud to have worked with city builders over the past 40 years that have promoted that culture through the creation of physical spaces in diverse sectors such as arts and culture, finance, technology, science and medicine.

“I have been involved in the physical transformation of this city that corresponds with that social transformation,” he explained.

The Bentway project, which created a series of public spaces under the Gardiner Expressway including a skating path, is a case in point, he said.

“A tremendous number of people are coming to skate who have never been on skates,” he noted. “It is introducing a lot of new arrivals to our city and country to our national pastime of skating.”

Combined with other Bentway programming, the site is becoming the prototype for an idea he said is dear to his heart, which is creating “common ground.”

“That is, creating the place where we get to know each other face to face, not on our screens,” he explained.

Greenberg noted that his career has spanned two different powerful manifestations of technology — the post-war scourge of the automobile, which he said is taking generations to recover from, and the digital age.

Greenberg is currently serving as an advisor to Sidewalk Labs for Quayside on the Toronto waterfront.

“I am quite optimistic about Quayside,” he said.

“Like it or not, technology is lagging in our city and every city at this point, and it’s a powerful transformer and it behooves us to get it right.”

Other projects he is proud of include master plans for St. Paul, Minn., where he took lessons in collaboration learned in Toronto to help produce the St. Paul Renaissance, he said, and the Brooklyn Bridge Park on the East River in New York City.

With that park, he wanted to create more “common ground” for diverse peoples to interact. Among the amenities, he said, rather than installing separate bench areas around barbecues, he proposed long benches where groups of South Asians, West Indians, African Americans and others could interact as they cooked their weekend meals.

“They all end up sitting side by side and sharing food and that gives me enormous satisfaction,” said Greenberg.


Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

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