Levy’s Gould-en opportunity

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By Josh Wingrove

Imagine it.

The branches of a stately tree reach out over the patio of a campus café. Students weave between buildings without care, fully in command of their own idyllic turf nestled in the centre of the city. A block from Canada’s longest street, there’s not a car to be seen.

The dream could be a reality. Last week, President Sheldon Levy vowed to close Gould Street by 2008.

Going into his second year on the job, Levy continues to develop his Master Plan, roughly a 50-year conceptualization to boost Ryerson University’s size, enrolment and image. Closing Gould is next on the agenda.

“You’ve got to have something that’s really big, something that gets people excited,” Levy said, his imagination beaming through.

It’s not a new issue. Councillor Kyle Rae (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) has repeatedly called for the closure since 2004, but hopes it will be addressed after the completion of the Metropolis development near Dundas Square. With Metropolis set to open within Levy’s two-year Gould goal, the president isn’t just blowing smoke.

Over the summer, Levy sent David Trick, a former Ontario Assistant Deputy Minister of Postsecondary Education, to the University of Pennsylvania where he met with six members of the school’s administration to discuss the identity of a downtown university.

The parallels between the two schools are astonishing.

Situated in the heart of West Philadelphia, Penn developed a master plan in the 1950s when it introduced graduate programming to create more of a campus atmosphere — similar to Ryerson’s situation today. The Penn plan centred around the closure of 10 blocks of Locust Street, an east-west Philadelphia thoroughfare, to traffic. Today’s the street is a pedestrian’s promenade — appropriately renamed Locust Walk — in the centre of the campus.

“The land which was once a streetcar and vehicular space is now a beautiful pedestrian experience,” said Tony Sorrentino, director of external relations for facilities and real estate services at the University of Pennsylvania. He said the closure of the street was integral in helping the campus grow. Today, 60 per cent of the school’s 10,000 undergraduate students live on campus.

Levy’s ideas caught the attention of Mitchell Kosny, associate director of Ryerson’s school of Urban and Regional Planning.

“(Closing Gould Street) would give the central core of the campus a sense of being … this move would be the most significant thing Ryerson could do to improve the campus,” Kosny said.

Levy’s proposition sparked concerns the closure would tie up traffic, put parking at a premium and upset local business owners.

Levy doesn’t buy the objections.

“The students are more important than Airport Express, I’m afraid,” Levy quipped in reference to the airport shuttle service using Gould daily.

Students seem to agree. First-year Child and Youth Care student Sarah Mohamad said she was nearly hit by a car on Gould this year.

“Closing Gould would be a great idea,” Mohamad said.

Toronto police traffic services Staff Sgt. Keith Haines said closing Gould would affect the greater community.

“I can see their point but there’s a lot of traffic that uses that street … Trucks, cars, cabs almost everything seems to use that street,” Haines said.

A closure would tie up traffic, as cars can’t turn left onto Yonge at nearby Dundas Street.

Ryerson students, staff and faculty could be out of luck for parking.

“That would make it very difficult for me,” said Judi Heron, a lecturer in Image Arts who is disabled and parks on Gould.

“I’ve never seen traffic flying through here, except for maybe the taxis,” she added.

Lorenzo Nardone makes his Canadian Springs water deliveries on Gould. Unloading his truck, with its doors on each side, would be “brutal” at the Gerrard loading docks, Nardone said.

A campus renaissance would need a broad base of support, Levy said.

“Everyone wants it to happen. It’s a matter of people changing their priorities,” he said.

The Master Plan portable outside Jorgenson Hall is Levy’s invitation for student participation. He wants suggestions. He wants input. He wants ideas, dreams and out-of-the-box thinking.

He dreams of a flagship library building where Sam the Record Man, Future Shop and Zanzibar currently stand, putting Ryerson front and centre on Canada’s biggest stage. But he wants students to lead the charge.

“I want people to start saying, ‘We want it. We demand this type of thing,’ to put pressure on all of us, because then it will be delivered,” Levy said.

And that’s what keeps the president busy these days. He hosted both Rae and Hank Webber, Vice-Presedient of the office of community and government affairs at the University of Chicago, at his home to discuss Ryerson’s revitalization.

Whether or not Gould closes next year, change is on the horizon and Levy is running right at it. “It’s gonna be fun,” he said.

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