Kerr Hall’s urban sprawl

In Features /

An oddity of a campus tucked into the heart of downtown Toronto, Ryerson University has spread out from its beginnings in Kerr Hall. Tara Deschamps explores the past, present and future of our transforming neighbourhood

The past (1948-2008)

Time-travel back to 1963. You’re enrolled as a student at the Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. You look around campus, only to realize it consists of Kerr Hall… and nothing else. It may sound like a really dull nightmare, but back in the day that was Ryerson. We spent many years developing from that ugly, square building into the widespread campus tucked right in the heart of downtown Toronto. The ugly square building is unfortunately still here. The campus expansion has been notably effective in the 60 years that have spanned spinned Ryerson’s inception as an institute of technology in 1948. Not only did the school grow from Ryerson Hall and Kerr Hall to the majority of the school buildings we have today, but it became a fully-accredited university. Yet gaining the legitimate post-secondary status in 1993 has never been enough for Ryerson and its critics. Since then, every construction project, every pedestrian improvement, every curriculum change, they’ve all been towards one common goal: shedding the “Rye High” technical school image and proving that they are a progressive campus deserving of the title of a university. In 2008, the president of the school collaborated with architects and other important players to produce a 20-year manifesto, with some specific changes and many vague ones, of plans for the school.

The present (2008-2012)

Our current campus life puts us five years into the award-winning and impressive-sounding Ryerson Master Plan. Amid the constant construction delays and changes in plans pitched in the original document, we find the boundaries of Ryerson are less square and less obvious. The plan — a third of which is dedicated to pedestrianization — prioritizes “creating a pedestrian-friendly campus with green open spaces, informal meeting places, bike paths, and access to public transportation.” Specifically, the plan suggests customizing Ryerson streets with branded signage and banners, street lighting and signature landscaping. To promote campus accessibility, it cites cycling lanes and access to the underground path system and TTC as options. So far, Ryerson has not implemented bike lanes and has failed to promote cycling with its underused bike room. Ryerson’s security team now patrols a bigger area than they did a few years ago when the school was mainly contained within a few small blocks. As a result, the security team has spent plenty of time stressing the importance of pedestrian safety to students and staff on campus. “Outside of observing unsafe situations, we do safety talks with various groups on campus,” says Ryerson’s manager of security and emergency services Tanya Fermin-Poppleton. In addition to ensuring pedestrians know which parts of Gould Street are closed off and how they can navigate campus safely, the security team has also been escorting students to and from new buildings including the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens (MAC), formerly Maple Leaf Gardens, on Church and Carlton Streets. Fermin-Poppleton says that security officers only take a direct route to the building they are attending to if it is not in a central area of campus. One of the main reasons security has yet to adjust their measure for the farther out parts of campus is because these buildings often have separate tenant security agreements. In most cases, Ryerson security patrols all buildings and routes on campus with the exception of some locations, like the Digital Media Zone in the Cineplex theatre building and other university buildings like 1 Dundas St. and 415 Yonge St. Fermin-Poppleton says these locations are patrolled by security hired by the building owners. However, she says Ryerson security would still “attend to” and work with these building security teams to ensure safety inside and around the buildings. Ryerson security works in conjuction with the teams at these buildings, as they did when Prince Charles visited the DMZ this summer, explained Fermin-Poppleton. Ryerson security coordinated and DMZ security helped out.

The future (2012-beyond)

Currently, Fermin-Poppleton says the security team has not yet made plans for additional security systems or staff to accommodate the needs of a bigger, future campus. However, she says security is usually involved with planning for new buildings. “Whoever decides to purchase the building would typically have to analyze how the building would be policed,” she said. “If a building goes up, we would be looking at getting involved with the planning process to make sure it is optimal for security.” In the four years since the Master Plan was revealed, certain aspects of the ambitious plan have changed. Some of their original intents were to knock down Kerr Hall and replace it with a new building, as well as open up the quad to campus. They have always planned to build the SLC, but since the early stages the look of it has changed drastically. Ryerson is hoping to connect the incoming SLC at Yonge and Gould Streets to the PATH and the Dundas subway station, and is currently making headway on this plan. The lot beside the future site of the SLC was home to the Empress Hotel before its fiery demise in 2011. Ryerson president Sheldon Levy has just announced that the university is intending to move on that location to make it theirs. According to Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, the fire left “a scar” on the street and “catalyzed the community to immediate action.” As a result, Wong-Tam — in conjunction with the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area — launched a pedestrian pilot project to close Yonge Street between Queen Street and Gerrard Street until Sept. 16. Prior to the project’s conclusion, Wong-Tam said she considered the closed off space “a natural extension” of campus. “It’s great to be able to link [Gould and Yonge Streets] together and for students to be able to use both streets,” said Andrew McAllister, Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) vice-president of operations. McAllister hints that the union could be looking to expand the Gould Street closure, after they received positive feedback from students who attended events on or use the street as a shortcut to get from class to class. In the next few years, Ryerson will begin construction on another student residence to be located at 186 and 188 Jarvis St., just south of Dundas Street. The school also plans to build a health sciences building, and though a site has not been confirmed, the Sears parking lot on Mutual Street is the likeliest contender as of yet. This will continue to extend the boundaries of Ryerson into the city in every direction, and the possibilities are unlimited, while the estimated 20-year timeline of the Master Plan is unlikely to be met.

Leave a Comment