Soho Italia sets the bar disappointingly low

Soho Italia is the proposed 31 storey condo tower by Mastercraft-Starwood, slated for the corner of Preston at Sidney Street (almost at Carling Avenue).

We have now seen their landscaping plan. Get out your hanky. It is to weep.

500 Preston landscaping


Sidney Street (the developer cannot even spell it right)  runs east-west across the bottom of the picture. Carling Avenue parallels Sidney, just a few metres further south. Preston is running north-south on the right side of the drawing above.

Recall that the rainforest of tall towers the City is encouraging in the Preston-Carling CDP, its Strategic Direction, and its new Public Realm high-priced consultants study, is supposed to be an urban mecca, a new high rise core, full of vitality and exciting street life. The City has been justifying this redevelopment area with very grand terms.

And what does Soho Italia offer us? Four trees. Count ’em. Four trees, set in a sidewalk of pavers that runs from the building to edge of the concrete sidewalk.

I haven’t been out with a measuring tape, but I suspect these are not at the same spacing or frequency of boulevard trees as the rest of Preston, which has them closely spaced, trying to make the sidewalk a passageo experience.

At a minimum, I think there should be at least six trees on the Preston side. And at least two more on the currently naked south side. And they should have the same tree guards as the rest of Preston.

Won’t that public piazza space by the front entry be a rather hot oven in the south sun, with 31 stories of concrete and glass behind a fully paved foreground? Wouldn’t a tree to shade it be nice? A tree with a real canopy, not a lollipop or toy tree so beloved of our planners.

And the building should run out a free power supply to the trees so they can be lit up by the Preston BIA like the rest of the street, with fairy lights that are so unique and effective because they are a fairly continuous border of lights on both sides of the street.

And the building should run out a irrigation source (even a hose run out through a plastic pipe under the sidewalk and a cheap soaker hose would be enough to water the trees  if connected to a cheap irrigation timer on the garage tap).

The proponent also put the trees in “vaults”, concrete troughs that are rather similar to those used for burying caskets at  cemeteries. It sure doesn’t look like there is 11 cu metres of soil for each tree. And why are there vaults at all? The public realm plan is, I gather, going to recommend soil cells (those milk-crate like plastic forms that hold the sidewalk above the big bed of nice friable dirt) as were used on Bronson and newer projects.

may 3, 2013 022

Indeed, this whole plan looks well past its best-before-date technology-wise.

The proponent also shows pavers right around all the trees. I would like to have seen a green planter, sort of like this, although lower plants might be required if parkers are to step through them to the storefronts:



I am hoping the builder is going to use pavers that pick up on the same theme as the rest of Preston Street, but the plans don’t tell us that so I am not willing to assume they will be complementary.

Similarly, Preston has some very distinctive pedestrian-scale lighting, so useful for the passageo, and I don’t see any note on the plan that the building is planning to keep or install these fixtures on either the Preston OR the Sidney side. Surely the developer isn’t that hard up for money that he cannot provide some ped lights? On both street frontages, please.

Or benches, per favore:


Good news

There is one good bit in the plan. The asphalt road surface along Preston in front of the building is currently part of the queuing lane for right turns at Carling.

500 Preston, view south


The addition of a bulb-out at the corner of Sidney will turn this strip into a protected parking bay or drop off zone for taxis and para-transpo. This is Great. But most of the Preston parking bays are paved in heavy-duty brick … why not this one too? Doesn’t Soho want to be part of Preston’s ambiance? Is it trying to look like the poor cousin in the South?

And that bulb out needs something on it. A tree, or a light pole will help keep it permanent and discourage our traffic-promoting department from removing the bulb out one weekend. Just move that existing light pole out onto the bulb out, as was done elsewhere along the street. Add a ped light while doing so. A few matching bollards would be nice, too. Maybe even an official Preston Street garbage can.

I am afraid that this Mastercraft-Starwood landscaping plan bodes very badly for the quality and amenity of the urban space in the prime heart of this massive intensification scheme the city planning boffins are foisting bestowing upon the neighbourhood. As one of the first projects out of the gate, Starwood has a chance to set the tone and raise the bar for the other developers to follow.

Non avvitare fino.




2 thoughts on “Soho Italia sets the bar disappointingly low

  1. Its worse than you think. Look at this picture (well map) we have 3 buldings in a row. the one in the middle is the newest. It does not conform to the minimum setbacks that the city requires, the other two buildings do. Looks like Soho is at it again. Look at the footprint in the plan you shared. The buildings podium goes right to the property line on two sides, and does not meet the minimum setback from roads and sidewalks on the street sides. this creates issues for mobility of pedestrians, handicapped citizens and will desperately impair traffic as multiple vehicles attempt to drop off/pick up residents, make deliveries and congest the street.

    1. Pro: setbacks are not real minimums anymore. They reflect old rules, no longer desired by the planning dept. But there are so many zoning rules, it seems there are different ones for every lot in the city ! So, increasingly we see reliance on general statements of planning principles, some of which call for a more urban approach without side yards or lanes, without setbacks, etc. I suspect a builder that proposed a building with wide front lawn and side yards would be rejected by the city planners as bad planning. It only looks like the developer wants to break all the rules (by seeking “variances”); in fact, I think he is directed to do so as a condition of planning dept approval. And this ignores the city’s delight in having zoning mismatch the plan for the area, so you dare not trust any document that says anything, as there is another one somewhere else that will be used to justify anything. Who would like go go back to an ultra simple zoning code?

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