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Whether you want one or not, city council's giving you a woonerf!

'Woonerf is a term for a pedestrian-friendly street' - Tom Vair, deputy city CAO, describing the pending woonerfication of Spring Street
Old Dutch street turned into a woonerf. Photo credit: Erauch [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

Spring Street shall be woonerfied from Queen Street to Foster Drive, city councillors decreed Monday night.

Woonerf is a Dutch term that literally means 'living yard' or 'residential grounds.'

It's commonly used to describe a pedestrian-friendly street, says Tom Vair, the city's deputy chief administrative officer for community development and enterprise services.

Instead of being a mere channel for vehicles, a woonerf is viewed as a social space.

Pedestrians and cyclists share the same right of access to the road as vehicles, which are required to move at walking speed.

There are often no sidewalks, traffic signals, stop signs or lane dividers.

Everyone in a woonerf needs to make eye contact with others in the space, engaging in actual human-to-human interactions.

Also on Monday night, the Town of Banff decided to rebuild its Bear Street on the woonerf principle.

Here in the Sault, the Spring Street woonerf will serve as a critical link between Queen Street and the waterfront, something that city's planning staff and downtown merchants/property owners agree is needed.

City Council agreed Monday to redesign Spring Street along with a downtown plaza on nearby Bingham Street, which runs north-south from the CIBC branch on Queen Street to Tim Horton's, alongside Stone's Office Supply.

Early design concepts for the plaza include water play features, a stage with large screen, public art commemorating Soo Greyhounds and local First Nations, a skating rink and playground equipment.

Councillors approved the purchase of 535 Queen St. E., the former home of Paciocco Mills & Associates Insurance Brokers.

That building will be removed to allow construction of the downtown revitalization plaza, estimated to cost $6.6 million.

Tom Vair told City Council that the new plaza will have activities for both youth and elders 250 days a year, reducing the need to close Queen Street for downtown events.

"I actually think there's very little risk to it," said Mayor Christian Provenzano.

"We're turning what is now just a parking lot that we own into a really attractive space in the heart of our downtown that we could use for a number of generations to come and really enjoy," the mayor said.

The plaza can be built without raising taxes, Provenzano stressed.

"We're not adding this expense onto our levy. We're finding the money within the budget and we're prioritizing the project."

"Frankly, we were working on this project last year. Council gave us the leeway to do that."

The mayor also emphasized that community consultations will be held before the plaza design is finalized.

"That's an important message for the community. The die is not cast. We certainly have a vision and a direction, but we're going to be going out over the near-term now and soliciting further feedback from stakeholders."

Construction is expected to start next spring.

Other decisions by City Council on Monday:

  • a committee will be created to study opportunities for a St. Marys River Heritage Walk
  • Saddle Crescent residents won parking restrictions on their street, which was being used to avoid parking fees at Sault Area Hospital
  • Northshore Sports and Auto was granted a zoning change that allows it to move its power- and water-sports business to the former Sutherland Global Services building at 71 Old Garden River Road



David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans six decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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