Local BIA hopes free Internet will keep people in the neighbourhood and bring "eyes in the park and eyes on the street."
Torontonians will soon be able to enjoy free Wi-Fi in Queen West without paying for overpriced coffee.
Two new parkettes scheduled to open in fall 2017 will offer complimentary Internet service, as well as seating, trees and other amenities.
The high speed internet initiative, the first of its kind in the city, is planned along Queen Street at Denison Avenue and Ryerson Avenue. It’s part of a larger joint streetscape project funded by the city and the Queen St. West Business Improvement Area (BIA).
Shamez Amlani, chair of the BIA, said he hopes the new parkettes can become spots to “hang out, watch people, and watch the world go by” with a bit of the flavour of the kinds of public squares you see in places such as Paris.
“By incorporating the Wi-Fi into the public space we are inviting people to think of the street as part of their living room,” he said.
Both parkettes are tiny — less than 1,000 square feet each — but Amlani said that with space at such a premium the city needs to get creative with what’s available.
Queen St. West BIA executive director Spencer Sutherland said the project has been in the works for about five years, but the Wi-Fi aspect met resistance from the city until recently due to concerns about privacy and liability.
He hopes people will take advantage of the parkettes to stay in the neighbourhood with takeout food, as many nearby restaurants don’t have room for seating.
Having Wi-Fi will also bring “eyes in the park and eyes on the street,” he said, adding the goal is to have the parkettes done by the fall. The BIA will maintain them.
Coun. Joe Cressy said the total cost of the larger streetscape project from Spadina Avenue to Bathurst Street and then Spadina Avenue to Soho Street is about $2.6 million. The BIA is putting up $450,000 and the city is chipping in the rest.
Toronto has lagged behind on providing public Wi-Fi compared to places such as Taipei, Taiwan and Helsinki, Finland.
But Cressy hopes the model can be replicated by other BIAs in different neighbourhoods, as he believes Wi-Fi is “a public good.”
“There’s a cost associated, but my bottom line is: if you build it they will come,” he said.