Originally published for the Skeleton Press in Issue #7 (Fall 2021)
Queen Street doesn’t get much love these days. Although long been considered ripe for revitalization, the Canadian Automobile Association recently designated Queen Street one of the Top Ten Worst Roads in Ontario. Despite being double the width of Princess Street, Queen gets far less car traffic. Queen, it seems, is for cars aiming for the causeway, and not much else.
Queen Street could be so much more. As a public space, it could better reflect the diversity of interests and needs of those who use it. I propose we change it. In fact, the plans are already underway! The recently approved nine-storey condo at 223 Princess Street comes with a significant community benefit: $61,000 to finance a study on how to improve Queen Street. The study should start with recognizing Queen Street’s strengths: it is surrounded by invigorated residents who are ready for a change; it is a wide and underused space with historically significant architecture at its sides, and; it offers a fantastic view of the water and of RMC.
With these attributes in mind, here are five big ideas to pave the way for a new Queen Street.
1. A Downtown Arboretum
Okay, I’m going to dream big. No cars on Queen Street! There, I said it. But what would replace the cars and the space they take up? Let’s plant 200 trees and turn Queen Street into an arboretum. Trees help cool the city in the heat, improve our air quality, regulate water flow, and just by being near trees, we all feel better. Forward-thinking cities know this. Paris, for example, has committed to transforming its renowned eight-lane Champs-Élysées into an “extraordinary garden” full of tree-lined pathways for pedestrians.
2. A Pathway for People
We may not be able to get rid of cars entirely, but Queen is wide enough to support a dedicated roadway for cars and separate pathways for pedestrians and cyclists. More than a plastic post, a substantial separation would create a highly desirable route for those who prefer to walk or ride their way around the city. This separation, often described as Complete Streets, is now a common practice in most Canadian cities. Even car-heavy routes are getting a makeover. Montreal is dramatically reducing lanes on rue Sainte-Catherine, a major corridor, and adding meeting spaces, gardens, and art installations to promote and protect pedestrian traffic. A real Kingston innovation would be a walled pathway to create a real sense of safety and human scale that we all desire.
3. Start A Land Trust
Turn Queen Street into a land trust for the people who value it most. Community land trusts are legal entities by which groups of people and organizations take ownership over land or property. Land trusts often seek to preserve natural environments or farmland. However, land trusts which serve urban interests are growing. For example, The Parkdale Land Trust in Toronto, with a mission to counter displacement by condo development, purchased 36 apartment units to ensure affordable housing remained accessible to its residents. A Queen Street Land Trust, with a mission to support social inclusion, could be owned, managed, and activated collectively by the City of Kingston alongside local residents, non-profit organizations, and local businesses, all with an equal say.
4. A Street with a View
Kingston has a beautiful skyline, but unless you’re up at Fort Henry, on a boat, or in a private tower, you won’t be seeing much of it. Kingston doesn’t have a publicly accessible vista in the downtown area. The exception could be the top of Queen at Sydenham Street, which has the potential for a stellar view of the city and the river. The demand is strong, even in cities with hills. Halifax, for example, redesigned its public library in response to the outcry for a public view. I can imagine a two-storey ramp, and at the top, simply a place that lets us sit and enjoy the sky all year round.
5. A Pop-Up’s Paradise
Queen street could be a testing ground for new ideas. Throw down a dozen shipping containers and make it a pop-up space for local entrepreneurs and Queen’s students. How about pop-up on-street dining for new chefs from St. Lawrence College? It could be an evolving space, trusteed by different groups or initiatives, that reflect a collective need. For example, although not a panacea to the housing crisis, building temporary tiny homes with educational displays and events about housing solutions, would certainly make a statement for what is needed in this city.
Got a better idea?
The Queen Street study will be submitted to council by the summer of 2022. Let’s get ahead of this plan and make a collective proposal that is grounded in real concerns and interests of its residents. Find out more about how you can get involved with redesigning Queen Street at MeetOnQueen.org
A better street is possible!
Update: Following the release of this piece in the Skelton Press, Global TV ran a piece about the future of Queen Street.