Kensington Market Cultural Placekeeping

In 2018, the Kensington Market Business Improvement Area (KMBIA) selected a team led by SUMO Project to develop a vision for the Kensington Market public realm. In this vision, Sumo proposed eight principles to guide the design of improvements in public space for the benefit of the community.

  1. “Keep the Market as a market”

  2. A Market for everyone;

  3. Engage the community on the design and implementation process;

  4. Integrate the Arts;

  5. Strengthen the relationship between the Market’s commercial and residential communities;

  6. Foster collaborations with organizations inside and outside the Market;

  7. Activate the Market year round; and

  8. Celebrate the Market – its cultural heritage, diversity and unique atmosphere.

In order to test the Masterplan design rationale, we proposed to deliver a series of pilot projects that will eventually lead to full-scale permanent projects by the Market for the Market. Under this vision, a select number of small areas will be designated as temporary projects (Pilot Projects) with the objective to encourage place-keeping while capitalizing on local community assets to improve public space and strengthen the connection between the Market and the community.


Our intention is to realize the first pilot project at the intersection of Augusta Ave. and College Street. This location is one of the main ‘entrances’ to the Market and a place where spontaneous social gatherings should occur, prompted by the qualities of the space – existing steps, the bike rack/Kensington sign, a linear planter and wide sidewalks. This is also a place where a high volume of vehicular traffic intersects with the pedestrian nature of the Market.

Collaborative programming can and will take many forms. A recent design session surfaced a desire for gardening to engage local populations and enhance the described site. Past gardening efforts have historically failed due to lack of responsibility and lack of clarity about who could and should be involved. So, in this example, Ukai Projects will support the design of both the invitation (a public, art-derived intervention) to involve the community in what is possible and the long-term governance through resident associations and local businesses.

Innovative: Kensington Market has always been a testing ground for new ways of using public space. The people of Kensington have always found innovative ways to address their needs by redefining public space, built forms and uses beyond established norms. They've done this by integrating knowledge drawn from residents that come from all corners of the world. This attitude is what has given the Market its unique charm and identity. We plan to continue strengthening this tradition by working with the Market's community and by using art and programming as tools to educate and inform. One way of doing this is by focusing on potential conflict areas where commercial and residential activities meet. We will promote interventions that achieve the goal of buffering - without separating - these areas, while educating the public by reminding them to be respectful guests. Other interventions will encourage historical references that tie back to the Market's past and future evolution.

Community-Centered: The people of Kensington – residents, businesses and visitors - have played a critical role in defining and maintaining Kensington's unique character and organic development. It is therefore essential to include the people and their experiences in shaping the market's future. We intend to do this by engaging the community in the design and planning process through public consultation, surveying and implementation by having them help build these small testing projects that will inform future long-term decisions. Planning and working together with the community will create a sense of ownership and belonging of shared public spaces thereby promoting civic literacy, social cohesion, and multiculturalism.

Reach: The idea is to allow for this model to spread to other key areas within the Market. Although these projects are site-specific and temporary, they provide an opportunity to showcase potential solutions to similar issues in other neighbourhoods and begin to inform how other underutilized public spaces may be similarly reconfigured at a city-wide and global scale. With this in mind, we would like to share our experience with others, through a publication, accessible to all, to promote the reactivation and improvement of public spaces in other communities facing similar challenges in a grassroots manner.

Kensington Market is already full of engaged citizens. Our aim is to tap into this community and reach out to additional members of the public to ensure input can be turned into action. We are doing this by incorporating approaches that help encourage sustainable participation so that the community can take ownership of the public space and, as such, constantly reprogram and maintain it.

The temporary nature of the project is intended to test elements of the Masterplan and to map out the implications of various physical and programmatic activations. The KMBIA Board has approved funding for this pilot which will allow us to complete most of the basic built elements. However, additional funding is needed to assess and activate the sites; Programming as Placekeeping (to involve the community through arts-based activities to complete and maintain the pilot) and Programming as Evaluation (arts-based activities to gain the feedback needed to measure the success of the Pilot in order to incorporate that knowledge into the Masterplan) remain critical components of the overall project.

Jerrold McGrath