In the Empress Walk shopping complex adjacent to Mel Lastman Square in north Toronto, there is a very successful, thriving coffee shop. It is in the corridor leading into the subway station, so there is a lot of pedestrian traffic, and the shop is always full. It also has an outdoor seating area that hundreds of commuters walk past every day on their way to and from work.
The interior seems pleasant enough, with large windows bringing natural light. Unfortunately the outdoor area leaves something to be desired. In spring customer relations of the Second Cup was contacted asking that the litter be cleaned, and the shabby, rusty railings be painted. It was suggested that the area would be more attractive if there were a few plants. Several studies have shown that treed and planted urban areas are less susceptible to crime, graffiti, and vandalism.
A few weeks later, the area was noticeably cleaner, and new black rust paint was applied to the rusted iron enclosure. Sadly, no plants were ever put in the area. This is rather unfortunate as the paving material and adjacent walls are cement, and there is a massive air vent set into the wall of this area. Certainly a few plants would greatly improve this public space. In recent years, more and more cafes and outdoor restaurant areas in Toronto have been enhanced by flowers and plants.
Personally, I would rather have my coffee or lunch at the Fran's or Irish Pub on College Street than this bare outdoor cafe area. Perhaps the Second Cup, or the property manager of the mall, Rio Can, could offer a financial incentive for the franchises to accent outdoor areas with plants. It would be good business and it would make the shops better members of the community. Come on guys, buy a couple sweet potato vines, they're just a few bucks.
Starbucks at Yonge and Summehill, Toronto; photo SwF