Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is a large and important institution in the city. Established in 1997, CAMH is a research and educational hospital that provides care for those with mental health and addiction issues, while contributing to policy development and health promotion initiatives. As Canada’s largest hospital and research centre dedicated to Mental Health, it also has major impacts on Toronto’s urban form: its sites and campuses occupy large portions of the city.

CAMH

CAMH’s Queen Street site has recently undergone a major revitalization. The grounds have been used for mental health treatment since the opening of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum in 1850. The old form of the site reflected a time when misguided health policies had those with mental illnesses quarantined and isolated. A large stone wall surrounded the grounds, blocking access between CAMH’s facilities and the thriving West Queen West neighbourhood that surrounded it.

The revitalization takes a radically different approach, opening the walls and integrating the city into the site. The openness of the grounds invites West Queen West passersby to explore and make connections with the parklands, cafes and apartment units that now populate the site, contributing to an overall destigmatization of mental illness. The city has been weaved into the formerly sealed off grounds, and an open and inclusive community has emerged. CAMH is a bastion for smart architecture and urban design, taking the most progressive and effective theories of mental health and addiction care today and applying them to inclusive city, open and human-scaled buildings.

Though I’ve passed the site many times, I had my first opportunity to take a walk through the grounds of the revitalized CAMH a couple of weeks ago. I was inspired by the site’s inclusiveness and it’s successful manifestation of progressive approaches to health care in the urban form. I relished the occasion of discovering new swaths of the city. My favourite part of the site was its connectivity, between CAMH’s buildings and gardens and to the rest of the city. Paths weave their way all over the grounds, and openings through the formerly foreboding walls allow pedestrians to use the site as an alternative route and shortcut to Shaw and King streets to the east and south.

Because of the large green spaces on the CAMH grounds, the site provides wide vistas of the Queen streetscape, a street that is usually experienced as a narrow corridor with limited sight lines. It casts a very familiar street scene in a new light, and provides new angles to consider and appreciate Toronto. Streetcars sailed by in an effect similar to Trinity Bellwoods down the road. It is exciting that this part of Toronto has access to another green space, and I am excited to see how it further integrates into the city’s habits and behaviours.

I encourage all Torontonians to stroll through the CAMH grounds to explore its patchwork of architecture, new and old, and its lovely paths, gardens and courtyards. Doing so intentionally is a delightful way to affirm the success of CAMH’s newly revitalized site and express solidarity for those who live with mental health and addiction issues. But I reckon such explicit actions are unnecessary — walking west on Queen West, you will be attracted to entering and lingering on CAMH’s grounds, seamlessly like any other urban park, using the diagonal paths as short cuts between Queen, Shaw and King and welcoming newly integrated parts of the city with your foot traffic.

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