Toronto Mayor David Miller announced an international competition recently to redesign city hall. The distinctive twin towers will stay. Although they've been up for 40 years now, they still look like a couple of skinny, high-stepping teenagers out on the town. It's the large, municipal square in front that is to get the facelift. Apparently it has become too cluttered. Along with the giant Henry Moore statue and skating rink, there is a peace garden that supposedly doesn't fit its surroundings; and a couple of walkways that don't really go anywhere. Further, there's no place to store, elegantly, the hardware for the 200 or so events that consume the square over the course of a year. Toronto needs a proper public square, the mayor declared. And though he didn't say piazza (this time), that's exactly what he meant. For Toronto - and its tall, blond, American-educated mayor - has gone piazza-mad. This craze started a year or so ago when Toronto twinned itself with Milan, one of the world's most cultured and captivating cities. A Toronto architect went to Italy to design a piazza there while an Italian firm came here. And the mayor hasn't been the same since. When he opened the Italian architect's square earlier this year in front of Toronto's largest exhibition grounds, the mayor went on and on about building piazzas all over the city. Little sunlit enclaves, he called them, where the harried citizens of a bustling metropolis can stop for a quiet moment. And then, after he said it, you started to notice them: tiny concrete oases springing up like mushrooms in the wake of all the condominium developments transforming the downtown area. Don't sneer. This piazza-fication represents a huge shift for the city. Toronto came of age as a demure British outpost. For the longest time, it let outsiders and their ideas in only very carefully. Parks meant parks: unruly vegetation and stately elms. Before this new age of contrived public squares, Toronto's claim to fame was High Park, a rolling sanctuary of greenery and ravines modelled broadly on New York's Central Park - itself a model of the British quest for orderliness. One of the more unusual of the new piazzas is at the corner of Yonge and Dundas streets - one of the busiest intersections in the city. Most days it looks like an empty lot, with its odd assortment of plaintive souls and furtive drug dealers. You find yourself wondering why there isn't a building there. Or a parking lot. On other days, it crackles with the energy of semi-organised street concerts or a political debate. Its off-and-on cycles are quite disconcerting. But perhaps that is how piazzas are supposed to work. We Torontonians just haven't got the hang of them yet.