Saturday, August 21, 2004

Places To Grow (But Not Too Much)

A couple of interesting articles pertaining to the recent Places to Grow draft report:

Today in the Star, Thomas Walkom outlines some history behind the last major attempt at creating a Toronto greenbelt, as the province attempts to create another. (In a planning 101 course I took at college, I seem to recall it was more an attempt to create a wide swath of right-of-way to accommodate utilities and transportation routes, which it does very well with its Ontario Hydro transmission towers, the 407 in York Region, the 403 through Mississauga, and GO's proposed transitway along most of what is somewhat ironically called the "Parkway Belt".)

Meanwhile, some OMB activity out in downtown Oakville raises what I foresee to be a major stumbling block of Places to Grow: making high-density (even medium-density) development saleable outside of 416 (and even in 416). This example is in the centre of what the government is proposing to be recognized as a "priority urban centre" (key nodes implemented across the GTA where redevelopment and intensification efforts are supposed to be directed), and is being fought tooth and nail by residents:

The developer wants to build a 14-storey, 85-unit luxury condominium on the
current site of Sharkey's Dockside Café on Forsythe St. on the west side of
Sixteen Mile Creek. Daniels has an agreement to purchase the property from the
numbered company that owns the restaurant. [...]

But residents say the proposal is out of character with the surrounding
neighbourhood and they fear it will clear the way for more high-rise development
approvals.

Part of the problem is that downtown Oakville and downtown Toronto are recognized both as "priority urban centres." Downtown Oakville has some higher-density residential development dating probably from the 60's or early 70's, and some medium-density redevelopment that's more recent (late 80's or 90's), but essentially it's still a typical southern Ontario town central business district.

Actually, for transit-friendly redevelopment, Oakville isn't terribly well laid-out — its downtown is only served by low-frequency local service and is relatively distant from its main transit node (the GO station just south of the QEW). It's made up more of a string of smaller activity centres strung up Trafalgar Road: downtown, the GO station, Oakville Place and the civic centre, Sheridan College, and the new Uptown Core and proposed development north of Dundas (both of which are supposed to be higher-density centres but appear to be anchored commercially by low-density big-box retail).

As a comparison, Port Credit is a more ideal candidate for redevelopment and for inclusion as a centre. Indeed, there's a great deal of intensification and redevelopment going on right now in Port Credit, mostly completed on the old St. Lawrence Starch lands at Hurontario and Lakeshore, and in the planning stages immediately to the north. (The St. Lawrence project is an excellent example of how medium- and high-density brownfield redevelopment can fit into the small-town main street urban fabric; the sites to the north may be another story, as I hope to post about in the future.) As opposed to downtown Oakville, Port Credit is a major Mississauga Transit hub (including the southern terminus of the Hurontario route, one of the city's busiest and most profitable) and has a GO station right in the central area, and it's already at a significant higher density than Oakville's downtown and has more redevelopment opportunities.

And then there's lots of areas in the 416 with densities and development opportunities far beyond those of Port Credit, and yet the only centres identified in Toronto are downtown, Yonge/Eglinton, and the North York and Scarborough City Centres. For example, the Sheppard / Don Mills / Victoria Park area has a major employment concentration, significant high-density residential development, major shopping centres, what appears to be good development potential, and the new Sheppard subway (currently ends at Don Mills, and hoped to be extended to Victoria Park).

The document notes that these centres aren't necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach, and that "high density" can be interpreted differently in different places — hence an 85-unit luxury condominium is considered high-density in Oakville yet would be barely noticed in some areas of Toronto. To me, that sounds like a bit of a cop-out designed to deflect public outrage ("How dare you build a three-storey walk-up condominium building less than a kilometre from my house! Don't you know that there are children in this neighbourhood? How many children have to be killed" etc.), which will just turn into a recipe for the status quo. As with much of Places to Grow, the overall premise is promising, but the details seem unsatisfying.

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