Image: Toronto Star
Throughout the first part of 2014, the Toronto Star is running a series called “Big Ideas“, asking Torontonians to think big about the future of the region. What type of Toronto do we want to create in the years to come?
The GTA can evolve into a network of diverse, interconnected and vibrant “town centres” dotting the suburban landscape from Oshawa to Hamilton. What if …
… our suburbs are our future? What if the communities of Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke are the Toronto Region’s greatest urban asset, holding the key to achieving the sustainable, resilient and connected community we demand today?Most important, though, is vision and new focus. For example: direct planned transit investment to service Apartment Neighbourhoods; create a policy framework to remove barriers and attract new investment; work with communities to design local initiatives that are supported and development-ready.
Not everyone realizes it, but the GTA’s suburban form is unique to North America, reflecting progressive ideas that were perhaps the “smart growth” of the postwar era. They were intended to provide a spacious and green, yet dense and dynamic city of the future. An essential aspect of this alternative suburbia are the thousand-odd “tower in the park” apartment buildings that arose among the bungalows and shopping plazas, providing housing choice and the density to support transit and local economies. Together they form hundreds of Apartment Neighbourhoods, housing over a million people and giving the GTA a regional density nearly twice that of greater Chicago.So what if we changed that? What if our Apartment Neighbourhoods became the renewed focus of mixed-use growth, investment and green infrastructure? The fulfilment of their original promise, through the lens of the 21st century.
Yet, over the past decades these neighbourhoods, and the planning ideas that supported them, have been neglected, even forgotten.
How will your big idea transform Toronto?
With the population of small cities, and ample room to grow, these tower communities have the potential to evolve into vibrant and walkable mixed-use hubs, with new institutions, social amenities, mixed housing, green infrastructures and connections to enable a healthy, sustainable and resilient Toronto at the local and regional scale.
How will we pay for it?
Taking advantage of this great opportunity will require innovative planning, architecture and financing. For one, we need to create new public and private green loan funds to finance retrofits and green infrastructures.Most important, though, is vision and new focus. For example: direct planned transit investment to service Apartment Neighbourhoods; create a policy framework to remove barriers and attract new investment; work with communities to design local initiatives that are supported and development-ready.With the right approach, the GTA can evolve into a network of diverse, interconnected and vibrant “town centres” dotting the suburban landscape from Oshawa to Hamilton. While work has begun to realize this, we’re just scratching the surface. It’s time to get moving.