More to do to make way for tran­sit-re­lated builds

Toronto Star - - HOMEFINDER.CA - David Wilkes is pres­i­dent and CEO of the Build­ing In­dus­try and Land De­vel­op­ment As­so­ci­a­tion (BILD) and a con­trib­u­tor for the Star. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @bildgta Dave Wilkes

If you live in cer­tain parts of our re­gion, chances are you spend a lot of time in your car. It would be nice to be able to walk or just jump on a train to get to work or run er­rands. But nei­ther of those are prac­ti­cal, or even pos­si­ble some­times, be­cause ameni­ties are far away and tran­sit is in­fre­quent or nonex­is­tent.

This is the re­al­ity in ar­eas like Scar­bor­ough and Eto­bi­coke, as well as mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties like Vaughan, Mis­sis­sauga and Markham. In fact, only 18 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion added to the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area be­tween 2001 and 2011 was lo­cated within walk­ing dis­tance of fre­quent tran­sit, as pointed out in a 2016 re­port en­ti­tled “Sub­urbs on Track,” by Ry­er­son Univer­sity’s City Build­ing In­sti­tute and the On­tario Home Builders’ As­so­ci­a­tion. The re­sult is in­creas­ing traf­fic congestion and ever-length­en­ing com­mutes.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We can en­able more peo­ple to live and work in com­plete com­mu­ni­ties near tran­sit sta­tions and along tran­sit lines, but we need ac­tion from all lev­els of gov­ern­ment to en­cour­age tran­sit-ori­ented de­vel­op­ment.

Our in­dus­try is heart­ened that the new On­tario gov­ern­ment has shown in­ter­est in cre­at­ing solutions that will put more peo­ple closer to tran­sit. Re­cently, they an­nounced that they plan to partner with the pri­vate sec­tor to build mixed-use com­mu­ni­ties near tran­sit sta­tions.

This new ap­proach to part­ner­ship will start with the build­ing of a new Mim­ico GO sta­tion. The de­vel­oper will pay the con­struc­tion costs for the main sta­tion build­ing, new park­ing and a green­way, in ex­change for the right to de­velop above the sta­tion.

Other GO train sta­tions and tran­sit hubs in our re­gion would also ben­e­fit from this type of de­vel­op­ment. Too many are sur­rounded by large park­ing lots or multi-storey parkades and not much else. Build­ing hous­ing, of­fices and re­tail nearby would al­low us to make bet­ter use of the sur­round­ing land and take full ad­van­tage of the multi­bil­lion dol­lar in­vest­ments we have made in tran­sit.

At the mu­nic­i­pal level, we have a lot of work left to do to re­move bar­ri­ers to tran­sit-ori­ented de­vel­op­ment. One ma­jor ob­sta­cle is mu­nic­i­pal zon­ing. Though the prov­ince’s growth man­age­ment pol­icy for our re­gion calls for high con­cen­tra­tions of peo­ple and jobs around ma­jor tran­sit sta­tions, many of these ar­eas are in mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties with out­dated zon­ing by­laws that per­mit only low-den­sity hous­ing, such as houses and town­houses. We need to en­cour­age and sup­port mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in do­ing the work of up­dat­ing their by­laws and plan­ning for den­sity around tran­sit lines.

North York City Cen­tre is high­lighted in the “Sub­urbs on Track” re­port as an ex­am­ple of what can be achieved when a lo­cal gov­ern­ment de­lib­er­ately plans for tran­sit-ori­ented de­vel­op­ment — a vi­brant, walk­a­ble mix of res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial tow­ers, pub­lic spa­ces and ground-level re­tail, cen­tred around a sta­tion on a ma­jor sub­way line.

Imag­ine liv­ing in such a com­plete com­mu­nity, a place where you can live, work and play with­out hav­ing to spend hours in your car ev­ery week. If we plan for it, we can make it a re­al­ity.

DAVID COOPER TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO

North York City Cen­tre is high­lighted in a new re­port for its walk­a­ble mix of res­i­den­tial, com­mer­cial and re­tail build­ings around a sub­way sta­tion.

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