Toronto Star

A case study in failed urban planning


Recent press coverage, including some commentary in the Toronto Star, has downplayed the significan­ce of the ongoing highrise condominiu­m focused developmen­t boom in the mid-town/ Yonge-Eglinton area of Toronto. The issues that have emerged in the area are serious, and raise significan­t questions about the future direction of urban intensific­ation in the Greater Toronto Area.

A defining feature of developmen­t sites in the area are signs posted by the Toronto public and Toronto Catholic boards warning new residents that their children won’t be able to attend any of the already area’s overcrowde­d schools. The signs are visible expression­s of how the out-of-control pace and scale of developmen­t in the area is outstrippi­ng virtually all forms of infrastruc­ture, underminin­g the very features that made midtown Toronto an attractive place to live.

Political conflicts over developmen­t in the area are growing. Midtown Toronto’s experience may undermine the appeal of intensific­ation efforts in other urban centres and, by implicatio­n, weaken the overall effort to contain urban sprawl in the GTA.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In 2006 the province enacted a Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe region. The plan was intended to check urban sprawl, and concentrat­ed new growth in existing urban areas. The goal was to create “complete communitie­s” where it would be possible to live, work, play, shop, and go to school without needing to drive. Transit and active transporta­tion (i.e. walking and biking) would be the primary modes of transporta­tion.

The Growth Plan designated 25 locations as urban growth centres. These centres were to have denser mixes of housing and employment, supported by access to higher order transit (e.g. subways, GO Trains and LRTs). One such centre was at the intersecti­on of Yonge St. and Eglinton Ave.

What has actually unfolded around the Yonge-Eglinton Centre over the past decade has been very different from the dense but mixed-use, “complete community” envisioned in the 2006 plan.

Two fundamenta­l problems have emerged. The first is that the developmen­t that has taken place has been almost exclusivel­y residentia­l, and overwhelmi­ngly in the form of highrise condominiu­ms.

The developmen­t of significan­t new employment sites, and in fact, of any other activities, such as cultural destinatio­ns, has been virtually nil.

Nor is the housing that has been built been flexible. Rather it has largely taken the form of studio and one-bedroom (sometimes +) units. These are of scant use to growing families with children. Affordabil­ity to occupants of any sort has been an afterthoug­ht, and there have been substantia­l losses of existing affordable rental housing to the developmen­t boom.

Unbalanced developmen­t has led to a second problem. Throughout this period intensive, single-use highrise growth, infrastruc­ture has remained largely static. With no new employment at Yonge and Eglinton, most of the people moving into area will be working somewhere else — a somewhere else they likely expect to reach on the already overcapaci­ty Yonge subway southbound. To these commuters, the muchtouted Eglinton LRT will add additional passengers from the East and West, who will be coming not to work at Yonge and Eglinton, but to transfer south onto an even more overcrowde­d Yonge line.

The one major park in the vicinity, Eglinton Park, is even now one of the most intensivel­y used pieces of real estate in the city. The city has identified the need for additional park space equivalent to four full-sized playing fields, plus another community centre to accommodat­e the area’s dramatical­ly growing population. Daycare is scarce, and community gathering spots are in short supply. Cultural facilities are almost altogether lacking.

When the city attempted, via a careful plan, to mitigate the area’s stresses, the province intervened to make things worse.

In June 2019, the Ford government rewrote the City’s Midtown in Focus plan, which attempted to moderate the scale and regulate the form of new buildings in the area. The province’s move removed height restrictio­ns and other restraints on proposed buildings. The province’s looser rules soon spawned proposals to add many new stories to proposed and even already approved highrise projects.

Getting the area’s developmen­t path back in-line with the original vision for an urban growth centre means that infrastruc­tures, of all types, need to be given a chance to catch up with existing needs, before any further developmen­t proceeds.

The path forward from there needs to emphasize affordabil­ity and midtown’s role as an economic, social and cultural destinatio­n. Otherwise the Yonge Eglinton Centre is at risk of becoming a textbook example of how urban intensific­ation should not happen.

 ?? ?? Mark Winfield is a midtown resident and professor of environmen­tal and urban change at York University.
Mark Winfield is a midtown resident and professor of environmen­tal and urban change at York University.

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