Are Bike Lanes, Trees, and Mid-Rise Development in Eglinton Avenue’s Future?

Originally published on Torontoist on October 8, 2013.

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Is this what a future Golden Mile could look like? Image: City of Toronto.

Scene: 5 p.m. on a sunny afternoon in the future. It’s time to wind up the workday at one of the firms calling the city’s latest “innovation cluster” home. After a short stretch in a park that used to be a Walmart, you wander to the neighbourhood’s main drag to run a few pre-dinner errands. You marvel at the streetscape before you: tall trees, mid-rise developments, wide sidewalks, and commuters whizzing by in the bike lane. Out in the middle of the road, an LRT glides by on a vegetation-filled track bed. To think this humming, green streetscape along Eglinton Avenue was once Scarborough’s grey “Golden Mile” of industry…

This scenario could come true if the long-term visions in the City’s Eglinton Connects planning study are implemented. Over the past year, the project has looked at landscape and infrastructure improvements to Eglinton Avenue to complement the Crosstown LRT, which is scheduled for completion in 2020. Officials involved in the project foresee Toronto’s “centre of gravity” moving north when the transit line is finished.

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Segment of a map of what Eglinton Avenue might look like in the future, with sticky notes.

A final round of consultations on Eglinton Avenue’s future will include three public sessions, the first of which occurred at George Harvey Collegiate Institute, near Keele Street and Eglinton Avenue, Monday night. Attendees browsed a 40-foot-long map, which included the Eglinton Connects recommendations for reconfiguring Eglinton between Jane Street and Kennedy Road. A prominent feature was a bicycle lane running mostly at sidewalk level along the entire stretch, giving cyclists a straight route across the city. Sticky notes were provided, so people could place their concerns on the map. Those concerns ranged from fears about developers sneaking in too-tall buildings, to commentaries about the unused TTC property at Eglinton subway station. The map is expected to be posted online shortly.

The Eglinton Connects plan’s 20 recommendations were organized under three themes:

Building Eglinton: Rezone properties to allow construction of mid-rise buildings along most of the corridor, with high-rises permitted at major hubs and intersections. Entrances to underground LRT stations should be integrated into neighbourhood-appropriate developments above them. More rear laneways and landscaped areas should be built to ease the transition from taller buildings to existing residential areas. Create more public spaces like parks and plazas. Recognize heritage properties with conservation districts.

Greening Eglinton: Green up the corridor by planting large trees along the street to grow a shady canopy. Provide better links to existing recreational trails and the city’s ravines. On the surface portions of the LRT, plant vegetation along the tracks.

Travelling Eglinton: This is based on the “complete streets” theory, which calls for planners to provide enough room for cars, bicycles, transit, and pedestrians. Dedicated bus lanes would be removed, travel lanes realigned, and current on-street parking levels retained. Wider sidewalks and protected cycling lanes would be built. In neighbourhoods designated as “Main Street Character Areas,” streetscape elements could include street furniture, patios, and gateway markers.

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The study also includes six focus areas where the changes would ideally be more radical. Current big-box retail areas like Westside Mall and the Golden Mile would, City planners hope, be replaced by new developments made up of commercial, recreational, and residential properties. Smaller sites, like the Metro supermarket at Bayview and Eglinton avenues, could be chopped up with new streets, assuming the owners of the properties could somehow be brought on board.

Before and after a one-hour presentation, attendees at Monday’s consultation were free to quiz City and project officials. There was a brief general Q&A session, where concerns raised ranged from questions about funding sources, to whether the proposed 90-centimetre buffer between the street and the bike lane would be sufficient for piling snow during winter clearing.

There are two more sessions coming up: tonight (October 8) at Forest Hill Collegiate Institute (730 Eglinton Avenue West) and tomorrow night (October 9) at Jean Vanier Secondary School (959 Midland Avenue). Each will run from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. If you can’t make it, an online survey is available. The study report is supposed to be completed by the end of 2013, and a final presentation is expected to go before city council next spring.

Making Toronto’s Heritage Official

Originally published on Torontoist on June 19, 2012.

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Looking north on University Avenue from Queen Street, August 1950—the type of view that would be covered under proposed amendments to the Official Plan. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 121.

“A greater effort must be made to retain our remaining important heritage resources, and to balance Toronto’s growth while keeping important touchstones to our past. Heritage resources need to be viewed as contributing long-term value to our built fabric and individual developments, as well as our collective sense of ourselves.”

That viewpoint, developed from public consultation on heritage policy over the past two years, was one of the key messages in a staff report [PDF] presented by the City Planning Division to the Planning and Growth Management Committee, at City Hall yesterday. The findings reflected the importance of heritage conservation to Torontonians, whether they are active advocates or just people who occasionally line up for Doors Open.

Those same findings will be used as part of the City’s effort to overhaul Toronto’s Official Plan, a document that guides development practices. In other words, this consultation data will have significant ramifications for local heritage-preservation policy. The overhaul may turn out to be a boon for heritage boosters. Or, it may end up making no difference at all.

The proposed changes would triple the number of heritage policy points in the Official Plan, from 13 to 39. Many of the new points offer more details about protective measures and guidelines. For one thing, the City’s heritage inventory list would be converted to a register of designated and non-designated heritage districts and properties. There is stronger wording about enforcing bylaws to prevent “demolition by neglect,” and there are promises to create incentives to entice owners to maintain their heritage properties.

There is also slightly more detail about heritage impact assessments, previously known as “heritage impact statements.” (Is “assessment” friendlier to the ears of a developer or landowner?) The creation of more Heritage Conservation Districts to preserve neighbourhoods is encouraged.

Another recommendation is to lessen the impact of so-called “facadism” in new projects, by promoting the retention of enough of the original heritage building to reflect its original dimensions. If enacted, this would drive some developers crazy and provoke heated debate. It would also spur creative design approaches.

Also addressed is what to do if an Empress Hotel-style disaster occurs. The proposal would require the City to create an emergency management protocol to coordinate actions across all affected City agencies and external stakeholders. Such a protocol would also extend to protecting important archaeological artifacts found while excavating for building or infrastructure projects. This would reduce confusion after an incident.

Speaking of archaeology, the proposed policies promote stronger collaboration with First Nations and Métis representatives whenever traces of their cultures are discovered. The current policy simply refers to “indigenous persons” and says sites identified with those groups should be recorded and preserved or, if built over, commemorated in some manner. The proposal calls for an archaeological assessment report before any development can proceed. If something is found on public land, then the City would have the right to deem that property unsuitable for any further development.

Preserving clear views and vistas of historic landmarks and landscapes is identified, in the proposal, as a critical issue. As Toronto accumulates tall buildings, there is a danger that older structures designed to provide a striking view will lose their “visual integrity.” A map has been prepared of sites identified as having significant views. While many of the preliminary buildings listed aren’t surprising (Casa Loma, Old City Hall, Ontario Legislature, Osgoode Hall, the Summerhill LCBO clock tower, Upper Canada College), others are odd. When was the last time you heard anyone marvel about taking in a long view of the East York Civic Centre on Coxwell Avenue?

While the proposed policy addresses many of the concerns we’ve heard at public consultations over the past year and introduces interesting new directions in heritage policy, we’re left with a major question: if the new rules were implemented, who would be responsible for enacting them? As it is, the city’s heritage agencies are dealing with backlogs of properties awaiting the proper research for designation. In recent years, staffing has remained static, or has been cut. Instead of hiring or spreading work to other departments, would the city attempt to rely on the dedication of volunteers to see through the changes, a move that might arouse the wrath of City employee unions?

We may find out in the fall. Following further consultation and a public open house in September, the city’s Chief Planner will present final recommendations at the October 12 meeting of the Planning and Growth Management Committee.

Vintage Toronto Ad: Miracle on Yonge Street

Originally published on Torontoist on June 7, 2011.

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The Financial Post 500, Summer 1988.

For today’s featured ad, we hand writing duties over to the longest-serving mayor of North York, Mel Lastman. In his introduction to the semi-advertorial book North York: Realizing the Dream (Burlington: Windsor Publications, 1988), the Bad Boy describes how his municipality’s miraculous new downtown is one of the factors behind his boast that “nowhere is the human spirit stronger than in North York.”

The focal point of our city is what I refer to as North York’s Miracle on Yonge Street—a $4 billion downtown that’s being constructed in our city centre, complete with a civic square and major performing arts centre. Millions of square feet of retail establishments, offices, and residences are sprouting up seemingly overnight.
But it took many years of planning in partnership with our citizens. Area ratepayer groups participated fully in the forging of our downtown plan and gave it their complete support. Outside of North York, it is rare to see so keen a level of cooperative planning between local government and its citizenry…It is nothing short of miraculous that we are creating a downtown after we built the city and that this barrage of construction activity is happening all at one time, spurring us on from one success to the next.

The City of North York is quickly becoming the main magnet for commerce in Metropolitan Toronto. Our shiny new miracle of a downtown has prompted major corporate head office relocations and a flood of new business activity, and has spawned an unprecedented demand for our office space.

When completed, our downtown will generate full-time jobs for 60,000 employees, homes for more than 30,000 new residents, and $100 million annually in business and realty taxes. We’re in great shape. We are becoming recession-proof.