By Claire Nelischer
Toronto is booming, with a downtown population that’s expected to double to 500,000 by 2041. If the goal is to accommodate this growth in complete communities where people can live, work, and play, mixed-use development will play a big part. So how can we push mixed-use development beyond retail/residential to create a more dense and diverse future for Toronto?
That was the question posed to 24 students in Ryerson’s School of Urban and Regional Planning in a recent graduate-level course. “Emerging Trends & Design Strategies for Mixed-Use Development” was taught by Christine Fang-Dennisov and Andrea Friedman, both senior associates at Toronto-based planning and design firm Urban Strategies, in collaboration with the Ryerson City Building Institute.
The goal was to explore the future of mixed-use development and multi-purpose spaces in Toronto at a range of scales – from the site-specific to the city-wide, and a range of other uses – like industrial, employment, institutional, and green space.
New Bold Ideas
Students began by identifying key policy and planning issues that hamper mixed-use development. Taking inspiration from global precedents, they proposed bold ideas for change here in Toronto. The students investigated in-depth policy and design interventions, and developed test-case scenarios to show how changes could be implemented on the ground.
Last week, CBI hosted a public event at Urbanspace Gallery to showcase the students’ work and open it up for discussion. Students presented their bold ideas to a sold-out audience of city builders, and panel of experts, including George Dark (Partner, Urban Strategies Inc.), Nina-Marie Lister (Graduate Program Director, Ryerson University School of Urban and Regional Planning) and Jeffrey Cantos (Official Plan Project Manager, City of Toronto Planning Division), unpacked the presentations. At the open house that followed, students displayed panels outlining their proposals and audience members were able to interact and ask questions.
The students’ bold ideas for the future of mixed-use development are outlined below. Click “view panels” to see the full presentation panels for each group.
Bold Idea #1: Reimagining Schools as Community Hubs
In the context of rapid intensification, demographic shifts leading to both underutilized and overcapacity schools, insufficient provincial funding, and school development driven by outdated, suburban assumptions, the way we plan and design public schools needs a re-think.
To better align school development with the city’s growth, students recommended that Toronto identify new uses that are compatible with school sites, enhance policies and processes to facilitate mixed-use school development, and forge multi-sector partnerships. Possible solutions include incorporating mixed uses into surplus space on school sites or incorporating school space vertically within mixed-use developments. [click to view panels]
Bold Idea #2: Protecting Places to Make Noise
Music venues deliver both economic benefits and cultural value to Toronto, but growth and gentrification are pushing out these important cultural spaces. New development drives up property values and commercial rents, but also creates issues when new, mainly residential uses conflict with the operations of live music venues.
To mitigate the loss of music venues, students proposed adopting the Agent of Change principle to put the onus on developers to soundproof buildings in proximity to existing venues and minimize noise complaints. Students also proposed policy changes to encourage the creation of new venues, including extending policies that support music venues along Toronto’s already-designated Avenues. [click to view panels]
Bold Idea #3: Future-Proofing Parking
Current planning policies require minimum parking for new developments, which is largely achieved underground. But as car ownership declines and residents adopt alternative ways of moving around the city, this underground parking will become obsolete. How can we make use all this space in the future?
Students proposed repurposing parking facilities for other compatible uses – like community space, micro-warehousing, or self-storage. They also outlined how the planning framework could respond to declining demand by relaxing parking minimums and introducing new building standards for underground parking to maximize potential for reuse. [click to view panels]
Bold Idea #4: Rethinking Suburban Strip Malls
As the retail landscape changes, the strip malls that are ubiquitous in suburban Toronto are being redeveloped – often for residential use. Meanwhile, existing Provincial and City policies do not provide adequate direction on preserving small-scale retail.
So how to ensure that we preserve space for businesses that provide diverse range of goods and services to area residents and offer affordable rents to retail tenants? Students proposed protecting small-scale, locally-oriented retail along Emerging Main Streets in Toronto’s suburbs as a priority. To do so, they recommended introducing policies requiring that new development replace existing retail GFA and reserve 40% of retail space for small-format retail units (maxing out at 250 sm). [click to view panels]
Bold Idea #5: Integrating Light Industrial into Mixed Use Development
A resurgence of light micro-manufacturing is increasing demand for affordable industrial space in the city. However, ongoing development pressure is encouraging the conversion of existing Employment Lands to residential and commercial use. Toronto needs to find a way to continue to promote diverse employment opportunities, even in areas facing development pressure.
To achieve this, students proposed secondary plan and zoning policy changes to require space for production, distribution, and repair (PDR) activities in certain mixed-use developments and promote employment opportunities. This would be accompanied by built form and urban design guidelines to ensure adequate floor areas and loading space, to animate the pedestrian realm, and to buffer around more sensitive uses. [click to view panels]
Bold Idea #6: Activating Employment Areas
Historically, Toronto’s employment areas have been separated to protect surrounding uses from noise and air pollution. But technologies and manufacturing processes are changing, reducing potential for conflict. Encouraging the co-location of other uses – like retail, restaurants, banks, cultural spaces, and parks – can help to improve quality of life in employment areas, particularly those near higher-order transit.
The students big idea? Focus on re-urbanizing Employment Areas that intersect with higher-order transit. To make this happen, they suggested designating Major Transit Station Areas as areas for intensification in Toronto’s Official Plan, and conducting Major Transit Station Area studies to develop context-specific plans for each site. [click to view panels]