When a trio of city planners set up a pop-up booth in East Lynn Park last month, they invited residents to stop and write what they think are local planning ‘lemons’ and ‘lemonades.’
“Walkable communities for all – not just downtown,” someone soured.
“Farmer’s markets!” read a sweeter note.
Jason Tsang, an assistant planner who works in the four wards of Toronto and East York, says the pop-up booths give planners and residents a chance to meet on neutral ground.
“It’s nice getting out here and talking to people in a less threatening environment than City Hall,” he said, noting that most people only meet Toronto planners when they are arguing for or against a development application.
Asked about the biggest planning problem in Toronto, Tsang and colleagues Emily Caldwell and Rafael Mejia-Ortiz all seemed to agree – getting around.
Commuter gridlock comes up a lot, says Mejia-Ortiz, who has been going to pop-ups all over the city since early August.
Tsang agrees, pointing out that even when funded, the most popular answer to gridlock – subways – can add baggage of their own.
Looking at Danforth Avenue, he said one effect of new subways is to bury some of the foot traffic that sustains small businesses, and it can take communities some time to adapt.
Asked what cities Toronto might look up to for a better transit model, Tsang said he favours the Hong Kong model, where transit lines are funded not by governments but by a transit corporation with large real-estate holdings and a big incentive to develop neighbourhoods with lasting appeal.
On Toronto issue number two – the density debate – planner Emily Caldwell said the Avenues and Mid-Rise Buildings guidelines encouraging mid-rise buildings of four to 11 stories on designated arterial roads seem to work, although some developers tend to treat them as only guides.
Some of the ideas behind them are to avoid the shadow casting and privacy issues of taller buildings, she said, and to create a step-down to the smaller houses and apartments that tend to be a block north or south of major Toronto roads.
Given its heritage features, Caldwell noted that the Beach section of Queen Street East was exempted from those guidelines, and another study may do the same for the Leslieville stretch of Queen from the railway bridge at Jimmy Simpson Park to Leslie Street.
As for the question mark hanging over the Ontario Municipal Board – the main appeals board for real estate disputes – Caldwell and Tsang said whether it’s scrapped or reformed or kept as is, their core job remains the same.
“Ultimately our decisions have to be based on good planning, whether the OMB is there or not,” said Tsang.