Part 1: The formulation of the nodal concept in Toronto

Planning agencies have long placed considerable faith in the capacity of nodes to turn around sprawling development. This section examines the circumstances that gave rise to the nodal concept, and that account for its evolution and the way in which it has been implemented in the Greater Toronto Area. Because of its prominence among planning objectives formulated since the early 1980s and its importance in present provincial planning strategies, it is critical to understand this concept and its permutations within the Toronto region, as well as the implementation difficulties and the partial achievement of objectives related to nodes.

The information in this section comes mostly from planning documents, but other sources (such as newspaper articles or real estate and census data) also shed light on the achievement of nodal objectives set out in planning documents. The historical narrative illustrates the variations in purposes assigned to nodes according to the period and the level of government involved. Nodes were once seen as ways to provide a market to a new subway system, decentralize office development, and relieve what was perceived to be an over-congested downtown, but gradually they came to be seen as agents of suburban intensification, sprawl containment, and the promotion of walking and transit use.

The historical narrative helps explain why the nodal concept has received so much attention, often at the expense of other approaches to metropolitan planning, such as transit- and pedestrian-oriented, high-density corridors. A nodal strategy is less likely to raise opposition than other approaches to metropolitan-level planning, because it minimizes reliance on coercion and the potential for NIMBYist reactions. The popularity of the concept also stems from the benefits that nodes promise for different levels of government. While Metro Toronto and the provincial government have seen nodes as instruments of metropolitan region planning, municipal administrations have seen them as symbolic centres and lures for types of employment that might not otherwise come to the municipality.

The history of nodes also brings to light problems with this type of development. There is the difficulty of coordinating planning at different levels to meet the transit and pedestrian objectives of nodes. There are also difficulties in establishing new nodes. The intense interest in nodes manifested by planning agencies and expressed in planning documents has rarely resulted in the actual development of nodes. After more than 25 years of planning nodes, only three large suburban nodes have been created in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. The fourth node -studied, Yonge-Eglinton, is smaller than the other three and is located in the inner city.

The history of nodes demonstrates a need for distinct approaches suited to the various types of nodes identified in recent documents: the traditional downtowns of self-standing cities; the traditional downtowns of cities within, or about to be absorbed by, the built perimeter of Toronto; older nodes that are the outcome of redevelopment around subway stations in the old City of Toronto;1 existing suburban mixed-use centres; and projected suburban mixed-use centres. The need for multi-faceted approaches to nodal planning is the object of the final, policy-oriented part of the report.

While Part 1 touches on the consequences of certain events on the evolution of nodes and the achievement of their planning objectives, Part 2 offers a more detailed and comprehensive assessment of their development and planning outcomes.

1. The "old" City of Toronto refers to the central municipality of a two-tier regional government (the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, or "Metro") that existed before 1998. In that year, all five municipalities in Metro were amalgamated into a new municipality also called the City of Toronto.