Corridors: an overlooked element

In the 1990s' fervour for metropolitan-scale planning, corridors remained very much in the shadow of nodes as instruments of urban structure planning.As the schematic maps included in the OGTA documents demonstrated, the role of corridors was relegated to that of loosely defined links between nodes (OGTA, 1991; 1992). Planning documents of the 1990s and early 2000s alluded occasionally to corridors. But in a fashion that recalls that of the OGTA documents, the concept remained underdeveloped. In the words of the 1997 Canadian Urban Institute report:

Although there has been some interesting work to date, this is limited in scope and it appears that how corridors will function and be marketed needs to be considered more thoroughly with regard to the wide variety of circumstances under which these could develop across the GTA (Miller, Emeneau and Farrow, 1997: 4).

Corridors were seen as a desirable, but insufficiently understood, accompaniment to the nodal strategy.

The Main Streets and Avenues strategies

One exception to the underdevelopment of the corridor concept is the "Main Street" strategy, later relabelled, with some modifications, as the "Avenues" strategy, adopted by the old City of Toronto, Metro Toronto, and the new City of Toronto (Gilbert, 1990; 1993). This strategy encouraged the redevelopment of car-oriented, low-density (one- and two-storey) commercial strips into medium-rise environments conducive to walking and transit use. Main Streets were to be bordered by six- to eight-storey residential buildings providing continuous retailing facades on the ground floor. They would also feature greatly enhanced public transit services and pedestrian-hospitable environments. The Main Street strategy was a key component of the 1994 Metro Toronto official plan (Metro Toronto, 1994).

A decade later, the same approach, renamed the "Avenues," was presented as a mainstay of a broader strategy intended to absorb much of the GTA's anticipated demographic and economic growth within the City of Toronto. The City of Toronto's 2002 official plan calls for a minimum of 20 per cent of the GTA's residential expansion (at least 537,000 additional residents by 2031), and 30 per cent of new GTA jobs (544,000 more jobs by 2031) to be directed to the city (Toronto, 2002: 7). Redeveloped Avenues, along with nodes and brownfields, are to absorb most of this residential and employment growth.

The Main Street and Avenues policies ran into difficulties that account for their very limited implementation. One was the problem of accommodating parking within the proposed narrow mid-rise structures. Attempts were made to reduce the parking-per-unit allowance on the grounds that people choosing to reside in this type of environment would be less likely to own cars. But the City, responding to pressures from its traffic department, turned down the request (Farncombe, 1993). Another obstacle was limited enthusiasm on the part of developers to build mid-rise buildings. Developers prefer to build high-rises, for once the land is purchased and the construction equipment is in place, adding extra floors is relatively inexpensive. This issue is still an object of investigation.3 And finally, and perhaps most significantly, residents of surrounding neighbourhoods opposed increases in the density of arterials for fear of worsening traffic congestion and parking problems on surrounding residential streets. Opposition was particularly sharp when proposals were made to allow high-rise structures on arterials (Barber, 1993).

If the Main Street and Avenues policies have proven difficult to launch in suburban areas of the City of Toronto (at present there is little evidence of Main Street- or Avenues-inspired redevelopment along suburban arterials), some Avenues are taking shape at the edges of downtown Toronto. An outcome of the post-2000 condominium boom, major streets once lined with parking lots and poorly maintained low-rise structures are now bordered with new residential buildings, often with retail at the street level. Most of these buildings, however, are much higher than the six to eight floors specified by the Main Street and Avenues policies.

3. The City of Toronto Planning Division in association with the Canadian Urban Institute organized a symposium on mid-rise development along the Avenues in late November 2005 (Toronto, 2005).