Planning coordination and capacity issues

The account of the evolution of nodal policies shows that to modify travel behaviour, nodes must be planned in a fashion that is coherent at three levels:

* the macro level, which pertains to their sought-after impact at a metropolitan scale;

* the meso level, which concerns the relationships between nodes and their environment (the city in which they are located, their catchment area, and nearby neighbourhoods);

* the micro level, which means their layout and design and the spatial interconnections between their activities.

Given the current attention paid to transportation goals -- the need to promote transit use, cycling and walking, and ensure shorter journeys -- at the macro scale, we could expect that at a meso scale, equal attention would be paid to the quality of walking, cycling, and public transit connections with the catchment area of a node, and at the micro scale to the creation within nodes of an environment that is stimulating to pedestrians and that ensures that they can easily reach all activities.

Table 1 summarizes the historical narrative and shows how different levels of government are responsible for the formulation of policies at different scales. Table 2 shows the evolution of institutional structures over time. Local governments have been for the most part responsible for the adoption of micro- and meso-scale objectives, whereas Metro Toronto and, more recently, the provincial government have largely defined macro-scale goals. This situation accounts for the uneven attention paid to the different scales. For example, since the provincial government has recently driven the planning agenda at the scale of the GGH, attention has focused on metropolitan-wide purposes and features of nodes. The meso- and micro-scale dimensions of nodes have received little consideration by comparison. At other times, the focus was on the meso rather than the macro scale; for example, when Mississauga adopted its city centre policy, the objective was to provide a centre for the city, not to contribute to an overall form of metropolitan development.

The most damaging consequences of inter-scalar coordination problems have arisen when planning taking place at one scale has been inconsistent with the goals formulated at another scale. This was notably the case with the Scarborough Town Centre and Mississauga City Centre, whose largely automobile-oriented environments contradict the function of nodes propounded by Metro Toronto, the OGTA, and present Provincial planning initiatives.

Even more serious than coordination problems is the difficulty of bringing planned nodes into existence. Despite 25 years of planning for nodes and the identification of 47 potential nodes in GTA planning documents, only three large suburban mixed-use nodes have been created. Other than Markham Centre, whose core is now under development thirteen years after planning for it began, no new large suburban node has emerged since the 1980s.

This observation suggests that the favourable conditions for nodal development that were present in the 1980s -- the availability of sites close to rail-based transit and interest on the part of office developers in such sites -- have waned. Nevertheless, planning interest at all levels of government in this form of development has remained as intense as ever. In consequence, over the last 15 years, the gap between node-related planning proposals and prevailing development patterns has only widened.

Table 1: The evolution of the nodal concept in the Greater Toronto Area

Planning exercise


Macro scale: impacts at the metropolitan level

Meso scale: relation to

the municipality in which

the node is located, to

catchment areas and

surrounding neighbourhoods

Micro scale: layout and

design of the node



Juxtaposition of

high-density residential

developments and retail

areas in the suburbs

From the late 1950s onwards

No concern for macro scale issues

Provide a market for

close-by stores;

convenience for apartment

dwellers; reduce

reliance on the car locally

Little consideration for design;

poor integration of

residential and retail areas

apart from some pathways

Major influence on the form

of suburban development

in the Toronto metropolitan

region; ensures a mixture

of residential densities

Centres of master

planned communities

From the late 1950s to 1970s

No concern for macro scale issues

At the top of planned

retail hierarchy; help

structure master

planned communities

Pathway connections;

but large surface parking

lots around shopping malls

Centres still in existence

and functional today:

Don Mills, Bramalea,

Erin Mills, Meadowvale

High-density mixed-use

developments around

subway stations

1960s onwards

Favour subway use

Little concern for

meso scale, i.e. relation

with surrounding


Inserted within the existing

grid; mixture of street

orientation and landscaped


Two such centres have

developed at a high density

and adopted a mixed-use pattern:

Yonge-St. Clair and


MTARTS (Metropolitan

Toronto and Region

Transportation Study)

Subregional Centres


Defined as a metropolitan planning

tool; decentralization of services

meant to reduce the need for transportation

Reduction of need for

transportation is based on

the relation between

subregional centres

and their catchment areas

(portions of the

metropolitan region)

No consideration of the design

of subregional centres or

of the integration of

activities within them

Proposals had little influence

on urban development,

except perhaps as an

inspiration for further plans

The Metro Toronto Plan

for the Urban Structure,

and Mississauga

City Centre

Scarborough Official Plan

amendment designates

town centre


Little expression of macro-scale concerns

Centre for the municipality

Multi-functionality but no

housing; automobile


Attracts mall, offices and

public-sector activities

North York Council

approves the concept

of centre along

Yonge Street


Little expression of macro-scale concerns

Centre for the municipality

Multi-functional including

housing. Doubts about the

possibility of achieving

pedestrian orientation

Attracts public and

private offices,

housing and some retailing

The Metro Toronto

Sub-centre policy: Identifies

two major centres

(North York Centre and

Scarborough Town Centre)

and four intermediate

centres (Eglinton, St. Clair, Islington/Kipling, Kennedy)

1980 onwards

Metropolitan goals: prevent

over-concentration of downtown

Toronto jobs and proliferation of

auto-oriented suburban office parks;

structure suburban areas;

provide transit hubs

Little concern for meso scale,

i.e. relation with surrounding


Sub-centres defined as

compact and


but little attention paid

to their actual layout

and design

Two major sub-centres

take off; two intermediate

sub-centres were already

developed; and

the two other intermediate

sub-centres experience

limited growth

City of Mississauga

reports and

official plan:

proposal of a

Mississauga city centre

1976-1981 onwards

Little expression of macro-scale concern

Key element of a strategy

to become a complete city;

attract high-order jobs

and become civic, commercial

and cultural centre for the city;

contribute to encouraging

transit use

Little concern expressed

about layout and design

Successful in attracting activities

IBI Group/OGTA (Office

for the Greater

Toronto Area)

Introduction of the term

"nodes"; identify 29

actual or possible

nodes identified

1990-1992 onwards

No longer concern about

downtown Toronto congestion;

sustainable development

perspective; limit sprawl;

shorter journeys; encourage

transit use and walking

Little concern for relation to

surrounding areas and

catchment areas

Little attention paid to

layout and design, apart

from the mention that

nodes must be transit-

and pedestrian-oriented

Enthusiasm on the part of regional

and municipal planning agencies for

nodes; by 1997, 47 nodes are identified

in official plans within the GTA,

but relatively few of them materialize;

all regional plans give predominance

to the creation of nodes

Local plans for nodes

with a design emphasis

North York Centre,

Mississauga City

Centre, Markham

Central Area

Planning District

All three plans date from 1994

Little concern for the macro

scale on the part of

these documents

Little concern for the

meso scale, except for

measures taken by

North York to prevent

encroachment on

surrounding neighbourhoods

Street orientation;

retail facades lining

sidewalks; do away

with surface parking

North York Centre achieves

street orientation objectives

largely because it consists of

a redevelopment within an

existing street network; little

evidence of street orientation in

Mississauga Centre; Markham City

Centre still has to be launched

Smart Growth and

Places to Grow

Between 24 and

26 nodes; renamed

UGCs (Urban Growth

Centres); include traditional downtowns and existing or planned suburban mixed-use centres


Part of smart growth strategy;

reduce sprawl by accommodating

a share of the growth to be

directed towards the built-up area;

reduce trip length and

encourage walking, cycling and transit ridership, thus

reducing congestion; hubs for public transit systems

Acknowledges the

existence of different

types of UGCs; little in terms of meso-scale planning at this time

Acknowledges the

existence of different

types of UGCs;

little in terms of micro-scale planning at this time

Planning process still in progress