Why nodes?

At this point it is legitimate to ask why nodes have been given so much importance for more than 25 years in various Greater Toronto Area planning exercises. It is not that there are no other possible approaches to urban structure planning. Among alternatives widely aired in the literature are the combination of satellite communities and new towns presented in the 1929 Regional Plan of New York and Its Environs and later adopted by a number of other metropolitan regions across the world including London (and other British metropolitan regions) and Paris. (Aldridge, 1979; American Institute of Planners, 1965; Johnson, 1996; Kessler and Bodiguel, 1970; New York Committee on the Regional Plan of New York and Its Environs, 1929; Osborn, 1969; Shaffer, 1972). Since the purpose of such satellite communities was to temper growth pressures on the central built-up area, they were planned to achieve a measure of self-sufficiency. Still, they were typically connected to the core of the region by high-quality public transit systems, such as the Reseau Express Regional in the Paris region (Merlin, 1969).

Another approach consists in the coordination of growth and public transit in a way that produces linear development along transit lines. One example would be the Copenhagen "finger plan." Another version was adopted by Curitiba, Brazil, where high-density redevelopment is directed along major public transit lines (Cervero, 1998). What differentiates the satellite communities and the linear -development models from the Toronto nodal policy is that they involve an important proportion of metropolitan growth. Nodes are in comparison a form of planning intervention whose impact is far more limited.

There was a time, however, when highly ambitious metropolitan planning proposals were formulated for the Toronto region, on a par with the most advanced international examples. The Toronto Centred Region plan, tabled in 1970, proposed an elongated urban form along Lake Ontario, whose northward expansion would be contained so as to ensure compatibility between urban growth and east-west transportation infrastructure. Beyond this continuous band of urban development, growth was to be accommodated in satellite communities that would be prevented from coalescing (Ontario, 1970). Little came of this plan. Responding to pressures from municipalities and landowners north of Toronto, the Province not only failed to impose regulations preventing development from spreading beyond the plan's growth boundary, but it constructed a high-capacity sewer system to support such growth. Still, the Toronto metropolitan region presents an urban form that is dense and contiguous by North American standards, the outcome of its dependence on Lake Ontario for water and sewage, and of an approach to land use planning that discourages leapfrogging.

The emphasis on nodes as a Toronto metropolitan planning instrument can be seen as reflecting a commitment to achieve planning goals at the metropolitan scale. At the same time, however, reliance on nodes rather than on some of the more ambitious metropolitan planning strategies adopted abroad or proposed for Toronto, suggests the absence of a strong commitment to modify prevailing development tendencies. The intent of nodes was to generate within the existing urban structure focal points characterized by multi-functionality, a relatively high density, and a public transit and walking orientation. Nodes thus involve well-delimited interventions, in contrast with the comprehensive measures on which rest the more ambitious metropolitan planning initiatives.

The popularity of nodes within the Toronto region planning community may also be related to a relative ease of implementation. For one thing, the concentrated nature of nodes and the possibility of constructing them on greenfield sites minimize the potential for NIMBY reactions. Even when nodes are the outcome of redevelopment, a clear definition of their perimeter, as is the case in North York Centre, may allay the concerns of nearby residents. For another, the development of nodes did not entail restrictions on private-sector development. In Toronto, the nodal strategy relied on incentives -- advantageous accessibility, a strong public-sector presence and well-designed public spaces -- to attract private investors. Metropolitan strategies that would have affected areas larger than nodes and that would have relied more on coercion than on incentives would likely have triggered more resident and developer resistance. But as we will see in the second part of the report, the way nodes developed in Toronto is responsible for the fact that so many have not met their planning objectives.