There are different ways to increase urban density and promote public transit use and walking. One is by setting limits on the urban envelope; another is by encouraging intensification wherever there is land available within urbanized areas and where low-density uses can be redeveloped. This report focuses on approaches intended to maximize the impact of such interventions by concentrating them in strategically located areas. The choice of intensification approaches analyzed in this study -- the development of nodes and corridors and downtown revitalization -- is dictated by the strategies adopted in the Ontario Places to Grow planning exercise.
This report explores ways to promote the success of the Urban Growth Centre strategy, a major plank of Places to Grow, the Ontario government's current approach to planning the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Urban Growth Centres are intended to concentrate development in high-density, mixed-use districts, conducive to walking and public-transit use, and thereby to contribute to the overall goal of raising densities throughout the region and lessening both dependence on the automobile and the amount of land absorbed by urbanization.
The proposals in this report are grounded in a review of the evolution of the concepts of nodes and corridors in the history of planning in Toronto and its metropolitan region since the 1950s. The historical narrative exposes difficulties in implementing the concept, as demonstrated by a wide gap between the numerous nodes designated in various planning documents and the relatively small number of existing nodes.
The report's proposals are also based on an analysis of a selection of downtowns and nodes, chosen to represent the different categories of proposed UGCs, as well as of high-density public transit corridors, another plank of the Places to Grow strategy. The analysis points to a few success stories in launching nodes, attracting different types of activities to them, and achieving population growth in high-density residential developments. However, even the minority of nodes that have achieved a substantial level of development face difficulties in meeting some of their planning objectives. Among other things, the low rate of office space growth over the last 15 years impedes multi-functionality. Other difficulties stem from the way in which many suburban nodes remain oriented towards the automobile, which discourages walking and limits synergistic effects between nearby activities. Relatively low public transit use is another problem that is especially noticeable in suburban nodes and small downtowns. The planning shortcomings identified in nodes are also seen in the corridors investigated in this report.
The report is structured in three parts. Part 1 narrates the development of the concepts of nodes and corridors within the context of Toronto planning. Part 2 describes the present state of the study areas, focusing on their density, land use, travel patterns, employment, and demographic and socioeconomic features. Part 3 draws out the implications of the findings of the two previous parts of the report for the future UGC policy.
The report has two closely related purposes. One is to assess the performance of downtowns, nodes, and corridors in light of the objectives of Places to Grow. The historical material explains the circumstances responsible for the uneven development and current condition of the three categories of study areas. Lessons from the evolution and present performance of study areas inform recommended improvements to policies aiming at intensification, multi-functionality, and reduced automobile use.