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FORUM (MARCH 2017): Build a neighbourhood

March 22nd, 2017 · No Comments

Not just buildings

By Joe Cressy

If you’ve ever made your way to a development meeting in Ward 20, you’ve heard me talk about the need to build community as we grow and change. With almost one quarter of all proposed development in the entire city occurring in our ward, we’d be leading ourselves astray without this focus. This has been my primary focus in the review of the Mirvish Village redevelopment proposal, which continues to evolve after three iterations.

How a building relates to our neighbourhoods is at the heart of how we can protect our communities and manage development

Feedback from our neighbourhood stakeholders has identified the need for increased greenspace, the retention of heritage buildings, the preservation of the character and uniqueness of Markham Street, a diverse and locally focused retail strategy, and much more.

What happens on the Mirvish site will define our neighbourhood for the next 100 years, so it’s critical that we get it right. Let’s ask a few key questions: are we building a neighbourhood or just building buildings? Are we protecting the other corners, and Bloor Street as a whole, from negative precedents? Are we establishing a model for future development proposals in our city?

What makes a new development a neighbourhood? As we see growth in our neighbourhoods, ensuring that this growth contributes to the vibrancy and livability of our community is key — that means community spaces, community services, parks, and more. The first Mirvish Village proposal — despite plans for a new daycare and innovative green energy technology — fell much too short. Since then we’ve worked collectively and seen critical revisions: the plan now includes a new park on the west side of Markham Street, with a significantly enhanced tree canopy on it and adjacent streets. It will also include the development of an amenity space plan to ensure we’re planning for families.

Affordability is central to livability. For far too many the cost of housing has made our community impossible to live in. To that end, my colleague Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) and I are focused on achieving a significant measure of affordable housing in this project. We remain committed to this, and will bring city resources to the table to ensure we can build an affordable community.

Much of development is about precedent; with the Ontario Municipal Board looming large over our local planning decisions, we are acutely aware of the need to protect against negative precedent at the other corners of Bloor and Bathurst streets, and along the rest of Bloor Street. How a building relates to our neighbourhoods is at the heart of how we can protect our communities and manage development.

There have been changes to the height of many of the buildings in the third iteration, but at a peak height of 28 storeys, we still need to see more change — not just to sustain of our Bloor and Bathurst street neighbourhoods and infrastructure, but to protect the rest of Bloor Street as well.

Just as we seek to protect against bad precedent, building a model for future development — establishing positive precedents — is also critical. Significant heritage retention on the site, a focus on affordable housing, building in parks and green space, childcare and diverse uses, and a focus on sustainability overall — these are some of the ways we have worked together to set an example for those who might tell us they can’t. To those developers with large sites who say they can’t provide a park or the services our communities rely on, we say you can, and you must.

I believe that communities have a right to say no when things may harm our neighbourhoods. But, we also have a responsibility to say yes to things that will improve our neighbourhoods. Are we finished with the Mirvish Village proposal? No — we’re not there yet. More changes are needed. But, this multi-year development process should serve as an example to all.

We’ve seen our residents’ associations get engaged and lead this process through three years of work. We’ve had hundreds of our neighbours come to public meetings to voice support and concerns to help shape the project. We’ve seen a developer that’s engaged in this process, working with us and responding to concerns. And, we’ve seen the unparalleled commitment of our city staff to achieve one of the highest levels of engagement and attention in recent memory.

Listen, change is hard. When it comes to development in our own backyard, it’s also deeply personal. I get it. Bathurst and Bloor streets is my home too. So, after three years of work, let’s roll up our sleeves, push for a few more critical changes, and build a new neighbourhood for all.

Joe Cressy is the councillor for Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina.

 

READ MORE ABOUT WESTBANK DEVELOPMENT:

NEWS: Westbank presents latest proposal (March 2017)

NEWS: Height, density still top concerns (July 2016)

NEWS: Westbank submits revised application (June 2016)

DEVELOPINGS: Annual review reflects tension between community activism and OMB (March 2016)

Westbank towers over 4 Corners (January 2016)

City hosts first Mirvish Village community consultation (November 2015)

Residents’ associations share concerns for Mirvish Village (October 2015)

Westbank submits application (August 2015)

BABIA endorses Westbank proposal (July 2015)

How do you make it real? (April 2015)

 

READ MORE BY JOE CRESSY

FORUM: Conserving past to enrich future (January 2017)

FORUM: Our dynamic Kensington Market (November 2016)

FORUM: A new central park for Toronto (September 2016)

 

Tags: Annex · Columns