York Urbanist

Archive for July, 2011

Mabelle Neighbourhood

July 29th, 2011
Urban Design

Mabelle Neighbourhood has potential.  And Prof. Arlene Gould led her group of Environmental Studies students in a charrette to show what could be done.  As I approach the Fall semester with my own students at University of Guelph, I was revved by the enthusiasm of these undergrads. 

Toronto Councilor Peter Milczyn found his way to the event despite having spent the past 27 hours in the well publicized all-nighter Executive Committee meeting. That action, in itself, expressed the importance of this neighbourhood review.

The result will be a report from the students but with the assistance of various architects, interior designers and landscape architects.  Mabelle is a high rise aging neighbourhood north of the Islington TTC subway station.  The needs included:

  • permeability of access for the residents within and to surrounding commercial and employment destinations. This included gateway identifiers and more direct access to TTC;
  • recognition of the diversity of the cultural and age demographics.  The community has been through waves of different immigrants and contains old and young alike.
  • expansion of the already successful art theming of the Islington BIA. The murals have become an attraction for the commercial neighbourhood. The residential community could introduce art into the buildings and open spaces.
  • organized open space that allows safe, secure and climate-protected places to gather.
  • funding by allowing landowners to intensify their sites in exchange for the coordinated and permeable open public spaces of the community.

The analysis by the students was excellent, buoyed by the enthusiastic support from the invited professionals.  Good experience for the community that reaps the benefits and for the students who were educated, amongst other things, in group dynamics.

Pedestrian Priority

July 28th, 2011

Might as well be....

My children have dreaded returning to the streets they call ‘suicide’ after being in small town Ontario for university for the past few years.  So, today after 3 months of no commute work, I was caused to enter the north part of Toronto and Vaughan on business.

I caught myself returning to the rut of racing from the lights and pushing the length of the amber….when a pedestrian appeared standing at a non-signalized crossing.    Much to her shock, I had recalled last year’s trip to Saint John, and I stopped to allow her to cross.  Two rubber necks from her and I was satisfied that I had brought some civility to the roads of the GTA.

zebra stripe crossing

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

July 27th, 2011

Tell me again why should I put my children in Hockey and American Football? Football players are donating their brains to science to find out why they are dying in their 60′s.  Not surprisingly, in the Globe & Mail today, it was reported that two of four of those brains had “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease that can cause erratic behaviour, depression and lead to dementia”. Call me a woose, but the curling, tennis, badminton and volleyball seemed to have worked out well for my children. (photo from http://www.blackmanlegal.com/blog/2010/california-brain-injury-lawyers-virtual-biopsy-could-detect-cte/)

Toronto Tree Bylaw – Is the Law an Ass?

July 26th, 2011

A tree-hugging friend’s tree split and fell on fences and a garage overnight.  He called me, because I am a landscape architect, but he also called the City.  The tree, a Norway Maple, is structurally unsound and he wanted to pay $3000 to remove the whole (15m high) plant.  The tree removal company would only remove the half that had broken because the bylaw says that you need a permit to remove any tree over 30cm diameter of trunk.  Each of the two branches of the split trunk was just over 30cm.  If the half of the tree that was broken is removed, it leaves the other half angling about 90 degrees and overhanging two houses and a shed.  This apparent risk is worrisome for the two homeowners and yet the city says that the tree owner would be charged if he removes the remainder of the tree without having a City forester review it.

First, Norway Maple is considered an invasive tree in Toronto.  Second, the owner wants to replace the tree and is willing to plant a native tree. Third, who is responsible if a gust blows the remaining tree onto a roof within the time between the owner’s notification to the City and the City’s appearance on site? Fourth, the City would not accept the review of a landscape architect, stating that they require a certified arborist.

In this case, “the law is an ass”. The law assumes indolence of its citizenry.  The law assumes that tree removal companies will not consider the environment. The law also assumes that only one sector of the horticultural industry, a certified arborist, is knowledgeable enough to understand plant life. With approval of neighbours, and with the good research/advice the owner sought, this could have been resolved over coffee and Toronto would have saved some of the “Gravy” so often referred to in the Ford administration.  I respect that we need to protect Toronto, The Green.  But can logic ever be engrained in our bylaws?


July 22nd, 2011
Urban Places to Delight

Where? Main Street and Carlton Drive between Station Lane and Toogood Pond

What? At the north end are activities of arts and culture at the art gallery and arenas.  Then the refreshing Toogood pond and its trails create a green bookend to the mostly commercial Main Street.

Why? Unionville was made into what it is today by Firehall Sports and the boomers to which it appealed. Heavily marketed the sports store brought patrons to Unionville, and which in course attracted many me-too shops. This spark also encouraged reinvestment by shop owners and the municipality.

How is this an Urban Place to Delight? Culture of the Varley Art Gallery is the node that connects the greenness of the pond park with the quaint commercial village atmosphere. Vital and beautiful, the village does not appeal to the commuter driver. There is ample parking, but the tough part is getting your car to the parking.  This is a slight to the driver and a benefit to the pedestrian and tourist who rule Main Street.  Green surrounds the visitor in Unionville with tree backdrops to the stores and Toogood Pond’s variably pastoral and treed surroundings.  Much in the commercial district is overpriced for the work-a-day, but at night the space remains energetic with restaurant goers and evening walkers. The space is ideal for the seasonal events held annually. Flowers in summer and seasonal lighting at other times help make this urban place one most talked about and used as comparisons for other wannabee commercial districts. This Urban Place makes no demands on visitors/users and does not differentiate between the demographic divides.  In this way, the Unionville Village teamed with Toogood Pond and Varley Art Gallery is the favoured Urban Place to Delight in York Region.

This concludes Urban Places to Delight in York Region, watch for the worst places coming up in two weeks. This will be followed by Iconic Buildings of York Region.

Previous Urban Places to Delight

8 Magna Headquarters and Golf Course, Aurora

7 ROC Park, Georgina

6 Disera Street commercial neighbourhood, Vaughan

5 Tom Taylor Trail, Newmarket

4 Holland Marsh, King Township

3 Kortright Centre, Vaughan

2 King Campus, Seneca College


July 21st, 2011
Healthy Communities, Urban Places to Delight

Where? North west of Sideroad 15 and Dufferin Street in King Township

What? This former estate of the fabled Eaton family has become a multi-use facility, primarily a Seneca College campus.

Why? It would be difficult for a visitor to determine if this is a college or a resort.  But, this is a venue for the ages.  Colleges are growing at unprecedented rates, despite rising tuition rates.  Colleges are also recession proof, providing sanctuary for the unemployed to upgrade their skills.  But King Campus is more than that.  The college median age is early twenties, but the summer brings camps for kids and the location has evening and weekend courses that attract all ages.

How is this an Urban Place to Delight? This out of the city experience provides acres for diverse courses such as landscape, motorcycle riding and diving.  Weddings and elegant events fit well in a setting that is idyllic for calming the daily stress of student life, winter and summer. Like Kortright Centre, King Campus is an educational place, only more diverse in its offerings. The location is a community of students and visitors.  The unfortunate parking is the only downfall of the otherwise beautiful campus.  And unfortunately, like most of York north of Major Mackenzie, you require a car.  With $43m announced spending from the Province of Ontario, the hope will be that it will be spent on sustainable systems.

Previous Urban Places to Delight

8 Magna Headquarters and Golf Course, Aurora

7 ROC Park, Georgina

6 Disera Street commercial neighbourhood, Vaughan

5 Tom Taylor Trail, Newmarket

4 Holland Marsh, King Township

3 Kortright Centre, Vaughan

***Tomorrow, the number one Urban Place to Delight provides for all ages an education, recreation and accessibility.


July 20th, 2011
Healthy Communities, Recreation, Urban Places to Delight

Where? South west of Major Mackenzie Drive and Pine Valley Drive, Vaughan

What? Owned by the TRCA, this is an educational environment that attracts all ages.  The website is excellent www.kortright.org.  It expresses the essence of the property in three pictures: children at camp; senior men at environmental training; and a wedding event.  This is a commercial use that helps to fund TRCA and to express its very essence – that of conservation and the environment.

Why? The centre engages the community, no make that communities.  Residents of Vaughan supplement the volunteers that flock to the site to demonstrate old tyme maple syrup harvesting and kite flying to solar power demonstrations.  Trails connect the site to the East Humber River Valley where a story is told if not by one of the volunteers, then by nature itself.

Rehan Latif photostream

How is this an Urban Place to Delight? The visitor demographic crosses the board (135,000 of them).  This is nature for all people regardless of age.  It is handicap accessible and continues to evolve with the times.  It is programmed for everyone who has an interest in nature and the environment.  Walking shoes are a must, even though you could just visit their building to learn.  This inexpensive visit is lost on those who have a penchant for shopping, although there is a little of that.  The only concern is if word gets out about the wonders of Kortright, sustainability, their watchword, will be tasked.

Previous Urban Places to Delight

8 Magna Headquarters and Golf Course, Aurora

7 ROC Park, Georgina

6 Disera Street commercial neighbourhood, Vaughan

5 Tom Taylor Trail, Newmarket

4 Holland Marsh, King Township


July 19th, 2011
Urban Places to Delight

Where? On the flats east and west of Highway 400 north of Highway 9

What? The Holland Marsh is a wetland and agricultural area and it lies entirely within the Holland River, that follows the north edge of the Oak Ridges Moraine near Schomberg to the river mouth at Cook’s Bay, Lake Simcoe. At about 8,000 hectares, historically it has simply been referred to as “the marsh”. 40% of the reclaimed farmland is in King Township (York Region).

Portions of this area have been privately reclaimed for farming, such as the Ravenshoe Road and area, and portions are recreational or undisturbed wetland, such as the adjacent Cook’s Bay area.

Why? The 8000 ha is an engineered plain with canals to properly drain. The area has an evocative history. It was one of the reasons for the Toronto Carrying Place Trail that was the initial route for the Huron Indians. In the 1800’s, the reeds of the marsh were used for a mattress company. In 1930, the canals afforded the land to become farms, and today is the vegetable garden of Ontario. Hurricane Hazel, an event that shaped York Region and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority, impacted and destroyed dykes that controlled water flow. At one point, Highway 400 was under 5 feet of water.

How is this an Urban Place to Delight?

Today, travel on Highway 400 or Highway 9 and the waft of onion or other vegetables is strong in the air. The distinctive black soils, we are told will become over cropped, so we should enjoy the broad vistas of black soils while we can. Visit market gardens along Highway 9 and revel in the mix of farm machines paralleling the highways. And travel Hwy 400 in the winter and watch weather change within the 1000m through the valley. This dynamic is one of the few highlights of travelling our central highway.

Previous Urban Places to Delight

8 Magna Headquarters and Golf Course, Aurora

7 ROC Park, Georgina

6 Disera Street commercial neighbourhood, Vaughan

5 Tom Taylor Trail, Newmarket


July 18th, 2011
Pedestrianization, Trails, Urban Design, Urban Places to Delight

Where? Along the Holland River north to south through Newmarket

What? The Trail is a connecting link for the key elements of the town along the river. This trail is one of discovery. For history buffs, it skirts a canal whose locks led to the downfall of a Canadian government. For cultural lovers, it becomes an event place, outdoor theatre and annual fests, connected to the downtown around Fairy Lake. 

Why? Tom Taylor refused to leave office until it was completed from south to north. The former Holland River Trail was named in his honour and it continues to be the spine of the trails system of Newmarket.

How is it an Urban Place to Delight? This pedestrian spine is for pedestrians, what Highway 400 is for drivers – a thoroughfare along which one can venture through the entire town or casually flirt with the waters of the Holland River. This is an urban trail with little to immerse one with nature, but there is enough tree cover to provide a safe and cool environment. The cultural centre of the town is Fairy Lake where Stratford meets craft shows.  And people come to meet. Unlike other cities and towns, you can get to the centre of town by bike or by foot, if you live near the spine. The rest of the Town is not as advantaged, as the east to west corridors have yet to develop without a natural passage to follow. The Tom Taylor Trail is Newmarket’s playground and a valid reason for locating in the Town of Newmarket.

Previous Urban Places to Delight

8 Magna Headquarters and Golf Course, Aurora

7 ROC Park, Georgina

6  Disera Street commercial neighbourhood, Vaughan


July 14th, 2011
Pedestrianization, Uncategorized, Urban Design, Urban Places to Delight
Where? Across Centre Street from the Promenade Mall, Vaughan

Street and pedestrian related building facades

What? Seemingly brand new, this shopping district combines residential with commercial in the old fashioned and workable way.  It puts to shame the shops that occupy The Promenade, but must lend credit to The Promenade for starting the ball rolling at Bathurst and Centre.
Why? Urban designers in the City of Vaughan talked with the developers and their designers.  This was a consensual development agreement that no doubt rattled between the aesthetics desired by staff, the pressure of the developer on Vaughan Council and the technical and philosophical ethics of the consultants. The result is good and made better by its juxtaposition with the Promenade behemoth of the 1980’s view of the commercial world.
How is it an Urban Place to Delight? One may stop short term to frequent the coffee/bagel shops and the traffic is slow through a short street reminiscent of Unionville with its curvature.  In a sunny afternoon, the street closest to Centre is abuzz with activity.  It is evidently ethnic, but friendly to all.  The street benefits from the high density of residential developing in the community.  This street is a pleasant oasis of openness, yet protected from the buildings and streets by planter walls and carefully designed building façades.

A place to meet and greet

This modern day rival to malls appears successful when you look at the number of places that are trying to replicate its architectural vernacular. It seems almost artificial in its clean lines. planters and signage.  The wear of ages will tell whether that cleanliness turns to a ravishing patina or a worn out 2000’s idea.