York Urbanist

Archive for October, 2011


October 31st, 2011
Urban Places to Detest

terminus of 427 at Zenway, not a pretty sight

Where? North of Toronto west of Highway 50.

What? An as yet incomplete limited access highway, the planning of which determines the future land uses of the west part of the Region of York.  It also freezes thousands of acres of land and puts its use in limbo until an elongated planning process is complete.  Where a normal regional road is 20 to 30m wide, this corridor varies from 60 to 100m wide (at interchanges), equal to 75 hectares per kilometre.

Why? Let us first identify the lands in question as farm lands, estimating a yield (corn) of 7.800 tonnes per hectare. Farms feed cities.  When farms are located farther from cities, the cost of transportation increases. http://www.nationmaster.com/red/country/ca-canada/agr-agriculture&all=1 Consider that more than fifty percent of the highway is not pavement. In Europe, where land is at a premium, width of right-of-way is a consideration.  “The general philosophy for highway design and project development is to develop a transportation program and system that enhances community values and integrates roadways into communities and the environment.” http://international.fhwa.dot.gov/pdfs/geometric_design.pdf

And what of the highway post-conception. York Region has experienced the finality of highway corridors with 400, 404, and 407.  Politically, the future 427 will severe the southwest corner of the Region and make it more an integral part of Peel Region. The physical impassability of the right-of-way will create another Highway 400 moving real community development off the agenda. Environmentally, any wildlife crossings that existed or were possible will have been dashed. And what of pedestrianization and cycling?

How is this an Urban Place to Detest?

The province is about to replicate its follies of the past. With no regard to melding the highway into the urban fabric, the highway is being designed in isolation within the powerful block called MTO. The public are made aware of the progress, but they daren’t express objections.  Three years ago, traffic pressure at the terminus of 427 was released at Highway 7 and placed on the Zenway. The EA is complete on the most recent extension to Major Mackenzie Drive.  Until now, Major Mackenzie has been a rural route with no municipal services. Former farms are obliterated and a way of life changes for many.  No firm decision is yet to come down on the future past Major Mackenzie. However, the Liberals have reconsidered the merits of extensions to Highway 9 through conservation lands and rethought the corridor. The latest thinking is that it now exits York Region near Major Mackenzie and connects Guelph to York Region.

What could be the future?

A progressive design approach would be to look at the rural space through which 427 will pass and imagine an urban space with people and environment integrated in a community serviced by the highway.  The EA report does not address a generous crossing for the future of the City.  The lands have been frozen and will be limited to uses compliant to the noise generated by 427 and by the impassability of the future.  An open-minded vision is required, a quality of which appears to be lacking in provincial government.


October 27th, 2011
Urban Places to Detest

Where? From north to south boundary of York Region

What? As necessary as this transportation artery is to move goods, this road out of Toronto to cottage country is a blemish and a barrier of pavements and grade cuts, only occasionally interrupted by a crossing – the definition of a limited access highway.  The barrier creates:

Woodbridge 1951

Pedestrian impassability

  • Dangers for cycling
  • Separation of wildlife
  • Civic discontinuity
  • Intensification of wind and solar radiation exposure
  • Pollution

Why? It is understood that cities need transportation systems and limited access highways assist in free movement to and from urban areas.  This is the reason that, in Toronto, they built the now abhorred Gardiner Expressway.  Highway 400 serves the Region while providing also a means by which travelers can bypass the Region of York altogether.

How is this an urban place to detest?

HIGHWAY 400 from the labouring incline from the Holland Marsh, to the mind-crippling interchange with Highway 407, this freeway, sometimes called a parking lot, severs the City of Vaughan and Township of King. Only the occasional crossing will ever allow a cyclist, let alone a pedestrian cross this abyss of asphalt. This city connector preceded the twinkling of a city (Vaughan) that emerged north of Toronto. But its existence precludes a distinct city.  Like the Vatican in Rome, it is a state of its own, with the curmudgeonly legal jurisdiction from the province.  And there is rampant civil disobedience by its ‘citizens’ – noise, speeding, and flagrant violation of the rules that bind it. In a quote from Wikipedia “The 400/407 junction is the only four-level stack interchange in Ontario.”  And this is something for York Region to be proud?

What Could be the Future?

ARC, the International Wildlife Crossing Infrastructure Design Competition in 2010 selected a winning submission for a wildlife crossing for Alberta. Imagine a similar consideration for York Region, translating a crossing into a park.


October 25th, 2011
Urban Places to Detest

Where? Confluence of Highways 7, 407 and 400, Vaughan

What? An asphalt chasm, that emulates the roads by which one accesses the sites, surrounds the Colossus spaceship and the non-distinct AMC architectural form.

Why? Responding to demand for theatre in the suburbs of Vaughan, Colossus and AMC emerged just before the plummeting fortunes of the movie theatre industry.  In 1999, single theatres did not satisfy the demand for options in the selection of theatre genres and 30-plexes could attract people to B-movies. This bastion of urban sprawl epitomizes Vaughan desperation to attract business at any cost. And for that the City of Vaughan gave an urban design award of distinction? Why?

How is this an Urban Place to Detest? As Vaughan becomes more sophisticated, the City will avoid the non-sustainable and unvisioned planning of the past.  These two sites are the gateway to the City and to York Region.  Pride is not evoked from the blast of light that, at night, thumbs a nose at the “Dark Skies” initiative of most of the rest of the province. The buildings set far away from the volumes of traffic on adjoining highways can be seen garishly promoting sometimes uglier films inside. The roads surrounding the sites are impassable by those on foot and nary a cycle in sight.  There is no need for bicycle parking within walking distance of the buildings.  Yet another overpass of 400 has been recently constructed north of and parallel to Highway 7.  More asphalt and concrete and less pedestrianization.

What is the future? Vaughan’s mandate is to create a civic commercial centre…with good cause.  Even the most ardent car driver avoids the district because of the complexity of travel to and from.  The economics of staying the current course are not sustainable, nor is the living.  A visit to the theatre finds areas cordoned from the potential customers.  Rethinking the district is imperative.  Mixing uses and creating liveability must be watchwords.


October 21st, 2011
Urban Places to Detest

Where? Markham, east of Highway 404, north of Sixteenth Avenue

What? This landmark is a draw as any traveler on Highway 404 will tell you. It is a church of epic proportions, whose style to the uninitiated seems styled on Russian church architecture. What disappointment the traveler experiences if diverted to Woodbine Avenue from their intended course.  The building is boarded and apparently in need of interior repairs, but to whose advantage. 

Why? It is a beautiful architectural style without a tenant. A whole community is growing up around it, with a demographic that transcends the needs for this Catholic Church.  The vacant land is a travesty of suburban sprawl. Little of the site ingratiates the visitor.

How is this an Urban Place to Detest? This monument to excess is reminiscent of the Cathedral de Chartres in France. Blessed by Pope John Paul II, this golden domed edifice remains unoccupied and chainlink fenced.  Will this become a town-owned property with ball fields and picnic pavilions?  Or will a new denomination replace the golden turrets with icons of another faith?  Time will tell.

Mark Inglis in the News

October 21st, 2011

Click here for the York Region article


October 17th, 2011
Urban Places to Detest

Where? Highway 7 and Leslie Street intersection shared by Richmond Hill and Thornhill, Markham

What? A melee of traffic whose design parameters can only be described as ‘unexpected’

Why? The development of Markham’s Commerce Valley Business Park added significant traffic volumes to the already busy Beaver Creek Industrial development in Richmond Hill.  And Commerce Valley is only half built to date!  The response recently was to increase lanes of traffic by another two on Highway 7.
The chaos created by road construction will wilt in comparison to what future traffic demands will cause.  Add to this the high density residential development of Leitchcroft (which on its own works well).  Despite the proximity of residence to place of work, the residents still jump in the car for their daily commute!

How is this an Urban Place to Detest? It is very difficult to take a good picture of the district.  Certainly any taken with a pedestrian will be unique.  The ped is likely to be obscured by construction equipment or vehicles.  Running shoes are recommended for crossings.  The left turn lights, anxious drivers, service vehicles and plethora of signage make this a confusing, if vibrant, intersection. This remains the penultimate suburbia.

The Alternative?
Rethink the direction of development planning.  The established rules of lots, sideyards and building heights should be abandoned. Thecities/towns need now to integrate building to building guidelines to make this a complex of business, each entity integrated with another.  A residential component would be appropriate in the coming age of $2 a litre gas. Transit requires an overhaul. If this is one of York’s downtowns, then a vision would include dedicated transit connecting other downtowns of York Region.



October 14th, 2011
Urban Places to Detest

Where?  Highway 7 between Keele and Jane Streets, Rutherford and Highway 7.

What? An uncountable number of rails that pierce the urban fabric of the City of Vaughan, in a way looking like the heart
of the city, MacMillan is proud to say this is the largest in Canada.

Why? It is critical to a city to have a vibrant transportation system.  Rail is our heritage, and apparently our future. Built when Vaughan did not matter, a mere urban fringe, the CN could find land inexpensively for its expansive marshalling space in the 1950’s.

How is this an Urban Place to Detest? But Vaughan did grow.  And the need for rail delivery did continue.  The clash leaves  a hole in the urban fabric, fragmenting a street grid created by Lord Simcoe and leaving a significant blight on the landscape of the City.  Its existence required the construction of the bleak Highway 7 overpass. Appropriately, it led to the industrial development of Concord. Both rail yard and industry are the economic engines of the city, but could it have been more integral?  Could someone with vision have anticipated the rail yard’s blemish and planned for its physical, visual and functional presence?   Vaughan so loves the rail that the corner of Rutherford and Highway 50 is emulating the space, but in not so bleak a fashion.

How could it fit? A rail afficianado would revel at the opportunity to see the bevy of locomotives.  If only the public had a venue at which to watch the trains marshall.


October 12th, 2011
Urban Places to Detest

Where? Highway 400 and Major Mackenzie Drive, Vaughan

What? Wonderland was engulfed by a growing Vaughan residential suburbia.

Why? Developed in the early 1980’s, this theme park was on the urban fringes of a City, no Town that needed
revenues. Historically on its own, the land now has higher and better uses.

How is this an Urban Place to Detest? Canada’s Wonderland is now a wasteland of parking has little use but as a winter storage area for new cars. During the active summer months, entrances have been reduced to two, making traffic

Not sure if this is an angry motorist traveling on Jane Street or a roller coaster rider.

intolerable for commuters who frequent the area. Unused for 6 months of the year, this former urban fringe use has long outlived its urban purpose.  Add Vaughan Mills Centre and you have one of the best reasons to pass in your car on Highway 400.

Urban Places to Detest – the bottom 8

October 7th, 2011

Today begins a list counting down the worst public spaces in York Region. Every two working days will be a new and interesting, perhaps provocative, take on what is the worst about the region. This follows on the 8 best urban places. You can review those blogs from the summer by going to Blogs at the top of the front page.


October 7th, 2011
Urban Places to Detest

Where? Woodbine Avenue, North of Ravenshoe Road – the NEW’ KESWICK

What? This Multilane thoroughfare will, in ten years, become part of the urban fabric as Keswick leapfrogs the road.

Why? Woodbine Avenue is the vanilla of all that was bad about urban planning. With broad lanes, traffic is compelled to exceed the speed limits imposed. Who would not travel quickly through this space? The detestable, uncreative architecture and fences ask that we look elsewhere. Add to that the ubiquitous Tim Horton’s vernacular and a concreted skate park and you have a fabricated, unplanned circus, not a Cirque de Soleil vision.

How is this an Urban Place to Detest? Town of Georgina is repeating the mistakes of the past with subdivisions divided by noise walls from regional roads, and dotted with suburban strip malls severed from the community. The designs are compelled more by engineering and operations directives than by creative planning. A more attractive street that slows its traffic by rote could compel the drivers to turn into Keswick rather than bypassing it. Where is the economic development team? Where are the visionaries in politics?

From this website comes a photo and comment from a 23 year-old pertinent to this argument: http://www.photojunkie.ca/archive/2008/01/keswick-shell-station/

“More importantly, do you think we will still be using gasoline in 50 years?”