Future city development should reflect the needs of drivers and non-drivers alike in order to avoid “planning failures” like the Peanut Plaza in Don Mills, said a panel of urban design experts last week.
The Construct Canada panel, made up of architects Clifford Korman, David Butterworth and city councillor Shelley Carroll, encouraged the audience of peers attending the trade show to build projects accessible to pedestrians, cyclists and transit users, as well as drivers.
Though it was constructed in the 1960s, Peanut Plaza is still considered a culturally vibrant community hub situated near schools, residences and recreational facilities.
But it is nearly impenetrable to non-drivers, who must cross Don Mills Road and a “sea of cars” to get to the peanut-shaped shopping centre situated between Sheppard Avenue and Finch Avenue, said Korman, a senior partner with Toronto firm Kirkor Architects and Planners.
Korman, who has worked on many high-rise condominiums including the 12-storey ARC tower near Bayview and Sheppard avenues, suggested dividing Peanut Plaza into separate intersections and installing traffic lights to improve accessibility.
“You can keep the identity of the Peanut but you break up the block, which will make it easier to reach,” he said after the panel discussion that took place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Nov. 28 and was moderated by newspaper columnist Marcus Gee.
Carroll told the audience she often heard from residents who would much rather walk due to the frequent lack of available parking at the more than 100,000-square-foot plaza located at 3030 Don Mills Rd.
“So I know what my next assignment is: build better paths around the Peanut,” said Carroll, who represents the ward of Don Valley East, in which the plaza lies.
She said transforming properties like the Peanut into pedestrian- and transit-friendly locations would encourage more mixed-use development in the area for people to live, work and engage in recreational activities.
“Let’s look at what’s possible on the site and keep it alive,” said Carroll. “You don’t have to knock down a property, you just have to give it more life.”
More and more, developers are interested in building in areas where there are existing transit connections, said Butterworth.
He said such locations are particularly appealing to younger generations who increasingly prefer other forms of transportation to the automobile.
“Who wants to drive downtown and pay 20 bucks for parking when you can take the subway instead?” said Butterworth, a senior designer with Kirkor.
He said it is up to politicians and developers alike to convince residents of the importance of “smart” growth, even if the completion of the project lies several years in the future.
“Political will is key to achieving vision,” said Butterworth following the panel discussion. “As long as the vision is better than the current reality, people will be prepared to wait.”
Korman called on the province to build one subway station per year to fuel growth and expand Toronto’s existing system, arguing transit is integral to the city’s health.
“Build one station, one bus loop a year, and the city will grow organically around the intensification from that transit line,” he said.