If there is any indication of the power of transformation that public transit has in Toronto, one need not look much further than Eglinton Avenue. It seems that every week on UrbanToronto, we publish a story on a development, master plan, or City planning study that is a direct result of the upcoming Crosstown LRT, which will (hopefully) be complete in three years' time. This week is no different, as we turn our focus to Scarborough's Golden Mile.
Currently consisting of strip malls, big box retail, and asphalt parking lots as far as the eye can see, the Golden Mile stretches along Eglinton East between Victoria Park and Birchmount and will soon be home to five new LRT stations. Signalled out as a focus area in the Eglinton Connects study, the City is now working on a new secondary plan for the area in conjunction with SvN Architects + Planners. The City and design team presented their work to Toronto's Design Review Panel (DRP) recently.
At the DRP, Panel members were presented with three options that are being considered for the secondary plan, with details shown of the preferred option. Each of the three models displayed an ambitious and rather incredible increase in the density along this stretch, essentially building one of the city's densest neighbourhoods from a blank slate.
The three alternatives are based on a new finer-grained street grid which would chop up the mega-blocks that currently dominate the landscape. Of note are three main east-west thoroughfares: O'Connor Drive, which would be realigned to form the southern border of the district running parallel to Eglinton all the way to Birchmount with a jog at Warden; Eglinton Avenue, which will contain the main transit, office, and retail uses of the district; and a new Golden Mile Boulevard to the north of Eglinton, envisioned as the main spine of the neighbourhood, with a jog at Hakimi Avenue. Hakimi will become the new north-south neighbourhood spine at the centre of the district.
Also consistent across all three alternatives is the parks and public realm plan, which would see three major parks added to the district. The West and East Parks provide secondary green spaces at either end of the district, while the Central Park bridges between Eglinton and the Ashtonbee Reservoir Park to the north, which connects to the future Meadoway along the hydro corridor, and also provides a transition to the Centennial College campus north of the Golden Mile district. Other smaller green spaces are planned, including a South Park and a reconfigured Victoria Park-Eglinton Parkette, relieving it of its current isolation at the centre of a busy traffic triangle.
Alternative One would see predominantly mid-rises constructed along Eglinton, with taller buildings concentrated to the north of Golden Mile Boulevard along key north-south streets. The tall buildings would be kept away from the major parks, and a transition in built form would be provided to the adjacent low-rise neighbourhoods.
Alternative Two would focus tall building density at three important gateways: the west end of the district, the north centre area of the district, and the east end of the district. The remainder of the neighbourhood would be predominantly mid-rise, with appropriate transition to the adjacent low-rise areas.
Alternative Three would concentrate tall building density at the five transit nodes, with a central hub at the middle of the district around Hakimi/Warden and Eglinton. In this proposal, Eglinton Square Mall would be left untouched, joining a handful of other large-format retail in the area. The remainder of the district would be mid- and low-rise buildings.
All three options are similar in their density and floor space index (which hovers around 2.1-2.3), the ratio of open space to population, the range of housing forms, and the net gain in employment. They differ in their built form, net gain in retail floor area, ratio of people to jobs, and number of distinct districts. The City also noted that all three options have traffic congestion and transit capacity issues, particularly along north-south routes, with Alternative One being the worst culprit.
The City is opting for a combination of Alternative Two and Three as their preferred choice, with density concentrated at transit nodes and a central hub, and the block breakdown and public realm plan as stated above.
The Golden Mile district is also envisioned as being composed of four character areas: the West District, presenting a commercial gateway into the area; the Central District north of Eglinton, which would be the social and cultural hub; the Employment District stretching south of Eglinton, serving mainly as mid-rise employment lands; and the East District, envisioned as more of a residential area.
The Panel offered some words of caution and some suggestions to improve the secondary plan. First, they were unanimous in their opinion that Eglinton should be the main spine of the neighbourhood rather than Golden Mile Boulevard. They argued that as the main retail street where people would be "dumped from transit", it should play a more prominent role as the connecting street. They also criticized the lack of public realm focus on Eglinton, and suggested that pulling the West and East Parks down to Eglinton, as was done to the Central Park, would create greater connectivity in the neighbourhood. Panelists argued that "there is an opportunity to create a grand boulevard feel" along Eglinton, which is currently lacking in the proposal.
Panel members also urged the design team not to think of the boundaries of the district as such hard edges, and to focus more on the transition to adjacent neighbourhoods. Of particular note was the inclusion of institutional uses, and forming a stronger connection to Centennial College just north of the Golden Mile. Panelists also expressed concern about the transit capacity and traffic congestion issues raised by the City, warning that these could have a detrimental effect on the success of the plan if left unaddressed.
The biggest criticism from the Panel was the lack of a unifying character that connects the four character areas and gives the Golden Mile a distinct identity within the city. They suggested that this secondary plan needs a character study to define what this neighbourhood is, in order to have "a reason why people want to go there, why developers what to develop, and why people what to buy or rent there". Otherwise, it becomes just another generic development zone in the city, with no uniqueness that would create a true neighbourhood.
The Golden Mile secondary plan will go before City Council for approval in early 2019. If passed, it will provide the framework for the future development of the district for years to come. For now, work will continue on fully developing the plan, hopefully taking into account the Panel's comments.
We will keep you updated as the secondary plan evolves, but in the meantime you can get in on the discussion by checking out the associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.