At an all-Etobicoke session two weeks ago, Toronto's Design Review Panel got a glimpse at two transformative projects currently remaking Etobicoke Centre: the new Etobicoke Civic Centre (ECC) project which we looked at last week, and the Six Points area reconfiguration. On Friday we also looked at changes made to the road network that were made this Sunday. Today, we look at the public realm plans for the new area that is being reclaimed for the city from the decommissioned spaghetti interchange and surrounding lands at the meeting of Kipling Avenue, Bloor Street, and Dundas Street.
The reconfiguration unlocks a significant amount of land for development, of which one plot is earmarked for the new ECC; much of the remainder of the lands at the reconfigured Six Points have now become part of John Tory's Housing Now initiative, a vaguely-defined plan which will see 11 City-owned properties developed for housing including a significant proportion of affordable units. The City also presented several high-rise developments nearby, all of which will contribute to a significant increase in population and density within Etobicoke Centre.
The replacement of the interchange is currently under way: the new Dundas Street alignment opened yesterday, and it is anticipated that demolition and clearance of the bridges and ramps will be completed later this year. As for the construction of the housing and ECC within the now-developable land, no timeline has yet been given.
The Design Review Panel were presented with an update of the project, and were asked to give feedback on the public realm and future development of the area. This was the second review of the project by the Panel, but since the first review was back in 2014, many Panel members were not on the DRP at that point and were seeing this for the first time.
While they were happy that the interchange was coming down in favour of an at-grade street network, the Panel was not overly pleased with the plans in place, or lack thereof, for the Six Points neighbourhood. They took issue with the design of the new Dundas Street, stating that the street was too wide. Though Dundas now incorporates wide sidewalks, elevated bike lanes, street trees, and a landscaped median, Panelists criticized the excessive width of the six-lane road, claiming that despite these urban elements, the new Dundas was designed as a highway conducive to speedy traffic that would create a hostile environment for pedestrians and cyclists. They acknowledged, however, that since the project was nearly complete, there was not much that could be done about this.
Panel members were also displeased with the lack of a clear holistic vision for the neighbourhood. They criticized the recent development in the extended area as being more like a "tower-in-the-park typology, a continuation of a suburban model that hasn't really worked so well". They described the nearby high-rise developments as "inward-looking", and "a collection of islands...buildings in isolation with no connection between, and each with its own internal street network". While the reconfiguration of the Six Points area helps to urbanize the heart of the Etobicoke Centre area, unifying elements that will create a true neighbourhood are lacking.
Panel members suggested that a continuous streetwall or a continuous public realm of connected green spaces could help to mitigate the suburban feel of isolation. Neither are apparent in the City's proposed plans. The City did present a rough concept for a linear connection of green spaces along Dundas, but Panel members were unconvinced, and acknowledged that the current zoning might not encourage that to happen.
They also recommended that the City think of other typologies beyond the tower-and-podium model, and that the vision needed room for more intimate, smaller spaces throughout that would humanize the neighbourhood, rather than the proposed wide expanses of boulevards and point towers.
The Panel also lamented the lack of coordination with the ECC project, and how both that and the Six Points redesign seemed to be happening independently with no sense of context. Panel members were optimistic, however, in stating that the Housing Now initiative provided a "phenomenal opportunity for a new urban neighbourhood while simultaneously processing ECC".
Panelists claimed that there was "no continuous identity of city centre here" and that they would be "despondent and ashamed if this ended up as a tower-in-the-park neighbourhood". However, they emphasized that Housing Now could be a precedent-setting development, much like a "St. Lawrence neighbourhood in Etobicoke", and strongly encouraged the City team to rethink their approach to this area.
We will keep you updated as the Six Points reconfiguration and the subsequent developments advance, but in the meantime, you can tell us what you think by checking out the associated Forum thread or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.
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