Drawing transit lines on a Toronto map seems like a pretty benign activity (see our Forum for some user-generated fantasy maps), but when it's done by those with the power to actually implement those plans, the consequences can be quite far-reaching, long before shovels even pierce the ground. Following the commencement in 2018 of the preliminary planning study for the extension of the Yonge subway line northward into Richmond Hill, and bolstered recently by Doug Ford's transit plans which include funding for the extension, the City of Toronto has faced increased development pressure along Yonge Street between Finch and Steeles as a direct result of all the subway talk.

Proposed northward extension of the Yonge subway line, image courtesy of the TTC and York Region.

Consequently, the City has revived the Yonge Street North Planning Study, an initiative aimed at establishing a secondary plan for the stretch of Yonge between Drewry/Cummer and Steeles, which originally began in 2011 but was shelved indefinitely in 2014. City Planning is now picking up where they last left off, and presented their most recent work to the Toronto Design Review Panel. It should be noted that everything regarding the secondary plan described below is preliminary at this point in time and is subject to change.

The existing context along this stretch of Yonge is very heterogeneous, mainly consisting of low-rise buildings that range from residential to commercial uses. Some high-rise residential buildings are scattered around, while Centerpoint Mall occupies a large property at the corner of Yonge and Steeles. However, the City's conceptual models seem to indicate a blank slate approach, completely replacing the suburban context with a new dense, urban neighbourhood, inserting new infrastructure and public realm that does not currently exist to support the change.

Study area boundary, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

The preferred option the City is considering is to concentrate density at the subway stations to create nodes, and spreading mid-rise density along Yonge in between. The two new planned stations would be located at Drewry/Cummer and at Steeles, in addition to the already redeveloping node around Finch station. The Centerpoint Mall property is highlighted as a prime candidate for redevelopment, with a new mixed-use residential neighbourhood illustrated as a potential replacement.

Along with all this development and the new subway line, the City is also proposing to create two collector roads running parallel to Yonge on either side, which would likely be northward extensions of Beecroft and Doris from North York Centre and would serve the same purpose. The public realm plan was not fully developed at the time of presentation, but there was mention of both a linear progression of public spaces east of Yonge connecting Newtonbrook Park northward, and potentially a large central park on the east side of Yonge spanning three blocks between Patricia and Pleasant.

Looking north at conceptual build-out of proposed secondary plan, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

The Panel, however, was not convinced about the success of this proposed plan, and raised several key issues that they thought should be addressed before moving forward.

First, they encouraged the team to explore different options for the built form, rather than sticking to the standard tower-and-podium model. Some panelists felt that spreading the density out more evenly rather than having density nodes would create more of an active streetscape, getting it "to be more of a living street rather than vertical suburbs". They also cautioned that the drastic change in scale between the new high-rise communities and the existing and adjacent low-rise neighbourhoods needs to be more carefully considered.

The Panel also criticized the plan for having a lack of character, saying it should be "more aspirational and have more of a vision". They commented that there was no mention of the character of the street itself, whether Yonge would maintain its current form or be transformed similar to the Reimagine Yonge proposal for North York Centre to the south. They stressed that defining this character would better inform what built form would be most appropriate for the neighbourhood, and how the built form responds to the street. They also called for the plan to be more ambitious with regards to public realm and open space.

Panel members also pointed out that although the plan ends at the border of the City of Toronto along Steeles, development along Yonge will continue north into York Region, and that the area still operates as a uniform neighbourhood despite the invisible dividing borders. The intersection of Yonge-Steeles is a meeting point between three cities: Toronto, Vaughan, and Markham. The Panel mentioned that development plans were already in the works for the Vaughan side of the Yonge-Steeles intersection, and questioned how the Yonge Street North plan would mesh with what happens outside of city limits. They encouraged the design team to collaborate with their counterparts in York Region to better coordinate that transition.

Looking south at conceptual build-out of proposed secondary plan, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

All of the above-mentioned comments were summarized when one Panelist pointed out that the proposed plan essentially copies what was done in North York Centre to the south and simply extends it north to Steeles. They criticized the design team for "not looking at what is problematic to the south and then saying we have an opportunity to fix it", instead simply proposing to build "more of the same". The Panel encouraged the design team to focus more on the livability of the neighbourhood, and felt that the plan in its current form was a squandered opportunity to create something special. They urged the design team not to repeat the mistakes of the past, and to explore how to create a more successful neighbourhood through establishing a guiding vision and character, and by providing a more appropriate built form.

There was no vote at the end of the session, but the message from the Panel was clear in their disappointment.

We will keep you updated as the Yonge Street North Planning Study kicks back into gear, but in the meantime you can join in on the discussion in the associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.

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