The Toronto Downtown West Business Improvement Area (TDW BIA) recently created a Growth and Development Framework, effectively replacing its former master plan which had been in place since 2009. This new framework follows an expansion of its boundary westward to include to Bathurst Street, as well as its renaming from 'Toronto Entertainment District Business Improvement Area,' to become more representative of the larger area that it now covers. 

BIA expansion of its boundary westward to include to Bathurst Street, image from framework package

The goal of the new framework is to help guide ongoing decisions that impact the physical environment of the Downtown West BIA in a coordinated and strategic manner. The Growth and Development Framework can also provide benchmarks and standards for developers, and set priorities for investments within the community.

The Downtown West BIA’s Growth and Development Framework focuses on the elements that have the greatest impact on the ‘experience’ of the area: the Pedestrian Realm and Parks, Streetscapes, and Uses at Grade. 

The pedestrian realm network and park space portion of the framework provides guidelines on developer contributions, the park space system, and streetscapes. Moving people into, out of, and through the community easily and safely, and providing a variety of spaces for socializing, special events, and recreation, is a priority of the framework. To achieve this, some of the main guidelines include that all new development shall be required to make a contribution to the Pedestrian Realm Network – with specifics dependent on the size of the site – as well as incorporate generous sidewalks, and adequate space for public events. Another guideline is that public or publicly accessible indoor or outdoor spaces should include public art, and other special design features.

King Street Public Realm Rendering created by the BIA, image from framework package

Other Pedestrian Realm Network improvement considerations include the use of canopies, improved cycling amenities, appropriate lighting and street furniture, and protecting existing trees and planting new trees, just to name a few.

The framework also sets out to ensure that the City seeks out opportunities to assemble the full range of park spaces that it has outlined within the BIA area, as well as ensuring that Park Acquisition, Revitalization, and Maintenance Plans are prepared by the City for all existing and new park spaces.

Existing and proposed parks within the BIA area, image from framework package

The framework also outlines guidelines for new parks, which include prioritizing pedestrian comfort, the inclusion of quality seating, tables, washrooms, water fountains, and waste receptacles, and the use of public art and landscaping, in addition to other recommendations. 

Streetscapes are defined by roadway, sidewalks, trees and landscaping, lighting and furnishing, signage, and especially the character and quality of the buildings that define the ‘street wall.’ The framework outlines a hierarchy which serves to provide consistency across the BIA, while reinforcing distinctive streets, enhancing the quality of the pedestrian environment, and defining what is appropriate in terms of built form, and land use. 

The framework generally states that all streets should be lined with trees, pedestrian convenience and amenities should be prioritized, and patios are to be encouraged, amongst others. 

King Street Public Realm Rendering created by the BIA, image from framework package

The goal of the framework's guidelines for uses at grade are to create a strong retail presence along priority retail streets, and inspire new ways of thinking about sustainable retail and its connection to the surrounding neighbourhood through implementing high quality, unique retail, creating destination streets, considering the retail needs of the residents, and strengthening the overall identity of the neighbourhood.

General guidelines for the uses at grade within the framework include designing high quality, unique facades that emphasize the connection to both the public realm and the retail, considering material types that would maximize the look of display windows, showcasing the retail space while complementing the building style, and to have exterior building lighting and interior retail lighting to enhance the building as well as the public realm.

An example of retail streetscape and lighting at The Well, image from framework package

Finally, the framework includes a checklist to help ensure that its main guidelines are met. The checklist focuses on the ground level and lower floors of a development, as well as its relationship to its surroundings.

While the goals of a BIA for new development in their area are not binding upon developers, BIAs normally provide constructive criticism during the planning approvals process and often have influence over the design outcomes. 

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