The Public Realm Creates the City

It would not be unfair to characterize the growth we are experiencing as “astronomical,” even in light of the current, apparent, slow down.  Some believe we are experiencing a seismic shift; the very fabric of the city is being redefined with every newly approved application, and it’s tempting to question whether the “centre will hold.”  I was at a conference recently in the American Midwest where Toronto was identified as “the fastest growing city in the world,” and the comment rang in my ears.  What does this mean?

At the very least, it means we are experiencing change at a rate that most of us  – and our policy frameworks – did not fathom.  The future will be fundamentally different from the present; if we do not consider and attempt to anticipate the implications of this growth, we face unintended consequences.  And we risk killing the golden goose – we need to identify what we value most, and ensure that as we change, we protect it.

Our Official Plan – the regulatory document that the planning division is required by law to maintain and implement – sets out a vision that both recognizes we will grow, and proposes ways to manage this growth.  It is assumed that 75% of the fabric of our city – stable neighborhoods, natural systems – will stay the same, and will experience little change.  These areas do not need to change – in part because the other 25% of our city – our centres (downtown, Yonge and Eglinton, Etobicoke and Scarborough) and our Avenues – have been identified as places where we can accommodate significant growth. Inevitably, these areas of change are adjacent to areas of stability.

The quality of our city building will be contingent on making great linkages, transitions and connections between these areas, and ensuring that broader amenities – our streets, sidewalks, parks, schools and public buildings  – are designed to be the fabric that knits our lives together.

As we grow, the quality of these spaces that we share in common needs to be at the centre of our planning conversations.

In 2013 we will launch the Midtown Public Realm Study – an initiative that will be a collaboration between area Councillors Josh Matlow, Karen Stintz and Jaye Robinson, area Residents’ Associations, the Planning Division, and a consultant team.

This study is an opportunity to get out in front of a quickly intensifying area by thinking carefully about the elements that knit buildings together to create the city that we share.

After all, the public realm that we plan for and create today will define this city in the future.