Categories
Infrastructure Roads Urban Planning Walking

Rethinking Downtown Brampton’s streetscape

IMG_8755-001Main Street looking north at Queen Street, Downtown Brampton

On Thursday, February 23, I went back to my hometown to check out plans for re-configuring Main and Queen Streets in Downtown Brampton. As the Region of Peel needs to replace water and wastewater infrastructure in the area, the timing is right for re-imagining what the streetscape should look like.

The same conversations are taking place in Downtown Toronto. There there are proposals for transforming King Street to prioritize transit and pedestrians; on Yonge Street, city planners, Ryerson University, and local businesses are looking to provide more space for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as street furniture (such as benches and trees), patios, and special events. Of course, re-imagining downtown streets where cars are given priority will generate opposition, but it’s necessary in dense, urban cities were people, and not necessarily their cars, are given priority.

Downtown Brampton has great bones; it has numerous heritage buildings, several great public spaces, and GO Transit and VIA Rail trains stop right here. The Saturday Farmers’ Market is popular, as is ice skating at Gage Park. But despite some interesting new restaurants and bars, most retail has struggled here, and even new residential development in the area is sluggish. Improving the public realm, especially wider sidewalks and more attractive streetscaping, would be a relatively inexpensive, yet symbolically important, step to making downtown a more desirable place to be.

img_8159-001Sidewalks are narrow, and cyclists often take the sidewalks in Downtown Brampton. 

Categories
Transit Urban Planning Walking

They call this a “SmartCentre”

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The word “smart,” like many buzzwords, is thrown around a lot, to the point that it has lost meaning. SmartTrack, for instance, might have been a catchy name for a transit plan, but in the end, it didn’t turn out to be all that smart.

There’s also the case of SmartCentres, the retail arm of SmartREIT, a real estate investment trust. SmartCentres are ubiquitous in suburban Canada; the firm owns retail properties in all ten provinces and is Wal-Mart Canada’s largest landlord.

I was recently in St. Catharines, a mid-sized city of 125,000 on the Niagara Peninsula. I’ll have more to say about my visit there in a few upcoming posts.

I was walking from the VIA Rail station, on the west side of Twelve Mile Creek, opposite downtown, towards the new St. Catharines hospital on the city’s western outskirts. My route to the hospital (more on that later) took me through a SmartCentre big-box retail complex at Louth Street and Fourth Avenue. Tenants include Real Canadian Superstore (a large supermarket part of the Loblaws group), Wal-Mart Supercentre, Canadian Tire, Best Buy, and LCBO.


Google map of the big box complex in west St. Catharines

Like most big box centres, the stores are laid out surrounding a large parking lot. Pedestrians are an afterthought – there are few walkways or connections to surrounding sidewalks.

A token measure — a bus stop — is located within the property. The bus stop is on the main driveway, but a considerable distance from the front entrances of Wal-Mart or the supermarket, especially for anyone carrying groceries, using a mobility device and/or with young children. Shopping carts are left next to the bus shelters, and there are no other supermarkets in western St. Catharines. Anyone without a car must either visit Superstore, Walmart, or shop at higher-priced local convenience stores. The property owner is SmartREIT, a real estate investment trust with retail properties in all ten provinces.

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Excerpt from St. Catharines Transit daytime map. Only route 3 serves the big box centre from the south. 

Only one St. Catharines Transit bus route, 3 Pelham Road, serves the SmartCentre stop (evenings and weekends, route 115 replaces route 3), and only from the south. Traditional shopping areas, such as Downtown St. Catharines and the Pen Centre mall, are much better served by local transit. Route 1, which directly connects downtown and the new hospital and serves neighbourhoods to the north, runs nearby, but it doesn’t enter the property.

St. Catharines, once an industrial powerhouse, has struggled with de-industrialization and poverty. The census metropolitan area has the lowest median family income in Ontario; the city also has one of the highest obesity rates. Access to fresh, affordable food, especially for those without automobiles, should be a priority. It’s a shame that the built form isn’t smart enough to help.

Categories
Maps Toronto

Mapping Toronto’s population growth

Data geeks across Canada were eagerly awaiting this day — February 8, 2017 — the first release of the 2016 Canadian Census of the Population. Today’s release only covers population and dwelling counts, further information on age, sex, household characteristics, as well as language, immigration status, employment, income, and other variables will be released later in 2017. The 2016 Census included the mandatory long-form census, which will provide a robust snapshot on the socioeconomic status of all 36 million Canadians.

I created three quick maps showing the population growth in the City of Toronto by census tract. The City of Toronto grew by 116,511 people over five years to 2,731,571 in 2016, a 4.45% increase. Some suburban municipalities grew much faster, like Brampton  (13.3%, with a 2016 population of 593,638), but Toronto has been able to absorb one-third of the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area’s growth.

Toronto’s population makes up 46.1 % of the Toronto CMA (population 5,928,040). The rest of that growth was found in mature suburbs such as Brampton, Mississauga, and Markham, but also in quickly-growing towns such as Milton (population 110,128, up 30.5% from 2011). While some suburbs — Mississauga and Markham in particular — have been establishing higher-density urban centres with mid and high rise condominiums, most of the suburban growth has come from single-family homes and townhouses on formerly agricultural lands. If the Greenbelt is to continue being successful in containing sprawl and preserving productive farms and natural areas, Toronto needs to absorb even more growth in the next few decades. Land developers, speculators and the real-estate industry, however, are pushing back.

The first of the three maps shows the percentage increase or decrease in population by census tract. Areas with higher growth are concentrated in Downtown (particularly along Yonge Street and in the Entertainment District, City Place, Liberty Village-Fort York and St. Lawrence-Distillery-Corktown), as well as Etobicoke Centre, on Humber Bay, Midtown, and along the Sheppard Subway corridor in North York. Not surprisingly, these are areas in which new housing developments, particularly condo towers, are being built. Other neighbourhoods, for the most part, are seeing minor increases or decreases in population, likely related to changes in household/family size.

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Population change between 2011 and 2016 by percentage by census tract, Toronto
(Alternate colour scheme available here and here)

But more interesting is the map showing absolute population increases or decreases between 2011 and 2016. It better illustrates areas of high population growth and neighbourhoods with population decline. The inner suburbs, especially parts of Scarborough and North York, clearly show slight a population decline compared to the high-growth areas described above.

gta-2016-census-absolute-changePopulation change between 2011 and 2016 by absolute numbers by census tract, Toronto
(Alternate colour scheme available here and here)

The final map shows the 63 census tracts (out of a total of 1,426 CTs) with growth of at least 2,000 persons. It very clearly shows where high population growth has taken place.

GTA 2016 Census Toronto High Growth.jpgCensus tracts that grew by at least 2,000 persons between 2011 and 2016

Categories
History Toronto Transit

Hallam Street and the Harbord Streetcar

img_7439-001Hallam Street looking east from Dufferin Street, January 2017

Hallam Street, which runs east-west from Shaw to Dufferin, north of Bloor Street, is unusually wide for such a quiet, short road. Hallam Street doesn’t provide a convenient thoroughfare for motorists, and nearly every storefront is either vacant, or converted to other uses. Despite being located in a dense urban area of Toronto, Hallam Street has a ghostly feeling when walking or cycling across it.

So why is Hallam Street so wide? And why does it have so many vacant or former storefronts?

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Former storefront on Hallam Street at Delaware Avenue, one of several on Hallam that were converted to residential uses

For thirty-one years, from 1916 to 1947, Hallam and Lappin Streets hosted the Harbord Streetcar, an interesting and circuitous route that served the northwest portion of the City of Toronto, and later, the east end of the city. Unlike most streetcar routes in Toronto, the Harbord Car refused to follow a grid. It wound its way through several working class neighbourhoods, tying together parts of Toronto otherwise underserved by its transit network.

The Harbord Car was re-routed from Hallam Street and Lappin Avenue to Dovercourt and Davenport Roads in 1947, as part of a re-organization of transit services in Toronto’s west end (more on that below). The streetcar was fully abandoned in 1966, when the first phase of the Bloor-Danforth Subway opened.