Categories
Transit Travels Urban Planning

Goin’ to Kansas City

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Bus and streetcar, Downtown Kansas City

Kansas City, Missouri made news this month when its City Council voted unanimously to include a plan for free fixed-route public transit in the next city budget. Though that budget would still have to be passed in the New Year, the mayor’s support for the measure is a promising sign. Though it will cost $8 million, local politicians support the idea as it will benefit low income riders.

It is worth noting that Kansas City Area Transit Authority’s 2016 annual ridership was just over 14 million a year, while the cost recovery rate was just 12 percent. It would be much harder to offer free transit in Toronto. The TTC’s cost recovery rate is 68%, with transit fares bringing in over $1.2 billion a year. Though a two-hour transfer and free children’s fares were recently introduced, there’s little chance that the City of Toronto would agree to funding fare-free transit. In any case, Kansas City’s experiment will be interesting to watch.

Kansas City was a more interesting city than I expected; I am glad I made the impromptu trip. There are a few Toronto connections, including a streetcar that traveled the continent, a restored Union Station, and a 1920s shopping plaza whose concept was imitated 80 years later in Don Mills.

I enjoyed an evening at a jazz club at the 18th and Vine Historic District and local barbecue. Besides transit, I also got around on an electric pedal assist bike that’s part of the local bike share. It’s friendly, urban city, definitely worth a visit.

Categories
Brampton Development Urban Planning

The death and life of Shoppers World Brampton

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An old Target shopping cart sits in front of Shoppers World. Target, which closed in 2015, now subdivided into smaller retail units, including JYSK, Staples, and Giant Tiger

Previously on this blog, I wrote about Shoppers World Brampton, a shopping mall that slowly declined despite being located in a high-growth suburban city. I wrote that RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), the owners of the mall, were interested in developing the property by reducing the retail footprint and adding new residential uses. Some of those details have now been revealed.

Shoppers World opened in 1969, on the outskirts of the Town of Brampton, which was transitioning from a county service centre and industrial town to a suburb of Toronto. The mall expanded twice: once in 1973-74, and again in 1980-81.

In the 1980s, Shoppers World boasted a Simpson’s department store, K-Mart, two full-service supermarkets, a Pascal’s department store, two movie theatres, and even an indoor waterpark. Familiar national chains filled the halls: Thrifty’s, Grand & Toy, Coles and W.H. Smith, Smart Set, Naturalizer, Black’s, Collegiate Sports, Peoples Jewelers, and Reitman’s. Shoppers World never had the status that Square One or Yorkdale enjoyed, but it was a good mall offering just about anything you’d ever need.

It was where I got my first paying gig: returning stray shopping carts to K-Mart for a few dollars apiece. I lived within walking distance of the mall, though I joked that the best thing about it was the bus to Square One.

But many of those national retailers left by the mid-1990s. Square One, a 15 minute drive south, was expanding, and Bramalea City Centre had renovated and expanded as well. But when RioCan REIT purchased Shoppers World in the late 1990s, it made some long-needed improvements, including new flooring over the old terrazzo, a new food court, and removing some of the dead retail space for new big-box retailers like Canadian Tire, Staples, and Winners. When The Bay (successor to Simpson’s) closed, it was replaced by more exterior retail.

Meanwhile, Zellers replaced K-Mart, and briefly became a Target store during the American company’s disastrous foray in the Canadian market. Rio-Can carved that into spaces for smaller retailers, including Giant Tiger. Finally, the bus terminal moved, from a distant corner facing Steeles Avenue, to a central location right at the corner of Main Street and Steeles Avenue, designed for easy transfers to the Hurontario LRT.

ShoppersWorld

The interior of the mall is still busy, but nearly all chains let their leases expire, with independent retailers taking over. Even so, there are many vacant storefronts.

Earlier in October, RioCan submitted their plans to the City of Brampton, and were also presented at an open house at the mall on October 22, 2019. The redevelopment proposal includes new roads, residential towers with at-grade retail, underground parking, among other features.

Details from RioCan’s submission include:

  • Four new north-south and east-west public streets through the property, including multi-use paths, as several private laneways. Mill Street would continue south from Charolais Boulevard to Steeles Avenue.
  • New residential towers up to 28 storeys tall, containing 4,725 units (one, two, and potentially three-bedroom apartments)
  • 155 townhouses in the northern end of the property, towards low-rise subdivisons north of Charolais Boulevard
  • 44,647 m² (480,582 sq. ft.) of retail space integrated with the residential towers, a reduction from 62,256 m² (670,124 sq. ft.)
  • An enlarged Kaneff Park (west of the mall, between two separate existing high-rise rental tower clusters), along with new community and library space
  • New office space adjacent to the expanded park and community space
  • Most parking will be located underground
  • The Brampton Gateway terminal will remain

Site Plan of Shoppers World Brampton redevelopmentSite plan from RioCan’s submissions to the City of Brampton. Click to enlarge.

The first phase of the redevelopment will be 27-storey tower on the southwest corner of the site (where the abandoned Brampton Transit terminal now sits). This will be constructed before the mall itself is touched. Further phases will see the mall slowly demolished, though they are dependent on market conditions.

SWB - View from terminalRendering of Shoppers World redevelopment, looking northwest from the existing Brampton Gateway Terminal

RioCan hired Quadrangle and SvN architects to develop conceptual renderings for the development, indicating that RioCan is serious about this development. Given the City of Brampton’s own plans for urbanizing this part of the city, I am optimistic this will be built. The area already has good public transit access, with Zum express bus service to Downtown Brampton, Mississauga City Centre, Sheridan and Humber Colleges, as well as local service. This will also be at the terminus of the Hurontario LRT line (construction will begin shortly as the contract was just awarded), which may yet continue to Downtown Brampton.

This is the largest shopping mall redevelopment in the Greater Toronto Area, following work now underway at the Galleria Mall in Toronto, and proposed for the Promenade Mall in Vaughan (though much of that mall’s structure will remain intact). As the mid-market gets squeezed by discounters, internet shopping, and high-end shopping centres, more malls of Shoppers World’s size will see similar development.

I was surprised to see such urbanity proposed for suburban Brampton, but it may finally be the time for the Flower City to bloom. Despite my nostalgia for Shoppers World, I am excited for its future.

SWB Rendering 1.jpgLooking south on Mill Street towards the park expansion and Steeles Avenue. The first phase tower is shown in the middle background.

 

Categories
Brampton Development Transit Urban Planning

The future of Downtown Brampton

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Metrolinx-owned houses on Railroad Street, Brampton

Over the last three years, I have been following developments in Downtown Brampton, especially lands surrounding the Brampton GO Station. In April 2016, Metrolinx, the provincial agency responsible for GO Transit, began buying properties in the northwest corner of Brampton’s downtown core, including twelve houses and two low-rise office buildings. The land assembly was for a new surface parking lot, an odd choice for a transit agency that was otherwise interested in promoting compatible land use and transit connections in designated urban centres.

It was later revealed that Metrolinx, Ryerson University, and the City of Brampton were working on a new downtown satellite campus, with the main academic building to be constructed on part of the GO parking lot, north of the rail corridor. While the construction of more surface parking in a downtown core was still a bad idea, at least there was a reason behind the land assembly. The new Ryerson site would make use of other city resources, such as the Rose Theatre and the planned Centre for Innovation (CFI). The CFI would include academic space and a central library, to be built on city-owned land south of the GO station and bus terminal.

university mapPrevious plans for Downtown Brampton, including the Centre for Innovation and the Ryerson campus on the GO Transit lot. Replacement parking would be built on land assembled south of the rail corridor. 

In October, the newly elected Conservative government cancelled provincial funding for Brampton’s Ryerson campus, as well as other suburban satellite universities planned in Markham and Milton. While Brampton and Ryerson decided to continue working on a scaled-back development including a new centre for cybersecurity, a new plan was developed for downtown revitalization. Details are available in the May 15, 2019 Committee of Council agenda.

Here’s a simplified summary of the new plan:

  • The CFI will now be built on the north side of Nelson Street West, between Main Street and George Street, on the site of the existing downtown bus terminal, a 6-story office building constructed in 1989, and an older two-storey commercial block. The office building, though only thirty years old, is reported to be in poor condition. The new 15,700 square metre (170,000 square feet) CFI will include the central library, education space, event space, and retail. It may also include additional floors for offices.
  • The bus terminal will be expanded, as the existing facility is too small to accommodate GO and Brampton Transit buses. There will also be room for a new third track through Downtown Brampton, essential for frequent two-way GO service between Toronto, Brampton, and Kitchener.
  • The City of Brampton will likely build a temporary terminal on the south side of Nelson Street to accommodate the demolition of the existing structures and the construction of the CFI and terminal. This land, also owned by the city, is currently occupied by a surface lot and an old commercial building that was originally a Loblaws store. Retail tenants are being evicted from all of the above properties.
  • The city is also interested in using the two office buildings purchased by Metrolinx for short-term academic and administrative purposes as the new CFI is being built.
  • The houses on Nelson, Elizabeth and Railroad Streets acquired by Metrolinx will still be torn down, but without the imminent construction of the Ryerson building, a new parking lot is no longer planned. It is possible that the block will see transit-oriented development in the long term.

IMG_6155-001Vacated office buildings at George and Nelson Streets that may see new life under the city’s new plans

The map below illustrates the revised downtown plans.

It remains a shame that Metrolinx decided to buy up a whole city block and displace dozens of residents (among the properties it acquired were two heritage houses and a rooming house), especially now that the Brampton Ryerson campus is being scaled back. But the city desperately needs a central library, and happily, Ryerson remains interested in partnering with Brampton. It’s good to see that transit expansion, including a larger bus terminal and GO rail expansion, are part of the plans.

Categories
Brampton Development Politics Transit Urban Planning

What’s next for Downtown Brampton?

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Boarded up houses on Elizabeth Street, Downtown Brampton

Earlier this year, the provincial government announced the location of Ryerson University’s Brampton campus, a partnership with Sheridan College, to be built on the GO Station parking lot in Downtown Brampton. Meanwhile, Metrolinx quietly purchased several houses and office buildings south of the station for new GO Transit surface parking, replacing the spots that Ryerson will build upon.

The merits of a satellite university campus are open to debate – some smaller satellite campuses have struggled to attract students and faculty and distinguish themselves. Brampton’s the planned campus site was, by far, the best one for both the City of Brampton and Ryerson University.

But today, the Progressive Conservative provincial government, elected in June, cancelled three planned suburban post-secondary education campuses — the York University/Seneca College campus in Markham, the Wilfrid Laurier University/Conestoga College campus in Milton, and the Ryerson University/Sheridan College campus in Brampton.

This announcement came only one day after the October 22 municipal elections. While Toronto elected a smaller 25-ward council and returned John Tory to the mayor’s office, the voters Brampton elected former Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown as mayor, narrowly defeating incumbent Linda Jeffrey. Brown had just moved to Brampton after his campaign for the elected Peel Region Chair was cancelled at the same time Brown’s successor as PC leader, Premier Doug Ford, imposed the new 25 ward structure on Toronto. We can only speculate if the animosity between Brown and Ford was a factor in this announcement. It’s more likely that the decision to cancel the three campuses was already made, with the announcement timed to take place after the municipal elections. In any case, mayor-elect Brown’s job has already become more interesting.

Brampton’s satellite campus, which had a 2022 opening date, would have hosted 2,000 undergraduate students. Though this is tiny compared to Ryerson’ downtown campus, which 36,000 undergraduate students currently enrolled, it was the best possible site, adjacent to the GO station, several Brampton Transit routes, the Rose Theatre, and local shops and restaurants and recreation facilities. The school would have made use of the the planned Centre for Innovation, a proposed new central library to the corner of George and Nelson Streets.

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Map of the Ryerson University campus site, the Centre for Innovation, and other downtown buildings. From the City of Brampton website.

The York University/Seneca College campus in Markham was also strategically located, on a site adjacent to Unionville GO Station, in the mixed-use Downtown Markham development. In contrast, the Milton site was in a greenfield far from transit links. It’s fair to say that I’m not too disappointed on Milton’s behalf.

With Brampton’s campus dead, for now, there’s still the land on the south side of the station. Three homes are already knocked down, while two office buildings and several houses are boarded up, awaiting demolition.

Will Downtown Brampton see nothing more than additional GO Transit surface parking now that the campus is cancelled? Or will a new opportunity come along?

BramptonParkingLotThe existing GO Transit lot at Brampton Station, where the Ryerson University/Sheridan College campus was planned

Categories
Election Parks Toronto Urban Planning

Why closing Toronto’s public golf courses is a boon to the public

IMG_8013-001.JPGDentonia Park Golf Course

Yesterday, Thanksgiving Monday, mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat proposed closing three of Toronto’s five municipally-owned golf courses. Keesmaat, Toronto’s previous chief planner, pointed out that the municipal golf courses operate at a loss, and that $10 million is allocated for improvements to those three courses. Furthermore, she intends to consult the local communities to best re-program the sites to address local wants and needs for the opened-up greenspace.

The three courses are:

  • Dentonia Park Golf Course, located on Victoria Park Avenue north of Danforth Avenue, next to Victoria Park subway station, in the Massey Creek ravine.
  • Don Valley Golf Course, located in the West Don Valley near Yonge Street and Wilson Avenue, near York Mills Station. It extends under Highway 401.
  • Scarlett Woods Golf Course, located near Eglinton Avenue and Scarlett Road on the Humber River.

Tam O’Shanter Golf Course, near Sheppard Avenue and Kennedy Road in Scarborough, and the Humber Valley Golf Course in north Etobicoke, are not mentioned in Keesmaat’s proposal.

I’m very happy that Keesmaat has put forward this bold idea. Despite the municipal ownership of these lands, they are fenced off from residents. For example, Dentonia Park is located in a lower income neighbourhood made of many high-rise rental buildings. As Toronto continues to grow in population, greenspace reserved for golfers could be put to better uses such as sports fields (soccer and cricket, especially), playgrounds, natural wetlands and woodlands, and public paths.

Golf is an expensive leisure activity with a large environmental footprint: the tending of golf courses require lots of water and pesticides. (Golf courses are exempted from a provincial ban on certain types of pesticides.) They may not adequately address the local community’s needs either, especially in lower income areas. Interest in playing golf is waning in North America as well. It makes sense to open up these publicly owned lands.

Golf courses get in the way of potential linear parks. As I mentioned before, the Don Valley Golf Course blocks access to Earl Bales Park from the south. Opening up the grounds to the general public would provide a continuous path from York Mills Station to Bathurst and Sheppard and beyond. This would provide a safe and pleasant walking and cycling route across Highway 401, compared to the unpleasant and dangerous crossings at the interchanges with Yonge Street and Avenue Road.

Dentonia Park Golf Course sits in between the path through Warden Woods and the Taylor Creek Ravine. If opened to the public, there could be a car-free path for pedestrians and cyclists all the way from Warden and St. Clair Avenues all the way downtown via the Don Valley trail system.

Keesmaat’s plan to close money-losing, poorly-used golf courses is a great idea, much like her promise not to go ahead with the costly replacement of the eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway, instead going with the locally preferred boulevard option. Both of these ideas may not be popular with some, but they are both fiscally and environmentally sound.

Categories
Cycling Ontario Travels Urban Planning

Brantford’s downtown was the “worst in Canada” – but has it bounced back?

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Interior of former Eaton Market Square, 2018

On Labour Day weekend, I paid a visit to Brantford. I brought my bike on GO Transit, taking a train to Aldershot and a bus from there to the Telephone City. I then biked from Brantford to Hamilton on one of Ontario’s best rail trails.

Over a decade ago, Mayor Chris Friel called Brantford “the worst downtown in Canada.” It was not hard to understand why. Colborne Street, Brantford’s main street, was lined with neglected commercial buildings, many with boarded up streetfronts. In the 1990s, many of the plywood hoardings had been decorated with pretend business names and silhouettes of customers, either as an attempt at beautifying the street or recalling the variety of businesses that had once occupied the strip. Only a few stores and restaurants remained open.

4360965559_d1aa044078_o.jpgBoarded up storefront, Colborne Street, 2010

There were several reasons for Downtown Brantford’s decline. In the 1980s, Brantford’s major industries, including the once-mighty Massey-Ferguson, had shut down local operations. Other industries like Cockshutt (later White Farm Equipment) had also departed Brantford. By the early 1990s, the unemployment rate hit 24 per cent.

Cockshutt plant offices in 2004, and the remains in 2018

The city also made some questionable urban renewal decisions. The old open-air marketplace at Colborne and Market Street, along with a whole city block was cleared for Eaton Market Square, which opened in 1986. The city also built a new parking structure to the south, as well as a new office building across the street from the new mall. Like most downtown malls built in Ontario, Eaton Market Square was a commercial failure. Brantford already had two suburban malls — Lyndon Park Mall, anchored by Sears, and Brantford Mall, anchored by the Right House, a Hamilton-based department store, Woolco and Loblaws.

While parking at the suburban malls was free and plentiful, customers had to pay to park downtown, and Eaton’s in the 1980s was too upmarket for a smaller, blue collar city. Brantford’s downtown parking garage, built by the municipality, was to be paid for with parking fees.

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Eaton Market Place dropped the Eaton name after its anchor closed, but the mall’s past has since revealed itself

While Eaton Market Square brought in many of the remaining retailers that were left on Colborne Street when the mall opened, as the mall floundered, most major tenants left as soon as their leases were due for renewal. By 1997, when Eaton’s entered bankrupcy and closed the Brantford store, many of the other shops had already closed.

But the mall wasn’t the only thing Brantford officials did to try to revitalize its city centre.

Like Flint, Michigan’s efforts to attract tourists and shoppers downtown coincident with the decline of its manufacturing base (described in Michael Moore’s film Roger and Me), Brantford pursued other projects along with the new mall to revitalize its downtown core. The provincial government planned a new electronic processing centre, but was cancelled by the NDP-led government in the early 1990s due to budget pressures.

Icomm was to be a new telecommunications museum, science centre, and research hub, built on an old industrial site just south of downtown. While the building was completed in the early 1990s, it was left vacant after Bell Canada pulled its funding for the venture. Though city officials hoped for a post secondary educational institution, the Icomm building became a casino. Next to the casino, a commercial plaza, including a supermarket, fast food restaurants and a LCBO store was built, along with free surface parking.

IMG_7676-001.JPGMarket Square

Eventually, Brantford found a viable solution for revitalizing its downtown core. In 1999, Wilfrid Laurier University opened a satellite campus, starting out in the old Carnegie Library sold by the city for $1. By 2002, there were 340 students; today, enrollment is  about 3,000. Laurier now owns dozens of building downtown, including a previously abandoned movie theatre, and even the old old Eaton Market Square building. Hundreds of students live in local residences.

IMG_7664-001The old Carnegie Library, Brantford

Yet, there is still little retail downtown, though there are now several newer restaurants, bars, and coffee shops.

It hasn’t been all good news. Nipissing University, based in North Bay, also established a satellite campus in Brantford. In December 2014 it announced that it would be winding down its presence there, including its joint programs with Laurier. The Ministry of Education had capped the number of funded spaces for Bachelor of Education students and reduced funding for the program. The joint programs were one of Brantford-Laurier’s main draws.

4360965043_88fea24940_o.jpgColborne Street, January 2010

Meanwhile Colborne Street continued to languish. In 2010, the city expropriated and demolished the entire south side of the street, including several commercial blocks still occupied. A new joint Laurier-YMCA athletics and recreation facility was built on the site, which will open by the end of the year. Sadly, the new building contributes very little to Brantford’s main street.

IMG_7674-001The architecture of the new YMCA-Laurier athletic building is sterile compared to the old Colborne Street storefronts

At the least, Laurier’s Brantford campus has brought some life back to a moribund downtown core that suffered through misguided urban renewal schemes, a major restructuring of the local economy, competition from suburban retail developments, and urban neglect.

But a satellite post-secondary institution on its own isn’t necessarily a panacea for other suffering downtowns. As Norma Zminkowska pointed out recently in an article for TVO, satellite campuses aren’t necessarily permanent boosts to the local economy. In Barrie and Bracebridge, small campuses were closed for financial reasons. They weren’t able to attract enough students. Small campuses, especially those with fewer than 3500 students, often struggle to attract students and faculty — and scattering programs can weaken the institution. This is a warning worth considering as Laurier plans another satellite campus in Milton and Ryerson plans its second campus in Downtown Brampton.


As an aside, Brantford is an interesting town, and is well-positioned at the junction of three major cycling trails connecting it to Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo to the north, Simcoe and Port Dover to the south, and Hamilton to the east. The Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail is one of Ontario’s best trails, in excellent condition, and a gentle grade climbing the Niagara Escarpment.

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Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail

Within Brantford itself, there are several interesting sights. The Bell Telephone building features a statue of Alexander Graham Bell, who resided just outside of town for a number of years. The world’s first long-distance telephone call was made between nearby Paris, Ontario and Brantford in 1876. The area surrounding Victoria Square north of Colborne Street and the mall is reminiscent of a New England town square.

IMG_7649.JPGBell Telephone Building

Brantford was named for Joseph Brant, the anglicized name given to Thayendanegea, the Mohawk leader who allied with the British in the American War of Independence. His community, which previously resided in what is now Upstate New York, was given a large land grant on the Grand River. That land grant shrunk to what is now Six Nations. Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks is one of the oldest buildings in Ontario, built in 1785. It is worth a visit. Nearby, the Woodland Cultural Centre is a museum and art gallery housed in a former residential school. The museum is dedicated to the history and future of the province’s First Nations.

IMG_7727.JPGHer Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks

IMG_7709-001.JPGWoodland Cultural Centre. This building formerly housed the Mohawk Institute, one of many residential schools built as part of Canada’s shameful attempts at eradicating Indigenous heritage. It is now a First Nations museum and art gallery. 

 

Categories
Brampton Development Ontario Urban Planning

Requiem for Ontario’s regional malls

IMG_8782-001Shoppers World Brampton, 2016, before the Target store was replaced by smaller stores, including Giant Tiger

Recently, I wrote about the history of Ontario’s downtown malls. Most of these shopping centres, built in the 1970s and 1980s in the downtown cores across the province, failed by the end of the 1990s. The collapse of the Eaton’s department store chain and competition from larger, suburban malls and new big-box retailers drove customers away from Ontario’s downtowns. Only in Toronto and Ottawa, with large downtown office employment, residential development, and good urban transit, did these major shopping malls thrive.

But that does not mean that all suburban shopping centres are doing well, especially after the loss of Target in 2015 and Sears Canada in 2017. For TVO, I wrote more about how smaller regional malls in Ontario are re-positioning themselves.

The Brampton house that I grew up in was a ten minute walk from Shoppers World, which, in the 1980s, had a full line department store, Simpson’s, as well as Marks and Spencer, K-Mart (where I had my first paying gig, delivering shopping carts back to the store abandoned in nearby parks), a Pascal hardware store, and two supermarkets, Food City and A&P. Larger, more popular malls like Mississauga’s Square One and Bramalea City Centre were one bus ride away, but Shoppers World held its own, even if it was second tier. By the 1990s, though, it was clear that the mall was in decline: national retailers were leaving and there was a noticeable lack of investment in the property.

When RioCan REIT purchased Shoppers World in the late 1990s, it made some improvements and attracted big-box retailers like Canadian Tire, Staples, and Winners. Zellers took over the K-Mart store, which was expanded. But The Bay (which replaced Simpson’s) was closed down and the store later demolished. I had left Brampton in 2006, but I was still sad to see my one-time local mall decline. Now RioCan has talked about downsizing the mall, and redeveloping part of the property. Competition from larger, stronger shopping malls, newer retail power centres, the mismanagement of several retail firms, and internet shopping have all taken their toll. Shoppers World isn’t a dead mall, but like many smaller malls, it will be adapting to changing times.

In the TVO article, I take a look at a few other malls, like London’s Westmount Mall, in similar circumstances.

ShoppersWorld.jpgShoppers World, 2018. Despite many store vacancies, it’s still a community hub.

Categories
Brampton Development Infrastructure Ontario Urban Planning

A tale of two university campuses

BramptonParkingLot
Site of Brampton’s new Ryerson/Sheridan campus

Last week, the provincial government announced two new post-secondary educational campuses in Toronto’s fast-growing western suburbs, due to open in 2022. Wilfrid Laurier University will be partnering with Conestoga College on a new facility in Milton. Brampton will be getting a new Ryerson University campus in partnership with Sheridan College. Both new campuses, each receiving $90 million in provincial capital funding, will be focused on undergraduate STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) programs. Both will host up to 2,000 students once the new facilities are fully operational.

Despite the many commonalities between the new Milton and Brampton facilities, the announced campus locations could not be any more different. Milton’s Laurier/Conestoga campus (which I previously wrote about as an example of the problems of greenfield institutions) will be located on a new greenfield site on the southwestern outskirts of the town’s built-up area, while Brampton’s Ryerson/Sheridan campus will be located in that city’s downtown core, on a site currently used for commuter parking. But since GO Transit’s free commuter parking has to go somewhere, Metrolinx has been buying up and demolishing houses and offices on a nearby downtown block.

I compared the two new campuses for TVO

Categories
Brampton Transit Urban Planning

What’s going on in Downtown Brampton?

IMG_6139-0015 Railroad Street, on the City of Brampton’s heritage registrar, is one of several houses recently boarded up in Downtown Brampton

Update April 19, 2018: the location for Ryerson’s new Brampton campus was announced this morning. The 2000-student campus, which will be a partnership between Ryerson University and Sheridan College, will be built at the corner of Mill and Church Streets, on the GO Transit parking lot. This explains Metrolinx’s (GO Transit’s parent agency) purchase and demolition of properties south of the rail corridor, on Nelson, George, Railroad, and Elizabeth Streets, which I wrote about below.

While it remains unfortunate that surface parking will replace housing and offices, at least in the short-to-medium term, at least we now know what’s going on in Downtown Brampton. The downtown campus site, with excellent transit links, is the right location.


Nearly two years ago, I wrote about how Metrolinx, the Province of Ontario’s regional transportation authority, had purchased several houses and two office buildings in Downtown Brampton. The intention at the time was to build a new surface lot to accommodate GO Transit commuters, a symptom of the commuter transit system’s dependence on providing parking.

Metrolinx is responsible for GO Transit, the UP Express airport rail link, the Presto farecard, and planning and constructing transit infrastructure in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

Since my 2016 blog post, three dwellings — 28A and 28B Nelson Street West, a semi-detached house, and 42 Elizabeth Street North — were demolished, but there was little other visible change until this month. Now eight more houses — on Elizabeth Street and Railroad Street have been boarded up and their electricity disconnected, including at least one rooming house that was occupied until very recently. The two office buildings — 29 and 37 George Street — are also emptying out.

Four of these properties — 30 Nelson Street West, 46 and 50 Elizabeth Street North, and 5 Railroad Street — are listed by the City of Brampton as containing heritage resources.

IMG_6153-001Offices at 37 George Street are moving out

So what exactly is going on? Why has Metrolinx purchased twelve homes and two offices in Downtown Brampton? Is it for a surface parking lot as previously reported in 2016? Or does this have to do with recent plans for a new Brampton campus of Ryerson University?

The City of Brampton has been assembling land and buildings nearby, including 8 Nelson Street West, a six-storey office building above the downtown bus terminal. The city also owns the old Loblaws store on the southeast corner of George and Nelson Street. As Bramptonist‘s Divyesh Mistry found, Metrolinx noted “…continued collaboration between Metrolinx staff […] with the City of Brampton and Ryerson University on the Brampton Station redevelopment.”

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Houses on Elizabeth Street North recently vacated and boarded up. 

If this land assembly is, in fact, to support a yet unannounced Ryerson University campus site on this block or on the existing Brampton GO Station parking lot, then this is on the whole very good news, though I remain concerned about the loss of downtown housing, particularly rooming houses and affordable apartments that some of older homes in the area have been divided into. A downtown campus with excellent transit links — GO Transit and several Brampton Transit bus routes — makes more sense than Milton’s plans for a greenfield campus for Wilfrid Laurier University distant from GO Transit’s bus and rail lines.

IMG_6149-00146 Elizabeth Street North, a rooming house with heritage status, is now boarded up, with the electricity disconnected. 

Unlike a competing university campus site near Etobicoke Creek backed by New Brampton (a politically influential group of local business and landowners who also opposed the Hurontario-Main LRT route), the GO Station and the Nelson/Railroad/Elizabeth Street buildings are outside the historical floodplain and can be built quicker.

If the existing GO Transit parking lot were to be used for Ryerson’s Brampton campus, then an alternative parking site would be required — hence the recent purchase and the demolition of these homes and offices. The construction of a new surface lot in an designated “anchor hub” — where rapid transit lines meet and urban intensification is encouraged — would be most unfortunate, but I hope that it will not be a long-term solution. On the other hand, a new university campus is exactly the type of land use that should be located at an “anchor hub.”

So far, local officials have kept very quiet about the land assembly on the block surrounded by George, Nelson, Elizabeth and Railroad Streets, perhaps waiting for approvals from the province and Ryerson University before making a public announcement. But with residents and office tenants displaced and houses boarded up suddenly, confirmation of these plans should come soon.

Categories
Cycling Politics Roads Toronto Urban Planning Walking

The John Tory Way

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Yonge Street looking south from Richmond Hill

There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Homer Simpson changes his name to Max Power, after he’s ridiculed for sharing the name with a buffoonish television character. It’s not a great episode — it came out at the time the show was in transition from its glory years to the “Zombie Simpsons” era — but it has a few good laughs.

There’s one good memorable quote:

— “There’s the right way, the wrong way, and the Max Power way!”
— “Isn’t that the wrong way?”
— “Yeah, but faster!”

On important transportation projects, the John Tory way is the wrong way, but costlier. We’ve seen this several times during his mayoralty.

When it came time to replace the underused eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway, Tory and his suburban allies on council voted in favour of a more expensive “hybrid” option that maintains much of the elevated highway, instead of a cheaper at-grade option that would provide a better pedestrian realm on the Eastern Waterfront and better support new development.

In Scarborough, Tory stubbornly supports building a one-stop subway extension that was last estimated to cost $3.35 billion dollars, instead of supporting a seven stop LRT route from Kennedy Station that would extend the existing grade-separated Scarborough RT route to Centennial College and Sheppard Avenue. A proposed SmartTrack station at Lawrence East (whose estimated construction cost has risen from $26 million to $155 million) may not be able to be built while the Scarborough RT is still in operation.

And on February 27, Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) voted against plans backed by city staff, the local councillor, John Filion, and many residents and road safety advocates, to transform Yonge Street in North York Centre between Sheppard and Finch Avenues. This section of Yonge Street is due for reconstruction, hence the opportunity to rethink the street to better serve the community.

The REimagining Yonge Street plan seeks to improve the pedestrian realm with widened sidewalks, would add new cycling infrastructure. To make room for these improvements, two traffic lanes — used for street parking outside of weekday rush hours — would be removed. This stretch of Yonge Street has seen many new condominium towers built over the last decade, and there are three subway stations serving this stretch of Yonge Street.

Mayor Tory, who has the power to select committee chairs and members, stated his preference for the status quo on Yonge Street, suggesting that the bike lanes be moved one block west, to Beecroft Avenue. PWIC moved for this alternative option as well, even though city staff reported that the change would cost an additional $20 million.

YongeCrossSectionYonge Street between Sheppard and Finch Avenues would have seen new separated bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and new public art. (From the EA materials.)

The decision to maintain the status quo on Yonge Street benefits commuters outside of Toronto more than local residents, so it is puzzling why Mayor Tory has declared his support — once again — for an option that puts drivers first. Nearly three-quarters of rush-hour drivers on Yonge Street through North York come from York Region. A majority of residents take transit, walk, or cycle; they would benefit from a safer, more pleasant street. Moving the bicycle route to Beecroft Avenue serves to move cyclists out of the way of cars, rather than providing a direct route with better access to transit, shops, and homes.

With Doug Ford focused on the Ontario Progressive Conservative party leadership race, there are — as of yet — no high-profile challengers to Mayor Tory’s re-election bid. There is no need to pander to a voting bloc angered by a so-called “war on the car” unless Tory actually supports suburban commuters over his own constituents. And this decision will only cost more money.

Once again, Mayor John Tory has chosen the wrong way.