One of the important questions facing our community is how to best develop the city’s core in a way that will make our downtown more walkable, livable and vibrant. Last week we invited Brent Toderian, an internationally respected expert in urban planning and design, to give a presentation with a question and answer period here at City Hall. Memorial Hall was packed as Mr. Toderian discussed best practices around intensification. If the ultimate goal is to accommodate more people living, working and enjoying the downtown, what sort of development is best?
Mr. Toderian touched on a number of interesting and exciting ideas, but one point that stood out was his comment that until now the discussion concerning downtown development has focused almost exclusively on building height, and not enough on overall design. In other words, we should be having a broader conversation. We can look at taller buildings but those buildings should be beautiful and they should be designed in ways that build a vibrant streetscape. Attractive architecture, ground floor commercial space, and inviting public spaces for pedestrians are just a few of the design aspects easily overlooked when the only thing we debate is building height.
On this point, I want to commend the City’s planning staff, who have already been working to move the conversation about building design to the forefront. The City’s Official Plan currently requires an urban design study if you want to build a tall building in the downtown. This puts us in a perfect position to really make design a priority; to emphasize the right design features for beautiful buildings and ensure a vibrant streetscape!
Mr. Toderian has challenged us all to reexamine our thinking and to embrace a more fulsome dialogue around future patterns for development. With the lowest rental vacancy rate in the province, there’s no question that we need to build more housing to meet the growing demand. If we want to avoid urban sprawl, we will need to embrace the right kind of intensification and infill developments, not only in the downtown but across the city. I believe we have an opportunity to work together as a community to ensure our city is built in a way that will inspire generations to come!