October 17, 2019

The Grand Bargain, Illustrated


You won’t likely find “The Grand Bargain” in a planning text, even though it explains in a phrase the de facto understanding that has shaped many of the places where Canadians live.

The bargain looks like this:

This is North York* between the Sheppard and Finch subway stations – a one-block-deep corridor of high-density mixed-use development on either side of Yonge Street.

Go another block further and there is a cliff-face drop in scale, where single-family suburbia begins under a canopy of street trees.

Post-war Toronto and its suburban cities decided to accommodate density (those concrete towers especially) where there was primarily commercial and industrial zoning.  With the opening of the Yonge Street subway in 1954, the station areas made ideal locations, especially where there was already a streetcar village.

To deal with community blowback at the sudden change in scale and alienating architecture, especially if the bulldozing of existing residential neighbourhoods might be required, planners and councils struck a compact: we won’t touch a blade of grass in your single-family zones.  Your status will be maintained.

Hence the Grand Bargain: high-rise density, low-scale suburbia, little in between.  Massive change for one, almost none for the other, and spot rezonings thereafter.

On the other side of the country, something similar was going in Burnaby.  In the fifties, the Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board produced a vision – ‘cities in a sea of green‘ – and provided the guidelines to go with it, notably where to consider apartment zoning.  David Pereira details the evolution of Burnaby’s commitment to the regional vision and its apartment zones, renamed town centres, in the 1960s.

That bargain when built out looks like this:

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There’s an interesting movement happening in Toronto, where a small group of millennials is determined to change municipal politics by providing information, engagement, and a platform to learn about and discuss the issues.
Using social media and meme-worthy snippets about politics and participation, the group, which its members call “A Strong 6ix”, is providing a guide to involvement.

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The final post in a series from urban designer Gloria Venczel (principal of Cityscape Design), who asked “Is Vancouver the Urban Design-City-Building leader in North America?”
Today a contrast with an older Toronto.


Comparing Toronto – Old but Revitalized

The older Toronto neighbourhoods and the tourist/heritage oriented neighbourhoods seem to be the exception, embracing the public realm notion of “public living room”.

The revitalized tourist / mixed-use Distillery District with mid-highrise residential and strong“Public Living Room”

. . The revitalized tourist / mixed-use Distillery District with highrise residential . . Public living room close to St. Lawrence Market, a tourist/tocal destination . . Should only tourist areas benefit from good streetscape design and public spaces?


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This week, a series from urban designer Gloria Venczel (principal of Cityscape Design), who asked “Is Vancouver the Urban Design-City-Building leader in North America?”
After a Manhattan comparison, a contrast with Toronto.


I was also able to visit Toronto in the humidity and heat of the summer 2016. It is also a winter city with a plethora of underground shopping complexes downtown Toronto with edgy contemporary  architecture. But the streets seem to be for people/car movement with limited public realm vibrancy.

How does this compare to Vancouver’s newer developments from a pedestrian oriented urban design perspective? Livability? Vibrancy?


“One York”  – great architecture but nothing to do on the street as all the shops and services are below ground. No edge programming that would make the street more vibrant and safe.


Financial District, Toronto. Minimal building edge programming like cafes or shops  to actuallygive people a reason to stay. Planters do not in and of themselves create vibrancy.


Greater Toronto Area (GTA) City Hall . No recognition of people in the urban design in theforecourt, ironically a very anonymous and dangerous space.


Downtown Shopping , Toronto. Barren streetscape, no trees, benches or concept of a “public living room” . Just people and goods movement – utilitarian- close to the Eaton’s Shopping Centre.     

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Tamim Raad draws attention to the comments on Toronto transit planning by those who were there in the ‘golden age,’ in this Globe and Mail article:

Toronto’s transit system was once such a wonder that, even into the 1980s, people came from around the world to study how it planned infrastructure projects, how it executed them and how it operated.

That so-called “golden age” also produced transit experts so revered, they got to travel the globe in return. For some, their views have been valued well past retirement age – though not so much in their hometown.

Three of them – Richard Soberman, Ed Levy and David Crowley – recently gathered for lunch and a gab. The Scarborough subway, which is to be voted on again March 28, was not the focus, but it came up often.

We have to be careful; this idea there was a golden age is a bit of myth,” says Dr. Soberman, former chair of civil engineering at the University of Toronto and lead author of many seminal transportation reports dating to the early 1960s. “We did very good things – on time, on budget – but we made big politically driven errors back then, too. Building a subway [Spadina] on an expressway median was a huge one. Putting the Queen subway on Bloor has turned out to be a mistake.”

“Precisely,” says Mr. Levy, jumping in. Mr. Levy, a planner, engineer and author of Rapid Transit in Toronto, A Century of Plans, Projects, Politics and Paralysis, says that great cities that have been able to sustainably expand subways kept building from the middle out (and they didn’t tunnel in low-density areas).

By not doing Queen right after Yonge, “we missed a crucial starting point for network-building. We’ve never been able to get back to a logical order,” Mr. Levy says. “Call it the Queen line, relief line, whatever, the whole GTA has needed this piece of infrastructure for decades, but politicians keep wasting scarce capital on frills and vote buying.”

“Toronto’s biggest transit problem,” says Mr. Crowley, who specializes in data analysis, travel market research and demand forecasting, “is we’ve overloaded core parts of the subway. We’d basically done that on lower Yonge 30 years ago, when I was still at the TTC. We have to relearn the importance of downtown to the whole region, the whole country. We’re in danger of killing the golden goose.”

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As predicted, it’s senior government politicians, particularly those representing the far suburbs, that try to derail proposals for tolls in the central city.  Scot found this in the Toronto Star: 

Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown wants Premier Kathleen Wynne to put up a roadblock on Mayor John Tory’s plan to toll the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway. …
Brown, who will introduce a motion in the Legislature on Thursday to derail Tory’s scheme, said a Conservative government would make up for the lost toll revenue by managing infrastructure dollars better. Tory, who led the Conservatives between 2004 and 2009, was not amused by his successor’s announcement.
“If Patrick Brown is trying to score cheap political points in the 905, maybe he should have championed a plan to fix people’s commutes into Toronto,” Amanda Galbraith, Tory’s director of communications, said in an email.
“Now, he needs to explain to Toronto residents why he’s happy to let them live in a city that can’t afford to fight traffic or build transit,” said Galbraith. Read more »

Toronto Mayor John Tory has announced the “Rail Deck Park”, 21 acres of downtown public space to be built above existing rail yards. This in an area of expanding population with little public space. “I believe that creating a new downtown park is the best thing that we can do for future generations,” he said. “Not just any park, a big park, a bold park.”

Thanks to  By decking over the existing Union Station Rail Corridor, the tracks below could remain operational while the space above would be reclaimed for public use. For the CityPlace, King Spadina, and Fort York neighbourhoods that straddle either side of the rail corridor, the park would provide both a vital communal space and a link to others part of Downtown. For the geographically sequestered CityPlace in particular, an improved connection with the more established urban environments to the north could be a significant boon.

Thanks to Brent Toderian and James Bligh for the links.

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Of all the images to choose from on a Canada Day weekend, this one (by way of Tim Stevenson) seems to capture something special about our artists, our place and our people:

Published on Jun 30, 2016

It was a magical evening. 1500 hundred singers came to Luminato Festival at the Hearn Generating Station in Toronto. Daveed + Nobu (AKA DaBu) taught them back up parts to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, then Rufus Wainwright joined them on stage to sing lead.


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Former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford died at age 46 today. Here’s CBC’s take on it. It’s a gracious and extensive piece that reflects on his personality, accomplishments, tragedies, and skims over or skips the sexism, racism, homophobia, and lifestyle that gave them so much news. It looks they’ve updated it from this morning’s post and it’s both more and less complimentary now. I hadn’t realized how deep was his love for football.
It doesn’t describe how embarrassing his time in office was for many Canadians – especially anyone travelling abroad while he was mayor – or his anti-active transportation stance that has delayed Toronto’s improved, urban greatness for years.
Here’s my take on what’s missing:

  • the protected bicycle lane in the centre of 5-lane Jarvis Street that was ripped out which struck fear in the hearts of active transportation supporters everywhere.
  • the homophobic comments on why City Hall didn’t need to have showers for active transportation commuters.
  • his insatiably addictive personality: he seemed addicted to food, drugs, alcohol, and later to being in the media – his behaviour more outrageous each time in order to get the exposure at the cost of any respect and his reputation.
  • his enabling family and the sad dynamic within it. His downward spiral was always to the advantage of his brother Doug Ford, whose poor behaviour looked good in comparison. I always wondered if their mother was like the mom in that very disturbing Australian film Animal Kingdom about a family gang in the 1980s.

However, Rob Ford changed my mind completely on the structure of regional districts versus mega cities. I used to think Metro Vancouver as a regional district didn’t have enough power or budget to make the decisions it needed to make. Also, that trying to get 21 municipalities, 1 Treaty First Nation, and Electoral Area A to agree on things was cumbersome and need to move faster, at the speed of business today.
I thought the solution was a mega city: 1 mayor for the entire region with a large city council like Toronto’s. Or, reduce the district into 5 municipalities (of course I had ideas on which ones to merge) and a Treaty First Nation. That would at least be more effective than what we have now.
Once Rob Ford was elected, I could see what could happen in the worst case scenario: A suburbanite mayor addicted to drugs, ripping out bike lanes, spewing hatred unprofessionally, and refusing to resign. The suburbanites in the mega city had voted for him and were still fans – he often did what he had promised to do – while the needs of urban Torontonians were neglected.
It also showed me that this was only a glimpse into the rural vs. suburban vs. urban tension. It has not reached its peak. Unfortunately, many issues including water, energy, housing, and transportation will erupt pitting suburban vs. urban or rural vs. urban residents in the future. G-d forbid.
Suddenly my appreciation for Metro Vancouver grew. It still doesn’t have much power (or the budget to go with it) to be truly effective. It still takes a long time to make major decisions – sometimes decades – because so many cities are involved. We have a lot of work to do to improve the governance structure of our transit authority. But it’s our Metro Vancouver.
My mayor looks out for the 10 block radius of our City and co-operates with most of the ones next door. My downtown lifestyle is so different from those on the West Side and in South Vancouver; it’s enough of a challenge to come to agreements with them. At least my City has no Agricultural Land Reserve or highway running through it. Those people are totally different.
Seriously though, last year’s transportation plebiscite showed how where you stand depends upon where you sit (and how you get there). Vancouver urbanists sounded like Ford’s description of Toronto’s “downtown elites” when trying to get people in “the suburbs” (now called “other cities”) to vote Yes. It takes a lot of work to get so many groups to work together. Each City has its own folks it represents from their point of view. But a mega city is not the answer. Thank you Rob Ford for that lesson.

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Trending now: governments are raising or lowering speed limits
Lowering speed limits in Cities saves lives (and is one of 4 key actions to increase the number of bicyclists). You’ve probably seen the stunning and scary illustrations of a driver’s field of vision at different speeds that Carlos Felipe Pardo talks about. If not, click here and scroll down to the 4 images in Diagram 2.
While some provincial and state governments, including the BC “Liberals”, have been increasing speed limits on highways (with objections from police), more Cities are adopting goals of #VisionZero (zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries per year) and have reduced speed limits like New York to 25mph in 2014, Toronto to 30kph and Edinburgh to 20mph in 2015, and Seattle to 30mph in 2016.

Quotes from articles in links above:
New York: “I am not going to speed for nobody,” [cabbie Ernst Rodriguez] said.
Toronto: “I hope every driver treats every local neighbourhood street like it’s a street where their kids could be playing,” [Ward 22 councillor Josh] Matlow said.
Edinburgh: The easy-to-love capital city is rrrolling out a plan to cap the speed limit at 20 mph across 80 percent of its rrroads, including the entirety of its dense downtown.
Seattle: SDOT Director Scott Kubly said, “The laws of physics tell us that higher speeds will result in more crashes, injuries, and deaths. Lower speed limits allow people more time to see each other and react. These changes will significantly help people walking and biking to schools, parks, transit and other destinations. This is especially important since crashes with pedestrians and bicyclists make up five percent of total collisions but nearly 50 percent of fatalities.”

In BC, municipalities cannot lower speed limits on their own without additional costs. They can either ask the BC government to do it for all municipalities or they have to post signs on each block for anything lower than the default of 50kph. If there’s no speed limit posted, assume the default. That’s 2 signs (1 in either direction) on each block. Vancouver, Victoria, and Kelowna have recently asked the BC government (via UBCM) to lower the default (urban) speed limit to 40kph twice and their request has been denied twice.
The City of Vancouver is concerned about the costs to put up and maintain signs on each block. City engineers also wonder if speed limits are as effective as street design and other methods to calm traffic. (They usually cite the 3 Es to make changes work: Engineering, Education, and Enforcement.)
The City of Victoria decided to act on its own, pay the $90,000 estimated for their first move, and reduce the speed limit from 50 to 40kph on 8 streets plus the Downtown Core.
Should the City of Vancouver be doing more instead of waiting for the BC government to understand the safety and environmental concerns? On the other hand, every time Vancouver adds a greenway or active transportation corridor, the speed limit along it goes to 30kph. Is that enough?
But on the other hand, the main 4 ways to drive to downtown Vancouver (into a dense population of walkers and bicyclists) involve going 60kph over a bridge/viaduct right before entering our downtown. How do we send a message to drivers that they have entered a dense area and need to slow down by 20-30kph or never speed up to 60 before slamming on the brakes to 30?
If a number of streets downtown have synchronized light signals (green the whole way at a certain speed) couldn’t the speed at which to drive through a bunch of green lights be reduced with a little programming?
Discuss. Or better yet, write your MLA and your City Councillors. This is a timely topic at both levels.

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