When it's not busy fomenting the car-bicycle wars, the Toronto Star takes a respectably fair, urban-oriented approach to GTA news. Yesterday's edition reports an exciting new project that will combine high quality density, rich transit connections and a highly walkable built form to create a car-free live-work community in suburban Markham.
Peter Calthorpe likes to say that how far someone is willing to walk to reach public transit depends on how interesting the journey is.
It's that kind of thinking that got the California-based new urbanism planner and champion of the "walkable city" hired to design a revolutionary, transit-dependent live-work community in Markham.
Langstaff Gateway - built upward rather than outward - will raise the bar for suburban transformation, possibly across North America. On what is now a blighted, semi-industrial area south of Highway 407 and east of Yonge, it would house and employ 47,000 people in an area of just 47 hectares, a density unrivaled in the GTA outside downtown Toronto.
And two-thirds of those residents would rarely, if ever, use a car.
Calthorpe's plan to encourage walking/transit and discourage car use will be familiar to regular RTH readers: limit parking spots; design the main boulevard around walking and cycling; cluster multiple uses together to limit the need to travel to destinations; provide continuous, high-quality transit options; and ensure that the built environment is attractive and interesting enough to turn walking from a burden into a joy.
The sidebar quotes Richard Gilbert, the Toronto-based transportation consultant who prepared the peak oil report Hamilton: The Electric City, on the intersection between an attractive built environment and high densities of people and uses:
There have to be interesting things going on. [...] If you put enough people in the same place, you are almost certain to have interesting and agreeable things happen. You don't have to worry. People have a high tolerance for densities, which is what we are finding out in Toronto.
The outstanding challenges to the ambitious plan will also be familiar to RTH readers: a lack of firm commitment from the Province to extend the Yonge subway line into Markham and provide all-day GO service.
Calthorpe argues that "the forces of history are with" the plan, given the coinciding economic and demographic pressures to build sustainably instead of sprawling endlessly.
It took an early chance on a New Urbanist development designed by Duany Plater-Zyberk, the US architecture firm whose principals wrote Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream. These days, in addition to Langstaff Gateway, Markham is also considering implementing its own municipal Greenbelt by preserving 2,000 hectares (4,900 acres) for local agriculture.
The best thing the Province can do for cities like Markham, which are truly committing to the Places to Grow framework, is to resist the short-term urge to cut spending and regard transit connections to places like Langstaff Gateway as long-term investments in sustainability. The alternative - more car-dependent suburbs, more highways, oil consumption in a world of diminishing oil resources and more voracious land consumption in a region already built-out - will ultimately be far costlier in both expenditures and lost opportunities.
Thanks to RTH contributor Jason Allen for sharing this article.
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