Waking Dream: Cornell, Langstaff Gateway and Planning New Suburbs in the GTA
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This paper explores the gaps between anti-sprawl policies and what has materialized on the ground in the Greater Toronto Area, a matter of particular import as the province's suite of growth management legislation is now being tested in its implementation phase. As Toronto grew so did Markham as one of the sprawling bedroom communities along its border. But in the 1990s the town became among the first municipalities in Canada to adopt New Urbanism as a paradigm for suburban development, attempting to break away from decades of auto-centric urban sprawl. Andres Duany and his firm, Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ), were hired to develop Cornell, a greenfield site, as a Traditional Neighbourhood Design (TND) New Urbanist community, with a greater emphasis on compact development and walkability than conventional development. In 2005-06, the Province of Ontario passed new legislation that enshrined the same Smart Growth principles in the planning regime for Toronto and its surrounding region. Even as questions were being raised about how successful were the ideals of New Urbanism generally, and the development of Cornell specifically, Markham hired Peter Calthorpe, also a founder of New Urbanism, but with a greater focus on orienting communities around transit corridors than Duany. Operating in the new provincial growth context, he planned Langstaff Gateway, a proposed Transit-Oriented Development (TOD); a suburban community in which only 35 per cent of trips would be by car. This paper reviews literature on the paradigmatic "American Dream," that drove the dominant form of conventional suburban development and the New Urbanist ideals that aim to supplant it. It then proceeds to assessments of the nascent Cornell community and the planned Langstaff Gateway growth centre through interviews conducted with residents, politicians, members of the development industry and planners. Few if any of the suburban municipalities around Toronto have been as amenable as Markham to introducing new suburbs and the new kind of lifestyle that comes with them. After deploying ideas for "better" suburban development for nearly two decades the city provides a unique case study through which to assess what has gone right and what has gone wrong on the ground. This paper then looks observes trends in changing suburbia, both in terms of the lifestyle of its residents and the built form in which they reside. Intensification and transit-orientation are the new goals of the provincial planning regime but this paper will look at how realistic those goals are and, learning from Markham's example, what tools or other changes are required to close the gap between expert plans for more sustainable and successful suburbs and the realities of politics and the market. After nearly 20 years of trying, how successful have attempts to implement New Urbanist ideals for "better" suburban development been and what are the gaps between their ideals and the reality as it has materialized? How has the policy regime in Ontario addressed these shortfalls and what changes are required to ensure those gaps are filled?