Implementing “20-min Walkable Neighbourhood with Community Hub” as the New Growth Model
On October 2nd, 2020, the City of Brampton, in partnership with ULI Toronto, UofT’s School of Cities, and the City of Helsinki, hosted a virtual walkshop event, bringing public, private, non-profit, and community leaders together. Over 200 participants from various disciplines including 3 levels of Canadian government and executives from Finland, Netherlands and Sweden, all 7 local developers and other private sectors executives within the Greater Toronto Area, community leaders and thinkers from the University of Toronto, ULI and world-renown practitioners in the field of design, mobility and economics from Toronto, Chicago and New York, took part in the unprecedented walkshop to explore the potential and vision for turning Brampton’s Uptown into a transit-oriented community (TOC).
Uptown Brampton Transit-Oriented Communities Toolkit
Healthy City Region: Getting to Transit-Oriented Communities
Professional Panel Presentation: Getting to TOC
Helsinki 25 Hour City TOC
Uptown TOC Today: Youth Video
Uptown TOC Tomorrow: Day-in-a-Life Video
Getting to Transit-Oriented Communities: Virtual Walkshop
The Uptown Shoppers World redevelopment is one example of a ground-breaking project at Hurontario-Steeles that is working to improve social connection and the health and well-being of our urban communities. This redevelopment is located at the intersection of Hurontario and Steeles – a 5-minute walk from the Light Rail Transit station that will be arriving in 2024. Within this emerging neighbourhood, the City and partners plan to construct the Shoppers World Urban Community Hub. This Hub is planned to serve as an anchor for social connection, health, and innovation. The reimagination of Shoppers World into a transit-oriented community will enable Brampton residents to experience increased social and physical connection, urban design that supports active lifestyles and reduced pollution, and vital economic growth and job creation.
In his opening remarks, Regional Councillor Martin Medeiros pointed out that “Brampton is the fastest growing City in Ontario. We are growing at three times the Provincial average. We are working hard at City Hall to build champions across all levels of government and sectors to support smart growth and to advance collaboration and innovation partnerships.”
Following the remarks, the main program of the Virtual “Walkshop” started with a couple of videos created by local youth and the Brampton Urban Design team, which provided an on-the-ground impression of “Uptown Today” and a vision of “My Uptown TOC” in the coming years. Speakers on the Healthy City Region Panel – Yvonne Yeung, Ken Greenberg, and Matti Siemiatycki – discussed directing this projected population growth towards urban neighbourhoods – specifically towards Uptown’s planned 20-minute complete neighbourhoods. As Brampton’s Urban Design Manager Yvonne Yeung said, “we need to leverage reduction of auto-dependency to enable 20-minute walkable neighbourhoods,” and “arrange the built form in a way that will provide for meaningful family-oriented environments.” Ken Greenberg presented a strategic focus on benefiting both the existing community and new development through an integrated design framework that provides a holistic view. “As we are doing, we make the existing community work better in terms of walking, cycling, community amenities, things like the corner store. Shoppers World is not an exemption but is pointing a different way of doing development.”
With the complexity of this redevelopment and the wide range of stakeholders, clear communication about the benefits of TOCs is key for success. A professional panel membered by experts in design, mobility and economics from Toronto, Chicago and New York further discussed challenges and unique opportunities for the TOC. Andre Brumfield, Principal of Gensler, commented on the need of providing a welcoming place at the outset, “it is encouraging for me to see that you are taking equity and inclusion very seriously. This makes me feel welcomed, as a visitor coming to the City, to this 20-min neighbourhood.” Andre further shared his view on creating equitable mixed-income housing which can improve quality of life that can forges a better economic future. Kate Collignon, Partner of HR&A, highlighted the opportunity that “community-oriented feature that increases value for subsequent development will distinguish Brampton from other communities across the world. This can enhance Brampton’s brand as a place to do businesses, as a place to live, given the forward-thinking vision.” In respect to mobility, Daniel Haufschild, Principal of Arup, highlight the need of creating human-centred roads and established shared values at the outset, “we can make the change if we put our mind into it. Humanizing Hurontario is both the street and the built environment coming together.” The panellists further discussed challenges related to the TOC vision that need to be addressed, which include growth management to ensure affordable and equitable development, alignment of the vision across stakeholders, and determining the phasing and implementation of the vision.
Annie Sinnemäk, Jani Mollis, and Tuomas Hakala from the City of Helsinki then presented Kalasamata – a transit-oriented community – highlighting new solutions for housing and living, the importance of investing in cultural assets, and the complexity of managing a project of this size and with many stakeholders. Annie Sinnemäk, the Deputy Mayor of Urban Environment at the City of Helsinki, shared that similar to Brampton, “Helsinki has also experienced a similar challenge of growth,” and went on to explain that their strategy for dealing with this growth has been “to expand the urban core, and densify the urban center to be more full of life.” Tuomas Hakala, Head of Detailed Planning, shared Helsinki’s implementation approach to Transit-Oriented Communities where having schools and daycare within walking distance is almost a must in the community. To attract new residents and businesses to the new TOCs, Helsinki uses a “Living City” strategy, which is “trying to have everyone from Helsinki to visit Kalasatama as it gets redeveloped. Cultural activity is a great way to get a positive community impact.”
Kathy MacDonald, Trustee of Peel District School Board, then shared her support for the vision. “I am very committed to the Community Hub concept. I believe a strong city needs strong families and strong communities. Strong community reply on strong, educated youth. We need to ensure we inspire success, confidence, and hope in all students. This is a win-win for all.”
Following presentations and remarks from the City of Helsinki panellists, participants took part in breakout discussions and explored the challenges and corresponding solutions involved in implementing Brampton’s TOC vision. These fruitful discussions revealed valuable insights that will aid Brampton in implementing its vision of Uptown as a TOC. Discussion groups flagged the need to address issues of social equity and affordability, along with how the project would benefit from community involvement, development charges that can be reinvested in the area, and aligning the timing of public and private investments. The group further discussed the need for investments from all levels of government and revisiting road character design for Regional Road as human-centred. In addition, municipal standards and the administrative process were identified as areas that could be updated to make development more efficient, more pedestrian focus, more welcoming and more viable for businesses. “The Region Road character study has reached the end of life and need a re-study. Think long term, and adapt to it now.”
Regional Councillor Paul Vicente further shared his support for the vision of the 20-min walkable neighbourhood. “Urban Sprawl costs cities. The direct costs of urban sprawl can easily be quantified in dollars and cents by looking at services like waste, roads and utilities. The human costs of pollution, dependence on cars and most importantly the time lost on travelling. That would be time much better spent with our families and loved ones.”
“We are at the cusp of a new way of building cities that is based on collaborative city-building. Making this a first best option to meeting public health, climate change, and social equity goals,” noted Interim Director of the University of Toronto’s School of Cities Matti Siemiatycki. Among Brampton’s greatest strengths is its commitment to collaboration and innovation, and as Richard Forward, Brampton’s Commissioner of Planning, Buildings, and Economic Development added, “our urban design team is at the forefront of developing tools for collaboration. Through this collaboration, we are able to understand the holistic, diversity challenges at various scales. It is the collaborative spirit that enables the innovation required to plan, build and develop healthy homes and neighbourhoods.”
The morning concluded with Bob Bjerke, Director of Policy Planning, thanking all participants with remarks, “we hope, that with your bright minds, and the collaborative spirit put into action, we can find and implement the innovations needed to quicken the delivery and improve the quality of these services and infrastructure. To build them in right as the new and existing residents need them.”