ULI Toronto News

Toronto Chief City Planner Gregg Lintern shares his top city building values with an members-only ULI Toronto crowd

By Danny SC Tseng, Syllable Inc.

“I focus a lot on values, which has really manifested itself in the work we do, the way we built Toronto over many decades, and how we think we need to build the city going forward,” said Gregg Lintern to ULI members attending an intimate Members-Only Lunch held at Cassels Brock LLP’s downtown office on June 18. Lintern, whose career in city planning began in Etobicoke in 1984, took over the city’s top planning role following the departure of Jennifer Keesmaat in September 2017. ULI Toronto invited Lintern, who now boasts over 30 years of experience with development applications, policy, and growth planning, to share his vision and priorities for the city.

A sense of humility, the idea of generosity, and the notion that Toronto is a resilient city are the three values that Lintern focuses intensely on. They also informed debates around urban issues when considering the benefits and challenges around city building. Different flash-points that come together in the city, such as transit, income, and densification, often lead to difficult debates. For Lintern, humility is about being able to have difficult conversations in a respectful way, which is essential to solving these problems. “In negotiations, think about how they live,” said Lintern. “Put yourself in their shoes before you consider your own interests.” Another important value for Lintern is the notion of generosity. Although people are guarded about their own space, when it comes to urban life, we all move through and live in a shared space. Therefore, Lintern believes that when people choose to live in the city, they are inherently generous in many ways when it comes to conversations around densification. Lintern’s third value is resilience. Despite the challenges the city has faced, a lot has been achieved and he’s hopeful about the city’s ability to continue solving future challenges.

Lintern regards transit as the great equalizer and a form of public good, which benefits the economy, public health, employment, and social stability. Opportunities arise when access to a transit network is granted to the public. Lintern notes that the existing transit network is for a much smaller city than what Toronto has become. Therefore, transit needs to be built and planned in a way that’s efficient and better linked with land-use planning system. Although meaningful advances have been made in 2017 and 2018, (such as SmartTrack, Finch West, Eglinton East, Scarborough Subway Relief line for north and south, and the waterfront), these are all multi-phase process that come with their own transit disruptions and the necessary pre-work.. Building transit for all day use, accommodating off-peak hours, and streamlining redundancies to create whole connective networks are considerations and improvements Lintern believes are essential for the city and region. Moving people and centring it around the city is vital to how we use street networks in a much smarter way than in the past.

The housing agenda is another big priority for Lintern, who says the focus is on typology, geography, and affordability. The city’s annual statistical update shows that 21,000 units on average per year have been approved over the last 5 years, with 18,000 units on the private side. With this level of development, it’s important to consider how those units are being delivered and how affordable that housing is. Lintern has always maintained a focus on centres, downtown avenues, and other areas undergoing change. Different typologies (tall buildings, mid-rise, and townhomes) are part of the ‘toolkits’ used to improve neighbourhoods for downtown housing and intensification. “Geography is a finite resource,” said Lintern. “How it’s used moving forward will become more complex than the past when seeing it through the lens of policy and official city plan, which is about people, place, and prosperity.” Within the city’s neighbourhoods, Lintern supports laneway housing as a means for neighbourhood intensification. “We have to continue to think about affordable housing, inclusionary zoning, and housing fiscal plan implementation,” asserted Lintern.

Within the planning framework, there are immense numbers of planning initiatives around the city with an emphasis on transit, affluent areas (and future wealthy areas), growth and applying a tighter relationship to infrastructure. Lintern invites city builders to direct their attention to an upcoming report on the next planning growth committee that will summarize the city’s process in the last number of years. He believes the city is in the good position to deal with proactive planning and OMB reforms as it transitions to LPAT. The direction is to give more control to municipalities for appeals.

“We’ve got to ensure what’s been planned so far happens in the future in order to have a successful downtown for diversity and economic success,” said Lintern. TOcore and Yonge & Eglinton are massive initiatives that needs to be realized in close relationship to the huge investment in transit. Woodbine and Scarborough are projected to accommodate a significant amount of the 60% total of future growth that is expected to occur outside of downtown areas in the GTA. On that spectrum, being able to executive these initiatives and programs as well as growing wisely are the real focus of city planning for Lintern. “You’re going to see structural shifts in city, as the city copes to delivering this kind of program,” said Lintern. “I often say this is a very serious business, but I believe we collectively have it in ourselves to really make the future of the city a place we can be proud of.”

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