By Jin Han, Tolobi
The following is a recap of one of the 11 city tours that made up ULI Toronto’s Symposium 2018. On November 7th, hundreds of urban professionals from the region and beyond came together to explore the leading edges of North America’s fastest growing metropolis, exposing the contemporary tensions and innovative approaches to building a global city region.
“Private Business and Public Interest” was one of ULI Toronto’s eleven tours that made up its “Conference on Wheels,” which explored the development frontiers of this dynamic city. Public-private partnerships are undergoing reinvention in the face of increased competition, public revenue shortages and evolving social demands. The itinerary included stops at CIBC Square, PATH, Alexandra Park and Sidewalk Toronto that engaged the tour attendees in learning and debates revolving around unique, complex approaches to the city-building process.
The first stop was the CIBC Square guided by Frank Lewinberg from Urban Strategies and Michael Sutherland from Hatch. Ivanhoe Cambridge and Hines partnered with Metrolinx to undertake a significant mixed-use development at 81 and 141 Bay Street, featuring a current tenant roster that includes CIBC, Microsoft Canada and AGF Management. Lewinberg and Sutherland expressed excitement for the city’s first elevated park over the rail corridor. This privately-owned, publicly accessible space is expected to be a remarkable contribution to the open space much desired in the downtown core.
Next stop was Royal Bank Plaza for a stroll along the PATH with Brodie Johnson from Toronto Financial District BIA. The world’s largest underground shopping complex, offering more than 30 kilometres of shopping, services and entertainment, is privately maintained and open for public access with more than 200,000 commuters making use of it on weekdays.
Taking a break from the walking tour, Urban Strategies hosted lunch at their office complemented by informative presentations by Craig Lametti, Benjamin Hoff and Melanie Hare on their respective PPP experiences. Lametti started with the Mount Dennis Mobility Hub Study, highlighting the importance of community engagement to understand what the public wanted from the future station area.
Hoff discussed East Harbour, a future mobility hub connected by Don Valley Parkway, Gardiner Expressway, Broadview streetcar, future SmartTrack and Relief Line; followed by 2280 Dundas West, a western mobility hub linking the Bloor subway, UP Express, Bloor GO with Dundas and King streetcars. Hare and Barry Gula from Freed Developments concluded the presentations with Reimagine Galleria, repeating the importance of active community engagement and respecting the site’s crucial role in the community’s day-to-day lives.
A panel of experts, composed of Gula, Joe Svec from Choice Properties REIT, Laura Berazadi and Walter Daschko from Metrolinx, and Renee Gomes from First Gulf, shared their experiences and lessons learned. Key themes discussed were public authorities’ ability to balance delivery of the public good while fostering innovation, collaboration among organizations with differing mandates and other restraints, and necessity of working with the public as key stakeholders in such processes.
Renee Gomes, First Gulf: “When you do any big city building projects, you have not only the responsibility to engage the public all the way through, but also it’s just a good practice.”
Back on the walking tour, the next project was Alexandra Park, an 18-acre social housing development from the 70’s. Andrew Goodyear from Toronto Community Housing Corporation and Paul Cope from Tridel joined the tour. With the neighbourhood under the co-operative management model housing around 2,500 people, Goodyear noted the guiding principle of zero displacement, ensuring that residents will not need to move out of the community during or after construction.
Andrew Goodyear, TCHC: “Really, all throughout the redevelopment, the community is making the decision.”
The tour concluded at 307, a central office and workspace for fostering co-creation by Sidewalk Labs. Sidewalk Toronto, a high-profiled joint effort for urban innovation by Waterfront Toronto and Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs, was unsurprisingly a focal point for other tours in the symposium as well. Panel moderator Joe Berridge from Urban Strategies Inc. along with Josh Sirefman from Sidewalk Labs and Meg Davis from Waterfront Toronto, led a lively discussion on range of points, such as the collaborative efforts between the two parties and all three levels of the government, challenges faced in public outreach and engagement, and their commitment to improving both “hard” and “soft” aspects of a growing metropolis like Toronto.
The projects visited during this tour are all unique in their complexity and significance. Despite the differences, some of the common lessons shared across were importance of mutual understanding and efforts to reconcile divergent interests to arrive at the common solution. The city-building process, appears to remain an evolving collaborative endeavour.