Why not let the kids redesign Leslieville?
The battle over big-box retail is heating up in the city’s east end. SmartCentres is planning a 650,000-square-foot retail development on Eastern Avenue near Leslie Street that may include a Wal-Mart. The city has vetoed the plan. The developer has appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board. Asked to declare a provincial interest in the matter, Queen’s Park declined. The matter goes before the OMB next month. We’ve seen this before.
Meanwhile, this past weekend, the provincial Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal—the department responsible for the Places to Grow Act—hosted a design charrette for its Youth Engagement Project, in which teams of high school students got to play urban planners and redesign their local downtowns. The project focused on six communities: Burlington, Oakville, Newmarket, Pickering, Kitchener-Waterloo and Etobicoke. Few people think of Etobicoke as having a downtown, but that was precisely the point. The Places to Grow Act is all about limiting sprawl by intensifying existing development areas.
It’s a clever idea on the ministry’s part to get kids thinking about urban form at a stage in their lives when it is first being opened up to them in full. And the kids caught on fast. According to spokesperson Anne Dunderdale, there was “lots of discussion of walkability, and pedestrian- and bike-friendly areas.” They proposed wiping out entire hydro corridors and building ring-shaped cultural institutions. The Etobicoke team found a way to put 10,000 more people within walking distance of Islington station.
Ah, the innocence of youth. It would have been nice to see how the kids might have redesigned Leslieville as an east-end mini-downtown, and then to see if it would have survived the litany of resident conflicts, understaffed planning departments and OMB hearings that dog every development—whose end result is always bright ideas trumped by entrenched interests. Then again, that’s pretty much the way the conflict is unfolding now. There’s a certain innocence to Councillor Paula Fletcher’s proposal to reserve the area for “value-added jobs,” but she’s fighting an uphill battle against low, low prices.