What does a good neighbourhood look like?

From City of Toronto.

Developers have returned to Weston and Mount Dennis for two reasons:

  1. There is an opportunity to make money.
  2. See reason #1

The opportunity has arrived thanks mainly to government infrastructure spending, mainly in the form of improved transit. Developers are not benevolent entities so that’s why we have planning departments and civic government to protect us from their excesses.

Why have developers come here? The city is expanding and transit links have improved. The UP Express makes a trip to the airport or downtown quick and easy. The much awaited Eglinton Crosstown line will be opening in 2021 2022 and with good transit comes increased property prices and investment opportunities. The city will gain from the increased property tax assessments that new buildings and increased density will provide.

Win Win.

Unless…

We have all witnessed first hand the results of bad development. In fact Weston could be called the poster child for corrupt and shoddy development imposed on the community in the 70s and 80s. In addition, community housing has been allowed to deteriorate through bad management and constrained budgets. When Progressive Conservative Premier Mike Harris dumped responsibility for social housing onto the city in 1998 he promised that the transfer would be revenue neutral. Last year Ottawa announced funding to help ease the $1.6 billion repair backlog.

Anne Hidalgo has been the Mayor of Paris since 2014. The city isn’t perfect and they are looking at an idea that is gaining traction. The idea is that nobody in Paris should be more than a fifteen-minute walk or bike ride to everything they need in order to live well.

Adapted from: Le Paris du ¼ heure. From Paris en commun. Click to enlarge.

Clearly, if people could live close to everything they needed, life would be a lot better. People would be healthier thanks to exercise and reduced fumes from vehicles. Is this a possibility for Weston and Mount Dennis? We certainly have the parks, outdoor exercise opportunities and fresh air (given the constraints of local highway pollution). Access to a doctor / health care is probably reasonable (readers may wish to comment). The things our community seems to lack are cultural opportunities, good produce stores, a decent bakery (mmm baguettes) and a bigger variety of workplaces.

Charlottesville Virginia has become a walkable city. From c-ville.com.

It doesn’t help that in the past 20 years the bike network in York South Weston seems to have grown at the same rate as a sloth’s fingernail. Toronto routinely fails to spend its annual budgeted allocation on bike trails and lanes. In 2016, the City’s 10-year cycling plan was supposed to create 560 km of bike lanes and cycle paths. Two years later, 33 km had been built. The City claims it’s because of the environmental and other assessments that need to be done beforehand. I think it’s a lack of will. On this side of the pond, Charlottesville has made their city walkable. So it is possible if the will is there.

Rio de Janeiro’s version of Lakeshore Boulevard (oh the irony) is closed to traffic every Sunday. File.

We need to impress on politicians that traffic-clogged streets and car-dependent neighbourhoods are harmful to our health. Developers and city planners should be working towards the day when everything is within walking or cycling distance. This is why we as a community should be vigilant and not allow poor design, rampant greed or both to be the deciding factors in what gets built here. We need to be vigilant for the people who will make Weston and Mount Dennis home over the next 50 years.