As Toronto Executive Committee meets this week to discuss the City’s plans for SmartTrack and other transit, it’s an interesting time to consider what level and type of growth might occur at SmartTrack stations. Indeed, recent analysis of ridership and growth projections for SmartTrack were presented by the City this Week.
On March 17th, Ryerson planning students will be presenting their visions and plans for complete communities at SmartTrack stations at the Ryerson CBI hosted Smart Students and SmartTrack. We have asked experts Sean Hertel and Richard Joy to join us to comment on the student’s work and help us understand why we need to be proactive in planning around these stations; why it’s crucial that we get development around SmartTrack right, and what “getting it right” means.
Ryerson CBI’s first City Building Course
This past fall, the Ryerson City Building Institute teamed up with Ryerson’s School of Urban and Regional Planning to examine development around one of Toronto’s most talked about transit plans: SmartTrack/RER (regional express rail). In our unique city building course, led by Professor Chris De Sousa, 100 undergrads were asked to envision and plan complete communities around the proposed SmartTrack stations.
The students’ community visions were informed by lectures given by an excellent array of subject matter experts including design guru Ken Greenberg (who helped design the course) and development mogul Blake Hutcheson, to name a few.
Following the completion of the course, students took their recommendations all the way to the mayor’s office. In late January, Mayor John Tory listened to student’s community visions and the their take on how SmartTrack could connect communities. Impressed by their designs, Mayor Tory was thrilled to see our next generation of planners thinking about how to build an accessible community for everyone.
Why Complete Communities
SmartTrack/RER was the centerpiece of John Tory’s successful 2014 mayoral campaign. There are many variations of the plan, but to keep it simple, SmartTrack seeks to leverage existing GTA rail infrastructure to connect Toronto’s suburbs to the core with all-day, frequent rail transit. While the details are still evolving, any iteration of SmartTrack/RER promises to not only transform the the GTA’s transit network, but it has the opportunity to transform neighbourhoods, create new transit hubs, and make lands adjacent to stations ripe for development. In response to this plan, Ryerson has asked our planning students the question: how can we develop complete communities around SmartTrack stations?
In this unique studio style course, student groups explored how to “mix up” current planning practice in the Toronto area and develop neighbourhoods that accommodate for mixed use, mixed income, mixed age, mixed ability, and economic performance around 21 proposed transit stations.
The final product from all groups illustrates a great take away: one size does not fit all. With distinct built forms and diverse demographics, the 21 projects clearly show that each community requires a different set of planning interventions.