Friday, May 18, 2012

Exploring the Midtown, present and future

A real treat for me today (beyond the simple enjoyment of walking downtown on a sunny morning as a nice change of pace). As part of the Central Transit Corridor project, the CTC folks invited me (and many others) to spend the day studying and exploring a part of the future rapid transit corridor that they are referring to as "Midtown".

It is an area I can claim a certain familiarity with. Over the last 10 years I have lived at four addresses which bracket the area.  Its centre, and future LRT station at Grand River Hospital, has been an orbital attractor ever since iXpress started taking me to work from it in 2005. I have been up and down almost every single street on foot or bike. It is the closest thing to a home turf as I have ever had.

Today's exercise was about what it is, and what it could (or should) be. What it is at the moment, to be quite frank, is not a whole lot. The hospital is of course of major importance, and Sun Life is a big employer. A number of small medical offices are scattered around. There is fantastic (regionally speaking) transit access and new development is happening down near the future Hub and near Uptown. But there is very little supporting business.

There is an almost criminal amount of surface parking. And as loathe as I am to admit it, an ongoing need for that parking, but also opportunities to control it and provide it in built structures which may serve both hospital and Sun Life. The lot pictured in that link (edit: link has been added) is a major parcel of land buffered from residential and it could be used much more effectively. Other opportunities are the cut off, paved and otherwise wasted spaces that are inaccessible now and hidden next to Mount Hope cemetery. And the defunct Uniroyal property looms, a massive brownfield waiting to be reclaimed.

The biggest opportunity, and the mission of the CTC effort, is to see the new development done in a way that fits with what exists, maximizes the rapid transit asset, and creates vibrant neighbourhoods and quality places.

So, a bunch of planners from both cities and the region, plus a lot of motivated citizens, poured over maps all day. We tackled many issues at different levels of scale: specific visioning of the King St. corridor, examining mobility by all modes, and even coming up with ideas for Uniroyal. Throughout this effort, modelers were busy creating a scale representation of the existing buildings and possible future additions for a giant map, based on the information we provided.

The results, pictured below, are impressive. The scale models give a great sense of what the new streetscapes might look like. And, hopefully this effort will help the cities and the region identify the gaps in their plan, shape their own vision and set priorities to guide development and solve the problems we brought up.

Hopefully, I said, and hopefully I meant. The next steps are out of my hands. But there was a great amount of local knowledge connecting with the ideas and understanding of how to solve urban challenges. I hope it is not wasted.

A cautionary note about these images: while the white blocks are existing buildings, nothing about the blue ones are meant to be taken literally. Some are even facetious (like the 82-story monster that was placed below to make a point, nothing more.) This is all possibilities.

Above, the aforementioned 82-story monster. It looks ridiculous, but buildings this size exist. It hints at what can happen with unchecked development. However, the same block looks much less out of place when laid on its side next to King St. Obviously not as a contiguous unit, but the same building area can be provided in 5-6 story structures oriented towards the street, providing mixed use and more flexibility in finding parking.

The Transit Hub district takes shape. Actually, it's not a bad mock-up of the (as yet undesigned) hub! Starting digging, folks... this project is shovel-ready...

Meanwhile, planners envision the future corporate headquarters of Uhu Inc:

Below, something much closer to the final product, looking from Waterloo south... At the end of the day, the Sun Life surface parking is now a collection of uses, including a parking garage to address both Sun Life's and GRH's needs. The CKCO block has been redeveloped to the 5-6 story level at the front, and on the back townhouses front an extended Mary St.

A lot to unpack in the last image below, from Kitchener looking north. Most obvious, the hub-- becoming the point of greatest mobility in the region, and possibly anywhere in Ontario west of Toronto-- has attracted a lot of attention. Further west, the old factory building at Uniroyal stands proud with new development next to it, and Belmont Village has grown up a little. New roads and trails line the CN corridor, and on the east side, connect Green to Pine, allowing reclamation of cut-off space next to Mount Hope cemetery.

1 comment:

  1. What's especially odd about the "almost criminal amount of surface parking" at Sun Life is that they have far more than the huge lot in your photo. There is, of course, a second smaller-but-still-large surface parking lot on the north side of their building, as well as a small lot opposite them, on the far side of Park St. So three surface level lots, plus the 5 (6?) story block-wide parking garage across John Street.

    They are also right on King Street (#7 + IExpress Bus), Union (#4 bus), and close to Belmont (#8 bus), so they're incredibly well served by public transit. They're also right on the Iron Horse, so walking/cycling should be a snap too.

    I asked someone from Waterloo planning about it once, and they said that Sun Life is one of the highest participation rates in active commuting programs, but it seems astonishing to me. It's a big building, but it's not any bigger than towers in Toronto that have a far smaller parking footprint. What kills me is seeing people drive from the far side of the Sun Life building to Vincenzo's for lunch. No joke.