Ken MacSporran, Architect
Design affects our day to day lives in ways that we are immediately aware of and in ways that take more time to evolve. Just in the past month, two quite different public events focused upon design plans for the area around the Six Points Interchange at the west end of the Village of Islington Business Improvement Area (BIA). In April, a public presentation by the finalists in an architectural competition for a new Etobicoke Civic Centre was held; and in May, a Public Open House about the Six Points Interchange Reconfiguration was held. Both events were hosted by the City of Toronto for different reasons.
The architectural competition for a new Etobicoke Civic Centre Design proposed at the intersection of Bloor Street West and Kipling Avenue included highly detailed proposals for designs that evolved over the course of several months, whereas the Public Open House about the construction process and new street design for the Six Points Interchange Reconfiguration has been over ten years in the making.
However, these two recent community events are closely related in that they are both based upon the design decisions that will create a new urban street system resulting from the Six Points Interchange Reconfiguration plan. City staff from various departments continue to provide progress updates through Meghan Bratt, City of Toronto field ambassador responsible for communications with the public about the Interchange Reconfiguration.
The ideas of the great urban writer and activist, Jane Jacobs, continue to have a positive influence on the design of cities that better meet the needs of communities, and perhaps the elements we take most for granted turn out to be the most important. The armature of the city – a system of streets and sidewalks – has a tremendous influence on life in and around a community. Jane Jacobs suggested that “Streets and their sidewalks – the main public places of a city – are its most vital organs.” The best streets support all aspects of life in a community – walking, biking, driving – and they provide vital connections to live, work and play, both locally and beyond.
From underground infrastructure to street-level public realm, parks and civic, commercial and residential spaces, central Etobicoke is poised for significant development over the next decade. The transformation of the Six Points Interchange and the former Westwood Theatre lands into a network of streets and sidewalks (including Dundas Street West, Dunbloor Road, Bloor Street West and Kipling Avenue) will make the area that was largely developed in the 1950s unrecognizable in 2020 and beyond. The current interchange design lasted 60 years or so; if the proposed design better meets the needs of the community, it will last more than 60 years.
The 200 business and property owners in the BIA along Dundas West from Montgomery Road to Kipling, are excited about the possibilities that this development will bring. However, as one group in the area, the BIA is carefully watching and listening as the City-driven, $70 million construction project moves forward. Throughout the various phases of construction, the BIA will continue to provide information to the City as the changes from the development affect the local community.
As people look for better ways to get around the city, upgraded transit at Kipling Station orchestrated by the provincially run Metrolinx will be a valuable asset to the Central Etobicoke community. The Kipling transit hub is approximately half way between the two largest employment zones in Canada ̶ downtown Toronto and the Pearson Airport zone. Significant upgrades at Kipling Station are planned to create new passenger pick up and drop-off areas, bus platforms for Mississauga Transit and some GO Transit buses.
So, as we consider the opportunities that a new urban street infrastructure may create, beyond the usual concerns about traffic, it is clear that the sidewalks will accommodate pedestrians better than the bridges across Kipling Avenue ever did, and improved connections to a redeveloped Kipling transit hub will be welcomed by residents and businesses near the Station, including the Village of Islington BIA. The proposed design will influence community through the new sidewalk and street pattern, but we will have to wait to see what is planned for the individual blocks of land that are created by the new urban street system, effects on the existing area and how, ultimately, community influences design.