Toronto is a world class laggard when it comes to street pedestrianisation: David Godley

David Godley, whose texts I have posted extensively at this website (you can do do a search for “David Godley Preserved Stories” to find them), has played a key role in a recent planning challenge – which gave rise to a successful, win/win outcome – related to Villa Road in Long Branch.

We owe thanks to every person who wrote a letter, rehearsed a presentation, shared information, and attended any of the September 2014 meetings related to Villa Road. Among the top contributors heading us in the right direction – in the all-important strategic planning aspect of things – were residents from elsewhere (that is, not living on Villa Road, but well aware of the challenge the street was facing) in Long Branch and Alderwood.

I would describe the recent project at Villa Road as a strong A-Team effort, in which every person – including David Godley, among many others – who participated played a strong and decisive leadership role.

David is a key consultant and resource on behalf of the community regarding ongoing planning issues right across long Branch and elsewhere in Toronto. We owe him many thanks for his ongoing efforts, as a volunteer serving the interests of the wider community, in his current role as a retired urban planner.

Christopher Alexander’s work (which David mentions below) has long been a source of interest for me.

I am very pleased to share with you the following comments, concerned with ongoing City of Toronto Official Plan review community consultations, from David Godley:


Here is the content missed:

This is my submission from the meeting I attended in Etobicoke on 6 November 2014.

Please also include my letter of yesterday to Bill Kiru as part of the submission.

Low rise housing was the subject.

I am grateful to you to allow my frustrations with urban design in Toronto to be vented!

The format of the meeting enabled good participation.

The message from the community seemed to be that it is a very long way from great ideas to implementation on the ground.

Urban Design

If Toronto is head of the pack in Urban Design in North America perhaps that is why I go to Europe for trips!

Urban Design is millennia old. New towns in the 1800s such as Saltaire were built by corporate benefactors.

Academics from this era included Sitte who like me favours the informal or organic medieval form.

Gaudi represents my architectural preference as he uses nature as his base so that his buildings are works of art.

Great thinkers of the 1900’s include Ebenezer Howard, Gordon Cullen and Christopher Alexander whose work I admire.

All the urban design ideas that I heard on the 6th were floating around in the 1960s and 70s.

In Dundas the scuptural roof on apartments was a policy in their OP – and was implemented.

I met with Diamond the developer and their architect about their 600 unit project in Long Branch.

I persuaded them to include a small square modelled on the one in Port Credit at Highway 10.

1 Favourite Building

Old City Hall – good scale, material, detail, contrast, shapes the street and lacks symmetry.

Symmetry is one of the negatives of general urban design – a whole scene can be taken in at once.

Formality is indicating power over the multitude and is rarely appropriate in egalitarian Toronto.

Alderwood had a zoning bylaw component banning twin/clone houses so that contrast between the two houses, typically where lots have been split, would make the street more interesting.

The developers’ instinct is to make houses symmetrical so you get identical twins.

The removal by the City of Toronto of this bylaw needs to be fused into the new bylaw for the whole city.

2 Urban Design Success

Toronto is doing poorly overall although apparently better than most in North America.

Building quality has improved from the corn flake boxes with unfinished tops to more interesting designs and the ones planned now seem even better.

There is still a long way to go before the standard of the Marilyn Munroe, Mississauga buildings is reached.

Toronto is a world class laggard when it comes to street pedestrianisation. I would say Canada is last of the first world countries. Yonge Street (not the whole length!) is crying out for pedestrianisation.

It was the best pedestrianised street I had seen in 1974 when I visited.

It would be an icon for Toronto and a show piece for its vibrancy.

3 Improvement

More planning staff, stronger policies, tighter development control.

Allow citizens to shape their community; after all the urban design is for them.

Neighbourhood Planning with stakeholder advisory committees. This has been lost in Toronto but continues in Hamilton where community participation has been much stronger.

Community Boards like New York. At the moment everything is funneled through a single ward politician.

4 Favourite Street

Lake Promenade around Thirty Eighth Street in Long Branch. Click on the image to enlarge it. Jaan Pill photo

In Toronto probably Lake Promenade. I hate most streets because they are dominated by traffic, lack good architecture, are uglified with wires and detritus such as newspaper boxes and are straight and flat generally speaking.

There is no reason why the principles of the most attractive towns in Europe cannot be used in Toronto especially in areas such as the large vacant areas near the waterfront.

I like the Shambles in York which is narrow, 2 to 3 stories and full of curiosity. Quaint, charming and eccentric have made few inroads in North America. The best streets are too narrow to include trees which are often used to cover up awful architecture.

Mediaeval layouts nearly always look better. The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul has most vibrancy I have experienced and is very narrow with lots of individual stores with good flowing out on the walking space.

Look at Lavenham, Bruges, Sarlat, Rothenberg, Bodrum and Cesky Krumlov, my favourite, perfectly illustrating Cullen’s serial vision theories.

Prague would be the city to emulate. It is not just the street but the experience of walking through it to the next open space that is the enjoyment, again as Cullen’s theory on serial vision expostulates.

5 Tall Buildings

Tall buildings have a place and that is at transit nodes. Individual and groups of building which are tallest near transit, grading down to lower buildings reflect the city sculpturally and make it readable.

Why not build the tallest on transit nodes themselves, e.g.Long Branch, Humber loop. Toronto seems scared of building over transport corridors including roads. Perhaps our Mayor can use the money for the rights to build for his transit budget.

Put up something like the Malmo twisted building that was illustrated.

I have reservations about forests of thin high rises, one slight difference from Chief Keesmaat’s excellent planning instincts and musings. I recognise that it is better than a wall.

Designs should be a lot more colourful as in Turkey. Any designs by Gehry and Hadid would liven up to the dullness and corporate efforts of Toronto’s streetscape.

Naturally my favourite tall building is the Familia Sagrada, Barcelona.

6 Midrise Buildings

Cannot think of a favourite in Toronto but the St Lawrence development works very well. There is a real sense of community unlike high rise which are more isolationist.

Gehry’s Astaire and Rogers building, Prague and Guggenheim, Bilbao are excellent as are pretty well all the midrises they do.

Bilbao has been completely reinvented by one building and from industrial mess is now much more attractive that Toronto.

Spanish cities are so differnent to each other and we can learn from all of them.

I could not understand Melbourne rejecting a Hadid railway station but the politicians made the decision.

7 Low Buildings

See yesterday’s email and the attached. Basically the Building Industry has co-opted the Province and the OMB to make development decisions which line the pockets of the development industry and make no urban design sense.

Alexander advocates 4 stories as being the ideal height for humans and framing the street. They are not overwhelming, you can talk to people on 4th floor balconies from the street and nature dominates if there are street trees.

Stepped back storeys can increase density. This aspect seems to be ignored by current urban design thinking which goes on formulas based on road width.

I have written this quickly with your questionnaire to guide me. I am hoping to provoke some discussion I am quite ready to be challenged.

Yours truly, David Godley

[End of text from David Godley]


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *