North America, Where Old is the New

North America, Where Old is the New


Rebecca Powell, Steer Davies Gleave


This presentation draws on a case study in the Greater Toronto Area to illustrate how ‘old’ ideas of city planning found in many European centres are being translated into a modern, North American context.


With rapid growth over the last half of the 20th century, many North American cities are faced with increasingly congested transport systems, declining city centres and a desire to re-shape themselves into more compact, liveable, sustainable cities of the future. Increasingly, city planners are looking for ‘old’ examples found in many European centres as models to aspire to. Replicating a tried and tested model provides direction and confidence in achieving an urban core that meets city objectives, and allows planners to benefit from lessons learned in other places around the globe. In doing so, ‘new’ examples are slowly becoming the precedent for the old.
This presentation will draw on a case study in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to illustrate how ‘old’ ideas of city planning are being translated into a modern, North American context.
Over the last five years several cities in Canada have looked to European Light Rail Transit (LRT) design experience to address their need to develop integrated transit solutions, improve transit service and transportation choice, and support wider city shaping objectives.
Mississauga is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada. With the population of the downtown expected to double in the next 20 years, accommodating that growth in a compact and sustainable way will be a real challenge.
The Hurontario-Main LRT is a proposed urban-style LRT that connects two urban growth centres (including Downtown Mississauga) and five designated mobility hubs within the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). The project is identified as one of the top 15 priority projects in the Regional Transportation Plan (“The Big Move”) to be taken forward within 25 years, and will help to shape the downtown and improve regional mobility. The corridor’s vision is to change from an existing six-lane highway, dominated by auto traffic, to a ‘21st Century Main Street’, with the following objectives:
• easy, reliable, frequent, comfortable, convenient and integrated LRT service;
• a beautiful street that invites economic and social vibrancy; and
• development along the corridor that blends with surrounding neighbourhoods.
To support the designation of the downtown as an urban growth centre, in 2010 the City underwent a major planning and public engagement process to transform the downtown from a regional suburban centre to a higher density, mixed use, and attractive urban core. This master plan, branded as Downtown21, identified the scale, location and type of development for the downtown and included space for a 100% increase in people and 300% increase in jobs.
The Downtown21 Master Plan includes a range of new transport infrastructure including a finer street network and distribution road, the Hurontario-Main LRT and Bus Rapid Transit, and active transportation facilities to support the increased mobility needs of this new competitive, 21st Century city centre.
In 2012, the City initiated the Downtown Mississauga Movement Plan to provide ‘proof of concept’ by adding a further level of detail to the Downtown21 proposals. Through integrated, strategic thinking, a higher level of analytical rigour and developer consultation, the Movement Plan will provide clear recommendations on how to achieve the Downtown21 vision and provide Mississauga with the tools to shape their downtown as a unique and enticing centre.
European LRT designed as part of the “complete street” is seen as an enabler to achieving this vision while supporting high growth in the future. Highway lanes are to be re-allocated to urban style LRT and regular stops will link existing communities with new development areas and the current downtowns of Brampton and Mississauga. The LRT will provide opportunities for high quality “mobility hubs” to provide easy passenger transfers to the regional rail network serving downtown Toronto and other parts of the GTA.
Taking old examples isn’t necessarily straightforward when applied to new contexts. European cities have evolved over centuries, whereas Mississauga is under pressure to shape its downtown in decades alone. In order to achieve the long term objectives, Mississauga recognises the need for both a top-down and bottom-up approach to planning and infrastructure investment. Strategic policy with a clearly stated vision and objectives are paramount, but must be linked with individual strategies that provide sufficient detail to ‘prove the concept’. Only when both are aligned will the City have sufficient tools to deliver ‘old’ best practices within a ‘new’ context.


Association for European Transport