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Toronto's chief planner sees big changes for Scarborough

Image of Jennifer Keesmaat

Toronto's Chief City Planner Jennifer Keesmaat says Scarborough has a great urban future.

Any discussion about Scarborough’s future usually ends up in an argument about transit. But if Toronto City Council’s recent decision to build a subway extension and an LRT to U of T Scarborough is realized, the benefit will go well beyond shiny new trains.

Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat says the transit plan is a piece of a larger vision for the growth of our part of the city. In 2013, a series of city-hosted roundtables focusing on built form, mobility and the suburbs as a place where newcomers to Canada arrive were illuminating, Keesmaat says.

“Contrary to the myths of suburbs being where people drive, we heard that many people don’t have driver’s licences,” she says. “They’re dependent on transit for school, jobs and the activities of everyday life.”

The problem, of course, is that Scarborough came of age at a time when planning was based on the assumption that everyone would own a car, even in the so-called tower communities, where housing is dominated by high-rises. 

"That myth didn’t hold for very long,” Keesmaat says.

The vision is to densify. Not everywhere, but in key locations such as Scarborough Town Centre, which is to become a high-density urban centre anchored by a subway stop, and along Eglinton and Kingston Road, where the city’s “avenues” strategy will be implemented. The “avenues” approach adds what Keesmaat calls “gentle density” to an area that is currently low density and dominated by roads and parking lots.

“It’s one of the reasons why the LRT offers such opportunity,” she says. “It presents the opportunity to create a Main Street there.”

As for UTSC, the city is being guided by the campus’s secondary plan to develop the area as a mixed- use “live-work-play” hub for the region, not just for Scarborough but for neighbouring communities in York and Durham regions. The plan is to have more residential and commercial buildings, which, combined with the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, will attract much more activity to UTSC’s neighbourhood.

The project will be many years in the making, and requires that all the planning pieces fall into place.

“You really need the right components together to attract people,” she says. “But when you get it right it’s a no-brainer.”