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Transit Innovations – Coming Soon to Toronto!

It was with great excitement that we recently read about Metrolinx’s announcement that they would be developing real estate projects at selected stations along the new Eglinton Crosstown LRT. It is not often the case that we hear about large government agencies embracing urban innovation at such a scale and we applaud Metrolinx’s decision to take this amazing step forward.

One of the sites selected for further development was Mount Dennis and we’re further ecstatic that this may mean that some of the community-generated ideas from Refocus Kodak linking development & the proposed LRT maintenance facility could potentially be implemented! Peter Frampton, Executive Director of LEF – and who helped drive the Refocus Kodak campaign – was just thrilled at this possibility – not to mention the fact that a community-driven vision had indeed been adopted by government. It could also mean the start of a process towards revitalization in Mount Dennis, which is currently one of Toronto’s Neighbourhood Improvement Areas.

As followers of our blog will note, we’ve been talking about the potential of development at transit sites for many years now. In our winning entry to the 2013 Global Engineering Innovation Competition, we discussed how government could implement tax increment financing and directly develop transit sites in order to generate revenue to offset capital costs and better maximize the use of the transit infrastructure. In 2012, our Founder, Howard Tam, was interviewed by now-Toronto Mayor John Tory on the merits of the “Hong Kong Model” of transit development – and how it is smarter to tie transit and property development together.

We eagerly await to see how this will all roll out. Being publicly-funded projects, we do hope that that a balanced form of development addressing private interests and community needs can be created. As Refocus Kodak demonstrated, there is definitely no shortage of good ideas from local residents about what could be built – we just need to ask. Government must find ways to co-design & work with communities to address their needs in whatever development happens. Often, we note that these community needs are actually very complementary with business – from wanting more local shops to creating vibrant public spaces that help attract more customers.

Indeed, the social innovation movement has clearly shown that there are ways to blend profit and social benefits. Government could take this one step further and lead the way by thinking of these developments as pilot projects that could demonstrate some of these ideas in action. Allocating certain percentages of these developments for non-profit community hubs or affordable housing would further add to the social benefits mix and ensure that there is something for everybody. The result would be what urban planners talk about all the time: vibrant, diverse, mixed-used communities.

Even as we celebrate these developments along the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, we should also be planning for the next wave and seeing how we can apply this concept to projects currently being planned. Former Toronto city councillor Richard Gilbert is already calling for such an approach for the new Scarborough Subway. We look forward to contributing further to this discussion as well as to the planned SmartTrack and Relief Lines.

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