Canadian Architect

Feature

Urban Design in Canada

August 1, 2003
by Tanzeel Merchant, Ronji Borooah

“Urban Design”, the act of shaping the form of the city, is a relatively new approach in Canada at the scale at which it is practiced today. Gradual accretion and the successive layering of a larger Canadian history have in the past shaped our cities and urban constructs.

The urban landscape today and the challenges that face us are very different. Rapid changes in the structure of our collective economies and ecologies, modes of production and the very act of building our cities have redefined the role of the design professions. The destinies of the cities we live in are now global and linked inextricably to the larger momentum of nations. Their form, face and character, qualities that define them and determine the lives of their inhabitants, have to be premeditated, renewed and safeguarded continually so that they may survive.

The “new” Canada is it’s cities. They are it’s engines of growth, markets of difference, centres of learning and receptacles of culture and art. These evolving urban agglomerations have a colour and texture quite unlike anything that has preceded them. They offer an opportunity to paint a picture that illustrates an emerging “nation” and marks in the history of its people, a true image of itself.

Regent Park — An Urban Design Vision for a New Canada

Canada’s first experiment in social housing, built in the 50’s, was the 70-acre Regent Park, home to 2,100 households in the heart of Toronto. It is today home to a wide spectrum of people, many being new immigrants. Over the last few decades, Regent Park has gone into decline. Markson Borooah Hodgson Architects and Greenberg Consultants Inc., as part of a larger collaborative team, were given the mandate to prepare a holistic and far-reaching strategy to renew the neighbourhood. The firm worked closely with adults, children, and various local agencies through an exhaustive, seven-month long visioning and consultation process to shape a plan and strategy for their community.

Over the next fifteen years, a phased strategy will transform the “project” into a “neighbourhood” with an additional 2,400 new units of market-oriented housing, business spaces and urban industry.

The plan envisages the re-laying of old road networks with a character that resonates with Toronto’s traditional streets and re-connects the neighbourhood back to the city. A new central park will become a focal point for the new neighbourhood while smaller local parks and a linear park system provide pathways to local schools and markets.

Housing typologies will speak to emerging family patterns. Homes and live-work spaces will communicate physically with the streets to build a vibrant street-life while addressing problems of crime and exclusion.

The renewal of Regent Park will be seen as the emerging vision for, and new face of, a young and evolving nation.




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