Plan structured around neighbourhoods (column)
London Community News
As city council gave approval last week to the land use plan for what is described as London’s last frontier, there were fears the development industry would be the biggest winners. In the cut-and-thrust world of compromise that is community planning, at first glance it appeared the ideals had been squashed.
Not so, says Gregg Barrett, the city’s manager of land use planning policy.
While in the last few weeks before council approved the plan there were adjustments — extending the Wonderland commercial corridor south to Hamlyn St. from Exeter was the most significant — Mr. Barrett says the most important elements remain.
From a planning perspective “there is a heckuva a lot there,” he says. “Some of it is pretty advanced and pretty exciting.”
The Southwest Secondary Plan covers a huge swath of land south of Southdale with Wonderland Road as its spine, the last major land development project remaining inside the city’s urban growth boundary. The western border is the community of Lambeth; the eastern border almost to Wellington Road; the southern border more or less Highway 402.
While a tree-lined Wonderland Road of retail and office buildings and high rise apartments received most of the attention during the council debate, the beauty of this plan lies elsewhere.
Compared to the major land use plans of the past in the east, north and northwest, this one is structured around individual neighbourhoods. And the word Mr. Barrett uses most often to describe the difference is “overt.”
“We defined all those different neighbourhoods across the area and then we established policies for each of them,” Mr. Barrett explains. Previous plans contained more generic policies that applied equally to all the neighbourhoods.
“The biggest thing is that we were very overt on this — a desire that these be very walkable neighbourhoods, that they have a strong transit focus, that they have activity centres that would provide for mixed use developments. So while we’ve talked about it before, this is the first time it has been so obvious and overt.”
While neighbourhood activity centres isn’t a new concept — there are elements of the idea in three north London subdivisions — in the southwest they also embrace small commercial ventures.
Located near major intersections, “these are the kinds of locations where you would look at putting those neighbourhood supportive types of uses that you could walk to — things like schools, churches, daycare and even corner stores.”
The plan for each neighbourhood doesn’t specify precisely where these neighbourhood activity centres should go, another change from earlier plans. Instead it only sets criteria for their location, generally towards the centre of neighbourhoods.
This plan also has higher population densities, especially along arterial roads.
“We provided the opportunity for greater densities than you might get in other areas of the city because we’re trying to build this whole notion of accessibility to transit,” Mr. Barrett says.
So unless some future city council decides to compromise the concept, as has certainly happened with other community plans, southwest London could evolve into a magnificent gateway into that part of town.
That brings up one other difference. Where other plans were addendums to London’s Official Plan, this one is a full chapter. That might make it a little more difficult for council to change on a whim.
Philip McLeod is a longtime London journalist who writes a regular blog on civic affairs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.