Ontario Town Counts on Transit, Urban Design to Protect Rural Flavour, Prevent Sprawl
Drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as the garden city movement of the early 20th century, Israel’s cooperative moshavs, and the annual Burning Man event, the town council of Innisfil, Ontario has developed a new model of suburban intensification built around nature, two wheels, and walking, in a bid to protect the good things about rural life.
Dubbed The Orbit due to its unusual radial shape, the town is planning a new development to house as many as 150,000 new residents, the Globe and Mail reports. It will encircle a new GO Transit station that links to Barrie in the north, and to Toronto, 70 kilometres to the south. It’ll be a mixed-use development that combines office and retail space with residential buildings that top out at 15 storeys.
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Architect and design leader Alex Josephson of Toronto-based Partisans said the “next-generation community” will be “for people who want access to a big city, but also nature and everything that comes with living in a rural community.”
Combining the customary grid-based street plan of today’s typical development with “some degree of irregularity, and lots of cut-throughs for pedestrians,” the Orbit is “radical,” the Globe and Mail writes. That’s a characterization that suits Innisfil just fine, as it moves to preserve its rural essence even as it “faces huge pressure to grow from its current 36,000 people”.
Less driving, more walking, and greater reliance on two-wheeled vehicles will be critical in achieving that balance, said Innisfil chief planner Tim Cane.
Though its business case may seem “odd,” writes Globe architecture critic Alex Bozikovic, The Orbit has heavyweight backing, at least for its first phase: no less than the Cortellucci family, veteran developers in the suburban 905 area code. Having shifted from “building sprawl to building condos,” Bozikovic says the Cortelluccis are “now game to build mixed-use near a train station,” declaring in a recent company statement that “we want to establish a new urban design framework elevating how people live”.
That elevated thinking is urgently needed, observes the Globe, noting that under most of today’s urban design plans, “if you want to live in a neighbourhood where you can get around without a car, you have very few options.” In a pattern that persists across the country, “less than 10% of the seven million people in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area live in such places, and those places—especially central Toronto—are cripplingly expensive.”