Five Minute Walk

2/18/2010 Uncategorized

During two one-week sessions in Toronto, I worked with 7-10 University of Toronto students on an urban design proposal adjacent to the McCowan station – on one of Toronto’s commuter train lines.  Ivan Rupnik, a colleague at Northeastern University, joined me to direct the second session.

McCowan station is one of two stations that serve Scarsborough Town Centre, a 1970s-era suburban development that includes a regional shopping mall and a collection of retro-mirrored office buildings.  Currently, the City of Toronto is considering the addition of streets to the suburban sprawl, in an attempt to create a more traditional block pattern.  A trip to the site confirmed that the City’s strategy was more ideological than practical.  In some places, the strategies of New Urbanism simply won’t work, no matter how deep the faith.

Our proposal, cribbed from West 8’s landscape strategy at Schiphol, started with the replacement of surface parking with parking drums, freeing up enough of the ground plane that the addition of trees on a 10 meter grid would generate a dense new urban context – and at a much lower cost than importing traditional urbanism to the site.  The trees were proposed as a circular forest, with the radius defined by the approximate distance of a five-minute walk from the station.  A pedestrian boardwalk moves through the trees at the height of the elevated station, while service vehicles access the buildings on gravel driveways on the forest floor.  The boardwalk and parking drums create a compelling context for mid-rise residential and office development.