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The transformation of Downsview Park, with its new green spaces and housing, gets a lot less attention than the waterfront development, but it's just as important to the city's long-term growth and prosperity.
At about 320 acres, the park (bordered by Keele, Allen, Sheppard and roughly Wilson) includes a mix of terrains and a large body of water.But despite its proximity to the Downsview subway stop and the new line to come, it's still considered by some to be isolated.
I would remind everybody that in 1873 the two dissenting city councillors who voted against accepting High Park as a bequest made the same argument. The reality is, the Downsview plan will produce a new centre of gravity for this part of suburban North York.
The history of the development, though, has left some hard feelings. For years, the northwest part of Toronto lacked large tracts of green space for its growing population, so there was huge enthusiasm about turning the former military base into a major park.
In 1998, when the feds formally gave the land to Crown corporation Parc Downsview Park, it was intended to be a High Park north. Unfortunately, no funds accompanied the original 572 acres, so little happened aside from a few large events and the creation of indoor and outdoor sports fields and a museum.
That's why the plan was changed to use revenue from development to build a high-quality park, though the size of the parkland was cut in half, which constituted the breaking of a promise. It was more than 14 years after then-Prime Minister Chrétien announced the handover before the park fully opened.
Nonetheless, Downsview is going to be one of the city's largest revamped spaces, with a planned 7,300 units of housing along with commercial and light industrial development. Add in the subway extension to the north and the area will become much denser and more urban, with walkable neighbourhoods and dynamic streetscapes.
The first spot to be developed, Stanley Greene, is actually the least transit-accessible. It's far south of the still-to-come Sheppard West subway stop, so users will need to rely on the Keele bus for transit.
In coming years, the neighbourhood will include over 1,356 townhouses and low- and high-rise buildings, and will likely house about 2,200 people. North of it, the park will have wooded areas (today, there are just young trees) and meadows and hills made using fill from subway construction.
The next areas set for development are Chesswood and William Baker. These will have even higher density and likely bring in a younger demographic because of condo developments that will help the area feel more like the downtown.
These changes are not welcomed by everyone. There's still resentment about the park being downsized and worries about increased traffic. But the neighbourhoods will create a dynamic centre for the whole community, And the condos, Toronto's new starter homes, will bring in a greater mix of people. The process is similar to what happened in the 1950s and 60s when immigrants and first-time buyers moved north to procure their first homes.
With reliable rapid transit, residents can access jobs and services outside the area, although governments must work to attract services and employers to the community.
Creating more development outside of downtown will help us spread out the continued influx of new residents to our city.