Equal access was the ‘big idea’ early on.
The Role of New Platforms in the Development of Old Districts
Scarborough is the major suburban jurisdiction lying to the east of old Toronto. A “community renewal campaign” (kickstarted by Rotarians in 2014) seeks to waken a common identity across Scarborough and bring attention to innovative responses to suburban challenges. The campaign highlighted a wealth of culture and creativity already thriving and fusing across eastern Toronto. It’s apparent Scarborough’s ‘global’ enterprises, organizations and residents will play a major role in future City strategies. As the rebuilding of downtown Toronto begins to wane the “rebuilding of the ‘burbs” is quickening. 20 years after amalgamation, people are pointing out the ongoing need for comprehensive district plans. This open renewal campaign is in solidarity with the suburban Districts of North York/Weston and Etobicoke/York, each facing similar challenges in the fields of education, housing and economic development. If Scarborough can process change better at the “District” level it might start a wave of community renewal moving westward. Though poverty has predictably clustered and increased on the periphery of Toronto, newcomers from around Canada and the world are continuing to settle in Scarborough and radically enrich its makeup.
This campaign was initiated to figure out what Global Scarborough looks like, its strengths, capacities and special needs. How do we plan backward from 2050 — as a unique place within the Golden Horseshoe and Great Lakes region? How do we re-link arms with regional neighbours to plan and build the urban and rural region of the future? Scarborough is uniquely positioned within the GTA to champion community renewal. What actions can it take to model an inclusive process for similar districts reimagining their geography and brands? In 2014 and 2015 residents of Scarborough proposed new projects focused on ‘platform values’ — namely equality of access. How does this idea of common access drive the development of supportive platforms and civic technologies in GTA and elsewhere?
Globalization of Scarborough’s economic areas has been underway for almost a century. Thanks to big picture planners during the war times, productive spaces are almost everywhere in Scarborough. Some internal borders are shifting. But overall, the final design of Scarborough Township has held up. Even now industrial lands are being added along Tapscott. Culturally speaking, non-European ‘globalization’ began slowly here. Now a special local culture is visible throughout the community. In a short span of 20–40 years Scarborough joined the likes of Queens, New York home to hundreds of languages and peoples. With this distinction comes heightened social tensions and a larger responsibility to lead culturally. Scarborough is a global city within a Global City. It is perceived to be an epicentre of Asian middle class immigration in Canada. The result is a novel 187 km2 landscape filled with indigenous food, entertainment and services from around the world. Globalized cultures and economies are beginning to blend together and hybridize, producing novel perspectives and attitudes toward industry, media, education, medicine and the arts. These old borders give sides to the baking tray, letting several varieties of loaves to bake up within Toronto. With the right supports, Scarborough’s total imports and exports are set to considerably rise. And with that, we hope, the boats of all neighbours.
From the perspective of Agincourt or Ionview or Malvern, Scarborough is where a new form of global suburban society is emerging. This “new network” of global suburban communities is marked by an abundance of natural and industrialized space, ample land for the construction of cultural centres and health facilities, advanced industries, and new public spaces. Jane Jacobs the urban theorist taught that import replacement is the key to sub-regional economic renewal, a virtuous cycle that is supposed to spur neighbourhood and cultural renewal. The more that’s available locally the stronger a mega-city system becomes. In other words — get all wheels turning. A City’s boroughs or districts then become its global brand. As a place begins to produce more its reputation as a creator and exporter increases. What is Scarborough becoming — as a Toronto area brand and creative force? What is being produced here and across Toronto, what is being exported, and what forms of branding does each sector draw on to package and market its products? Instead of focusing on single dimension branding, our attention needs to turn to the new and difficult task of fostering multiple strategic community identities.
In the years ahead Scarberians will be creating art that orients and inspires and organizing local map exhibits to celebrate history and geography. Areas like Scarborough are entering a new season of storytelling, map-making and identity re-discovery. It appears that hundreds of young cities like Toronto are going through a “Londonizing” phase, as suburban districts sort of re-municipalize and assume some of their old duties (and identities). Over the next few years we’re moving as a ‘suburban community’ from a period of re-orientation (Scarborough was a City?) to re-imagining (Scarboro!?!). Planning for the future is made easier when attention is also trained on neighbouring territories and the emerging flows of people and products within the region. For example, the real issue of the Pickering airport brings regional flows and traffic management into sharp focus. Scarborough’s previous motto was “City of the Future”. It’s official crest still reads “Home Above the Bluffs”. This sub-urb of Toronto, first named Glasgow, was a Township and Borough before becoming a City (1983). Now “District” will be its so-called last form of governance. We’re becoming something sort of new — a “Global City District”. What is our district’s regional and global connections? How can these active networks support new global exchanges and improve neighbourhoods at the same time? When this is asked about each District separately, the City has reached its second stage of growth.
Before locals grab the reigns so to speak there’s a big need to play catch up. Scarborough’s been changing and it’s hard to visit everywhere. People living in Scarborough have some general questions. Is growth being deliberately concentrated in Agincourt? Is Kennedy Station being transformed? What is going on with The Rouge? Is there a plan for Town Centre? Is there a general plan for Scarborough? Periods of reset require local communicators paint pictures of local issues and opportunities so the whole community comprehends. Patrick Geddes, the first so-called Town Planner called the gap between issues and opportunities “the opening future”. According to Geddes, supporting a period of accessible storytelling is a way of propping open a window onto the future community. After recording assessments of the future, the challenge is to maintain a set of guiding visual and linguistic references amidst future upheaval. These references are often simpler representations which imply (but do not spell out) the vision and trajectory of a community. Kevin Lynch might call this representation the community image or place-concept, what Edmund Bacon regarded as the Design Idea of the city.
The approaching era of suburban re-construction will require Ideas and Plans that better incorporate neighbouring landscapes and economies into a District’s relative design and strategies. Amalgamation in Toronto has led to a lag in Suburban Planning and a distruption of regional identities. This whole situation is understandable, given the re-building of downtown that’s been underway. But, out past the Core, the burbs are re-blooming. And they’re being re-narrated in real-time. IVIVI. These new shared visions and identities are ultimately anchored by real places which form the Big Idea. Art, culture and industry bring nodes alive and this network paints Big Pictures.
The stories a place tells about itself and the world evolve back into political discourse, often producing social visions that inform Social Plans. City’s ratify social or civic visions using Plans but were not traditionally the source of the visions themselves. It takes an expressive local society to form and promote ‘general community plans’ that balance human habitat with environments. The metro area of Boston is a good example of ‘federated governance’ anchored by numerous civic identities and a large mesh of associations. The effects of adhering to the motto strength in diversity are obvious: experimentation happens faster across the city-region allowing innovations to easily gain ground. In other words stay diversified, yo!
Once ‘Metro’ amalgamated into the City of Toronto responsibility for master planning was given to “downtown”. In retrospect this was an unavoidable stage of Toronto’s governance and management. The new mega-City set out to harmonize regulations and service delivery standards across Metro, and to do this the City needed to centralize strategic planning. Amalgamation’s first phase is now ending and an even more metropolitan system is emerging. As the region metastasizes into something larger and more populated new things are being asked of Districts and their Councils. This old and new direction for governing the West, North and East of Toronto requires we deliberately re-build local conversations. A region like City of Toronto becomes too complex to engage with or understand except on macro-scales i.e. rail, water, roads, policing, transit. After periods of amalgamation and population growth, it eventually falls back to sub-municipalities (Boroughs and Districts) to support comprehensive views, coordinate growth and plan out social investment. New York City’s Boroughs exemplify this approach. Renewal campaigns are merely a delayed response to the original and ongoing challenges of Metropolitan Toronto amalgamation: How can diversity (within the Metro area) be a strategic strength? How is Greater Toronto currently growing? How should each area respond and be planned relative to its regional position?
In Scarborough, a grounded approach to change has led to a belief in equal access to production and consumption opportunities across the community. Instead of pursuing specific initiatives, residents appear to be pursuing a development philosophy based around equal access. Scarborough residents and leaders have produced a slate of projects connected by a belief in distributed opportunity and the community platforms that support these values. The de-centralized City-space of the suburb brings about platform thinking and planning out of necessity. Without a traditional city core, vast communities like Scarborough are sent in a completely different direction: the development of paths, networks and nodes to form lattices of opportunity and amenity across the diverse terrain.
In January 2015, the coalition of local Rotary clubs recommended several new initiatives to support the revitalization and re-imagining of Scarborough. Below is a list of proposed initiatives, a note about my roles as an early responder, and a concluding blurb about district development.
Newly Proposed Projects / Platforms
Scarborough Business Association. A new entity with the potential to easily connect distributed business communities and leaders with one another.
New Business Charrettes. Welcoming events with the potential to connect entrepreneurs and audiences around ideas about new ventures or problems.
Passport Festival. A “food, culture and creativity” festival with the potential to connect residents and visitors around common and niche interests.
Suburban Planning Conference. A “community conference” with the potential to connect attendees around big ideas and big maps or posters.
Suburban Planning & Architecture Competition. An open competition with the potential to connect residents through visionary development ideas.
Community Renewal Organization. A group providing open access to critical community data, creative profiles of success, and connections to diverse supports for experimentation in business or social services.
Scarborough Hubs. Specialized hubs engaged in developing talent in all areas of endeavour. Supporting connections between these specialties.
Early Responder Perspective
Early responding is a practice of sewing rather than reaping. Early responders focus on rebuilding infrastructures to support local coordination efforts and improvement activities.
Whether it’s planning out a new park or a new business, the role of maps and map-related technology is increasing rapidly. If there’s something that underlies the diverse and sometimes divergent activities of communities, mapping infrastructure is it.
During summer 2015 the Scarborough Map Project will be supporting experimentation with traditional and digital map-making. We’re gathering as early responders to investigate how different types of map infrastructures support new platforms and district development activities. We’ll also be looking at Scarborough up close, re-discovering its landscapes, its layouts and its logics. All ages are encouraged to attend upcoming events, idea jams and “suburbathons” . Notices and updates will be shared via the Map Scarboro! Twitter account.
The goals of the project are to help locals re-discover Scarborough’s geography, support experiments in cartography, and help all proposed initiatives through the provision of easy-to-use maps and map tools.
Developing Scarborough District
The driving idea behind new suburban planning is equal access to opportunities regardless of one’s location in a community. If we can let this old and new belief shape local strategies and ventures, Scarborough might unexpectedly become home to something new. A new type of Global City District. A new world of renewing suburbs. A new suburban world led by suburban placemakers. A new suburbanism enabled by place-platforms.