Underwhelming RioCan proposal for Westgate

I’ve seen some pic of the Westgate shopping centre redevelopment. It’s totally underwhelming. Here’s why.

Our city, like many others, is littered with L-shaped malls set far back from the road, promoting acres of “free” parking out front. The design is 100% aimed at people driving cars. For bus users, its either a stupid detour off the street into the mall and circle back out (still going on at Carlingwood) and for pedestrians – well its a pedestrian paradise shopping street set behind a vast purgatory of dangerous parking lot that must be endured first, provided you aren’t just walking somewhere else and have to cross the five wide driveway entrances these malls enjoy.

All over north america, these developments are obsolete. They just aren’t being built any more*. (The current fad, for “pad stores” scattered through a parking lot, is worse, but they look much better on architect’s drawings as the parking seems tucked into groves of trees that are not and never will be there).

Planning porn articles all talk about the wonderful opportunities of redeveloping these spaces. New village atmosphere, pedestrian streets, offices above the stores, invisible high rise towers set back to we get high density. Parking tucked away in garages. Lively streetscapes. Sidewalk cafes. Mixed use. Affordable housing. Well behaved children chasing hoops or building snowmen. Public amenities. Repairing the blighted suburban arterials. The list goes on forever. There’s simply no end to the wonders redevelopment will bring.

So what’s wrong with RioCan’s proposal ?

First, it appears to be little more than five towers scattered in a parking lot. All that “open space” around them is a friggin parking lot wasteland. No sense of place. Crappy out of scale phallic towers designed with mediocrity.

Since RioCan and a bunch of other mall developers are going to be going at this redevelopment process over and over again in our city and elsewhere, our mayor Watson and city has a choice: accept the minimal blah proposed, or work hard and devote some resources to getting this, the first project, out of the gate as a WOW what-an-improvement showpiece for to inspire other redevelopments to reach higher. Remember, some of those subsequent rebuilds — like Billings Bridge – will be much much larger, and on transit too.

We don’t have to provide money to subsidize it, we do have to provide planning staff and organize a crowdsourcing program and hire some urban design reviewers, and in return RioCan gets a project developed hand in hand with the city with the eventual green light in sight rather than endless cycles of proposing and revamping-after-confrontation and expensive city paperwork. Interrupted by the occasional electioneering.

This doesn’t mean it must be more expensive to build or that it has to be luxury housing. I’m talking about how to build.

Let’s start with the potential inhabitants of the buildings. What would seniors or downsizer’s want? Convenient access to services? Indoor walking space (yes, maybe in a traditional faux main street style) and ice-free access to transit.

What would young urban service workers and singles want? Transit. Coffee shops to meet other people at. A gym. Virtucar services so they dont have to buy their own car when they still have student debt and starting out life adventure expenses. A safe outdoor jogging trail circling the property.

What would family with kids want? Pediatrician office. Daycare. Food court. Quick dining. Dentist.

What would office workers want? Cheap parking (dont kid yourself, MD’s and dentists and other one percenters won’t be taking the #85 to work, but their hygienists will). Shared amenities. Flex space.

Others of us want zero rainfall run off; deep well filled topsoil pits so real trees will actually grow. Roof and balcony planters that really support greenery. Non-isolated housing, esp for senior care homes. Let’s have some things that at least look like low rise storefronts with eyes-on-the-(internal) street, with  offices and residences above. Townhouse-like podiums. Is it worth trying to pedestrianize and humanize Carling or just develop nice nodes off of it?

RioCan of course wants to earn a good return on its invested money, and a reward for the risk it takes, and of course to pay dividends to people like me whose retirement is funded by dividends from REITs.

I firmly we believe we can have it all if we work together.

Otherwise we just get five towers in a parking lot.

Repeat ad nauseum.


Examples? See

New Urbanist Shopping Mall

Placemaking, facadism, ignoring opportunities, etc.


  • we dont build L shaped malls anymore. Just pad store malls. Like opposite Carlingwood Mall, the “Fairlawn Plaza”. No number of Harvey’s, Shopper’s Drug Mart, or Bridgehead’s will save this from being a short-lived ugly-as-shit blight on the landscape. In a city that talks intensification, it seems that is only for residents to be jammed into ever smaller units in anon. high rises whilst commercial sprawl continues unabated. Even sticking one or more of those Westgate tower mediocrities on top of the Bridgehead would have been an improvement at Fairlawn. This isn’t a “could do better” site, it’s a total F for city building.

7 thoughts on “Underwhelming RioCan proposal for Westgate

  1. Yeah, this is really terrible. The site isn’t close to any neighborhoods is it? Is there a citizens group that will have an interest in making sure this proposal is improved?

    1. It’s a fresh proposal; citizens’ groups can still be formed..

      Also, any researched planner wouldn’t recommend the developers proposal to be approved by Council. . It’s missing some key policy requirements.

  2. “First, it appears to be little more than five towers scattered in a parking lot. All that “open space” around them is a friggin parking lot wasteland.”

    My understanding was that the parking would be underground, with the space between the buildings developed to greenspace. I hope what you’re saying is incorrect…

    I live in the neighbourhood (and yes, there are neighbourhoods south of Carling). While I too am underwhelmed by the proposal, my biggest concern relates to access. To repeat what I wrote to Jeff Leiper on the subject, my main concern is that Carling and Merivale, as they now stand, encourage driving as the primary means to access the new development, meaning that any attempts at a future road diet will be met with resistance. So I question how this plan fits within the proposed “main streeting” of Merivale?

    If there is sufficient vision, the potential is there for this development to serve as a northern “anchor” to a revitalized Merivale. Otherwise, I fear this will become a suburban-style apartment complex – I would be interested in hearing your thoughts as to how this could be avoided.

    1. Oddly, if the proposal were more office above the retail instead of residential, it’d actually be more transit supportive. But as the proposal was put to us, it isn’t transit supportive. The existing routes, potential frequency increases, and unguaranteed LRT (it’s not even an it ‘may’ be built as the direction has no priority for it at all) drawn on a long term vision map don’t change this..

  3. Thank you for posting this, Eric. I went to this meeting as I live in the neighbourhood, and I found it underwhelming, too. It seemed that the consensus was, “well, it’s better than what’s there now”, which is probably true. But it’s such a great opportunity for something interesting, something more. Instead we get something that not even an architect’s drawing can make seem more than a Soviet-style apartment block. A few points:

    1) Why the ridiculously long timeline? 2 years until shovels in the ground, 25 years until full build-out? Why bother even proposing anything to be built that far into the future, when priorities are sure to change? The site is smaller than Landsdowne, which was completed in just a few years. Discussing something to be built decades from now made it feel like more of an academic exercise than anything.

    2) I was disappointed that there wasn’t an office component added to the mix. If we want true mixed use, there should be offices above the retail bases, with apartments possibly above them. An office component would add crucial midday traffic for the ground-level retail. If this area south of the Queensway (Carlington) is ever to gain traction as a vibrant, walkable community, adding office workers is essential.

    3) The greenspace in the centre of the buildings is good to see, but given that it’s 25 years away, almost irrelevant (see point #1).

    4) There were more than a few voices at the meeting concerned with traffic and traffic modelling. I think this misses larger points, depending on what you care about. I don’t think you can care about both vehicular traffic and urbanism, for example (and by urbanism, I mean walkable, interesting places with a mix of foot, bike and motor traffic). Truly great urban spaces are really bad for cars and traffic and parking, and there’s no real way to get around that. Furthermore, the more we press car-centric concerns to developers, the more they prioritize them over placemaking and mixing uses and transportation modes. The end result is more bland box malls that make token aesthetic nods to streetscaping (like Laurentian Place) without actually being functionally different than any other big outdoor mall built in the 80s or 90s. In short, we get what we ask for.

    1. For mixed use styles on Carling:

      I think high rise residential is more appropriate between Holland and Preston areas on Carling! I think medium density office is appropriate from Merivale to Holland. I think high rise commercial office is appropriate near the Queensway. Medium density residential is appropriate from Maitland to Churchill. I think medium-to-high density is appropriate from Carlingwood area to Lincoln Fields, with high density just west from Lincoln Fields.

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