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.
- 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.