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September 03, 2019

Urban Resiliency in Scarborough

Urban Resiliency in Scarborough
Last month, we shared recent student research on urban resiliency. This month the blog post will focus on the application of research findings to the Scarborough Centre area - an area that is currently undergoing change.

Scarborough Centre

 Several factors made Scarborough Centre uniquely suited for an Urban Resiliency Study:
 The Scarborough Centre Secondary Plan is currently in the early phases of review, as Phase 1 of the secondary plan review began in October 2018;
Scarborough City Centre
Satellite view of the Scarborough Centre area
  • Scarborough Centre is an important mix of retail, government, institutional, cultural, employment and residential uses;
  • The Centre is at the core of an established employment corridor along Highway 401;
  • As a mixed use area, the Scarborough Centre provides both employment and housing opportunities for workers and residents;
  • The Centre is a focal point of transit; at the eastern end of the TTC’s Scarborough Rapid Transit line and at the hub of local and interregional surface transit lines. The future Scarborough Subway further contributes to the importance of the site as a transit node; and,
  • Scarborough Centre is also a destination point for surrounding communities; with a regional mall, municipal and federal government services and a variety of recreational, educational and community services.

Scarborough Centre offers a diverse variety of resiliency-based challenges. The team identified a list of site-specific stressors that were to be addressed and prioritized in the resiliency plan, including:
  • Urban heat island effect - large expanses of paved surfaces (such as roads and parking lots) found in Scarborough Town Centre causes a retention of solar energy creating a microclimate of hotter temperatures around the area;
  • Stormwater management - precipitation on paved surfaces can overwhelm the storm sewer system leading to localized flooding;
  • Getting around - The area suffers from chronic congestion with undesirable, inadequate, and unsafe active transportation alternatives due to a poor pedestrian and cycling network;
  • Poverty/inequality - income levels in 2016 in Scarborough Centre ($58,010) are significantly lower than that of the Toronto average ($102,721);
  • Access to housing - the city is experiencing an affordability crisis;
  • Aging infrastructure - the SRT at the end of its lifespan; and,
  • Economy and employment - lack of office space and employment in an area designated as a Centre in the Official Plan.
Image Collage
Source: Jessica Brodeur

The Scarborough Centre area is also vulnerable to the following types of shocks:
Image Collage
Source: Jessica Brodeur
  • Power outages;
  • Storms (wind, ice, snow);
  • Cold snaps;
  • Heat waves;
  • Infrastructure failures (fires, collapses);
  • Health & safety emergencies (disease, violence, drug-related);
  • Economic market spikes and crashes (housing cost, employment); and,
  • Food and water security disruptions.

The team developed a series of recommendations, some of which included:
  • Implement site-specific Vision Zero public realm improvements (including protected cycling lanes);
  • Encourage parking below ground and where not feasible, future-proof the parking structures;
  • Create a neighbourhood emergency plan and community hub;
  • Use incentives to secure affordable housing in transit-oriented developments;
  • Ensure that large scale developments incorporate a percentage of space for community services (such as child care facilities, local meeting rooms, and community-based retail);
  • Diversify office space; and
  • Implement a community garden and local food program.
A full list of our recommendations can be found here.
Key Takeaways:
Their research uncovered three key takeaways:
flow chart of three takeawaysFirst, successful resiliency-oriented thinking and action also requires support from all levels of government. Without acknowledging the various external components that shape resiliency, this threatens the capacity to deliver resiliency work. This includes developing legislative amendments to documents such as the Building Code Act and the Planning Act to look beyond conventional climate-change oriented definitions of resiliency.
Second, future-proofing should be built in to all planning decisions. For example, future-proofing parking structures is important in the Toronto context. This refers to designing buildings that allow for the future adaptive reuse of existing parking, which can help cities respond to changing parking demand. In many cities there is an oversupply of parking, and with the introduction of autonomous vehicles, the role of parking in cities is going to have to change and we need to prepare for this. Where parking is required, policy can encourage parking structures to be built in a way that is conducive to re-purposing. Moreover, future-proofing can be implemented in other aspects of planning and design.
Third, practitioners should include resiliency thinking into all steps of the planning process.


The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s), and may not reflect the position of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

Post by Ryerson University Urban Resiliency Studio Group

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