One of the reasons so few people outside of downtown walk to work is that they live too far from work to walk. Largely, this is because over the last thirty years a significant number of new offices have been built in isolated former industrial lands where people are forced to drive to work. Strategic Regional Research released a report, A Region in Transition, that explores office growth in sprawling business parks and makes recommendations to break their isolation.
What really jumped out to me from the report was that the Mississauga Airport Corporate Centre, a major regional business park, is the same distance from downtown Toronto as Tysons Corner is from downtown Washington D.C. This invites a great comparison because Tysons Corner is implementing a bold transformation from a sprawling business park, similar to the Airport Corporate Centre, into a mixed-use, walkable community. It’s starting by building sidewalks, breaking up large blocks, connecting to the regional transit system, and even changing its name. Could the Airport Corporate Centre follow Tysons’ lead?
Strategic Regional Research thinks it should. The report advocates for transforming areas like the Airport Corporate Centre into neighbourhoods to deal with the Greater Toronto Area’s terrible congestion. Because transit access is poor and the area has no amenities or residents, the only way to get around, even for a bite to eat, is to drive. As a result, 55,000 people drive into and out of the Centre every day. As Glenn Miller, a contributor to the report, argues:
Most new transit proposals, including the downtown relief line, will do nothing to connect suburban workplaces to where workers live. Nor will they ease the congestion that’s now strangling areas outside the core, said Miller.
By looking at the Airport Corporate Centre as a neighbourhood which is part of the city, instead of an isolated employment ghetto, Mississauga can cut gridlock, dependence on cars, build new places to live, and encourage walkability.
Is this vision possible? Could thousands of people be able to choose to live and work in the Airport Corporate Centre? The challenges are significant. A recent City of Vaughan Study (focused on building a more urban Vaughan Centre) concluded,
Despite the prestige associated with the employment area, it would be extremely difficult and cost prohibitive to transform the Airport Corporate Centre into a more walkable, compact urban place due to the existence of large surface parking lots and industrial buildings.
It may be extremely difficult, but it is not impossible. Investment in transit is crucial, and Mississauga is already taking the first step. The City is preparing to open a new Bus Rapid Transit line which will pass through the Airport Corporate Centre by the end of 2015. As a result, new types of development are being proposed.
The most ambitious new development is Spectrum Square, which aims to be “Mississauga’s Premier Sustainable Corporate Community.” As a sustainable community, it is selling transit and walkability. The renderings clearly portray an urban setting, while the promotional material states:
At Spectrum Square, there will be inviting places to gather both inside and outside. You can take a break and enjoy the outdoor amenities in the central square, or discuss the latest project with fellow colleagues over espresso. The Mississauga BRT and the Spectrum Square shuttle will provide door to door connections to the Mississauga and TTC transit systems. Spectrum Square will also be a venue for special events and outdoor festivals.
Clearly, office developers are following Tysons’ lead and seeing the advantage of promoting a more walkable, active and transit oriented workplace. Now its Mississauga’s turn. The City should follow Tysons’ lead by providing a new name for the Airport Corporate Centre (I suggest Elmbank), better streets, and places to live.