What is Urban Design & How Does it Shape Our City?

Guest Speaker:
Emilia Floro, Director of Urban Design
City of Toronto

January 18, 2022

5 Key Takeaways:

  1. What is Urban Design?

Urban design is the practice that deals with spaces between buildings. It is the design of streets, boulevards, sidewalks, parks and open spaces and the buildings that define and frame these spaces.

Urban design is interdisciplinary and is practiced by architects, landscape architects, urban designers, planners, urbanists, and environmentalists. Work is undertaken at many scales, at both the small and large scale.

  1. As in most cities, we have the fabric and the jewels

 The urban fabric of Toronto is punctured by great spaces, we have both the fabric and the jewels. In terms of fabric, we have High Park and Centennial Park in the West, Rouge National Urban Park at our eastern boundary, Downsview Park to the North, and to the South the Islands in Tommy Thompson Park.

Then we have the exceptions, the identifiable jewels. Just to name a few, we have Ceremonial University Avenue that leads to Queen’s Park, financial high street Bay Street that leads to Old City Hall, as well as commercial high street Bloor that traverses the city and Yonge street, referred to as the main street of Ontario, just to name a few. The spaces are easily identifiable and stand out from the rest.

  1. However, we cannot have jewels everywhere

 Moreover, we need good buildings that serve their function and contribute to the streetscape and the active life of the city with doors, windows and active interesting building elevations. When we are able to design quality environments for the average building as well as for the jewels we’ve achieved success.

Urban design at the City of Toronto requires a broad range of work for this to be accomplished. This includes but isn’t limited to city-wide studies and urban design guidelines, specific site studies and guidelines, and review of development applications to ensure that theyre meeting city policies and are in compliance with the Toronto Green Standards. Our work also includes civic design capital projects, the city’s “Percent for Public Art Program”, heritage planning, graphics and visualization.

  1. The City of Toronto has seen unprecedented growth over the past 20 years

Between January of 2016 and December of 2020 alone, over 500,000 residential units and almost 13 million square meters of non residential GFA were proposed throughout the city. Approximately 90% of development is proposed in areas targeted for growth; downtown, the central waterfront, the centers, the avenues, large mixed use sites, employment areas, areas served by transit and those which contain a mix of uses that provide for the daily needs of residents and workers in the area.

The city currently is approving more residential units per year than can be built. This difference between approvals and construction can be attributed to a number of factors

  1. To accommodate and exceed the growth targets, visions and master plans are continuously developed to implement new policy

 The studies can be initiated by the city or by landowners; public engagement and consultation are key. The vision is developed with the community and with all stakeholders understanding what is valuable. The existing or developing character of the place is also vital to the success of the vision. Identifying need in the community in terms of community services and facilities, the environment, sustainability, resilience, open space and connections are all integral to the development of a successful vision and master plan.