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New Urbanism

Cornell Live Work Units Win a Design Excellence Award of Merit

The prestigious Markham 2006 Design Excellence awards recognize and promote excellence in urban design. Architects, designers, planners, landscape architects, engineers, developers, consultants, owners and individuals are invited to submit projects from within Markham. A four-member jury reviewed this year’s submissions, and on November 23rd, 2006 at the Mayor's invitation, the Awards Dinner and Presentations were given to a select group of projects. An Award of Merit was given to Cornell's Live Work units on Bur Oak just north of Whites Hill Avenue. See below for project details:

Project: Cornell Live-Work Units
Location: Bur Oak Avenue & 16th Avenue
Owner/Developer: Mattamy Development
Architect: Viljoen Architect Inc.
Landscape Architect: NAK Design Group

The Cornell live-work units are strategically located on a transit corridor which forms the central spine upon which several neighbourhoods meet. Rather than being set up under single ownership or in condominium ownership, these mixed-use buildings are broken into vertical sections. Purchasers were able to select either an apartment or commercial arrangement for the ground floor unit and residential on the floors above. The units can be used initially as residential and then transitioned to retail as market demand changes in the area. The streetscape design promotes an urban pedestrian environment.

The great appeal of a New Urbanist Community is that it falls within the “Smart Growth” or “Sustainable Community” envelope. And that just makes a lot of sense. The problems of urban sprawl have been perplexing City Planners for a long time as the issues of public transit, roads, the environment, and infrastructure become more confusing. Population growth in York Region, and especially Markham, has been and is forecasted to be overwhelming. The Region’s population is approaching 850,000, an addition of 120,000 in the last 3 years.  Markham expects to have 375,000 people by 2030. Cornell’s target is still 10,000 homes and will grow as fast as the Region/ Town allocates water permits. New Urbanism in theory provides answers and a sense of reassurance.

We have come to know that the differences with Traditional Planning focus on people. That is, in the post-WWII subdivision building era, densities were 4 to 7 units per acre, car trips rose by 29%, and built form tended to the clustered design. Ecological habitat, creeks, swamps and nesting sites were sacrificed. Housing became less and less affordable.  People became citified and lost their sense of community

New Urbanism defines the livable community by providing channels for sociability, personal development and community participation. The five keys are;

Enhanced Public Realm

here we are directed to design interconnected parks, walkways, bike trails and all sorts of recreation and social locations. Also, there is a need for a robust and relevant retail sector to support the immediate needs of the community. (Why drive to a plaza to buy a quart of milk?) These are, for the most part, futures for Cornell. We do have a Parks network that is the envy of other Communities. The development of the Rouge Park  (2000 acres on our eastern border) with interconnections to our Parks network and an all-embracive new Community Center is “on the books”. Thus there is the promise that, when complete, we will have the best open space anywhere.

Transit Supportive

Cornell will be a terminus for York Region’s new Viva service. This, plus our local service, should help to keep the cars in the garages. The projections are that ridership will increase significantly when  this service become operational.  Not only are there to be new routes but also new higher-speed facilities. With gas prices escalating this is bound to attract usage.

Pedestrian Friendly  

our street grids, smaller streets, traffic calming and parking restrictions do promote walking in Cornell.  Look at all the baby strollers on a nice day.  However, we need more destinations that will promote residents to get out for “walkabouts”. Again, the development of the Parks, open spaces and recreational areas will complement our existing  features.

Mixed Use

No other community can boast of such an integrated set of different housing styles. From the beginning the designers wanted to provide housing that would keep the residents here for a lifetime. We have a broad range of starter homes and there has been a number of people who have stayed in Cornell and taken a step up to a bigger home. The new development features a second jump-up potential.

Ecological Protection  

There has been mentioned the attention to green space in the Cornell Plan but it is to be noted that Cornell attempted to integrate best practices for green infrastructure in its developments.  Septic fields, stormwater management, groundwater absorption were well  monitored. And this is an ongoing concern; for example, extending Bur Oak to the Highway is delayed due to the concerns about building adequate facility for the (terrible) pond at the south end.

Critics have suggested that the gap between the original Cornell Plan and the status to-day is too wide to label Cornell a successful New Urbanist community. I argue that Cornell is evolving to that ideal. Consider, however, that what we have must be considered a work-in-progress. For sure, our community involvement, a strong and dedicated action group, will provide the impetus to continue to complete the Plan. Yes, the lessons learned have been hard and at a cost BUT the objectives will be achieved

The RatePayers have spent much time learning about New Urbanism and have gone on to evaluate what our Community wants to have in place within those parameters. In the early days, for example, we had to survey the Community to define what would be acceptable for on-street parking. Today that is (almost) a non-issue and a model for other Markham neighborhoods. From the beginning we have been an integral part of the Planning process and compliment and thank Markham staff for that consideration. Clearly, the lack of critical mass is at the root of many of the criticisms about the current state of Cornell. And there is little we can do about that given the restrictions of building permits. BUT maybe it is a good thing. The slower evolution of Cornell will allow us to filter the needs and wishes of our community so that when it is done Cornell will be the jewel in the GTA. It just keeps on getting better.      

New Urbanism Links of Interest


CNU - Congress For The New Urbanism
http://www.cnu.org/index.cfm

New Urban News
http://www.newurbannews.com

National Geographic - The Virtual Suburb
http://www.nationalgeographic.com/earthpulse/sprawl/index_flash.html

Online NewsHour Special
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/newurbanism