The National Post reports about the failures of Canada’s most famous New Urbanist experience, Cornell in the Toronto Suburbs.
More than 10 years ago, a charismatic Cuban American architect embarked on a bold plan to transform a plot of Ontario farmland into a bustling urban utopia, a place where dwellers would swap cars for walking shoes and enjoy a sense of urbanity in what would have otherwise been just another suburb. Or so that was Andres Duany’s plan.
Instead, cars today zip up and down the narrow avenues and not a pedestrian, charming coffee shop, nor restaurant is in sight. It is a Tuesday afternoon, and two beauty salons are inexplicably closed for the day, a real estate office is locked with snow piled high outside its door, not a single child is playing in Mews Park, and the convenience store sees only a trickling of residents. Here and there a York Regional Transit bus rolls along, but public transportation to, from and within Cornell is far from comprehensive.
“The mindset was that people wanted a village feel, but what emerged was a sort of pseudo-village,” said Michael Spaziani, a Toronto architect who a decade ago helped create Cornell’s open-space master plan, adding that Cornell is so far nothing more than a “cuter form of sprawl.”
John Evans, a father of three who moved to the Markham community about 10 years ago, said he was lured here by the promise of an imaginative urban development, only to today find his expectations not entirely met.
“I was drawn here by the novelty of the idea. But the goal of a walkable community with shops and a retail centre has not been achieved. We have to drive everywhere,” Mr. Evans said, adding that none of his children walk to school.
Renee Torrington, former president of the Cornell Rate Payers Association who moved here in 1998, said she too was excited by the prospect of living in a walkable community, where the revving of engines would be the exception and not the daily norm. But Ms. Torrington buckles into her car nearly every day, whether it be to drive to work in Mississauga, haul groceries from Loblaws, catch a flick, or pick up a bag of dog food from the pet store.
The solution proposed is to bring back Andres Duany to replan the town, in other words feedback. But the city that the New Urbanists are imitating, the traditional American town, did not need this. Its feedback loops were not a decade apart, but every day, as families, businesses and organizations grew it into a mixed-used city, without developers. That is why it was so alive. Too much has already been developed without feedback for this to take place in Cornell.
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