If you’re one of the four people who regularly read this blog, you’ll know that lately I’ve been posting a bit about the Development Permit System (DPS), a proposed system that will dramatically change how future planning and development approval takes in Toronto. For a bit more about it, head over here and then here.
A huge aspect of the DPS is that the city will be broken down into sections that will each have their own set of neighbourhood-appropriate, development-related by-laws. I’m not against this idea, if it’s done properly and if this new framework is used more like a starting point then an answer for everything.
But how to do it properly? Well, I have some ideas on that. Now, I need to mention that I have no formal training in urban planning, civic management or anything like that. But I do have a ton of project management experience, I know how to juggle different demands from vastly different stakeholders and I want what’s best for this city. Because of all of that, what follows might at times be vague and optimistic but I think it could work, if the will, and a bit of money, was there.
Before putting together individual DPSs, we need to take a step back and put together a simple but long-range vision for the whole city. Yes, I know that we have the official plan and that’s good but it’s hardly a vision document, a one pager that you can look at and be quickly reminded of what path we’re going down.
It would start with a collection of phrases, possibly slightly sketched out, that we turn to whenever we’re faced with a planning dilemma. Included phrases could be lines like, “Safe and accessible to everyone, of every background and ability,” “Environmentally progress” and even “Respectful to taxpayers.” This section could be modeled off of Council’s Vision for the City of Toronto and at minimum, should overlap in values.
In addition to these phrases, this vision document should also outline several key, planning related goals. These goals would be short but specific. Think things like, “Toronto will be XX% covered by tree canopy by 201X.” Most of these goals will be items that the City has already pledged to focus on; the vision document would just round them up and display them together.
While City employees would ultimately put this vision together, residents would have the opportunity to shape it. This could be as simple as a well-promoted website, along with maybe a handful of community meetings.
The master vision would then form the base of any and all DPSs. This should result in all of the DPSs being on the same page and aiming towards the same goals: An open, safe city that embraces progress and growth while preserving its history and local character.
We would then move on to creating the neighbourhood-specific DPSs. In real life, these will be created with input from two community meetings. I don’t believe that non-City staffers will have any input beyond that though I might be wrong.
I’m not a fan of that system. I worry that without enough community involvement, the nuances of a neighbourhood could easily be missed.
So here’s how I would fix that. There would be an initial meeting in which, among other things, a community DPS consulting team is created. This team would be comprised of three-five residents who would volunteer to work with planning staff, maybe an urban planning masters’ student or two, to create their neighbourhood’s DPS. Obviously this idea needs to be fleshed out a lot more but you get the point: Community members will direct help to shape a DPS.
This creation process would be intense, requiring every single block in a zone to be examined and planned for. It would also be relatively quick, lasting maybe eight or 10 weeks. At the end another community would be held and the DPS presented. During that meeting, some tweaking would take place right then and there.
The tweaks would be worked into the proposed DPS and then, ideally a week after that last meeting, the end result would be posted online and there would be some kind of objection period of oh, let’s say 30 days. If any objections were raised, another meeting would need to be held though I picture this one being a daytime event. Beyond that, I’m not sure how this objection process would work but somehow, it would.
One the 30 days were over, and any objections sorted, the city would officially approve the DPS and it would serve as that neighbhourhood’s development vision for the next five years.
But while all of that would result in the DPS for that specific slice of Toronto, that’s hardly the end of our story. That part will be posted on Monday.