Lawrence-Allen Revitalization Plan
The highly participatory approach and its continuous integration of different city departments are outstanding features of this plan
The Lawrence-Allen Revitalization Plan (LARP) was initiated with the intention of solving the problem of missing housing spaces in Toronto’s area bounded by Hwy. 401, Bathurst Street, Lawrence Avenue, and Dufferin Street. Although the Lawrence-Allen area is situated in the middle of a vibrant urban region, it is covered with single family detached dwellings and few apartment buildings. The objectives of the Lawrence-Allen Revitalization Plan for the next 20 years are therefore to replace the 1,208 publicly-owned housing units and add 4092 market units, offering about 16,000 residents a new home.
From 2008 until 2011, the City of Toronto performed the three phase Lawrence-Allen Revitalization Study, which was accompanied by community consultations. The study revealed that 65 hectares of the 340 hectares of land in the Lawrence-Allen area are publicly-owned and therefore potential resources for new social housing sites connected to the rest of the city. On December 1, 2011, the City Council of Toronto approved the Lawrence-Allen Secondary Plan.
Although the results of the LARP can only be foreseen, the highly participatory approach of this policy and its continuous integration of different city departments supply the necessary conditions for it to be a case of good practice.
Background and objectives
The LARP was created to cover several problems in the Lawrence-Allen area. Since 1958, when housing was constructed in the Lawrence Heights Neighbourhood, almost no new investments have helped to modernize the peoples’ homes.
The poor quality of social housing in the area is due to functional issues and problems with the maintenance of the buildings, the cost-effectiveness of repairs, and the mechanical systems. Missing infrastructure to other neighbourhoods has isolated and disconnected the residents from public services and life beyond the Lawrence-Allen area. For example, 40% of residents of Lawrence Heights Neighbourhood have a university degree, but the described systemic issues hinder them from securing employment. In average, the residents of the Lawrence Heights Neighbourhood have lower income and higher levels of unemployment than the residents of the rest of Toronto. All of these problems have pressed the need to improve the social and economic conditions in the neighbourhoods of the Lawrence-Allen area.
The housing stock in Lawrence Heights is in poor physical condition and requires replacement in order to provide all tenants with a healthy and sustainable neighbourhood to live in. Revitalization offers the opportunity to establish a planning context to renew housing. The Revitalization Plan also revisits the design of the neighbourhood in terms of the street network, parks system, and buildings. The plan also looks to build upon the neighbourhood’s strengths, including its strong social networks and proximity to regional transportation infrastructure.
The renewal of the social housing stock, intensification along a subway route, sustainable development, improved delivery of community services, improved public realm, and creation of high-quality usable parkland are all objectives of the LARP, which at the same time reflect the major themes of the current Toronto’s Official Plan. These objectives and the aim of turning the Lawrence Heights Neighbourhood into a mixed-income, mixed-use, and culturally diverse but fully integrated neighbourhood are to be built upon its strengths.
Although directly gearing towards the Lawrence Heights Neighbourhood and the Lawrence-Allen study area, the LARP indirectly aims at bringing together the whole city by providing new connections across Allen Road in form of pedestrian, cyclists and transit oriented links.
Planning of the revitalization of Lawrence-Allen area started in June of 2008 with the first phase of the Lawrence-Allen Revitalization Study, in which data about the neighbourhood and community were collected and analysed. During the second phase of the study in 2009, alternative redevelopment plans were explored. In the last phase of the Lawrence-Allen Revitalization Study, which started in 2010, city staff, landowners, residents, and other stakeholders developed a Recommended Preferred Plan. This plan was given the official name of Lawrence-Allen Revitalization Plan, after the City Council endorsed the planning visions in July 2010.
The council then directed staff to continue community engagement and prepare a new secondary plan and implementation ideas. Three community forums in 2011 provided consultation by the citizens of Toronto: on March 3, 2011 regarding Buildings and Neighbourhood Design, on April 28, 2011 regarding Transportation, Transit, and Infrastructure, and on June 2, 2011 regarding Parks, Community Facilities, and Social Development. Additional consultations were launched with the Toronto Community Housing consultation, stakeholder meetings, and meetings of the Councillor Josh Colle Community Working Committee.
The City Council adopted new elements, which were a result of the community consultations, on July 12, 2011. As the last steps before the city council approved of the final version of the Lawrence-Allen Secondary Plan in November 2011, the plans were made available to the public and the North York Community Council accepted them. The Lawrence-Allen Secondary Plan was formally adapted to the City of Toronto Official Plan as Amendment No.162.
In November 2012, the Toronto City Council approved the Phase 1 by law amendments. Expectations of the City Council are that revitalization, renewal, growth, and change will occur. In February 2014, Phase 1 buisness Plan was approved by Toronto Community Housing Board of Directors. According to studies, two-thirds of Toronto’s population growth is projected to occur outside the city centre. The LARP could serve as an inspirational model for other areas of Toronto, guiding this evolution.
Since the City Council of Toronto took its first step towards developing the LARP, an inclusive community engagement process including stakeholders from all areas took place in form of large and small community meetings and workshops, surveys and tours, phone calls, e-mails, and face-to-face conversations. The City Council expresses its high level of dedication towards including the interests of the residents by hearing the voluntary Community Advisory Group (CAG) and regularly holding Community Forums, Open Houses, Workshops, and Youth Conferences of Revitalization. Invitations to these events are most often translated into ten languages and important documents on the LARP are available to the public on the City’s website.
Other stakeholders involved in the LARP are consulting groups (Arup, MMM group, LURA consulting, UMC, N Barry Lyons, Halsall, Corban and Goode, dmA, Ward and Associates and Dougan and Associates), the Toronto Community Housing (TCH), and the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). Staff from other city divisions (Social Development, Finance and Administration, Parks, Forestry and Recreation, Public Health and Children's Services) and the Lawrence Heights Interagency Network (LHION) also form part of the planning team.
Financing and resources
Technical and financial resources are provided by the City Planning Office of the City of Toronto, Toronto Community Housing (TCH), and Toronto District School Board (TDSB).
Apart from this, public and private investment is expected and necessary for a successful revitalization. Additional technical resources are contributed by the consulting team, private stakeholders, and citizens.
Results and impacts
The City Council of Toronto is planning to take the comprehensive planning framework presented in the Lawrence-Allen Secondary Plan as the basis for an evaluation of the future development of the LARP.
Revitalization planning is an opportunity to take a comprehensive look at the Lawrence-Allen area and plan for positive change over the long term. Revitalization can harness opportunities by directing public and private investment, planning to achieve city-building objectives, and aiming to ensure a high-quality of life for residents of the Lawrence-Allen area.
If all goals will be met by the LARP, it will have a positive impact on environmental sustainability, employment, construction businesses, social integration, development of the inner city, and transportation in the city of Toronto.
Barriers and challenges
Members of the Community Advisory Group (CAG) and other residents complained about the following: they were not sure how the role of the CAG members differed from that of other residents, they criticized the run on their meetings because it made it difficult for some people to be heard, they wished for more meetings at different times and locations and they found fault with the small amount of information they were given by the City Council. In June 2009, the City Planning handled those complaints by creating workshops, which took place more often and successfully implemented the CAGs suggestions.
Lessons learned and transferability
During the implementation of the LARP a lot of experiences were made in the areas of public participation, transfer of ideas, development of the inner city, and the participation of private financing or acquisition of private financing.
The Ontario Professional Planners Institute already recognized the LARP with the Excellence in Planning Award in the category of Municipal Statutory Planning Studies, Reports, and Documents. This award is supposed to highlight the high calibre of work done by the professional planners of the City Council of Toronto together with the involved stakeholders.