On November 7, 2014, the Humbertown Master Plan was awarded the Excellence in Planning Award for Urban / Community design by the Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI). According to OPPI’s press release, “the Excellence in Planning Awards recognize innovation, creativity, professionalism, problem-solving, and communications. These are the best of the best in community planning”. The project team included Urban Strategies, Levitt Goodman Architects, Kirkor Architects, Scott Torrance Landscape Architect Inc., BA Group, R. J. Burnside and Associates Ltd., Tate Economic Research, Provident Energy Management Inc., Theakston Environmental and HGC Engineering, working on behalf of First Capital Realty and Tridel. We also want to acknowledge the valuable input from the community, in particular the Humber Valley Village Residents Association and the City of Toronto.
Below is a detailed overview of this project, organized by response to OPPI’s evaluation criteria.
Evolving the Commercial Strip Mall
The Humbertown Master Plan
Across North America, cities and the suburbs that surround them are being re-designed to be more walkable, livable and sustainable. In their efforts to build better cities, planners, designers, engineers, developers, politicians and citizens are faced with one distinctive part of the urban landscape that remains challenging to change – the suburban strip mall.
The Humbertown Master Plan reimagines a once state-of-the-art single-purpose community shopping plaza as a new vibrant mixed-use community, representing the latest thinking in planning, architecture and urban design. Structured around a generous, attractive and accessible public realm, the Master Plan proposes intensification that expands on the existing retail-commercial offerings with a mix of residential housing types including condominium residences, senior suites and townhomes, and a number of community amenities such as a day care, a health club, a grocery store and a pharmacy. The Master Plan incorporates all the elements desired in a modern neighbourhood – function and beauty, activity and quiet, efficiency and sustainability, landmarks and context – all within a palette that allows this new community centrepiece to appear at once unified and uniquely diverse.
The innovative vision for an active, economically vibrant and environmentally responsible mixed-use environment
Five planning principles were developed to capture the range of goals and aspirations of the community and the proponent: 1) Encourage community vitality through a mix of uses; 2) Provide new streets and blocks that enhance movement in and around the site; 3) Develop beautiful edges that respect the established community; 4) Integrate mobility, parking and services; and 5) Create high-quality open spaces.
These guiding principles were translated into a series of structuring elements that formed the innovative physical framework for a new community that could respond directly to its context, history and aspirations for the future.
The Humbertown Master Plan embodies four core attributes that can be applied to rethinking aging retail centres across Ontario, where intensification is appropriate and desired:
Humbertown puts forward a regeneration strategy with a simple yet robust plan. The site’s structure and organization remains familiar to navigate for old and new patrons alike, and is adaptable to market changes. Parking is convenient and servicing is hidden.
The Master Plan enhances the existing neighbourhood values. The mix of uses offers a variety of activities throughout the day and throughout the year. There are places to meet, places to shop, places for enterprise, places to have fun, places to grow up and places to grow old.
The Master Plan features sustainable and generous landscapes, transforming the primary nature of the site from “grey to green”. Open spaces contain all the essential elements of a strong sense of place, rooting the urban environment in its surrounding valley milieu. There are environments for watching, engaging, hearing, smelling and touching.
The Master Plan enhances value across multiple markets. It provides an implementation and phasing strategy that finds opportunities for early development to directly respond to market demands, while establishing value and confidence.
THE PLANNING PROCESS
The Humbertown Master Plan is the product of over three years of extensive policy creation, design development and public consultation. In 2010, First Capital Realty established an ambitious target of transforming the existing Humbertown Shopping Centre site to an economically vibrant and environmentally responsible urban place; a model of 21st century mixed-use urbanism. They led a rigorous design competition. The power of the initial competition approach was that it challenged the various teams to be as creative as possible, within the context of contemporary planning priorities, to complete our communities.
Urban Strategies Inc. and LGA Architectural Partners approached the redevelopment by proposing a new “Humbertown Mix” that would include complementary activities to animate the site throughout the day, week and year, all within a unique setting with a strong sense of place befitting the local Humber Valley Village context. Our initial scheme was selected in November 2010.
We formed a larger, multidisciplinary team including Kirkor Architects, Scott Torrance Landscape Architect Inc., BA Group, R. J. Burnside and Associates Ltd., Tate Economic Research, Provident Energy Management Inc., Theakston Environmental and HGC Engineering, and First Capital Realty partnered with Tridel. Together we worked with the local community to develop the competition scheme into a detailed Master Plan and to secure the approvals for the site, through one of the most comprehensive community participation processes ever undertaken in Toronto.
A MASTER PLAN THAT WILL BE IMPLEMENTED
The Humbertown Master Plan sets out a realistic and viable implementation and phasing strategy that considers the impact of the development on the existing local community, the existing retail community and the market.
The Local Community: Humbertown will be constructed in just two phases, to limit the overall duration of construction and the associated disruptions to the existing community.
The Retail Community: The implementation strategy coordinates provisions for retail and parking to ensure that operation of the existing tenants is minimized through construction.
Market: The diverse mix of uses allows the development to be brought forward in a manner that ensures economic viability by being able to efficiently provide infrastructure and respond to market demand, which in turn enhances social vibrancy and overall value.
EXCEPTIONAL PRESENTATION AND COMMUNICATION STANDARDS
The text and graphic materials produced as part of the Humbertown Master Plan were of the highest quality. Rendered plans, photo-montages, detailed illustrations, video animations and digital and physical 3D models, were produced to visually convey the Humbertown Master Plan to various audiences. All materials used accessible graphic techniques, to ensure that the key messages were clearly communicated.
For public events, materials were visual, tactile and auditory, to engage the wide-ranging audience. PowerPoint presentations and information panels relied heavily on imagery to convey how the future Humbertown would look and feel. A physical model and video animations illustrated the character and scale of new buildings, streets and open spaces.
The final Humbertown Urban Design Guidelines document summarizes the overall Master Plan and includes detailed renderings and illustrations to communicate how buildings and open spaces achieve the collective vision for Humbertown. Where possible, text was used sparingly to allow the document to look like a magazine, yet read like a manual. The document provides a simple, yet clear description of the overall Master Plan, allowing City staff, members of Council and the community to quickly and easily identify both the overall vision and detailed recommendations for the site.