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Getting to yes means departing from Jacobsian activism

A proposed condo project by David Mirvish and Frank Gehry. Handout

Jane Jacobs was a community activist in the 1960’s during a time of urban renewal.  Slums were being razed for highway projects. Downtowns and urban areas were crime-ridden. Activists were deafened. Jane Jacobs railed against planners and engineers of the day because urban renewal was the response to social upheaval. Suburban living was the in thing.  

Jane Jacobs was also an advocate for community planning: having eyes on the street which made for safer communities and also being familiar with jewels in the community. This is the part of Jane Jacobs that remains strong, especially with the Jane’s Walk organization where locals lead neighbourhood walks.

But it is the latter that residents tend to abuse. Many cities and regions are moving away from suburban living. As driven by policies such as the Places to Grow Act in Ontario, many cities are being proactive or learning from past mistakes in order to densify. It is that choice of creating walkable and livable communities where residents are using transit more, less reliance on cars – including car sharing, more active transportation options.  Sprawling suburbs aren’t the in thing anymore. But with a more dense environment comes the need for more mid-rise apartments and condominiums.

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Residents have been up in arms over recent proposals such as the a “Kensington” Walmart or Loblaws, Humbertown, mid-rise in the Beaches, The OZ .  I would even include the Mirvish+Gehry Towers, transit in Scarborough and the Billy Bishop Airport expansion. Some politicians will hide behind the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) to fuel the fire of residents and blame it on bad development.  There is a disturbing trend happening in the City of Toronto alone.

Developers are urban planners who work within the constraints of several city and provincial planning, environmental and transportation policies. But also developers have a vision. I, too, was guilty of blaming developers and the OMB for trumping over community interests (ask Councillor Peter Milczyn circa 2008). Community input is critical but residents also need to have an open mind. Always saying NO to projects is regressive and flies in the face of what community and city building is all about. Throwing Jane Jacobs’ name in vain would make her roll in her grave.

Getting to yes means means citizens need to depart from what I call the Jacobsian activism. We need to turn these people from NIMBYs into YIMBYs (Yes In My Backyard). Times are changing.  The planning profession has progressed. Neighbourhoods and cities are being reshaped. Residents also need to be cognizant that economic development plays a role in planning too. The need for larger grocery stores are not meant to shut down community markets but to add to the competition and provide choice. The need for a slightly larger airport not only benefits the downtown residents and business community, but also serves as a regional option for passengers too.  

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Citizens, do your homework but let the planners plan. We have the best interest of the community in mind. This is what Jane Jacobs would have wanted.