Downsview’s newest neighbourhood: William Baker

Downsview has always been in a state of evolution. Every decade new infrastructure, real estate, and residents transform the built environment of our community and our relationship with it. 

From a rural farming community to a military base and an aerospace manufacturing hub. Downsview is now entering the next phases of its evolution: a dense, walkable, environmentally sustainable, and transit-oriented urban centre.  

One of the most significant drivers of this latest evolution, at least from an urban planning perspective, has been the development of Downsview Park and the surrounding land.  

Since 1995, Canada Lands Company has led the revitalization of a decommissioned Canadian Forces Base into Downsview Park, nearly 600 acres of green oasis dedicated to recreational, educational, and other community uses. The land surrounding the park has been sectioned off into 4 districts to be development with various residential, commercial, and employment land uses. These districts, which are mostly still in planning phase, have been named Stanley Greene (completed), William Baker, Sheppard-Crosstown, and Allen. 

Stanley Greene is the first of the planned neighbourhoods to be completed. The development has received mixed reviews from community members – some adoring it’s Dutch-inspired modern stacked townhouses and others criticizing the development for its lack of mixed uses and its isolation from the broader community. 

But now, Canada Lands Company has turned its attention to the planning of the next neighbourhood, William Baker. William Baker consists of 62 acres located between Keele Street and Sheppard Avenue West.

In June 2019, Canada Lands Company launched a public consultation process for community members to have their voices heard in the planning of Downsview’s newest neighbourhood. I had a chance to attend the second ‘Open House’ in November 2019 and I was thrilled to see participation from a diverse group of community members: from residents, business owners, and even local politicians.

Community members provided clear objectives to guide the planning of William Baker. Including, creating and supporting health and wellness, creating a resilient and sustainable neighbourhood, creating an age-friendly environment especially for senior residents, and creating a place for all to live.

When asked to provide specific ideas for William Baker, participants got creative. Some community members suggested that the neighbourhood include many retail options to make street life dynamic and inviting. Some folks requested affordable food and grocery stores to accommodate different income levels. Others offered novel suggestions like free public wi-fi, a pool and other recreational facilities, better access to Downsview Park, and a community centre with programming for seniors and children. 

In the words of the great urbanist, Jane Jacobs: “cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” It is critical that Downsview residents get involved in the transformation of our community to ensure that it meets our diverse set of needs. 

If you would like to have your voice heard, you can submit your feedback online at: or attend the next ‘Open House’. Subscribe to the Downsview Lands newsletter for the latest updates. 

I will continue to follow the development of William Baker in the new year. Stay tuned.

Redevelopment of Wilson Station’s parking lot – the saga continues

On August 14, 2019 York Centre Councillor James Pasternak hosted a working group meeting to discuss the proposed redevelopment of Wilson Station’s Main Commuter Parking Lot at 50 Wilson Heights Boulevard. The lot was deemed ‘surplus’ land by the City’s development agency, CreateTO, and was selected by Toronto City Council to include in the affordable housing initiative, Housing Now

The meeting was organized by the Councillor Pasternak’s office in response to concerns raised by community members related to the loss of parking at the June 2019 Housing Now Community Meeting.   

During the meeting, City of Toronto Planning and CreateTO staff provided an overview presentation. It included: a recap of the Housing Now proposed development; a summary of City Council direction on parking for Housing Now sites; an analysis of existing usage of the parking lot; and three potential parking scenarios being considered in any future development. 

To justify the selection of the Wilson Station lot, City staff presented some helpful data. For instance, they provided the result of a recent licence plate survey, which indicated that of the total 866 parking spaces, only 25% (219 spots) are used by York Centre residents. The remaining 75% are used by folks outside of the community, including the 41% of spots which are used daily by commuters from the Greater Toronto Area. 

CreateTO staff also indicated that rebuilding all 866 spots underground a future development would be unfeasible given their estimate that each space would cost $85,000 ($75 million to build 866 spots). Adding in financing and operational costs, the public would need to pay $35+ per day in order to break even.

City staff revealed that future redevelopments would include one of three parking scenarios for community members: 1) provide exclusive public parking (no dedicated residential parking space); 2) provide shared parking (residential and public parking space); and 3) provide no public parking.

Although only a dozen community members attended the meeting, participants asked detailed questions and provided clear feedback to the Councillor and city staff. I’ve summarized some of the community’s feedback below. 

General Feedback 

  • Participants acknowledged that both affordable housing and commuter parking are very important issues and the community should not be presented with options that make them feel like they must choose one or the other. 
  • Community members voiced that the TTC needs to be part of this discussion. There were participants at the meeting who would consider taking transit rather than driving to the station, however many people felt that TTC service is unreliable and infrequent.
  • Some felt this is a safety concern – especially at night when some have to wait alone at a bus stop.

Process Feedback 

  • Participants  expressed that low turnout at the meeting should not be taken as a sign of a lack of concern about this issue. Others in the community are interested and have concerns but were either unable to attend or were not aware of the meeting. 
  • Participants urged the Councillor and CreateTO to do a better job at publicizing community meetings, including advertising in the local newspapers; posting a development sign in the parking lot (while has since been done); and handing out flyers at Wilson Station.

Parking Scenario Feedback 

  • Participants suggested removing a scenario all together (i.e. “provide no public parking”) since it was considered unreasonable and unfair to the community.  
  • Participants urged city staff to keep some or all of the existing surface lot by reconfiguring the development plans or moving the Housing Now site to a new location like Downsview/Sheppard West station.  
  • Some community members expressed interest in expanding and improving the parking lot at Downsview/Sheppard West station to accommodate the loss of parking at Wilson Station.
  • Participants also offered some creative solutions. Such as, using a permit system to preference local residents in public parking spaces built in future developments at Wilson Station and discouraging the use of the lot from people outside of the area by increasing the cost of parking at Wilson Station (by a couple dollars), possibly as a pilot project.

There was another Housing Now Community Meeting on September 16th  from 6 P.M to 9 P.M at the Church of Resurrection (1 Tippett Road). I will continue to cover this issue over the coming months – feel free to read my previous articles to learn more.

The redevelopment of Wilson Station’s main parking lot: A brief overview

Aerial view of the Wilson Station parking lot.

Wide streets with right-of-ways, narrow sidewalks, and parking lots. It’s no secret that our sprawling city was designed to accommodate vehicles – often at the expense of pedestrians, cyclists, and surface transit. 

But today, Toronto is at a crossroads. To improve our quality of life and to ensure an equitable city for generations to come, we need to accommodate a quickly growing population in an increasingly unaffordable city. In part, this means adding density to our neighbourhoods by giving up space dedicated for vehicles to build public amenities, retail, and housing at both market and affordable rates. 

Of course, one of the most significant barriers to doing so is the scarcity and high cost of land in Toronto. But to tackle this challenge, the City has established an agency called CreateTO (formally Build Toronto) to assess the development potential of Toronto’s ‘surplus’ real estate, including the three commuter parking lots at the Wilson Subway Station. 

At its peak, there were a total of 2,110 parking spots dedicated to commuter parking at Wilson Station. Today that number has shrunk to nearly 1,000. This has left many commuters often lining-up to access parking or even being turned away in frustration by the “lot full” sign. 

In 2016, CreateTO sold the Wilson West Lot (610 parking spots) to a developer who transformed the land into retail space. And in 2017, the Wilson South Lot (541 spots) was sold and turned into a mid-rise condominium. Commuters were assured that the reduction in parking spots would be offset by additional spots at Yorkdale Station and at new stations along the recently extended Yonge-University subway. 

Now, CreateTO has turned its attention to the final remaining parking lot at Wilson Station, the Wilson Main Lot at 50 Wilson Heights Boulevard. The agency sees the redevelopment as an “…opportunity to create a new pedestrian focused complex…[with] an affordable housing component within the development”. This is supported by the City’s ‘Housing Now’ initiative to redevelop multiple city-owned properties into “affordable housing within mixed-income, mixed-use, transit-oriented communities”. 

But the local community is split on the issue. 

On one hand, people accept that Toronto’s streets are clogged with vehicular traffic and that the future of our transit system can’t be based on parking lots, but instead based on connecting people to our transit system in more efficient ways. These people recognize the necessity of transit-oriented development, especially building affordable housing near our subway stations. Supporters also point to data collected by CreateTO which suggest that the parking lot at Wilson Station is not serving local residents, but rather, 70% of spots are being used by commuters from the Greater Toronto Area, places like Woodbridge and Kleinburg.  

On the other hand, people see the redevelopment of the parking lot as yet another attack in the longstanding “war on the car”. And while some, including York Centre Councillor James Pasternak, acknowledge the need to build more affordable housing in Toronto, they believe the selection of a commuter parking lot is “ill-advised”. “It would be far more prudent to build [affordable housing] on [a] site where you are not disrupting hundreds of commuters and creating anxiety in the community,” he said at a public meeting to discuss the proposed development. Furthermore, some community members have expressed concerns that have nothing to do with parking, but rather a lack of a strategic planning for the infrastructure required to accommodate an increase in population, such as local schools and parks. 

Councillor Pasternak has set up a working group for community members to discuss the proposed development at 50 Wilson Heights Blvd. and to address the concerns raised regarding parking capacity and accessibility. The first working group meeting will be held on August 14th at 6:30pm at the 6:30pm-8:30pm at Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am, Sisterhood Hall. 

This is a developing story which I will continue to cover over the coming months.