The city of Mississauga is at a crossroads.
Mississauga is on the cusp of transforming into an urban centre from a suburb so-called bedroom community. The new downtown development needs to lead that transformation and set a new direction.
The City released its "Downtown21" report and hosted a public townhall last week to showcase the plan. Almost the entire downtown core has been designated as "Mixed Use," meaning that it can be used for commercial or residential development. Much of the in-process new development in that area is high density condominium buildings.
For a city to mature and blossom, increasing population density is necessary. After all, the city has limited available land space and in order to keep up with needs of the residents, the tax base needs to keep growing. Funding for city services like road paving, schools, community centre facilities, garbage pickup to name a few, is not sustainable given that much of the revenue generated from development levies is shrinking dramatically.
If we want a world-class city with respectable education system and community services, we need to come to terms with the fact that increasing density is the way to go.
Unfortunately, many associate high density with annoying traffic jams. There were several letters in the Mississauga News that expressed that frustration.
High density has a negative connotation to many Mississaugans. Many neighbourhoods frequently lobby their city councillor against high rises thinking it will bring traffic congestion and lower the value of their property.
The reality is that high density is the only logical policy for Mississauga as it transforms and matures. Intensification development will not be planted randomly and arbitrarily throughout the city. There are certain pockets that lend themselves well for that purpose and the downtown core is certainly one of them.
If high density communities are planned properly, they will alleviate traffic jams instead of exacerbating them.
High density neighbourhoods solve many problems when designed to be self-sustained. The idea is that residents barely need to use their cars when going to work or shopping. However, if the high density community contains only residential development where residents need to exit that community to get to work or to shop that is when high density may cause more congestion than it solves.
Mississauga's downtown will benefit tremendously from a high density community. In addition to residential buildings, the area needs office and commercial space where residents can work and shop locally. There is no shortage of shopping spaces where Square One among other stores makes up a prominent part of the downtown core.
However, there appears to be a glaring absence of office space.
When I asked a city staff as to why there hasn't been much interest by developers to build office space in the area, I was told that perhaps the parking space requirement for commercial buildings makes it cost-prohibitive where real estate outside the downtown core comes at a less of a premium.
Whatever the reason is, the city should create incentives for office space development in the downtown core. It is essential for the success of the intensification of downtown.
There is still much available land space in the downtown core that hasn't been spoken for and can be designated for office space with smart incentives.
High density is a great model for building vibrant and prosperous communities. However, these neighbourhoods need a wholesome plan with proper infrastructure that includes work and shopping space where these communities can flourish. The downtown core represents an ideal opportunity for building a world-class community where people can work, play and shop in the same neighbourhood.