Intensification that works for QTN

by Dan Monafu, a member of the QTNca Planning Committee.

What do we mean by a livable community? Or by a neighbourhood that is people-centric? These are concepts that get at the same thing: that neighbourhoods are places where people live, and we should take that into account when we have the (rare) opportunity to re-think them.

The new O-Train stations and the Lincoln Fields and QTN secondary plans do give us this rare opportunity. And I know that with them, intensification will happen. But what are the things we can do to ensure that it works for us?

Some folks have started to create community asset maps, which list all the publicly-available treasures a neigbourhood has, as a means of making people aware of what’s in front of their eyes and valuable.

Can you think of any such places for QTN? We could list this church, which allows us to have community meetings in large numbers, when we need to gather together. Frank Ryan park, of course, is another example.

If you go down the list of things our neighours wish for, they are not complicated asks: they are things like a small neighbourhood grocery store, so that we are not in a food desert when we run out of milk and it’s late at night.

For others, community is as simple as a coffee shop that they can work from, when they’re tired of tele-working from their basement and need to go somewhere new. This is what some folks call a third space, defined as not home and not work, but an alternate place where people can meet, discuss ideas, or share experiences.

These are the types of things that will likely come through intensification — hopefully the increases in resident count can create enough financial incentive for local coffee shop chains like Little Victories or Equator to open locations here.

But there’s a good way to do things, and a not so good way to do things. For example, would putting a typical convenience store – which doesn’t have fresh fruit or fresh produce … would that solve the food desert problem?

Or would opening a sterile Starbucks franchise mean we’ve created a sense of community? I think there must be compromises made. The purists would say only businesses that meet certain criteria should do; others might say any business is good business since it sparks further economic activity.

The truth is likely somewhere in the middle — perhaps if a Starbucks does open on Queensview and is successful, people will get used to hanging out on that street and in a few years an independent coffee house will say: ‘you know what, that Starbucks proves there’s enough business for us to also be successful here’.

There are also things we can do through partnerships. I was excited to hear about the new curling club coming to QTN. What would it look like for them to partner with our neighbourhood association and offer a cheaper neighbourhood rate, to ensure people here take advantage of what that group does, even if perhaps curling was not our first choice sport we’d think to try.

Having it close by means it becomes an asset to us here, and so we should encourage it to thrive so that it starts to think of ways it could give back even more to our community.

We should also recognize that there are limits to growth. The impacts of climate change show us clearly that the earth has already reached its carrying capacity, so as much as possible we have to learn to reduce, reuse and recycle what already exists – degrowth should always be present and recognized as an important consideration.

As we’re learning, unlimited growth only exists in theoretical models. We live on planet earth and just as we as a people are not limitless or ageless, we need to accept and work with what we were given, something permaculture practitioners would tell us.

But intensification could also mean infills built with aging in place principles, or with intergenerational intentionality between units, not just 4plexes that maximize efficiency of space and have a unidimensional utilitarianism to them. Hopefully some zoning principles can be baked in with the right incentives so that developers veer in these directions – I think of social procurement principles that city council could advocate for and generalize city wide.

Finally, I’d like to encourage us to think creatively about solutions, given the public assets we have in QTN. Things like the municipally-owned bus barn — when the OTrain Phase 2 is live and we have less need for buses, could it be turned into mixed income housing? Or a community centre with a small public library and an arts studio space where community groups could perform? Those are the tangible and intangible assets that slowly make a neighbourhood more livable.