Shonda Wang on link between infrastructure investment and growth

Last month, the University of Toronto’s Department of Geography and Planning put on an event to honour Mr. John Bousfield (1929-2016). SvN Urban Design Lead, Shonda Wang, was part of the panel discussion following Jennifer Keesmaat’s keynote address. The keynote address and panel discussion was captured on video and available to view here.

The event covered a range of themes addressing the planning and design for the future of Toronto, including: rethinking engagement processes to make planning relevant to youth, the preparedness of the city for extreme weather events, how education can assist in changing the face of the city, how housing affordability affects where and how Toronto’s artistic community live, and if the planning process is doing enough to accommodate innovative technology. Shonda speaks on the effectiveness of the public-private partnership model (P3) and how they are being integrated into the planning process (starts at the 1 hour mark of the video).

Along with Shonda, the panel included Jordan Kemp (Bousfields Inc.), Lindsay Dale-Harris (Bousfields Inc.), Rick DiFrancesco (Associate Chair and Director, Planning Program, University of Toronto), Domanique Grant, and Cyndi Rottenburg-Walker (Urban Strategies).

Shonda’s segment is transcribed below.


The issue is always raised that infrastructure is not adequate to support the level of growth that is being anticipated. A new P3 model seems to be emerging for the government to share the burden of these costs. How effective are these P3 models, how well are these models integrated into the planning process and are they being used effectively to shape the growth of the city?


The region is growing and Toronto is a focus of a lot of that growth. Over the next 25 years we’ll be experiencing an extensive of intensive wave of that. Much of that through immigration. The pairing between the policies and investments – including transit and hospitals – to guide that growth, is not accidental. We’re very conscious of the fact that they have to happen in lockstep in order to properly support the growth that’s happening and also create the very livable and thriving communities that we want to support.

One example that Jennifer spoke to earlier was about Eglinton Connects, and that’s a really interesting one, because it’s an example where the city realized that it had to get ahead of a very aggressive P3 process but also do the long-term planning and establish the vision and the framework for how the 19km corridor – a long expansive street and corridor with many neighbourhoods around it – would grow and develop over time.

While the LRT is under construction and, in just a few short years, it will be built in its entirety, the rest of that growth and change will be happening in an incremental way. It was important to get some of the policies in place to set up for the conditions for that growth to occur, such as the mid-rise as-of-right for the buildings along much of the corridor. When we’re looking at corridor studies, we’re not just looking at the street or the properties that are fronting that street. It’s really the broader neighbourhood for which Eglinton is their main street, so setting up framework plans for how you create new connections into those neighbourhoods, how you introduce community facilities (schools, parks, open spaces), is an important part of the broader plan and vision.

Another project which is not in Toronto, but is very close to home, is the Dundas Corridor in Mississauga. It’s a 17 km street that goes from the Toronto boundary all the way across the City of Mississauga to the Oakville border. This is an example where it’s a transportation master plan but our team, and thankfully the City really supported us with this, decided that we wanted to articulate the land use vision first, to inform what the most appropriate form of transit and infrastructure was to support that level of growth and that vision.

This is an example of what seems like a generic arterial corridor not unlike parts of Eglinton or Yonge Street up in Newmarket. Through analysis and also through many conversations through engagement and consultation with the community, we started to call Dundas a ‘super street’ because it is incredibly diverse. There are over 40 countries represented, a mix of small and large businesses sitting side-by-side. Access and affordability were key issues that needed to be addressed to best utilize investments in infrastructure. Transit is only as good as your ability to get to it. These were really interesting issues to be able to problem-solve.

Hospitals are also a key piece of supportive infrastructure as part of a growing community. North York General Hospital at Leslie and Sheppard is just in their initial stages of doing campus master planning. What not a lot of people may know is that they’re actually not one campus. They have four sites across two major arterials – Leslie and Sheppard. They have a big challenge about how to grow a relatively suburban hospital development by two and a half times to support the level of growth that’s happening in the area, in a really constrained site. How do we take all of these things that are constraints and turn them into structuring elements for the campus moving forward?

To answer the P3 question by going back to Eglinton, I think it was critical that it was a defensible, solid plan that went through an extensive consultation and engagement process. That it got approved by Council gave it a lot of teeth. Through the P3 process, where sometimes economics becomes the priority, and we have some decisions to make, we can structure the performance specs so that public realm gets equal weighting. Kim Storey, a friend that I work with now, says “Public realm is that thin layer, but that’s what everybody sees and experiences.”

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We apply our thorough understanding of the provincial and municipal regulatory context to develop studies and public policy instruments for local, provincial and federal governments and First Nations. These include: zoning by-laws, official plans, municipal development plans, local official plans, secondary plans, neighbourhood plans, and urban design guidelines.
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