In with the new. Today, the builders of new communities have a blank sheet and centuries worth of urban experiments to help shape the future. Developers are the visionaries who have the input of planners, politicians and residents to help define their priorities and achieve bold ideas. In Markham, the vision for tomorrow took hold years ago. And it began with a new approach to how we live.
The vision for a community of tomorrow wasn't only about where to develop. It was about how to develop. Rather than merely looking to expand on available real estate, this movement was - and is - about making better use of that land.
"There was a view to really breaking the back of 1980's traditional planning where subdivisions turn their backs on the streets, have large garages projecting in the front of their homes, and people largely didn't know their neighbors," says Mary Frances Turner, who was Markham's city planner in the early 1990s and is now the president of York Region Rapid Transit Corporation. "This was about trying to change that whole physical relationship."
Two aerial views of the tract of land to the northwest of Highway 7 and Warden Ave show how development includes preserving green space.
Kalloon Photography, Image Courtesy of Markham Museum M.2013.23.0.1
Cue the revival of the lost art of place-making: promoting the creation and restoration of compact, walkable, mixed-use neighbourhoods that do not rely on cars.
But why here, in the gently rolling hills of a sprawling region comprised of six amalgamated communities of Berczy Village, Cornell, Markham Village, Milliken, Thornhill, and Unionville?
"Markham had this huge tract of land and the opportunity to put together a growth strategy for a new downtown that was in a complete green field," says Turner, "That's pretty phenomenal because it was a very successful community amalgamation of a number of small villages into a rapidly merging successful community."
For diversity-strong Markham, with decades of immigration in its DNA, development of this nature simply made sense.
Development would take time. A great deal of time, in fact: Years of planning, patience and perseverance and, perhaps above all, collaboration. Planners, builders, developers, politicians and residents would come together to tackle this challenge: to harness the possibilities of development done right.