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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Pursuing design excellence : urban design as public policy on Toronto's waterfront, 1999-2010 White, James Thomas


As one of the largest post-industrial redevelopment projects in North America, Toronto’s Lake Ontario waterfront is a key site for examining a range of policy tools and regulatory mechanisms that can be used to foster design-sensitive city planning practices. This research asks the question ‘How do planning processes affect the quality and execution of urban design?’ It uses an amended series of thirteen principles, initially developed by John Punter (2003), to analyze and evaluate the policymaking, implementation efforts and outcomes of the waterfront urban design process. The primary research data was collected using in-depth semi-structured interviews, archival documents and direct observations of the public realm. The research found that after many decades of failed planning efforts, a waterfront-focused bid for the 2008 Olympic Games caused the municipal, provincial and federal governments to contribute $1.5 billion to the waterfront redevelopment effort and establish a triumvirate public-private partnership to lead a comprehensive master planning process. ‘Design excellence’ was revealed to be a guiding policy aim of the waterfront redevelopment programme. Although the public-private partnership had a limited institutional mandate to deliver on its planning and design objectives, findings show that innovative design-sensitive policy tools and regulatory measures were established outside of the statutory planning framework to achieve design excellence. An urban design peer review panel, design competitions and neighbourhood master planning served to counter a weak and unpredictable jurisdictional context.

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