Is Cooksville the Future Downtown of Mississauga?
For months, discussion surrounding the incoming LRT and revitalization of Cooksville (some would say the imminent destruction, but they're probably wrong) has been fraught with both trepidation and excitement.
The changes are coming and they're coming quickly -- although, to some, certainly not quickly enough. Even though people are worried about costs and construction, it's apparent (and has been for years) that much of Mississauga's historical outer-downtown core needs a facelift. It's not just transportation that's getting an overhaul; it's the entire Cooksville region.
At a City Hall public meeting held by Ward 7 Councillor Nando Iannicca last night, experts came out to discuss their visions for Cooksville, the Dundas corridor, the LRT, Trillium hospital and parks and green spaces. Earlier this week, Iannicca and residents met at the Cooksville United Church to discuss the community's needs and agreed that a community centre along the proposed LRT route is both necessary and desired. It was the first of several community meetings on the future of the hub and, according to the Mississauga News; attending residents were largely in agreement that the area needs a makeover.
The second meeting was, as Iannicca put it, about explaining the "why" behind the incoming changes.
"We're not discussing a thing," Iannicca told the almost full room. "We want you to have a perspective on what we call 'the why.' We are in such a crucial juncture in the history of the city. You’ll have a much better understanding of 'the why' and you can influence 'the what' when you know what 'the why' is."
Experts in attendance included Ed Sajecki, the city's commissioner of Planning and Building, Fausto Natarelli, Director, Hurontario LRT, Metrolinx, Marianne Cassin and Karen Crouse from the city, LeeAnn Lloyd and Andrew Miller, strategic leaders, city of Mississauga, David Longley, AVP, Facilities, Capital Planning & Redevelopment, Trillium Health Partners and Anne Farrell, planner, city of Mississauga.
What we learned, other than the fact that some people have very long job titles, is that besides the LRT, the other components of the broader vision are still in the idea stage. There's an incoming Cooksville Community Hub, the Vision Cooksville project, a Dundas Connects transport vision, big plans for Trillium hospital and a budding park and green space strategy.
As for "the why," the first question Sajecki tried to answer was, indeed, why this is happening.
"I jokingly said to Nando [paraphrasing our new Prime Minister], because it’s 2015. It is 2015 in Mississauga and what a time to be here! I know the corridor well and my children were raised here. On a professional level, I worked with the province and we know we’re growing by 100,000 a year and if you take that over a 30 year period, that’s about the size of Montreal coming to the Hamilton, Toronto and Golden Horseshoe areas. How do you manage the people? We’re not doing this because we’re an island; we need to think of the bigger picture. The province is excited about what's happening in Mississauga. We're not a bedroom community anymore. We need to get out ahead of these issues. We have to connect dots and there’s a lot of connecting to do."
When we spoke to Iannicca about the LRT one on one, he made a great case for it that you can read here.
In terms of other developments, Vision Cooksville is important. According to LeeAnn Lloyd, a strategic leader with the city, the goal is to "to develop a long range community plan for downtown Cooksville that defines a social, cultural, economic vision that revitalizes the Cooksville corners."
Pointing out the area's vibrancy, she was honest about its needs. The area boasts 11,000 residents, 67 per cent of whom are immigrants. Over 60 languages are spoken in a neighbourhood where 575 businesses (mostly small) operate and the lion's share (94 per cent, to be exact) of dwellings are apartment buildings. The average household income in the area is $47,400 a year, which is lower than other parts of the city.
"We want to tap into the community and find out the vibe, the culture and how they see the future," she said. "It's rundown and there's an opportunity for improvement, even though it's vibrant."
There are also big plans for Dundas with Dundas Connects, a plan to intensify the Dundas corridor by creating more density and providing better transportation. For those worried about Trillium deteriorating -- and it's already too small and outdated in many respects -- big plans are in store for the landmark health centre.
For people interested in more green space, there's a push to create more of it at the municipal level.
Anne Farrell, a planner with the city, discussed Mississauga's Parks Strategy.
[Parks and green spaces] are important for quality of life," she said. "They give us a sense of community, people congregate there. People who live closer to trees are less likely to suffer from anxiety and depression and they’re important for quiet contemplation."
The plan to build more urban parks, perhaps similar in look and feel to Celebration Square, is still very much in the conception stage and is contingent on lands becoming available over time. That said, the idea is a good one, especially in a city where nature can often seem so far away.
The plan is grand and lofty, but it's not without precedent. The city is going to grow and it has to prepare, sooner rather than later, for the increase in residents. It also owes its people the full benefit of the urban experience that's been thrust upon them. When we spoke to Iannicca earlier in the month, he pointed out the problems behind objectively big cities trying to act as expansive towns. The Cooksville area is not a small town and it needs to move its residents more efficiently through the city and into surrounding ones.
That said, there are still people who simply do not want the LRT or the urbanization (some might say gentrification, but it's early to throw that term around) projects. What does city council say to residents who say no?
"Why don’t we say no when residents don’t want something?" Iannicca asks out loud at the meeting. "We look at traffic: is it high density, is it near rapid transit or does it fit? [We think of] contextual issues like sunlight from high buildings and distance from adjacent buildings. If the community doesn’t want it, we say there’s been investment, such as by Metrolinx, and we need to conform to the provincial growth plan. If there’s still disagreement, you can go to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). The OMB will make the final decision. It can be lengthy, but there’s a lot of community consultation and input. There’s a lot happening and high density development is encouraged along the Hurontario corridor."
When the meeting concluded, one young resident expressed concerns about storm water drainage and ended up discussing the boondoggle that is the underutilized and costly Shepherd subway line in Toronto with Sajecki. Sajecki conceded that some projects should never have been built and the resident seemed to hint that perhaps this LRT will be no different, demonstrating that skepticism still abounds.
Another resident, a young woman from the Cooksville area, felt differently.
"I'm so excited for this to happen," she said. "As someone young, just married who wants to raise her family - I love the idea. While Mississauga isn’t the best at this and I prefer how Toronto [does things], it can’t come fast enough. I’m really excited."