The Cooksville Makeover

 

Massive -- but gradual -- change is coming to one of the city's oldest and most colourful districts.

Cooksville, the iconic neighbourhood anchored by the bustling and diverse 5 and 10 (Dundas and Hurontario) intersection, is likely to receive a tremendous (and necessary) amount of attention over the next two to three decades and long-standing members of the community appear to be in favor of the potentially momentous facelift.

For those who aren't aware, Vision Cooksville -- a project that's still very much in the concept phase -- is chugging along nicely.

Last night, Urban Strategies Inc. (the Toronto-based planning and urban design firm being consulted for the project) and City of Mississauga representatives came out to one of several public meetings to further lay the groundwork for the evolving plan. The meeting was held in the Cooksville United Church and garnered an impressive showing of engaged community members.

Last night's meeting signified the fourth step in the five-step community consultation plan. During the meeting, attendees were presented with a draft of the vision (informed, in many ways, by their own suggestions) and asked to pose any lingering questions or concerns to Urban Strategies representatives.

As it stands, the plan -- which, again, is more of a blueprint at this stage than anything else -- revolves around reinvigorating (perhaps gentrifying is an appropriate, albeit controversial, term) the somewhat tired neighbourhood by implementing six principles. Those principles are:

1)    Create a vibrant public realm with walkable streets
2)    Create connected and engaging parks and open spaces
3)    Create community facilities for recreation and services
4)    Create housing opportunities and choices
5)    Welcome local and unique businesses
6)    Craft a new identity

Cooksville is getting attention for a few reasons.

The neighbourhood is expected to grow dramatically and is slated to receive major transit investments. The proposed LRT is going to run down Hurontario and will bring tremendous, tangible change to the community. While other ideas -- namely those regarding parks and community spaces -- are merely concepts, the LRT is as real as they come. The large-scale Metrolinx project, which is fully-funded by the province, is set to begin construction in 2018. The future LRT has intrigued developers, meaning more residential and commercial buildings will call the area home in the coming years.

While change is often scary, it appears that the Cooksville residents most engaged in the planning process are, by and large, excited by the prospect of a new, more vibrant neighbourhood (albeit with some reservations).

During the previous consultations, the community expressed interest in a decidedly urban landscape with walkable areas that are bicycle and pedestrian-friendly, a robust and reliable public transportation system, less surface parking in front of shops and restaurants (so more of a Port Credit look), attractive storefronts, outdoor seating and more amenities for cyclists (bike parking and bike repair stations). People also spoke out in favor of more and better parks and open spaces, more community and recreation centres (including a distinct Cooksville community hub) and a better range of housing that works for residents at all income levels and encourages homeownership within the community.

The community also emphasized the importance of maintaining a diverse space that's attractive to business owners. Most interestingly, people seemed invested in the idea of re-branding the space and giving it a fresh identity -- one perhaps expressed through public art installations or special signage.

During the Q&A portion of the meeting, a few pertinent questions arose.

Joe Trdak of the Cooksville-based Trdak's Western Outfitters expressed concerns about parking and maintaining old customers.

"Where are people going to park? How are you going to bring people into Cooksville? Our generation is aging and many [of our] customers come from 30 kilometers away. Where will the parking be and how can we bring back customers [who don't live here]?"

An Urban Strategies rep told Trdak that parking plans are, at this stage, very preliminary. That said, he was told that parking would be considered during the planning process.

Other attendees asked about how the city can help residents and business owners transition during the construction phases. Some people asked how local restaurateurs and retailers can adapt when they all might want different things for the community.

Those questions were pertinent and important, but difficult to answer. To their credit, experts did concede that Cooksville poses a unique challenge in the sense that its business community is fragmented and could benefit from some cooperative unification (imagine a BIA or other Cooksville business owners association).

City Councillor Nando Iannicca spoke briefly -- and boldly -- about the plan, reminding residents that the difficult transitional process will be forgotten once the community begins to reap the rewards of revitalization.

After the meeting, LeeAnn Lloyd, strategic leader in the Strategic Community Initiatives division of the city of Mississauga, weighed in on the ambitious plan and said there's been little resistance.

"Nothing came out during any of the public meetings," she says. "In fact, there was a sense that people are ready. They're glad that there's attention being put on the community. They are excited about seeing change. It felt like everybody already had the ideas that were listed tonight, and they wanted to find a place to put them"

During the Q&A, one resident asked if the plan is addressing community safety, particularly regarding vandalism and crime. While all of Mississauga is very safe, there have been crime concerns in the area over the years.

"In the initial visioning, we asked people to list the issues," Lloyd says. "We asked what people don't like about Cooksville, what they do like and what they want to see. The issues were identified and clearly safety came up. We're going to be informing our partners who are responsible for safety in the community, whether it be the police or [others]. Urban Strategies has come up with a plan that deals with safety issues in how they design the community. There's a lot about street level lighting, more lighting and more use of public spaces and more active parks. That in itself starts making a city safer because people are out and about and people feel and are safer when there's more activity."

All in all, it looks like people are excited about the changes. After all, they suggested them.

"Tonight, it was a confirmation that this is what the community wants," she says. "People want to have pride in their community and they want the area to be a place where people want to come."

 

 

 

 

 

 

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