BLOG #694: In an era when some members of city council think they know more than the professionals on staff, a new version of the South West Area Plan heads to committee. If this represents part of the kind of future London you’d like to live in – and there are all kinds of reasons why it should – you need to show you care.
Monday, June3 18, 2012
In wartime, it is said, plans last as long as it takes for the battle to start. Recent experience in London would suggest the same principle applies to land use proposals.
But with the revised Southwest Area Plan – SWAP for short – heading for the planning and environment committee this late afternoon, let’s hope history is about to change.
The southwest is a huge swath of pasture and woodlands extending roughly south of Southdale Road and west of White Oak Road to Highway 402. There is a secondary chunk, of mostly industrial land, east of White Oak and between Exeter Road and the 401 /402 corridor all the way to Wellington Road.
SWAP has undergone some significant changes as it has wound a weary pathway through neighbourhood consultations, discussions with major landholders, committee presentations and council decisions.
It appears now on its final steps – an appearance before committee today, a public meeting at Lambeth Community Centre June 27 and then, assuming city council is on side, an amendment to the Official Plan in October to make it all legal.
Unfortunately, even with Official Plan designation one can’t say written in stone for anything to do with planning. City council has already approved more than 5,000 changes to the current Official Plan, less than a decade old. That makes it more like an Official Suggestion.
And council has bashed away at SWAP more than a few times, too. There was a big push for an accelerated development plan, initially blocked by of insufficient sewage capacity in the southwest. Ultimately, though, came the coincidental discovery the aging Greenway pollution plan could be expanded to allow about half of SWAP to be opened up now.
Wonderland Road South is the marque of SWAP, designated as the next Gateway to the Forest City. Most recently council members have been tinkering with this concept, trying to get commercial land designations pushed farther south and the order of development reversed from the logical north to south flow.
There’s a lot at stake, obviously. Developers own most of the land and the pressure on council to shift borderlines this way or that is intense. As well, some members of this council, more than others in the recent past, seem to think they know more about planning – and just about everything else – than the professionals.
City planners, in this most recent iteration though, have stuck to their guns about Wonderland and have fleshed out concepts both for this stretch and for other areas.
For example: “Given there is limited capacity available at Greenway, only a portion of SWAP lands can be included in interim developable lands. . . . For example, the development of residential uses in north Lambeth over industrial-commercial uses in Brockley would not promote an appropriate mix of residential and commercial land uses, at a reasonable cost to the city, comparable to the proposed interim developable lands scenario that was previously supported by council.”
Or this: “SWAP is based on a design in which one of the key goals is to maximize the potential for sustainable development. In a city planning context, this is achieved through such features as enhanced connectivity to transit, mixed use development, a modified grid road system and the open space system.”
Those are statements sure to light up several council members, but they speak to a vastly different ‘look’ to London when SWAP is fully built out a generation from now.
Imagine a ‘main street’ such as Wonderland where all the retail and office buildings abut the street, with parking behind. Where there is an island with trees and flowers in the centre of the roadway. Where pedestrians are encouraged.
Or imagine neighbourhoods with centralized ‘activity nodes’ with a limited range of “convenience and personal service commercial businesses, small-scale eat-in restaurants, coffee shops or bakeries, institutional and live-work functions” within walking distance and no drive-thru commercial uses.
This is the current promise of southwest London. If you think this is the kind of future city in which you’d like to live, you’ll need to fight for it. Attending the forthcoming public meetings and sending an email to your councillor in support would be a good place to start.