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Handout rendering of “transit-oriented communities” in the Toronto suburbs.Handout

Housing and offices next to a subway. What’s not to like?

The province of Ontario recently announced two new “transit-oriented communities” in the Toronto suburbs of Richmond Hill and Markham. Drawings show forests of shimmering, skinny towers dropped into a flat suburban landscape.

And the weirdness of that juxtaposition – a bit of Hong Kong in the 905 – suggests that something is wrong. Indeed, the Ford government is taking a laudable planning idea and supersizing it, pushing for massive density without the ingredients to create a successful community.

The early reaction to these plans fits the usual pattern: A CBC story quoted a neighbour calling the proposed developments a “wasteland.” No surprise here. City planning is dominated by neighbours and politicians who oppose change in their backyards.

But in this rare instance, they’re right.

For now, these two sites on Yonge Street are nothing special. The site of the planned Bridge station is industrial land just south of Highway 7 and the parallel Highway 407. The High Tech station site is a retail power centre just to the north.

To be clear, these are good places for development. York Region has spent years planning for these areas to become “transit-oriented communities” with high density. The Ford government’s decision to extend the Yonge subway adds to a GO Train station, and existing and future bus rapid transit lines.

The logic is solid: Put people near transit, and they will take transit rather than drive. And when you put enough people together, they can support retail and other amenities within walking distance. Such efforts, especially in the job-rich city of Toronto, deserve widespread support.

But these plans, created by the Toronto architecture firms IBI Group and BDP Quadrangle and planners Bousfields Inc. and WND Associates, stretch that logic to absurdity. The High-Tech site would include 33 towers with 21,000 homes, plus retail and enough offices for about 7,000 jobs. One single block there would include three towers of 60 storeys and three of 80 storeys. The Bridge plan is comparable. Parks are thin. There are no schools. This would be one of the densest clusters of development in the entire region.

This demands a gut check: Does it make sense? These new districts would be surrounded by single-family houses and townhouses, along with the massive highway corridor. Almost nothing is within walking distance.

If these are going to be urban places, they’re going to be built from scratch. And that is very hard. It requires a mix of housing, shops and services and community centres, a variety of building forms, good-quality public space, and careful design.

The Toronto suburbs have zero examples of this being done successfully.

While the Bridge and High-Tech plans are not fully detailed, the recipe doesn’t look promising. The proposed buildings are all tower-and-podium, in which a skinny tower of apartments emerges from a chunky podium, or base. With more than 60 such structures, the place would feel monotonous.

Now imagine the industry-standard dressing of window-wall systems and aluminum cladding, and it doesn’t get any better.

Most of the land here is owned by companies connected to the De Gasperis family, a major force in GTHA construction and development. Like most of the region’s established development families, they have relationships with the Ontario PC Party and a thin record of design excellence. There’s no reason to expect magic here.

It is easy to see why the Ford government is going big. They’re right that the Toronto region needs vast amounts of new building, especially homes, near transit.

But that demands the hard work of accepting new people into existing neighbourhoods. There are no shortcuts, and no quick routes to success.

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