After decades of spreading sideways, the City of Mississauga wants to grow up.
Mississauga’s M4 tower, part of a network of eight new skyscrapers called M City, is a 67-storey giant, part of the city’s plan to put itself on the map as a city, not just Toronto’s bedroom community. The developers and Mississauga’s civic leaders want to use height, increased density, a better mix of commercial and residential space and public transit as tools to turn Mississauga’s legacy around.
They envision the city becoming a centre for living, working and visiting, not just a place to sleep, shop and drive away.
“We’re building a metropolis here. Our foundation was sprawl – everybody recognizes that – but our future is to build a complete city, and that means having a downtown,” says Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie.
Interestingly, the site where M4 is being built is on a 15-acre property originally acquired by the Rogers telecommunications giant to put up different towers – giant antennas for CHFI FM radio.
In 2007, Rogers changed its mind, and Rogers Real Estate Development Ltd. (the telecom company’s property arm) and Urban Capital Property Group decided that the land could be put to better use. They commissioned New York-based planners Cooper Robertson to lay out a master plan for the entire site and CORE Architects to design the M4 tower (as well as M1 and M2). Another firm, IBI Group, is designer for M3, which will be 77 storeys.
“More than five decades later, we may not be erecting radio antennas, but we are investing heavily in technology at M City,” says John Anderton, vice-president, treasurer for Rogers Telecommunications. M4′s infrastructure will include a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) built into, and exclusively serving, the tower, adding cellular coverage to “dark spots,” such as the structure’s underground areas.
Like its other M City counterparts, which soar upward in distinctive odd-shaped or curvy designs, M4 is designed to stand out in the skyline. Rather than curves, CORE has gone for a series of stacked boxes, or “towerettes” of varying heights, built over an S-shaped footprint, with the widest ones at street level where retail and commercial tenants will be.
Ms. Crombie likes the asymmetrical design. “We see M City as a western gateway to downtown Mississauga that will complement the Marilyn Monroe towers to the east [the well-known curvy condo towers opposite Square One Shopping Centre],” she says.
“We see this downtown development as changing the urban landscape of the GTHA. People will look from the air or from Lake Ontario and see downtown Toronto and then look west and say: Oh, there’s another city,” Ms. Crombie says.
Planners hope that their work will make downtown Mississauga an actual city with people walking around, rather than just a collection of tall buildings with stores and offices below. The M City plan that includes M4 envisions a residential, commercial and ground-floor retail community with greenspace, including walking and cycling paths through
two acres of parkland.
“We identified the critical streets where the retail should be so people can walk in. We don’t want to just create another shopping centre,” says Don Clinton, a Cooper Robertson partner.
“We’ve looked carefully at how to animate the pedestrian areas with retail space as well as parkland. We don’t want this to be a place where people have to get into their cars and drive somewhere just to get things. We want people to be able to live, work and play in the area,” says Mark Reeve, Urban Capital partner.
Even with this goal in mind, the developers and designers say they realize that, once pandemic restrictions are eased, people will need to get to and from other areas. To make the new Mississauga neighbourhood less car-dependent, improved transit connections will be key.
M City’s developers and Ms. Crombie say the project will be within walking distance of Mississauga’s new 19-stop, 18-kilometre light rapid transit line along Hurontario Street, which connects downtown Mississauga with Brampton, Port Credit and the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area’s GO and Metrolinx networks.
The transit options will be much better than now, but not quite ideal, Ms. Crombie admits. “We had wanted a loop in the new LRT that would connect to Mississauga City Centre and the Square One Shopping Centre, but it was pulled out of the plan [by the provincial government, which is funding the project],” she says.
“We hope to build the loop at some point later, though,” she adds. The contract for the Hurontario LRT, worth $4.5-billion, was awarded to a consortium called Mobilinx, which will design, build operate and maintain the new line for 30 years, with completion planned for 2024.
M4 is slated to be finished in the mid- to late-2020s, and the entire M City project, which will have eight towers, will take 10 to 12 years to complete, Mr. Anderton says.
With better transit and thousands of people moving into a newly built downtown site, such as M City, can Mississauga truly grow into a real city? Ms. Crombie hopes so – she opposes ideas that would boost car-dependency, such as Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s unpopular plan to bulldoze a multilane Highway 413 through the GTHA that would cut through the now-protected Greenbelt and which urban experts fear will trigger more suburban sprawl.
Ken Greenberg, urban designer and principal of Greenberg Consultants, thinks the dream of a real downtown Mississauga is possible too, though adds that there are wrinkles. He worked with Mississauga on its early plans to create a walkable downtown area.
“The plan we worked on looked at how to convert a field of parking lots into a downtown area. There was already development on the periphery, and we had tremendous public support – and surprisingly, many of the people living in the area didn’t have cars,” says Mr. Greenberg, who is also former director of urban design and architecture for the City of Toronto.
“The plan for M City is really good. But there is an emphasis on tall towers, without mid-sized buildings, and it will take time to determine the area’s social infrastructure – what services and amenities the people who will live there will use and need the most. So, I still describe it as a work in progress,” Mr. Greenberg says.
That’s okay with Ms. Crombie. “Mississauga used to be the place to find your four-bedroom house with a two-car garage. Now we want it to be a place where people have choices,” she says.